"On the Road Again" - text on a Maltese bus
Friday September 8th, 2006
The plane to Malta leaves on time. Sterling's cabin crew had announced a strike this week, but the conflict has been postponed to give them time to reach an agreement. With a bit of luck the strike will begin next week and prolong our holiday!
At 19:30 we have checked in at New Tower Palace. It is on Tower Road in Sliema. The room is a bit worn, but there is a nice sea view from the balcony.
As an orange moon replaces the setting sun, we go for a walk in the neighbourhood. Back at the hotel's outside café we order Maltese Marsovin and an omelette. A polite boy (13 to 14 years old) serves while the waiter is consumed by a sports channel.
It is a nice evening, but we are tired and retire early. The room's air condition blows tepid air no matter how I set the controls.
"Welcome aboard" - text beside the door on all Maltese buses
We have had better hotel breakfasts, but at least the bread is fresh. The restaurant is very small and if all guests were here, two thirds would have to eat standing.
We buy water and other necessities at a supermarket. Back at the hotel I store the loot in the mini-bar, while Helle waits in the reception. Going down, the shaky lift stops near the fourth floor. I press every button, but nothing happens. Finally I grab the phone. As I wait for a helpful voice, the lift moves a fraction and the door opens. I take the stairs down.
The traffic in Tower Road is dense with cars, buses, pedestrians and joggers. It is early but warm, and from early morning people have been swimming by the rocks below.
Of course I forgot to bring the city map, so we buy a new one. After some walking we end up at The Strand, Sliema's harbour front with the many hotels, bars and restaurants. We drop in at Tony's Bar.
Sliema is the biggest city in Malta with about 25,000 inhabitants. In reality Sliema and the other cities around Valletta have merged into one, but it seems important for the Maltese to distinguish.
Valletta is the capital and home to the government, ministries and administration. In Sliema you find fashion shops, shopping centres, banks and businesses. Along the coastal road are lots of hotels, bars and restaurants, and many cruises leave from Sliema's harbour.
A short way inland is Sliema's residential area with quiet streets and traditionally built houses. Few tourists come here, and it feels like a sleepy village.
Many people pass by, and parked just outside is a low sports car with "Dubai" and some Arabian scribble on the plate. It probably fits nicely onto the deck of the harem yacht.
Old propeller planes crisscross the sky like angry bees. It looks dangerous, and later we hear that two of the planes collided. A Swedish pilot died.
Click to enlarge
After a light lunch we walk home to siesta-oblivion. At three it is cooler on the balcony than in the room, so we settle outside and enjoy the view.
On the promenade just across the street lies a café. There are chairs and tempting parasols. Their espresso is good and the breeze is pleasant.
We walk to The Strand, sit by the harbour and watch the boats. The green ferry sails to Valletta. The selected route back to the hotel takes us through quiet streets over Sliema's hilly backbone.
The air hardly moves in the quiet streets. Houses are built in traditional Maltese style with colourful bay windows, wherefrom people can watch the streets still life. As in Valletta there are saints or Madonnas on street corners.
Doors have elaborate brass knockers and next to the doors are tiles or figurines with religious motifs. Cars are parked with not an inch to spare. The pavements are narrow.
It is hard to believe that just a hundred metres from this peaceful village atmosphere lies a district with heavy traffic and trendy fashion shops.
Click to enlarge
Supper at the Peak Oriental Cuisine
The evening plan is an aperitif and then supper at the good seafood restaurant, Fumia. The sun is busy setting as we enjoy a glass at a café. Fumia is on the roof of a multi-storey car park, and the staff is preparing for guests to sit outside. But we are met with a polite "Sorry"; we can get a table tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or when we please - but not tonight.
We quickly agree to try The Peak Oriental Cuisine just around the corner, on the 8th floor in the shopping centre 'Plaza'. Fortunately they have a table for two. We compose a menu and tell the waiter that we want to share everything.
We have spring rolls, dumplings, Shanghai noodles with shrimps and vegetables and beef in black bean sauce. The kind waiter persuades us not to order Malay chicken in curry - we can order later if we have room for it.
It is really good. The noodles have a hint of curry, and the beef has bite and a delicate sweetness. This is because the waiter has misunderstood and given us beef in satay sauce instead of black bean sauce, but never mind.
Intermezzo in the smoker's room
The restaurant has a smoker's room. I go there and light the pipe. An elderly couple talks in upper class English:
"She's the genius behind it all - without her to keep the staff in tow it would never work. She's a gem."
They must be talking about the Chinese woman, who seems to be everywhere. Silently I admire the view of Valletta's lights and pretend to be deaf. The gentleman pauses in his reflections about who owns the restaurant and states the obvious:
"Well, you smoke the pipe!"
I confirm his observation with a polite nod and a puff. He continues:
"You rarely see people smoking the pipe nowadays. Pipe smokers have an aura of credibility. In the old days many politicians smoked the pipe. Even a dubious character like Harold Wilson looked almost trustworthy when he came on screen - with the pipe that is.
- That tells you something about the power of the media...But now smoking is no longer come-ill-foe, and no politician in his right mind would show himself smoking in public. Right?"
I hesitate to answer - it seemed like a rhetorical question. My silence makes the lady lean forward a bit, put a gentle hand on the gentleman's arm and say:
"Maybe he doesn't even understand you!" - And then she says very slowly:
"What - country - are - you - from?"
I say that I'm Danish and that I did understand and that he has a point. The credible pipe smoker.
I inhale a bit more trustworthiness and return to the restaurant and Helle. We finish off with ice and walk home.
The Peak Oriental Cuisine
Level 8, The Plaza Complex, Triq Bisazza (ca. 50 m from The Strand).
Excellent oriental (Chinese) restaurant. Good food and service. Marvellous view.
Price level: medium in Malta - good value for money.