Malta: little life in a little country in a big world

Malta had never crossed my mind when it comes to a summer destination. Europe in my mind has always been places like Rome, Paris, Milan, or even Berlin. However, the trip has become my solo therapeutic trip – a trip to be alone, a trip to reflect, a trip to get serious about something new, and a trip to learn to stand on my own once again.


Midway through the Azores trip in earlier July, I started to get a bit restless about my summer travel. This was quite out of my element because I normally plan everything way in advance – at least a month. I told my friend that I really like the vibes of Azores, and would love to travel to similar places. The recommendations I received were Malta and many islands in Greece. I started searching and planning my travel and accommodations right away – not knowing what to expect and what to do. Yet, I’m quite glad that I have signed up for this trip.

 

A hectic start


The trip started off not-so-smoothly. First, my flight back to Paris – to move out of my apartment – was canceled last minute. I ended up staying in Porto for one more night (which is nice) and had to rush to clean up and pack to move out of my apartment. Second, on the morning of my flight, also my day to move out of my apartment, I couldn’t contact my friend, whose place I intended to leave my stuff at. I ended up getting help from another friend (thank you!) to leave my stuff. Third, the queue to check-in and drop my luggage at the airport was very long. My flight was at 10.20 am, yet, at 9.40 am I was still at the back of the queue with no online check-in because AirFrance redirected me to the wrong airline website and I couldn’t check-in. With the last check-in at 9.50 am, I panicked, and I ended up going to a different counter to get help. Luckily, I was able to check-in and board on time. However, the flight ended up being delayed. Lastly, the place I stayed in Malta is called “Cambridge Court”, so I called a cab to the place – not knowing that there are at least two places in Msida, Malta with the same name! I ended up having to call the host and another cab to get to the right place… Story of my life…


On the bright side, I was able to reach Malta safely. On top of that, my host is very lovely and is LGBT ally! There is even a rainbow flag in the apartment! Plus, the apartment has a nice balcony that I can see the city and continue my artwork. The cute, but unfriendly, a cat is a plus always.

The first day in Malta, as a result, was very tiring. I ended up walking around a bit, but not taking many photos. I bought a bottle of Maltese wine, finished it, and hit my bed early.

 

Valletta


Valletta is the capital of Malta, and is the must-visit place if you visit the country. I planned to have breakfast at Valletta Waterfront. I arrived at the waterfront early morning at around 8.30 am. However, I didn’t do enough research on restaurants and cafes, so I ended up arriving at a very empty waterfront with nothing opened.

I walked up to Floriana, a city right in front of Valletta. The town is quite nice and lively with a lot of locals and tourists walking around. While this is a city in Europe, it somehow reminded me of parts of Bangkok with many mom and pop shops and cafes on both sides of the road.

The road from the waterfront to Floriana and Valletta is quite steep. It is actually quite tough, yet enjoyable, with an empty stomach. My first glimpse of Valletta is the beautiful garden and the big square with a gigantic fountain. Even at 9 am during the COVID time, there were already quite a lot of tourists. The vibe of Valletta is quite festive with red-color decoration that matches well with the yellowish limestone buildings in the city.

My first breakfast in Malta was at Café Cordina. The interior design was so extravagant for such a small walkable city – though expected from how the buildings in Valletta looks like. One very unique thing about Maltese hospitality is that at every café the waiters/waitresses treat you like a prince – pretty much opposite of my experience in some other countries in Europe.


Not knowing what are the must-sees in Valletta, I ended up walking around the city without any particular destination. My first destination was the Museum of St Elmo’s Fort, but it turned out that the fort is closed on Monday. It was a bit disappointing, but I shrugged off very quickly and strolled to my next destination – the Siege Bell War Memorial. The bell itself was huge and grand, but the view from the memorial is quite stunningly beautiful. From here, we can see the entire St. Peter’s and many forts along the shore. I also managed to get a nice shot by a nice fellow tourist who happened to walk on by.

The Lower Barrakka Garden was even better than the memorial. It’s situated higher and has a large green area with benches for me to sit down and enjoy some rest. I sat there for a while to type up some content for my blog before soaking in more views of Malta from the top of the hill.

