This is what you should have seen.

Well, despite the systems best efforts th thwart me, it seems the last little paragraph did manage to make it's way into the ether and is there for all to see, so here is what you would have received from me had I been able to do so last night.  It is a bit wordy I know, so I shall try to liven it up a little with a few images.  Don't worry, I am sure that subsequent posts will be much more succinct but regular readers will know how verbose I can get when the muse is on me!

This is the post, at long last!

Hopefully my last proper post had not bored the backside off you and it appears you have stuck around long enough to hear about the trip itself for which I thank you.  Oddly, I flew out of Heathrow and am returning to Gatwick but it really makes little difference to me as it takes about the same time to get to or from either.  I made LHR in good order and headed to the check-in desk where I was the only passenger present.  The friendly lady took one look at my six foot five frame and asked if I would like an exit seat.  Would I ever!  Air Malta appears to be adopting the appalling Ryanair / Sleazyjet model and charging for just about everything.  Had I requested this seat online it would have cost me about €15 each way for the privelege.  She gave me a window seat and a further joy was that the middle seat of the configuation of three was unoccupied.  Oh happy day.  Having loked at the first class accomodation whilst boarding, I genuinely reckon I had at least as much legroom as them, so thank you kind check-in lady.

As I was checking in, I happened to look at my kitbag and only then realised what an awful state it was in.  It was only a cheapo, bought for about £15 in Whitechapel Market and it has served me very well but it really is getting tatty now and there are even rips in the bottom side of it by the wheels.  I was genuinely worried that any sort of rough baggage handling would result in awful consequences and my personal effects scattered over a runway in Valetta.  Still, nothing to be done about it.  Memo to self: Buy new kitbag a.s.a.p.

The flight itself was unremarkable if comfy but it highlighted another practice that seems to have crept into airlines that really annoys me.  The plane was loaded and ready to go on time but we didn't take off until 30 minutes afrter we should.  The pilot announced the estimated flying time which, funnily enough, was about 30 minutes less than that advertised.  I have no doubt this is done merely so airlines can crow about punctuality figures when all they are doing is misleading the passenger and I really wish they would discontiunue this nonsense immediately.  In the absence of any entertainment I dozed a bit and then had a bit of a shufti at the inflight magazine which was actually dated that day, 13th February.  Apologies for the image which was obviously taken on my knee on the 'plane.  I might try to take a very arty one to replace this one later!

One of the major articles was about the wonderful Carneval that goes on immediately prior to Lent every year and I found out that the word Carneval actually comes from the Latin "carne vale" meaning "meat allowed" as the Lenten period required fasting by the faithful.  As my late grandmother used to very sagely say, "It's a bad day when you don't learn something.  How very true.

In another twist of synchronicity that seems to mark my travels I also managed a few pages of my current read "The Regiment, a history of the SAS" by the excellent   Mike Asher.  Have a look at this page.  Mike is an ex-SAS man himself, a great writer and true adventurer and a genuinely nice guy whom I have had the pleasure of meeting.  Bizarrely, I cannot find his personal website although I have seen it but the attached link gives a good insight into his writing of the book I mentioned.  On the plane  I was reading about some of the early SAS "L" Detachment raids on Axis airfields in North Africa and many of these were designed to relieve the pressure on merchant ship convoys attempting to resupply the almost starving island of Malta.  Some of the most daring raids were carried out by the late Blair "Paddy" Mayne, a legend in the SAS and a man from my neck of the woods.  The fact that that I had, less than three months previously, been looking at some artefacts relating to Mayne in the Regimental Museum of the Royal Irish Regiment in Belfast only added to the feeling of all things being connected somehow.

The image below is of a lteer in that Museum from Bob Laycock, CO and the brains behind "Layforce" which did much of the groundwork for the formation of the SAS by David Stirling and is the man credited with coining the term "commando".  I suppose he was entitled to as he had just about invented the concept.

