Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Must-See Malta

This is almost certainly The Last Post About Malta.  I just want to sum up.

I was very nervous about going on holiday but actually for the most part I enjoyed myself and didn’t run into any trouble.


Although I did run into this freaky 3D Van Gogh.
I get embarrassed having my picture taken which is why they're never funny, even when it would clearly be so easy to be silly.  Sorry.

Overall I liked Malta.  The weather was just right, not hot but not cold.  I didn’t have trouble eating.  Everyone is bilingual English so it’s easy to communicate.  The bus service is excellent.  It felt safe.

So if you happen to find yourself jetting off to Malta, these are the tourist attractions I would definitely recommend:

Hastings Gardens (free) in Valletta for the views.  Good if you like castles (and gardens).

Casa Rocca Piccola (€9.00) in Valletta to see lots of historical curios and an air raid shelter; lots of variety here and a good tour.  Good if you like history and stately homes.  Tours are on the hour.

The Roman Domus (€6.00) in Rabat for Roman artefacts; a well-labelled museum with some wonderfully preserved pieces.  Good if you like history and museums.

The Malta At War Museum (€8.00) in Vittoriosa/Birgu for the underground air raid tunnels.  Museum itself isn’t great, apart from the genuine WWII film, but the tunnels are a must see for anyone with the slightest interest in the war, or who just wants to get a bit creeped out.

St Paul’s Catacombs (€5.00) in Rabat for creepy underground tunnels of doom.  Good if you want to scare the pants off yourself or if you like underground stuff, and history I suppose.  You MUST borrow the free audio guide at the start so you know what you are looking at.

National Museum of Archaeology (€5.00) in Valletta for some astoundingly detailed artwork and stuff from ancient times; some of the museum is quite boring but some of the artefacts really opened The Mind, so while mixed, overall a must-see.  Good if you like history (and art, I suppose) and museums.  Definitely go here BEFORE visiting any of the ancient temple sites.

Upper Barracca Gardens (free) in Valletta to see the noonday firing of the cannon in the Saluting Battery.  Only worth it if you want to see a cannon get fired, although there is a beautiful view of the sea too.

The National War Museum (€6.00) in Valletta to see World War II artefacts including Faith, one of four old biplanes that protected Malta, and the George Cross awarded to the entire island for bravery.  For WWII history buffs, only worth it if you really enjoy museums, but there is a lot packed in to a small space.

Prince Alfred’s Courtyard of The Grand Master’s Palace (free) in Valletta to see the huge stone lions hiding behind the trees.  It’ll only take a minute, but it’s quite atmospheric.

See The More Detailed Posts of what I saw in:

There.  Done.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Vegan Eating In Malta

(EDIT 2016: When I visited Malta in 2012, I had only recently become a vegan and wasn't as strict or wise as I could have been, so I would thoroughly recommend ASKING what is in a meal before ordering and not just trusting that something listed as vegetarian sounds like it is probably vegan too.)

My advice to anyone travelling abroad and worried about vegan or even just vegetarian eating would be to stay somewhere where you can cook your own meals – that way you can bring food with you from home and buying basic dinner staples shouldn’t be that difficult anyway.  It’s finding places to eat out where the difficulty usually begins (even before going on holiday).

Before I went to Malta I was not confident of being able to find anything to eat.  All the advice I read stated that Malta is not a country that understands vegetarianism, doesn’t make main courses without meat, national dishes are fish and rabbit, and it has a heavy culture of bird hunting to the point where hunters break in and trash the nature reserves.

However, I actually had no trouble eating here at all.

I researched places that might serve vegans before I left, using both the Internet and guidebooks, so was certain I would find at least one place to eat.

I ate breakfast at The Hotel each morning, made a packed lunch each day and had dinner at restaurants in the evening.

Breakfast was huge, though with no way of knowing the ingredients of most dishes, I was limited to a range of fruit salad and jam on a range of breads.  I swear the jam was just coloured sugar.  This was still a bigger breakfast than I’d have at home and due to the heat I wasn’t as hungry as I would be normally anyway.  If I had really wanted, I could have brought vegan milk and butter to breakfast and had a far bigger meal, though I would have had to pay to have my mini bar emptied so I could use it as a fridge.

I packed quite a few emergency snacks in The Suitcase and on The First Day I stopped in Park Towers Supermarket in St Julian’s to buy lunch supplies for The Week.  This is a good supermarket, with all the usual supplies including vegan butters, milks and yoghurts.  I spent €15 on this and had more than enough food to make lunch every day.  Too much in fact.  And sometimes I saved fruit or bread from breakfast to add even more to lunch.

