Monday, July 29, 2013

The Perfect Beginning to a Malta Vacation

A line like this only appears in fairytales and crazy travel writers’ imaginations. In reality, it does not exist at all. Case in point is our own experience today. Our flight was at 6:45am, an ungodly hour, but the prospect of getting in at 9am was a trade-off.

We had “purchased large luggage carry-on” with Wizz Air, so we were set. After checking in due to our non-EU passports, we went directly to the Diners Club lounge, which to my surprise and thanks to Ron’s optimism, it was. Our lack of caffeine at home was remedied here with multiple espressos.

The flight was fine, just 2 hours and 5 minutes. We arrived on time and were in the airport by 9:10am. Our dilemma was that our hotel check-in was not until 2pm. After Ron checked the VIP Lounge, we were able to go to the Diners Club Lounge here too without boarding passes. We were not allowed to overstay the 3 hour maximum. After chugging another espresso, we were on the hunt for the tourism office. Darn, it did not open until 10am. It was now 9:33am. There was no sense in waiting, so we went to the bus booth to buy our daily tickets for €2.60 each. We were directed to the Express bus 3X, due to leave within minutes. The ticket seller said he was not sure which stop we needed, but the driver would know.

Yes, Mr. Chomsky, there is a Maltese language. Maltese is not only reserved for cute little dog breeds. There are some strange letters, though they claim it uses the Latin alphabet. Some g’s have a dot over them and the capital H’s have a double bar across. There are some words borrowed from Spanish and Italian, but reports that I read state it is not a Romance language and has no associations with other languages. Funny, where have I heard this before?

Forty-five minutes later, the bus showed up. There was not to be gotten any reliable information from the driver. He did not know. We were left to our own devices. After riding for 1 ½ hours, by 11:15am, Ron’s extrasensory map perception alerted him to the fact we were in the vicinity, but how close was still anyone’s guess. It turned out to be true. Once off the bus, we asked 6 different people for directions and each guessed incorrectly. It was not until 1pm when we arrived at the hotel where we were booked. Until that time, we were dragging our suitcases in the hot, hot sun up one street and down another. I know in some cultures, people will tell you anything rather than lose face by not being helpful. I guess once you are gone, they don’t care about their facial issues.

We had read dreadfully mixed messages about this hotel through review sites. Some were great while others trashed it. With an open mind, we asked that our room be changed as it was poolside. A common complaint was pool noise; they have karaoke in the evenings after dinner. Space concerns were lifted once entering the room. It was sufficiently roomy for 2 people. Clean sheets, clean floors, and a clean bathroom are about all you truly need if you have intentions of being out most of the day. There was an air conditioner unit above the dresser. We thought we hit the jackpot. What could be bad about this? Ask and you shall receive.

Ron went downstairs to ask about getting Wi-Fi. It is available for only €6 each day. When we asked how to operate the A/C since there were no controls visible, the clerk asked “Did you subscribe?” Well that is what is missing. The AC is by subscription only at €15 a night. I was afraid to ask what a full day would run us. There are signs everywhere asking guests not to bring room towels to the pool. “If you just enquire at reception, they will provide a pool towel”. (Hitch: There is a €10 deposit per towel and then a rental fee of €1 per day. This is like the EasyJet or RyanAir of hotels. No, we did not book through either cheapo airline. It seemed reasonable to get out of the lobby fast before they shared the hanging out in the lobby fees.

Next, another obstacle popped up; it was the electric outlets. My netbook was running out of juice; I knew the phone would need recharging. Though I was prepared with having the cords needed, I was not prepared for needing to have an adapter. They have British 3 prong plugs here. I should have guessed this would be the case when we discovered drivers were driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Somehow even the steering wheels were put on the opposite side of the cars from where they should be. This always causes me considerable anxiety. It looks like an accident waiting to happen all the time.

It was so particularly strange that we passed by dozens of restaurants when we were playing “Where in the country of Malta is our hotel”, but now that we wanted lunch, not one was open. We did find some Chinese on a balcony of a Chinese restaurant; how is that for coincidence? We asked if they were open, but no they don’t open until 6pm. Second thoughts are powerful! They agreed to feed us and took us in. If you are ever in this part of the world, I highly recommend New China Kingdom at Triq L-Alka, St. Paul’s Bay in Malta. My fried noodles with chicken were the best I have ever had. Ron had a sampler platter that we shared. Everything on it was fresh and delectable. The two beers that I chugged down didn’t hurt my outlook either.

Lack of sleep, hiking with suitcases for hours, and assorted fun with the reception at the hotel, after enjoying a good meal along with a couple of beers unquestionably needed to be followed with nap time. Post sleep, we took the bus to Valletta. We had a day transit card, so we figured we should get some use out of it. Valletta is 1 hour away.

As we were walking, a street crew was putting up towering red and gold banners with some insignias on them that had the smell of religious observance. We kept asking all the wrong people what they were for. No one had a clue. The balconies on the buildings reminded Ron of Peru and once he said it I had to agree. We knew the Hard Rock Café was in this city, but we had no idea if we would get back here, so the best insurance was to go tonight to get our pins. This was another obstacle course. Not one person knew for sure where it was or how to get there even with the information that it is on Bay Street. Street signs anywhere here are as common as a vaccine for the common cold. It was running to 8:15pm and we worried about catching the last bus back. Buses end at 11pm. Let me tell you, for Hard Rock being so elusive, it was hopping. We stayed for dinner, thinking there may not be options once we return to our area.

Returning was an adventure too. We had no idea where to get off the bus for our hotel. I had memorized the stores when we boarded initially, but now it was dark, the bus windows are tinted, and few people know more than how to get home themselves. Bus drivers are supposed to be helpful in this regard according to all, but it is not true. We found our way back by walking about 7 blocks from the bus stop we took a chance on.
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