Carneval in Malta is a big thing with many parties, masquerade balls and the like.  My timing as usual was incredible.  Incredibly bad that is, as the whole thing had finished the day before I left, that being Ash Wednesday.  Ho hum.  I am still intrigued as to why the magazine was promoting an attraction that was over but I am sure they had their reasons.  In general though, it was very informative and much better than the general run of similar publications.  I took them up on the offer to take my copy away and it is proving very useful.  We descended into Luqa airport through low, bumpy cloud into a fairly dismal afternoon with rain looking imminent.

The formalities were quickly dealt with and I stepped out onto Maltese soil for the first time.

If I can avoid it, I do not use airport taxis as they generally prove to be a ripoff and there is almost always a viable public transport option available and this proved to be the case here although it proved a little trickier than anticipated.  The bus stops are well signed as indeed was the self-service ticket machine.

This is where the problems began.  The smallest note I had was a €10 and I had two choices of tickets, either a two hour ticket at €2:60 or my preferred seven day Rover ticket at a very reasonable €12.  OK, can any of you mathematical geniuses (genii?) tell me how I can obtain either when the machine very helpfully informs me that the maximim change returned is €5?  My admittedly limited maths left me without a solution so I thought that buying on the bus might be a plan.  I spoke to the driver and explained the situation.  No problem, and he took my €10 and disappeared into the terminal to get it changed.  The dot matrix display had indicated that the bus was meant to leave in four minutes and about ten minutes later he sauntered out of the building, stopping on the way to chat to his mate.  I smiled an apology to the only other passenger, a young female airline employee.  She just smiled back sweetly.  The driver then wandered over to another bus to chat to the driver there for a while before returning to the bus and giving me my change and a ticket which he said was valid until midnight.  I still don't know how he worked that out but that is what he told me.

Eventually we set off towards Valetta.  I knew I would have to change buses there but that was no problem as I had told the place I was staying I would not be there until at least six so there was plenty of time.  The road from the airport into the capital is not exactly inspiring and appears to consist of derelict buildings, industrial units, scrubland and rather incongruously the horse racetrack.  I consoled myself with the fact that roads from air and seaports are rarely showpieces.  I quickly worked out where my connecting bus left from and that it was a very regular service although at about five in the evening the next one departing was packed to the gunwales with people going home from work.  As I had the luggage, I didn't want to be banging into people and so I tohught I would go and have a quick beer until the crowds abated a bit.  There was bound to be a bar near a bus station, wasn't there?  Well, apparently not.  There were several that appeared closed, possibly due to the religious holiday, I don't know.  So I trudged along trailing the luggage behind me and the rain which had been merely spitting when I set off got heavier and heavier eventually settling on a ferocity that would have allowed it to hold it's head up in company with an Asian monsoon. 

My first beer on any tip is a bit of an ritual,usually photographed and always of the local variety.  Photgraphing a beer usually provokes some sort of response from the locals and it is a good ice-breaker.  However, there was no ice going to be broken in Valetta that night.  I must have walked two miles eventually navigating back to where I had started, got on the #12 bus and made my way to Sliema.  The only problem was that I didn't have a map although I knew the address and Sliema seems about as devoid of street signs as the moon is of atmosphere.  I was getting pretty well drenched now and still trailing the luggage behind which was to prove problematical.  Malta is a hilly place and the streets were now turning into small torrents.  Crossing them and unbeknownst to me, the bottom of the bag, where the rips are, was dragging in running water.  Oops.

Anyway, I eventually located the hotel that runs the studios I was to stay in two doors along from it.  I went to reception and booked in although I was rather surprised to have to settle the bill upfront.  Not a major problem as it is an extremely inexpensive deal by European standards.  The chap took me along to the apartment building and opened the door to #5, my allotted billet.  One look at the place showed something was wrong as it obviously had not been made up.  I blagged a quick photo whilst waiting.

 Profuse apologies from the clerk and he scuttled off to get the key for #3.  No luck there as it was full of builders tools and rubbish from the tradesmen retiling the bathroom floor.  I don't worry about anything too much when I am on the road and just smiled and shrugged.  He then decided the best thing would be to put me up in the hotel that night and offered me free breakfast the next morning by way of apology.  I rarely eat breakfast but it was decent of him.  He also said he was going to speak to the housekeeper the next morning and, if his mood was anything to go by, I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.

