Sunday was a quiet day, indulging ourselves in the annual excellent coverage by International Eurosport of the Tour de France. For those of you who do not follow this wonderful race, there is the secondary attraction of superb aerial photography of some of the most spectacular regions of France – coastal, flat rural lands, and the spectacular mountainous regions of the Pyrennees and the Alps, with their ski resorts. Accompanying this the race commentary is interspersed with nuggets of information about the various chateaux, moulins, churches and other notable architectural features. The commentators all have intimate knowledge of the terrain, having lived and cycled there for much of their careers. One interesting feature was the current Winter Olympics bobsleigh track. It was much longer than I expected, and engendered huge respect for those who compete in this breakneck sport. I will not go into the cycling details as those of you who are interested will know it already, and those who are not would be bored!
The following day we went to Mosta market for some shorts and sandals for Lawrence, and decided to go to Kennedy Grove for lunch. This area had been recommended to us by a friend, as a calm oasis in the midst of a very rumbustious tourist area. Of course, I had not realised it was a memorial garden to the John F Kennedy, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see, secreted among the scrubby woodland and discreetly hidden picnic tables, a formal water memorial garden complete with aquatic (remember how precious water is here) memorial surrounded by vertical railings topped by stars in an inspired representation of the Stars and Stripes of the American flag. The surrounding limestone structure was light and airy. It is a very simple, but beautiful memorial and the whole tranquil impression was reinforced by the darting colourful dragonflies flitting around our heads and over the water. The larger Kennedy Grove is a public park where local children can come and play safely in the concrete-floored geyser water fountains and their parents and other visitors can have a snack lunch in the clean, cool outdoor cafe.
Tuesday proved more of a trial! Exploring as usual, we headed off to Pretty Bay in the south of the island, which, around 20 years ago, lived up to its name with a golden, sandy beach and shelving rocks just made for picnicking and easing gently into the sea. Deeper rock pools are ideal for fishermen. The came the Freeport, directly opposite the beach with its huge tankers, cranes, and containers.Needless to say it lost its tourist popularity. Not so with the pragmatic Maltese. The beach is still lovely, the water is still clear, the rocks are still warm and it was good to see the picnics, impromptu dining tables, and families swimming still very much in evidence. It seems to us that most folk arrive around six, stay till around half past seven and then leave. It’s a good time of the day, cool with not too many mozzies!
Marsaxlokk Bay was the location for the historical “seasick summit” where, on board ship in very unpleasant weather conditions, George Bush Snr. and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the agreement ending the Cold War in December 1989. There is a monument commemorating this event on the promenade near Pretty Bay.
We had two options for our journey home. We could either flank the airport (quieter) or go back through urban Marsa (shorter). Thankfully we chose the airport route. Driving along, filled with wellbeing, we were rudely brought back to a different reality when our engine cut out. No hope of a restart. We just coasted to a permanent stop. Luckily just the previous day we had replaced the emergency triangle and fluorescent jackets that had been stolen in transit in Italy. So, taking his life in his hands, Lawrence placed the little red triangle at a safe distance from the car, switched on the flashers and waited for the Maltese equivalent of the AA provided by our insurers.
Maltese drivers take no prisoners. The road was narrow. We were tooted at for causing an irritating obstruction. The triangle was very necessary as without it our car would have been hit from behind! At one point, we were overtaken with another car coming the opposite way. We envisaged bodywork being necessary as well as mechanical! Feeling very vulnerable, we moved down the road into a side road, perched on a wall and settled in to read our kindles until the rescuer arrived. Ten minutes later, our Sir Galahad pronounced our breakdown due to a faulty fuel pump, put us on a flat loader and transported us to his depot. The car is under warranty, thank goodness. For a couple of days before this, the gears (automatic) were slipping. Unfortunately the gearbox diagnostics cannot be done until the car is running, so we are now waiting for a new fuel pump to come from Germany, and after that we may find we need a new gearbox! Good old Mercedes will give us a courtesy car on Monday to tide us over in the meantime. Watch this space!
Our week improved the next evening when we attended a supper club in The Peak, a Chinese restaurant in Sliema. It was another opportunity to meet more people, and Lawrence was delighted to be able to practise his Maltese on one of the couples at our table, who were very appreciative of his efforts. He is doing really well. Normally I am the linguist, but it is such a difficult language, that I have decided to have lessons in the oral version only, which begin in October as part of the local adult education courses in Mosta. In the meantime I am picking up rules of pronunciation from him which will stand me in good stead. I am really impressed with how much he has progressed, and the old ladies he greets on his morning runs past their doorsteps are delighted. It is very easy to speak English only here, but the language is unique and like the French spoken in Quebec sets the Maltese Islands apart as an individual nation. They do have a football team in the Champions League, after all!
We also met Barbara who runs a rubber bridge club in Malta, and we arranged to meet up next week for lunch and a few hands. We need to brush up our card-play, as we are very rusty, but are looking forward to it immensely.
So, the week ended very quietly, but as the temperatures have soared to 35 degrees plus, swimming, languishing by the pool, and watching the Tour was as much as we could manage anyway! Our evenings as always are enlivened by the summer fireworks which are usually going off somewhere in our field of view.
Till next time.