In St Julian’s there is a health food shop called Good Earth that has even more vegan supplies (vegan cheese and tofu etc), useful if you are preparing your own dinners (which I wasn’t), and I saw a Holland & Barrett’s in both Paceville and Valletta.  So buying food was very easy and it was all perfectly well labelled, just like in England.

I was pleasantly surprised that many restaurants in St Julian’s and around clearly listed vegetarian meals on their menus (I love the V), though a careful read of The Ingredients was still needed in case they think fish is a plant, or in one baffling case, bacon. 

Most meals in the places I was looking were between €8 and €12.

I ate at Parapet, which was on the corner of Triq San Gorg and Triq Gort in Paceville.  It had very friendly and helpful waiters although The Food took several years to arrive.  I chose this place because it actually listed vegan food on The Menu.  However this turned out to be a choice of one starter and one main course.  I had The Main, linguini with tomato, olives and breadcrumbs.  It was okay, though I don’t like eating linguini (or spaghetti) in public as I don’t know how to do it neatly, and I don’t actually like tomato or olives.  Maltese meals are HUGE and I didn’t once see someone finish a whole meal.  The waiter did offer me parmesan, which I easily declined, and The Complimentary Bread came with a bowl of slop which they forgot to mention wasn’t vegetarian.  I’m not foolhardy enough to taste food before knowing what is in it, thankfully, and when pressed The Waiter did admit it wasn’t vegetarian as it had a hint of anchovies.  So it was cat food.


Parapet

I had to eat here again because The Brother loved the place so much (said his meal (beef) was the best thing he’d ever eaten).  This time I had The Starter with a side salad.  The Starter was bruschetta, so it was basically four very small pieces of toast piled high in tomatoes.  The salad was basic and really nice.  I was given a can of olive oil (that looked like lighter fluid), which I wasn’t sure if it was for The Salad or The Starter.  I figured The Starter, as bruschetta often comes with dipping oils, but others thought it was The Salad.  I am not one to ruin good fresh vegetables with mank though, so I used it for The Starter, even though it was already slightly oiled.  This did make it more edible, but it wasn’t much of a meal.


Parapet again

I ate at Paparazzi, which was on Triq San Gorg, right on Spinola Bay in St Julian’s, which is unfortunately part of the same building as Meat & Co, whose menu actually has pictures of lumps of meat.  Paparazzi’s menu has the theme of classic Hollywood, which is a hoot, but the theme isn’t really carried on indoors.  There’s a range of seating areas, though the service isn’t amazing.  There are quite a few vegetarian choices, so I had ‘Stormy’ which is their vegetarian burger.  This is a bean and nut burger with cheese and hot tomato sauce on pita, with chips and salad.  I ordered it sans cheese.  The Burger was almost as big as The Head, but it was gorgeous.  I even liked the sauce, which was more like sweet chilli than tomato and nicely complemented The Burger, the toasted pita was just right and the chips were good.  The only flaw in the meal was that the salad was very small and mostly covered in mank (coleslaw), but I forgave it for The Delightful Burger.  The Eternal Regret is I only got halfway through it before my appetite was sated.  I wanted to come back here, but due to a bad stomach later in the holiday, I wasn’t able to, except once when all I had was a small pot of chips.



Paparazzi

On Vittoriosa/Birgu waterfront I found Tate Café, which I sought out because it is one of only two vegetarian restaurants on the island (though it has absolutely no sign indicating this either on the building or menu which is disappointing) (the other is Angka Café in Marsa, which I passed twice on The Bus but never had time to stop at).  It wasn’t very welcoming.  I sat right on the waterfront and had Mexican Rice, which was okay, but I couldn’t eat all of it.  The waitress, who didn’t give amazing service, did offer to let me take the rest away with me, but I didn’t fancy cold rice and had no way of heating it up.  After the meal, I popped into the toilet (ladies’ was broken so had to use the men’s) and then both members of staff had vanished and new people had been seated at my table.  I could very easily have walked out without paying.  In fact, I had to go out of my way TO pay.  I regretted The Tip.

