Another warm day with clear skies and light wind. Still, it’s a blessing considering what my brother Bob and his wife Linda experienced last year about this time – while I was in Britain, they were touring and cruising the Adriatic and Balkans with temperatures over 100°F while the highs today hit 85°. Still it meant that I would put on a layer of sunscreen before I left in the morning, and again once or twice during the day when I encountered the bottle rummaging in my rucksack.
As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, my 2-month Eurail pass had expired yesterday, meaning that this was my third month since leaving the Meraviglia in Le Havre, although I also knew I only have one lodging reservation left as I left Italy early this afternoon. My original itinerary had me spending tonight in Modica, with a visit to Ragusa, but when I went to purchase my ferry ticket, I found that the schedule on Tuesdays was a single run in the late evening. Since my return flights were booked, I opted to eliminate a last Monday in Sicily and head to Pozzallo to catch the ferry to Valletta and Malta.
Working back from the ferry schedule, that meant that I could catch the 10:27 train from Siracusa station. Sleeping in until 8:30, I took my time organizing and packing, setting aside several polo shirts, pairs of socks and skivvies that were in my dirty clothes sack to leave behind. [When I pack, I plan to not return with all the clothing I take. It’s one way of reducing the wardrobe, plus it frees up space and lightens the baggage. While not worn or torn, they’re usually less favored, and the housekeepers usually know someone who can wear them after laundering. And I’ve been doing this for years.]
After checking out, the short walk to the station was quick, and I was able to get a coffee and pastry in the Bar della Stazione. Next I purchase a second class ticket for the train to #Pozzallo, and watched to see when it posted. Heading to the platform, I boarded a carriage, tucked my bag and found a seat on the aisle. We had an hour ride of 60km, with 4 stops, and would travel southwest in the late morning, so the sun would make the portside seats warm.
Arriving at the Pozzallo train station at 11:30, I had 3 hours before the ferry would depart, and 3km to walk. I did poke around in my bag, applied more sunscreen, and put on a hat as it was very bright. Check-in was an hour ahead, probably overly cautious, but still a 45-minute walk would give me a chance to explore the port town. Once Maps pointed me to the southwest running thoroughfares, all straight shots to the marina, I just got on the shady side and rolled down through residential areas down Via Roma. There were a lot of garages and gates blocking sections of the sidewalk, so I stuck to the street when such obstacles were ahead. At its end, I was diverted a block over and began on Largo Vespri Siciliani, a divided roadway with a nice broad plaza between, however with well-trimmed palm trees throwing no shade.
The divider ended as I reached the beach. Small eateries faced out to the water, but I wasn’t hungry yet, and I had those two cookies from last night. Across from the beach was the office of the agency I’d used to book my ticket, and they were open. The staff at #VirtuFerries checked my ticket and gave me an “all clear”. Instructed to continue along the beach until the port entry, I’d pass through security and could then wait in the terminal lounge, starting probably in 10-15 minutes.
Crossing back to the waterside of the road, I continued to roll in the sun. Up a rise on the other side was the ruins of an abandoned Castello Di Martino overlooking the beach full of sun worshippers. After passing Divinity Beach, the marina began, with small boats both in the water and in dry dock. Across the road Ristorante Al Porto di Armenia offered takeout, so I headed over to get lunch. A seafood restaurant, not much cold seafood or pasta appealed to me, but I was able to get a lobster tail and several small shrimp on a bed of salad in a box, with plasticware and a large bottle of water.
As most people approach the port by car, the entry gate wasn’t really set up for foot traffic. I had to wait a few minutes while the one guard was processing several cars through his security gate. Showing him my passport and ticket, he waved me in and sent me to Customs. I spotted a small convenience store as I headed there, and went in and got a few chocolate bars, just in case. The Agenzia Delle Dogane office was nicely air conditioned, so I took my time with the forms (nothing to declare) before presenting them and my passport to the agent. It did seem strange, since I was staying in the EU.
Heading back out and around the buildings to get to the terminal, I found that the ferry was already boarding vehicles, and that there really wasn’t a terminal. Casting about, I found a staff person to direct me to the gangplank, and shouted for someone to deal with a walk-on. Pushing my bag up and along the ramp as cars rev’d their engines going by, I was met by a charming woman who checked my ticket and passport, and sent me to the upper deck up a narrow flight of stairs. I asked about a lift, and she begrudgingly sent me across the ship to the handicap lift, so I didn’t have haul the bag.
I’d opted for the Euro class, slightly below the Club class. I looked around the lounge area, and many tables were already occupied, usually by foursomes, but there were a few solos at tables by themselves. Choosing one near the inside wall so I had a place for the bag out of the other passenger’s way. A late middle-aged woman was seated there, so I asked if I might join her. I was able to slip my bag sideways between the seats. Miriam happened to be English, was pleased with the thought of company, and we soon got along quite well, exchanging solo traveler tales. She had her car below, and was returning to her home on Valletta.
Before we got underway, I finished my salad, and drank the bottle of water. The hydrofoil took 2 hours to cross the 50 miles to #Malta. With winds at less than 10 knots, the announcement stated the seas should be mild.
