Mingling with the Maltese – First Impressions

I’m 43 years old and this is my first time going “overseas”. I’m accompanying my daughter (Elisbè) on a trip to Malta where she will compete in an international gymnastics competition. After a ten hour flight from Cape Town to Istanbul and a three hour lay-over we board another Turkish Airlines flight to Malta. It is 08h20 in the morning and I’m beyond tired.

The breakfast is crap. Watery scrambled eggs with a tasteless pastry of some sorts. But I’m hungry so I force it down. Sitting in an isle seat I can’t make out much through the window except for ascertaining that it’s a bright sunny day. We’re approaching the runway and I get a first glimpse of the buildings near and around the airport. My first thoughts are that were about to land in a shit-hole. Dilapidated,  run down shabby buildings as far as the eye can see. Oh my goodness, I hope my daughter likes this because it has cost us an arm and a leg. We’re quickly through customs and about to get our first taste of Maltese hospitality.

The buses that were supposed to pick us up are not there. More waiting, more frustration. Eventually they arrive. The driver is rude and unfriendly. And as we’ll discover, character traits of most of Malta’s bus drivers. Elisbè wants to sit with her team mates. Perfectly understandable. I end up right behind the driver with my backpack on my lap sitting next to a “gymnast- mom” I don’t know. I’m sweaty and irritated. I try not to stink.

From the airport we head northwest, traveling through the “interior” towards St Paul’s Bay on the north shore. More shoddy buildings and neglected dwellings fly past. Every second person on this island seems to be either a second-hand car dealer or a repairman of some sorts.  The streets are dirty. Silently I pray that we’re just passing through a “bad neighborhood” and that things will look up when we reach the coast.

And they do. As soon as we reach the outskirts of St Paul’s Bay the shabby buildings make way for upmarket hotels, cafes and shops. The bay is littered with boats and yachts of all sizes. A smile slowly creeps across my face. The Mediterranean is turquoise-blue and calm.  This is better.

The bus pulls up in front of the IL Palazzin Hotel. Techinically we are staying in Qawra, but still part of the bigger St Paul’s Bay area. From the outside it does not look bad. Granite stairs lead up, past a large swimming pool, to the front door. The manager, Simon, is a friendly chap and first assists with getting the gymnasts and coaches to their rooms. There seems to be a problem with my booking. They expected my arrival the day before and since I didn’t show, I lost my room. This is the start of their season and hundreds of Brits flock to the island for their mid-year holidays. The Hotel is full and Simon instructs me to wait in the foyer while he makes a plan.

I collapse onto a couch and stare out the window. This is just great. After 15 minutes Simon returns with the keys to room 601. It’s on the top floor right next to an indoor swimming pool with a large balcony offering stunning views over the bay. The room itself is a bit of a disappointment. The furniture is old and one has to stand in the bathtub to take a shower. The little TV on the fridge is not working but luckily the air-conditioner and the fridge do. I was planning on a quick shower and a short nap. I managed only to tick off the quick shower and although being dead tired, I decide against taking the nap. I’m only here for a week and I certainly can’t spend the time lying on my back in a small, dark hotel room. Feeling refreshed, but still tired I head downstairs, out the front door and into the streets.

It’s warm and humid. A narrow street takes me down onto the main road running parallel with the beach. This is where everything happens in Qwara, or at least that was what I thought. It does not take me long to find a cafe overlooking a large swimming pool and the bay itself. A friendly waitress serves me an ice cold beer and all of a sudden Malta turns into a great place.

After sushi and a glass of the local brew I head north along the main road. More cafes, curio shops and restaurants. The town is bustling with skimpy dressed tourists. From the cafes and pubs relaxing Mediterranean music pours into the streets. Brightly colored street stalls lure you in with idyllic pictures of the many activities on offer. I can get used to this.

That evening I took my daughter for a stroll, keen to show her the interesting little places I discovered on my afternoon walk. For the first time since taking off in Cape Town we really got a chance to share a few moments together. We chatted about our first impressions of Malta and about her expectations for the big competition coming up in two days’ time. That stroll was the highlight of day one.

PS: I now realize that I actually never quite made it “overseas” but only ended up right in the middle of the Mediterranean, next time…

 

 

 

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