The room was OK with a lovely view of a building site and a little cold with a small electric heater trying it's best to battle the chill.  Here it is.

I opened my kitbag to find some of my gear damp and the bag itself sodden.  Not a great start.  I hung up clothes, draped damp jeams over the chair etc.,  had a shower in a shower cubicle designed for a munchkin, got dressed and headed out into the Maltese night in search of that elusive first beer.  My digs are on the front so I thought there would be some bars available but Sliema really does give off the air of a seasonal town and this just isn't the season.  There were one or two places open but they looked of the "poncy wine bar" variety and not really my type of place at all.  In time-honoured fashion, I took to the backstreets and, walking up a little hill with no more than a light drizzle and Force Four breeze doing their best to freeze me, came upon a bar called the "Hole in the Wall". 

Here is that synchronicity thing again.  When I lived in Portadown many years ago, my preferred bar was Bennett's which was run by the estimable and eponymous brothers Tony and Niall.  I am glad to say they are still trading albeit in different premises but the original bar was known to all as "The Hole in the Wall".  Prior to that my favourite watering hole when I lived in Armagh City also had the same name.  This place was just calling to me.  I wandered into what was a fairly old looking place undergoing some sort of refurb and with the most amazing thick old wooden doors at the entrance.  It was empty which is never a good sign but I really wantd to try that first local beer.  I engaged the young lady behind the bar in conversation and asked what the local brew was, receiving the answer Cisk (pronounced Chisk).  One of those then, which came served in a can which I thought unusual but is not an uncommon practice hereabouts.  It's not a bad brew actually. 

Further conversation elicited the information that the young lady, Crystal by name, had only returned from living in London in search of work.  I also learned that the Maltese alphabet had 30 characters, the pub was one of the oldest in Sliema and had formerly been a stable and that her Father had recently taken it over.  She told me (dare I use the word synchronicity yet again?) that her boyfriend who had accompanied her back to her homeland was from about 12 miles from where my family live in Northern Ireland.  We chatted about this and that and she even suggested I pick the music when the current CD finished.  I have been in town about three hours and already I am DJing in a bar, it could only happen to me! 

We were then joined at the bar by a Scotsman who proceeded to start knocking back large vodka and tonics and talk the most paranoid drivel I have ever heard, mostly concerning the internet although he didn't confine himself to that.  If he used the phrase "the internet is a tool for fools" once he mut have used it one hundred times and that is not my normal lyrical exaggeration.  I just couldn't resist and started to make a few smart comments to him but he was so fully fixed in diatribe mode that he didn't even notice.  I very rarely get wound up by drunks in bars, Heaven knows I meet enough of them, but this guy really did get on my wick and I was very glad when he decided to ramble off shortly after.  Don't get me wrong, I know many Scots people and by and large love them.  It was nothing to do with nationality, this guy was just a complete pain irrespective of whether he had been born in Edinburgh or East of Eden.  By this time Crystal had gone off to be replaced by her Father, a delightful man who insisted on showing me the renovations he was undertaking in the premises.

The rain had abated somewhat and so I decided I should have a look at some of the other places in town. and off I set.  As you can see, however, from this image, the runoff water was still causing rivers to run down small backstreets.

Somewhat like the weather, that proved to be a complete washout and a walk along the front revealed neither bar nor eating house open.  I was a bit hungry by now having only eaten Air Malta's pretty paltry fare some hours earlier.  Well, no problem, it is not the first time I have gone to bed hungry on my travels.  I did hit a bit of luck then and found a little kebab place near my digs which duly served up a great kebab which was just what was needed.

Fed, watered and just a little tired, I retired to my bed for a good nights sleep.

As I say, I do know this has gone on a bit so I'll cut it off here and resume in another post if I can get the damned blog to work next time I try!

Stay tuned.


  1. Fergy's adventures strike again! Can't wait for the next installment!

  2. Fergyguitar in Malta caught my attention and I became a Member to be sure I'd find it again. (I ended up a Follower *and* a Member... won't try to understand the workings of blogs.)
    It's very cool to read your ramblings, Fergy! Laters, lou (aka Unknown (Google) hahaha)