Release Me

Well that was challenge alright. I started Walking All Over Cancer in Malta, aiming to walk 10,000 steps every day in March. Looking at the detailed statistics, I can confirm that I walked a total of more than 332,438 steps. I know it’s more than that because once, I somehow reset the pedometer so it gave me a total of only 261 steps at the end of the day. I wonder how often I’ve reset it to zero without realising? Technology, eh?

Congratulations, me

Looking at the daily counts, it’s fairly obvious on which days I had to make up numbers at the end of the day by pacing up and down the hall, or running on the spot for a few minutes! 10,009 steps! Once again, a million thanks to all my sponsors and supporters, I am very grateful.

As I write, we’re still allowed out once a day for exercise, but that privilege might be revoked if too many people keep going out in large groups or having barbecues in the parks.

Horses

It’s always good to see wildlife when we’re out and about, but until that happens, we’ll just have to make do with these local horses.

Do not press this button

Every time I pass this pedestrian crossing, whatever time of day it is, I have been preceded by fifty other people. How do they know? In any case, there’s so little traffic these days, you can usually just walk straight over the road.

Messing about by the river

It’s usually easy to keep your distance from other people, runners, cyclists, walkers, but I was a tad disgruntled when I saw other people in the woods, coming towards me. We never see anyone else there, that’s why we like it, despite the thrumble from the nearby motorway. I couldn’t see any way to avoid them, so I turned round and retraced my steps.

Blossom
Camellias

Liesel’s been very busy in the kitchen too. We’ve had cookies, birthday cake, cherry dump cake, corn chowder, ch-ch-ch-cheesey chilli on chips and we loved Liesel’s first loaf of soda bread.

Liesel’s soda bread

Meanwhile, (it might as well be) fifty thousand miles away, Martha and William were taken out on a bear hunt, something Liesel and I look forward to joining in with once this new régime is done and dusted. I know we went travelling for ten months, so we didn’t see them for a long time, but that was our choice. This enforced isolation feels much, much worse and we really do miss spending time with them.

William and Martha in a deep, dark cave

It’s easy to spend too much time reading Twitter. One really useful piece of information came up though. The record that was number 1 in the charts on your twelfth birthday is your isolation song. Mine is Release Me by Englebert Humperdinck. Quite apt, under the circumstances, as well as being a favourite of my Mum’s. She went to see him in concert in Aldershot, where he was supported by Lance Percival, actor, comedian, calypso writer. Yes, we have plenty of time for reminiscing right now too!

That’s Entertainment

Locked in, we get our entertainment where we can. Radio and TV of course but also puzzles, crochet, exercise, books and food. Yes, even the vegetables are keeping us amused at this strange time.

A carrot with a face

I wonder how many books there’ll be, ‘when this is all over’ titled something like Life in the Time of CoViD-19. How are we all coping? What lessons have we learned? How will life change from now on? You want more entertainment? The man over the road doesn’t have a car (as far as we know) but he objected to the cat sitting right in the middle of his drive. So he opened his living room window, attempted to squirt water at the cat, missed, spilt water indoors and knocked some pot plants off his window sill.

We’re still allowed out for exercise each day, but we’re limited to the local neighbourhood for our strolls. I don’t know why graveyards are so appealing, somewhere different, I suppose. Someone pulled back the layer of grass, the turf, from a hidden grave stone. I think this could be a new artform.

Here resteth the body of

It’s good to see that in general, people are avoiding each other out in the streets, by stepping out into the road where necessary, or crossing over where possible.

Not quite deserted street

It’s not always possible to keep six feet, or two metres from the next person. The worst offenders are runners who won’t deviate from their puffing and panting and sweaty course for anyone. And when you’re walking slowly along a narrow path, keeping several yards behind another walker, it doesn’t help when they decide to turn round and walk back towards you, passing within inches as you struggle to hold your breath for the next ten minutes.

Some good news though: we managed to place an order on Ocado as they consider Liesel a special case. We won’t get the delivery for a couple of weeks, but at least we got to the front of the queue.

On what would have been my parents’ 66th wedding anniversary, I looked out to watch the ISS, International Space Station, fly overhead, finding its way between a thin crescent Moon and Venus. Sorry, my photos were all nbg.

Reflections of my life

As can be seen here, the weather was gorgeous. But just a couple of days later, we adjusted the clocks for British Summer Time and this was the cue for cold north winds to return. It’s easier to stay indoors when it’s not so warm outside, but I think we were hoping for a longer Spring this year!

Selfie of the day

The local children are keeping us entertained with gorgeous rainbows in their windows.

Stay strong our kid

Liesel was messing about one morning, maybe a bit fed-up with just the two of us being confined together, so she decided to get a pet.

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

Speaking of tigers, one documentry series I enjoyed on TV was Tiger King. Spoiler alert: there are some strange people in America. Actually, ‘enjoyed’ probably isn’t the right word, but it is a fascinating and scary story.

We often find lost gloves and shoes on our walks, but hats are rarer.

Flat cap

Yes, we’re all waiting until ‘this is all over’ after which we will go through a long period of recovery.

Recovery

Meanwhile, I’ll occasionally be on the bike, going nowhere fast.

Mick on a bike

Yes, it does look like the aspect ratio is wrong but that’s because I’m pedalling so fast, the effects of relativity are coming into play.

Thanks again to all the generous sponsors for my Walk All Over Cancer challenge, which only has a couple of days to go. If you are the Anonymous donor, thank you very much and please reveal yourself to me in private so I can lace daisies in your hair. I am very grateful, thank you.

Grounded and Ghost Towns

Yesterday, the UK finally went into almost full lockdown. We’re not allowed to leave our homes except for a few very specific reasons. We knew this was coming so the last week was full of last opportunities. We’ll probably still go out for a (permitted) walk most days but we’ll also be riding the bike indoors. Yes, we retrieved my bike from the storage unit and it’s now on the wind trainer.

We didn’t have much shopping to buy at the Co-op but we had a nice walk by the river, staying the mandatory two metres away from passers-by.

Neeed a rest?

Our one big day out was to Dunham Massey. National Trust properties have opened their grounds to everyone, member or not, but the houses, cafés and gift shops are all closed.

The oldest oak at Dunham Massey

That was then. Subsequently, even the grounds have been closed because too many people were visiting. On the day we visited, it was easy enough to keep away from everyone else. And it was good to see some wildlife too.

Deer
Albino deer
Easy to miss this birdbox
Coot
Deer and non-socially distancing humans
Lion

I rescued a tired bumble bee from the pavement near home. My idea to go back to the shop to buy sugar and water for it was vetoed: fair enough.

Then, later in the day, Liesel asked me to remove a bee from our bedroom. It really looks like Spring is happening, with bees, blooms and blossoms brightening our lives.

We tried to place our regular Ocado order but unfortunately, everyone else is too.

The population of Rawtenstall ahead of us in the queue

Who knows when we’ll be able to get back online? We don’t want to go to the local shops more often than necessary.

