http://www.visitmalta.com/ To me, personally, Malta is a land where my family originated from; where as children our parents used to take me and my two sisters on holiday to visit our paternal grandmother and other relatives. It is the land of my ancestors who have resided here for the last five hundred years. I recently returned to Malta after a thirty-two year absence to mostly see the island again – refresh my memory of various parts of the island and conduct some research for my next novel “Out of the Darkness”. But it was also important for me to meet up with family members whom I hadn’t seen for many years, and to meet new relatives either through marriage and/or birth. It was a wonderful experience. From knowing Malta prior to the 1980s to where it is today, one can say the island has come of age. Gone has the innocence associated with a sleepy touristic destination where beaches lay tranquil with only a few tourists who know their whereabouts? The Malta of 1982 as I remember it was a place where everything moved at a slower pace and never crowded. Where going to the beach at Mellieha meant a lazy drive along the coast road from Sliema. Today Malta is vibrant, a bustling country where the population now boasts some four hundred thousand people. Where the skyline has changed to include numerous residential apartments, commercial developments, and hotels, and cars seem to choke the roadways.
My recent visit was with my mother and elder sister. We stayed at the Cavalieri Art Hotel in St. Julians. This 4 star hotel is not so centrally located and there is a bit of a walk to the main road. The hotel does not have car park facilities and is further disadvantaged by a marine development being constructed across the street. We were fortunate to have rooms overlooking the bay and were therefore not inconvenienced by noise emanating from the construction site. The hotel facilities were adequate. The pool was beautiful and mum and I took full advantage of it on a daily basis, apart from the day when the pool was overrun by numerous rowdy kids celebrating a children’s party. Actually, this was one of the main annoyances of our stay. The hotel seemed to place more of an emphasis on private functions and events rather than concern themselves to the needs of their hotel guests. During our week-long stay there were two weddings and two birthday parties which closed down parts of the hotel to guests. Although the hotel does have a wing which provides convention facilities which would be adequate to hold such functions in ample comfort and style, management saw one wedding shut down the bar facility to guests for that particular evening; and for the other wedding, the entire swimming pool area was set as off-limits from early afternoon until the following morning.
Another annoyance was the lack of Wi-Fi frequency reception. Although the hotel claimed availability of free Wi-Fi in their reception area, I for one was unable to obtain any signal and for an entire week I was unable to access my emails, etc. [I was not too happy]. A word about their house-keeping: Although the rooms were cleaned daily and the beds made by late morning there seemed to be a lack of understanding by the cleaners to replace the towels. Each day one found the towels had been taken away but new ones not left; and it became a pain in the neck to have to phone down to reception on a regular basis to request towels for the room. My final word on this hotel: it was nice, but I wouldn’t want to recommend it unless management change its policy regarding private functions, improves their Wi-Fi capabilities, and ensures staff members are trained to a level one would expect from a prestigious hotel.
Moving on… I was determined to visit Valletta’s St. John’s Cathedral where two of my ancestors are buried. I took a bus from St. Julians bus interchange at a cost of €1.50 for an Adult Daily Pass which I thought excellent value for money. It wasn’t a long trip even though it was during “peak” time and I had soon reached my destination. My ancestors were brothers in blood and in vocation: Knights Emmanuel and Giuseppe Borg lived in the late Eighteenth Century. They were chaplains of justice and are buried in tomb number 267 at the entrance to the Sacristy. I stopped and offered them a small prayer.
[Image courtesy of St John’s Website http://stjohnscocathedral.com/ ]
It is not permitted to take photos inside as needlesstosay the authorities would like you to buy their guide books, but I would encourage you to click on the above link as the Cathedral’s floor, walls and ceilings are quite spectacular – better still visit it in person, and whatever religion you are you will feel compelled to pray to your God so captivating is the scenery about you.
On the subject of Knights I would add at this point that my father’s elder brother, Edwin was honoured for his numerous years of service to Malta and invested by HRH Queen Elizabeth a Knight of St. John a few years before his death. Edwin H W Borg died on 19th October 1991 aged 72. His shield and I expect as genealogy allows now passes on to his son, my cousin Adrian, is shown below:
It’s a beautiful thing and makes me very proud of my relative. In days of old I expect I would have been entitled to bear a similar shield although it would need to have a slight variance to it. Uncle Edwin once recounted the story [or should I say rumour] of how our family came to being in Malta. It was due to “shields” which led two brothers who residing in eastern Spain during the early 16th century to fight a duel which was to see the demise of one brother and the exile of the other. It was this tale which inspired my novel The Sword and the Rose and I shall always be grateful to Uncle Edwin for igniting my imagination and allowing me to write the novel so many years later. Valletta I didn’t think changed that much. Apart from the entrance to the City which I felt pointless and perhaps an insult to the original architect of the city Gerolamo Cassar:
The structure looked as though it was still being built and as you enter the city a meaningless bronze of a three-legged horse greets you.
