CONTRIBUTED BY BRYAN NORTON
Moving to Europe six months after we got married has meant that each wedding anniversary so far, we’ve been able to travel to interesting places. The first anniversary we did Salzburg, Austria, the second one we went to Dubrovnik, Croatia, but this anniversary we wanted to do something a little different.
I figured we’d be a bit burned out on sight seeing after going non-stop for two weeks in Slovenia and having friends from the US come visit. I wanted to pick a place where we could sight see if we felt up to it, or just relax if not. I’ve heard great things about Malta, so I found a hotel right on the water and booked it.
Friday we flew out of Stuttgart around 1pm, and it was a short 25 minute flight to Munich, then a two hour flight to Malta. When we landed, the Malta airport was so small that there weren’t gates to dock the plane with, you just stepped off the plane and a bus took you to the terminal. The first thing we noticed was how warm it was. It had been in the mid-50′s when we left Stuttgart, and it was in the mid-70′s now.
When booking the trip, I considered renting a car in case we wanted to drive around the island. As soon as we got in the car of our driver from the hotel, I was glad I hadn’t. I knew Malta had been owned by the British until the 1970′s, but didn’t think about their roads. Sure enough, they drove on the left side of the road and the drivers side in the car was on the right. It would have been a nightmare trying figure out how to drive there.
When we got to the hotel, we checked in and headed up to our room. I’d opted to upgrade our room to a harbor view, and am glad I did…it was BEAUTIFUL.
After getting settled, we headed down to the front desk to look for something to do that evening. After looking through some brochures we decided to head to something called the Birgufest. It’s held once a year in a town nearby, and it sounded like fun. The hotel had a taxi service where they’d drive you anywhere on the island. We had them drive us there, and they dropped us off right at the entrance to the old town area.
The first thing we noticed was it didn’t seem to be filled with tourists. There were all kinds of families out there, and you could just tell they all lived in the area. There were food vendors everywhere, both on the streets, and in buildings that you could walk through. We found one little building that opened up into a small courtyard when you walked through. We bought a Malta Platter and something to drink, and sat down and enjoyed the music in the courtyard. It was all lit with red lighting and candles, and the moon was over heard, so it was pretty in there.
After the snack we walked further into town. I knew the island was predominantly Catholic, but the number of churches everywhere was staggering. Each one we went into was beautifully decorated with an amazing amount of hand carved wood, gold, silver and more. There were also a handful of exhibitions we walked into with relics found in the ruins of churches bombed during WWII. One of the neat things they had was a printing mold from the 16th century used to make playing cards.
We walked around the streets for the next few hours, stopping at various vendors and inside old buildings, and just relaxing in the festive atmosphere. When we were done for the evening, we called the hotel and they came and picked us up.
The next morning we headed down to the Spa in the hotel to make reservations for Sunday. The plan was to do some sightseeing on Saturday, then on Sunday get massages and relax at the pool until we had to head to the airport later that afternoon. Unfortunately they were all booked for couples massages on Sunday, but they had one opening at 3:15 on that day. We figured that gave us 5 hours or so to sight see, then come back to the hotel. First, though, we went up to the breakfast floor to get something to eat. The amount of food they had was overwhelming! And the view was beautiful.
After breakfast we used the hotel shuttle to get to the center of town, and bought tickets on the hop on/hop off tour bus. We had to wait a few minutes for the next bus to arrive, so while we did we chatted with the guy selling the tickets. He told us that Rolex was holding their annual yacht race, so we would probably notice a lot of yachts around. We’d already seen a ton of the massive ones, but shortly after he said that we noticed a bunch of yachts with sails going by. The race is 606 nautical miles long, starting in Malta and going north and all around the island of Sicily, then returning to Malta.
Eventually the bus came by and picked us up. It was one of those buses where the top had seats and no roof, so we got lucky and found seats up there. It was another beautiful day, about 80 degrees with a nice breeze blowing off the water. The tour lasted a few hours, taking us all over the southern part of the island. Since our massage was scheduled for mid-afternoon, we didn’t have time to get off and sight see, but we were ok with that.
I was glad that from the road we could see some ancient ruins that are credited by Guinness as the oldest free standing man made structures in the world, dating back to 5,000 B.C….that’s older than the Pyramids. We also drove by cliffs that dropped off into the water, which was absolutely stunning.
We got back to the hotel around 3, then headed down to the Spa area. It was nice down there…we spent the first 30 minutes relaxing in a jacuzzi, then got out and had an hour long massage. I was so relaxed that I nodded off a few times. Once we were done, we headed out back to the pool area. It was a huge pool and sat right next to the Mediterranean Sea.
We swam around for about an hour, then headed back up to the hotel room. Shanna had scheduled another spa treatment for herself Sunday, and we wanted to go swimming again Sunday morning, this time in the pool and the sea, so we didn’t go out Saturday night. Instead we cleaned up, put our “nice” clothes on, and headed down to the hotel restaurant. It was a great dinner…we had delicious seafood from the area, a bottle of wine, and had a beautiful view of the harbor at night with everything lit up.
The next morning we got up early, and after eating breakfast, headed down to the pool area. First up, though, we had to swim a bit in the sea. We’ve been near the Mediterranean Sea a few times, and never gone in, so we had to say we did it. It was cold at first, but it didn’t take long to adjust. I don’t know if this sea is saltier then others, but the first thing we noticed is how buoyant we were! With no effort at all, we were floating. There were also a bunch of small tropical looking fish swimming around us. After a dip in the pool, it was time to pack things up.
While I checked out, Shanna went down to the Spa for her next session, and I sat in the lounge area playing on my iPad and sipping a beer. We both were enjoying ourselves. :) Once she was done, we hopped on a shuttle and went to the airport.
Hotel information: Grand Hotel Excelsior Malta
Hop On/Hop Off Bus information: Malta Sightseeing
Note: Bryan originally posted this article on his site, but has graciously shared it with us here as well.