All we can do is enjoy whatever nature throws our way (novel viruses excepted), especially the gorgeous and random splashes of colour.

Sunset over Northenden
Cherry blossom
Please let me know what this is
Two Suns in our window

Our weekly wander into Didsbury was weird. There seemed to be more people than usual to avoid on the path by the river but the town itself wasn’t as busy as usual.

Didsbury is coming like a ghost town

We visited Cidsin for a takeaway coffee and a brownie. They’re also selling some basic groceries such as bread, eggs and milk. Well, they were that day, but they’ve since decided to close completely.

Cidsin, Didsbury

This is the place where plain-clothed police officers go for their coffee and doughnuts. How do we know? The clue is in its name: CID’s in.

Rays of sunshine

I have had some strange birthdays but this year’s was arguably the most unusual. No birthday kisses or hugs. We went over to see the family and maintained social distancing by speaking to the children through the window.

I got a message from Martha
Happy birthday
Selfie of the day

I took advantage of the sunshine and walked most of the way home, enjoying the solitude and again the blooming marvellous colours of nature.

More blossom
Cheadle is coming like a ghost town
Even more blossom
Yellow tulips
Red tulips

So, Happy Birthday to me! Thanks for the delicious cake, Liesel.

Birthday cake: we’ll keep a slice for you

And how’s the Walking All Over Cancer thing going? So far, so good, thanks for asking. Only a week to go! Looking at my copious records, you can tell which days I’ve had to pace up and down the hall just to get the step count over the target of 10,000. Many thanks to those who have sponsored me already! And to those who may be in lockdown, stuck at home, with not much to do: you can sponsor me here, thank you very much 😉

While we’re stuck indoors, we’ll try to keep to some sort of routine, we’ll keep busy, alternating between doing something useful and having lots of fun. Online courses all seem to take more than the 3 hours a week they tell you and there are plenty to choose from. I’ve subscribed to more podcasts and radio shows than before. Plus, we have hundreds of CDs to sort, catalogue, file and even to listen to. I have a huge ‘To do’ list to address, as a last resort. My ‘recommended books’ list will keep me going for years. For now, we can go out for a walk each day, plus, we can cycle indoors so we have no excuse not to keep up a basic level of fitness. We hope everyone else in lockdown is keeping calm and carrying on too.

Isolating and Walking

It is the worst of times, it is the worst of times. Coronavirus, Covid-19, coronapocalyse, it’s all over the news. The government advises this, the health experts say that, the response to this global disaster is different in different countries, definitely do this, preferably do that, so much advice, and why isn’t the UK following WHO guidelines and testing, testing, testing? So it’s not the ideal time to visit hospital on two separate occasions for different examinations, unrelated to the current contagion. Did I pick up the virus? Or did I leave it behind for someone else to avoid? We’ll never know.

Somewhere over the rainbow

I waited for the bus home after my echocardiogram and was enormously cheered up by this rainbow. Not so much by the bus that rolled in declaring ‘Sorry Out Of Service’. Only after opening the door for a microsecond and then driving off did the driver decide to change the display, confirming that this was, in fact, the bus I’d been waiting for.

Things were better the day we took William to the zoo. He was interested in seeing the newborn Asian elephant, Riva Hi Way, of course but in a surprise move, he also asked to go to the Zipline. Literally. He rode the Zipline once before taking off the harness, he wasn’t bothered about walking and climbing the rest of the Treetop Challenge!

But he does like going into the forest, to explore and to hide and to pick up sticks.

William hiding in the forest

When I saw this graphic from a distance, I thought, Chester Zoo haven’t really got this human evolution thing quite right, have they?

Bear necessities

But it’s just showing all the different species of bear compared with a human. Very educational. The other mistake I made was when I saw a sign for ‘Beermats’ through the bushes. Not being a tegestologist, I wasn’t that interested. Only on closer inspection did I realise it was the sign for ‘Meerkats’. I resolved to clean my glasses.

Pretty little orange flowers

And if that’s not orange enough, what about this frog?

Golden mantella

Initially, William had asked to see the blue, poison-dart frogs, but we couldn’t see any in their tank. The volunteer suggested they’d been taken away for some reason.

Camel 1: I’m bored.
Camel 2: Me too.
Camel 3: Me three.
Camel 1: What shall we do?
Camel 2: I know, let’s have a game of noughts and crosses.
Camel 3: That’s a great idea. Have we got any paper and a pencil?
Camel 1: No, but I have some duct tape.
Camel 2: How will that help?
Camel 3: We could make up a noughts and crosses grid somewhere.
Camel 1: But where?
Camel 2: Well it was your idea, 3, so let’s use your hump.
Camel 3: Oh, alright then.

Like a camel with a sore hump

The other thing William specifically asked for was to see the lady who cleans up the elephant poo. Well, he saw the lady and he thoroughly investigated the poo.

William investigating a big dump

Don’t worry, we all washed our hands several times during the day and when we got back home.

We picked Martha up from Nursery and then, back home, she and William built and demolished several towers.

In this time of Covid-19, it’s harder than usual to make a GP appointment, even when they’ve sent a message asking us to do so. They answered my call after 20 minutes, I made my appointment and so did Liesel who hijacked my phone after listening to the ringing on her own for the same amount of time. But as the GP surgery doesn’t want potentially infected bodies turning up, we just each had a 20-minute phone consultation. Marvellous.

After admitting to our newly acquired cough, we’re now self-isolating. We think it’s just a post-holiday cold, and I’m a few days behind Liesel with the tickly and sore throat and cough, but here we are.

We’re allowed out for walks as long as we don’t socialise. The recent storms must have weakened this tree which appeared on the pavement between walking one way and walking back maybe twenty minutes later.

A recently fallen tree

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, goes the famous saying. But sometimes they spontaneously go and stand in a puddle while drinking the water.

A horse enjoying the water

The river is always a good place to see people doing silly things, such as jogging. But trying to row these canoes without putting them in the water seems a bit bizarre.

Wannabe canoeists

Another bit of a tree, a dead one, fell in and drifted towards the bridge.

Tree in the Mersey

When Liesel and I walked along the river, towards but not all the way to Didsbury, we passed fewer people than usual. Again, we noted the rough path, not ideal for walking on and definitely not much fun cycling on it, although we saw a couple of people try. One lady was pushing her bike. But if she’d been cycling on the other side of the river, along which we returned, she too would have had to negotiate the puddle that straddled the width of the road. We managed to get by without falling in.

A challenging wide puddle

It would be so easy to fall into gloom and despair while in isolation, so it’s good to see the Spring flowers are making an effort to cheer us up.

