I hate buses, with a passion. I hate the night bus home from London, without fail the drunken freaks who want to slur about time and space always seem to find the seat next to me. I hate my local bus route because its prolifically infrequent and painfully slow. I hate the fact that all buses seem to time their stops so that they drive away just as I think my sprint to the stop has rewarded me with a place on the big red bastard … but no, they drive away laughing whilst left I’m breathless and late for work. So having booked a 6 night holiday to Malta with my girlfriend I was dubious when I was told over and over that I should use the buses out there. Still, I was willing to give them a chance.
So, for the second weekend in a row I arrived at London Luton Airport ready to board my stupid o’clock flight on an aircraft that discriminates against anyone over 5ft 5′. A short uncomfortable 3 hours later we arrived in Malta only to be greeted by rain, and lots of it. A great start.
The transfer from the airport to our hotel in Mellieha Bay took just over an hour. Checking in was painless and we were soon in our room. It was pretty much the harry potter room of the hotel, the cupboard type room under the stairs. We had a single tiny window which faced into the hotels office window … we closed the curtains. However, that aside we were very happy with the room, it was a promo room and we knew this when booking, it had a bed, a fridge and a good bathroom, all that we could want at the price we paid.
Having checked in a freshened up a little, it was time to explore. I must admit, early on I was worried. Other than its looks, Mellieha Bay seemed to have little else going for it. We walked around the stunning local church and intricate streets, but there seemed to be very few bars or shops, and only a couple of restaurants, that said it was a Sunday, so I tried not to judge or worry to early. That first evening we had a nice meal at a neighbouring hotels restaurant and a quick drink at the only bar we could find. Throughout the week as we explored further we eventually found new bars and places to eat. It was never particularly busy anywhere of an evening, but this was late season and the quiet was actually very nice.
Our days in Malta mainly consisted of scoffing down skinheads on a raft (beans on toast) and fresh waffles smeared in chocolate sauce for breakfast, before relocating our ever expanding asses to the roof terrace where we would proceed to read whilst slowly cooking in the Malta sunshine. Even in October the temp got up to around 26 degrees. Hot enough for me to burn my right knee on our first full day.
We did on a couple of occasions make use of the indoor pool and jaquizi, but the roof terrace was the place to be.
Mellieha’s beach was a 15 minute walk from our hotel and we did take a stroll down the hill from town to the beach one afternoon. It was pleasant enough beach, a tad small maybe, but clean and child friendly. The sea was fricking freezing, but that didnt stop the little ones splashing around. Like a lot of beach resorts, we were approached to go on boat trips or to partake in some form of watersports. We didn’t get any grief when we politely declined however.
The beach is on a number of popular bus routes, so it can get a little busy at times, even late in the season … you wouldn’t want to walk back up the hill to town though!
After a day or two of melting into our sun loungers at our hotel, we decided that we should experience a bit more of Malta and the decision was made to spend an afternoon in Valletta, Malta’s capital. We took the hour long bus from Mellieha Bay and were soon in amongst the gorgeous balcony ridden streets on Valletta.
We had no set plan as such, we just started walking, stopping occasionally for ice cream, or for Esther to look longingly at a pair of shoes in a shop window. Although the city itself was old and traditional looking, all the shops were those that could be found in any modern city.
Our favourite place in Valletta was the Barrakka Gardens, which afforded great views of the harbour and neighbouring cities. We were also lucky enough to witness the changing of the guard and fountain show at Valletta palace.
We tried to take a look at Valletta’s fort later in the afternoon, but on the day we visited it was shut, so instead we took a walk around the perimiter of the city and soon found our way down to the waterside where we caught a ferry to Selima.
We didnt do a lot in Selima. Selima was the main shopping district, hosting a huge modern shopping centre. There was this rather amusing monument located down one of the sides street though and …
We only spent an evening in Bugibba towards the end of our stay, but it was a pleasant one. We arrived late in the afternoon and arrived just in time to sit along the beach front and watch the sun go down.
Bugibba was a lot more touristy than Mallieha, it catered for the ‘brits abroad package holiday’ types. There were arcades and beach side activities for the kids and bars selling british beers and papers for the parents. We were told that Bugibba is one of the places to visit for a late night drink in high season.
**Tip – all the buses in Bugibba run on the same side of the road. The side closest to the beach. Dont wait on the other side, no bus will come!
Ah the buses. Do you know what, they weren’t bad, clean, fairly regular and pretty cheap in my eyes … until I read up on them. In June of this year (2011), a private firm (Arriva) took over the buses of Malta, and it is reported of large price increases. I didnt think the prices were too bad upon our visit, but it seems they were a cheaper 6 months ago for shorter journeys.
A typical bus fare was around just €0.47 before June. The old buses also looked a lot cooler, and were run under pretty unique circumstances. The old Maltese buses were the islands equivalent to London black cabs. Drivers would in many cases, build, or inherit their buses from their parenst. The bus was their own and they alone were soley responsible for the running and maintenance of their machine. They could even decorate them in which ever way they wanted. At night, the buses could be parked them their houses, rather than a central bus station.
The new buses are pretty standard, they’re really no different from London buses other than the colour scheme. They even have bendy buses! … must be pretty hard driving those down the tiny streets and windy coastal roads. The new prices as per the Arriva website for passengers who dont have a Malta ID card are as follows …
- 2 hour ticket – €2.20
- 1 day ticket – €2.60 (€3.49 on old buses)
- 7 day ticket – €12.00 (€13.98 on old buses)
- Night bus single – €2.50
I cant really see the point of the 2 hour ticket personally, might as well get the day ticket and take your time. €2.60 isnt terrible.
The two hour ticket actually seems a bit of an insult and a scam. The best bit about the old buses seems to have been the ability to name your chosen destination and pay for only the distance you travel. Whilst on the old bus system the day passes were more expensive, it was the zonal fares that were in operation that made travel by bus cheap - one-zone fare was €0.47. Two zones €0.54 and three zones €0.58.
FOOD AND DRINK
By far the most common food we found in Malta was Italian, pizza and pastas. We did spot the odd McDonalds and I’m sure there were other restaurants serving burgers, chicken nuggets etc. Fleetingly we would spot some fish on the menus around the island, but it was often fairly expensive. Rabbit was the local delicasy, although again it would usually be combined with some sort of Italian dish e.g. Spagetti in Rabbit sause.
Drinks wise, we found that wine was quite cheap in restaurants whereas beer was a little expensive at times. Soft drinks and water were pretty standard prices.
- Pizza/pasta: €6-€10
- Burgers and fries: €10
- Fish: €10-€15
- Salads: €5-€15 (higher prices for inclusion of sea food)
- Wine: €2.50-€3.50 for a glass
- Beer: avg €3, highest €5 for 50cl, lowest €1.40 for a pint can.
- 6 nights, 4* B&B + return flights – £200 each
- Evening meals - €100 (roughly €20 a night, we only ate out 5 of the 6 nights)
- Drinks - €35
- Supermarket shopping - €30
- Buses - €9.80