Malta Holiday. Day 1: 27/8/2014

Our alarm went off at bleary ‘o clock (aka 4.15am) in our Gatwick hotel room. We were up and out of the place by just gone 5am, and headed for the North Terminal (via train shuttle). Having already checked in online, all we had to do was take our bags to the EasyJet bag drop – sounds quick? – it wasn’t. We joined a snaking queue that zig-zagged its way round those bungee cord fences, the sort you get in big post offices. We’d arrived at 5.30, half an hour before our bag drop closure and more than an hour before our flight. There were only 3 bag drop desks open…..

A man in an orange high-viz was wandering up and down offering help and sometimes yelling out to ask if anyone was heading for a certain destination: “Brussels? Marrakech?” Anyone answering in the affirmative was whisked to the front of the queue while the rest of us continued to shuffle along and wait our turn.

As we got close to the front of the queue, we saw a young woman by the customer service desk, talking to another high-viz jacketed man, and she wasn’t happy. We were close enough to hear some of the conversation and it transpired that she’d missed her flight. She hadn’t been able to check in online (for which she blamed the airline’s website), and felt that she hadn’t been informed that she needed to turn up to the airport about 2hrs before her flight. The airline rep stood and listened and let the tide of anger wash over him. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but whatever it was, it wasn’t exactly helping. The woman’s voice went from firm but controlled, to agitated, to angry (but not shouting), and ending up at full-on angry sobbing. The high-viz jacketed man had walked off, presumably as there was nothing more he could do, and left the woman crying with her head on the customer service desk. When eventually we dropped off our bags and headed for the departure lounge, we saw her, sitting on the floor, with her back to the desk, crying into a mobile.

Meanwhile, we had our own problem, as we realised we had roughly 5 mins to clear security and get to our departure gate before its scheduled closure time! Bang went our plan to get some breakfast and instead, at approximately 6.10am, we found ourselves sprinting – SPRINTING – through the departure lounge (with me hoping my jeans wouldn’t fall down as I hadn’t had a chance to put my belt back on after security). Suddenly I had visions of me crying by a customer service desk….

We skidded to a halt by the departure gate and breathlessly presented our boarding passes and passports to a young woman who re-assured us “don’t worry, you’re not the latest we’ve ever had.” At that point we allowed ourselves to relax as we were waved onto a shuttle bus and passengers – whom we’d hurtled past on the escalator moments before, while all the while hurriedly saying “Sorry! Sorry! Our flight’s boarding, sorry!!!” – calmly board the bus behind us.

Initiate “idiot mode”!

The flight itself was 2 and a half hours – 15 mins shorter than scheduled, thanks to good weather. At one stage, the Captain pointed out that we were passing Mount Etna, which had smoke coming off it and, a short distance away, was another volcano spewing ash. Sensibly, the Captain said he would be “steering well clear” of that area!

On the approach to Malta itself, I was aware that behind me was a young man who obviously knew Malta very well, and was providing a running commentary of Maltese facts to his travelling companion – one of which was that Malta is 1/3 of the size of the Isle of Wight! As we flew over the island, I noted the seemingly uniform sandy and white colours of the buildings, which gave the appearance of clusters of barnacles on the back of a partially submerged sea creature.

We’d left the UK under cloudy grey and rainy skies. On exiting the plane, we instantly felt the heat of the Med’s sun and clear blue skies on us but, thankfully, the humidity level was such that we didn’t instantly break out in a sweat.

Our pre-booked cab took us on a 20min trip to our hotel – The Palace – in Sliema. The Palace is a 5 star hotel, situated a short distance from the sea front and, although surrounded by buildings, our 8th floor room still had views of the sea.

We arrived just after 11am local time and, even though the hotel’s usual check-in time was 3pm, our room was being made ready and would (we were told), be available in an hour. In the meantime, we were welcome to use the hotel’s facilities. We were given a welcome drink – a small glass each of the Maltese soft drink, Kinnie. To me it tasted like iced tea and was very pleasant. After a long journey, and in such hot temperatures, it was also very refreshing.

To kill some time, D and I made our way to the hotel’s open air pool, which is on the 9th floor (aka the roof). There were plenty of spaces to sit in the shade and we made use of the free hotel wifi (very speedy), to share photos and message home. The pool wasn’t busy. It’s only surrounded on 3 sides – the 4th side has pool water spilling over into a reservoir below and makes it look as though it’s possible to swim off the edge of the building!

