Around Malta and the neighbouring island Gozo there are numerous ancient sites (Paleolithic, for those interested) which predate the likes of Stone Henge and this morning we headed off to see the first such site, Hagar Qim. We took one of the frequent buses in to Valetta and then hopped on to another one – a really old boneshaker of a bus – to get us to the site. When I say ‘boneshaker’, I am perhaps being a little misleading. Driving through some seriously pot-holed roads near the site, it was more a case of bone-crunching and spine-atomising, or at least it was for those at the back of the bus sitting over the rear axle; every bump we hit or hole we temporarily fell into was announced with a chorus of multi-lingual yelps from the aging tourists on board (that’s something that we’ve really noticed here – the people visiting the island are largely members of the Blue Rinse Brigade!).
You have to use your imagination a fair amount at these ancient sites. You can work out the outline/plan of the temple, but there is no roof and the blocks that are left have been very heavily weathered. It didn’t take too long to do the circuit, and arguably the best bit about the location of Hagar Qim is that you get a great view of the uninhabited island (more of a large hunk of rock than anything) of Filfla off to the south.
Next to Hagar Qim (just 500m away) is another ancient temple called Mnajdra but for whatever reason the site was not open to tourists when we were there. So we continued on to our next destination, the Blue Grotto. It was a short bus journey away from the Hagar Qim stop, and on a cooler day we might have walked it but midday sun can be a bit fierce in Malta. The Blue Grotto is a big rock arch on the coast and can be viewed from above free of charge, but for just a few Euros you can go out in a small boat and get to see all the little grottos and caves that are dotted around the area. The weather was just right for it, not too choppy on the surface, and the bright sun ensured that the water was giving off that perfect turquoise blue tone seen on the classic postcard views of Mediterranean destinations.
After a quick refreshment stop, we walked back up the hill to the bus stop. Logic would suggest that if we wanted to go back in the opposite direction, back towards Valetta, we should wait at the bus stop on the opposite side of the road from the one we were last dropped off, right? Well, people were waiting at both sides, and they all looked like tourists that should be heading back in the same direction. So I headed over and spoke to some of them, and it turned out that they had applied the same logic (swapping bus stop sides) but they too had come from Valetta – so which side of the road should we wait on to go back? Flip a coin, take your chance ... It must be said that while the buses in Malta are quite special to look at and service most of the island with a decent regularity – and at a very cheap rate, too – they are severely lacking in information at the bus stops. There is no indication on the stops what bus numbers come through, when the next one might come along or where it’s headed! Collectively, we came to the conclusion that the two routes from Valetta were slightly different and that it probably didn’t matter which side of the road we got one from – whichever side one arrives at first!
Once back in Valetta, we headed over to the Upper Barracca Gardens from which you can get a fantastic view of the Grand Harbour, then walked down through the old streets to the Lower Barracca Gardens, once more offering great views over the water. We had dinner in another outdoor restaurant, this time facing St John’s Co-Cathedral, before calling it a day and heading back to our hotel in Sliema.