{Travel Tales: Malta & Italy, Part Six – Two Very Different Types of Days}

Before we left for the trip, we knew that one of the things we were going to be doing was a spa day.  It’s tradition for Sarah and her mom, as well as her aunt Joan, and I was tagging along for the tradition this time.  The trip to the Kempinski Spa was the fifth day of the trip, and there is not a single picture to speak of for this day.  We decided to make it a true relaxing day, and so cameras and phones stayed behind at the apartment.  (This also seemed safer as we would have our belongings stored in a locker for most of the day.)

We started the day by meeting Joan at her house, and traveling to the spa together.  Our first order of business was lunch.  We ate outside overlooking the pool.  It was a completely different view from what we’d been seeing everywhere else, but gorgeous in it’s own right.  The area surrounding the pool was full of palm trees, and the buildings of the hotel with balconies overlooking the whole area.

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The view from the restaurant. Image from Google.

We ate a light meal to prepare for swimming and our spa treatments.  We also enjoyed aperol spritzes, which would become a theme of the trip after this day (and every day – I become completely obsessed with aperol spritzes on this trip).

We checked into the spa and passed the time before our treatment in the pool.  We swam and read; it was the perfect relaxing afternoon, which would get even more relaxing once we went into the spa.  The spa was quiet and serene, with completely water with fruit and rosemary, and cozy slippers and robes.  I got a body scrub as well as a short massage and facial.  The body scrub was by far my favorite – I said afterwards that I don’t think I’ve ever felt so clean in my entire life.  The whole experience was just one relaxed moment after another: after the treatments we got to sit in the relaxation room until we were ready to face real life outside of the spa again.

Real life wasn’t so bad, however.  We had an easy rest of the day – leftover ziti with Sarah’s grandmother, and the off to Beatrice’s house to pick up dresses for the wedding.  She made two tiny pairs of pants for the wedding page boys as we sat and chatted.  It was all around an easy, breezy day.

The next day, however, was the opposite: it was a whirlwind of activity!  It was fun, hot and exhausting but a fantastic day spent on the main island of Malta.

At around 8:30 a.m., Joan picked us up from the apartment and we drove to the ferry.  She ended up taking us on her own and we gave Sarah’s parents a break from driving us around (part of this was necessary so Sarah’s mom could get in some recovery time as she was still sick).  Different from our first very trip, we took the car with us and sat in the little cafeteria as we crossed the water.  No heavy suitcase to deal with this time!

We had a packed schedule, and it all started with a drive to the Red Tower.  That just sounds like a Game of Thrones thing, doesn’t it?  As far as I know, it’s not, but it definitely had that vibe.  It’s actually called “St. Agatha’s Tower” but I would imagine picked up the name the Red Tower because of it’s color.  It was built between 1647 and 1649 as part of the island’s defense system.  It’s location high above the surrounding area makes it a perfect lookout point and, as you might be able to guess, there were more sweeping views of the water from here.

The tower was in the process of being restored – painted, specifically – while we were there.  Even so, this did not prevent visiting the tower and climbing to the top of it.  The inside had information on the Knights of Malta, and we spent some time looking at the paraphernalia that went along with that as well.

As we were leaving the Red Tower, it became clear that this was going to be a swelteringly hot day, and this is what we dealt with when we hit our next destination: Popeye’s Village!  Popeye’s Village is essentially the set of the 1980 movie, which was filmed in Malta and then the set was left up as a tourist attraction.  It’s mostly a water park, with pools for adults and kids alike and various water activities in the ocean as well.  If/when you’re not doing that (we did not partake in the water activities), you can tour the village and go into the little houses, many of which have an activity.  You can also take a free boat ride around the bay, which we took full advantage of.

The boat ride was quick, but fun.  It went from the village to the famous cave from the movie and back.  The water was a little choppy and I ended up getting splashed quite a bit, but I have excellent sea legs and didn’t mind all the bumps and jumps of the boat as we headed out and back.

The boat ride was also a nice break from the intense heat that started up as soon as we hit the village.  The three of us were fading fast in the heat, and we were starting to get hungry, so we decided to head to Valletta.  The Popeye Village was kitschy but amusing, and I’m glad we went.  It was more or less the only thing I picked to do in advance of the trip – everything else I left up to Sarah and her family since they were the experts.

Before we got to Valletta, we needed to pick up Gabby, Joan’s daughter and Sarah’s cousin.  She had spent the morning defending her thesis, and she ended up doing amazingly well with it (we found out later on that she was actually won a prize for her work).  We met up with her near her apartment and went back and met her roommates before continuing our day of sightseeing, joined by Gabby.

As we drove into Valletta, Gabby gave us some backstory and some history, and I wish that I could say that I remembered all of it.  Unfortunately I barely remember any of it, so I turned to the trusty interwebs to find some basic information.  Valletta is a world heritage site and a walled city.  It is also the country’s capitol.

