NINE THINGS TO EXPECT FROM MALTA


hello, my name is erica, and i am a lazy traveller. not lazy when travelling, lazy at planning ahead and doing much recon or research prior to departure. so much so that when i landed in malta, i was shocked that it was so dry and dusty and not covered in flowers, but then i realised it's off the coast of north africa and *not* in the mediterranean, so there you go. that explains that. not only was i totally bamboozled by the physical location of this country i was planning to spend four days in, but i literally had no idea what to expect. so, for those of you as lazy as me, here's a few top tips.





everything is super beige

i am a magpie for colour, so flying over malta and seeing nothing but beige below me had me panicked. would we be able to find pretty things to take photos of, or would my insta feed become a barren wasteland of sandstone for the entirety of the trip? i was assuming the latter, especially as we drove from the airport through the north of the country to st. paul's bay where we were staying, and saw beige house after beige house pass us by. but! not all hope was lost, because dotted between those neutrally-toned buildings, were painted garage doors. and window boxes full of blooming flowers. and prickly pears, ripe for the pricking. and wooden doors painted in every colour of the rainbow. so, yeah. from above: not so appealing, but at street level the bursts of colour really had me living my best life.

everything is tainted by the english

not only is english the second language, malta is inhabited by a literal shit ton of english people. they will try and "bond" with you to sell you things for "a good deal" that aren't a good deal, and they drive the buses, and they work in the cafes, and they are everywhere. they've ruined it for everyone, because over time the country has become so conditioned to english people, that the local culture has been de-saturated. there were fish and chip shops, union jack flags in the bars, and they even drive on the left. the menus were in english, the music was english, the language was all english. everywhere. and i don't know about you, but while i appreciate having a common language to help in sticky situations, i also like to see the local culture of places i visit thrive. unfortunately, that didn't seem to be the case in malta.




you will need a car to get around

we booked a return shuttle from the airport to the hotel and back, even though there were a few local busses that went that way - mainly because lazy, also because i get a bit nervy on public transport when i don't know where i'm going/getting off/speak the language/etc. it was 25 euro each way, which we were happy enough to pay for the sake of convenience. and then again the second day we were there, because it turns out that though the local busses are a great way to see the country, trundling through narrow streets and back alleys, they're totally irregular, take twice as long as they should, and the drivers are pretty blasé with road rules, so yeah: be willing to pay for a cab for the general convenience of not dying, and actually arriving somewhere on time. also be prepared for any cab you get to cost you 25 euro. to the airport, to valletta, from mdina, to the port; every single cab we got cost us exactly 25 euros. or, you can just rent a car for less than half of that a day. it's what i'd do next time, to see a but more of the country. convenient, no?

walking might just kill you

not even an exaggeration. we obviously hadn't rented a car (see above), so were bound by local transport and cabs to get to our destinations, then once there, we walked around. at one point we decided to walk from the town of mosta to the old city of mdina, which google reckoned was about a 40 minute walk. which sounded fine, until we did it. not only are their roads not pedestrianised, but they're uneven, narrow, and don't have street signs on them, meaning that unless you have a map, you'll probably get lost. which we did. after climbing a really steep hill and finding that at the top there was a dead end. and no shade, or water. or easy way to get down. before that, walking along a bumpy main road in flat sandals with zero footpath and maximum sun and too much oncoming traffic for my liking was probably a low-light, so i mean, heed my original warning of hiring a car.





the islands are worth the trip

we had been told to do both of malta's islands - comino and gozo, but unfortunately, based on the amount of time we were in the country, we only had time for one so made the executive decision to do the bigger of the two - gozo. we jumped on a bus (£1.50 for a two hour ticket), then got the ferry across (less than £10 return, which you pay on the way back), then did an important thing, and haggled for a reduced hop-on-hop-off bus ticket seeing as it was late in the day (like, after 2pm) and the last bus left from the port at 4:15. the *good* thing about the tour bus was the audio guide that came with it, and the option to get on-and-off (hint is in the name) came in super handy because gozo is a huge island. and probably a cab would cos 25 euro. conveniently. there are a ton of other tours available, and if i could do it again, i would do one of the combos that includes both the islands, and the blue lagoon. for 25 euro (a convenient price) you get a boat and a private full-dsy tour, which seems a whole lot better of a deal than two hours on a bus with an audio guide. gozo was beautiful, and i would have liked to have seen more than two hours of it. so definitely do your research there!



