Day 6 - Valetta Market, Marsaxlokk & Tarxien

Sunday 18th May 2009

We started today's adventures much as we have several times, with a trip in to Valetta. It's quite handy that we are only 15 minutes away by bus, but it would be nice if we could get to more destinations directly from Sliema instead of using the Valetta bus terminal. Where we actually wanted to go was Marsaxlokk (pronounced Mar-sash-lock) and Tarxien (Tar-sheen), a fishing village and neolithic temple site, respectively.

The plan was to get another 1-day travel ticket. I tried to get one directly from the driver of the bus that was outside the hotel but he said “no, only single ticket”, or words to that effect. I've still not quite worked out how this system works, but it appears that drivers will issue 1-day travel tickets only when requested at a bus terminus, not at ad-hoc stops along the route. Why this is the case, I have no idea, as it takes exactly the same amount of time to issue and it is more money in the coffers.

It was no hardship having to go in to Valetta this morning, as Sunday means market day, so we decided to spend an hour and a half mooching around the open air market, with Manda picking up a few bits and pieces for family and me being confused for some kind of monkey abuser. It's not every day that a complete stranger comes up to you, taps you on the shoulder and says “Have you got a monkey in that bag?” with a look that contains both confusion and just a slight amount of anger. “Have I got a monkey in my bag?” I repeated, questioningly, still not having got my head around the bizarre question I was being asked. “Yes, I thought I saw a monkey's paw poking out,” she replied. “I thought you were one of those photographers who takes pictures of people with a monkey,” she added, by way of clarification. It is true, I did have a camera in my hands, but definitely no monkey. I pulled the top of the bag back a little and saw that what she thought was a monkey's paw poking out was just a pinky-coloured keyring. Ironically, the little figure was, by all accounts, a monkey, so she hadn't been a million miles off!

Manda at the open air market, St James' Ditch, Valetta

After the market, we made our way over to the Upper Barracca Gardens. We had been there before, but we wanted to be there for midday when they do the gun salute. The guards went about preparing the gun with all the pomp and circumstance that you might expect of something like this, letting it off promptly at 12pm. Even though I knew it was about to happen, it still made me and others around me jump! It was a shame that they only let off the one single gun – 7 others remained silent. I suspect that they only do all 8 guns for special occasions (perhaps Valetta FC winning the league might have been a good excuse – it looked for all the world that we'd missed a big celebration in the city yesterday, judging by the detritus left all around).

Watching the gun salute at the Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valetta

We hopped on to another bus and made our way towards Tarxien and Marsaxlokk. The plan was to get off at Tarxien first, but we missed the stop and so continued on to the fishing town of Marsaxlokk which was also having its market day. According to the guide book, it would be a fish market, so not an awful lot that we would be able to buy there. We were not going for the fish, though, but more for the views of the boats that bring the fish in – the town has a reputation for its brightly coloured fishing boats. As we arrived in the town, we discovered that it was not just boats that we would get to see, as a local classic car club was having a little get together, showing off a number of immaculate MG and Austin Healey sports cars in the main plaza. They sure know how to keep their old cars going here, as is evidenced by the fleet of buses taking us all around the country.

We took the obligatory snaps of the shiny cars then made our way into the market, doing the entire length and breadth of it over the course of two hours. Given the amount of time we spent there, it may not be a surprise to learn that there was more than just fish for sale (the fishmongers were, in fact, very much in the minority). Manda picked up a few more souvenirs for friends and family back home while I kept myself entertained looking at the numerous small dogs that were being carried like fashion accessories ... by heavily tanned and tattooed locals; evidently there is no social stigma for burly men to carry chihuahuas here.

View of the harbour at Marsaxlokk

For our final spot of sight-seeing of the day we made our way back to Tarxien to see the neolithic temple remains (we made sure to ask the driver to alert us when the appropriate stop came up). It was just after 4pm when we made our way into the site, a good time to be there by all accounts – there were just a handful of visitors, so we almost had the place to ourselves (Manda found out from one of the tour guides that it had been very busy earlier, with loads of cruise boat visitors turning up en-masse). Unlike some of the other tourist sites, there was no audio guide handset available to tell us what we were looking at, just a few notice boards with minimal detail. Still, it was an interesting spot and one that dates back almost 6,000 years. It takes a lot of imagination to picture how it might have looked in its prime, imagination that I apparently do not have!

Tarxien Temples

After a rest and shower back at the hotel, we made one further use of our 1-day travel ticket by getting out of Sliema for an evening meal, once again at Paparazzi in St Julian’s.