I dream of oranges and Luzzus, sunsets and ships – I dream of Malta

Shot captures the dome and the skyline from the other side of the sea. You can see the dome of the Carmelite Church from a ring on the other side of the sea
The dome of the Carmelite Church – as seen from Sliema

I know this sounds silly but it was in Malta that I saw my first ever orange tree. An orange tree laden with fruit. And it appeared to my incredulous, excited eyes that it was as if the sun had melted and blobs of its radiance hung merrily from the trees. There are lots of orange trees in Malta and so if you are like me – an orange tree virgin, you will find plenty to evoke that wonder and joy in you.

There are two trees. One is laden with oranges. You can see the oranges shining out in their radiance, nestled in the green leaves of the orange tree
Oranges – A bird stole a little of the sun’s radiance and hid them in the trees . For that is how an orange tree appeared to me!

But of course this tiny country is much more than the orange trees that so captivated me. You could love it for its many churches and cathedrals, you can love it for its coastline and beaches, or for its quaint villages and towns.

Or you could love it because of its relatively smaller size, this ‘smallness’ making it a unique experience. To be honest, I didn’t quite realise just how tiny it was. On our first day, we took a bus to Valletta – Malta’s capital and when we were near the St John Co-Cathedral, I saw a sign that read ‘See Valletta by train.’

Excited, for I love picturesque train journeys, I turned to my husband and said, let’s go buy a ticket.

He looked puzzled. I don’t think there’s a train network in Malta. It’s a small country. It’s almost the size of Baroda, our hometown, he explained.

But, look, I said, there’s a sign and that must surely mean something?

I doubt it, he said but agreed to ask about nonetheless.

He was right. The ‘train’ was a modified vehicle – you know those toy trains that can take in adults and children alike? The sort of ones you find at zoos and parks to ferry you around?

We laughed. See, I told you, my husband smiled.

So here's tip number one - there's no train in Malta but the bus service is very good. We bought an Explore Plus pass from the airport and it turned out to be a very good buy because we travelled everywhere via the public buses. Do consider buying it if you plan to use public transport while in Malta.

What did we do during our five days there? Malta’s unique size made it possible to visit a lot of its towns and see many of its famed churches and cathedrals and also explore the coastline. I won’t bore you with all the details but here’s some of what we did. (Our base was a traditional Maltese home in Birkirkara, an Airbnb rental, and every day, we set out to different towns.)

Walking across Valletta

We walked. To the Upper Barraka Gardens where the wind blew my curly hair all over my face. I posed on the terrace which offers some of the best views in Malta and the husband took a photograph of me – one which he later developed and framed as a present. I look like Medusa.

Marvelled at the baroque extravaganza. Trust me you will too once you enter the St. John Co-Cathedral. I felt like Alice in a golden wonderland.

The interiors of St. John Co-Cathedral

Paused. At the memorial for slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. (This memorial has been repeatedly destroyed by the Maltese authorities so there is no guarantee that it will be there for future tourists.) I had read about the journalist and being a former journalist myself (though not an investigative one like her), I found it poignant to read some of the messages that people had left at her memorial and the effort they made so that she wasn’t forgotten.

Walked past the Grand Master’s Palace, the City Gate, Fort St Elmo and National War Museum. Took in the views while walking – leisurely cats at Fort St Elmo, the evening descending on the sea like a Turner painting, the ships gliding across the waters, regal and quiet and so forlorn…

When night falls, water and light swirl together at the Triton fountain – Valletta

A step through the light, a step through the dark – Valletta. 
The lights coming on and illuminating the yellow sandstone walls and buildings. All of Valletta is bathed in a beautiful glow as night falls.

Discovering the twin cities of Rabat and Mdina

Rabat and Mdina can be overlooked if you are in Malta, especially in summer or spring when a lot of tourists prefer to lounge about on the coastline. But I would suggest, you do take the time off from the beaches to visit Rabat and Mdina for there’s a beautiful old world charm to both the towns which are adjacent to each other. You could take the bus from Valletta to Rabat and then walk across to Mdina.

In Mdina, we spent an hour or so at the St Paul’s Cathedral and walked around the city walls and took in the architecture and the beautiful other worldly charm of this fortified town. You will feel a sense of peace in spite of the tourists around you, because the streets stay quiet due to the strict vehicle restrictions.

St Paul’s Cathedral

In Rabat, we went to St Paul’s Catacombs – it gave us respite from the sun outside and it was our first ever visit to catacombs of any kind. (Our second was in Turkey). We also visited St Paul’s Church and Grotto.

But what I will always remember Rabat for is the nice cup of coffee we had in one of its cafes overlooking the main square and the Pastizzi at Crystal Palace.

Do you remember, for years to come the feel, the fragrance and the taste of something incredibly nice – something that you may have had for the first time? I do.

This is what happened when we had the Maltese Pastizzi. It is savoury pastry and can be filled with cheese, meat, spinach, peas and such and it is surrounded by a flaky dough. Something akin to the puff pastries as they are colloquially called in India.