My next stop was the main cathedral - St John’s Co-Cathedral. It is a baroque-style cathedral built in the 16th century. On the outside, the cathedral looks just like any other cathedral or church in Malta – just a lot bigger. However, the inside of the cathedral is very well decorated with paintings and golden and wooden-brown decors. Tourists are also allowed to walk up to the balcony to have a high-view of the cathedral’s interior. This is the best position to see the cathedral!

The cathedral was probably the highlight of Valletta. After visiting the holy building, I couldn’t seem to find any other attraction that particularly caught my attention. I tried the war room tour as well. It was quite interesting, but my interest may not really be on wars and historical fights. I walked around the city one more time, and visit another Barrakka Garden – the Higher Barrakka Garden. The view from here is also very nice, but I prefer the lower one more. However, this is probably a very good spot for sunset or sunrise…

After strolling for nearly all day, I need to sit somewhere to do some works, getting ready for calls, and do some writing. Mid-way through my work, the wifi was no longer working. I walked up to the staff counter, but he couldn’t do anything about it. After working with no internet connection for 30 mins, I realized that this is not going to work and went back to Valletta Waterfront. Starbucks here has a decent internet connection. I managed to get some work done and had a nice dinner at a restaurant nearby. I also tried a traditional dish – rabbit stew, which is quite tasty but also very hard to eat because it is very bony…


 

Sliema

After a day of all-day walking, my third day in Malta was reserved for chilling, working, and exploring the main city of Sliema. The breakfast set at Busy Bee Café, which is recommended by my Airbnb host, was very nice. Maltese-style sandwich and morning coffee were very nice there. After a hearty breakfast, I had a long morning walk from the café to Starbucks in Sliema. Malta’s summer is surprisingly warm. Even though I was sitting indoor with aircon on, I still sweat to the point that I almost become a puddle.


Toward the lunchtime, I went to have a quick lunch (and of course some drinks) at Brown's. The place has a very nice balcony view of the vast sea, I could imagine this place being very popular for weekend drinks at night or sunset. However, when I visit, the place very fortunately very quiet – which is quite nice for a day I seek peace and quiet. I finally got a chance to try Maltese stuffed-squid stew. It was quite nice, but I still prefer normal and simple calamari… Maybe I was too simple…


Knowing the afternoon will be burning hot, as a mall person, I decided to go to the mall to buy a pair of flipflop and sit down to continue working. After a few hours of being rooted to a sofa at Costa Coffee, I walked around the mall building, which is surrounded with various restaurants with spectacular views of Valletta, which now give me a pleasantly different feeling now that I have visited it.


 

Monuel Island

As I consulted my only travel companion on this solo trip – Google Maps, I came across a tiny islet next to Sliema. The outstretched long road out in the sea with an old fort with the same name made it quite interesting for me, though not with a lot of reviews or visits on the app. As Monuel Island is on my way back to the apartment anyway, I decided to swing by and have a look.

Crossing the bridge from Sliema, the first glimpse of the island reminded me of a haunted island. The place seems abandoned with trees and tall grasses everywhere. To add to the sense of the haunted island, there was a signage saying “enter at your own risk”. The only reassurance I had was that there were a few people walking through the islet with me. I wondered why so many people walked to this deserted island at this time. When I reached the end of the islet, it was clear to me that there are a lot of beaches with a direct view of Valletta – especially spectacular views at sunset.

On the way back, I walked passed an old abandoned church that looks a bit spooky. To add to that, I have been listening to ghost stories for 4-5 hours straight through the entire afternoon. This made me a bit jumpy as I walked pass the church in this seemingly deserted island.


 

Adventures in the Sea


Blue Lagoon is one of the attractions that I looked forward to the most. Comino, where Blue Lagoon situated, and Gozo are two islands nearby Malta’s mainland, and they were frequently advertised as the main tourist spots in Malta. I have booked a trip pretty economical trip to these two islands for only EUR 25.


Arriving at St Paul’s Bay early morning, I walked around to find a place to sit down and have breakfast at the roadside café near the port. I was surprised once again to find that there is a Starbucks shop here, though not yet opened.


