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Intro

10 Nutters do Malta

September 2001 - and it's time for a holiday. Nick and friends take a week's break in Malta. 

None of us, apart from Gavin, have been to Malta - this will be a new experience. Gavin spent his last years at school there - around five years ago. He's keen to see how things have changed. 

We're all keen to have a break from our day jobs. 

Comments? Email me! Planning Page

Tuesday 25th September

We're off!

Gatwick

A pre-flight drink at GatwickA direct train takes me from Milton Keynes to Gatwick, on a wet autumn afternoon. The train arrives at Gatwick at 17:00 and 10 minutes later I meet up with the rest of the Nutters. We check in and find a bar to relax and talk and drink. 

Flight

JMC are our hosts for the week. They have a A320 to fly us to Malta. 

Who are JMC? They're result of Club 18-30 merging with Caledonian Airways, apparently.

Malta

We are welcomed by the heat, and a tatty visa form to complete. We collect our baggage and clear customs quickly. The luggage is bundled onto a box van - and we board a coach. We're with 50 other odd souls on our way to Bugibba. A chirpy JMC rep talks to us as the coach makes its way to Bugibba. 

I do not like being chirped at at 1 o'clock in the morning.

The coach is regularly over-taken on the inside. It merrily drives though a set of red traffic lights. This is our first taste of Maltese driving!

Winston Apartments

Winston ApartmentsThe coach empties passenger en route to our Hotel, the Winston Apartments in Bugibba, pronounced ‘Booojiba’.

We have booked accommodation for the ten of us. Six in one apartment, Four in another. We find the six bed apartment (D3) - twin rooms, one of which has an en-suite, bathroom, and large kitchen / lounge that overlooks the pool. 

Call this a bed?We check out the second apartment (A7). This is a more humble affair. One twin bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. The beds are narrow 2' 6" affairs.  A special mention of the stoical souls that occupied the inferior accommodation: Maky, Bernie, Dave and myself, (Nick, your webmaster, editor, and tormenter of Jack.)

My immediate reaction to the cramped accommodation was "bugger this - let's find a proper hotel room tomorrow!"

The aforementioned stoical souls and Jennifer look for beer. We walk towards the sea front, 400 metres away, and find a 24 hour bar to reflect, drink, drink some more, tuck into some gateaux, drink some more, then welcome the dawn.

We wander down to the sea front.  The beach is bizarre. There's no sand, just a weird eroded limestone shelf meeting clear blue seawater. Most odd.

Our group meanders back to the apartments - for an hour's sleep.

Wednesday 26th September

Organising cars and swimming at Sliema Point

JMC Rep

The JMC rep wants the fresh batch of holiday makers to attend a presentation of what's been organised for them. We Nutters have no intention of participating in package holidays. We may be mad, but we're not sad. We do have some self-respect. 

Avis

We decide to hire some cars. The rep is happy that our party will be independent. He recommends the local Avis car rental garage.

There are two cars available - a 5 door with air con, and a smaller 3 door without air con. 

Bernie and I are driven to the Avis forecourt by a boy racer. Our second taste of Maltese driving.

Driving

I relish the idea of driving in this country with its mad, dangerous road users. It's like driving in London, only more so: everybody is alert, and anything goes. There remains the strong British influence. Drive on the left, familiar road signs, zebra crossings and other road markings. 

The roads are well worn, and have a slippery sheen. Any moderate acceleration or braking is met with a delightful squeal from the tyres. Revving the engine, dropping the clutch, whilst turning a tight corner gives an exhilarating screech.

Bernie, Dave and the Jennies adopt the air con car: Nick, Gavin, Maky, and Rick take the other. 

Jack and Andy alternate between the two. Their choice:

  • a carefully driven air conditioned vehicle
  • a robustly driven, open air death bucket

Rick's two way radios prove to be useful. We can keep in touch should we get split up from each other. This happens with my driving!

Sliema Point

We drive a long the coast. After ten  minutes we park up close to a rock beach near a dilapidated pier. The beach has man made pools carved from the bed rock - with clear sea water breaking over. Railing and ladders are mostly eroded or absent. Safety is a bit optional in Malta.