We pulled out on time, and after clearing the jetty, the ship surged and we were soon skimming the Mediterranean. Miriam pulled out a book and began reading, so I pulled out my journal for brief notes on the experience since leaving hotel room in Siracusa. Every now and again, I’d get up and walk a loop around the lounge, observing my fellow passengers and observing their activities.
In no time, it seemed that the ship slowed down and dropped into the water as we approached the breakwater of Valletta harbor. While #Valletta was starboard, Fort Ricasoli and Fort St Angelo were to port.
The ferry made its way deep into The Grand Harbour to get to the terminal. Miriam had descended to her car, after apologizing for not offering me a lift, but she had an appointment to make. I thanked her and wished her safe travels, as she did to me.
Getting off the ship was a different affair, as there was a set of stairs allowing walk-ons to descend from the lounge area to the docking platform, avoiding the vehicles. I waited until most folks had left, as I was swinging the bag around corners as I descended. No Customs and Immigration, as I was still in the EU, but I did wind up getting a stamp in my passport for my fifth new country this trip. And then I was out on the street. Maps gave me three options, all just over 2km in length and said I should be at my lodgings in half an hour. Basically heading west, most of the street names were Arabic, so I let Google give me voice directions so I wouldn’t make too many wrong turns. After 40 minutes, I rolled into the Lotus Guest House.
Originally I’d booked and prepaid three nights through booking.com. When I modified my trip to come to Malta a day earlier, I communicated with the Guest House directly, so I needed to pay for the extra night. Plus I decided to add breakfast, as this part of my trip will be less constrained. The Lotus Guest House also contained a gym facility, and a masseur, so I booked a massage for late Thursday afternoon, the day before my return to the States.
The room was small, but I had shelves and hangers, so I pulled out the clothes I though I’d need and then tucked the roller into a corner. I’d be sharing the bathroom, so I found my slippers and a pair of PJ shorts. So it was a bit before 6 when I was settled. The district of Valletta that I am staying in is called Hamrum, and is about 4km from the historic center of the old city and the two cathedrals. Bu there is convenient and easy bus service back and forth, so my plan was the old city and downtown cathedrals tomorrow, and just chill this evening.
Entering the common space and checking with Adrian, the host, the hotel was about half full. I asked for a suggestion for a bar where I might get a drink; and I asked about dining habits – when do folks have their evening meals, tipping practices, recommendations. Particularly for an older, single male who has a smoking intolerance. The nearest, Three Monkeys Pub, he said I should avoid, but that I might try the Paris Lounge for an evening drink. A little further away was the Wasp Wine and Cheese Bar. As far as restaurants, within a 15-minute walk, there were several he could recommend, including a Syrian/Lebanese and an Eritrean, as well as a few “comfort food” options.
Whenever there’s a wine bar, I’m usually there, so I headed to Wasp. The Monday night clientele was light, which gave me the option to explore. Hank was hosting, and after we had a little chitchat, I suggested he set me up with a food tray and 4 or 5 tasting pours that he’d recommend. That got a big smile, and I had one to give back, as I felt I’m be having an interesting tasting experience. Hummus, veggie sticks, a paté, several cheeses and several cold cuts soon appeared, with a basket of sliced baguette.
Two glasses with white wine soon followed: both the indigenous girgentina varietal, grown and produced on Malta. Light citrus, with a floral nose, the low acid and alcohol levels were nice with the hummus, paté and veggie sticks. Nice to try, but not something to seek out. From what Hank said, the production is very low, mostly drunk on Malta, but fields are yielding to vermentino, chardonnay and garganega.
Appearing with pink in a glass, Hank next proffered a semi-sparkling rosé made with the other native grape, the Ġellewża. Medium dry, with strawberry on both the nose and palate, it was refreshing and pleasant, going nicely with both the paté and the soft (mild) goat cheese. For the reds, he brought out a blend from Emmauel Delidata, which included Ġellewża, cab and merlot; and a 1919 from Marsovin, a 100% Ġellewża. The blend was smooth, round and nicely finished, with a cherry and leather flavor, while the single varietal was much more full-bodied with apricot and tobacco being the predominate tastes I found. They both went well with the meats and the sharp cheese. Hank was pleased with my appreciation, and gladly poured me a full pour of the 1919.
Business was picking up, so I asked Hank for a restaurant suggestion. Since I’d had enough to drink, and actually to eat, I really wasn’t looking to have an elegant sit-down meal. He suggested Bandit, around the corner, as a super take-away place for burgers and the like.
Deciding to give it a go, I immediately smiled at their door “Eat Irresponsibly”. Served in paper, I ordered a Buttermilk Chicken burger to go, with two cans of beer and lots of napkins.
They proffered dessert, telling me about the deep-fried wrapped candy bars. They sounded too good to pass up, so I got two. I could always have them with breakfast.
Returning to Lotus House, Adrian came sniffing as soon as I got in the door. “Ah ha! You found Bandit!” was his greeting, and he willingly took me up on the offer of half my burger, although he passed on the beer. The burger was delicious, and we both made our halves disappear rapidly. I took my dessert, the beer and a half back to the room and pulled out my journal, updating it for Valletta. After writing the blog and finding pictures from the camera and phone, I had to go into the common room to get a better WiFi signal. I’ll finish off my beer and call it a night once this gets to the cloud.