Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review: Malta Winter 2016

Visit Dates: 2-4 February 2016
Places: Sliema, Valletta, St.Julian, Vittorioso, Mdina, Rabat in Malta, Blue Lagoon in Camino Island, Blue Azzure Window and Victoria (Rabat) in Gozo

Prepaid SIM Card
The above link gave spotless overall view on the available options in Malta.
In the airport, since there is Vodafone booth, I just bought the prepaid SIM card valid for a week for EUR 20.

Transportation and Tour

Public Bus
Bought one week pass, for EUR 21.
Bus is cheap and the network is good, but less convenient due to less frequent in some routes.
Like the route from airport to Sliema is only one bus in an hour.
Google Map is good tool to find direction, including bus number.
Most bus goes to Valletta bus terminal.
Some bus stops also has hub function, for transfer to other bus, like the stop called Bombi. There are Bombi 1, 2,.. where the locations are closed to each other, but sometime it is difficult to find, so better follow the local flow, or Google Map can show the exact bus stop too.

Airport Shuttle Service: Malta Transfer
Found this service in Google and called to book, since my flight was very early in the morning, I couldn't use the public bus. Taxi charter cost EUR 20, so I took this shuttle which cost EUR 8 from Sliema to airport.

Ferry to Valletta from Sliema
Every 30 minutes from Sliema ferries, cost EUR 1.5

Luzzu Cruises, tour to Gozo and Blue Lagoon
Booked by calling after seeing the contact number in their pamflet in our hostel.
But actually, the tour can be booked directly in many booths along Sliema Ferries area, there is possibility to negotiate too.
One day tour to Gozo and Blue Lagoon that includes land tour in Gozo was EUR 40, they gave free harbour tour for any day departed at 10:30 when we join this tour.
Basically it was OK tour, the easiest way to go to Gozo and Blue Lagoon on the same day.
However, the land tour in Gozo was too short, I think, with basically only stopped in 3 locations, the factory, the Azure Window and Victoria (Rabat).
It stopped in Blue Lagoon for about an hour, but since it was too cold to swim, everybody just wandered walking.
Didn't like a lot the guide/leader in the cruise as well as the guide/driver of the land tour in Gozo.
The speaker when it came to English explanation became too low to hear since the guide talked directly through the microphone, while the other languages (Spanish, German, Italian) sounded bigger since it used recorded voices.

Sightseeing and Cities

The old city of Valletta is certainly the main tourist attraction of Malta.
It is just pretty and the old buildings are well preserved.
Followed Lonely Planet walking route to explore.
St. John Co-Cathedral, the inside was spectacular, that I think it is much more prettier than the famous Sistine Chapel of Vatican City. The painting on the walls and the marble on the floors are amazing. The entrance was expensive EUR 10 though.
City Gate, with good looking Parliament Building just next to it, near to Valletta Bus Terminal.
Royal Opera House, so called, but it was a Roman ruins. It was the place of Carnival Opening Ceremony on 4 February 2016.
Palazzo Parisio, where the Napoleon stayed, is a beautiful palace, not far from the City Gate.
Carmelite Basilica, is the big dome seen in Valletta from the far, but it was nothing from nearby since it is closely surrounded by houses.
Lower Barrakka Garden. Just south to it, there is Siege Bell Memorial, with a big bell and sleeping statue. The walk from this garden to the north to Upper Barrakka Garden is nice walk with Great Harbour view.
Upper Barrakka Garden, a nice Roman garden with fountain, and nice view of the other side of the sea.

Recommended by Lonely Planet, but actually not many things to see, though the back street was nice as said in LP.
There is Fort Angelo, said to be one of the shooting location for Games of Thrones, but the guard shouted me away saying it was already closed when I visit.

This beautiful old city, the ancient capital for Malta, is a walled city and well preserved, also one of the shooting locations for Games of Thrones.
The main gate is beautiful and many horse carts waiting for tourist.

Just 10 minutes walk from Mdina. Visited St. Agatha's Catacomb, famous for its frescoes. Entrance fee is EUR 5, including guided tour. Catacomb is a graveyard not a shelter.
Just opposite of St. Agatha's Catacomb, there is St. Paul's Catacomb, looks more preserved with modern annex. When I asked the guide in St. Agatha Catacomb why St. Paul's look more beautiful and preserved, he explained that St. Paul's is handled by government with more budget, but St. Agatha's is handled by a religious society with less budget, much depending on visitor entrance fee, so he asked us to spread the mouth for more visitors. St. Agatha's has frescoes and the real bones, while there is none in St. Paul's. St. Agatha is one of the main saint patron of Malta, and said to spend sometime in the catacomb before going back to Sicily. There is St. Agatha festival in the area beginning weekend of February.
In the surrounding, there are several churches and museums, but decided not go, since every place needs EUR 5 entrance fee.

Pretty fishing village in the far east of Malta Island.
Very laid back place, with nice view of the sea with colorful fishing boat.
The restaurant Tantarum was fantastic.

I based my stay here.
As per LP, there are several boutique hostels, and I stayed in one of them called Two Pillows.
It is a convenient place to stay, with many shops, restaurants and closed to ferries.

Not so far from Sliema.
Walked the street at night and felt like Red Light District, many touts offering seats in bars/cabarets with ladies.
There is modern shopping mall, Hard Rock Cafe is located here.

Azzure Window and Dwejra (Gozo)
Visited with the day tour.
This place with the big window on the rock is spectacular.
The shooting place of Games of Throne, the wedding of Danaries.
There is a short small boat trip to grottos, EUR 4 per person.

Victoria/Rabat (Gozo)
This well preserved walled old city looks like Mdina, but smaller scale.

Blue Lagoon and Camino Island
Beautiful, but not that spectacular as its name.
The water was too cold to swim during my visit.
Should be packed with people during summer.


Two Pillows
A boutique hostel in Sliema.
The photos in their website is more beautiful that the actual though.
However, I think it is well managed and clean and spacious.
Stayed in 4 beds room with ensuite shower room.
The bunk bed is made from strong wood (no crick sound when climbing) and the bed is comfortable with two pillows. The bed is made/prepared.
The location is good too, near the bus stop and ferries and shops and restaurants.
What I hate was they charge for everything, e.g. towel for EUR 4, breakfast for EUR 6.5, laundry for EUR 6, air conditioner remote for EUR 20!


Tartarun (Marsaxlokk)
Recommended in LP, this is my favourite restaurant in Malta.
Ordered extremely yummy fish soup and fungi risotto (should have order seafood spaghetti) and glass wine, paid EUR 25.

L'Artist (Sliema)
Found in Google Map and Trip Advisor.
Ordered Seafood Fury, the platter of seafood, was not bad.
Paid EUR 23.25 with a glass wine.
The chef always comes out from the kitchen and asking how is the food to the guests.

Il-Merill (Sliema)
Said to be family run restaurant.
Decided to dine here with my new friends since it opened earlier than other restaurants.
Ordered rabbit stew, was so so.

Tony's Bar (Sliema)
Had my first lunch in Malta here, recommended by the hostel staff.
Had the octopus pasta, which is OK, and the local beer. Around EUR 14.
Nice outdoor seating.

Caffe Cordina (Valletta)
A big cafe in Valetta old town, the interior looks classic but also touristic.
Only had a cup of coffee and a Maltese traditional sweet called, Kwarezimal.

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