Monday, July 5 — Valletta
Departing from Beirut at 4:40a, our flight touched down at Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos around 6:30a. We had a rather lengthy layover in Athens during which I began to feel increasingly ill - slightly feverish and somewhat nauseous. With Covid still a concern, I worried that a health official might take notice; however, my gut instinct, quite literally, told me this was something different.
Our layover turned into an exhausting 10-hour wait, my health steadily deteriorating. I now suspected my symptoms were from a swim I took the previous day near the ancient harbor in Byblos, Lebanon. Eventually, we boarded Aegean Airlines flight 730. At 4:05p, our Airbus A320-200 ascended towards Malta Luqa International Airport. Including a time-zone change, we landed at 4:55p.
We arranged a €17 taxi at the airport and, after 25 fun minutes wizzing and winding through narrow roads and roundabouts, finally arrived at our lodgings, the Grand Harbour Hotel. I was beat and slightly impatient, because I felt terrible, but the front desk clerk, Mario, greeted us with a patience and temperance that only comes from years of experience solving the endless travel issues he faced. The hotel, though not necessarily elegant, enjoyed a prime position above the harbor. The room we were given had breathtaking views from two walls, one of which included a sliding door that opened to a railing, offering an almost panoramic view of the bustling harbor below.
As the evening descended, Zara ventured out to dine alone at San Paolo Naufrago, an authentic local restaurant, while I stayed behind. My condition had me caught in a limbo between sleep and wakefulness, with an intermittent fever. I took solace in the thought of the vibrant experiences Zara was enjoying, promising myself to recover soon and join her.
Tuesday, July 6 — Valletta
Breakfast at Piadira
Ice coffee at Sunday in Scotland
Church of the Jesuits
Walking around the old town
Chillaxing in the room
Kinnie Spritz at Lapira and Rabbit dish
Wednesday, July 7 — Valletta
Breakfast at Cafe Cordina
Parliament Building by Renzo piano
Upper Barrakka Gardens.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral (Zara)
National Museum Of Archaeology
Valletta St Paul’s AFT lunch/dinner (Caponata Siciliano)
Evening ferry and walk to two of the Three Cities, starting with Vittoriosa. We wander into the labyrinth of alleys and I walk around a corner and am suddenly face to face with a white, earless cat who doesn’t even give me a chance, and instantly hisses at me. I decide it is the ugliest cat I have ever seen. We continue on into a maze of amazing alleyways with small shops, apartment blocks, boutique hotels, cafés and the occasional local. We end up at the tip of Fort St. Angelo with excellent views of Valletta and her city walls. Valletta is indeed a vertical city. We backtrack and head over to Senglea and to Senglea Point, again with excellent views of Valletta. The sun is setting now and everything is quite romantic. We wander back to the cafe area where a football match is happening. There are TV screens outside, with hundreds of locals cheering. We manage to find a table, grab a pizza, watch the rest of the game, and then catch a ferry back to Valletta.
Thursday, July 8 — Valletta
Breakfast at hotel
St. John’s Co-Cathedral (Brian)
Walked around town
Pizza at casa Sotto
Walked to ferry to Sliema
Grabbed a snack Drink at Paradise Exiles
Friday, July 9 — Mdina
Breakfast at Kingsway. We rent a car through the hotel from Oasis Rentals. I prefer an automatic, but the only automatic car the company has is a janky Citroën C1 (reg: D22 488) that already had many dents and is difficult to start. With no other options, I agree to take it figuring I won’t be able to damage much further. We fork over €120 for four days rental, check out of the hotel and drive to the D’Amrogio Hotel and check in. We have a large, breezy room with a small balcony and a shared bathroom. We drive over to the Blue Grotto and take a swim in the beautiful blue water. We walk over to the Coast Cassarini Restaurant and have lunch/dinner (lunner?) The salad very good, and surprisingly, the octopus is terrible and we sent it back. Zara chilaxes in the in hotel and I walk to the old town of Mdina, which served as the island’s capital from antiquity to the medieval period.
Saturday, July 10 — Cirkewwa
Visit Palazzo Tal virtu
Visit Ħaġar Qim & Mnajdra
Checked out hotel
On our way, I grab gas at the Mn Camilleri Petrol Station Saqqajja in Rabat. It's one of the pay in cash at some random machine before you pump-- my least favorite type because you are forced to go with what bills you have. The gas attendant, if there is one, is always grumpy and hesitant to give any change. Check in at Paradise Bay Resort
Lunch/dinner at Porto Lounge (it was bad)
Sunday, July 11 — Gozo
We have a somewhat disappointing breakfast at the Paradise Bay Resort. The view is amazing, but the eggs are rubbery and the dining room is chock full of people and all the windows are closed; it’s a perfect germ-spreading half hour. We manage to check out even though there is a long queue. The car starts and we queue up at the Ċirkewwa Ferry Terminal for the ferry to Gozo.
