Friday, 19 September 2014

Malta and Gozo - August 2014


Not going to lie, I have felt the need to go abroad for a long time. Following my trip to Spain at New Year (check out what I got up to here http://charlottecoster.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/spain.html) I have had a huge amount of stress attempting to finish my degree. As did most final year undergraduate students...so me and my best friend from boarding school, Jo (who was also at Reading University with me) decided to book a trip somewhere to celebrate the end of 11 years in education together.

It took us a while to decide where to go. We debated options like Croatia, Lanzarotte, Bosnia, Chile, and Portugal before we eventually settled on...drum roll....Malta. And it has to be one of the best decisions we have ever made.

I have to say...and I will try not to say this too much throughout the blogpost (although that will be difficult), Malta is absolutely beautiful. Everything about it...the views, the architecture, the quaint little cobbled alley ways, the harbours and beaches... And, even though the island is really small, it contains just about anything that you could want to entertain you...which I will go into, a little more here.

Areas of natural beauty

This is one of the main aspects of Malta which attracted us to traveling here in the first place. It has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (I warned you that I wouldn't be able to avoid using the word 'beautiful' for long). Settled deep in the Mediterranean, it is such a southern part of Europe that it is basically Africa and has the dusty, humid heat to prove it. But the difference is, there's water everywhere. All around the island, there are little harbours and inlets, which are refreshingly damp views after you find yourself in the middle of the parched countryside, more inland.

the dead end
One of my favouritest (most favourite? I can't write English I am so excited by the memory) of these natural stunning views, was The Blue Grotto, which we visited on our final day in Malta. Finding it was a bit of a challenge. We were meant to get two buses but we somehow managed to get off at the wrong bus stop which made it absolutely impossible to find our connecting bus. Instead, we became hopelessly lost in the little rural village of Zurieq, wandering around it for about an hour, which included a 1.5 mile stroll down a dead-end. (Please also bear in mind that this was in the hottest part of the day so the temperature was 30+ degrees)

Eventually, just as we were considering returning to our hotel, we spotted a sign that said The Blue Grotto and what followed was a further two hour trek through the town and along various main roads. I kid you not, I was so tired and sunburnt by this time, I did actually have a little lie down next to one of these main roads (I dread to think what the people in the cars driving past thought of us). But we finally located the Blue Grotto, without any help from either bus or internet. Just our feet and a few blue signs. Maybe if we'd known that we were about to walk (for 3 hours) approximately 6 miles in searing heat, we might not have bothered coming here at all. But I am so so glad that we did. The Blue Grotto is definitely my favourite place in Malta. It was totally stunning, the ocean such a deep perfect blue and twinkling in the sunlight.

On arrival, we headed straight down into the little cove by the cliff you can see in the picture and jumped into a boat that took us around the surrounding caves. Well, to be more accurate, I stepped gingerly into the boat. I am slightly terrified of anything smaller than a ferry, and this particular one was unstable to say the least. I did not let go of the side of the boat for the whole half hour trip, which unfortunately meant  I couldn't take any pictures of the spectacular insides of the caves. As there is no (or very little) sand out here, the water is a completely clear blue and you can see right down to the seabed. It looks like we are mere centimetres from it, when actually it's at least a couple of metres deep. And the caves themselves were huge with wonderfully artistic ceilings, cut out from hundreds of years worth of pounding waves.

History
Other than getting lost, one of the better ways you could spend your time on Malta, is immersing yourself into the huge amounts of history that is prevalent across the island. There is so much - loads of museums in every town, beautiful old churches and cathedrals, old theatres, war memorials and the famous Neolithic temples.

We could have spent a lot more time than we did examining these ancient treasure troves, but Jo isn't very into history. So I had to forgo this mostly. We did have a chance to look around the beautiful St John's Co-cathedral in Valletta, close to where we were staying. You know how cathedrals are often beautiful on the outside, but completely plain on the inside? Well, this was the exact opposite. On the outside it was nothing special, but inside was incredible. The marble floor was completely covered with brightly coloured art, and all the gold decorations and statues that you can see are 24 carat gold. We were given a free audio guide and a map so we could press the right buttons, therefore telling us the right information. But somehow we became really confused by the map and ended up going backwards, unable to work out which numbers related to which bit. We must have looked pretty stupid, having no idea where we were going or what we were doing and wandering around, against the flow. In fact, I am pretty certain that we did look stupid because we had to wear these silly cloths to cover our legs as well. I guessed that we would have to cover our shoulders but apparently my hotpants didn't quite make the cut either so I spent the entire time tying and retying the stupid fabric.