There was this queue at a very modest looking bakery and from what we could make out, the queue had a lot of local people. We decided to trust the judgement of that long queue of people and queued up too!

It turned out to be the best Pastizzi we would have in Malta. Piping hot from the multi-tiered oven, it was a treat. We had one with ricotta and peas and one with ricotta and chicken.

So here's tip number two - please do not leave Rabat without having the Pastizzi at Crystal Palace! It's easy to spot. It is located across the street from the Roman Villa and there will always be a huge queue. Buy a couple of Pastizzis in different fillings so that you don't have to queue up again!

Getting off on an impulse at Mosta while on the way to Gozo

We were headed to Gozo. But as the bus passed via Mosta, we felt an urge to get down. The street looked very festive. It was Easter, and we could see a lot of stalls, a large crowd of people heading towards a big structure with a magnificent dome.

The dome as seen from the inside

We could also spot a lot of bakeries around the area with a most tempting window display of bakes, tarts and pies, both savoury and sweet. And so we jumped off the bus!

We realised the families – grandparents, parents, children, young couples were all heading towards the Parish Church of the Assumption. And no wonder we had been attracted by the building and the vibe around it. It turned out to be one of the most recognisable structures of Mosta.

A bomb had been dropped in 1942 in this church as mass was about to begin. The bomb pierced the dome, and came down to the floor and stopped. It did not detonate and neither did the other two bombs that had fallen outside the church. You can still see the replica of the bomb at the back of the church.

The dome that had captivated us from the bus window turned out to be one of the largest unsupported domes in the world and it was a visual treat both from the outside as well as the inside.

It was this magnificent dome that attracted our attention and made us jump out of the bus!

We ate quite a lot in the stalls that were outside the Church. We had the Easter delicacy called Apostle’s Ring Bread’, Figolla, almond brittle, fig and coconut filled biscuits as well as dumplings of two kinds – fish and olive.

Tip number three slides in here and that is: take a clue from the Maltese; where they queued, we queued and it always translated into some very good food!

On wards to Gozo and Dwerja

After our impromptu stop at Mosta, we headed to Gozo which is the second largest island in the archipelago. In order to get to Gozo, we needed to take a ferry. It is easy – we took a bus to Ċirkewwa and from there, you get a ferry to Gozo.

We skipped going to the blue lagoon and instead explored a lot of Gozo. There was a hop-on and hop-off bus that we took once we reached Gozo and it was a good way to see a lot of the region and learn about its history. Plus, you could spend more time at the spots that really appeal to you and this way, you pick and choose where you want to go and how much time you want to spend there.

Before we took the ferry to Gozo, we found a patch to sit down and take in the beautiful colours of the sea before us

I found a beautiful spot to watch the waters and enjoy the breeze in Dwerja while the husband decided to help himself to three ice creams and skip the lunch I had packed for him (nice savoury octopus pie from one of the bakeries in Mosta.)

Each church or parish has a story or a folklore in Malta. This is Ta’ Pinu – Basilica of the Blessed Virgin. The story goes that in 1575, when it was being demolished, the workman gave the first strike and broke his arm. This was taken as an omen that the chapel should not be demolished. It was the only chapel to survive Duzina’s decree ordering the demolition of other such chapels. (This was one of our stops on the hop on and hop off bus)

Tip number four follows and it says: Take the hop-on and hop-off bus once you land at Gozo. Saves you the time, takes you everywhere, tells you the history and little anecdotes and is well worth the money you pay for it.

The three cities beckoned

We still had the time to do the three cities tour of Malta – remember that the country is tiny and so you can see so much of it even if you have just five days to spare!

Getting off the ferry to discover the three cities of Malta: Birgu, Cospicua and Senglea 

We took the ferry to the three cities called Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. In Vittoriosa, we took in the Inquisitor’s Palace and the beautiful lanes, in Senglea we went to take in the views from the Safe Gardens at Senglea Point and in Cospicua, we took in the winding streets and traditional homes.

In the alleyways in Vittoriosa, you will find the original auberges built to house the knights of the Order of Saint John. I found myself day dreaming what it would be like to live in one of the houses in the old town, with courtyards full of orange trees, and the warm Maltese bread baking in my kitchen, and with houses nestled so close to one another that I can hear the afternoon conversations of my neighbours, and catch the fragrance of their evening dinners.

The exterior of a home in Malta

Our specials today are – snails

We had several conversations with our Airbnb hosts over food – both Maltese and Indian and they suggested that we try a restaurant called Diar il-Bniet at Dingli. They said it served authentic Maltese food, and their produce was sourced from their farms and it would be an experience that we wouldn’t forget. Plus, they said, you can catch some wonderful views from Dingli cliffs which is one of the highest points of Malta. 

We were sold and so we booked a table. We reached early and went to the cliffs but didn’t quite stay till sunset as it was very windy and I was feeling cold.