We board the M.V. Gaudos ferry and sail to Gozo. On the way we pass the gorgeous Comino island. The light-color cliffs and stone beaches pour into the turquoise water. We soon arrive to Gozo, debark, and drive 30 minutes or so to Ghasri town, and eventually find Maria’s BnB on a quiet back street at 31, Muxrabija.
We check in to Room 4 at Maria’s BnB
Dinner at Azure Window Restaurant
Monday, July 12 — Gozo
We have a slow morning. Lots of things to figure out. Zara’s tickets, we need to book the ferry tickets to Sicily, sort out covid tests, sort out the failed Hal saflieni hypogeum tickets, sort out the rental car return time, plan for Sicily, etc. It takes well into the afternoon to suss everything out, but eventually we do. Afterward, it's a long pool time. Around 6p we head off for Wied il-Għasri. The road is under construction, and we nearly make it through the construction site, but have to back track around the long way. Eventually we make it to Wied il-Għasri and park a ways away. Being later in the day, midweek, crowds have died down. The gorge is beautiful, the water is slightly murky and I keep thinking if a shark comes in here, I am toast.
After a nice walk about Wied il-Għasri, we drive over to the salt pans, and watch the wanning sun. I dip in the water again, down a ladder, but it is too rough. A few coves to the east we find another ladder where it is more calm so I take a snorkel swim. The water is magnificent, with deep blue colors, and walls heading down with no sea floor in site. Fish swim along the walls and there are lots of sea kelp and other critters swimming around. Why is the Mediterranean always so deep dark blue in color?
Dinner at Maldonado Bistro, consisting of the most tender braised octopus I've ever had. We also take a Persian chicken with Israeli couscous and some local goat cheese raviolis, which although still tasting good are the weakest part of the meal.
After dinner, we discover Victoria's citadel, which we later learn is pending World Heritage status. We walk for a mile around the ramparts, and alleyways of the restored citadel. The views in all directions are amazing, as is the weather and breeze. How lucky we are that they keep this place open 24/7!
Tuesday, July 13 — Valletta
We woke up early, feeling a pang of sadness as it was our last day. After a lovely breakfast and a late-morning swim, we checked out and bid farewell to Jaque and Claudia. Victor, the manager, asked us to leave a good review to help him compete against his wife and sister. We then drove to the ferry terminal, which charged us 20.35 Euro for one car and two passengers. When I asked why it wasn't rounded to an even 20 Euro, the man simply replied, “It's policy.”
We initially thought we would board the current boat, but it wasn't accepting cars, which left us baking in the heat until another ferry, the M/V Ta’ Pinu, arrived to let us on. The ferry ride was pleasant with a nice breeze, but the boat was moving unusually slow. Time was ticking, and I needed to return the rental car.
Eventually, we arrived back in Malta and exited the ferry. After about 50 roundabouts, most of which were second or third exits, we found our way back into old Valletta. For some reason, the map directed us to a road about 500 feet below the hotel. When we tried again, we ended up at the same spot. Trying a different route led us to a dead-end where a truck blocked our way. After a few horn honks and backing out of the dead-end, we ended up at the bottom once more.
On our fourth attempt, Zara found a non-intuitive road to the left that successfully led us to the hotel. We finally returned the car and checked into room 408, which had been upgraded to a partial sea view with two sets of perfect Maltese balconies. What a treat!"
After some Maltese balcony chill time, we walk over to the Valletta Ferries, chill and order a drink and snack at the scenic Cockney’s terrace by the dock, and catch the 4:30 ferry to Sliema. When we arrive we walk the quickest way to Brown's Pharmacy St. Julian and we each take a 35 euro rapid antigen covid test for our ferry to Sicily the next day. We have to wait a while in the hot sun, very pleasant. After our test, we grab a half-gas soda water at Eeet Well, and enjoy their nice leafy terrace.
We migrate along the limestone waterfront toward our sunsetter at Paradise Exile. There are swimming lanes, water polo areas, and even a large swimming pool built next to the sea shore. Stairs are carved into the limestone and there are even square pool carved into the limestone. I wonder how long ago all this seaside carving took place. I too take a dip, enjoy a Cisk beer and we watch the sun go down with a burger. We continue our meander along the seashore, seeing all the locals and expats and students enjoy the evening with the best weather of the day. We grab the 9:15 ferry back, walk through Valletta by all the al fresco diners, of which there are hundreds and end up Cafe Society, the hip little bar near our hotel, for an Orsen Wells cocktail (blueberry-infused gin, Cynar, Punt e mes Vermouth, orange bitters.)
Wednesday, July 14 —
We embarked aboard Virtu Ferry’s M/V Saint John Paul II. We left the dock at 6:30 PM, and the voyage from Valletta Harbor provided stunning views from the stern and port side. Soon, Malta slowly faded away on the rear horizon as we sped towards Pozzallo, Sicily.