Posts Tagged ‘festa’

SOTM World Tour – Malta Part II

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

10171692_10154119375280241_8221091916035131426_nSo the last stop on the SOTM World Tour saw me pop back to Malta, quite fittingly. And as always, it was great to be back home.

I was there through an invitation to join the Blog Island project, run by the blogger group iambassador and the Malta Tourism Authority. Personally I’ve long thought Malta would be ripe for an organised blogger campaign so was delighted to learn of this one being put together.

Kate and I stayed in the excellent Palazzo Prince D’Orange in Valletta, a beautiful and enormous building restored to a very nice standard. It captures much of the charm that traditional Maltese houses have, while being a fancy place to stay at the same time. Here’s the flag outside the building.

10314520_10154119403100241_2529624660625187409_nThe top image shows part of the view that you get from the roof of the palazzo, and this meant that we got a grandstand view for the firework show put on to mark the 10th anniversary of Malta entering the European Union.

I used my MeFoto tripod for this (I have a sponsored Backpacker model – it’s light and robust – and am genuinely very happy with it) and have never photographed fireworks before. I got some decent results but was using a 2.5 second shutter speed, but think I would have done better with 2 seconds. Still, here’s a couple of examples.

10401980_10154212613930241_3317899970187105190_nAs you can see, the Maltese do fireworks very well, often winning awards for their pyrotechnics. I must confess that during some local festas, which happen every year, the health and safety standards are sometimes lacking, but the ones shown here were fired safely from barges floating in Valletta’s Grand Harbour.

10414900_10154212615700241_5146955438409375623_nThe Maltese are very keen on their cars and often soup up older models. This one had quite eye-catching patterns.

10259862_10154129477745241_6333107387073139194_nStaying in Valletta gave us plenty of opportunity to wander its charming back streets, which are hugely photogenic. This city, a World Heritage Centre, is a capital like no other.

1549315_10154129477245241_5972706450121067518_nSpeaking of Valletta’s streets, I chose one of them as the location for my very own SOTM. I have never done one, and as SOTM will probably end in the autumn, I needed to have my image ready to use because it’s going to be the last ever new one that I post.

Thereafter, all the images, roughly all seven years’ worth, will then rotate forever, turning over every day like they currently do, just in a giant circle instead of having a new photo and story each day.

So here’s a sneak peek at mine. I had always intended upon another Maltese location for my SOTM, but the night before the picture was to be taken, I changed my mind. I chose a certain place in Valletta instead – Upper Barrakka Gardens – but when Kate and I went there it was clear that wouldn’t work either.

St Ursula’s Street  is parallel to the palazzo, and I love Valletta’s streets, so it suddenly became clear that it should be my place.

10273405_633903930012093_4464690629398676696_oAnd here I am in my happy place – a cracking little cafe in Valletta called Gambrinus. It serves super coffee and pastizzi, which are a ricotta-filled baked Maltese savoury delicacy that you simply must try if ever you go (but make sure they’re oval, like the ones you see here, as any round/triangular ones are poor imitations).

10339577_10154119374440241_3919495774707907156_nAnd here’s a great view of Valletta, from across the water in Sliema’s Tigne Point.

10258341_10154119830675241_9145648304846680904_nKate and I were on our way to the Chop House, a superb steak house which I thoroughly recommend. We were guests of the owner and the food was really delicious, including Scottona beef which I’d never heard of before but was lovely. It comes from young virgin cows and is a meat eater’s treat.

The Chop House in a glass-fronted building so you keep that same view of Valletta as you eat. Go there one evening and watch the dying light change quite dramatically on those famous, aged stones.

Speaking of food, as part of Blog Island we visited the Tal-Petut restaurant in one of the Three Cities, Birgu. When we arrived it turned out, in typical Malta-is-so-tiny-you-know-everyone fashion, that I knew the owner, Donald.

This excellent chap is hugely charismatic, idiosyncratic and unforgettable. I met him once 14 years ago and he could still remember that I’m originally from Gzira in Malta.

10271513_10154119377155241_799767897720853726_nWhen I met him Donald was head of Reuters financial services on the island, but these days he’s cooking up a storm in a building whose youngest stones are about 400 years old.

We all helped out in the kitchen, just a little bit of gentle preparation as Donald has most things stewing or marinading or whatever, and when we put it all together it looked like this. Near the middle you’ll see a basket of Maltese bread which I cut, despite Donald telling me: “Mario, you’re murdering that bread.”

10365855_10154212598715241_2939016647507528595_nHere’s a shot of Sliema as seen from St Julian’s, just because such a lovely day deserves to be photographed.

