Review of "General: Malta"
Thanks for all the rates through the years. Its the end of an era - im thankful to all who talked to me. Apologies for the mass postings but I have a ton of film reviews in drafts! ill try to re-rate as many ppl as I can.
- Introduction -This summer (2008) I went abroad on a summer holiday with my parents to the island of Malta and I have to say, it was definitely one of the better holidays ive had. I had never been there before and so I was quite eager to see the sights. We went for two weeks from late June (24th) to early July (8th) and I left feeling that there was still plenty left to see, that we didn't manage to fit in the two weeks we were there, so I would start off by saying that there is more than enough to see in a couple of weeks.
I hope to use this review to give you an insight into the island of Malta, some of the places you can visit (or more, that we visited) and some useful/interesting information about the island. I hope you find this a useful review. I thought during one of the last days there that I wanted to do a proper review on it when I got home, so I can type up everything I remember and use it in the future to remind me what its like, as well as to help others possibly thinking of visiting the island.Ok, so to start with, lets get down to the basics...
Malta is the largest of 3 inhabited Maltese islands (Malta, Gozo & Comino), which lies in the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, south of Italy and Sicily. It is close to Northern Africa (which is just about 150 miles or so South of the island), so, as you may expect, it benefits from a pretty favourable climate.
- Where exactly is Malta? -
Officially, Maltese is the main or primary language spoken on the island, which is a rather weird and wonderful language, quite unlike most European languages. However, don't worry as its not necessary to learn the Maltese language to get by here as English is actually the official second language spoken and I can happily say that we had no problems with ordering food, asking for help or otherwise communicating with people on the island in English. I did read up on some basic Maltese phrases, as I do like to feel I know a little of the local language but I admit, I didn't really use it. Then again, how useful it is to know how to say good evening, good morning or hello and thats all in another language, could be, frankly, quite debatable! but anyway, language shouldn't be a problem when staying here.
- What languages are officially spoken in Malta? -
- Mini A-Z (minus some letters) -
Boats & Buses - You can find some very bright and cheerful painted boats in the harbours in Malta. They are mainly painted in yellow and blue and have very traditional looking paintwork. The buses are well known for also being bright and cheerful, again they are yellow and blue, with orange-y red line along them. They have some artwork painted on the front and most seemed to have sayings painted on the front or back too I noticed, though im sorry I can't think of any specific ones right now. The buses all seemed very popular, with many tourists packed in them, the only worry I had was that most had many windows open, with sometimes the door open too, which to me made me presume that it didn't have air conditioning. I don't think I could stay in a full bus for too long during the hottest time of day, it would be pretty uncomfortable with the humidity and everything.Boat trips - As well as the larger ferries that go to Gozo regularly, there are other boat trips for tourists, the main one being a boat trip to the 'blue lagoon' in neighbouring Comino island. I/we might have been interested in this, had it not been for the fact that the boat only leaves during the hottest time of day and it includes 3 and a half hours for swimming. Even if I was a great swimmer, I doubt I'd want to spend quite so long there, I'd just worry about getting sun burn, so we decided not to bother with that. The boats leave from the harbour at Mellieha bay, I think the company is called 'Oh Yeah', for reference and there are probably other similar boat trips that go from other resorts.
Britain - Malta was part of the British empire and only gained independence from the UK in 1964. This is why English is the second official language spoken on the island and other things (noted below) are the same as in Britain.C
Churches & Cathedrals - Malta is a Roman Catholic country/island and so you can find some small shrines on the side of roads. There are also alot of churches and cathedrals on the island, they are quite impressive inside, featuring what I believe is mainly baroque influences. They are quite bright and have many different paintings. I remember one had this very strong turquoise colour in some of the paintings on the floor. The cathderal dome at Mosta is supposed to be one of the largest in the region, if not in Europe.Classic Cars - If your a car enthusiast, then its well worth coming here, that is if 1950s and 1960s cars are 'your thing'. My dad recognised many classic cars (im much too young to, of course), from Zodiacs to Ford Capris and many different Morris cars too. I guess with the climate there is little worry of rusting, so cars do seem to last alot longer.