The Jennies buy snorkels and flippers.

Everyone enjoys a swim. The stronger ones swim across to the remains of the pier.

We return to our hotel for a siesta - some of us didn't have much sleep last night! 

Evening meal

Gavin recommends a restaurant in St Julian's. This is a pizza place "Papparazzi" that overlooks Spinola bay.

I suggest starters - expecting garlic bread nibbles. Where I lead, others follow. We get served wonderful cheese soaked bread that would have done for the main course. Excessive! The main course pizza were equally generous.

We never ordered starters for the rest of the holiday. Food in Malta is generous. (Makes up for the bloody long wait.)

Winston Apartments Bar

Hop Leaf. My recommendation.

Cisk Lager

A soft drink, with an acquired taste.

We retire to our hotel bar. 

The beer is very good. The local beer is Cisk, a lager, or, my preference, Hop Leaf, a bitter. Cisk is pronounced Chisk. A soft drink Kinnie is pretty disgusting. I buy a can for the experience.

The apartments are not so bad, especially after several pints! I reckon I can happily stay there with a nightly pre-charge of beer.

We retire to our beds. Bernie's notebook computer alarm wakes us. Maky silences the contraption by ripping out its batteries.

We sleep.

Thursday 27th September

A routine forms

Breakfast

We fall in to a pattern of meeting up each morning for breakfast at the larger apartment. Jennifer does a good job keeping the fridge stocked.

A cup of tea, food, a chat, and a dip in the pool is a very pleasant way to start the day.

Winston's Pool

We enjoy the pool in the hotel complex. The pool is surrounded with sun-loungers, populated with "family units." The other holidaymakers look on amid mutterings of:

"Why have those two women got seven men?
"Who's married to whom?"
"Why have they got a boy with them?

They were probably apprehensive about potential drunken rowdiness, and disturbed nights. No, they would have no problems from the Nutters.

Maky camps it up a bit - just to wind up the tourists. Every time he gets into the pool, he screams like a girl. 

Cars

Bernie and I planned to rise early so we could re-organise the cars. Our appointment at Avis is for 8:30. After a leisurely breakfast we get there at 10:00. We are late. It doesn't matter: we're in Malta. 

We upgrade the 3 door car to a 5 door. Still no air con. Dave and Maky are added to the list of "named drivers".

The extra drivers are a useful backup, although I'm happy to drive - I enjoy the madness.

Valletta

IndependanceStreetValletta, Malta's capital is the oldest planned city in Europe. A old fortress city. The regular roads are familiar - just like home in Milton Keynes - just several hundred years older. This is a splendid old city, steeped in history. Valletta has narrow streets with towering tenements with stone a bleached yellowy - brown. The main streets are geared up for tourists - lots of shops.

Feral cats greet us as we walk up the long hill up to Valletta.

Young Jack is not so impressed. He is not in to walking, especially if there's a possibility of a car ride. He said the city "Sucked ass", and rated the experience a one out of ten.

Bernie too was not very complimentary. He said he would be quite happy with a crane and wrecking ball. "Should be sorted in an hour or two."

MewWe walked down the main street, past Fort St Elmo with deep wells to a cafe near the "Malta Experience." Tea, food and cats to fuss, feed and stoke. 

Jack and poolJack and I explore the rock shore line under the bastions of the city. There are pools that need examining.

Andy, Bernie, Gavin and I walk back to collect the cars. The back streets more interesting. They're lived in, and are used, not like the anonymous shops on the main streets.

Bernie stops off to buy some dried cat food - a treat for the many fluffies.

Sliema

Nick tormenting Jack [Photo © Jenny]We take the scenic route back to our bay at Sliema. Gavin navigates. All navigation is left to him. If he screws up - it doesn't matter. We're on holiday!

After a swim in the rock hewn pools we found the day before, we dine at the Tex Mex opposite an old fort.

We now ignore starters.

