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The Quest for Sicily

December 11. 1999

To Ferry, or Not to Ferry?

Alan was really keen on trying to find a ferry to Sicily: since it is only a couple hours away by boat, it would be really fun to go visit for the weekend and be able to get back to Malta on Monday.  There were even some day tours that would take you there and back.  However, the seas were pretty rough that day (it was gray and overcast) and since it was the off season, the ferries didn't run as much.  They didn't run that day, either: the ferry to Sicily was cancelled.  We'd have to try again later.


So instead, we took a bus ride to Valetta, (incredibly cheap: 15 cents!) one of the main towns in Malta.  Like most of the main tourist sites, it's more of a large fortress than a town: the outer wall is built to withstand siege by foreign troops.   Given the history of Malta, I'm not surprised: the island has been fought over, lost, won, invaded, and pillaged by dozens of nations.  It's strategic importance seems to have made it such a prize.

Valetta is also the main bus terminal for the island: you can get anywhere from there.   Don't try to cheat on the tickets, though: there's a guy who comes along and tears the stubs (like a punch card on the train, I suppose).

We walked around Valetta for a while: lots of little shops, some incredibly tiny.   Very touristy area: lots of postcards, mugs, and other stuff being sold.  (a lot of *dirty* postcards & mugs, at that...) We walked to the far end where Fort St. Elmo is located: there was an audio/visual show about the fort that we skipped.

Valetta, like most of the towns, had several churches, the most impressive of which was St. Johns Co-Cathedral.  From the outside, it didn't look like much: the same sort of orange-yellow sandstone that everything seems to be built with.  On the inside, however, it was spectacular!

There were many beautiful paintings on the walls, and all the tombs were expansively decorated.  It was quite impressive.  I was to find that many of the sights were like this: much more impressive on the inside than the outside.

On Saturdays, there's an open-air market in Valetta, with all sorts of stuff for sale: clothes, CDs, shoes, cameras, you name it.  We had a look around while we took cover from the rain that was now starting.

Around this time we also wanted to convert our remaining American currency for pounds (Lm = Maltese Lira, but are called "pounds".  Probably a British influence...)  However, the bank made us fill out paperwork to change a lousy $100 or so into pounds, and the whole thing took about half an hour!!!  It can't be that hard, can it?

There's too much frick'n bureaucracy in this place.

Later that Afternoon...

Cheap!When the rain let up a bit we took the ferry back to Sliema and tried to get a harbor tour, but that too had been cancelled due to the bad weather.  Drat!  Maybe we'll try again tomorrow.

We stopped for a snack and nearly killed ourselves walking to the upper level of a snack bar.  It was crowded downstairs and we saw that the upstairs was empty, but the stairs & floor were greasy, and the stone railing was *very* loose: it practically collapsed when I leaned on it.  Not to mention that it was way to smoky up there, so we headed back down.

Alan had been agitating for me to try the local soft drink, called a "Kinnie": he'd become a real fan of it when he first visited Malta.  I tried it: it had an interesting spicy flavor, but I think I'll stick with the Coke! 

Later on we had a proper lunch at a nice Indian restaurant: curried chicken and Nan.   You had to order each item separately, and I think this showed up on the bill: the lunch cost about $25!!  Great food though.

Catching the bus back to St. Julian's, we walked around for a while in a brief calm spell before the rain started again.  Time to rest up at the hotel...

Rain, Go Away...

After a couple hours rest, I met up with Alan again to find some dinner and play pool.   (Alan beat the pants off of me, by the way...) The pool hall was in an internet kiosk: like Australia, there were many places to get on the internet: probably there aren't as many people wired up in their houses.

We went to a local pizzeria and split a pie: quite tasty!  A little more tomato sauce would be good (in my opinion) but not bad at all.  There was a delicious lemon cheesecake afterwards: yum!  Like dinner the night before, this restaurant wasn't some chain: it was run by a local family.  Most of the restaurants, in fact, seemed to be family run.  They also seem to have an abhorrence for taking your money: they don't give you the check until you ask for it, and even then it takes a while.  Oh well, the waitress in the tight red sweater was cute. :-)

On the walk back, the nightclubs had come to life.  Everyone seemed to be wearing black & thick-soled boots!  Alan remarked that it was like Halloween in Georgetown, except everyone was wearing the same costume.

Another long walking day over.  Now my feet hurt *and* my pants are chafing!

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2000 William Geoffrey Shotts. Last update: Saturday, November 02, 2002