We made our way to the restaurant, and once we were seated, and were served with the menu (the restaurant has a seasonal menu), the waiter came and introduced himself and asked us if we wanted to try one of the specials for the day.

We knew what we were ordering for the mains (rabbit as it is a Maltese speciality and rabbit at this particular restaurant was recommended very highly by our hosts.) So we thought we could try something different for the starter.

It turned out that one of their specials for the starter was snails. I have never had snails before. Neither had the husband. We looked at each other, unsure.

What’s the harm, I asked.

Well, yes, you do have a point, he said. I am just a bit queasy about this one.

What do snails taste like, I asked the waiter.

Well, not anything in particular that I can compare with, but maybe think of them as, having mushrooms that can be slimy but tasty?

Well, we will have the snails then.

They arrived. There were toothpicks so that you could scoop them out of their shells and a nice chutney like thing to go with them.

We finished every one of them. I can’t say if I will have them again, but I am glad that we did have them at this instance and at this restaurant.

They were as delicious as snails could be and the chutney was absolutely a delight.

The rabbit (we ordered half a each) was again amazing (for the lack of a better word). I am glad we took our hosts’ recommendation for we did have a beautiful evening and meal.

And with that it is time for tip number five: like us, trust our hosts and dine at Diar il-Bniet at Dingli.

Before we fly back, a quick hello to Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlookk is a small fishing village and it is very popular with tourists. We deposited our bags at the airport locker and took a bus to the village. It has open air markets, a lot of fish restaurants, walks around the coast and the harbour, and you can spot the luzus – the colourful traditional Maltese boats.

Unfortunately it also has lots of tourists like us swarming about the harbour, taking up every table, every chair, and every little square inch. The luzus were truly beautiful. To me, they appeared like colourful dragonflies floating in the sea. The open markets had lots of attractive wares – from food to artefacts and souvenirs. We walked across the harbour but we decided to skip eating at any of the restaurants there – it was just too crowded.

Maybe it was the wrong day for us or maybe Marsaxlokk is always brimming with tourists – its beauty was a tad marred by the number of tourists jostling for photographs, a table at a restaurant and a space to walk. We found a bench and sat looking at the sea before us and the luzus napping on the water before we emptied it for the countless other tourists like us who also wanted a slice of the Marsaxlokk charm.

Tip number six comes running and breathless a bit: perhaps ask someone local if you intend to go to Marsaxlokk. Is it a good time of the the year to go there? Will it be very crowded? If yes, can they please suggest something else and there is always something else that you can do in Malta. We also spent just about two or three hours in Sliema, we had gone there in search of an restaurant that we wanted to try out; unfortunately we didn't have a booking. It was called Ta'Kris and the aroma wafting from the tables and the food was heavenly. We missed out because we didn't book, if you are keen to try it out, do reserve a place in advance.

There’s also another story about a sunset in Malta. You can read about that here. But if this is already a lengthy read, I will just leave you with the picture of the sunset we witnessed.

Just as we got off the ferry from Gozo, an amazing sunset began to unfold. We had a bus to catch, and time was short, but how do you ignore a sunset this magical?

6 thoughts on “I dream of oranges and Luzzus, sunsets and ships – I dream of Malta

  1. Great post and fantastic photos – just look at those beautiful colours and gorgeous blue sky – I very much enjoyed every single one! The first time I saw an orange tree, was in Portugal and I couldn’t take my eyes off it; coming from a country where apple orchards are the norm, finally seeing the citrus trees everywhere I looked was a memory embedded deep into my soul. Thanks for sharing, sounds like you had a great time exploring Malta. Aiva

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for writing in. There’s a city in India called Nagpur and it is famous for its oranges. I haven’t ever been there, but having seen my first ever orange tree in Malta, I do want to visit the orange orchards in Nagpur. India is such a huge country that I keep saying to my husband that I need at least seven lifetimes to understand and explore even half of my country. Malta packed a lot for its size – there was so much to see and explore. It also felt very different from the UK, especially during Easter because Easter was big in Malta – celebrations, processions, flowers and candles laid out on the steps leading to the many churches, window displays in houses depicting various scenes from the Bible…The food was amazing as well.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sangitha – you made my day. I miss the reporting, writing and editing that I did almost every day for so many years and this blog keeps me going.
      Sangitha, you could plan a trip to Malta and combine it with another country. Say Italy and Malta. And of course, if you to see Dublin/Ireland, you are very welcome at our place. After five years of living in a flat in which the second bedroom was a box-room at the best, we are so happy to have a proper second bedroom and would love to host friends and family.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was thinking the same – looked up a map and saw how close it is to Calabria and other places in Italy that I really want to visit. Thanks for the kind invitation! Husband has visited Ireland and loved it, time to visit for sure!

        Like

  2. I was in Malta recently and didn’t see any orange trees lol, maybe that’s because it’s winter – but funnily enough I remember seeing lots of orange trees in Morocco!! Lovely photographs and what an amazing sunset 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

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