A very pretty roadside bed

While stuck indoors, I’m sure we’ll be doing a lot of reading, writing, TV and film watching, radio and podcast listening as well as puzzles. In fact, this weekend, for the first time, I successfully completed a Sandwich Sudoku in the Guardian. I was beginning to think these were a spoof, a hoax perpetrated by naughty work experience teenagers at the newspaper, as I have messed up every single one. Until this weekend, hooray! Here’s the grid if you want to have a go:

Place the digits from 1-9 in each row, column and 3×3 block. The clues outside the grid show the sum of the numbers between the 1 and the 9 in that row or column.

 

Walking and Shopping

International Book Day coincided with our Grandchildren Day this week. Martha looked bewitching as the main character from Room on the Broom.

Martha the Witch

In fact, all her Nursery chums looked pretty cute too: The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Buzz Lightyear, Batman, Pirate Peter and Max the Brave. Elsa from Frozen sang Let it Go which you will now have going round and round your head too, for the rest of the day. One of the teachers was Little Miss Sunshine. We collected Martha at the end of the day, and while sitting on the stairs at home, taking off her shoes, she said “I had a wonderful day!”

We had a pretty good day with William too, though we didn’t get as far as leaving the house. Entertainment was provided by us, by the TV and by a fox with a big healthy bushy tail in the garden. The whole fox was in the garden, not just his tail.

I’m walking every day despite the crook foot, probably against sound medical advice, but I can’t let all my supporters down! As I hirple around the streets of Northenden, I take the odd photo, say hello to the odd passer-by, and some of them are very odd indeed, but they think very highly of me, I’m sure.

I took my phone in here and asked to swap it for a new one but they said No

There’s not a lot of wildlife around here, but there are plenty of feral apostrophes if you know where to look.

Alway’s

The TV behind the reception desk was showing the latest news headlines: “Should all sports events be cancelled?” This is in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“If they cancel sporting events, they should close down all the pubs and clubs,” said receptionist number 1.
Number 2: “And public transport!”
Number 1: “But then we wouldn’t be able to get to work.”
Number 2, grinning: “I Know!”

Last week, a band from the 1970s and 1980s announced a reunion tour for later in the year. Not everyone is so keen on the idea, by the looks of this sign at the hospital.

Genesis are back on tour in November

And as I said to Liesel, I’m glad I didn’t have my heart set on seeing them, even though I was quite fond of their early work, with Peter Gabriel. I made the mistake of looking to see how much the tickets were going for.

That’s the price of a trip to London

To visit John Lewis is a great experience. To visit Costco is a marvellous experience. To visit both shops on the same day is almost too much fun for one person to handle.

We met Jenny, Martha and a sleeping William at Costco. Whereas John Lewis was so empty, we had four different assistants approach us at one point, in Costco we were in the company of hundreds of other customers, quite a few of whom were bulk-buying toilet paper.

Selfie of the day

I was playing around with my phone camera. I did have a quick look at the real cameras in John Lewis: the technology has certainly moved on in the decades since my last new one! Meanwhile…

Our luxury apartment block
Our sad-looking oak tree
Spring is on its way
Parking space

Walking All Over Cancer

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 1. Sunday 1st March was the first day of my attempt to walk 10,000 steps daily, for a month, for Cancer Research. And what a good start to the campaign on this, our hottest Malta day so far.

I took 22,608 steps altogether and they were all most enjoyable. Well, all except one, at about 17,000 steps. We were ambling along on the flat rocky beach, soaking up some rays, when my left foot decided to go the wrong way. It twisted, I did a little dance, and sat down for a moment to recuperate. Three people up on the promenade help up a big red which I think means they were impressed by my spontaneous display of choreography.

I walked, limped and hobbled home. In Malta, you can only buy drugs from pharmacists and they’re mostly closed on Sundays. So, indoors, I rested, anticipating walking a shorter distance the following day, mostly in airports, as, sadly it’s time to leave this gorgeous little island.

I am sailing, I am sailing

Don’t worry: I won’t bang on about this Walk All Over Cancer malarkey every day, but I thought I might as well try and get some sympathy (and more sponsors, wink, wink) for my injury!

So how come I walked so far today? Mainly because I went out on my own for an hour, before Liesel joined me.

A cat named Scar

I was hoping to see some Malta Marathon runners in action, but I think the course was too far away. I did see a few folks running for fun, and I was surprised at how little road traffic there was.

There were more people down on the beach today, and even a few swimming in the sea.

People on the beach

The water was beautifully clear, and, with the bright sunshine, you’d think you’d see little fishes in the water, but no. Not even any crabs on the rocks. But there must be something there worth fishing for.

Cool, clear water

Later, Liesel and I did pass by some proud owners of medals and space blankets, a nice mix of old and young people, some struggling to walk home and some looking fresh, like they could do it all over again!

We paid one final visit to French Affaire for pastizzi (both of us), a crêpe (Liesel), coffee (both) and not carrot cake (should have been for me, but it didn’t show up).

We walked into and straight out of the nearby Point Shopping Mall and there was only one thing we needed here.

All you need is love

At this point, I still had two fully functioning feet, so walking back towards our Airbnb was a potentially easy, slow amble, watching people and trying to ignore the honking people in the traffic jams.

Twelve days in Malta was never going to be long enough, we knew that, but we have had a brilliant time.

Because it feels like Summer to me, I’m dressed for warm weather, so I stand out and it must be pretty obvious I’m a visitor. When I’ve mentioned Manchester to interested locals, there’s no need to mention its rain, they already know. And I can’t describe how happy I am that nobody has mentioned the UK leaving the EU, not even to have a good laugh at our expense.

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 2. This was one of those days not meant to be much fun, purely functional. Bus, walk, plane, walk, bus, home. I managed 11,481 steps with one slightly sore foot, just from walking to the bus stop, around the airports and around the flat back in England.

I was escorted by a security official at the airport in Malta. Having passed through Security, we found that the only pharmacy was back in the outside world. I had to be escorted back out so that I could purchase some painkillers. I got some funny looks: they probably thought I was being arrested, a trouble-maker.

And so we looked down upon the sunny uplands of England before landing at Manchester Airport. Sunny uplands? Well, yeah, but also: snow.

Snow on them hills

We caught the bus back home from the airport, and the driver was very relaxed, probably enjoying his book as much as driving the new, quiet, green, electric bus.

How to Drive Buses by Victoria BusStation

We try and convince ourselves it’s nice to be home, but when the rain comes down that much, it’s hard to get motivated to go out for a walk on our first full day back. But I did, notwithstanding the sore foot, and I completed the required number of steps.

In the evening, Liesel went to to a WI meeting, leaving me to watch the latest two episodes of Doctor Who. Wow, possibly the best two episodes for many a series, bringing together the current Doctor, the classic series, the novels and fan-fiction, as far as I could tell!

After a reasonable night’s sleep, Liesel ‘encouraged’ me to get up and go for a walk: she was motivated, plus, it was sunny. I was halfway through a podcast at the time, but the feeling of being miffed didn’t last long.

In the shower, I noticed the bruising to my foot had spread to heel and toes as well as the side. Very impressive. Yes, of course I asked Liesel to take pictures, but they’re far too graphic for this forum.