DDriving - Be warned, just as I had read about, driving on the island is an experience in itself! Local driving does leave alot to be desired, as my dad found out all too soon on us arriving. I'm glad I wasn't the one driving, you could feel pretty intimidated (or/and shocked) by the way that some local vehicles (non car-hire vehicles with local numberplates) overtake on the inside/cut you up and fly past very quickly. They seemed to be particularly impatient with giving way at roundabouts (of which there are quite alot of on the island) and many also seem to go a foot or two over the line at stop lines, which is a little dodgy!
However, driving is helped by the fact that they drive on the same side of the road as we do, they drive on the left, or their supposed to anyway. The road surface on some of the island seemed very reflective and you could hear the squeaking of some tyres when people had to brake suddenly, we laughed when we spotted a sign saying 'road slippery when wet', I think it seemed slightly slippery when dry! so the best advice I can give, is to keep an eye on the other traffic around you, keep watching for hazards and perhaps not bother with car hire if you feel particularly unconfident about your driving, you can get around using local buses, so you don't have to rely on hire cars but its always nice to have the freedom and flexibility to go where you like, when you like, pretty much. Its just a bit dodgy with the local driving im afraid! the road signs are all in English though too, which also helps.E
Electrical sockets - There's no need to go searching or buy a travel adapter when you go to Malta, as they use the same three point sockets as we use, not the European two point one (or whatever its called(?)). Basically all British plugs will fit in sockets in Malta and the voltage is the same as well, so thats one less thing to have to worry about.F
Ferry - You can take a ferry from Malta to Gozo. Its pretty cheap too, I believe it cost roughly 15 Euros for the car and driver it costs about 4 Euro-something for each extra passenger. Thats as of late June 2008 and subject to change, of course. You can get some nice pictures from the ferry deck and Gozo is quite pretty, so its worth taking the trip. I believe you can cross from the capital Valletta or, where we went, from Cirkewwa. The crossing takes roughly 25 minutes each way and there are lots of crossings, its roughly every half hour it leaves.Food - There is plenty of choice when it comes to food on the island. There are snack bars and cafes as well as larger restaurants, you can get the usual sort of snack-y food such as toasties (toasted sandwiches) and burgers and chips and omelettes and the like, as well as seafood salads (I had a shrimp salad once, which was very nice) and plenty of other seafood dishes (including swordfish). There are plenty of Pizzerias that offer a good range of Pizzas as well as Pasta dishes, you can get proper Italian Pizzas, seeing as Malta is pretty close to Italy and attracts alot of Italian tourists, that didn't surprise me. The traditional Maltese snack food is a pasty type snack called a Pastizzi, which is filled with a cheese sauce type filling. You can buy them very cheaply and they do fill you up quite quickly, I would recommend it as a cheap snack. You can also find a good range of pies and other British type foods in the supermarkets and some eateries too. I guess the British gave Malta their love for pies!
HHarbours - There are some picturesque harbours in Malta, I particularly liked the ones at Marsaxlokk and where we stayed in Mellieha (see below under 'places to visit').
LLM - The Maltese Lira was the islands old currency and often (including on menus at cafes and restaurants etc.) you'll see the price in both Euros and LM. If prices are only quoted in LM, expect the price in Euros to be around about double the LM price, as a very rough guide. The island only just changed currency to the Euro on New Years day this year, so this is their first year dealing with the Euro, hence why most places still quote prices in both currencies.