Outside The Hotel in St Julian’s there was an ice cream shop that had a soya ice, but it was vanilla flavour, which is too boring.  So I went to Bugibba specifically to go to the ice cream shop SottoZero, 44 Spring Street.  It took a while to find even though it is just off the main part of The Seafront because I walked the wrong way into town from the bus stop.  They had five varieties of vegan ice cream, all exciting flavours and colours.  I had the one called ‘cookies and rice’, which seemed to be ‘cookies and cream’.  It was very nice, although I don’t actually like ice cream much, and I was only having it because it was vegan. 

Yes, my phone focused on the ground rather than the ice cream...

Perhaps vegan eating would be harder in small traditional villages, but in big tourist areas there are many restaurants that cater to many tastes, and I could always find ones that listed vegetarian meals and then it’s just a matter of picking ones that can be easily converted to vegan.

It was no harder eating vegan in Malta than it is in England, you just have to look in The Right Places.

P.S. Although the water in Malta is ‘safe’, I had read that it is still recommended to drink bottled water, so I bought bottles from the supermarket for very cheap and this worked out fine.  However, one day I drank some water from a bottle provided by the hotel and after this I got a sick stomach, which ruined several day trips as I was constantly having to find the nearest toilet and didn’t want to eat much for the rest of the holiday.  The Moral is don’t drink from mysterious bottles that suddenly materialise in your room one day.  However, no one else was affected and they drank this stuff, so I can’t even be 100% that was what made me ill.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

What I Saw In Bugibba

The view across The Sea from Bugibba.
Ditto.
Bugibba itself is a dump, like any cheap, dirty English seaside town, so not much to look at.  In fact, it really reminded me of home.  And that is where I went.

Friday, 30 November 2012

What I Saw At The Blue Grotto

NOTHING! 



I really wanted to explore some caves and go on a boat, so I went down to Wied iz-Zurrieq on the opposite side of Malta to go on The Blue Grotto boat ride, which combines both these things.  I followed the signs all the way down the hill to The Sea, past dramatic scenery,


Island of Filfla




A Cat
to the ticket office, which was closed with no sign explaining why.  After standing about like lemon for a while and watching other tourists wander past, look confused and then vanish, eventually we found out from the local tourist shop that the tours were closed today because The Sea was too rough.  While this is a fair enough reason and I have no desire to be dashed to pieces against some rocks, would it have been so difficult to put up a SIGN explaining this?  Clearly yes.  This made me angry.

Since Mnajdra and Hagar Qim temples were nearby, briefly considered seeing them, but Tarxien was so dull, decided to just get The Bus back to Valletta to continue scouring the shops for signs of lions (fruitlessly).

Thursday, 29 November 2012

What I Saw In Mdina And Rabat

I went into Mdina through The Main Gate, where I came across another pair of lions, these ones holding some kind of shield, like ones I had seen near Sliema from The Bus.  This was now the fifth set of lions I had come across in Malta, they are obviously a thing (possibly connected to Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena?), and yet I never found a trace of them in any tourist shop, not matter how obsessively I searched.

I wandered Mdina:


It did look cool from a distance, but I wasn’t able to get a picture of this.  The view from inside out was less exciting though panoramic:

Both Mdina and Rabat were populated by some hilarious tiny stretchy birds
but they always flew away when I tried to get a photo.

I left Mdina through The Greek Gate which is of some historical interest or something.
This led into Rabat.

I visited The Roman Domus (€6.00).  The museum is built over what was once a Roman house, though only the foundations remain.  This was cool, with an astonishingly well-preserved mosaic being the centrepiece. 

It's 3D!


as well as remains of other mosaics:



this one was repaired with cheaper-non-matching tiles, showing that The Roman Family must have gone through financial difficulties
and here you can make out part of a freaky face.
I read every single piece of information in this museum so it must have captured The Interest. 

There were cabinets of various things they’ve dug up, nearly all interesting (apart from the bits of pot) because The Romans were incredibly talented craftsmen,
with freaky masks, beautiful perfume bottles, funny animal spouts and a huge glass vase that has survived in tact:
There were also several statues of Claudius and family: 

Outside there are more foundations, but not much to see, in a Tarxien Temple kind of way:

This is an orange tree:
This is some bush that was lucky to Romans and something to do with love:
I walked past St Paul’s Church:
Then I went to St Paul’s Catacombs (€5.00).  Here you get an audio guide free, so long as you give them a document as ransom.  Without The Audio Guide, the place is meaningless so I marvelled at doltish tourists who skipped it and then kept saying ‘I don’t know what I’m looking at’.  The above ground bit is dull and The Audio Guide goes on too long, but then you go into a tomb,

blocking stone engraved with surgical tools

which was freaky as hell. 