We walked to Chorlton, partly along the river, a much more interesting jaunt than my solo circuit in Northenden yesterday.

We admired the colourful graffitti under the motorway. Admired? Bemoaned. The geese by the Mersey didn’t bother us so we didn’t bother them either.

Geeses on the Mersey

We enjoyed the feeling of apricity on our faces, and the sight of many early Spring flowers. The only place we know in Chorlton is The Laundrette, a restaurant. Imagine my dismay when I looked it up on Google Maps to see that it was Permanently Closed. How disappointing. And only a 17-hour walk away too. Huh? Yes, I’d found a place in Wales, with the same name and same logo on the shop front fascia sign. Our Laundrette is still going strong, we broke our fast there before returning home. Because the Sun had been so bright, my glasses were ridiculously dark, I had to use an app on my phone to read the menu. We were happy that it stayed dry despite the 85% chance of rain.

Sorry to share some sad news. Last year, I acquired a pen at Ayers Rock Resort in Australia. It became my favourite biro, providing a very satisfying, smooth writing experience. A few nights ago, mid Killer Sudoku, it died. It ran out of ink. Its natural bodily juices are no more.

RIP Ayers Rock Resort pen

I gave it a decent Christian burial in the bin in our Malta b&b.

But the good news is, 4 days in, I have managed the planned 10,000+ steps every day!

My Eggs

Even the wind hasn’t been enough to deter us from a lot of walking. Sometimes it’s a bus ride followed by a walk. I think it’s fair to say we’re not looking forward to going home to be greeted by Storm Jorge and its cold, wet and windy so-called weather. T-shirt, shorts and sandals are my dress code de jour here in Malta, and I can put up with the funny looks from the strange locals, no worries.

The walk to St George’s beach was interesting, through a largely residential area of St Julian’s. One of the main hobbies here seems to be standing around on street corners chatting and laughing or, at a pinch, sitting in a stationary car, maybe lurking, maybe waiting for someone.

By the sea, I watched a couple of men fishing. I guess they caught something because the cat was having a party all by himself.

Angling

I didn’t walk to the casino, visible in the distance, but I found the sea again round the corner. St George’s Bay is, I’m sure, a very popular beach in Summer, but today, the only men sunbathing were wearing their business suits.

St George’s Bay
Sunbathers (not topless, that would be illegal)

Up the road and round the corner is a relatively new shopping centre and residential complex. This is the real centre of Paceville, but we don’t feel we’ve been missing out at all. There’s a Planet Hollywood and a Hard Rock Café not forgetting the obligatory Costa Coffee. Plus clubs, pubs and gambling dens.

Glass floor in Bay Street Shopping Complex

There’s a Women’secret rather than a Victoria’s Secret, but, as far as I could tell from a cursory 20-minute long glance, they’re selling the same kind of wares. Underwares.

Some of the architecture is fun, and it’s a shame so many of the buildings look a bit tatty, either faded in the Sun, or covered in a thin layer of dust from all the building work taking place.

Coloured balconies
I beg you pardon, I never promised you a roof garden

I was surprised the first time I saw cactuses growing here, just a week ago. But they’re all over the place. They’re prickly pears, imported from America, planted typically around fields to help reduce the force of the wind.

Prickly pear

The local cinema has 17 screens, but none of them were showing a film that particularly appealed this week.

It was a pleasant jaunt and the walk back was much faster, unexpectedly. I followed the bus route and I’m glad I didn’t catch a bus for what would have been for just one or two stops.

After a good night’s sleep and a slow start, the next bus took us in a south-easterly direction, to a place called Xgħajra. It is purely residential, of no interest whatsoever, which is probably why it’s not mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. So why did we go, then? Because once we got seats on the bus, we weren’t giving them up for anybody! Actually, the sea looked gorgeous here, not nice enough to want to swim in, but beautiful azure, lapis lazuli, a proper Mediterranean shade of blue.

The sea at Xgħajra

Back in Valletta, we walked around attempting to keep the warmth of the Sun on our backs, it was heaven. Liesel asked how long it would take to walk back home from here? If we took the ferry, about 55 minutes, was the answer. If we don’t take the ferry, nearly an hour and a half.

So, we went for the ferry. Thanks, Google Maps, we missed a vital turning at first. It wasn’t obvious that we had to cross the road, walk round in a loop and then walk under the road we’d just been on. It’s so easy to forget that the world is actually 3D.

A steep street in Valletta
Valletta-Sliema ferry

The single fare on the ferry was a mere €1.50. I suggested going back and forth several times as it’s so cheap, but the idea was vetoed.

The Dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta

The ferry ride was short and sweet and we took our time walking back home from Sliema, a route that is very familar to us now. But, of course, we still see things that we’ve not noticed before. Have you seen those fish, Mick? What fish? Those fish. Oh, those fish!

Fish

I thought for a minute we were in danger of seeing actual, real fish, in the sea!

By the diving school, I was impressed by the mural.

Pirate mural

If only all ‘graffitti artists’ were this talented, then there wouldn’t be so many accusations of vandalism. Less than 100 metres along the shoreline, though, we came across this.

My eggs

Well, maybe it’s funny in its own way, but we’re not in on this joke. It reminds me of the long-standing message daubed at Surbiton Station: ‘Foxes know’. Maybe both are secret messages between secret agents working secretly for secret organisations and we’re not supposed to know.

Gozo is a no-go. Yes, reluctantly, we decided not to visit Gozo on this occasion. We’re attempting to see as much of the main island as possible, but without feeling rushed or over-stretched. Anything we don’t see this time will still be here next time.

Unless of course, Malta does roll over into the Med. We found out today that due to local tectonics, Malta is rising in the west and sinking in the east. That’s why the cliffs at Dingli are so high and so interesting. It was a long bus ride there, but worth it. The views were lovely, and we even ate a decent lunch at a restauarnt called, by coincidence, The Cliffs, just near Dingli Cliffs.

Now we’ve found Maltese bread, we can’t get enough of it. And our lunch came with some today. My salad included quail’s eggs, something I’ve not eaten before. What are they like? Well, they taste like chicken’s eggs to me. The implication is, there are quails hereabouts. But we’ve not seen any birds other than pigeons and sparrows. Nice to see sparrows, yes, but it would be good to see something more exotic too. The sound of budgies came out of someone’s window, but it might as well have been a tape recorder.

Stick man on a stick tricycle, in Dingli

It was good to be out in the country, too. We saw more vegetation today than we have the whole time we’ve been in Malta.

Just a small bunch of local flowers

I don’t think I’m breaching any state secrets by posting this photo.

A big golf ball listening station (top secret)

It’s probably a secret listening station, but whether owned by Malta, Italy, UK, USA or someone else, we don’t know. But combined with ‘My eggs’ from yesterday, I’m beginning to think Malta is Spy Central.

Imagine my disappointment when I found a sign claiming that this is a ‘Navigation Transmitting Site’. A likely story.

