Saturday, September 23, 2017

Malta Day Two: mhmm...Mdina!

I'm writing about Day Two at the end of Day Three, because I got a little much sun yesterday and went comatose as soon as my head hit the pillow (sort of). Just so you know why I'm using the word "yesterday" instead of "today" - although this, too, won't be posted until who knows when.

I got up, got ready, got breakfast (which was absolutely terrible, but that's what you get when your hotel has guests from all over and wants to please all of them), got readier (sunscreen and shades), and then went to the bus stop to get picked up by the tour operator like all the other tourists who want to see all the pretty things without having to interact with a single local while doing so. Except souvenir and ice cream vendors, of course. I hope the three Austrians from Day One took a bus somewhere as well so they could see that, oh goodness, these poor, oh so behind us truly civilized cultures, people on this much too dusty, simply not correctly irrigated island do have proper roads after all, wow. Good for them. Ugh, those three still bug me.

Now, this first bus, which was also open topped, made frequent stops at the larger hotels and resorts and thus took a bunch of us to Sliema. To my surprise, that's pronounced \SLEE-ma\ and not \slee-AY-ma\, as I had thought. As I said, other than identifying some of the influences, I don't understand the Maltese language. In Sleeema, right where the ferry to Valletta docks, across the street from Burger King (their description, not mine) we got onto the actual tour bus. The blue one, for the northern tour. Here's a picture of the route so I don't have to explain it. Yay, laziness.

I had marked points of personal interest in the brochure thingie, but planned on deciding spontaneously if I'd get off, sorry hop off, the bus or not. As the voice of the audio guide explained some of the country's history and I strained to understand her over the intense wind up there on top of the bus and over the fact that the cheap headphones they used didn't really fit in my ears, we made our way first downwards to Valletta and then towards the centre and the western part of the island. I have to say, I'm not usually one who enjoys those audio guides, but this one was actually well done and interesting and made me want to go get five to ten books on Maltese history, culture, and -drumroll- language. Just to give you an idea, here's some of the things you can make out between gusts of wind: Sicilians, the Punic Wars, Phoenicians, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the knights (Templar?!), Zeus and Odysseus, Islam, St Peter, grandmasters and monks and fishermen, the two World Wars, Alexandria,... and so much more. I mean, how could you not be transfixed and 100% crazy fascinated by this place? I'll be honest: I am sincerely embarrassed by how little I know about the Maltese islands, as the voice in the wall of the bus kept calling them. This place holds such significance; how was I not aware of any of it?

Here's some photos while I try to figure out what this incredible ignorance on my part stems from.

In the end, I got out at only one place: Mdina. Recommended when I posted about coming here on Facebook and the most alluring of stops as described by the brochure.

The first thing I did once off the bus was spending about 20min figuring out why my phone claimed to be out of memory storage, and fixing it - luckily. Then I crossed the bridge over the now dry moat and stepped through the gate into the walled city that used to be the capital back when living on the coast was a bad idea due to regular corsair attacks. See, I forgot to mention pirates in my list up top. Narrow streets, little plazas, an incredible view over, well, everything.

I enjoyed the small details you could find everywhere in Mdina more than anything, so here's some of them.

For the rest of the trip, around more villages and then back to Sliema, I decided not to listen to the guide anymore. Those oldschool earbuds are too big for my ears and therefore don't fit. And what they lack in fitting they make up for in hurting, so I decided to just watch and observe for the rest of the tour. Which was also very enjoyable, although I did feel the curiosity grow with every piece of information the others got and I didn't.

Once back by the ferries and across the street from BK, I got myself a latte (first coffee of the day because the one at breakfast wasn't drinkable) and then boarded the bus that would take us back to our various hotels up the coast so we could end the day as we had started it: isolated in a space of tourists and service personnel, free of the authenticity of a conversation with anyone who doesn't speak the same language as yourself or English.

And the sunburn I discovered when I got back to my room, brought on by spending hours out in the open on the bus' upper level without once refreshing the sunscreen on my face or anywhere else, was the reason I didn't write this until today.