Evening

We return to Bugibba for a session in the hotel bar. Our conversations deteriorate from PGP keys to RFC's for tele-orgasmics, and beyond.

We retire to our rooms. Tonight it's the turn of one of my electronic appliances to disturb us. My radio chooses to wake us up with fading short-wave strains of "Land of Hope and Glory" emanating from my locked suitcase. Spooky.

Friday 28th September

Golden Bay and Mdina

Golden Bay

Golden BayWe find a bay with sand, not rock! There's a sandy beach, with people reading Die Welt. We create out own territory with loungers and brollies. 

The water is really clear. There's lots of fishes to be seen when snorkelling. The beach shelves gently - making for safe swimming.

Rick and Gavin jet ski.  Rick  returns shaking. "They're fast. 50 mph."

Andy looses himself in an internet cafe.

Land Rover fanatics

Dave has arranged a meeting with a couple of fellow Land Rover fanatics. We will meet them at Mdina, where there's an open air bar.

Leo and David arrive. They're easily spotted in their light coloured Landies. Beers are bought and we pass a couple of pleasant hours talking about things technical. 

Both Leo and David work in IT. David works at GFI. He and I chat about Microsoft Windows, and new developments. This is much to the disgust of the others who are Linux lovers. David and I know where the money is when it comes to serious computing.

We say our goodbyes - and enter the Silent City.

Mdina

MdinaIn the dungeon is Mr Happy  Mdina is the old capital, set on top of a rocky crag. It's an old fortress, a walled city. The place feels like a museum - not really lived in.

Yet more old buildings prompted Jack to comment "this sucks". He liked the dungeons, however. 

Back to Bugibba for our evening's refreshment. Gavin navigates well - we don't mind getting lost. We enjoy the sights.

Saturday 29th September

Blue Lagoon

Hotel Pool 

We spend the morning relaxing at the hotel pool. I experiment with the snorkel mask - damned weird breathing air under water!

Cominotto Blue Lagoon

Jack divingWe drive to Cirkewwa to catch the midday boat to island of Cominotto. This small island has a cliff one side, and the Blue Lagoon on the other.

Jennifer has organised us: we have the material to make lots of sandwiches, and lots of bottled water. 

The larger island of Comino is a 122 metre swim away. Most of the Nutters accomplish this feat.

The small beach has white sand and is saturated with sunbathers. 

I take it easy. Sod swimming. I'm happy to be a food dispatcher - making sandwiches on request. I explore the island with Jack. The eroded cliffs are spectacular.

Jack and Blue Lagoon, Cominotto

Jenny and Bernie play HF radios at 14:00.

SnorkellingJenny, Jennifer, Maky and Gavin snorkel in a deep rocky pool. They swim underwater from one pool to another via rock arches. Gavin finds a deep submerged passageway to swim through.

The boat returns at 16:00 to pick us up. We and all the other beach babes leave - all is deserted. What must the place be like in summer?

Petrol

Dave Bernie and I decide it's time to fill up with petrol. We search Bugibba - no luck. Beginning to panic, we drive to St Julian's where we eventually find a petrol station. Of course, there's another garage next to it!

Ten Lira fills the cars - the fuel is paid for first by inserting bank notes in to a machine. Different.

Evening

A respectable Chinese restaurant is found in Bugibba's tourist street. We retire early at 21:30, only to continue talking on the balconies till midnight. The weather is very warm and humid.

Sunday 30th September

Storm, cliffs and prickly pears

Storm

The weather breaks in the early hours. Lightening, thunder and heavy rain. It even drowns out the street noise.
I had become expert at recognising the sounds from the poorly maintained cars - sloppy cam followers, exhausts, suspension...

At 03:00 rubbish is collected. At 04:00 green bottles are recycled. At 05:00 brown ones... well that how it appears to be.

The Maltese government is intending to encourage a better class of tourist. They don't want their island to be the poor man's Ibiza.

Hmmmm...we're getting to know the "Club Med" ditties too...We must pay a visit to Danny DeVito's cabaret bar some time.

Morning swim

Pool in the rainIt's still raining - that doesn't stop Jack and I having a swim in the hotel pool. 

