I’ve been coming to Malta on and off since 2011 – maybe three or four times a year. And just when I think I’ve seen it all, I get to have another think. Granted, when I’m here, I’m not on holiday so my viewing time is limited. That said, the Maltese are very hospitable and more than happy to show you around. And, of course, if someone comes with me who hasn’t visited before, that opens up a whole new realm of things to do.
I’d never thought of taking the ferry from Sliema to Valletta and only did so this weekend because I’d asked a couple of lads if they knew what bus we’d get to get to the Valletta Waterfront. A young Serbian friend had taken me there for a drink years ago and I wanted to share it with the lovely IM. They told us that it would be quicker to get there by ferry, something I’d never thought to do before. On checking the map, I saw that Valletta was surrounded by water on three sides (a new one on me) and I was sure ours was the side the ferry docked. When it comes to directions and knowing where I am, the more certain I am that I’m right, the more likely I am to be wrong.
We stopped to eat in a restaurant in one of the old watchtowers in Sliema and asked our very helpful waiter if he could verify my assumption. In pitch-perfect Maltese English, he said he’d never heard of the waterfront. But he turned out to be Hungarian, so I proceeded undaunted. We hopped off the ferry and turned right – towards some likely looking umbrellas. We wandered up the coast road, past the five-star compound that is the Excelsior Hotel (home of said umbrellas and man-made postage-stamp-sized beach) and ended up in Floriana. Not where we wanted to be.
Not in the least bit proud, I stopped at a group of three and asked them how we’d get down to the waterfront. Oh, said one of the girls, you mean the Grand Harbour… (duh). Well of course now that she said it, that’s exactly what I meant and of course, I knew where it was but I didn’t fancy snaking my way through the streets of Valletta for the next hour or so. But then she told me to the glass lift from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Lift? I’d been in the gardens last month and hadn’t seen any sign of a glass lift but at this stage, I was like a chicken worrying a speck of blood. Relentless.
And there it was. All 58 metres of. And there it’s been since December 2012 carrying as many as 21 people at a time taking 25 seconds to descend. We took it down to the Grand Harbour and seeing nothing but a massive gunship, asked for directions yet again. Five minutes later, we were on the waterfront. And it was just as I remembered.
Nearly 20 or so warehouses, dating back 250 years, line up alongside the quay. Back in the day, it was here that the Knights of St John would come to unload their ships. Today, these warehouses are restaurants, shops, bars, and clubs. It reminded me a little of Im Viadukt in Zürich. A lovely use of old space, and quite tastefully done.
Spoiled for choice, we settled for cocktails and a platter of cold meats and grilled vegetables at a restaurant called Crave (which boasts a 1.2 kg burger…for sharing, course). Sitting by the edge of the water, we looked out on to small sailing boats and massive navy vessels. Around us, the crowd was slowly swelling as more and more people came to enjoy a Saturday night on the town. A grazer’s delight, every sort of food imaginable was on offer. Reading the menus might take time, but everywhere appeared to be doing some sort of business. Not bad for what is still officially winter and off-season for Malta.
On the way back to the lift (last climb is at 9pm and I didn’t fancy the hike if we missed it), we had a glorious view across the water towards the Three Cities. Malta lights up beautifully. Gobsmackingly gorgeous as some of the buildings are by day, by night, lit up, reflecting in the water, they’re really quite spectacular.
For me though, the best evening view in town is that of the arches in the Upper Barrakka Gardens which dates back to 1775, a gift from some Italian knight or other. The usually packed seats are empty and the place is quite still. Add a balmy breeze and some stray thoughts, and you have an atmosphere conducive to solving most of life’s problems. The novelty never wears off.