Malta was an obvious choice for us when we were picking our Christmas vacation. This winter was not crude or excessively cold, but once again the lack of sun and constant drizzling made this winter, at home, long and gray. Malta seem to have all what we were looking for, SUN, beaches, historical sites, a wonderful Christmas market, and a certain enigma, since most of our well-traveled friends had not yet visited.
Our arrival was an easy task, the airport is small and easy to maneuver. We rented a car and picked it up in one of the airport parking lots. What I was not expecting was that the rental would have the driving wheel on the right side, like in the UK. I've driven in the UK before, but I have always taken my own vehicle, making it easier to just focus on staying on the correct side of the road. However, this time it took me a little time to master a manual transmission vehicle with my left hand, coordination is not at all transferable from one side of the body to the other!
We made our way to our lodging in Valletta in a 15 minute ride. The main roads are easy to maneuver, but they get a little trickier as you get closer to the city center. Once we parked the car, we pretty much left it there until we moved to the next town. You will know when you are in Valletta, because the spacious streets turn smaller and smaller as they soon become one lane roads. The Auberge de Castille marks the entrance to the peninsular city center, making it hard to miss.
Valletta gives you a taste of what a city can endure during the many wars. You can see the battles the city has survived in the scars left on its walls and the many ruins you can visit. The Maltese have the fighting spirit and you can witness it everywhere you go, they are survivors and it shows in their entrepreneurial resolve. The city is full of restaurants, cafes, stores, and other businesses, each with their personal touch. However, the Maltese are masters in making glass and bronze hardware.
The views of the Grand Harbor from different points of the city are breathtaking. It seems to me like looking at a fortified city that is always ready to survive any attack, and it has been like that for centuries, from the Roman conquests to the World War II. Now it stands as a place of relaxation and leisure.
Valletta takes the Christmas traditions with fervor, decorating the streets with the emblematic lights of the season, and fully decorated trees in all open spaces. The nights there glow with the anticipation of the most joyous of days. It is not hard to get into the season spirit in such a beautiful place. This year, the Christmas break started on the weekend of the 21st, but we started our vacation earlier, to have a few days with out the crowds. I'm glad we did, because that weekend, the streets were flooded with visitors from every part of the world, filling every street and restaurant in the evenings.
Malta in winter is a warm place, surrounded by the characteristic blue water of the Mediterranean Sea. The Seascape is beautiful every where you go, unfortunately December is a windy month, in fact we had winds over 20 mph a couple of days that week, making it impossible to get into the water. However we found out that September and October are perfect months to visit if you would like to do some activities in the water, like snorkeling, diving, boating, or just swimming.
Malta has been the location of many movies, with the feeling of an old land preserved through time, it was the perfect place for movies like Popeye, Troy, and Gladiator or TV shows like Game of Thrones to film. You can visit some of the film locations without any charge, or you can get guided tours that will take you through some of the scenes filmed in the island. One of the movie locations we visited was Popeye's Village in Mellieha. The movie set was converted into a tourist attraction that welcomes visitors with actors dressed as the movie characters. Although, it was a bit disappointing since the park is more for little kids, the views and the landscape in that region is worth the trip out there.
Europe has an abundance of churches, some of the oldest and most elegant in the world, and Malta's St John's Cathedral was an unforgettable one. The interior contrasts the plain exterior, with elegantly decorated walls, ceilings, and spaces. With beautiful paintings, carved walls, and marble sculptures, the view from the inside demands a meticulous and deliberate view. The best way to capture the entire scene is to take your time and just absorb its splendor. The best view is from a balcony that runs in the back of the main chapel.
Mdina is another town where movies have been filmed. A fortified city with picturesque streets and alleys, Mdina feels as if you are walking into the past. The city offers tours on a horse drawn carriages, that make the experience exceptional. We enjoyed walking the town as well, while to carriage tour seems to go quickly nothing is better than taking your time and enjoying Mdina as you walk through each street and alley. Mdina must be in your plans when you visit Malta, the experience will be the most gratifying.
Renting a car in Malta was a good decision. Although, the public transportation is very good, you have the convenience of moving around in your own schedule, which is a plus for us. Traffic was not too bad, either, as even on its worst we were still constantly moving. Parking is a bit trickier in Valletta in the evenings, but we always found parking, even if we looked for a bit.
Malta has great food, amazing views, and something fun for everybody. From the Vegas style strip in St Julian, to some of the oldest structures in our history, Malta is a dream vacation when you need to escape your routine.
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