One of the perks of boarding the boat early is that I was able to get an upper-deck sofa to sunbath. Though I did not intend to get tanned, I really enjoyed feeling the sunlight and wind soaking my body. One thing that was very surprising about this trip is that, as opposed to my Azores’ boat trip, which is quite empty and people were very cautious, no social distancing nor masks were being reminded at all on this trip. It seemed as if there was no COVID crisis at all in Malta overall actually.

The narration throughout the boat trip was really multilingual, including English, Maltese, German, French, and Italian. It was somewhat amusing as each narration took so long that, at times, the boat has already passed the attraction but the narration was still ongoing.

There were so many caves around Malta’s islands. It was quite unnerving at first to see the boat going so close to the cave that it felt like the boat is going to crash. However, after a few times of exploring different spots, it became a bit less exciting.


Blue Lagoon was the first main stop of this trip. Although it was very crowded, the lagoon is still very beautiful. It is a kind of lively beauty that is very different from Azores. My favorite part, as an alcoholic, was the cocktail served in a pineapple. Instead of jumping into the water with so many people, I was very happy with just sitting on a cliff, enjoying a cocktail, having some food, and reading a novel – just chilling…

The next stop was Gozo. This is where I started to experience the effect of “over-traveling” in such a short period of time. While I really enjoy exploring the Citadel, large historic buildings and forts in the middle of the island. The building is majestic and the view from the top of the fort is very interesting; however, I started to feel that it got a bit repetitive already.

I spent the rest of my time in Gozo exploring different churches and architecture in the city centers. There are some interesting looking buildings and exteriors nonetheless…


 

Delicious local food

Before the tourist activities on my last full day in Malta begins, I finally had a chance to visit a Maltese restaurant Ta Detta – a nice outdoor restaurant at the waterfront. There I had a chance to try Beef Olive (Bragjoli) and snail stew (Bebbux tan-Nanna). Bragjoli is basically a thin slice of beef wrapped around well-cooked minced beef and pork, with some fragrance of olives. The stew was surprisingly quite big for an appetizer. There were so many snail there (as opposed to the typical snail dish like Escargot in France). It took me nearly 20 mins of non-stop picking and eating to finish an entire bowl of the stew. Also, since I went there during the happy hour (basically entire afternoon is happy hours), I ended up finishing 3 cocktails before I even start my tour around Mdina and Rabat…

 

Mdina & Rabat


Mdina turned out to be my favorite city in Malta. While it is not as large and glamourous as Valletta, the city is compact and very photogenic. The city is surrounded by tall walls and has a beautiful giant gate that is a photo-taking spot.

Rabat is a city right next to Mdina. It has a completely different flavor to the classic and majestic city of Mdina, but the Rabat hides a lot of many attractions. There is a church’s garden that was featured in Game of Throne that I didn’t have a chance to visit. One place that I ended up visited just before the closing time was St Antoine’s Catacomb – the largest catacomb network in Malta.


There are over 20 catacombs in this place – a different one for different races, classes, and religions. The catacomb is basically an underground burial site for a group of people. On the surface of St Paul's Catacomb, I couldn’t see much but just a door and small entrance building. However, as I walked down under and inside, I could see a lot of burial spot – some catacomb could bury more than 50 bodies even!

One weird experience though was that, as someone who is a bit spooked by ghost and horror stories, I got goosebumps when I entered one of the catacombs. It almost made me not wanting to take any photo inside the catacomb. However, I ended up taking some photos anyway…


 

Sunset at St Julian

For my last sunset in Malta, I decided to go to St Julian area. While the town has a lot of restaurants and café, there aren’t many places the face directly to the west at all. However, there was a public park that I could sit, watch, and take photos of the sunset with a silhouette of the city. It was a decent enough ending of my days in Malta, I believe.


 

Although not as magical as my experience in Azores, my first solo travel in a long while turned out to be okay! Malta was a nice country with a great combination of culture, which is reflected in architecture, and nature, as represented by Blue Lagoon and the beaches. I really enjoy my time there, and I hope to be able to return and explore more hidden nature experience in Malta. Until next time then…


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