I did also manage to drag Jo around the Ä gantija temples which were on Gozo. I thought they were pretty cool but she wasn't so impressed, calling them 'a load of old stones'. But they are two of the oldest structures, not only in Europe but in the world. I loved being able to wander in amongst their walls and imagine how beautiful they must have looked back when they were in their prime, thousands of years ago.

Surrounding Islands


The temples that we did get around to visiting were actually situated on Gozo, the sister island of Malta which we devoted a whole day to exploring. We had wanted to see, Comino as well but unfortunately didn't have enough time for both the additional islands so we picked the larger one.

For speed and to ensure that we saw as much of the island as possible, we decided to go on one of those open-topped tour buses. I always laugh at the people sitting on those, snapping away with their cameras whenever I see them in London. But actually on Gozo, it was quite effective.

Khaleesi's wedding place
AKA the Azure Window, Gozo
The Entrance to King's Landing
AKA the entrance to Mdina, Malta
We saw a huge amount, including a factory/warehouse where sundried tomatoes were...well...dried by the sun; a beautiful bay with stunning cliffs surrounding it; a beach with really unusual red sand; the ancient temples I mentioned above and one of the many places where Game of Thrones was filmed (Khaleesi's wedding at the very beginning of season 1. I could do a whole essay on the areas that they filmed Game of Thrones in. We visited the old capital city of Mdina the gate of which is the entrance to King's Landing so that was pretty cool as well).

Beaches/Harbours/Bays
The Ramla beach on Gozo is definitely the prettiest that we came across, with unique red sand and a smattering of Roman remains on the edge of it. After we had become really sunburnt, it was a relief to stop off here and to relax in the cool, glittering sea.

Apart from the odd one, there aren't actually that many beaches on Malta or Gozo. Which may surprise you, as they are islands after all! What are far more common are the harbours, which are nearly as cool. We strolled along many bays, harbours and little inlets, lusting after the beautiful boats. Getting around by boat is often far quicker so many people on Malta do own one of some kind. And some of them are ridiculously extravagant.

Nightlife

What there is definitely no lack of, are bars and there are a huge number of both bars and pubs dotted evenly throughout the whole island. But if you did want a bit more of a boogie and a dance scene, Paceville is where you need to head to. This holds the 'strip' of the island and although it may not be quite as big or insane as Magaluf/Zante/Malia, it is still pretty fun.

We didn't actually stay there long. Being extremely old, we found ourselves to tire very quickly of the intense noise and slightly overwhelming crowds of people in these clubs. So we left in favour of a nearby pub, just around the corner. There we shared a bottle of wine and were chatting in relative peace until this was ruined by some middle aged Italian men who seemed intent on bringing us back to their hotel to 'show us their swimming pool.' Needless to say, as soon as we had finished our wine we looked for a way to escape without being too rude. They bought us a few drinks, sang karaoke dedicated to us and finally left us alone for a moment, to visit the toilet. We took the opportunity and legged it from the pub. Not stopping until we reached the bus stop about half a mile away. There we hopped around in fear, expecting them to round the corner any minute, but the bus arrived and we made it back to our hotel safe and sound. And very drunk.

Architecture

Wherever I go when I travel abroad, I always make sure I dedicate a portion of my time to simply wandering around the new place. It helps you to get your bearings but more than that, it is a great way to soak up the atmosphere and to observe every day life as it goes on around you.

The tall, softly coloured, sandstone buildings tower over the narrow cobbled streets and we instantly seemed to lose ourselves in the midst of these little mazes within each town. The more rural towns were slightly different, and were much more shabby, with smaller farmhouses, spaced out amongst loads of browned fields, that had gone dry in the sun. Each was separated by a walls that were basically piled stones which was apparently common across the whole of Malta to prevent soil erosion.

I loved the cities of Malta though. Each building and street had its own character and there wasn't a moment that I was bored. For anyone who wants sun, sea and (a little bit of) sand - you will find that all here. As well as so much more.


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