Today was another wonderfully sunny day and I knew exactly how I was going to make the most of it. Having learnt that the proximity between several popular villages were within 4KM of each other, this should mean I could reach all four bays by-foot and what's more, I knew this stretch was practically all promenade. I was hopeful that resulting images from my day out would be picturesque enough to further showcase more of Malta's natural and man-made delights. After all, whether you're a holiday maker or a seasoned traveller, we all like a promenade and the backdrop this tends to bring.
Something I couldn't fail to notice during my walk was the amount of development work going on down here which is testament to Malta's current and forecasted popularity. At one point, I counted seven large-scale cranes in operation all within a 360 view of where I was standing but within reasonably close proximity. Depending on the rate of development here, I very much look forward to coming back here one day to see how this place looks and feels in the future. In one year perhaps the bulk of the operations will be complete, but give it eighteen months or so and this place will most likely be ready for the next wave of demand.
In saying that, the authorities will need to somehow improve the congestion problem. Take Sardinia as a comparable example - one of the largest five islands in the Med with a population count of around 1.7 million. Then take Malta with a reported population of 500,000 which is approximately one third the amount of people. The problem here is that its not three times smaller than Sardinia but in actual fact, an unbelievable 80 times smaller!!! That's a definition for densely populated ever I read one. With curiosity getting the better of me, I discovered that Malta is in the top ten densely populated countries in the world.
On a plus note, the drivers actually appear to be slightly less chaotic and generally less-bonkers here than compared to its foreign neighbouring island of Sicily. Also they drive on the ''right' side of the road over here. He says well aware that us left-hand-siders are by far in the minority. As such, I wouldn't actually mind driving over here but it's the traffic that deters me over anything else. Having seen how busy the roads are now, I can only imagine how unpleasant this would be in summer with increased people and temperature.
All of that said, congestion and pollution appear to not be problematic enough to stop young-people coming and trying their luck over here - and I don't mean in the casinos. Before images of Malta's shoreline, I thought you might appreciate some real-life situations of travel friends I've met in these last ten days.
First up, we have Mikhail (a Bulgarian donning the cool shades) and Giovanni (a proper-looking Sicilian).
Mikhail is over here to see a Bulgarian girl who works here for much of the year. Subsequently, this isn't the first time he's been here but the fifth - all to see her as part of his annual vacation. This year, however, will be his last time for the foreseeable as this girl was once his girlfriend but is no longer. In fact, he is here this time as a 'rescue mission' but tragically his highly commendable efforts coming all this way have failed. Ouch :-(
Then there is Giovanni. This fella works in the casino industry and has three years experience as a croupier behind him. To get this experience, he came to the UK a couple of years with hardly any English language skills. Brave man. Initially he was based in the south-west and after one year of long, hard days (or very late mornings) and to seek a highly desired promotion, he moved north to Nottingham and has been there since. His reason for being in Malta is to apply in person to some of the many casinos over here. It's not that he hasn't enjoyed England, far from it, it's just that here most things are cheaper, he's closer to his home land of Sicily and then that small thing we call 'weather'. That plays quite a part too as you can imagine and having experienced this for the last seven months, I understand better than ever before.
Comparing Giovanni's story to that of my own, and certainly before my tour of Europe, I worked in the same small village for all of my entire professional career. The thought of moving town was a scary one, let along moving country and learning a new language! As such, it's impossible for me to not show massive respect to the many people I've met over the months who are prepared to make such a big move to improve their way of life.
When was the last time you challenged yourself even half as courageously as that? Is contentment excuse enough from us not periodically challenging ourselves?
Finally, there are these two: Hugo (from Spain) and Matteo (from Italy).
Both have independently of each other left the relative comfort and familiarity of their own countries in search for work here in Malta. Again, one year ago both did not speak any English whatsoever so have spent a year learning by whatever means possible (radio, tv, movies and through social interaction of course), they feel confident enough now to look for work. In fact, how's this for a reality check - as I write to you both were currently in the picture above searching the Internet for jobs. Y'know, the very thing a lot of us moan about back home and take for granted despite the relatively ludicrous salaries many receive.
Can you see how Malta with its English speaking natives, reasonable cost of living and best temperatures in the Med make for a perfect destination for both young and older people?
I've genuinely lost track of the amount of educated people I've met that can't find work and it continues to play on my mind to this day. Thinking back, my earliest memories of this are back in Romania from late April meeting people who were highly educated, supremely intelligent and could speak several languages - all unable to find work in their own countries. Then there's little ol' me sat amongst them, the opposite, but yet someone who has had two good jobs, a house, sports cars and of course, the privilege to currently be able to travel.
Curse the bastard geographical lottery! Curse the inequality that is life!
I hope for you though these real-life stories were insightful, inspirational and admirable amongst other adjectives.
Now is probably a good time to restore the equilibrium and introduce the bays of: St George's, Portomaso, Spinola, St Julian's, Balluta bay and ending in Sliema bay - as depicted here:
I have been staying in a place called Pembroke which would be at the top left of the image. Pembroke is out of the way of the main towns but yet only a fifteen minute walk away should I feel the need to frequent the more lively places. I'll write more about my accommodation in next week's post.
The first bay that arrived at was St George's and it was here I caught sight of my first whale. Ok, not really, instead it was a human whale lol.
Next up was the infamous Paceville (pronounced 'Patche' ville). Even in the day time I got a glimpse into what night life would be like here with the countless bars and countless 'Gentlemen' clubs in view. Directly opposite however was also quite a large shopping mall so it was slightly disorientating picturing families shopping and then literally across the pavement, a long strip where families would certainly not go.
Before long I had made it to Portomaso marina - which judging by its name, should give you an idea of what would soon be in sight...
Yes, boats and plenty of them! Seriously though, this was a really pleasant 'well-to-do' area and restaurants and flats dominated the backdrop. I can only imagine some of these apartments will be for the owners of the boats. Nice...
Moving on I'd now made it past Spinola bay and into and around St Julian's.
Observe then, the tallest building in Malta - The Portomaso Business Tower. The main floor is occupied by a shopping centre and the top floor is of course a nightclub! Although I'm not sure if us regular folk can enter. Could be worth finding out...
I think at this point I was now in Sliema territory. This was by far the best coastal part of the day's exploration.
If I wasn't sure earlier if yet made it to Sliema, I was certain now as the awesome basilica of Valletta was visible to me once again. The last time I saw this was before I set off to Gozo last weekend.
This walk had helped me discover new parts of Sliema that I hadn't seen in my first week here and it also showed me the scale of development in this village alone with areas for both residential housing and commercial retail outlets being undertaken.
Also, see that bridge a couple of images ago on the opposite side to where I am (Valletta way then), that's a new site to me so definitely going to try and visit that during my one day exploration of Valletta. Something I have still yet to do!
I can count the number of days I have left in Malta on one hand and frankly, this upsets me. Still, time to go and enjoy the remaining few days.
See you next week folks.