Tuesday, 27 August 2013

And now.....

We are off for a few days camping.  Weather is looking ok, so we should be in for a nice time.  Wish us luck, we have not been camping this late in the summer before.....

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Final Day

So, one day left - had to be a trip to Mdina, the old capital of the islands.
Checked out the buses and found the quickest way there was to go to Bugibba (major tourist centre) and grab the airport bus from there.
The bus was packed with people and suitcases heading for the airport - then we were joined by a load more people wanting to go to Mdina.  Sardines anyone?
The trip around the tourist hot spot reinforced the great choice in hotels we had made.  We passed a whole row of places with a view across a bay to the island's huge landfill site...
Fighting our way off the bus, we could see the massive battlements of Mdina.
Mdina is a small place, where only residents are allowed to drive vehicles.  Others can take an over priced carriage ride if they want to.
The drivers offer a 30 minute tour of the city.

Mrs RC timed the stroll from the gate to the far battlements.

It took 4 minutes.  What do they do for the other 26 minutes, I wonder?
It was now mid morning, so we decided to stop for a snack and a drink, choosing a cafe that is right on the battlements.
The view into the city, with its Cathedral.
The view out towards the coast.

We sat, chatted, drank and ate.  I had a splendid strawberry meringue, which I forgot to take a photo of.  Refreshed, we wandered the city a bit more and then headed out to Rabat, the suburbs outside.
This mobile Post Office caught our attention.  The cab only has 3 wheels, making it a trike.  Does that mean you could drive this thing on a motorbike license?

Mrs RC noticed the rather nasty tilt of this facia. 

Wonder how long it has been like that? How much longer?
What a great name for a bar!

After a lot of strolling in back streets, we caught the buses back to our base, not feeling up to extended periods of walking, especially if we were uncertain where the nearest toilet was.
Back near "home", we saw this.

Health and Safety seems to be taken as a mere suggestion by many Maltese. This truck was jacked up amazingly to level it on this hill.  Looked extrremely unsafe to us, but the locals seemed unconcerned.  Maybe gravity works differently in Malta?
One thing about Malta is the prolific statues of saints etc.  Mrs RC spotted this one across a valley., seeming to just sit on a ledge below someone's garden.

Another thing that I love is the small scale of Matese agriculture.  Most Maltese farm fields are about the size of a British vegitable allotment and tend to be dug with little rotorvators, but occasionally you see a farmer who has invested in a tractor...

I can imagine you all wondering why they bother to farm on this scale, how can they make a living?  Well they do, supplying just about all of the fruit and vegitables that the locals need.  Some is sold on shops, some on trucks that are driven around the towns and/or parked on the major roads.  Can't get fresher than that!  Watching all this go on was one of our main (if slightly sad) entertainments while sitting on our balcony sipping drinks.
For our final meal in Malta, we retuned to Badass Burgers.
I had The Daddy...

Mrs RC had The Obama...

Both were extremely good.  Against Mrs RC's advice, I also had some fries - a vast portion which I tried to deal with but lost the fight. It was a bit of a Man Vs Food meal...
And that was it, really, except for a fairly uneventful return trip.  The most exciting part of the return trip was when we were right at the front of the check-in line and someone decided they would try to push in, forming a new line next to us.  After a week of learning how the Maltese queue (they don't), Mrs RC was taking no prisoners, prepared to sack the quarterback if necessary.  People behind started murmering things like "Ooh there might be a luggage war in a minute", but it did not become physical...
Now we are wondering about doing it all again next year - we still have the southern half of the island to see....
I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures!
Next week we are going camping with the kids - watch out for stories from that soon!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Day 5: The Iffy Day

Over the weekend, Mrs RC's obsession with Watermelon Lemonade was becoming apparent...

So we hopped on the ferry for Gozo, again.
In addition to revisiting Xlendi and the place that sold the miracle drink, I also wanted to visit the Azure Window (a huge stone arch on the coast that my bread had tried to look like a few days before), so it was looking like being a good day.
We got to the bus station in Victoria (main town on Gozo) and waited for the bus to the Azure Window.
While waiting, we became aware of a lonely cloud in the sky...

It quickly faded, but was soon replaced by another one.
This was repeated a few times as we stood talking.

