After the painful process of moving into our new flat down the road in Fulham (during a home game at nearby Craven Cottage) with Jeremy and Sarah we are starting to get settled again.
Next stop, Malta. An escape from the relatively balmy winter in the UK which so far hasn’t dusted any snow like the year before. The main purpose of our visit is to run a half marathon with Larissa and our running coach Leights. Admittedly we haven’t done much distance training apart from a run around Richmond Park. Out of the airport, a nice 25min taxi ride to St Julians Bay took us through the urban parts of Malta. We could see how Malta is known as an island of fortress cities, with towering sandstone walls, mostly weathered but many more new and refurbished stretching out along the eastern Mediterranean shores.
The bus systems are really good value in Malta and at €1.50 per day we decided to take a ride out to the old Muslim city of Mdina. The bus drivers don’t worry too much about fares, waving most people on avoiding the effort of changing notes. We arrived to find a large group of ancient men outside a bar listening to 50s pop/rock with their equally old cars and large cigars hanging limp in their mouths. One looked particularly big, probably because he was cradling a chihuahua. The local brew they were drinking is a soft drink called Kinnie, a bitter orange peel flavour that is a bit hard to get used to.
Mdina city streets are like a maze with narrow two storied avenues winding around a hill. Once at the edges you got a good view of the island. We decided to be tourists and enter the Mdina Dungeons, what seemed to be a personal collection of morbid dolls having nipples nipped, pustules popped and arms amputated, a reminder of turbulent past of repeated uprisings as the wealthy port changed hands many times.
We quickly stopped on the way back to look at the Rotunda of Mosta, a church where in WWII a 200kg Luftwaffe bomb went through the domed roof at a congregation of 300 people, miraculously failing to detonate, killing no-one (two other bombs also bounced off).
Back in the main city of Valletta we contested for space with the large number of children hanging out in the familiar haunts of BK, McDonalds and KFC. Taking the ferry across to Sliema to have some dinner, pick up our race packs, pick up some supplies and walk back to our hotel.
Now, the Half Marathon and also Tams Birthday. After an early breakfast eating cereal with no bowls and a cold morning start. We headed back to Mdina for a stretch and warm up by the start line. Luckily it was a mostly downhill course, steep in places with a few hump overpasses. With Leights starting at the front of the pack and the rest of us wedged in behind we passed down through the small area of farmland and through industrial sites and ports. Leights finished with a blistering pace at 1 hour 11 mins and the rest of us round the 1.37 mark. Tam snuck up on Mitch who had taken off, but with his old legs seizing up dropped back. All but Leights were nursing very sore legs and Mitch got some pretty bad chafing, making him walk like a cowboy for the next few days.
For lunch Mitch and Larissa looked forward to a good feed of steak sandwich, but were a bit disappointed when what looked like thin slivers of cow bacon turned up, but being hungry mowed it back. To round out Tam’s birthday we took a bus to Kalkara to see Fort Rinella, a British battery. Tam got in a scuffle with the barracks cat. The main attraction was the largest battery gun – the 100 tonne Armstrong. Built in the UK to rival the Italians large guns and after a period of 2 years transport and installation, never fired. One of the largest ever built. Missed the display, but managed to get the tail end of the demonstrations of Victorian military precision.
After a wait for the bus in the warm sun we saw a small drama unfold with a small boy being coerced into fighting another girl by the big kids. When his mother overheard the commotion from her house opposite, there was hell to pay and he reluctantly was dragged upstairs. Lucky the bus didn’t stay long enough to find out what happened there… We made it back to celebrate Tams quarter century birthday at the local restaurant. Great service, we even got shown the freshly caught fish at the table. Didn’t look like they had much on the fish you get in NZ, many under our catch size limits!
On our last day Larissa and Leights headed to the northern island of Gozo and we, having only half a day, took the sightseeing bus round the south. Starting through the familiar sights, we continued through Marsaxlokk Bay, a small fishing village with crystal blue waters and many Phoenican boats complete with painted eyes. One of the major attractions was the Blue Grotto, a large hole in a cliff. As we pulled up outside we thought better of it, finding two greasy characters; one in trackies promoting his 10% off Kingfisher Cafe, the other, face-full of the pasta he was shoveling in giving a big thumbs up with his spoon in hand and a wide Dolmio grin. This was a bit too much for us and we avoided all the restaurants and the boat rides, instead opting to go to the ancient neolithic temples of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim, apparently built in 3500BC amd the oldest surviving free standing temples today – older than the pyramids. Again, we didn’t see a lot, being short on time, but managed a peek at the rocks sitting under a large white dome sheet that protects the structures.
On arrival to the airport we soaked up another half hour of rays before Mitch realised he forgot his passport back at the hotel. With a sprint to the airport on what was sore legs before to find a taxi he found the biggest car and the most willing driver.Taxi driver made 25min journey in 15min. Going at least 15 mile/hr over the speed limit and weaving through traffic and supermarket lots. Mitch phoned ahead to the hotel and instantly had his passport while the taxi driver turned around and then sped back through more traffic to the airport. Meanwhile Tam got his ticket printed out and asked ahead when the next available flight would be – tomorrow night!
The flight departed at 16:50. Check-in closed at 16:00, with Mitch finally arriving at 15:59, a bit flustered but hopeful of a flight. The taxi driver had done well, making a good 50 euro out of 35mins work. After a long few minutes of waiting for the attendant to enter his details. Mitch didn’t understand much Maltese, but the word “problema” uttered to the girl attendant next door wasn’t a good sign. After a bit of panic and interjection, turns out the attendant was worried that Mitch wouldn’t get a seat next to Tamson and spent 5 mins trying to see what he could do! Mitch’s quick response was quite short, but at least it was now done; well, not quite, he still wanted to put a little tag on Mitch’s backpack before he could sprint to security. Arriving a close 5 mins before boarding closed capped off a great thrill ride and on boarding managed to witness from his cattle class seats a heated confrontation in business class, between the family of a crying child and someone who wanted the tot removed to cattle class.
On arrival back to London we managed to sport the faintest amount of sunburn and colour; enough to stand out anyway. Great to get away again for the winter and looking forward to spring. This weekend we have a cycling sportive and will be trying our hand at a 108km ride, getting fitter earlier for this summer.