The plan was sudden. I had pencilled in little things on the calendar for nearly all the days for the first half of the month at least. We were back from the Christmas party at the library the previous night and it being Sunday still lazing around in bed when the tickets were booked. I had to make a few calls, send a few emails and messages to tell people I will be missing a few events/classes.
This was Sunday and we were leaving on Wednesday morning. The next two days were spent shopping, checking weather reports and packing accordingly.
Living in a teeny weeny city with no big airport has its own disadvantages, especially like now. Our flight was not from Florence, but from Bologna and we would be flying back into Pisa. A few things for me to worry – my darling daughter doesn’t like getting on the bus to go to Bologna and she would prefer the train. The airline we were flying again would be a problem. It was just a two-hour flight and I was trying to convince my kids that it would be fine and they wouldn’t even notice it if they keep themselves busy by reading or playing games.
Finally, Wednesday arrived and thankfully it wasn’t a flight that required us to be out of home by 4:00 am. We took our time to finish all our work, pack some breakfast and get on the train from the train station behind our home. The kids spent most of their time eating their breakfast and counting the number of tunnels while I was looking at the frozen towns flying past outside. Just looking at them made me feel cold and shiver. We had to change trains in Prato, but there was no big wait as the train moved nearly as soon as we got in. The games continued till we reached Bologna. I was the one who was moaning about the freezing seats on the train though.
We got off the train and searched for the shop to get bus tickets to the airport and were surprised to find that the tickets for the four of us would cost 24 Euros, so decided to travel in style and take the taxi instead, which cost us 14 Euros.
The family queue for security check at the airport was a breeze, but people were queueing up to get on the plane even before the aircraft was there. Taking advantage of the delay, just like I would have done in the past, my kids too decided to have a second breakfast.
Finally, we got on the plane and I was ready to fall asleep. What were all these people doing on a weekday on a plane to Malta and that too in the first week of December when it is supposed to be off-season. I was hoping to see an empty flight but of course, it was a full flight. thankfully my daughter dozed off on my lap, and my son kept himself busy drawing some pictures and I could doze off for pretty much most of the flight till he decided to wake me up to show me the pictures he drew which was nearly time for landing anyway.
Malta was cloudy and drizzly but warm.
The airport was small and cosy and it was nice of the tourism authorities to have printed something interesting with a few sentences in Maltese with translation. We could make “four cups” out of it and it was an interesting way to get the children to learn a few words of Maltese. English was spoken everywhere and I found Maltese language was like a tongue twister with a lot of vowels missing. The language when we heard actually sounded closer to Arabic than Italian.
We found our way to get the bus tickets which were for a week and cost us 21 Euros each for adults and 15 Euros each for the children. I looked around the food shops and for the first time ever found something very interesting – quinoa beet burger at a fast food shop in the airport! Welcome to the land of healthy food I suppose.
We had to wait for a bit before our bus arrived and in the meantime, we had befriended a lovely couple from Australia who were on a holiday before heading to Scotland for Christmas. The bus eventually came and took about an hour to go around the town and at one stage stopping and waiting for a change of driver for nearly ten minutes.
The city / country was beautiful and even from the air one can see that all the buildings were of the same/similar colour. Another noticeable thing was the amount of cacti that we could notice. Cacti everywhere and I could even see the fruit. Was tempted to get down and pick some and eat. The last time I ate cacti fruit was when I was about ten I think and the person who introduced the fruit to me is not alive anymore.
We reached the hotel room and it was beautiful. The view from the 1st-floor balcony was stunning. Something I liked about the hotel was that we had to go to the lobby to access the free Wifi and there was no access in the rooms. A perfect way to enjoy the holiday.
The children had done their homework well before leaving home. They read about the indoor swimming pool and all they wanted to do was to spend the afternoon there. Couldn’t convince them to get out, so gave up on that and we spent an hour or so in the pool. The pool was lovely and warm and the jacuzzi was good too. Click for a video of kids swimming.
Got out of the pool, showered and went out for a walk. Noticed they had a lovely outdoor pool by the sea and people were having fun playing water polo.
