The Recollection Diaries: Malta

My recollection

Strongest memory: How strange Malta was as a country. It felt like it was destined to be a rich, glamorous hot spot for expats, that was abandoned before all the sky scrapers and developments were finished. We stayed in an ex-resort, where our enormous room had nothing but 3 beds in it, and some other bits and bobs. Everywhere we went, everything felt half complete. Nobody had ever mentioned this strange vibe to me before visiting, but everyone I’ve spoken to since that has been there, agrees.

Memorable meal: There’s nothing quite like being sea side for dinner, with the sun setting over the ocean, a bottle of wine cooling in an ice bucket, friends and the knowledge of a yummy meal ahead. We had chosen to eat at the 1926 Resort based on its views and its menu; neither of which would disappoint. I remember being incredibly grateful for the company that I was in and having the rare feeling of actually being on holiday, rather than perpetually travelling, which was a nice change.

Best activity: The Blue Lagoon is pretty special. It’s crowded: I think every tourist in Malta visits the Blue Lagoon, but it doesn’t take long to see why. The water is impossibly blue, surrounded by beautiful rock formations which are absolutely swamped in people, like seals, clambering for their spot of sun. There are a copious amounts of boats, jam-packed with visitors and often, raging music. There are vendors, selling fresh pineapples and cocktails, food and other knick-knacks. Despite the masses, it’s hard not to be happy.

Favourite place: By far and way, Valletta was the most beautiful part of Malta that we visited. We didn’t actually go here until our last day and it just felt so much more classically European, with cobbled streets, little shops and seaside vistas, that I immediately found myself wishing that we had spent longer here. We found lots of neat cafes, plazas and alleys to walk down. In an instant, I was reconsidering my whole opinion of Malta, perhaps it wasn’t so ‘weird’ after all.

Unforgettable sight: Every morning we opened our apartment room’s curtains to an expansive view of glittering blue ocean, boats passing through the harbour and an old school fort across the way. The perpetual blue sky and sunshine only added to the view.

Andy’s recollection

Strongest memory: Malta was weird. My strongest memory is a story that, at least in tone, truly captures the bizarre essence of our time there. Back when you could still pack shoulder to shoulder with strangers on public transport, we were treated to a discreet yet compelling display of domestic theatre that I’ll never forget.

The scene: a busy ferry, filled with tourists on a day sailing to Malta’s world famous blue lagoon. With the lagoon visit done and dusted, the best seats we could find for the return journey was a single bench seat just large enough for the three of us. Directly across from us, separated only by a small table, was an eastern european family made up of two middle aged parents (grandparents?) and a young boy. At some point on the trip back, Nicole surreptitiously texted me to alert me of the drama silently unfolding across from us. It seems that, for reasons unknown, the patriarch of the family had fallen into the foulest of moods, and no amount of increasingly desperate cajoling from the matriarch could snap him out of it. To the contrary, his annoyance was only becoming more and more pronounced. The kid was, thankfully, blissfully unaware of the situation as he happily watched boats go by out the window.

After one reconciliation attempt too many, the Angry Man huffily got up and visited the bow deck of the ferry for five to ten minutes. When he returned he was missing his wedding ring. This did not go unnoticed for long by his wife. In the same silent, discreet way that the whole ordeal had so far played out, she motioned to his bare finger and made an inquisitive face. To my barely contained shock, the Angry Man made a hurried gesture to indicate that he’d thrown it off the back of the boat into the ocean, then continued huffily ignoring his wife. I could not believe what I was witnessing, and there was literally nowhere else to look. The wife’s eyes welled with tears, and she tried to distract herself with the affections of her oblivious son, but she remained visibly affected by the apparent public breakdown of what looked like a long marriage. But there was still one bizarre twist to go in the saga.

After ten minutes, the wife turned back to the husband to engage with him one more time – clearly asking whether it was all some sort of sick joke. A shit-eating grin appeared on the face of our despicable anti-hero, and he smugly pulled from his pocket none other than the condemned wedding ring. We were then subjected to an impassioned embrace with gratuitous tongue kissing. The matter apparently resolved, Angry Man’s scowl returned and the couple went back to ignoring each other entirely for the remainder of the trip.

Memorable meal: Malta did not hugely impress me with its food scene, but I do think that this was at least in part due to the slim pickings in the area surrounding our hotel in Sliema. For me, the pick of our eats was ImPasta, a cheap and cheerful pasta restaurant with a build-your-own style menu. I just remember the pasta being delicious. The other main contender for this was 1926 Beach Club, which was an incredible ocean-front setting to eat a meal and share a couple of bottles of wine in, but since I can’t remember the meal I ate there, it was pretty hard to give it the “Memorable Meal” nod.

Best activity: I’m tempted to make a joke here along the lines of “Best Activity? More like only activity!” and then talk about visiting the Blue Lagoon, but I actually think that on our final afternoon on the island, while we killed time waiting for our flight, we did discover that exploring the streets and gardens of Valletta’s old town was actually quite a worthwhile way to spend a few hours. Having stayed in Sliema and beached at St George’s bay, we’d treated the capital’s old town as a bit of an afterthought, even though it sat just across the harbour from our hotel. Valletta was, it’s fair to say, much nicer than the slightly tawdry Sliema, and had the best views that we’d seen in Malta. If you’re visiting, definitely don’t sleep on Valletta (as George, who had left prior to catch an early flight, sadly did).

Favourite place: This is where I talk about the Blue Lagoon. As natural swimming spots go, it’s hard to think of a place on earth that’s likely to beat it. The lagoon (actually a sheltered bay) is about the size of a cricket oval, between 4-7 feet deep with a white sand bottom, relatively warm, and just perfectly azure blue. When you dive under, it’s crystal clear. Sure, it was crowded as anything, but you could still find your own space, and when you realise how little else there is to do in Malta, it’s hard to begrudge every other man, woman and child on the island for being at the lagoon while you’re there too.

Unforgettable sight: Although we didn’t actually visit it until our final afternoon (and George not at all), the unforgettable sight that defines Malta for me is the view from our hotel balcony across the harbour to the Valletta old town. It was quite the skyline, medieval rooftops capped by an iconic cathedral dome, and for us it will forever be punctuated by the sound of cannons. We happened to be there during an apparent week-long festival celebration, the most conspicuous hallmark of which was the constant boom of cannon fire across the harbour. Just another relatively unacknowledged oddity in a country that, for us, was full of them.

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