Then you go down into the main catacombs. 

children’s loculi (tombs cut into the wall)
The Audio Guide said to not be afraid of The Catacombs.  I ignored his advice.  This place was terrifying. 

‘agape’ table (for funeral meal)


large hall later used as an underground chapel
Once again I found myself in underground corridors carved from the rock with intermittent lighting (see here), but this wasn’t carved to save lives, this was carved to store death.  I was walking around graves.  I’ve seen enough films to know this is a BAD idea.

baldacchio tomb with vaulted lid carved out of the rock


baldacchio tombs without lid

And just as I had got as deep in as I could go,

gaping hole that suddenly appeared at head height showing further tombs inside; pretty sure this was the start of a horror film

the whole place went silent. 

No footsteps, no chattering, the other tourists had finished.  I was alone down here.
Most terrifying moment of The Life. 
The Audio Guide kept encouraging me to leave the main (tiny winding) path (filled with dark gaping holes full of monsters, zombies, mummies, demons, ghosts, evil, death, aargh) to explore, to which I respectfully said SCREW THAT and got the hell outta there.
After this I had intended to visit St Agatha’s religious complex, but I had had enough scary dark underground tunnels of doom for one holiday so went back to The Hotel. 

I did see this weird tree though:

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

What I Saw In Kalkara

Fort Rinella (€10.00), by far the most overpriced place I visited, value for money wise. 

Now The Understanding was that at 2.30 pm every day (except Mondays when The Fort is closed) there is the ‘main’ or ‘extended’ tour, which costs an extra €5.00, but has historical re-enactments and demonstrations of Morse code, firing of live artillery and period weaponry.  This was The Only Reason for going to The Fort.  So when I arrived at 2pm and asked for a ticket for The 2.30 Tour, I was a bit surprised when the lady at the ticket office stared at me blankly.  After repeating my request a few times, to increased ‘I don’t understand English’ reactions, and then describing the tour I wanted, she finally admitted she knew what I was talking about, and that usually they do have this daily tour, in fact, they have it daily, surprisingly enough, but not today, as instead there was some weekend horse show.  Since I was already there, I stayed.

This was the ‘Equus Display – The War Horse Through History’.  Unfortunately, since the show started at 2, everyone who knew about it was already there and there were no seats left.  I had to stand at the edge, so The View was slightly obscured and this did not help The Backache that I’d contracted the day before, but the show was awesome, so that made up for it quite a bit. 

The narrator was an English guy in World War I uniform, on a horse,
and the show consisted of various soldiers (Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman,
Norman,
Medieval and Renaissance,
Napoleonic and Victorian)

coming back from The Dead and trying to get a reaction from The Somewhat Rubbish Audience.  Then in groups of three they would show off how they rode their horses in battle. 

There was great emphasis on and admiration for how these horses had been carefully trained to do these things they had never done before and how amazing they were for not being disturbed by the ‘scary clanky men’. 

The uniforms and saddles (or lack of saddles) were all carefully authentic (apparently).  The riders variously shot arrows


and threw spears at targets, rammed lances into that wooden spinny thing that blocked nearly all The Photos (so hard that one rider broke his fingers),



stabbed cabbages (heads) with swords,


speared tent pegs from the ground







and knocked hoops from poles with swords while riding very fast. 



And a woman showed how to ride fast on sidesaddle.
The end of the show was a bit weird, as Death (plus minions) turned up to reclaim the dead soldiers and they all had a big fight because they didn’t want to go back to being dead.


Too fast for me... He's upside down.








All The Riders were English (which was another one of those lovely ‘piece of home’ moments hearing an English accent that wasn’t coming out of a moronic tourist)
and several were quite fanciable, while they clearly had great respect for their Maltese horses, and the stunts were the stuff you only see in films, so it was a very worthwhile watch. 
After this, there was the basic fort tour, which involved a rather boring film, unfortunately overcrowded, and then two tours, one in Malti and one in English, where we got to see the 100-ton pink gun. 







Bit where they shoot people attacking The Fort in the moat:
View of some boats from The Fort:
There’s no way this tour is worth the €10 it costs.  While detailed, it is very short, and all you see of The Fort is the gun, and then a room under the gun.  Without the ‘extended’ bit they weren’t doing, I can’t see the appeal.  Thank goodness for The Horse Show Of Awesome.