Malta

Insel Comino | Comino Island

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A small island with many (hot) possibilities.

Älgbert Elgson

Arrival with obstacles

Dolphin swimming has always been on our to-do list and in Malta we wanted to make this dream come true. The trip was planned meticulously, hotels were booked and the suitcases packed. Everyone was ready to go when our phone rang: „Your flight has been canceled. We are working on a solution and will contact you.“

Well, sh*t! So should our vacation be over before we leave? After an seemingly endless phone call with an employee of a very well-known German airline, we finally got a seat on the next plane – so the trip could still start today. Yay!

Just before midnight we finally reached the airport in Malta with a delay of over six hours. As we got off the plane we saw a beautiful fireworks display in the distance, hot air flowed towards us and we were mentally attuned to the following days. Since we had booked our accommodation in Xlendi on the island of Gozo, we set off with our rental car. Fortunately, ferries cross the Gozo Channel around the clock and so our onward journey went smoothly and we reached our hotel exhausted at around 2:00 in the night.

Our first encounter with Gozo

Due to yesterday’s long journey, after an extensive breakfast, we set off a little later on the way to the first exploration tour in Gozo. Since we had spent the previous day sitting a lot, we wanted to start the new day more actively. So we drove directly to Ras il-Wardija, a rocky outcrop on which several temples and ruins are said to be found and which was the target of an archaeological excavation from 1964.

We parked our car at San Raflu Lake, a small pond, which, to our amazement, also has its own Google Maps entry and made our way to the planned destination on foot. But after a short walk we came across signs with the words „Keep out“ or „Private“, which prevented us from entering.

Since no other way to Ras il-Wardija was visible and allowed for us, we turned around, enjoyed the view of the bay of Xlendi and continued with our second point on our schedule list, the place where the Azure Window once stood. As is well known, this collapsed in 2017, but the rugged landscape around Dwejra is also worth seeing without it.

We are completely in holiday mood and the curiosity to discover more of Gozo has us firmly under control. The Basilika ta’ Pinu, which became a place of pilgrimage due to an apparition of the Virgin Mary, was on the way and really demanded that we discover it. The rather simply furnished church with a view of the surrounding landscape is worth a visit. You can finally cool off in the cool walls, because shade is very difficult to find in Malta in midsummer.

The day was almost unbearably hot. Hoping for some cooling in the sea, we drove to Wied Il-Għasri, a narrow and somewhat secluded bay, which can only be reached by descending a few steps. This bay is said to be a paradise for people who are looking for a quiet place to swim and the underwater caves can be discovered by divers.

When we arrived, however, we saw that the fire jellyfish native to Malta were so numerous in the water that entering was unthinkable. The sight of the flora and fauna surrounding us compensated for the missed bathing opportunity. After we came back out of the gorge via the steep steps and turned north along the elongated valley, we were rewarded with raging waves at the foot of the cliffs and the saltworks carved into the stone. The little detour was definitely worth it.

Still not swimming, except in our own sweat, we started the return trip. Since Gozo is an island, bathing beaches should actually be found everywhere. In Xwejni Bay we finally found what we were looking for and were able to cool off in the pleasant Mediterranean.

After this first day, the hunger was huge. By chance we found the „Malta International Food Festival – Gozo Edition“ in Xewkija. The festival was unfortunately not as big as hoped, but the hunger could be satisfied with various delicacies from all over the world.

The day of the fish

On Fish Day everything should be about the island’s aquatic life. Or rather the water inhabitants around the island. A few places were quickly identified that we could visit. We started our fish tour with the Mediterraneo Marine Park, in which we had booked a dolphin swim (OK, dolphins are actually not fish …).

At the meeting point, wetsuits were handed out, which had to be put on in the shower cubicles above the bathing suits that were brought along. In order not to contaminate the pool and not injure the dolphins, it was necessary to remove all jewelry (including hair ties, glasses, …), remove makeup and take a shower. After we left the clothes and all personal belongings in a basket at the little wetsuit distribution house, we finally went to the pool with the dolphins. We got some information and were divided into two groups. One group started taking single photos and couple / family photos with one of the two dolphins. The second group went into approximately 5 meters of water and swam with the second dolphin. In this part, the dolphin was able to watch underwater while swimming with the provided diving goggles and listened to his sounds above and below the water. Bottlenose dolphin swam several laps around the participants and was allowed to be touched down the neck. The dolphins themselves were kept happy with rewards. After about half time, both groups changed and after about 30 minutes the swim was unfortunately over.

After showering and changing clothes, the walk to the photo booth followed, where a long line had formed. Everyone wanted to see and buy their photos. It seemed that everyone bought all of the photos of them, almost everyone walked past us with a paper bag full of photos. We knew in advance that these souvenir pictures would not be cheap. But when the young dolphin photo seller informed us of the price for two pictures, we were speechless for a moment. The two selected pictures, printed on a commercial printer on photo paper, should cost us 40 €. Our shocked look was of course not hidden from her and her offer was quickly improved. Now four photos should „only“ cost 40 €. Somewhat opaque pricing policy we think.