Leyland - I noticed the buses and some cars themselves were Leylands, which was funny as some Leylands were made in a town near where I live here in Scotland. They do seem to have alot of Leyland/Leyland DAF vehicles on the island, which might interest some.P
Phoneboxes - You may be surprised to find British red phoneboxes on the island, I spotted at least a few dotted around the island. There's one along the main promenade in Valletta for one. Its another item to remind you of Britains previous rule over the island.R
Radio - Its possible to find the BBC World Service on the island, of course and my parents even found Classical FM being broadcast through the World Service from Britain during some hours of the day, though it does change over to local Maltese speaking stations at some time in the day. You'll find local stations that feature both Maltese and English adverts (which is a slightly weird mix) and also you'll probably find a few Italian stations too.S
Supermarkets - We had some problem trying to locate a large supermarket, there only appears to be a few, rather smaller ones than we've seen in past holidays on other European places. However, once we'd located a couple, we managed to find most of what we wanted there, so it wasn't really a problem. I was happy with the number of British items available there actually, with a wide range of cereals and yogurts and so on. The Scotts supermarket was the main one we used, as its on two floors, as well as the Shoppers one in Mellieha.T
Temperatures - All I can really vouch for is what it was like when I was there and it varied from around 28c to the hottest being apparently 36c when we left, which was getting to be a little much for us! yes, just a little warmer than Scotland!TV - Again, Italian TV channels can be picked up from the 'Melita' TV service, which I believe is like the island or the regions version of Freeview, with free to air channels. We managed to find CNN, Euronews, the Discovery Channel and a couple of Zone channels (Zone Reality & Zone Club), as well as the MGM channel, which shows pretty old (and not very memorable though sometimes amusing for all the wrong reasons!) movies. Those are the English speaking channels, there were others, as I say Italian channels, I think there was maybe a German channel and some others, thats all I remember. The CNN channel seemed to change sometimes to a different channel, so thats not so reliable but the other channels should all be there, AFAIK.
WWatersports - There are the usual watersport facilities available on the busier beaches, including pedalo and jet ski hire. There are banana boats available for hire as well from/at Mellieha.
Wine - There is a pretty good range of wines available on the island and the main local wine manufacturer is called Marsovin, which was launched in 1919, their slogan in 'the culture of wine'. You have to be careful when looking for local wines, as under EU law they can classify wines that have grapes from Sicily/Italy, that are imported to Malta from elsewhere, as Maltese wines, so if your looking specifically for local wines, then check the label properly before buying.
- Places to see -
Ok so you want to go to Malta but you don't know where's worth going or what to see? well, I haven't seen the whole island but I can explain about the better places I did see, which are as follows:-Armier Bay
This is just outside of Mellieha (at the top of the hill heading out the harbour, turn right). The drive is rather bumpy, put it that way but your rewarded when you get there with a normally quite quiet, small bay. There are a couple of snack bars and a nice small beach. When its impossible to park in Mellieha beach/harbour, its worth trying here instead. You can see over to where I presumed was little Armier too. It is fairly small but its pretty quiet, it has that slightly hidden away feel to it and so I quite liked it. The cafe opposite the beach was quite popular with locals and the people running it seemed friendly enough.Dingli Cliffs
These can be found on the south western coast of the island. Here you'll find some pretty good views out to sea. Its pretty rocky here but its worth seeing for the views. You can walk along the cliff edge (just be careful, obv.) and there is supposed to be a restaurant/bar, Bobby's Bar I think it was called but it wasn't open when we went there.Marsaxlokk (pronounced mar-sa-shlok)
This is more of a working town, a fishing village which is also in the south western area of the island. There are fish/seafood restaurants and I believe there is a fish market there too, though we didn't see it. The harbour is pretty picturesque and there is also a general market held there, which sells souvenirs and bags and tshirts and the like.Mdina
This was my favourite place in the island, that I saw. Mdina (pronounced Medina) has the nickname of 'the silent city'. It has large city gates and cars (minus some for residents and emergency vehicles) aren't allowed in, so you can walk around the old streets as slowly as you like. There are lots of narrow streets and it is quieter, I felt, than Valletta, as far as other tourists go. Its worth visiting to view the great panoramic views of the island from the cities battlements and there's also a tea garden closeby which also offers great views. Its a pretty slow paced and sort of relaxing place. You can often hear or see a horse drawn carriage, which takes families on a half hour or so tour of the city, which costs I think around 35 Euros (too much for us to bother with but maybe others would be interested). You'll find the horse drawn carriages, about 3 or so of them, outside the city gates, near the taxi ranks I think.There are quite a few things to see in Mdina, not including the panoramic views. Things include two chapels and the Natural History Museum, which I thought was quite interesting, featuring many roman coins, wood engravings and paintings. There's also a convent and monastery, which we didn't have time to see. If your interested in the history of the city, there's something called the 'Mdina Experience' where you get an audio walkman type thing that talks you through the many streets and the history of the place. The last time we went to Mdina, we kept being pestered by people to go to the 'Mdina Experience', so that rather dampened things a bit (we said we weren't interested when going in to the city so why she asked again as we were leaving, I don't know... I guess she was desperate to drum up some business but still...).