We eventually realised that someone was setting off fireworks at regular intervals - not really visible in the bright sunshine, but the clouds caused by them were VERY visible.  Strange to be doing that in daylight, we thought!
Anyway, our bus arrived, and we piled on, grabbing a seat before the other 3000 passengers could take them all.
The bus pulled out, and was on its way.
Then it happened.
The display inside the bus, saying where it was going, changed.  The bus was no longer the 311 to The Azure Window, it was the 302 the Ramla Bay.  We were going in more or less exactly the wrong direction.
We had a quick debate and decided to stay seated.  We would take the ride, see what the destination was like and then either ride back or get off and have a better look around.
The ride was the most insane of the week - not only were we hurtling along as usual, we were doing this on winding hillside roads - an accident would have been incredibly messy, with the 3000 passengers on the bus all squished together.  But we were OK, and got to the destination OK.
We were not the only ones who had been tricked by the identity changing bus, and made this clear to the driver, who denied responsibility for it.  The numbers changed on their own, and it was our fault for getting on before they had reset.  Hm, given that they changed AFTER WE HAD LEFT THE STATION, this was a bit of a bad argument, but hey, we did not want to argue.
The destination was looking like too much of a partying and diving centre, so we stayed on the bus and returned to Victoria.
Another bus came in claiming to be going to the Azure Window - we asked and found that, no, it was going to change into the Ramla Bay bus at any moment.
Time was passing with little sign of the bus we wanted.  And we were getting hungry, so we decided to go to Xlendi (the bus for there had just arrived) for dinner and then, maybe, try our luck with the Window on full stomachs.
We got to Xlendi, found the restaurant, grabbed a table and ordered Watermelon Lemonade while we looked at the menu.  In the end we both ordered what looked like a great meal - pasta with Gozo sausage, tomato sauce and feta cheese.
We waited, admired the view, drank our drinks and ordered more.
The people at the next table were having trouble with their order and seemed to be returning a lot of things.
I got a little uneasy.
Then our meals arrived.
It looked totally underwhelming.
Dried, not fresh, pasta.
A thin looking sauce.
Not much sign of the sausage or cheese.
We ate a little.
It was like eating pasta how it used to be served up in the UK in the '70s.
After a few mouthfuls, Mrs RC and I exchanged looks and stopped eating.
We agreed it was horrible, and decided to treat it as a rather nasty snack and have a proper meal in the evening when we got back to the mainland.
The waiter noticed that we had stopped eating and came to ask what was wrong.  So I told him!  In very plain English!  He took the food away and came back a little later, claiming that there was nothing wrong with the meals.
"Really?  It is supposed to be like that?"  I pulled a face and asked for the bill.
They gave me a 20% discount (and 20% off next time IF I ever returned), even though I was not actually going to dispute paying the full price (which was far too high for what we got even with the discount), so I payed and we headed for the bus, trying to get rid of the taste of 1970s pasta.
The day was clearly going against us, so we decided to cut our losses and go back to the hotel.
When we got off the bus, we grabbed some snacks at a shop to keep us going until the evening meal...

Now this cake WAS as good as it looked....
In the evening we headed to the local burger joint - Badass Burgers.
We looked at the menu and decided to have a couple of cheese burgers, some ribs and a couple of beers.  They did some really huge sounding burgers with names like The Daddy and The Obama, but we did not feel up to that.  I did make a little joke about The Obama burger - it sounded really good, but would it be a big disappointment when you finally got it?  Hey, it was funny at the time!
The beers came after a wait and a prompt to the waitress...
Then she came back and asked us if we wanted fries with our burgers.  No thanks.  Wow, looked like our luck for the week had really bombed today...
Then the burgers arrived - with fries.  The fries were free to make up for the waiting around.
We started eating, expecting the ribs to arrive at any point.
The burgers and fries were really good, but the ribs did not materialise.
We finished eating, and a guy came out to check if we were OK.
"Are the ribs still coming?"
"Ribs???"  Mild panic seemed to be settimg in.
"Don't worry, with the free fries, we are full up now."
"Is that OK?"
"Yes, it is OK, it is great and we will probably be back tomorrow to try your bigger burgers."
He smiled and went to get the bill.
Relieved that the day had not ended as badly as it could have, we returned to the hotel and crashed.
The pasta meal had not finished with us yet, though.  Early next morning I nearly blew bottom of the toilet out, as the undigested pasta rocketed through my system.  The next few days (ie our last day in Malta, the journey home and the days after that) were to be spent as close to the loo as possible.  20% discount if I return?  I think not!  My days of eating at that place are long gone.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Day 4: The free ride to the beach

Day 4 was Sunday, so like just about everyone else on the island, we headed for the beach.

