Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Let's Do the Hop

The breakfast buffet is open for business from 7:30 to 9:30am. The treat is the coffee machine because it makes espresso drinks. I had multiple cappuccinos with extra shots of espresso added. It is typical British breakfast with the addition of friend tomatoes and baked beans. The wait staff reminded me of the shark in Jaws. They circle around the tables waiting for someone to leave a glass or plate unguarded so they can swoop in to grab it. No dirty knife has a chance with them around.

In the hotel lobby is a tour desk where a lovely British lady who has spent too much time in the sun sells the travel packages. She offers the Hop–on Hop-off bus tours, though there are 3 companies providing similar services. We questioned her about a number of options, but finally booked the Hop-on and off with her as well as a full day Gozo tour. It includes transport there with lunch and transport back making for a ten hour day. The 2 day hopping tours with the free cruise ran us €30 each while the Gozo trip was €55 each for the organized tour.

We started hopping shortly after with the red tour, which comprised the entire south island. To do a full round of the tour would take a full three hours. This was going to take the entire day based on their ending times for the day. We did get off at the stop for the Hypogeum Underground Temple complex (a UNESCO World Heritage site), but you have to pre-book the tour. It has been booked up through August 31st.  We were able to see the Tarxien Temple Ruins, which were created in four different stages that ranged from 3,600 BC to a more modern 2,000. Before we left, our friend Hunter had mentioned that the statue of the “Sleeping Goddess” was found here in Malta. When we were unsuccessfully trying to get into Hypogeum Underground Temple, I spotted a postcard of a woman sleeping. It stated it is named the “Sleeping Lady” which they date back to 2,500 B.C.

Some of the villages have terribly kitschy porcelain stands about 7 feet high where 7 foot statues of saints or other religious figures are standing. These were lining the street across from a church, which would not be so awful if they were not also gaudy.  Every village and city has at least one Catholic Church, but there are 365 in the country. As the commentator stated, there is one for every day of the year. Strangely, though they are abundant, we have not found any open yet.

The next time we left the bus was at a small fishing village where we had lunch along the waterfront. I had tasty focaccia bread with goat cheese and tomato shared with Ron who in turn shared his antipasto. Like so many of the others, the church on the square was closed.

I am not loving Malta. I had anticipated something, but it is missing yet it is causing me a mini crisis trying to identify what it is. Some of the contributing factors I believe are that the cities are small and don’t seem to have an abundance of offerings mixing culture with entertainment. There is extensive traveling involved getting from one city to another city; it could take an hour or more. The public transportation is not even close to being great. Buses run about every 30 minutes, but end by 11pm. When we were on the public bus last night, I was watching young people dressed to party. I could not help but wonder how they would return home, unless they stay out until the next morning to get the start of the new day busses.

Ending the day’s tour, the bus delivered all of us to back to our respective hotel. We went for a swim before the pool closed at 5:30 and took naps in the shade trying to escape more sun. Today’s temperature was reported to be 36 centigrade. HOT!!

Before leaving home, I had found a list of recommended popular budget restaurants. Thinking I would have Internet access, I never printed it out. Now we are sunk. I cannot get it without shelling out €6 for the privilege. I thought that with proper hints, the tourism lady may be able to come up with some idea, but she was clueless. She did recommend a restaurant named Victoria Pub and Dinner at Bugibba Square. She never said she ate there, but she did say it was always filled with people; this was her restaurant rating barometer. Giving us explicit directions, since no one knows the names of any streets here, we headed off.

As we walked to the waterfront in pursuit of Victoria, I realized that a main factoring influence in my disliking the country is the architecture. Actually, one could say the lack thereof, as most of it is undeniably lacking any architectural accruements which would offer a variety. For the most part, buildings are downright boring when they are so repetitiously styled. Those buildings that have any modicum of interest look as if they were designed in the 70s, but have not been refurbished since. Even the buildings pointed out by tour commentary as being significantly Baroque are so barely decorated as to be considered Baroque at all. Then I wondered how these people must feel when they go to cities like Florence that revel in colors and styles, flaunting their décor and then return to the spectrum of beige. This is similar what I disliked about Morocco where every building was pink; here they are all shades of bland beige. They are so mind numbingly unattractive, one risks turning into a sleepwalker after walking three blocks down a street.

As we made our way down the waterfront, we stopped to watch a professional Bocce ball tournament that was in progress. Similar to the Italian version, this has quirks. There are can-like resin blocks that they throw to move the opponent’s ball out of the way. This is decidedly different from the Italian version of bocce that I grew up with. Surrounding the playing court was a regular little stadium filled with spectators.
Victoria set a lovely table. I had a set dinner menu with choices. First was a salad with goat cheese, followed by a pork chop with bacon and onion brown gravy. It was surrounded by an abundant assortment of veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, which were cooked perfectly. On the side was French fries and for dessert, the choice I knew Ron would share was cheesecake. Ron had Maltese ravioli, just like Italian, but stuffed with ricotta with a garlic and basil sauce. The square was truly alive with people sitting around the square or eating in restaurants.

When we returned to the hotel, there was karaoke going on in the back pool area. We took seats at a table to listen to some contenders among the 150 others in the audience. The woman singing when we entered was quite enjoyable. The next three acts were not so memorable, making us realize how tired we were. We scooted up to our room.
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