We walked for a bit, saw a beautiful church where we walked in and spent a few minutes inside. We continued our walk then until we got hungry then came back and found a pizza place and had a lovely lavish dinner.
Thankfully our hotel was just next doors and we were too stuffed and tired so we went to our room and settled in for the night.
Breakfast was good and I enjoyed my baked beans and sausages which I strictly have only when I am traveling!
The view from the sixth-floor restaurant was spectacular and I could sit there all day long and just look out of the window.
The kids decided they wanted to explore the outdoor pool which was on the seventh floor. Thankfully they found it cold and hence we got permission to go out and explore the city!
When the topic of Malta came up three things that we wanted to see was the rock arch (didn’t know the name then), the rock temples that were built thousands of years ago and the blue grotto. On asking the reception we found out that there was no point in going to the blue grotto in winter as we cannot go swimming. Our next option was to go searching for the other two in the island of Gozo.
8th December was a holiday in Malta too and the roads were empty and the buses were running on holiday schedule. We took a bus in the general direction of the ferry, got off somewhere where it looked very pretty and took pictures and waited for the bus again.
We discovered that the terrain was mostly rocky and the local soil was limestone and in yellow colour and all the buildings were actually built with bricks made from the limestone rocks quarried from the island. Not a single red brick building was found.
After changing about gazzillion buses, well actually only three, we reached the ferry port. It was quite windy and rainy and we were in a hurry to save time and get on the ferry. The lady at the ticket counter asked us to get a ticket on our way back and run to get the ferry so we could save time as the ferry was hourly.
It wasn’t a long journey to Gozo but it was bad in the choppy seas. I am usually fine to travel on anything and this time even I was feeling queasy in the stomach. The kids were screaming and shouting, but thankfully I could keep them entertained for the few minutes that it took us to get there.
Again, the only place in the world so far where I have seen “healthy” crisps. Brocolli crisps anyone?
They seem to have timed it well as there were buses waiting right outside the ferry to take us to Victoria bay from where we had to take another bus to the “arch”. We managed to munch on what food we had and got on the bus for another long journey.
I should say every now and then I would see fields of yellow flowers (mustard?) or some other crop including grapes, cabbage, tomato, etc. The orange trees still had fruits on them though the olive trees didn’t. There were palm trees, carob trees, banana trees, pine trees, pomegranate trees among others. While back in Italy the trees were all shedding leaves there were still fruits on the trees here and we could see plenty of plants in full bloom like carnations, marigold, rose, hibiscus, bird of paradise, bougainvillea, lantana and much more. Between these fields of plants and trees and flowers, one could see a little town pop up and all the buildings would be the same colour and there out of it all a beautiful little church would stand tall among all the buildings. Only the shape of the church and the size of the town would change with every single town but everything else remained the same.
The long journey on the bus on the up and down roads brought us to Azure Window, which is the natural limestone arch.
We spent the next hour walking around, taking time to enjoy the sights, the rocks and everything else around us. Thankfully the rain had stopped by then. There was a little cave by the sea, and because the weather was bad and we had very less time and we wanted to see more before sunset we decided not to explore the cave.
After spending an hour wandering about and climbing up and down the rocks and taking a million photographs we got on the bus to rush to Ggantija temples. We had to change over at Victoria again and grabbed something to eat there before we hopped on another bus.
Half an hour later we were dropped off at Ggantija temples. These temples were built even before the Egyptian pyramids. It is amazing to see the temple built with such huge stones before any of the modern machinery existed.
When we stepped out of the temples we realised we had just missed the bus into town and the next bus would take an hour to come by. We decided to walk around and explore a bit. The Ta’ Kola windmill was only a couple of minutes walking distance, so we wandered up to there to take some pictures.
The roads were empty and it was a beautiful sight to see such buildings, the street name boards on buildings written in beautiful ceramic boards and the same for house names.
We spotted a children’s park nearby where we spent some time. Malta seems to have plenty of children’s park and play area everywhere.
I remember spotting a church while on the bus so we headed off to find it and it was not more than five minutes walk from where we were. There was a funeral service going on and we sat through the service. It was interesting as the crowd was big and it was unusual to see a funeral in the night in Italy unless they were taking the body home from the church and the funeral would take place the next day.