Looking across they bay from our hotel, we had seen what looked like a promising place to go.

We set of early and had a nice stroll along the prom towards our goal.

On the way we saw this sign.

Barbaric, I call it!  :-)

Anyway, when we got to the beach, there were already some people there, but the beach itself was not what we had expected.

No sand to speak of, just bare, rough rocks.  After a short debate we decided to head back to the main beach to see if we could secure a spot there.

Instead of retracing our steps, we found a track that was heading in the right direction.

It DID take us in the right direction, but it did lead to us having to take another short cut through the grounds of a hotel, but hey, we just acted like tourists and the guard assumed we were guests...

So, back at the main beach, we started to look for a place to have our picnic, but were interrupted by a guy who wanted us to do a short survey.  I will cut a long story short:

We "won" a week's holiday.

We were given a ride in a car to a really posh hotel to claim it.

We realized this was really a time share scam, but played along.

We chatted to the guy.

We drank free drinks.

We said No.

We went outside and walked to the beach - a beach that we had wanted to go to but was a bit tricky to get to.  Thanks for the lift, guys!

There were some people there, but we found a nice spot to eat our picnic and watch what was going on.

There were some very inept surfers who got in trouble with the life guards for trying to surf in the swimming area.

I got really hot and went for another paddle.

Then it was time to go back to the hotel, so we decided to walk.  It was a few miles away, across 2 ridges and valleys, but it was a lovely walk.

We saw the ultimate cactus hedge...

And I have always liked the very different look of this church...

Half way back, miles from anywhere, we had a rather surreal encounter.  We had got used to the taxi drivers - they cluster in the towns, eager to offer us "a good price" for a ride.  We were strolling along, enjoying the views when a taxi pulled up, and the guy offered us, you guessed it, "a good price" for a ride home.  We declined, and he looked at us like we were insane!

The final stretch back to the town we were staying in was up this rather steep hill...

As we neared the top, we DID wonder about what our reaction would have been if another taxi appeared...

Looking back from the top to where we had come from...

Back in the town, we got freshened up and headed to an Italian restaurant for dinner.

The pizza looks very basic, but it was the cheesiest pizza I have ever had.  Fantastic.

I decided to save some for later so I could have a dessert...

Stuffed to bursting, we retired for the night.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Day 3: Valletta and the Birthday Cake

The wind had started to build up on the previous afternoon, blowing from the NW, bringing clouds with it.
For a lot of the morning there was the threat of rain, but we felt no more than a couple of splatters, and by lunchtime it was clear blue sky.
Valletta is the capital city of Malta, and has everything that you would expect either in or near it - all the major stores that you would expect to find in London, the president's residence, parliament, etc.
Valletta is surrounded by huge harbours, and the views out are wonderful.

Having strolled down the main street, we did a circuit of the sea walls, catching some views that I had not seen before.

There was a Disney cruise ship in town, which allowed us to fully appreciate a new piece of Malta's infrastructure.
You might remember that last time I was here I saw a new lift that went from dock level to city level.  Look at the picture 2 pictures up and you will realise how useful the lift would be to visitors who did not want to take the stairs all the way up!
We took the lift too, just like real tourists.

I don't know how much the lift cost to build, but now it is summer they have started charging - 1 Euro for the round trip.  Now with a Disney ship carrying up to 4000 passengers, I think they will be seeing a good return on their investment...
We stopped for a beer at this place, built in the Second World War as a platform for a 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft gun.

The bar inside is full of relics from the war - helmets, uniforms, belts of ammo, etc.  We tried one of the latest local beers, a lager with lemon in it.  Wonderful under the clearing sky.  We could have spent all afternoon there, supping beers, but Mrs RC does not hold her drink very well, so we moved on.
We decided to grab a snack next, so we looked around and went for a posh looking cake shop.
After a good look I decided that I had found my birthday cake.