A view from the top

We approached the edge of the cliff, but not as close as Jyoti would have ventured!

Another view from the top
Selfie of the day

Teetering right on the edge of Dingli Cliffs is this cute little chapel, the Church of St Mary Magdalen.

Marija Maddalena

Nearby was a stall selling Maltese coffee. Yes, of course I was tempted, but I’d had two coffees already by this point. Plus, if it’s anything like Turkish coffee that you can stand a spoon up in, I don’t think we’d get along very well. Thanks for the offer, though.

Yes, until today, we were beginning to feel that the whole of Malta is just one big city, one huge building site, so it was nice to see some greenery. In fact, as well as the pretty flowers, we saw not only our first butterflies in Malta, but also our first wasps. We saw a beetle. We saw a really big butterfly that was in fact a kite being flown by someone who we couldn’t see. And we saw a herd of goats and sheep just wandering along the road, with no concern for the honking drivers.

A sheep or a goat or maybe a shoat or a geep

I knew it was the day but I missed it by less than a minute! Yes, today, I took my 500,000th step since I started using a Pedometer rather than the Fitbit Zip that was eating batteries like Smarties.

Half a million plod plod plod

Training for my walking challenge next month is going very well, thanks for asking.

I’m aiming to walk at least 10,000 steps every day in March, come hell or high water or Storm Jorge. Please, if you can, help me raise some money for Cancer Research, just follow this link, please, thank you, thank you, thank you!

The bus ride home was long and relaxing and allowed plenty of time for the mind to wander. All the buses here display their route number at the front, along with the name of the next bus stop. I asked Liesel if there was a bus route 66 at all. Why? Because I want to get my kicks there.

Most of the drivers have been friendly, although many of them seem to be in a great hurry all the time. But if they see someone running for the bus, they will wait and open the door for them: something Manchester bus drivers could learn to do.

We’ve experienced a few clouds of cigarette smoke here, but it’s not been as offensive as in Paris a couple of years ago. There, it was almost compulsory to walk through a smoke-filled tent before you could get into a restaurant. Here in Malta, you’re just unlucky if the wind gusts the wrong way.

It is a remarkably multicultural, multi-ethnic place. We’ve heard 101 different languages spoken, some recognisable, some not, we’ve seen people from all around the world, visitors like us of course, students as well as locals and workers from all around Europe. We’ve never felt threatened nor in danger here. We’ve heard police sirens just a few times in the time we’ve been here whereas we’re used to hearing several each day at home in Northenden.

We arrived at our ‘hood, alighted the bus for the walk to Wok to Walk where we ate, and on the way we home, we bought another loaf of Maltese bread which, alas, we’ll have to consume all in one day!

Mellieha, Valletta and Mdina

We saw this advert on the back of the bus and our thoughts turned to those poor people, Liesel’s Mom and Dad, who are currently suffering sunshine in Hawaii.

Waikiki (in Hawaii, known as the Malta of the Pacific)

Not to be outdone, we caught a bus to Mellieha Bay, north of St Julian’s. It’s not really the tourist season yet, so there weren’t many other visitors. Plus, some of the restaurants don’t open for business until the end of February. Not that we would necessarily have visited any, most dishes are fish-based.

Wind in the willows

Yes, as the trees demonstrate, it was a little bit windy today. This was one reason my walk along the beach was solitary: Liesel didn’t fancy having her legs sand-blasted so she stayed at the BBC, the Blu Beach Club.

Għadira Bay

There were few people on the beach, so not surprising to see that the sunbeds, umbrellas and sand-wheelchairs weren’t available for hire.

Beach possibly designed by Mark Rothko

When I walked back to join Liesel, I realised I should have walked up the hill first, to visit these two churches.

Churches on the hill

Our Lady of the Grotto and the Parish Church of Mellieha would have been an 18-minute walk up, but it’s probably just as well I didn’t go. I was wearing shorts and many churches here don’t approve of such attire.

We caught the bus back to Sliema and I was watching our progress on Google Maps. Some funny juxtapositions came to light.

Call the midwife

After dining out, we waited for our final bus of the day. Due to incredibly bad timing, it was ‘rush hour’ and the ‘queues’ were long and wide and disorganised.

The bus driver in Sliema was an angry man. He demanded to know why we hadn’t caught the bus in front of his. Well, it was full, plus, we weren’t 100% sure it was going where we wanted to go. Oh, it is, he assured us. Even though he didn’t have a clue where we were headed. His driving was atrocious too, our first roller-coaster experience in Malta. Gentle acceleration and braking were not in his skill set. I suggested to Liesel it might be his first day. She said it might be his last day!

If we hadn’t already consumed a beer (me) and a mojito (Liesel), we might well have indulged once we reached the safety of Paceville and home.

Did I mention a mojito? I’m not saying it contributed in any way, but Liesel fell up the stairs on the way home, earning some bruises for her efforts, to fingers and ego.

It’s halfway through our stay in Malta and it was time to do some laundry. We couldn’t believe the wash cycle was 4 hours long. It wasn’t. I think we misread 40 minutes. We left the balcony door open through the night to help the drying process. Big mistake. We were invaded by mosquitoes. I woke up with a few bites and Liesel has just one.

We followed up on a flyer we saw a couple of days ago, and returned to Valletta for a guitar recital. We joined between 30 and 40 others in the peaceful St Catherine of Italy Church for a number of pieces played on a Spanish guitar.

Bernard Catania

The music was very relaxing, the church was cool, in more senses than one, and I realised how much I enjoyed guitar music other than the almost ubiquitous electric guitar. The only downside was, the church pews were wooden benches, not a great difference from the hard seats on the bus! He re-tuned a couple of times but never used a capo. Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega was stunning: it really did sound like there were two guitars being played.

I had a quick look around the small church before we left, and I did like this painting, purporting to be something religious, but in fact just depicting a small child being dragged to church on a Sunday morning.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the last day of the carnival and the streets were still packed with people, many of whom were in costume.

Crowds in the streets

We stopped briefly in MUŻA, The National Community Art Museum but again, it’s not fully open right now.

Brother and Sister of the Artist by Vincent Apap, 1923

We spent a lot more time in the Museum of Archeology, with artefacts dating back to 5000 BC. It was all interesting, of course, but I would love to travel back in time to see just how accurate some of the archeologists’ interpretations are.

Woman in stone

Looking at an exhibition of work by the artist Celia Borg Cardona was time well spent. She likes to paint scenes or people from above, from high up.

Mellieha Bay by Celia Borg Cardona, 2010

This picture brought back memories from our visit there, oh, a mere 24 hours ago!

Conservation work is going on in this museum too, and it was was interesting to watch a couple of the restorators at work for a short while.

Working hard at conserving/restoring paintwork and tiles on the wall

St John’s has been given equal billing to St Paul’s in Mdina, the seat of the Archbishop of Malta, hence we visited our first Co-Cathedral today here in Valletta. It is incredibly ornate and I was allowed in because today I had covered my legs.