There is a Roman Villa near the car park (outside the city gates) with a museum, which is worth seeing. It has some pretty old mosiacs and statues (though interestingly, the heads are all taken off) you get a pretty nice view outside of the ruins too.Melita Bay
This is also near-ish to Mellieha. We only visited here once, the bay is pretty enough but there's only one place to eat and it seemed very posh and expensive, the name Palazzo should have been the first hint I think (we're not THAT rich), so we didn't bother staying there for long but it was quite pretty and seemed pretty quiet too.Mellieha
This is where we stayed, its located in the north of the island. It features the longest beach on the island (which is pretty popular, especially with the locals at the weekend!) and a nice harbour. There's a cathedral/church further up from the beach, as well as World War II shelters nearby. There's a nice small cafe nearby to the church which offers very impressive views of the town and beach below and also offers a nice range of snacks, savoury foods and drinks. You can find ATMs and many shops in the town. It has quite a steep slope back into the town and at the very top, you can find take aways, a small supermarket, a bakers, some bar/pubs and other similar things. We stayed in the Santa Maria estate, the estate itself is nicely located near the supermarket and take aways, however if your quite far down into the estate, like we were, you really do need the car to get up there. I wouldn't recommend walking up or down the steep slopes when its as hot as it can be (im talking about over 30c, which is pretty darn hot to me!).Mosta
Here you'll find the aforementioned largest dome cathedral in the area, which really is quite a sight, you can see it from the view at Mdina. Its quite a busy place I thought when we were there but its worth seeing. I can't really think of much specifically to say about it, though I did think there was a fair bit of greenery around, which was nice. We saw a sign just outside the city that mentioned there being a public garden but we couldn't find it.Popeye Village aka Sweethaven village/harbour (as its called in the movie).
This is the film set for the 1980s live action Popeye movie, starring Robin Williams as Popeye and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl (who did look remarkably like Olive). It can be found along a slightly hidden road on the outskirts of Mellieha, in the North of the island.It reminded me of a small Disneyland and im sure kids would love it, with the many large, cartoon like buildings. It costs around 11.50 Euros for adults I believe (im going by memory here, I didnt write it down at the time so take all prices as rough estimates only and only as of June 2008, subject to change!), I don't know about prices for children but heck im just a big kid at heart lol my curiosity got the better of me and my parents were interested too, so we all went. You get a boat ride as part of the price, which is worth doing as you do get to see some of the harbour, ie a bit of the island, as well as the movie set from the water, though the boats are pretty small and they can only take around about 12 people at a time. It claims it leaves on the hour, every hour, only we managed to get on one sooner than an hour after one came back, so keep your eyes open at the harbour if you miss a ride and dont want to wait an hour. Its a good length for a boat ride too I felt at around about 20-25 minutes or so.
In the village, you can also get samples of specialty 'Sweethaven' wines (a white, a red and something called magic juice) and can, of course, buy bottles there. There are also souvenir shops, a building where when you go in it, it shows you how toys are made, which kids would like, there's a cafe and in one shop, there's also a small theatre, where you can watch a video thats projected onto the front of the theatre, its a documentary that talks about the making of the movie and how the film set was made for the movie in 1980, it talks about why they made it there, what the area (known previously as 'Anchor Bay') was like, how the actors used the film set, that sort of thing. I think they play a couple of cartoons after the documentary, to entertain the kids too. They also do some plays in the main street, though I thought that was rather over the top for my taste, I pity the guy who looked younger than me, who has to pretend to be Popeye in these over the top plays, to entertain the kids but oh well, im sure the kids enjoy it anyway!.It was an interesting thing to see, like my parents said, we'd never been to see a film set before, so that was a first for us. We were staying closeby, so we were lucky that we got there before the coaches arrived, as it is quite popular expect it to be really quite crowded by late morning. Also it closes a little early at about 5:30pm.
Qawra (pronounced Our ra)This is a popular tourist resort, with many bars, restaurants and hotels. Its south of Mellieha but is still pretty much in the north of the island. There is also a classic car museum here (its somewhat hidden in a street I think called Triq Il Tourista or something similar). We wanted to visit it but only got around to going on Sunday and of course it was shut then, so we only saw the outside, where a Mini is displayed. Oh well, maybe next time(?!). Thats about all we saw of Qawra, though I believe there are watersports facilities also available here.
