The fall of 2008 was my first exposure to the “budget airline”. The US has Southwest, Jet blue, and Virgin Airlines …but they have nothing on the budget airlines of the EU. Who knew you could fly from Venice to Dublin or from London to Geneva for 5 Euro flat, with NO taxes?
Yes, there are some catches if you’re traveling with a check-in, but that’s another post entirely. We only needed our carry on backpacks for most of our trips! I only had a few short months in Europe and wanted to make sure I booked all my flights early. Ryanair’s name (among others) came up quickly. Despite the negativity I’ve read about the airline – including numerous canceled, delayed,and “haha-screw you” flights…- we went with the Dublin based airline and hoped for the best. I’m happy to report that I’ve never had an issue with Ryanair, yet.
Ryanair was offering their notorious, limited time, no tax flights, and one of the options was Malta. After some Google-ing , I learn that Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world, and it is south of Italy. Yes, an actual country! Here’s an example of how my geography education has failed me.
The amazing offer was about to expire, so we booked the flight on a whim. We book for early winter and hope that Malta, being south of Italy, will still be supporting warm weather. I figured, 10 Euro roundtrip? If something comes up that weekend and we have to cancel, so be it…but we couldn’t miss out on the chance of a lifetime going to, uh Malta? I’m very glad we followed through with it. It was probably one of the best destinations we hit our entire trip.
By we, I mean myself and my traveling buddy for many a Euro-weekend trips, Karen. After checking the usual hostel sites, it was looking like Malta wasn’t a budget friendly place after all. That definitely lowered the cost effectiveness of our cheap flights if our hostels were going to be so expensive (even $30USD/person per night for a hostel adds up quickly! I dabbled with Couchsurfing and was determined to find someone…unfortunately, there are very few Malta CS hosts. I was just about to accept that this weekend get-a-way would burn away our travel savings a bit more than expected, but to my luck, Jorge took us. I can easily say, we wouldn’t of had half the experience in Malta without him!
That same weekend as our arrival, his friends from Portugal were flying into visit him. He obviously wanted to show his 2 friends around that weekend + 5 people to a car = perfect for Karen and I to tag along for every adventure. We saw more in that weekend in Malta than I think we would’ve been able to see in a week thanks to Jorge.
We checked out Valletta, the capital of the tiny country and with beautiful harbor city. It was also one of the earliest sites inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage list.
Valletta was the first place we located the numerous signs for “The Malta Experience”. We never paid for the overpriced learning experience, but the name definitely enticed us throughout our trip. We did, however, make it to St. John’s Co Cathedral. The audio guide – included with admission price – is very helpful to a tourist’s ignorance of Maltese history. The cathedral itself is beautiful with knights’ colorful graves lining the floor (that has been referred to as the “most beautiful floor in the world”) and a single huge fresco ceiling. My old camera definitely didn’t do it justice.
As we toured around the city, we stopped for some great lunch and some Maltese beer. One memorable stop was at Ollie’s Last Pub. The bar once was unassumingly named The Pub, but now lives in infamy as Ollie’s Last Pub, the location actor Oliver Reed died at the age of 61 after a drinking during the filming of the movie Gladiator in May 1999.
The more we walked around the city, the more we noticed the unique looking buses.
We admired their buses, but we definitely did not admire their bus system. It seemed incredibly confusing, but we took the leap of faith and tried to make our way to “The Silence City” of Mdina. I am so happy we made it there. The well-preserved, quiet capital has an amazing view of the hills below and is beautiful – and creepy – as the sun sets. The view makes the trip alone worth it, but the small pathways were also a treat. One could have many fun nights playing hide and seek in the small corridors. The labyrinth-like alleys seem untouched, and the streets are so narrow that cars could not make their way through the city if they tried.
On our way to dinner, we stopped quickly at Sliema for a view of the harbor.
Following dinner, we went to St. Julian’s for some Maltese nightlife.
On our final journey day, we somehow made it to the Blue Grotto thanks to Jorge. The rock formations are amazing photo-ops and we also found a place to cliff – jump into the Mediterranean Sea.
Thanks again to our amazing CS host Jorge and Ryan Air. Malta was easily our favorite spontaneous destination and one of my fondest travel memories of all time, and now I have a discussion piece when the series Game of Thrones comes up (filming location).
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