The Mediterraneo Marine Park itself would desperately need some love. This does not mean the employees‘ dealings with the animals, you can tell that they treat them very respectfully. The size and partly also the condition of the enclosures show that as many animals as possible should be accommodated in the smallest space. The dolphin swim was definitely a unique experience, nevertheless these wonderful animals shoudl live in freedom, as well as all other animals of the park, whose enclosures seem a little neglected. Therefore once and never again.

If you are traveling to Malta, you should definitely try the Maltese bread „Ftira“. This is usually filled with tuna, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, olives, capers or the like and is very inexpensive and available practically everywhere. We have enjoyed this many times.

The day was not over yet. On the contrary! It was just the beginning. It was not far to the Malta National Aquarium – as with all places on the island. At least according to the distance in kilometers. The Maltese describe the distance in the metric unit for distances, but the distance in minutes is definitely more meaningful in Malta.

Due to the strategically good location in the Mediterranean, Malta has long been an ideal base for any warlike activities, which is why there are still many sunken ships and other war machines around. In addition, there are also artificial sunken ships, which are intended to attract marine life and are therefore popular diving spots. This underwater world around Malta was reproduced very successfully in the aquarium. Each aquarium is equipped with tablets on which one can learn very interesting information about the respective residents. The Malta National Aquarium is also keen to point out environmental pollution, especially of the oceans. There are screens with short films on the subject on the walls. After the visit, we earned a good ice cream in the restaurant.

The silent City

After so many fish the last day we started this one in a private car exhibition, in the „The Classic Car Collection“ in Malta. The owner of this exhibition collects vintage cars and brings them to his basement from all over Europe. Connected to this is a garage in which the purchased automobiles are carefully restored. The owner is a car lover through and through. Therefore, he shares his passion and opened his garage to the public. Work is also done on site, so the typical car and workshop smell is present in the entire exhibition. This is the perfect olfactory setting for such an exhibition and brings joy to like-minded people. For less interested visitors, there are several reading corners with all kinds of magazines. It is highly recommended to take care of the car lovers you have brought with you, as some of the restored classic cars can be bought on site at mostly reasonable prices.

The Mosta Rotunda is a Roman Catholic church in the town of the same name. In 1942, it was hit by a German bomb, that did not explode, and about 300 people present survived the attack almost unharmed. The event is considered a miracle and a symbol of the indomitable will of the residents during this difficult time.

There are two different ticket packages there. Only dome or dome and air-raid shelter. We took the full program because we wanted to see everything. The dome was beautiful, but the shelter wasn’t what we expected. The air-raid shelter is basically a tunnel that runs under the street and is laid with gravel. Some signs and showcases provide general information, but that’s about it.

Mdina, the former capital of Malta, offers a wonderful view of the Mosta rotunda. The city wall alone is impressive. We immediately recognized the city gate from a scene in the “Game of Thrones” series. But this is not the only film set in the city, because Mdina has already been the location of many films and series. We were thrilled by the old walls as we walked through the gate. We strolled through the narrow streets of the city and admired the many centuries-old houses and the churches and palaces built of sand-colored limestone, typical for Malta. Within a short time we recognized many locations from the favorite series of Älgbert. Since we arrived in Mdina relatively late in the afternoon, all shops and attractions soon closed and it was almost empty around us. Then we realized why Mdina is known as „The Silent City“. The tourists disappeared before the evening and only a few restaurant guests and locals remained. This made the atmosphere of the city even more unique.

Mdina itself is not big and we were able to explore the city on foot without any problems, but there is also the possibility to drive through the city by horse-drawn carriages. At this point we also have to warn you, as the horse and cart teams in the narrow streets often come around the corner without any warning. The city of Rabat begins directly in front of the city walls of Mdina, which means „suburb“ and where the „normal“ people used to live outside the city walls. Rabat doesn’t have as many sights as Mdina, but there is also a lot to see there, which unfortunately was no longer possible due to time constraints.

Small and hot

The weather forecast has announced (again) a very hot day. In the remaining two days in Malta we really wanted to visit Valletta and the island of Comino, which is why we decided against a city tour due to the almost 35 ° C. A trip to the Blue Lagoon on Comino was very much recommended to us by the Maltese, because the locals themselves love this bay.

At first we could only partially share the enthusiasm of the locals, because when we landed with the Comino ferry right next to the recommended bay, we would have preferred to turn around immediately. People almost piled up on the much too expensive touted bathing benches under parasols that could be rented at horrific prices or simply without any comfort along the rocky bay. The pineapples serving as a cocktail cup were carelessly disposed by drunken bathers in the sea and loud music boomed from the small snack and beverage kiosks. We looked at each other in shock and the question followed: „Do you really want to stay HERE ?!“

No, we definitely didn’t want to! We wanted to enjoy the day and return from Comino with good impressions. Our Älg pioneered with his packed bathing rucksack and headed inland to explore the island. We had of course inquired in advance and knew that there are other bathing bays and also some lost places to discover. Despite the blazing heat, we marched half of the island and found a completely accessible abandoned pig farm, a clean bathing bay with fewer people and even some shade and enjoyed a great view near the watchtower over the Blue Lagoon to Gozo.