St. Pauls BayThis is in the North East of the island. It has a pretty harbour and again has a good number of cafes and the like. It is quite picturesque, at least by the harbour anyway, so is worth a visit, at least once, I think.
Ta'QaliThis is a small-ish village in the middle of the island, which is known as a crafts village, featuring many shops that sell glass products, particularly Mdina glass. There are shops where you can actually watch the glassblowing take place (how these people manage to work in such a hot environment, by a burning hot furnace at even that time of year, I have no idea). There are many cool items for sale featuring different blends of colours, I particularly liked the purple and white glasses/items (purple is my favourite colour, so thats no surprise really lol). There are items small and large and in the Mdina glassworks shop, I believe there was a sign that said they could ship items worldwide. I bet thats pretty expensive though! but there are many interesting items:- vases, plates, glasses of all sizes and many other items. If interested, you can also find shops that sell Mdina glass in the city of Mdina itself, of course. Other shops offer items like gem stones and mineral stones and there's a lace shop that sells handmade lace items too.
The village was originally a military RAF station dating from just before the 2nd World War and there is also an aviation museum outside the village, though we didn't get to visit it.Valletta
This is the capital city of the island and it can be very busy! it, like Mdina, has large city gates and there's a tourist information office just off to the right behind you as you first enter through the city gates. There's a long promenade/high street area, with many shops and even a McDonalds. There are some nice shaded cafes too and there are quite alot of churches/cathedrals to see (too many for us to see in the one holiday), including the shipwrecked church of St. Paul. There are also numerous museums too. I can't remember much detail, though the cathedral we saw (cant remember which, sorry) was very large with a high roof and lots of paintings. There was a large Caravaggio painting of the beheading of St. Paul (nice subject matter for such a large piece, I know) along with other paintings and manuscripts in the adjoining cathedral museum.I expect the whole city to be absolutely swamped in August, judging by how busy it was in the first week of July, so just be aware of that. I guess its the same in any capital city though.
I went photo crazy, as I always have done since getting a digital camera with a 1gb card I admit! I took far too many photos to show here, around 400 in total. If you'd like a look at them all, you can find them all here:-
- Photos -
http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v15/RoksGoldenSmile/Digital%20C amera%20Pics/Malta%20holiday%20summer%202008/(see the white column on the far left for the links to sub-albums, I organised them all into sub-albums. Otherwise it will look like there's nothing there. I know there are some places listed that I haven't mentioned above but I couldn't think of enough to really say about those places, so I just left it. I think this review is going to be long enough already anyway!)
edit:- ive just noticed the link has been broken, there's a space between the c and a in the word camera in the link for some reason. I'm not sure if this means im not supposed to post links to outside sites(?) if so then I apologise but it is just a link to view the rest of my holiday photos, which I dont mind sharing...
- Conclusions -
Personally, I really enjoyed my holiday in Malta and I was glad I went. Its maybe not for everyone, in that there aren't too many sandy beaches and it is pretty built up but that didn't bother me, im not much of a beach person anyway (I hate getting sand in my shoes, I'd much rather get out and sight see than sit bored as heck on a beach and wait to burn knowing my skin lol). If you enjoy seeing old buildings and cathedrals and museums, then you should definitely think of going. There are some very pretty areas, as I say, I particularly liked Mdina, for being quieter than Valletta and for the panoramic views. If you have young children, then the Popeye village should entertain them, if only briefly. I liked that there was so much history to the place, there were alot of old buildings with interesting architecture.It does get rather hot and humid and I think it probably would be hotter than I'd personally like in August but maybe others like it that hot. As I say, I can only vouch for how hot it was when I was there, it reached about 36c on the last day we were there, which is really getting a bit too hot, so thats perhaps a bit of a disadvantage.
To me, this was a nice island, with plenty to see, some great views, the language wasnt a problem and the people seemed friendly enough in general (minus the local driving lol), so I would definitely recommend visiting Malta.I hope you found this review helpful, I know it took me some work but I somehow felt I ought to do it and I'll probably look back on it in the future as a reminder of what it was like. All ratings and comments are very gratefully received, thank you.
Product Information : General: Malta
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