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Wrapping Malta up…

Here’s my wrap up of Malta. It’s a little long, but you can read the whole thing

So I’ve spent some time here in Malta, what do I think? Malta itself is rather interesting. There is the oldest free standing temples in the world here, a long history with Christianity, beautiful scenery, impressive churches, and lots to see in general. My must sees here have to be the catacombs (both St. Paul’s and Agatha’s), the churches, the scenery, the old towns, the grottos, and if you’re interested in this sort of stuff, the sites of visitations of Mary.

The catacombs are really fascinating. They let you wander as you want, and they go for quite a ways. St. Agatha’s aren’t quite as extensive (the areas we can go at least) but there are many very old frescoes and they left the bones in the graves. I think that St. Agatha’s is a better experience, but St. Paul’s lets you wander more…

All of the churches are worth seeing. Almost all of them are old, and all of those are spectacular. The cathedrals are amazing of course, but even the parish churches are incredibly decorated and house amazing paintings and craft work. Our favorite church had to be the St. Paul’s shipwreck church. The entrance is just a tiny little thing on a side street, we almost missed it. Inside is the equal of many cathedrals. St. Paul was shipwrecked (along with St. Luke the Evangelist) on Malta on his way to be tried for sedition by the Romans. He converted a lot of people, including the Roman governor. The Maltese consider themselves a Christian nation from 60 AD…

There are several older towns that have been left pretty much the way they were 5 or 6 hundred years ago. Both Mdina and the Citidal in Victoria (over in Gozo) are really interesting and picturesque. Rabat is an older town very close to Mdina and is worth seeing too…

There are all sorts of caves all over the islands, but several of them are more important than others. St. Paul’s grotto is where he was kept as a prisoner and where he converted the first people on the island. There is also a rather nice church on top of it. The Shrine of the Nativity of Our Lady is up in Mellieha. It is a cave that has been converted into a shrine. Inside there is an icon that is supposedly painted by Luke the evangelist. Many miracles have been attributed to it and it is the site of many pilgrimages.

Not all is great however. Malta we loved, the Maltese, not so much… My summation of the Maltese hospitality sector is “half-assed.” The hotel people were pretty much unhelpful, the restaurants were filled with apathetic waiters, and the stores apparently didn’t want to sell me anything.

I have detailed some of my problems with the hotels in my earlier posts, but since then they have accused me of losing the key (they had it), and have generally made me wait around for simple things. The restaurants were amazing. First off, they were more expensive than I was anticipating. The wait staffs in most of them were clueless, and in the case of one of them, incompetent. Our last meal on the island together was at a Chinese restaurant. The “waitress” seemingly had never waited on anyone before. She came up and I motioned to Beth to start ordering. She asked for a beer (the drinking age here is 16 thank you very much, plus, its Beth, so no worries about bingeing…), the waitress turned to me and said “Two beers?” I said no, and was about to order my drink, but she left. She came back later with Beth’s beer and then left again. I had to motion for her to come back so that I could order. I ordered my coke and my meal, and the waitress almost left again! I pointed her to Beth who then ordered her food. When the food came, we weren’t given any dishes to eat off of, just the ones the food was served on. The food was good, but sheesh! I had to practically shoot a flare to get the check no matter where we went. I understand that this is a European thing, but i would think that a good waiter, when clearing the dishes, would ask if we wanted something else (coffee, dessert, etc.) and when we said no, they would bring us the check. Here, they never said a word, just cleared the table and then left to go somewhere else apparently. Meals were unnecessarily a pain…

I went shoe shopping since my feet seem to be much larger than they were before. I had some significant foot pain early on in the trip and its possible that all of my leg pain was caused by the shoes. Anyway, I’m not adverse to spending some money on my shoes, but nobody wanted my money. Most of the stores I went into the people wouldn’t even say hello to me. The rest of them helped me begrudgingly, they were much more interested in getting me out of the store than selling me something. I was having trouble finding shoes in my size and several places insinuated that it was my fault for having such big feet!

The tour operators were also curiously uninterested in helping me. All of them have big clapboards outside advertising their tours. They usually also have a big area inside with more info. In two cases I was inside their offices looking at the tour info, I was the only one there and they didn’t even say hello to me! WTF? No biggie, I just walked out and gave my money to someone who wanted it…

Add to all of this the seemingly random store hours and their allergy to posting working hours and you get a very frustrated consumer. There are many retail store that are closed both sat. and sun. Most places seem to be closed between 1 and 3. If you picked any place at random, the only times you were likely to find them open were between 11 and 1 and then from 4 to 5. Everything else meant that they would probably be closed. Beth and I saw a druggist that was only open 4 1/2 hours a day! Forget about shopping at night. I’m amazed that these places can make enough money with these crazy hours, but I guess they do. I have better luck shopping in Yemen, and that’s not a comparison you want to lose…

So overall, my experience with the Maltese was aggravating. They bill this place as being bilingual, with both Maltese and English being spoken. I met very few people that I would consider fluent in English, I’ve met many illegal immigrants from Mexico and central America that had a better grasp on the English language than most of the people that I ran into here. My conversation with a bus driver yesterday… “Get off the bus here, but get it out again over by the church. They run every 15 minutes.”
“How late do the busses run?”
“Every 15 minutes”
“No, until what time do they run?”
“Every 15 minutes”
“When do the busses stop?”
“Every 15 minutes….”
and so on..

That’s not a big deal really, but it would help to be prepared for it. I liked Malta overall, but make sure that you come with lots of patience and preferably with someone that will keep you on an even keel if you’re prone to anger. Thank God Beth was here, she kept me laughing the whole trip. Malta has sights that you can’t see anywhere else, and it’s pretty cheap during the winter, so I still recommend it. If I had paid peak season rates for this level of service, I would have been pissed…

Isaac

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