Welcome to St John’s

One of the main attractions of this venue was the opportunity to view Caravaggio’s largest painting.

Beheading of St John the Baptist by Caravaggio, 1608

We couldn’t get too close to the painting but it is more impressive in real life than this photo can possibly show. The painter chose a dramatic moment in the narrative of the Biblical event – the moment after the death-blow had been struck with the sword, but before the executioner severed the last tendons with the knife retrienved from behind his back.

View from the balcony

Whenever I visit a church, whether Catholic or Anglican, I like to light a candle for my Mum and Dad and Sarah. There are no real candles here, though. Instead you insert your coin into a box, and one of several LED candles bursts into light. Not as satisfying, I feel, but I can understand the reluctance to light real candles, having spent years washing centuries of candle soot from the paintings and other surfaces here.

Candle in the wind

We returned to Upper Barrakka for a coffee, looked down on a huge cruise-shop and walked back to the bus station through throngs of costumed funsters.

Selfie of the day, with Triton Fountain

As we were about to turn a corner, we were nearly bowled over by a fast-moving mobility scooter. The sign on the back said ‘I’m electric and eco-friendly but I can still drive like a twat’. I may have made the last bit up.

Triton Fountain nearer the end of the day

The plumber had been to our Airbnb to plug a water leak that we’d been unaware of. In the proess, he’d rendered one of the toilets unflushable. Good job I noticed before I really needed to flush!

It was a long ride to Mdina but well worth it, even on the barely padded seats on the bus.

Mdina Gate

What a great, old, walled city. The streets are narrow, even narrower than what has become normal for us. The only downside today was the wind, blowing strongly and coldly along the narrow streets. Every door was stunning, the knockers all different, and a couple of the restaurants won’t open until the end of the month!

Olive tree

We visited the Mdina Glass shop, studied some of the items, wanted to buy some but in the end, we don’t have the space, we don’t need more stuff and one of the lampshades we liked might not fit where we want it to go, anyway.

Mdina Glass

We wandered the streets, enjoying the warmth of the Sun when available, and remarking how quiet it was, without much traffic. Our voices and people’s footfalls echoed and now and then, we heard the bells of the horses and their carriages.

St Agatha’s Chapel
Narrow street

We found the wall, well, we could hardly miss it, but we weren’t prepared for the view from the top: we could see most of the way across the island. You could see your enemies approaching from miles away. The signs warned us not to climb on top of the wall as it was a sheer drop.

What a view
Let’s spoil you with another selfie

After a coffee and lunch (Liesel) or cake (me), we split up. My lallies were out and I wouldn’t have been welcome in St Paul’s Cathedral so Liesel explored inside while I wandered around the city.

A gnarly old tree

I found the Ditch Gardens, Il Foss Tal-Imdina, and can confirm there are 273 citrus and seven olive trees. Some have been cut back quite radically: I’m sure the gardeners know what they’re doing but it might be a while before they’re producing fruit again.

Ditch Gardens of Mdina

I found a pastizzi stand and he only had cheese ones on offer so I had a cheese one, while watching some little people in the playground. The sculpture was a bit out of place, I felt, but the artist was unacknowledged.

Kissing couple

No overtaking

We’ve seen just a handful of nuns in Malta, but we did come across St Dorothy’s Convent.

St Dorothy’s Convent
St Paul’s Cathedral

Meanwhile, Liesel was taking pictures inside the fascinating and interesting Cathedral.

Death in the Cathedral (not to be confused with Agatha Christie’s new one)
St Paul’s Cathedral
Things are looking up
Most elaborate door knocker

We sightseed (sightsaw?) from the bus back to Valletta and I think the biggest surprise was passing the American Embassy, apparently out in the middle of nowhere.

Local drivers do like tail-gating and using their horns, so I’m not convinced of the efficacy of this sign: ‘Chance takers are accident makers’.

The Sun set, it became dark very quickly and it was nice to see Venus before she bade farewell.

Valletta and Sliema

Guess what? I rashly did something I hadn’t done for over forty years and the chances are I won’t repeat the experience for another forty years.

I went out for a walk around Paceville with a couple of chores in mind. Plus, of course, the desire to clock up at least 10,000 steps. I am in training for a major challenge in March, remember.

Anyway, I was admiring the local flora and fauna, some of which is very surprising.

The tactful cactus by the roadside

Yes, I wondered too, and I can confirm, this is a real cactus. It looks a bit out of place amongst the dandelions and other small weeds flowers. I was going to walk to the top of the hill, but once the pavement disappeared and the road became too narrow for safety, I gave up.

Eventually, I found my way to the barbershop and I was invited to return an hour later. I passed the time back in Valyou buying just four items and managing to get one of those wrong. What I thought was moisturiser turns out to be moisturising soap, although the word ‘soap’ appears nowhere on the bottle. So confusing. How I yearn for the ’80s when everything was a system. A bar of soap was known as a ‘hand-washing system’. You knew where you were, then.

Anyway, back in the barber’s, I declined the offer of an espresso and asked for a glass of water instead. I enjoyed some nice easy listening, such as Adele and this was followed by the whole unexpurgated version of Gangsta’s Paradise. Coolio! In fact, they played the whole album.

What did I want? A trim and a shave. A wet shave? Oh alright then, yes please. So began a whole hour of being ‘pampered’. So much goo and gloop on my face and hair. Some of the product stung a bit, the green paste smelt a bit like chocolate, the hot, wet towel over the face was nice, once I got over the feeling of being water-boarded. All conveniently located orifices were poked, prodded, probed and shorn and  eyebrows were trimmed. But my first wet shave in nearly half a century wasn’t at all refreshing nor relaxing.
What a haircut
When I returned home, the first thing Liesel noticed was my red face and red neck. Several hours later, she noticed red spots of blood and other marks on my chin and cheek. And even the lighest shower later in the day made my face sting. ‘Is your face hurting?’ Yes, a bit. ‘Because it’s killing me!’ Haha. Liesel did like my new smooth skin, something she has no previous experience of. But it’s interesting, and disappointing, to realise that the skin on my face and neck hasn’t toughened up one iota since I was a teenager.
All you need is love
The shadow is cast mid-afternoon. The sculpture well located. Its twin casts a shadow on the water of the bay, but it’s not easily readable except, presumably, on a really calm day.

Meanwhile, Liesel nodded off at home in the Sun, which is OK, but she also forgot to put the chocolate fingers back in the fridge, and that’s not OK!
Sunset over St Julian’s
We can see the sunset from our fifth floor apartment, but as it’s behind a very built-up area, on a hill, it’s not as spectacular as some others we’ve witnessed.

In the evening, we went for a short walk for some dinner. Italian rather than Maltese, so we’re getting closer to proper local food. It was a bit chilly walking back: yes, even I have to admit that!