I thought it looked pretty splendid, but it was rather horrible in reality - the icing was hard enough to break a tooth, the chocolate tasted stale, as did the rather odd cake-like filling.
Ah well, nothing goes to waste in a city, does it?

It was a great way to spend my 50th birthday.
Yes, the badge DID get a few comments, usually a whispered "Did you see that?"  but I also got a "You look really good for 50" from a woman in a shop, so I won't complain.
In the evening we returned to the Chinese restaurant for my Birthday dinner.  It was at this point that we noticed the difference in drink sizes between the UK and Malta.
We ordered orange juice, and were asked if we wanted small or large.  In the UK, small is a small juice glass, large usually a half pint.  We ordered large, and were pleasantly surprised when 2 PINTS of juice arrived!  I guess they don't want customers getting dehydrated!  This was reinforced a couple of days later when a "Large sparkling water" turned out to be a huge bottle of Perrier!
We had a dinner of ribs, pork balls, fried lamb, rice, chicken wings and prawn toast.  No room for the deep fried icecream that I had planned to have for dessert, but we were very happy...
On the way back I wanted to play in the fountains again...
but as I was wearing my suit I had to give it a miss...
Still, there was always tomorrow!
PS - just noticed that this is my 1111th post on this blog!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Day 2 - Gozo

We had a quick breakfast and then headed to the bus stop, which was only a short walk from the hotel, and were soon on the bus to the ferry terminal.  Maltese buses are legendary, being driven by insane, angry drivers who want to complete their trip as quickly as possible.  Let's just say that the downhill rides are better than most funfair rides.

By the way, the bus has a hinge in the middle, so that it can bend like a small train.  It is the hinge that is making the screeching sounds (hopefully!)

So, down to the ferry, a quick trip across and we were in Gozo.

The tour rep had told us that the buses on Gozo were not reliable, pushing us to take the guided tours.  As we left the ferry terminal a bus was waiting for us.

We had bought "ride all day" bus tickets in Malta, expecting them to work on Gozo too.  Wrong.  As we boarded the bus on Gozo, the woman there glanced at our ticket with utter contempt.

"Ve don't take your steeen-king MALTESE tickets!"

OK, maybe she did not use those exact words, but close enough.  We bought some more (they were dirt cheap anyway) and settled in for the ride.

Once in Victoria (the main town on Gozo) we set about wandering the streets with the vague aim of finding the Citadel which would give us great views of the island.

Being a staunchly Catholic country, the church gets a lot of respect.  People rush to give their seats to Nuns on the buses....

There are some great vehicles scattered around the islands - this one made me think of wReggie for some reason...

We finally found the Citadel, and staggered to the top in the intense heat.  Mrs RC even managed to perspire a little, something that never happened back in England!

As expected, the views were amazing.

Then it was back on the bus for Xlendi, a lovely little bay that you might remember from previous posts.  Oh, the bus we needed was sitting there waiting for us, too!

We had dinner here, which was great.  

One thing we had was deep fried goats cheese.  

Sounds so wrong.

Tastes so right.

One of my pieces of bread also tried to look like a local attraction:

As it turned out, the bread was as close as we were to get to the Azure Window, but more on that in another post.

We also discovered a new drink here - Watermelon Lemonade.

Without a doubt, this is the most refreshing drink in the entire universe, and as soon as we got home Mrs RC went to work trying to recreate it with great success - watermelon, lemonade and ice smashed together in a smoothie maker.  Fantastic.

After this we headed back to the ferry and the hotel (the bus had been waiting for us - so much for the rep's advice!), were we decided that we needed a bit of a swim.  From a visit about 20 years ago, I remembered a small beach that was not too far from where we were that might not be as busy as the main beach, so we set of to find it.  To cut a long story short, the town seems to have expanded to absorb the beach, and all we managed was to spend a couple of hours meandering through an estate that consisted of a series of loops with no quick way out - they were basically gated communities with no gates, just one way in and out.  So we retreated to the hotel in defeat, for a drink on the balcony.