Date: 1 May 2017
Location: The upper deck of Hornblower, north of Malta, somewhere in the azure (sorry, but it really is) of the Mediterranean.
“Is this the first time you’ve been to a European country this year?” asks my friend, who has asked to be nicknamed, for the purposes of this blog, ‘Busty Custacean’. The nickname perhaps needs some explaining. I let her pick it. It’s taken from a joke I heard a group of drunk guys tell on the Tube one Wednesday afternoon and then promptly relayed, loudly and delightedly, to our open plan office. The joke goes like this. What’s the difference between an old bus stop and a lobster with a boob job? Answer (say it aloud): One’s a crusty bus station, the other is a busty crustacean. She says it’s suitable as she’s as sunburned as a lobster. I think she just likes the idea of being referred to as ‘busty’.
Anyway, upon reflection, we could do better with that nickname. I’m going to go with Linka because she’s cute and blonde and, like her namesake Planeteer, hangs around with a multicultural cast of guys and gals.
“Actually, yes, I think it is,” I admit, surprised.
“So, when was the last time you did a trip to Europe?”
I wrack my besides then consult the fount: Instagram.
“Scotland over Halloween?”
“That’s the same country!”
“Ok then, Crete in September.”
Goodness. It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of an Easyjet or a Ryan Air, hasn’t it? (Don’t feel too sorry for me, I’ve had a few shocking BA and American Airlines flights.)
And now we’re in Malta.
We stay at the dated but sweetly earnest Maratim hotel in Mellieha, a small told town in towards the island’s north, and a jumping off point for ferries to Gozo. The hotel’s faded rooms are more than made up for by the view. (I’m sure I’ve said this before, but how exciting is it to fly in at night and not know what you’ll wake up to outside your window? Will it be a brick wall, rubbish bins and someone’s laundry, or a piazza with the glittering Med in the background? Ths time it’s the latter, with the added bonus of a Baroque church and the falling cliffs for drama.) Also, the hotel has 3 pools, including an adults only one on the roof, so I can look past the extremely Fawlty Towers-esque service and the poky rooms.
Malta itself is a distinct mix of flavours I’ve never seen before. It looks like it could be Baeleric or Greek island. But then the people speak flawless English. The food is essentially Italian, with a heavy lean towards middle eastern. Many characters of the alphabet are as unrecognisable as Cyrillic. It’s a financial services hub. It’s somewhat like Sicily’s weird — yet likeable — elder sister.
We have three days here and, until now, precious little planned. Or, Linka thinks we have very little planned. As you can imagine, having known me for a few years now, I almost always have a plan (or I flail). So, our travel styles rub up against one another a little, but not necessarily in a bad way. She’s of the laissez-faire, ‘I wonder what’s around this corner’ type. I like to organise and command — and I know what’s around that corner because I Googled it this morning and have led us here on purpose. But I relax a bit, and she lets me plans a bit (not too much) and we get on great.
On day 1, after a carb-heavy (this is going to be a theme) Maltese breakfast, we get ourselves to the popular Golden Bay. It’s more crowded than you’d expect at the end of April but, then, it is a bank holiday weekend in the UK and a Labour Day holiday across many other countries too. We see Frenchmen playing beach volleyball (I get a front row view, so to speak, when I get a fall to the head whilst sunbathing), loads of screaming Italian kids, sizzling pasty Irish girls. Soon, we move on to Tuffeia bay, a kilometre away, over a cliff. We take a dubious-looking cliffside path between the sea and fields of brilliant red poppies, growing in the red clay and then hit the sort of view that forces you to stop walking so quickly you almost fall over. We’ve reached one of the island’s Knights of St John watchtowers. Each of these towers guards its own corner of this much besieged island. From one tower you can see the next meaning that, by using of smoke signals, one tower can alert the entire island of an attack within 45 minutes. That’s cool. However, what’s made me fall over a rock is the view beyond the tower. Ahead is the grand bright blue bay of Tuffeia (Għajn Tuffieħa). It’s circled at one end by the cliffs we’re on and, at the other end, by a steep, high, undulating mound of what looks like sand. Beyond that you can see a third bay with even bluer water and red sand. It’s an incredible sight. Within the hour we’re standing on that long pile of sand, looking down its steep edge to the third bay below, — and it’s as bizarre as it seemed from a distance. You’re going to need to see the pictures. Finally, we nestle into a protected area, like a giant rockpool, and, though we’re not aware of it at the time, burn into busty crustaceans.