Can't wait to get those five to ten books!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Malta Day One: arrival in newness.

Let me preface this whole thing here with this very important piece of information: I have been up for over 36hrs at this point. It is currently 9.15PM on September 5th. Of the year 2017. I got up at about 8AM on September 4th. Also if the year 2017. Yesterday. I have not slept since. Because I had to be at the airport at 4AM today, I didn't take the thing that helps me sleep last night - according to some random post I saw on Instagram today is Be Late For Something Day. Yeah, no. Not risking my long awaited vacation (long awaited by my mom, my dad, my friends, my colleagues, and many more). So, long story short, I'm a little tired and this thing here might turn out to be somewhat nonsensical at times. But I'm using big words here, so let's hope for the best. Preface done.

I'm in Malta. To be precise, I'm in the Paradise Bay Resort at the northern tip of the island, across the water from Comino and Gozo. Yes, you read that right. Resort. I have a room with a balcony, overlooking the pool and the bay. Breakfast is included, as is the transfer from and to the airport. And while I waited for my room to be ready, I booked three guided tours. A hop-on hop-off tour of the northern half of this island, a hop-on hop-off tour of Gozo, and a harbour tour around Sliema and Valletta. I know, I know. This is not very me. But it's happening and we will deal with it together. Uh, final blow: I booked it in a travel agency.

Didn't book first class, though. No idea how I got into 1F, 
because I gave less at the time (winkwink).

Wait, one more: the reason I'm posting this so long after writing it is that there is No. Free. WiFi. In. My. Hotel!!! Cue maniacal laughter.

Hell is frozen over, the sky is filled with winged pigs, and I took a break from reading my Candace Bushnell novel to watch the sunset from my balcony.

Are you breathing again? Is your heartrate back to normal? Good.

I didn't do much today, because of the whole not sleeping thing. Spent a lot of time exploring the hotel, sitting by the pool, and reading, because I arrived way before check-in time and was way too beat to do anything real. I walked over to the resort's little private beach (I promise, this is the last shocker.) and stuck my toes in the sand and let the waves wash over my feet and you can not imagine how that felt. It's been so long since the last time I touched the ocean, it felt like coming home. Yes, it's the Mediterranean sea, not the Atlantic, but they're all connected and, for a few minutes, so was I. I've been in my room since then, deciding I didn't want to venture any further, because with how out of sync my inner clock is, the rest of me is also out of wack. Is that a real phrase?

The highlight of my day was the ride from the airport to Paradise Bay, from the southern to the northern end of the island, zig-zagging our way up. This place is fascinating in how much it feels like a point of confluence from the entire mediterranen shore around it. It's simultaneously humid and arid. Don't ask me how that works, but you're sticky from the moment you leave the airport building yet you're surrounded by dry shrubs, spindly trees and bushes, and heaps on heaps of cacti laden with fruit. The streets are so narrow, cars regularly have to stop and figure out who goes first maneuvering around each other without taking off the other's side mirrors or scraping along the stubby stone walls that line the roads. The architecture screams Maghrib and Middle East, yet in the centre of every major cluster of buildings you see the steeples of churches and the cuppulas of cathedrals and basilicas, while regularly passing crosses and madonna statues at the side of the road or on building corners. And the language! I doubt I'd be able to correctly pronounce a single street or town name. So many X's! What? All I could think that whole time was how I'd love to rent a car and drive around myself, probably stopping every 500m or so to marvel at everything and take a million pictures. OK, yes, you're right. Every 50m.

I was the only one with that disposition, though. I had to physically restrain myself from snapping at the trio of younger (than me, I'd say early twenties) Austrians behind me, who kept criticizing the island's infrastructure, throwing around not just words like impractical and illogical, but also terms along the lines of stupid and underdeveloped. What the hell, people? Your point of view is not universal - and, boy, am I grateful for that! I really want to escalate this into a full blown rant now, but I won't.

So, instead of endangering the population by zooming around myself (although I still really want to), I'll be spending the next few days exploring as much as I can by bus and boat.

And relaxing. Another first.

First impressions:

Taking my thing now.
Good night!