This Easter weekend, a couple of co-workers and I went to the Mediterranean islands of Malta. We were thinking of taking a trip together a few months ago, and in Amsterdam we get both Good Friday and Easter Monday as holidays, so the four day weekend was a great choice to go somewhere for the long weekend.
It was my idea to go to Malta. After meeting a beautiful Maltese man in Vancouver through a friend a couple of years ago, it just seemed like a place I should go see.
Malta has three main islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino. We stayed in the town of St. Julians on Malta. The island is very tiny (roughly 320 sq/km), so most of the northern towns blend together into one densely populated area.
The locals have two official languages: Maltese and English. We didn’t find one person that didn’t speak English, and a lot of places cater to tourists.
Because of its strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta has had significant military importance. In 1814 it became part of the British Empire, and was used as an anti-Axis shipping lane position for the Allies and ammunition storage base for WWII. It gained its independence from the British in 1964 and a full republic free of the UK ten years later.
Malta is a highly Catholic country. There was evidence everywhere of the recent visit of the Pope. We were there on Easter weekend, so I was sure what to expect in terms of allowance of alcohol or shops being open, but everything was available and we had time to shop and experience the night life.
Check out the wikipedia page for Malta for more information
The weather on the island was sunny with clear skies. Temperatures ranged from low 20s in the afternoons to low teens at night. You can really tell the difference from being by the water and being more inland. The breeze can get quite chilly if you decide to do a boat tour or stroll along the coast.
It was the perfect temperature. Not too hot so that you’re sweating while walking around, but warm enough to throw on a pair of shorts and sandals for the day.
We stayed at the InterContinental in St. Julians, which is right in the heart of the entertainment district, Paceville. One of the main shipping centers, Bay Street, was right across the street. Bay Street had a handful of restaurants, and some recognizable shops, such as FCUK, Mexx, Tommy Hilfiger, and Guess.
The hotel’s amenities include both an indoor and outdoor rooftop pool, a full gym, many restaurants and a clubhouse room with breakfast, afternoon tea, and cocktails everyday. Unlimited entrance to the clubhouse costs a bit extra, but if you can afford it is definitely worth it. We were able to stop by any time during the day for a quick snack and non-alcoholic drink, and between 6 and 7:30 they had free of charge cocktails including beers, champagne, wines, and spirits. The best part though was the free wireless internet and four computer stations with printer. The rooms only offer pay internet.
The outdoor pool was very beautiful and clean. Not a bad way to spend a few hours laying around. The indoor pool was not as impressive. The room it was in was rather dark, and it was stuffed with little kids and families. Not very relaxing.
The gym was pretty below average. They had a wide variety of free weights and cardio machines, but they seemed to be lacking one or two (what I would assume to be) standard weight machines, such as one for seated back row. The weight room also appeared to not have any attendants. There were no water fountains, and when we asked an employee they pointed us toward a vending machine. Not impressed there. The one cool item it did have was a rotating wall climb. It worked sort of like a vertical treadmill. You could set the speed and the wall would give you an endless repeating trail to climb.
The room itself was pretty standard, yet clean. We fit four adults in two twins and a cot. The cot made it a little crowded, but some of us were uncomfortable sleeping with someone else in the bed, so we smooshed it in. The room came with pay internet, a TV with some movie channels and British news stations. There was a balcony facing the inside of the hotel with a partial view of the city.
We didn’t spend that much time in the room, but when we did we were comfortable. That and the staff was fairly friendly. I would recommend staying there to anyone.
It’s about a 20 euro cab ride from the airport, and near major bus stops to take you to most of the tourist destinations.
We got in mid-afternoon on Friday and left very early on Monday morning, so we really only had two days to go see the sites during the day. The first day we decided to bus over to the capital city of Valleta. Valleta sits at the north of the island and has some spectacular views of two of the major harbors.
Walking around, you can see a lot of old limestone structures. The color palate of the beige of the buildings, the blue-green of the water, and the vibrant splashes of color on the apartments and shops is rather glorious. That being said, unless you have an intense interest in baroque architecture, after about an hour, it all starts to bleed together and you feel like it’s time for something new. Interesting points include a couple of gardens on the east side, and the City Hall, which is right in the middle.
