Saturday, March 29, 2014

-- Maltesers (Part 2) --

My body feels well-rested after a long sleep of nearly 11 hours. The rays of strong sunshine through clear blue skies break through the big glass windows and cold thick stone walls. It's Saturday and the locals are slowly waking up, having coffee in their balconies enjoying a sunny wintry day.

No time to lose. I head straight down the seaside promenade through the quiet and dusty streets of Sliema to the bus stop. Public buses have recently received a massive upgrade from their old British model and the Maltese Islands now boast a brand new collection of white-blue Chinese buses, similar to those being introduced in Rwanda.

With a rather small population and territory, the buses do their best cover every corner in the island and an hypothetically straight-lined journey takes longer than planned, with these modern buses roaring their engines and rocketing up and down the narrow streets and avenues of Sliema and Mosta.

Following my improvised map instructions, I decide to get off the bus just outside Mosta, right in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by farms, light brown small houses and vineyards.
In front of me, sitting on top of a hill stands M'dina , Malta's former capital and a place rich in history.

A few roundabouts and a rather steep climb, I reach the tall and thick walls that surround M'dina. I am immediately told by an overly excited tourist that the place is featured in  the TV show 'Games of Thrones', apparently very popular nowadays and filmed entirely in Malta and Croatia.
As I walk under the stone-carved portal,  I discover a labyrinth of brown and narrow alleyways in a purest Arab style, feeling like walking in one of those hefty souks in the Middle East a few years ago. The view of the green valley can be appreciated from a modest corner where stairs have been laid out to create a nice space for plays or outdoor performances.

As the clock ticks, I walk around the streets of Rabat which is M'dina's twin town in order to find something to eat. A particularly quiet town, apart from a funeral taking place in the main church as curious tourists walk by. Rushing through the valley is needed in order to catch the bus to the next destination.

Some 20 minutes later, the bus makes a sharp turn and enter small farming villages through fields covered in perfectly lined crops of lettuce, tomato and artichoke, only minutes before Golden Bay.

A place that honor its name perfectly, specially at sunset. I gasp as I try to absorb the landscape around me in a setting of calm sandy beaches, embraced by a small cliff and dyed in several tones of golden colours by the sun setting in the background. Couples and group of friends play in the cold sand whilst contemplating the time pass and the sun trying to hit the horizon with its round orange shape.
The water is freezing and a walk up the cliff is next, only to exaggerate the beauty of such landscape and that particular moment.

From the top, I discover that Golden bay is indeed a series of U-shaped bays in a row. I devise a rock sitting at the top of one of the small peninsulas. Becomes my hiking aim of the day which is rewarded by one of the best sunsets I have ever contemplated. From the top, the sunset seems to take ages and the navy blue Mediterranean Sea turns into an endless orange-coloured body of water.

The evening goes by in between returning to Sliema, the most amazing pasta with seafood I have tasted in my life and a walk through the promenade and sea-facing new housing developments, kindly caressed by the winter Mediterranean breeze.

My last 24 hours in Malta mean a large territory is yet to be discovered and I resist to the idea of leaving this tiny country without visiting one of its main attractions, the island of Gozo.
A small marathon of buses and windy roads take me to a small fishermen village at the West tip of the island of Malta and the town of Cirkewwa where the ferry terminal lies.

The chunky white vessel leaves on time, cutting through crystal clear waters which mixed with the clear skies turn into some sort of surrealistic blue oil painting. Wind aside and the fact that I don't do very well in boats, I have a rather pleasant 30-minute journey through the channel.

On the other side, steep hills covered in houses work as a barrier between the rough sea and the quaint style of Gozo with its small villages.
The capital , Victoria works as a small village which caters for locals and some curious tourists (at least for now , before the high season starts) and it works as the connecting point for all bus journeys and routes.

And just like that, a sinuous road takes me down to the Azzura Window, a natural monument carved by nature for centuries, maybe as a testimony of the giant light brown cliffs surrendering to the powerful blue waters which happen to break just by my side, roaring and splashing white foam over the dry moon-like rocks.
Picnic spot set for the day with the fresh Mediterranean winds blowing constantly and accentuating the effects of drinking a bottle of delicious Maltese wine on my brain, much needed in preparation for an extremely long return journey involving a bus, another bus, a night ferry connection and another bus.

The last evening sets the mood of the end of a short but nice holiday, repeating the previous experience of the delicious pasta and seafood and a short nap before being woken up by the taxi waiting outside of the hostel in the middle of the late night.
The fresh air of a wintry Mediterranean morning and the lights of the city, dimmed by the effect of their reflection on the arid rocks, work as the perfect frame to close a short but hectic holiday.

The airport is empty as our Boeing 737 takes the spot of  first flight of the day out of the small island. I fall asleep  for a few hours and have a coffee whilst overflying Paris and its organised grid-like design.
Landing happens an hour later , Aircoach straight into the office is next, in the end, it is Monday in Dublin.