The sun soon reappears, and the rest of the Nutters join us.

Midday meal

Ruin in hotel gardenWe find the hotel with the megalithic temple, called the New Dolmen Hotel near the sea front at Bugibba. This is the same place with the 24 hour bar we got to know on the first night. 

We order food. There's a one hour wait for some goat's cheese snack! We are in the med! There's no hurry!

Dingli Cliffs

PearWe travel to the south west of the island to see the Dingli Cliffs. These towering cliffs fall 220 metres down to the sea.

I attack a prickly pear growing wild. It attacks me with its very fine hair like prickles. The fruit tastes - well - OK.

Near by are the "Clapham Junction" Cart tracks. I was more impressed by a nearby family run farm irrigating flowers. A depth of lush green we hadn't seen for ages in this arid island.

Evening

JackBognorWe go to "Bognor" on the front at Bugibba for our evening's food and beer!

The Jennys, Bernie and Maky try the club and pub scene in St Julian's. (Clubs - a bit sad, no atmosphere, loud music)

The Holiday Makers From Hell

Are they Italian? Glaswegian? From the North East? 8 noisy bastards are lined up on the next balcony until 04:00 - Arrrgghh!! We do not sleep.

Monday 1st October

Gozo, Boat and Imax

Gozo

We drive to the north of the island to the port at Cirkewwa and drive straight on to the ferry. Buy the time we've climbed the decks to the restaurant, the ferry is underway to Gozo. No waiting - very un-Mediterranean!

We drive to Xlendi Bay. A small quay surrounded by steep rocky cliffs

BoatWe have coffee at the Moby Dick. - Gavin checks with the waiter about boats - 10 minutes later a suitable boat appears on a trailer and is driven down the quay. We agree a price and it's ours for the day.

All Maltese boats have the "Eyes of Osiris" painted on the bow, scaring off the evil spirits.

Skipper Bailey and sonJenny has a coastal skipper's licence - and we're off on our own.

We motor to Fungus rock and Dwejra bay. Here we anchor and swim in the clear water.

Fungus RockWe sail, OK motor, further up the coast. Amazing cliffs and eroded arches. We return to Dwejra bay, anchoring closer to Fungus Rock, and resume swimming.

We sail back to Xlendi Bay and return the boat. The owner is interested in my GPS, and wants to trade.

Returning to our restaurant, the Moby Dick, we order an excellent omelette / pizza. Time for tea and stroll in the harbour. This is a quieter, more relaxed place than Bugibba. We could we spend a night here very easily!

Gavin and ToyotaA bit of driving and exploring, then we head for the port. 12 Lira for the ferry, we're heading back to the mainland.

SunsetWe watch the sunset. The red orb should sink on cue at 7:47 UTC according to the GPS. Fortunately the sun gets it right.

My car hacks it back to the hotel, the occupants singing 10cc and SouthPark songs. I'm disappointed that the recent rain has cleaned the roads. Tyre squeal is a lot less apparent.

Imax cinema 

We visit the Imax theatre in St Julian's. We see Into the Deep a film about starfishes and shoals. Really a test piece, and aimed at school kids. Although brilliantly shot, it's not a film I'd recommend. The 3D effect in some shots is really very good.

Next door is a Kentucky Fried Chicken rip-off snack bar "Chick King". They sell very good real chicken snacks.

Evening

Somehow we loose the apartment key - an excuse to have some more beer. A new set of keys is provided - cost one Lira. (The locals call the Lira the pound. This could be confusing.)

We're bemused as starwebmalta take some photos of the hotel bar, and our good selves.

Tuesday 2nd October

Say goodbye!

Sleep

We had a quiet night! Our noisy friends have gone.

Pack and Checkout

A leisurely start - we pack our luggage and store our bags in a games room ready for the evening's departure.

We checkout. 

Splash and Fun

We drive to the nearby water sports park - flumes and pools. The place looks deserted. No - someone's there. They don't do breakfasts - so we head off to St Julian's, near to the Imax, and track down some Cheese cake and Pea cake, and milk shakes...