The plan was to get up early and set off for Valletta. Well, the first time I looked at the clock, it was just before 10am. I slept well despite the ridiculous work-related dream in which the house numbers were in the wrong order and I had both a bike and a trolley to contend with. So glad I don’t have to do that sort of thing in real life any more!

We caught a bus to Valletta, retracing some of yesterday’s walk. We didn’t realise beforehand that this is Carnival weekend, and we were delighted to see a collection of brightly coloured floats.
One of the floats
The square was very busy and most of the children were dressed in very elaborate costumes. We saw princesses and unicorns, Disney and Harry Potter characters but also quite a few fire fighters, soldiers and other public servants.
Policemen get younger every year
Luckily, he didn’t arrest us. But what a shame that it’s no longer deemed acceptable to take pictures of strange children in strange places, even when they’ve gone to the great effort of drawing attention to themselves.
Independence Monument
Here in the Independence Ground, I indulged in a crêpe and, being British, I chose lemon and sugar. The person in front plumped for a pancake covered in Nutella to which the young lady added three Kinder bars. In unrelated news, Malta apparently has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe.
The cat sat on the train

Elvis lives
Some of the music was a bit loud, which safely drowned out me singing along to Abba.
A bee but not a Manchester bee
Once past the city gates, Valletta occupies a mere 1 km by 600 m peninsula, at the end of which we find St Elmo Bay and Fort St Elmo.

Liesel had a rest in the warmth of the Sun while I set off in search of a public toilet. It didn’t look too far to walk on Google Maps but in reality, I had to walk all round the houses, up and up a hill, into a nice little park. I know, TMI maybe, but, mid-stream, a foghorn went off and I jumped out of my skin!
Cargo ship with a very loud foghorn
It was only this huge cargo ship, almost too big for the harbour, but it got my heart rate up for a moment!

I feel sad and disappointed that we’d missed out on Expo 2015 in Milan, probably on account of not knowing about it at the time. I’m sure it would have been good fun. But, no matter. On the way back to Liesel today, I went into (the back door of) the Malta Experience museum, by St Elmo Bastions, to see if I could buy a couple of coffees to take away. Yes, of course. I don’t think many people ask for this service, but all the tables were occupied.
Expo 2015 cup
No, we didn’t keep the cup as a souvenir.

As well as seafood, the main meat on offer here in Malta seems to be rabbit.
Rabbit, tastes of chicken, apparently
We did try our first pastizzi today: one cheese and one pea. Lava-hot molten cheese on an unsuspecting tongue was made bearable by the overall experience of very flaky filo pastry. Liesel’s not usually a fan of mushy peas but this was more than OK!

We were persuaded by a very persuasive man to go for a ride on his karrozin, a horse-drawn carriage. He offered us mates’ rates, €35 instead of €40 plus, he’d drive us all round the city for 40 minutes instead of 35! Well, he chucked us off after a mere twenty minutes and of course, with a tip, we paid €40 anyway. I told his horse it might be boring dragging visitors around Valletta all day, but at least he didn’t have to run the Grand National.

One thing we noticed in Valletta, and even away from the city, is the large number of memorials dedicated to World War 2. In fact, the first stop on our karrozin mini-tour was the World War 2 Siege Memorial.
WW2 Siege Memorial
Mick and Liesel with our horse (centre)
We both commented on how slippery the pavements were. Very smooth, totally different to the ‘textured’ (lumpy, bumpy, unfinished) sidewalks in Paceville. It was funny to see that even the locals would occasionally slip and slide on the smooth marble-like paving stones. On the other hand, where the gradient was too steep even for Maltese feet, they put in some steps.
A pair of sidewalks
We watched people in and around Upper Barrakka for a while. I found a cup of coffee for 40 cents, which was nothing special, but it came in a polystyrene cup! I’d rather have a 5-year old Milan Expo cup, thanks very much!

In terms of wildlife, we didn’t see much. Just a shark, a cat and an octopus, really.
A sleepy cat, a tasty octopus and a scary shark
We caught a bus back to Sliema where we dined and imbibed before walking back home. As soon as the Sun dipped below the built-up western part of town, we noticed a dip in the temperature. We’d been told that the tap water here is safe to drink, just not very nice. But we didn’t expect to be buying water all the way from Wales, in a glass bottle! Mind you, they probably get enough rain there to top up the supply.
Water from Wales
I can’t get over the irony of this town being quite hilly and bumpy, and yet our walking has primarily been fairly flat, along the water front. After a good night’s sleep, we again walked to Sliema. The plan had been to catch a bus back to Valletta and visit the National Museum of Archeology. But the queue at the bus stop was huge and very disorganised, we thought we’d rather walk than stand up on a bus.

For the first time since the 2012 London Olympics, we saw some water polo being played. Only little people, but it was good to see. If only I’d brought my cossie.
Water polo
Again, we enjoyed seeing what other people were up to, whether locals or visitors. Imagine you’re standing underneath a rusty drainpipe during a rainstorm. Well, that’s the only possible way that lady acquired hair that colour. We passed a lady painting the view, and I felt inadequate for merely touching a white button on my phone to capture the same scene. I suspect her picture has more soul, though. The man standing over there waiting to be drenched by an incoming wave was very brave/daft* (*delete as applicable).
An artist at work
A wannabe Cnut
Some of the pedestrian crossings appear to be sponsored by a chain of coffee shops.
Crossing the line
Well, this subliminal advertising didn’t work on us: despite what I said earlier, we made a return visit to French Affaire for coffee and lunch. And I uttered not a single word of French, except when Liesel asked me what French for carrot cake was, and I replied ‘gâteau des carrotes’, which I think is pretty close.
Diana failing to attarct us too
Of all the images they could have used, the late Princess of Wales doesn’t make me want to visit this place.
A new build on top of a more attractive older one
By now, it was too late to visit the museum, so we went home, listened to the radio and read our books. I succeeded in completing a couple of sudokus, wrote for a while and we fought the ant invasion in our fifth-floor Airbnb apartment!

It’s peaceful here but we do hear quite a few sirens in the distance, not to mention probably just one or two boy racers riding their motor bikes at 100 mph while still in first gear. The building works have stopped for the weekend, but we haven’t heard as many church bells as we expected on a Sunday.

Spring Break

The world came into sharp focus, the colours became more prominent and vibrant, and so many different ones too! The clouds of pale, pasty, pastel colours disappeared. No, I hadn’t taken a psychedelic, mind-altering substance. I merely cleaned my glasses. It’s amazing what a big difference this simple activity can make to ones outlook. I should do it more often.

In the evening, we ventured into the big city to see a new stage version of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff was well played but not a very likeable character, so why both Cathy and Isabella were lusting after him beats me. One of my favourite actors, Samantha Power, played Nelly and really, the whole cast put on a wonderful performance. It’s on at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until March 7: please go along to admire the set, if nothing else! Here’s the review in the Guardian, although I might have given it more stars!

Sam Power as Nelly Dean

We probably won’t choose to sit in the front row of the first circle again: I probably shouldn’t fidget as much as I do anyway, but I felt very constrained by the lack of leg space.