We returned to the ferry satisfied, but Comino probably wanted to be remembered even better, because the return trip should also prove to be unique. Unfortunately, not in a positive sense, but as chaotic and unorganized. Only a few ferries had space at the jetty at the same time, which is why boarding and alighting is handled very quickly. The boats all have the same label but different tickets. The “right” ferry to the matching ticket must therefore first be found. Countless tourists are standing on a tiny square with very little shade and wander frantically from one boat to the next in order not to miss the ferry and not to have to wait an additional hour in the blazing heat. When we finally discovered the ferry that also wanted to take us back to Gozo, we had to hurry because there were far too many people waiting for this little boat. Catching the last place therefore gave us a feeling of happiness and the wind ensured a welcome cool-down.

Back in Gozo we visited Ġgantija, a temple which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. This consists of a larger and a smaller temple, some 5,800 years old. It is sometimes unbelievable for us what so many years ago people had to have knowledge and skills to be able to build such buildings in the landscape. In the „entrance area“ of the temple there are holes and also circular depressions. It is not clear what they were used for, but it is assumed that they served as a fastening for doors. Ropes could also have been fastened in the holes. Animal bones and pottery shards were found under a double floor in the temple, and evidence of a Bronze Age settlement was found in the surrounding area. The outer walls of the plant are sometimes up to six meters high and made from huge stone blocks.

We wanted to end the day at the so-called Tal-Mixta Cave with a view of Ramla Bay, famous for its red sandy beach. There is a very bumpy and narrow road to this cave, but this was not an obstacle for us. Shortly before, however, the same game as on our first day in Gozo, when we wanted to visit Ras il-Wardija: „Private – No Entry“ , We parked in front of the sign and therefore thought about going back, but we saw other visitors who also just left the car and went on foot.

We had already had bad experiences with the caves on the islands of Malta. We therefore decided not to disregard the instructions on the signs and drove to Xlendi to end the evening there in a restaurant recommended to us, which actually turned out to be sensationally good.

The smallest capital in Europe

Valletta is not even one square kilometer in size, making it the smallest capital of all European countries. The day before the return trip, we made our way there and we were once again amazed at the Maltese traffic system. The roads are sometimes inadequate for the very densely populated country and the expansion of the traffic system is rather chaotic. There is also left-hand traffic in Malta, which made driving even more difficult for us. Our Älg, the street map firmly in hand, sometimes had difficulty distinguishing the small streets and finding the right way. After a few extra rounds we arrived in Valletta and found a new parking garage directly in front of the city walls and our tour of the city could begin.

There is a lot to see in Valletta, especially many churches. St. John’s Co-Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Malta and is one of the most beautiful churches on the island. This explained the long line of visitors in front of the entrance, which is why we postponed the visit to a later date. We made our way to Fort Saint Elmo, where the War Museum is located. The fortress was designed to protect Valletta from attacks and is therefore the ideal place to bring the city’s military history closer to visitors. We found the museum to be very large and informative, but we would have loved to see more of the original fortress. Large parts of the fortress have not yet been opened to the public (as of 2019), but are currently in a comprehensive restoration phase.

Back at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, we no longer found any queues. The closed doors were probably the reason for this. A little disappointed with the bizarre opening times, we continued the tour and found some other beautiful churches, explored the Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens and saw Fort Manoel in the distance, which was the location for a scene of Game of Thrones.

Valletta was one of the most beautiful cities in Malta for us, because there are many interesting and historically significant buildings to admire. The city is mixed with small grocery stores, nice cafes, beautiful parks and tourist attractions. This mixture brings Valletta to life and apart from tourism there is also a refreshing normalcy of the residents. The colorfully painted balconies loosen up the cityscape and not only serve as decoration, but are also used quite normally by the residents. Laundry can be seen on many of the city’s secret landmarks and hung there to dry.

The journey home and a look back

The last day of our week-long vacation in Malta has arrived. We have returned home with many new impressions. Despite the heat we walked just over 70 kilometers and got a glimpse of the country. Driving is definitely chaotic and due to the sometimes questionable condition of the roads, an off-road rental car is an advantage. Although Malta is actually a fairly small island, one shouldn’t underestimate the distances due to the road conditions and traffic. During this vacation we drove about 300 kilometers by car. This is very little by our standards, but also worth mentioning in terms of the size of the island.

We have remembered many sights, the friendliness of the islanders and of course the unique opportunity to swim with dolphins. The heat was especially difficult for us in Malta. In August the island resembles a red-hot stone in the middle of the Mediterranean. Malta has long ceased to be an insider tip for bathers and divers. However, if you want to get to know the culture of the country better, you should probably come out of the main season. Especially in the hot summer months, many tourists bustle around the hotspots and sights.

We were in Malta: 2019

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