Malta and the Maltese Language
The pronunciation was a lot more difficult to figure out because it’s close to the Tunisian dialect, and I never studied any of the Arabic dialects. What makes the language yet more interesting, is the fact that over the decades, the amount of Italian vocabulary has increased. If you’re interested in languages, Malta is worth a visit just for the language itself.
We rented a lovely house in the Three Cities through Airbnb. As Malta is very densely populated, it’s difficult for foreigners to understand where a city begins and where it ends. Several times, as we took the bus to different locations, we felt like a large portion of the island is just one big city, when, actually, we had passed through several towns already. The Three Cities are an example of different municipalities that are connected to each other as if they were one big city. Birgu, Bormla, and Senglea are within the same fortifications. They are so close to each other that you can easily take a walk along the waterfronts of Birgu and Senglea in about half an hour. It’s also possible to walk to nearby Kalkara which we did when Kalkara had its village feast.
These village feasts are what makes the country very unique. In the summer, in particular, every week there is a village feast somewhere in the country for which the streets and buildings are beautifully decorated, food and drink stalls set up for the evenings, and beautiful fireworks displayed at night. The first day, we were still quite confused by the loud noise, but the locals told us that those were just the fireworks for the feasts. These village “festas” are something that is clearly part of the Maltese summer.
Of special meaning is the Rotunda of Mosta whose neoclassical style was inspired by Rome’s Pantheon. In World War II, it was hit by a German bomb which, thankfully, did not explode. You can still see the spot in the roof that the bomb pierced through. The Rotunda’s dome is one of the largest in the world, and visiting this church is sure to leave an impression on you.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta is another stunning Maltese church with absolutely magnificent mosaics on the floor. It is world-renowned for having one of the most marvelous baroque interiors.
The most splendid Maltese church that I saw was the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta. The first time we went inside it was almost empty and we got a good look at the lovely decoration. The second time we went was actually the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and we observed the rituals for a while, which even included a little orchestra and choir. The basilica is really captivating and an absolute must if you go to Malta.
Mdina, the former capital of Malta, boasts another one of these enchanting Maltese churches – St. Paul’s Cathedral. The apostle Paul plays an important role in Maltese identity, as it is believed that his ship wrecked on the island. There is a smaller church in Valletta named for this incident, but St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina is larger and really impressive.
Finally, we also saw the Franciscan church in Valletta but didn’t get a good look around as they were in the middle of a service.
There are many other churches in Malta that are probably worth looking at, but we didn’t manage, to stop at every single one of them, of course.
The Mediterranean Sea
For the most spectacular sunset, you must go to the Dingli Cliffs on the west coast of the main island. Despite the fact that the sunsets here are utterly gorgeous, it’s not actually busy here with tourists during those hours.
Maltese Cities and Villages
Valletta, is quite different from Mdina. It seems less closed off despite the fact that you can also find fortifications here. However, in contrast to Mdina, it lies right at the sea and features more Italian and French influences. Despite its small size, it is very interesting and has a lot to offer. In fact, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so you will really not run out of things to see and do if you invest the time to see the many churches, as well as the Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens. Simply walking through the city, is absolute bliss though because Valletta, in particular, showcases the cute Maltese balconies I wrote of earlier. The city is strongly influenced by the Knights Hospitaller, and, if you go see the Malta Experience movie next to Fort St. Elmo you can get a ticket that includes a visit to the infirmary, which was the most modern in all of Europe at the time it was founded by the Order of St. John.
The old fishing village of Marsaxlokk is famous for its tiny little harbor. Here, you can see some of the traditional Maltese boats decorated with the eye of Osiris. These are the luzzi, the traditional fishing boats, not to be confused with the dgħajjes, the water taxis.
A trip to Malta wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Popeye Village, the set of the 1980 movie with Robin Williams. It is now somewhat of a tiny theme park with a restaurant and even an area to go swimming, but, for the most, part it looks the way it did for the movie. If you go after 5pm you’ll even get a discount, and the two hours you will have until they close are absolutely sufficient for the small park.
Maltese Public Transport
There is public transport to everywhere you might want to go, and you will not have to walk far to/from the bus stop either. This is a great advantage, especially for the local population. No matter where you live you will have a bus stop within mere minutes walking distance. However, this means that every line has tons of stops and never takes the direct route to a destination. Several bus trips had us wondering why we were going around somewhat of a circle, only to realize that this was done to cover as much of the area as possible.
The next issue is that most of the time you will need to change buses in Valletta. Unless you’re staying in Valletta, this means that you will lose time going to Valletta only to go back in the direction you came from on a different bus.
Finally, the buses are often not on time. We have waited for more than 20 minutes on more than one occasion, and once we even waited for a bus for 30 minutes, only for it to arrive with the driver simply leaving without saying anything.
Considering all this, I would highly recommend arranging your own means of transportation if possible. Keep in mind though that as densely populated as Malta is it also has a lot of cars, so your best option if you wish to be fast and flexible would be renting a scooter.