10276991_10154119374640241_6997257470705082864_nDuring our stay it was the feast of St Publius, the saint for Floriana, a small area literally right outside of Valletta with a population of just 2,300.

Festi are always worth visiting, and this one was very charming, with St Publius’ statue begin carried slowly through this tiny town’s narrow streets.


10262003_10154212625000241_1941420696708924452_nThe lighting wasn’t great for capturing street shots, and I forgot my flash – although I don’t think I wanted to be running around throwing a flash in people’s faces. Most of those in attendance were local or certainly Maltese, and I wanted to let the magic of their festa unravel without any brash intrusion.

So I pushed up the ISO to quite dizzy levels – this one was taken at 5000 – but it still worked well enough for shots to go on a blog post.

10257233_10154212625750241_7064935386085505485_nI like the light on this one. I’m not sure this lady was in a bad mood, but the light thrown up from the bulbs make her look rather stern.

10407240_10154212624630241_489990735771083525_nThere’s always a band at a festa and while the poor light made capturing them difficult, there were a couple of good shots to be had. I managed to get this guy while he was full of puff.

10338314_10154212626030241_6198469507898538752_nI spotted this little chap with presumably his dad. He was very cute and looked dapper in his mini-suit.

10383091_10154212623230241_8095151132649527162_nI was tickled by this angle which made St Publius looks like he was checking out the local bar’s latest offer…

In Malta it’s very common to have bars, shops, businesses, cars and houses named after things you’ll find in other parts of the world. You can be sure the owner of that bar has either been to Oklahoma, has possibly lived there, or just really likes the musical.

10375106_10154212627915241_6254884868321219607_nWhile at the festa Kate and I got talking to this sweet couple, whose daughter was playing in the band. They weren’t from Floriana but said they travel around to watch their daughter play, presumably in small towns that don’t have enough of a population to have their own band.

I don’t know what their names are, but the dog was called George. He had a party trick where he licked the lady’s lips full on. It was endearing and horrifying at the same time.

10262082_10154212628345241_7315609396467083452_nAt one point we hired a car, a bright yellow Peugeot with a missing T that Kate christened as “The Buttercup”. It was certainly easy to spot in car parks, at least. We took it to Gozo one day, the second smallest island in the Maltese archipelago, and had a good old tootle around.

This shot shows Malta in the distance with the tiny Comino, which I was told now has three permanent residents, in the middle.

10277238_10154212630595241_585393757806561575_nThere are some well-known salt pans on Gozo, which you can only enter if you’re harvesting salt, despite them being right next to a coast road open to the public.


10173715_10154212633785241_3948623281138560903_nOne of Gozo’s best beaches is the lovely Ramla Bay, blessed with reddish sand. Having dug our tootsies in it, we then drove up to a lofty viewpoint to take a look around from there. The resulting vista doesn’t disappoint.

10390299_10154212632775241_6213159041685874041_n Incidentally, to whomever drew out a large penis in rocks on Ramla Bay – I salute you.

10369728_10154212633315241_3678383624214016940_nWe also had a tip off from a Gozitan, the charming TV celebrity chef and cookbook author George Borg who cooked us a tasty local meal at the palazzo one night.

He told us how there was another Azure Window-style natural site to be seen in Gozo, at Wied il-Mielah. We went to check it out and it was a quite stunning view.

It was quite difficult to photograph because of the proximity of the surrounding coastline, but by twisting and pressing myself into the adjacent rock face, I managed to capture this.

10177293_10154212634920241_1143008338798032797_nFinally, when driving through a sleepy little village in Gozo, I spotted this sign and liked it so much I stopped The Buttercup to go back and photograph it.

Must be a rather aged sign as that format of phone numbers don’t exist any more, so I wonder if the lion’s still alive. I didn’t want to find out, though.

10313737_10154144462810241_57508472525108271_nAnd that, ladies and gentlemen, was the end of the SOTM World Tour.

Thank you so much for reading my posts. I hope you enjoyed hearing of my adventures and looking at my photography as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you all.

Going around the world was a lifelong ambition for me, from the time when, as a boy growing up in Malta, I used to pin up maps on my bedroom walls and wonder what those places were really like. And almost right from the start of SOTM’s conception back in September 2006, I wanted to take it around the world at some point.

Now I’ve done both.

Much love to you all – and remember. If you have an ambition, just like I did, make it happen. It’ll be all right.  You’ll do it, and will be better for it.

What are you waiting for?

This post was brought to you by the Blog Island Malta campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Malta Tourism Authority and the support of Air Malta

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