When we arrived, we learned that they are restoring much of the city, including a large fountain that usually greets visitors at the entrance to the city.  Unfortunately for us, the fountain was completely covered.  This would not be the first time on this trip that renovations got in the way of something we wanted to see.

Hungry and hot, and honestly a little bit drained from being out in the sun at Popeye Village, we set out to find somewhere to eat.  We ended up deciding on a little cafe where we could eat outside where there was a nice breeze coming through the buildings.  Here, I further came to the conclusion that aperol spritzes are pretty much the greatest thing ever invented, and I vowed to buy some aperol at the airport in Venice on our way home.  Foodwise, Sarah and I shared an insane meat and cheese plate to rival anything we’ve ever had at the wine bar for Friday Night Cocktail nights.  It was so good but I do not recommend consuming as much meat and cheese as I ate in that heat.

After lunch, Joan and Gabby had to run a quick errand, so Sarah and I wandered around the city a little bit taking in the sights and running into a few stores.  It was midday, so a lot of places were closed for the afternoon break, but we still managed to find plenty to see.  We wandered down to the water, and into a square and took a bunch of pictures.  We window shopped at stores we would never be able to afford anything in.  The city was easy to navigate, as it was laid out more or less like a giant grid.

I didn’t discover until after the fact that my camera was acting up, probably from being exposed to the heat, and I didn’t get as many good pictures as I wanted to of Valletta.

At this point, we got a bit concerned about Joan and Gabby’s whereabouts, as they had been planning on running to one store and then coming back.  When we finally met back up with them, they told us the story of how they had gotten convinced to go into a makeup store and were given a sales spiel about expensive face cream.  We may sure to give the guy standing outside of that store a wide berth when we passed it later.

After reuniting, we headed to the Grand Harbor.  Also known as the Port of Valletta, it is a sweeping harbor for ships and other boats.  At various points during the day you can see a canon demonstration, and we caught the tail end of one as we approached the harbor.

Post harbor, we decided it was time for ice cream (amarena, which is vanilla with cherry and coconut this time!), and then Joan and Gabby went into a history museum to see a dagger while Sarah and I shopped around some more for gifts and souvenirs.  It was still about a thousand degrees, so we took refuge in the air conditioning of some shops as we waited for them to be finished.

Wilting a little, we dropped Gabby off at home so she could get ready to come back to Gozo with us later in the evening.  Sarah, Joan and I had one more stop to make before we headed back – Mdina.

Mdina (pronounces Imdina) is a fortified city with a population of about 300.  It is insanely charming.  As you walk through the narrow streets, the walls of the houses rising up on either side of you, you can almost imagine you’re in an episode of Game of Thrones.  Which would be fitting, since some scenes for the show were actually filmed in Mdina.  The narrow streets open up into quaint little squares with churches, and the restaurants and cafes are strategically placed on the edges to have views of the surrounding area.  If I lived in Malta, I would probably love living in Mdina.  It’s close enough to the bigger stuff, but entering it feels like you’ve walked into another world.

It was delightful just to walk around the city, getting lost in it’s alleys.  It’s small enough so that you’re never really lost – you can always find your way out.  My obsession with the doors of Malta continued here, as there were so many beautiful walls, doors, and doorknobs to be seen.  I love the little details of a place, and the curved streets and stone walls were no exception to this rule.

FUN FACT: the gate in the photos above (on the top right) can be seen as Ned and Catelyn Stark bid each other farewell in this scene from Game of Thrones (click the link to see it on youtube).

Most of Mdina is residential and because not a lot of cars are allowed, it is sometimes known as “the silent city” (another plus for why I would life there; nice and quiet most of the time).  I was so curious as to what the insides of the houses looked like, since the outsides were so ornate and old.

We decided to go into a bar/cafe and have some drinks before continuing our walk.  Though it was much cooler with the sun going down and it getting to be late in the day, we were still tired from the earlier heat.  But it was nothing another aperol spritz couldn’t fix!

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We sat and lookout out at the view, watching the birds come and go through the balcony of the restaurant, and the perfect way to recover after a long day of sightseeing.

But we weren’t quite finished yet!  We had a little more time to wander the city streets, and decide on a place to have dinner.  We ended up choosing an Italian restaurant that also had quite a few traditional Maltese dishes.  I ate pasta with a rabbit bolognese sauce, which was amazing.  I’ve had rabbit before this trip, so it wasn’t like trying something completely new but it was definitely better than I’ve had in the states.

Finally, it was time to head back to Gozo.  We picked up Gabby and raced our way back to the ferry terminal to try and make the 9:45 p.m. train – for we didn’t know what time we would have to wait until for the next one.  We made it with seconds to spare and enjoyed a leisurely trip back.  We sat outside this time, enjoying the cooler night air (but not seeing a thing as everything other than the boat itself was pitch black).

It was quite late by the time we got back, so we skipped our nightly routine of hanging out in the kitchen for a while and headed straight to bed.  The following day was the wedding, and we had a lot to do to get ready!

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