Malta is, perhaps surprisingly, a very densely populated place, with a higher population density than Bangladesh. And, when you arrive here, it is much less surprising, as Valletta is ringed by communities that climb the slopes around the capital, coat the surrounding peninsulas and cluster wherever building is even remotely possible.
We were meeting a historian friend of Ros, and his partner, who have been staying here for the past six months, and had offered to show us Valletta. And so, we caught another bus which hurtled along, around the Sliema peninsula and through Floriana to the Valletta bus station, which stands outside the city gates, next to the Triton Fountain.
United with our hosts, we set off to examine Valletta on foot, only to get a bit distracted by the view across the water to the south-east. That led us down a elevator to the shoreline and a small water taxi which took us to Birgu, which occupies a finger-like peninsula which protrudes into the Grand Harbour.
Refreshment was required, so we sat at a cafe in Victory Square, in the St Lawrence district, as something of Maltese life was explained to us. Each community has its own Saint, and there is a political edge to much of community life, with bands and fireworks and a bit of occasional ruckus. Our cafe was the Labour cafe, as opposed to the Nationalist one, although, as an outsider, I wasn’t overly aware of any political aspect.
The Maltese love their fireworks, to the extent of manufacturing their own at home, with the occasional unplanned explosion adding to the general buzz of urban life. Indeed, they don’t wait for darkness, as we were entertained by a firework launch at noon. I suspect we haven’t heard our last firework...
We walked along the shore, stopping for lunch and talk of Brexit, enjoying the opportunity to eat outside in December. The problem is that, the more you talk about it, the less rational it sounds, and you find yourself wondering if Britain hasn’t suffered a collective mental collapse. But I digress...
We resumed our stroll, crossing into Senglea, developed by the Order of Saint John in the sixteenth century. Senglea is another peninsula, and is all narrow streets and alleyways, designed I suspect to keep the streets shady during the hot summers, and to allow greater density. The architecture is interesting, and one of the main features is the gallarija, an enclosed shallow balcony with glass windows, painted in a different colour to the rest of the frontage.
Coffee and cake was required by this time, as the sun began to set in the south-west, and it was, sadly, soon time to head back to San Giljan, catching a bus from outside the police station. Malta has adopted a two hour ticket, allowing you to transfer as necessary to get to your destination, which puts London’s recent introduction of a similar idea into perspective. And that allowed us to transfer through Valletta, making an easy connection to the San Giljan bus and getting us back to our hotel for some refreshment and a relatively early night...
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