Because it was December and closer to Christmas, we could see nativity scenes set up everywhere, in front of churches, on street junctions, roundabouts and all kinds of random places.
Saw this free Wifi signs all over the place, though never managed to connect to one, actually most of the time never even attempted to connect was the fact.
We got the bus finally and came back to the ferry port and took the ferry back to Malta. It was quick and not as bad as the afternoon.
When we reached the hotel it was 8:15, we got meal vouchers for the buffet dinner on the sixth floor and by the time we freshened up and went upstairs we found that the restaurant was closed. Surprisingly the restaurant was open for dinner from 6:30 – 8:15! Ended up coming down to the other restaurant and I don’t regret it. The kids got a menu with a colouring sheet at the back and some crayons to keep them busy. Service was good and food was great! Can’t complain. We were so tired after the long day that we hit bed and were gone instantaneously.
With blue grotto struck off the list and just one day left, we decided to spend time in Valletta which is the capital city of Malta. Valletta the walled city was not very far from where we were staying but because of the way it was across the water we had to take the long way around it took us some time.
This Christmas tree in was made from Mdina glass.
A random street in Valletta.
Some street food.
Random shops on the streets
The kids decided to go into St.John’s Cathedral while I decided to spend those few minutes wandering the streets and taking it all in.
The law courts, Valletta
I could see plenty of small book shops lining the streets of Valletta and it was nice to walk into them and have a chat.
We had seen a few healthy looking stray cats on the streets and also a statue of a huge cat on the coast near our hotel. Till we saw this book we didn’t make the connection. We ended up buying the book.
Found loads of shops selling exquisite sterling silver jewelry.
We were lucky to see the armed forces of Malta in the square in front of the Grand Master’s Palace.
The telephone booth souvenirs. We saw some real telephone booths too. Reminds us of the British empire.
From there we had enough time to take a bus to Mdina, another fortified city in the north which is famous for its glass works.
The walls of Mdina from the outside
The Mdina gate
Random roads in Mdina
The Cathedral Museum
Valletta Glass work
View from Mdina
The inside roof of a small church in Mdina
Saw this in a shop and had to take a picture, definitely, an Indian is behind this product! Traditional Maltese Nougat made by Indian?
From Mdina we decided to head back to the hotel and call it a day. Kids wanted to spend time in the pool though, so we spent an hour or so in the pool and decided to grab dinner at the restaurant upstairs. I was hoping to eat something nice going by the standards we had so far and I should say it was the worst dinner ever. The buffet had nothing vegetarian. The fish wasn’t good, the chicken had bacon stuff in it, the salads had meat in them and I did not enjoy a single dish! Even the roast potato was not upto the standards. The kids enjoyed their ice cream, though.
Valletta glass art
Day 4, it was a clear sunny day but it was time for us to leave. After breakfast, we took a walk along the bay and then came back, packed and left for the airport. Not very clear, but you can see a statue of a cat, the colourful one on top of the building near the fountain.
It was interesting to see Indian cars in Malta, we spotted Tata Indica, Maruti 800, etc. Here is a photo of Maruti Swift Dzire. As a commonwealth country, they drive on the left side of the road like India
The car numbers were three alphabets followed by three numbers. Taxis had a registration of TAXI followed by numbers and Buses had a registration of BUS followed by numbers.
I guess the M at the end of the number here was for Mdina
This is something they should do in India on one-way streets. The vehicles can go on one way but coming the wrong way the tyres would get damaged!
More interesting food at the airport.
We were coming back on the 10th of December and it was lovely to see Malta airport authorities already spreading Christmas cheer. They were giving free cookies and soup for people.
They had women dressed as princesses walking around and engaging kids in games and giving them sweets
They had a piano in the airport which my son decided to play
Thankfully the wait wasn’t too long at the airport, we got on the flight and kept ourselves busy with the books we had.
Bye Bye Malta
Reached Pisa half an hour before time and while two of us took the train home, the other two took the bus!
End of another wonderful holiday. It was a good holiday and it is now good to be back home thinking about new places to go.