However these distractions are soon forgotten as you wander about the City’s streets and taken in the glorious old buildings, narrow streets filled with shops of every variety, sit for a coffee at the famous Café Cordina which my mother loves so much she includes it in her novel “A Tangled Web” [currently available as an e-book on Amazon and due to be released in paperback early next year. You can access the link to this on her blog: http://vivianeeborg25.wordpress.com/ ].
Actually Mum’s book was released two days before we arrived in Malta and I had arranged with the main newspaper the Times of Malta to run an ad [see bottom right hand corner of page]. I then bought the paper and gave it to Mum she was well pleased. The story is set in Malta which was quite apt for the ad and us being there: http://archive.timesofmalta.com/archive/issue
Best of all, in my opinion anyway, is the Upper Barracca Gardens where the views across the Grand Harbour take your breath away and the gardens themselves offer respite from the day’s heat amidst its shaded foliage, fountains, and café.
The City was also viewed from the water when the previous day my mum, sister and I took a pleasure harbour cruise out of Sliema. I arranged it through the hotel and although it appeared well-organized it turned out to be another small annoyance. Supreme Cruises arranged to collect us from our hotel [and promised to bring us back] and delivered us to the waiting boat for our cruise at 10.30am. On arrival we were told the boat had broken down and we were obliged to await the return of their other vessel:
When the small Luzzu arrived everyone tried to rush on board so eager were we to get away – it finally set sail at 11.45am [Better late than never]. Our captain/guide however could have done with some training in how to conduct a proper narrative of the sights shown. There seemed to be a preference to views on the right and a constant repetition of the same phrases to the point that it was becoming quite grating on one’s nerves. Our narrator also gave us the impression the trip was some sort of political propaganda when he insisted on taking us to every one of the numerous dry docks dotted around the Grand Harbour to tell us how wonderfully the Government had been in ensuring they remained in operation. Not all was wasted and whilst ignoring most of his banter I was able to enjoy the views on offer. Here are but a few:
When we returned to Sliema an hour or so later we were told the shuttle bus would be ready to return us to our hotel at 5pm. Disgusted and not wanting to hang around doing nothing for hours in the oppressive heat just to accommodate the tour operator we took the local bus back to Spinola Bay, St. Julians and were then obliged to walk to the hotel from the main road. Not that my sister or I minded the walk, but for our 90-year-old mother the trek in 30+*C heat was no easy task. We made our way directly to the bar for some refreshing drinks and a couple of pizzas.
We returned to Sliema on a different day as both my mother and sister were determined to do some shopping. For a small town, Sliema is well stocked with retail outlets including some British favourites such as BHS and Marks & Spencer. Of the latter we were told there are four stores on the island – there was a large branch at Valletta. The Plaza Shopping Centre is located in Bisazza Street off the Sliema Marina and boasts some 40 retail outlets including Miss Selfridge, Toni & Guy Hairdressing, Mothercare, to name but a few. http://www.plaza-shopping.com/ The Point is Malta’s newest and largest shopping mall. It is located on the Tigne Point peninsula where it stretches over three levels of fully air-conditioned shopping heaven. Here’s the link for you to enjoy: http://www.thepointmalta.com/
I left the two women to lose themselves in M&S whilst I went off to do some souvenir shopping and have a coffee with some unusual companions…
The rest of our stay consisted of meeting up with family and on this note I just would like to say “Thanks” to all of them for their generosity and companionship; in particular to my cousin Wilfred who made a special effort to leave his place of employ in Abu Dhabi to be in Malta at the same time as me and offer his time to drive me to various places, including Malta’s largest cemetery. I know this is not the sort of destination many tourists would want to visit, but for me it has been a long-time desire to pay my respects to my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins who were so very dear to me. The site is massive yet somehow quite peaceful and some of the structures most impressive such as the war memorial, chapel, and various bronze statues:
On a lighter note we also visited the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk with its colourful boats, lively market and numerous waterside restaurants; one of which we sat at to enjoy a sumptuous meal in the company of cousins.
On the day prior to our departure, I visited my cousin Clare, a talented artist who has her studio/gallery at Tigne Point in Sliema. I had seen most of her works when she displays them on Facebook; however I was determined to see them in the “flesh”. I wasn’t disappointed – they truly are magnificent works: http://www.cultureinside.com/25/section.aspx/ViewGallery/878/
Afterwards she invited me to her apartment in the company of her husband Joe, and her brother Wilfred. We sat on their terrace enjoying coffee, each other’s company and the wonderful views of Sliema:
Very early the following day we left Malta and returned to the Cote d’Azur where my holiday was to continue with mum and sister for a further two weeks…
RLB – Tomewriter