Sunday, May 31, 2015

Welcome to Malta Part II

The harbor side promenade along the waterfront in Senglea, Malta
In our continued quest for warmer weather we decided to experience springtime Malta. It seemed like a place that might be warmer than more northern European destinations so we booked the trip for early March. Michael needed to get some dental work done and we'd heard about the Medical Tourism trend in Malta so he got on the Internet to look for a qualified dentist who could follow up the implant procedure for a tooth he'd lost last summer. Before long he found a Maltese dentist who is Board Certified in the UK. When we arrived in Malta he made an appointment with Dr. Xuereb and after his consultation decided to go ahead with the procedure. We saved several thousands of dollars compared to having it done at home. The only hiccup was the actual replacement tooth could not be fitted until the implant setting had healed and that would take  at least 8 weeks. But hey, who doesn't want to come back to Malta? Read my post "Life on Planet Gozo" if you want the answer.

So, off we went to Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Amsterdam before we returned to this island nation at the end of April. It was nice to give Malta a second chance - especially when the weather was a much improved sunny and 70°.

Dr. X, as Michael calls him, showing the successful tooth implant.
Our first visit to Malta was a mixed experience. We did not find a warm respite from the cold and in fact arrived for the tail end of what the locals deemed to be the worst winter in decades. Ours was a wet, chilly, and secluded first week on the island of Gozo and then a second, slightly improved week in the more civilized city of St. Julian on Malta. Actually, that Airbnb is still in our top five. Here's the link

Add a few cars from the 1950's and our street corner could be a stand-in for Cuba
Welcome to our home in Malta.
This time we decided to stay in a different part of the island in an area called Senglea. It seemed within easy reach of the most attractive destinations, but a little outside the touristic center - maybe was just a titchy bit too far outside.

As the crow flies, the location made sense, but as the bus crawled it didn't. We were able to take a short ferry ride to the lovely city of Valetta, but to get to several other destinations including the dentist it was at least an hour of multiple, core-building (as in trying to keep your balance while standing) hair-raising rides on infrequent buses.

My first reaction was to compare our neighborhood to what Cuba might be like today. It certainly had elegant but crumbling architecture and faded storefronts that hinted of more glamorous times.

There were few shops and most were closed in the afternoon and definitely shut tight on Sundays. The "grocery" stores were not much bigger than a cheap hotel room filled with quirky offerings (a lot of which was alcohol). This was not going to be an enjoyable cooking experience, that was clear. Nor were dining options beyond pizza, kebabs, burgers and fried fish readily available. 

The main street of Senglea - lots of eye candy. Just no candy.
This time our Airbnb would made our bottom ten. It was an agency managed unit so we had little interaction with the actual owner after we booked it and the agent who let us in wasn't particularly familiar with the area nor very interested in answering our questions. While the apartment was comfortable - and the view was terrific, it just felt sort of cold and impersonal. We have come to really appreciate attentive hosts that have a personal interest in making the experience a memorable one. Here is the link

To top if off - we lost the second set of keys in the last ten minutes of our stay and had to pay to have the locks replaced! We found them two weeks later tangled up in a load of clothes at the "Green 'n' Clean" laundromat in Salzburg. Bother.

Now that I've had my vent, there were also plenty of good times to be had! First, even though the town was low on retail options it was rich in architecture and hidden viewpoints that looked out over the water at every turn. We had great walks and basked in the sun along the waterfront while watching the boat traffic and observing the locals.

Water views seemed to be around every corner.
Cruise ships arrived in Valetta early in the morning in for a long day of tourist frenzy.
Our apartment looked directly at a harbor brimming with super yachts! It was enjoyable to stroll along the dock watching crew members earning their keep by furiously scrubbing and polishing in case the boat's Oligarch owner was en-route via helicopter. Or perhaps they were getting things all shipshape for a charter - an average of $25,000. per day gets you and six close friends on board one of these babies.
Your own personal cruise ship with a full crew is just a fat checkbook away.
It was mind-boggling to think that this is a privately owned pleasure craft!
Several times a day tour boats and Hop-on-Hop off buses would drift past our window to share the views of the castle walls, the yachts, the traditional "gondola" style water taxis and the quaint houses along the quay.
The view from our balcony was the best feature of our apartment.
It also happened that Malta was hosting an International Fireworks Competition while we were there and it took place just outside our door! We could oooooooh and ahhhhhh to our hearts content from ringside seats. It was one of my favorite experiences of the journey.

Front row seats for a long night of fireworks just outside our door!
 Our day trips to Valetta offered the bustle of a cruise ship port-of-call coupled with the ancient fortifications and and antiquities of a walled city. Malta was put on the map by the Knights of St. John in the 14th century - so lots of Medieval history was on display. And yes, they really did clank around in all that armor! Of course influences from British colonization are also very apparent with plenty of nods to Victoria Regina and pubs on most every corner.

The view back to our harbor from the ramparts in Valetta.
We took our usual walking tour while there - and another in nearby Mdina. Mdina is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with history dating back 4,000 years. They have done a great job of keeping touristic offerings outside the walls, and those that are inside conform to a master plan that respects the city's history. You truly did feel like you'd stepped back in time, way back!

The ancient hill town of Mdina offered a glimpse of life in medieval times.
Michael now has a shiny new tooth and found the dentist and his staff qualified, professional, kind and accommodating. The phenomenon of Medical Tourism is definitely on the rise here and could be a good excuse to come to Malta (be sure and book our favorite Airbnb). Not only is dentistry affordable, there is a full range of other services on offer including cosmetic surgery and joint replacement at a fraction of what you'd pay in the states. And it's not a bad place to recover either.

Lick your wounds on the Maltese beach of your choice.
Our next adventure takes us to the Cinque Terra in Italy where we continue our nautical theme with a stay on a Airbnb sailboat!

Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads


  1. I am glad that you were able to get an excellent dental treatment there at Malta for quite a bargain. Talk about a trip that is very worthwhile! Though it’s too bad that you had to wait for 8 weeks to finish the procedure. Hey, at least you had a reason to revisit Malta, right? Cheers!

    Freddie Gray @ Ballantyne Dentistry