I buy a laptop "carry on" bag - 3L90 - a bargain. (I show everybody it - it's a real bargain!)

Maky - who likes furry things - pointed out another stuffed sheep that I must have. I now have a flock to bring back on the plane. 

We return to the "Splash and Fun" water park. The circular lagoon pool is ideal for me - almost empty - 10 or so others, salt water - for added buoyancy - several hours of floating around. I swim like a fish (OK a cross between a squid and a beached whale.)

Rick, Maky, Gavin and Jack enjoy the water slides.

Some of the Nutters visit Popeye - I remain happily squidding in the pool.

 

Jack

Gavin

Maky

Rick

Bugibba

Maky, Andy and Dave

Bernie wearing Solar Cap

Jennifer

JackWe return to Bugibba - cars are relinquished to Avis - we walk towards the seafront. There's a hardware store - Bernie buys some high colour temperature fluorescents. Me a current clamp - a bargain at 8 Lira 95.

I buy Bernie a solar powered cap.

We enjoy pizzas, beer and omelettes on the front.

One last beer back at the hotel. The coach collects us and other holiday makers at 20:40

The JMC guide - stage name Fluffy - gives the commentary. Usual "Did you have a nice time in Malta?" 
Silence.
"I said: 'Did you have a nice time in Malta?'"
"Yes" everybody chants.
There were now 10 noisy Nutters now rejoining with everything he said.
"The coach has an emergency exit at the back."
"Hooray!"
"On our right is the Maltese rubbish incinerator."
"Hooray!"

Poor Fluffy.

Airport

At the airport - a waiting game. Boarding at 22:40. At 22:40 local time we learn that's the boarding time in GMT - so we have another hour to wait. Then another 1/2 hour delay because of some arbitrary reason...

Now if we knew about the delay sooner we would have have had a more leisurely look around the duty free shops - instead of waiting at the exit gate...

Wednesday 3rd October

We're Home

Cambridge

The plane lands at 02:40. That's half an hour quicker than the scheduled journey time.
I decide to stay with the others and drive back to Cambridge, not wanting to wait 4 hours for a train to Milton Keynes.
M23, M25, M11. "Traffic Flowing Freely" - as you might say. We're in Cambridge at 4:30.

We sleep!

Headlines

We travel while the airline industry suffers. Headlines report that Swissair, Sabina, are having a bad time. No night flights from Heathrow.

British Airways said it has lost one in three of its transatlantic passengers. 
British Midland cuts 600 jobs.

Conclusion

Sun, swimming and squealing tyres

Malta has lots of sun and good food. There's a strong British influence, mixed with Arabic. A friendly country.

After reading though this diary, I see we didn't do anything really extreme. Just a relaxing holiday with some friends.

Several months on, a friend comments: "So Malta's a bit of a dive then? Your web pages make the place appear real crap!"

"No, It was a really good holiday!" I retort.

On re-reading these pages I see there is the odd, rare disparaging comment. May be I am too critical. I certainly don't want to sound like some travel brochure. 

We had a really good holiday! Really!

Ratings

Nick's ratings:

  1. The boat on Gozo.
  2. The "Splash and Fun" water park pool on the last day.
  3. Golden Bay.

Gavin's photo collection

Jennifer's Journal

More Malta photos

Web Design

One of our many drunken arguments centred on Web Design, or more specifically, HTML creation. Some Nutters happily use a text editor, others put up with FrontPage. The important issue being that the web page should be viewable by all browsers, the bane in any web developer's life.

I, the professional Windows Developer kept quiet. I love Bill Gates: he would never let me down. "I don't do errors."

Upon my return home, having put together these "Malta Nutters" pages, I idly ran them through the HTML validator. Errors streamed out!

My arrogance and smugness is now acknowledged. 

The various ASP scripts are now fixed. I can now show you "that [I] have taken the care to create an interoperable Web page, [I] may display Valid HTML 4.01!on any page that validates".

The style sheet is also fixed. Valid CSS!

All images © N G Hubbard October 2001