"Don't follow me because I'm lost too" - text on a Maltese bus
Today's programme says "Valletta". The clouds look grey and ripe, so we bring our umbrellas.
A mature couple gets on the vintage bus. The man asks the driver to let them know when we reach Valletta. No need to - when the bus empties by the Triton Fountain he will know. He is obviously fascinated by the old bus and radiates an almost child-like enthusiasm.
He keeps moving and his eyes find new details all the time. He is smiling as if a dream has come true. In my imagination he is a greyhound driver from the U.S. and this is a pilgrimage.
It was wise to bring the umbrellas. We have hardly passed through the city gate before it begins to rain. Not much, but enough to dilute the picture.
Valletta is one of the smallest capitals in the world: ca. 1 x ½ km. It was built after the Turkish siege in 1565. The old fortifications were almost rubble, and the knights of St. John (who ruled) thought it wise to build a solid and impregnable city.
As a whole Valletta stands like when it was built, and with its grid of straight and right-angled streets it is one of the first examples of what we call city planning. Cars can access the ring road and a few other streets, but everywhere else it is pedestrians only because of the many stairs.
The city is pretty and has a lot of atmosphere with many historical houses and details. The bus terminal is just outside the city gate by the Triton Fountain. From here you can take a bus to most parts of the island.
The Market Hall
In the market hall opposite The Grandmaster's Palace there are shops on two floors, mostly butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers. It looks inviting. Outside we find shelter under a parasol and have espressi. I must get them myself from a sulky bartender by the bar, so I think 1 £M is expensive.
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We meet a collector
At the next table is a man with a dog. He is looking at a slip of paper - it could be a pools coupon. When he sees me light the pipe he asks eagerly if my matches are Swedish. It is one of the larger matchboxes with matches that are longer than usual.
I throw it to him and then he is turned on for real. He is a collector and has several hundreds of boxes, and if he can have this one I can have a whole packet of Maltese boxes or a lighter or…
With him being so enthusiastic I am inclined to give him the box, but on the other hand I need something to light the pipe, so I agree to trade with some Maltese matches. A conquest is also sweeter than a present, I think.
He shouts to one of the men on a bench above and throws a coin. Five minutes later I am the owner of a whole packet of matchboxes, which I cannot possibly use before the home trip's security control. The Maltese matches are made in Germany and are labelled with the EU flag.
The Grandmaster's Palace
The Grandmaster's Palace has a huge arms collection. We are not particularly interested, but it is still raining. Time must be spent somehow, and we saw the staterooms last year. The museum has a lot of medieval weapons and armours. The many types of helmets alone could be a subject for scientific studies.
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Lunch at Tony's Sicilia Bar
It is still raining as we get out and we walk to the arcade just inside the city gate. The sky is getting brighter and it seems as if the rain is loosing stamina. We sit down and postpone the decision about what to do.
A girl with leaflets is walking about and stopping Maltese as well as tourists. She asks if she can have a few minutes of our time and respects my dry "No", even though it is evident that we have plenty of time to spare.
After a pipe the rain has almost stopped, and we walk to Tony's Sicilia Bar for lunch. There are tables outside, but they are drenched. We get one of the few tables inside - it is still early for lunch.
We both have deep fried scampi with fries and salad. A young Asian couple gets a table next to ours. He wants urchins and red wine. A collection of wine bottles is put on display for him to choose from, and he picks at random.
The girl looks like a porcelain doll and plays with the cell phone implanted in her palm. She has a salad and sips a Coke. The tables and chairs outside are wiped dry and are soon occupied by guests. Hopeful cats and pigeons close in, counting every morsel.
Downpour in Sliema
We take the bus home at twenty past one. The sun is back into power. We have picked a bad time indeed, because it is siesta-rush hour. It is very hot and the bus crawls meter by meter.
A siesta does wonders and then an espresso at the street café opposite the hotel. We write a few postcards and aren't attentive. Suddenly the rain comes. Violently. The guests move closer together under the parasols.
But the rain gets heavier and there are powerful gusts of wind. It turns almost dark. There are lightning and the thunder is almost deafening. Now we must stand on the parasol's base to keep relatively dry.
The café is at a low point, and water runs to us from all sides. It even comes from the street over the pavement. The sewers have resigned. Soon we must climb the chairs to keep our feet dry.
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There is a bus stop right next to us. Passengers get off and step right into a torrent. One of the young Germans next to us has got wet feet already and walks through the knee-deep water with a grin to get beers.
As the rain ceases I get to dry land by using two chairs as movable stepping stones. Helle is wearing sandals and just ploughs through the water. We get across the street reasonably dry and are met by a yellow warning sign in the lobby, where somebody has just washed the floor: "Be careful - wet floor!"
Dinner at Ponte Vecchio's
When the thunderstorm has passed we get a table at Ponte Vecchio's - indoors. Helle has a homemade liver pate for starters and I minestrone. The pate is good, but the soup is best descibed as hot water with a faint trace of cabbage aroma.
We have ordered the national dish, rabbit, for main course. The tomato sauce is good with a piquant whiff of curry, but a Maltese rabbit is a skinny thing with fragile bones, and this one is like dry chicken. The vegetable mix with the frozen past doesn't win stars either, but the oven-baked potatoes are alright.
Helle has a delicious strawberry meringue dessert, while I settle for espresso and grappa. The bill is a bit less than 21 £M. It is dripping as we cross the street to the hotel