mdina and valletta are for the tourists

seriously, they're everywhere. when we entered valletta's main street, there were literally about a two thousand people crammed into the narrow main street ahead of us. i see the irony in this complaint, as a tourist myself, but when i travel i like to do it like the locals do; eat locally, stay locally, visit locally. because our stay in st. paul's bay was part of a package, we were already surrounded by tourists in our hotel, forced to eat in totally tourist-friendly eateries, and everything in the vicinity of the hotel was targeted at tourists, so to get out into the areas that we had been told to go to by trusted sources and find the same thing, was a bit annoying. mdina - the old town, was even worse. not to mention getting lost on the way there by foot (see above), we somehow managed to arrive on 'medieval mdina' weekend, where every knight and his dog was out celebrating the old town's heritage. very fun, obviously, but very full and very small. my advice: avoid valletta, and double check mdina's events before you go. they're both beautiful examples of malta's heritage, but there are so many other towns that offer the same.





mosta is where it's at (but not on sunday)

we did valletta in one day, but didn't need a whole day there, and set aside half a day for mosta - a town on the way to valletta we were told had a crazy big church in it, but needed more time there; the more you know, eh. i couldn't recommend mosta more if i tried, and if i could give one bit of advice: don't go on a sunday. the rotunda of mosta has the third largest unsupported dome in the world, and was designed based on the pantheon in rome. it's a massive catholic church, and the services on sunday pretty much take up the whole morning. plus, everything else was shut outside, which - while excellent for taking photos of shutters and doors, is not excellent for eating and drinking. the church was incredible though, not least of all because of it's near miss in the second world war when a german aerial bomb dropped through the dome and fell into the church during mass, narrowly avoiding any damage, and - if you can believe it, failing to explode. it's still there (albeit it, defused), miraculously. we wandered the streets for hours, falling in love over and over and over again. do visit mosta, it's a beaut.




prickly pear is very prickly

i suppose the hint is in the name, but yeah: cacti hurts when it catches you off guard. and, not only is it a bastard to pull out of your denim jacket, you can feel those little spiky bastard needles in your skin for hours afterwards. the good news though, they're not poisonous. which is a relief. take my advice: don't climb on that rock ledge to get a better photo of the prickly pear, it will not end well.



maltese cuisine is hard to come by

the one question i failed to find the answer to while in the country is: what is the local cuisine like? one cab driver told us that traditional maltese foods are influenced by mediterranean and african foods. sure, seems reasonable - considering the geography, but then went on to tell us that lamb is traditional for malta, and the best lamb is imported from new zealand. so, yay new zealand, but.. still, what can i eat from 'round these parts? another cuisine we were assured was local, was seafood. malta's a big bloody island, of course, and yet the one seafood restaurant we found near the hotel in saint paul's bay (ocean basket) imports their fish from south africa. [update] other traditional cuisines you can expect, according to the locals and those passionate about telling me i'm wrong, over on twitter are; rabbit, swordfish, ricotta pie-type pastries called qassatat, and pastizzi (similar to a pasty, from my googling). i'm disappointed to have not tried these local dishes myself, as they certainly sound incredible, but there's always next time.

i know it doesn't sound like i enjoyed myself, but trust me: i did! it was nothing like what i was expecting, but in many ways, i think it was better as a surprise; you can never be disappointed if you never know what to expect! i would certainly suggest some proper research before you go, to make sure you don't run into the same problems we had - especially in regards to the food! my fave part of travelling is eating local cuisine, and i'm disappointed to have not been able to do that, but in no way disappointed by the country. every adventure brings something new!

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