After our visit to San Anton Gardens, we took the popular harbour tour from Sliema, round Marsamxett harbour, passing Manoel Island, now a boat yard, but which in former days was an isolation hospital for the Knights of St John.
Then out around Fort St Elmo of Great Siege (1565) fame and into the Grand Harbour. There is too much to describe between skyline and waterline, but suffice to say the bastions and the old limestone buildings, both urban and maritime were stunningly beautiful in the hot sun. The only thing to rival that view is the same view at night with the lights of Valletta bathing it all in a warm golden glow. Indeed all over Malta the lights are a comforting presence right through the night, not just for the revellers of Paceville and Bugibba, but for insomniacs too! The commentary on the Captain Morgan boat was very good, but it was a big boat and did not get into the smaller creeks as did another tour we did the following week in a luzzu (a maltese traditional boat). We got very close in then to the dry docks and the commentary was more detailed, both historical and contemporary. However, getting off the luzzu proved quite hazardous as the gangplank bounced up and down in the choppy water and swung side to side in the wind which had got up during our journey, just as my 81 year old mother was disembarking. She was not the only passenger who needed help from the crew that day.
It is the beginning of August and the Porters have been bitten by the Maltese summer bug – swimming in the sea.
Snorkelling gear in hand, Lawrence and Jax head off to Anchor Bay and the concrete pier protecting the waters around Popeye Village. Two handy ladders down into the crystal clear water made getting in very easy, and gave me – who until now has not been confident swimming out of my depth – a sense of security by swimming between them. There were many velvety black small fish and several resembling the little neon tetras I used to keep in an aquarium. Lawrence of course took off into the blue yonder splashing his way as he got used to his flippers, or as the cogniscenti call them, “fins”. As my confidence increased, I moved away from the ladders and revelled in the buoyancy given by the deep water. The salt water’s extra buoyancy soon had me floating happily, and determined to get my own snorkel mask – another psychological hurdle soon to be overcome.
Well and truly bug-bitten, we began to explore for good swimming places. Every coast and rock shelf has got many ladders leading directly into the deep water, and everywhere you look there are groups of people having conversations and generally socialising while treading water, well out of their depth. Many of them are children whose behaviour in the water resembles that of seals.
The most beautiful place we found to swim was Oval Inlet on the Delimara peninsula.
It is not advertised and is not much frequented by foreigners. Access is by a long set of rough steps and then a trek across flat limestone shelves which in some places are so dramatically undercut that holes the size of dinner plates have been worn through the lip. They shelve gently to the waters edge where they plunge down 20 feet in a weed/anemone covered cliff to the sea floor. The ladder, unhelpfully, sloped back under the cliff making Mrs P’s entry to the water rather less than elegant. Once in though, it was marvellous. I borrowed L’s mask and was amazed more by the plant life on the rocks than by the fish which were many, but not so colourful as some I have seen. Many dark holes, though made me wonder if eels lurked there and I had no desire to put my feet down. Sea urchins abound in these waters and I did not relish a prang either. In the cup of the oval the sea bed was of golden sand and the water was a clear, sparkling aquamarine. Reluctantly we left to go in search of lunch – should have brought a picnic, but had probably had enough sun.
Another unexpected bonus was Paradise Bay – very different from the “wild swimming” scenario above. Also accessed by a long stair of concrete, manicured, banistered steps, it nestles in a narrow inlet bordered by lovely fine golden sand. The beach franchise have made the most of the limited space. There are four tiers of terracing each with sunbeds and umbrellas tightly packed in. The middle two tiers are concrete, so not too much sand in the towels. A restaurant and bar served great fish, the usual burgers, lovely salads and gloriously cold beer.
The best bit here though is the sit-on kayak rental. They are decent boats and feathered paddles imported from Australia and we spent a wonderful hour wending our way around and through the rocks. They have an observation perspex panel in the footwell so we could see the fish and flora we passed over. It was marvellous to be back in a boat again, but the sun was extremely hot (32degs) and discretion won out and we only spent an hour. It did resolve us to buy our own kayaks here though. Lunch was a bit distracting trying to keep the flies away. They become a bit of a pest this time of year and I have spent a fortune on gadgets, plug-ins and sprays, some more effective than others. Best to spray up before going out around now, and eat inside where they are not so ubiquitous.
After these wonderful excursions life headed in another direction. My mother came to stay for a week and despite the heat, managed very well. Not having swum for 16 years, she was keen to relearn in our pool. This she did admirably with the initial help of a bright yellow foam” noodle”, and was swimming unaided by the time she left. Not bad for 81, is it?
The tour guiding was repeated the next week when our friends John and Joyce arrived for a week.Fortunately it involved introducing them to lots of nice restaurants. Very hot. Thank goodness for air conditioning.
We have our first outing to the Bridge Club later this week. It all sounds a bit daunting but we have played with some friends who belong and they have encouraged us with the words “Do not be intimidated”. Scary! I am sure we will have a great time once the nervousness has dissipated. I will reveal how we got on in the next instalment.