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It took 1 and a half hours for our (superior) room to be ready and eventually we were shown up to it with our bags. A modern room, plain walls with dark wood furniture and a huge double bed:

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A massive unit dominates the room that contains wardrobe and drawer space, the television and (around the side), the fridge/minibar, safe and coffee and tea making facilities:

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A sliding glass door opens onto a small, 2 person balcony, with the as advertised sea view.

There’s a sliding door into the bathroom which has a bath/shower and separate toilet room. The room is air conditioned (controls by the door).

D looked through the bits and pieces of info he’d been given on check-in. He noticed a bit that mentioned a special price offer on the hotel’s flexi-dining option (we’d already pre-paid for this and yet the offer was for a far cheaper rate). D decided to take it up at reception. The lady receptionist, who was very nice, eventually explained that we’d booked via “an agent” and the offer only applied if you booked direct with the hotel. D explained that we’d booked online via the hotel website and that at no point was it clear an agent was being used (the agent’s web page carries the same branding as the hotel) and there’s no other way to book online. D carefully demonstrated the issue on his iPad and, after some confusion and phone calls, the hotel accepted the point.

As we’d not eaten a proper meal since before leaving the UK, we were both really hungry and, as it was approaching lunchtime, we headed off to find somewhere to eat. Having checked on TripAdvisor, we knew that L’aroma was a well reviewed local restaurant. We got slightly lost since the TripAdvisor map had L’aroma labelled in the wrong place. It’s on the sea front and has a menu of pasta and grilled meats, (e.g: I had a very nice grilled fillet of chicken with peppercorn sauce, fries and salad from the salad bar), and local delicacies (so if you like rabbit, this is the place to come!) Our meal, (D had pasta), plus drinks (1/2 bottle of local white wine, 1/2 pint of local beer and glass of diet Kinnie), came to just over 30 Euros. Very good value. Given that it wasn’t at all busy though, the waitress took a while to take our order, in fact I noticed that a man by the bar (who had all the signs of being the owner), seemed to notice us waiting with our menus closed and got her to hurry up!

It was mid-afternoon by the time we had “lunch” and we were conscious of leaving room for dinner. I was really very tired after the journey and so, once we got back to the room, I fell asleep for an hour or so.

When we got back to the room, we saw that a bowl of fruit, a bottle of local (Maltese Knight) red wine and a bottle of mineral water had been left for us with the hotel’s compliments. We weren’t sure if this was in response to our fuss over the dining offer or whether we’d have got it anyway [note: I learned since that all new guests get given this], but it was nevertheless very unexpected and generous.

D eventually took himself off to the pool area while I continued to laze about in the room and figure out how things like the tv and shower worked (not quite as straightforward as you might think).

Our flexi-dining option allowed us to eat dinner at the hotel for 3 evenings during our stay. I decided that I didn’t want to head out again and that we should spend our 1st night eating at the hotel. We took advantage of the free bottle of red we’d been given and had a pre-dinner drink in our room. Due to our late lunch we had a reduced appetite so left it later to get dinner. Dinner was in The Tabloid restaurant (which doubles as the breakfast venue), and is a buffet arrangement. There was a great deal of choice (roast duck, pork, soup, mushroom risotto, anti-pasta meats and vegetables and some lovely looking desserts – none of which I had). It was a shame I wasn’t more hungry but I managed a starter plate of smoked salmon and couscous, roasted veg and chicken salad, before having a small helping of the mushroom risotto (with pumpkin sauce).

Just as we’d accosted a waitress to order drinks, a manager came over and gave us closure on “offer gate”. He explained that our flexi-dining option included a bottle of local wine and water with each meal (the hotel’s own special offer didn’t and they hadn’t realised the difference) and he gave us 3 vouchers to ensure that was clear. Although our dining option is usually confined to the Tabloid restaurant, the management had told us that, by way of a goodwill gesture, we could have one of our meals (and use one of the vouchers) at the Asian restaurant upstairs without having to pay the 15 Euro per person supplement. This was very nice of them and D & I shook hands with the manager and expressed our appreciation. The wine and water arrived and both were very nice (the wine being my choice of the house bottle of a local variety).

Back to the room and, after an unsuccessful attempt to get our Chromecast working on the room’s tv (with much swearing from D), we went to sleep in our enormous bed.

(Side note: rather than use the minibar, we purchased a bottle of local white wine, x2 bottles of local beer, and cartons of semi-skimmed and UHT milk for 6 Euros from the supermarket a few metres down the road from the hotel!)

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