Be on the lookout for the many cats and lizards that roam the city.
There are plenty of souvenir shops and low to mid scale shopping inside the city if you’re interested.
We bussed to and from the hotel to Valletta on the city’s local transportation system. The trip took about 40 minutes each way, but only cost 47 euro cent, vs a 15 minute cab ride for about 15 euros.
The second day we opted for one of the island’s bus or boat tours. Unfortunately, we got a little bit of a late start, so we missed all the bus tours, but we were able to take a harbor cruise. The 16 euro, hour and a half tour left from the town of Silema (in between St Julians and Valletta) and hugged the coast of two major harbors of the island. You get to see a lot of beautiful parts of the cities, along with a brief narrated history. There were other day long tours that would go to the other two islands, but the 90 minute cruise was just perfect for us, and there are many photo opportunities. I definitely recommend bringing a jacket, as the wind on the water can drop the temperature of the air significantly.
Overall, what we saw was probably more of the touristy areas, but interesting nonetheless. If I go back, I would consider renting a car for a day or two and going more into the southern parts of the island.
The food was boring. That’s my general opinion. A lot of the restaurants we went to weren’t particularly fancy, but everything seemed to have a lack of flavor. The pastas and pastries were sort of pedestrian and underwhelming. That being said, I’m not much of a food critic to begin with, and that wasn’t one of our main reason for traveling. We were looking for good price rather than good flavor.
The places we ate at had a wide variety of pastas, pizzas, burgers, and main meat dishes. Rabbit seemed to be a local favorite, being offered at too many places to be a coincidence.
The one thing I did love was a local lager called Cisk. Light tasting and a great flavor. It was a great change from the constant Heineken onslaught I’m bombarded with here in Amsterdam. And the best part was the price. An average of 3 euros for a pint and never more than 2 for a half pint and bars and restaurants, you couldn’t go wrong.
The Night Life
Oh lord the night life. This will probably be the most memorable part of the trip for me, both good and bad. I’ll start off by saying, if you like to drink a LOT and like clubs then you’ll love it there. Almost every club we walked by had a disgustingly cheap drink ‘special’. The most common being 10 shots of tequila for 12 euros (they were full shots too). Or a pitcher of vodka redbull for roughly 10 euros.
Sounds awesome right? Well, add the cheap drinks to the fact that the local drinking age is 17 and you’ll see the large majority of the clubs filled with scores of tiny teenagers who can’t hold their alcohol. We saw numerous thin armed boy fights, curb side hysterical girls, and mid street puke sessions. If you can get past the fact that you’re going to feel like a lot of places are holding a highschool prom, then it’s actually quite fun. There were a few bars we stopped into that had good music and a happy crowd.
I was able to drag a few of my straight friends into the one gay bar I could find called Klozet. I’m guessing because of the highly religious population, Klozet was a little off the main drag away from the other bars. When we went to enter, the bouncer informed us that this was a gay bar. If I hadn’t have known that before entering, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell. It seemed like most of the other bars in Paceville. The music was loud and full of top 40 hits. The drinks were cheap. The audience was primarily young, and there were more than the fair share of ladies.
We went on a Saturday night to Klozet, and while it was fun, it wasn’t as packed as some of the other bars, and the guys weren’t as good looking. Which was a shame, because the streets and bars had much eye candy (legal eye candy, haha). I was very impressed with the quality of dress of almost every guy I saw. There did seem to be a lot of Italian influence on the style. I couldn’t tell if it was because there were a lot of Italian tourists or if it was the locals as well.
On the first night we arrived the island had a full blackout. Our hotel had a generator, as did most of the clubs and restaurants, but it could have signalled a bad omen for the weekend. Fortunately that was not the case, and the trip was very memorable. It was nice to get away from home and go somewhere for the weekend that was breathtaking, safe, and affordable.
I don’t know how much the island would have to offer for a stay longer than a few days, but if you’re looking for a place with a relaxed attitude, and some interesting culture, Malta’s a great vacation destination.
If you would like to see the pictures from my trip go check out my flickr page. There’s mostly shots of the city, and the sites.
Tomorrow I’m off to Dublin and London with Donovan, Brian and Kevin. Pretty exciting week for me! Happy Easter!