We swapped babysitting days this week with the other grandparents. I collected the four charges while Liesel visited the hairdresser. Four? Yes, of course.

William, Gordon, Rapunzel and Martha

After we’d had lunch at our place, we took them to Catalyst in Widnes. ‘The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre is a science centre and museum, focusing on chemistry and the history of the chemical industry, next to Spike Island and the River Mersey in Widnes, Cheshire.’

It was fascinating to watch both Martha and William interact with the exhibits, even if, at the moment, the science is beyond them.

Martha concentrating on cubes

William feeding scarves into an air-driven labyrinth

There was the equipment to make a simple stop-action film but the most appealing option were the strong neodymium-iron magnets and the iron filings. Martha absorbed her daily RDA of iron through her fingertips, making flowers but steadfastly refusing to make a bridge between the north and south poles! We didn’t make it any further than the ground floor and there is plenty more to see, not just for little people.

We succeeded in keeping them both awake when we drove them home, much to their parents’ delight, I’m sure.
Back at home, Liesel and I finished off the perishable food, so it was a very strange supper. We did most of the packing now because we knew we wouldn’t have time in the morning, before leaving the house at a ridiculously early hour.

Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, we set off for some sunshine. Too much Winter so far here in Manchester and while we thought about joining Liesel’s parents in Hawaii, that’s just too far away. Instead, we’ve opted for the so-called Hawaii of the Mediterranean: Malta.

We caught the local bus to Manchester Airport, mixing it with everyday working people. We didn’t mind, I hope they didn’t, either.

We had a sort of breakfast while waiting for our gate number to be announced. This included the last few pieces of fruit from home. I don’t think we’ll ever get used to the wide variety of fashion on display at airports. In the same large hall, there are people dressed for the tropics and others dressed for the polar regions.

Going through Security was easy, much moreso than the last time Liesel flew out of Manchester.

I think this is the first time we’ve flown with Ryanair. At home last night, I had to pay to choose seats for the return flight before being allowed to print out boarding passes for the outward flight. And we had to do that in order to avoid paying an extortionate fee to check in at the airport!

But we did enjoy the opportunity to stand in several different queues before boarding the aeroplane, including once on an increasingly claustrophobic staircase!

The final queue, waiting to board the plane

My entertainment on the flight was plenty of reading and the pleasure of messing up two killer sudoku puzzles.

So, goodbye Manchester, hello Malta! Goodbye grey, hello blue skies! Goodbye 6°, hello 16°! Marvellous.

Blue sky and cranes

My glasses haven’t been tested in this way for a long time, but they went very, very dark when we left the building and walked into bright sunshine. When my eyes adapted, the first view warned us that the island is one big construction zone. Everywhere you look, there are cranes and half-built edifices. It’ll be great when it’s finished, of course. Even the pavements or sidewalks are bumpy and basically just a series of trip hazards for old stumble-foot here.

We caught a bus to our Airbnb in Paceville, St Julian’s. Any plans we had to sightsee on the way were dashed because the windows were covered in a glare-reducing film.

There’s a building site there, hidden from view

We’re staying on the top floor of the block, unfortunately facing away from the sea. We have to climb 91½ steps to our apartment, compared with 32 at home. Thankfully, the weight of our luggage was restricted by the airline’s rules! The half-a-step is at number 52, where the stair-mason must have had a bad day.

It’s going to take a while to get used to Maltese spelling and pronunciation. Here, when you want to finish a piece of writing, you have to dot some of the Ċs and Ġs and cross some of the Ħs, never mind anything else!

The building site over the road from our Airbnb

After meeting our Hungarian host, Barbara and settling in for a while, we went for a walk down the road. And I mean down. We’d forgotten what it’s like to walk up and down hills: Northenden, Didsbury and Manchester, even Chester Zoo, are all very flat. We dined in style at the local Wagamama’s: always good to try the local cuisine, we feel. The background music was by Take That, Natasha Bedingfield and Natalie Imbruglia.

After buying some basic groceries, we went back home, went to bed and while Liesel fell asleep quickly, I didn’t. I strongly suspect my Wagamama coffee wasn’t decaffeinated as requested. Still, I caught up on a couple of podcasts, read a lot, listened to another podcast, and, sometime after 2am, I think I drifted off and I hope my dreams don’t mean anything, they were weird, man.

Our first full day in the Republic of Malta started very slowly of course. Liesel suggested that maybe it’s a good job we can’t see the sea from here. If we could, she’d be sitting out on the balcony, disinclined to go out anywhere!

But after a slow start and a late breakfast, we did set off for a walk.
How lovely to get my legs out for the natives, they don’t know what they’ve been missing. It’s a lovely temperature here, yet they’re all walking around with jeans or trousers and thick coats and at least a couple had the nerve to look at me as if I’m the weirdo! T-shirt, shorts and sandals is perfectly adequate. I can already sense the vitamin D sizzling in my skin, so I feel great.

We walked about five miles, along the waterfront, from St Julian’s to Sliema and beyond.

St Julian’s Bay

We were pleased to see a Dublin pub, a Cuban club and the London Academy.

London Academy

Liesel only had her hair cut a couple of days ago and while I am in need of a tidy-up, this wasn’t the venue for me.
We did admire the many, brightly coloured balconies though and when we get home, we might invest in one for our luxury apartment in Northenden.

Strange multi-storey car park

Hire bikes are available but whether we follow up on that, I don’t know. The signs warning people over 12 years old not to cycle on the promenade were grim, but riding on a road narrower than the promenade amongst the traffic was even grimmer.

In other bad news, many signs told us that topless bathing was not allowed. So Liesel hastily put her top back on and we carried on, stopping for a break every so often, wishing we had children with us to play in the numerous playgrounds.

Litter bin pretending to be a hippo

As we wandered along, we heard bursts of music from cars and from building sites. The most popular artists seem to be Take That, Natasha Bedingfield and Natalie Imbruglia.

Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The rocky stony beach

Even if we’d seriously thought about bathing in the sea, the picture of twelve species of jellyfish would have deterred us. Only four of them give you a painful sting though, so that’s alright.

Beware jellyfish

The architecture was as mixed as the best that London has to offer. The contrast between neighbouring old and new is stunning.

Something old, something new

At Tigné Point, we stopped for lunch and coffee at a café called French Affaire. I caught myself saying ‘merci’ rather than ‘grazzi’ so I won’t be embarrassing myself there again!

At the end of a small pier (or a long jetty), we found a collection of rusty padlocks (not to be confused with the 1980s band of the same name), presumable each a token of someone’s affection for someone else. Over the water was the much more impressive Fort Manoel.

Fort Manoel

We walked to the next bus stop, caught a bus into Valletta and another bus back home again. We will spend more time in the capital, but we both felt the need for a rest.

I paid a return visit to Valyou, the local supermarket and our evening passed in the company of film music, books and the steady rhythm of two-finger typing.