Tuesday was windy and wet so we decided to go to the old capital of Mdina and its neighbour, Rabat, so we could do some sightseeing indoors! We had decided on Sunday that we would hire a car rather than rely on the local buses. The bus service on Malta and Gozo is extensive and cheap but we figured that we would see more by car over the next few days. We picked our car up from the airport on Tuesday morning for only £8 per day and drove onto Mdina, a wonderful medieval, fortified city in the middle of the island. Its winding streets of light yellow stone were a delight to explore – even in the rain! It appears that much of the parking on Malta is free although there is usually someone to direct you and they expect a ‘donation’ when you leave. We tend to give a euro which seems to keep them happy. We had lunch in an old palace before walking into Rabat which is literally just outside the city walls.
Rabat is famous for the St Paul’s catacombs, an amazing labyrinth of early Christian underground tombs. Apparently, in Roman times you weren’t allowed to bury the dead within the city walls hence the catacombs a short distance away. For €4 we had an audio guide and spent around an hour or so exploring the corridors and tombs. Fascinating. By the time we had finished the tour it was getting dark so we headed back to the boat to freshen up and have a pre dinner drink. We decided to eat locally again and tried the Waterpolo Club, a restaurant with good reviews within a few minutes walk of the marina. It was a delicious meal, washed down with a local Maltese red wine. Our server even persuaded us to have dessert – but she was cute!
New Year’s Eve was a completely different day with blue skies and bright sunshine, if a little windy.
We went to the south of the island to explore a local fishing village, Marsaxlokk. It is the main harbour on the island and is festooned with very traditional and colourful fishing vessels called Luzzus. These boats have eyes painted on them that dates back to pagan times. Apparently, it was here that Bush and Gorbachev met in 1989 to officially announce the end of the Cold War.
After that, we made our way to the Blue Grotto that is only accessible by water but no boats were running so this will be a trip for another day. We did manage to peer over the edge of the cliff to see the entrance. The same thing happened when we tried to visit some ancient temples in nearby Hagar Qim. These temples predate Stonehenge but again these were closed as it was New Year’s Eve. So we finally gave up trying to visit places and made our way home. We stopped off in Valletta and had a late lunch (or early dinner) in Ramplas, a restaurant deep inside the fortifications. It was excellent and in warmer weather you can sit outside and overlook the city gates. We then dropped the car back at the marina to go back into Valletta to celebrate the new year. The bus service was running until 2am so we knew we could get home pretty easily although no doubt with a bun fight to get on one!
The town was buzzing with families out in their thousands enjoying the atmosphere with stalls of Maltese dishes and sweets/cakes plus, of course, mulled wine, beer and cocktails. There was live music to keep the crowds entertained until it started to snow and everyone dove for cover! I’m not sure some of the locals had ever seen snow before by their reaction. Luckily, we had dressed up warm so it didn’t bother us and in a funny way made it feel more like being home. There were supposed to be fireworks at midnight in Grand Harbour so we made our way up to the Upper Barrakka Gardens to get a good spot. However, at midnight, fireworks were set off from a number of locations, including the square we had just left. Ah well, they were still nice in the harbour but not a patch on London.