To Malta and back with Malta Express

To Malta and back with Malta Express

I had just returned to Naples after touring Sorrento and Capri (Gracie Fields was not there) and was planning to take the ferry to Sardinia to visit a friend in Caliggari when a waiter asked me if I had already been to Malta. When I said no, he proceeded to tell me that he was from Malta and how he came there at least once a month to see his family.

It sounded like a nice side trip and as I was in no rush I took a bus from Naples down the coast to Salerno where I booked a return on the Grimaldi ‘Malta Express’ ferry which departs from Salerno every Thursday. You can make the return trip in three days, with one day in Valletta, the Maltese capital.

Departing Salerno at noon on a Thursday, it takes nineteen hours to arrive in Malta. Malta Express is what is known as Ro-Ro (Roll on – Roll off) and the vehicles are mostly lorry trailers, although there was a big shiny black Mercedes that really looked out of place. There are passenger accommodations that are spare but adequate and relatively comfortable. There is a TV in the lounge and of course several slot machines. There was a game of poker the entire trip in one corner of the lounge. Apparently the captain allows it as long as the crew isn’t playing and it stays relatively quiet.

You get three meals a day, served in an immaculate dining room. The mess staff is Filipino, the deck crew are mostly Italians and Maltese, and the officers are Bulgarian. I never recognized the crew of the machine, so I don’t know what they were like. By the way, the meals were quite good and served “family” style.

The sound of the horn signals our departure for Malta and as we set off there is a welcome cooling breeze on deck. The scenery along the coast is extraordinary. It’s just getting dark, we pass Stromboli and then pass through the Strait of Messina and on to the open sea.

After a few hours of sound sleep (I always sleep like a log on ships and trains) we enter the port of Valletta. The first thing you notice when you enter Valletta are the massive walls. The island of Malta was a veritable fortress in the Mediterranean and was repeatedly attacked by corsairs, knights traveling to and from the Crusades, and apparently any reef that could be sailed close to the island. Some were successful, most were not, but the most successful were the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. They arrived to stay in the eleventh century, kept the various enemies and corsairs at bay, and finally achieved complete control in the fifteenth century, by which time they were known everywhere as the Knights of Malta. They ruled the island until the late eighteenth century, when the British made Malta a colony, as it remained until it was granted independence shortly after World War II.

Arriving in Malta on schedule, we have a full day to explore as we wish. Customs are quick and polite (they love dollars there) and we get off. A German I met on board and I decided to share a taxi to Valletta a short distance to a stone chapel that marks the spot where St. Paul came ashore after being shipwrecked on his way to Rome. On the way back, the taxi driver insists that we visit a church named after Saint Barbara. Inside are paintings done by a Maltese known as the Cavalier of Calabria because he was apparently as good with his sword as he was with his brush. Legend has it that during a journey between Rome and Malta, with a brief stop in Naples, he sent more than a dozen that managed to arouse his anger. He died at the age of eighty from an infected nick he got from his barber.

Back in Valletta there was plenty of time to spend at the market where there are outdoor stalls selling everything you can imagine and a few that you might not. I’m a bad prospect when I travel as I don’t want to be weighed down with ‘stuff’ so I usually have a trail of shopkeepers berating me as I walk the aisles of a market. I stop often to politely inquire about the prices, shake my head sadly and continue on my way, adding yet another speaker begging me to buy his ‘stuff’ at half the price he originally quoted. I have been told it is not good behavior on my part, but I find it a cheap source of amusement; I also learned some excellent additions to my multilingual vocabulary of swearing and arcane curses.

We stopped for a late lunch at Trattoria Parolaccia (my notes say it could mean “The Talking Place” or “The Place of Words”) which was very good. The chef himself came out and described the specialties. Good food, good wine and excellent service.

I walked through a park with formal gardens and monuments dedicated to the brave men and women who defended Malta in the Second World War. Among them was F/O Buzz Beurling, a Canadian fighter ace who shot down over twenty aircraft while flying a Spitfire from a Maltese air base.

We arrived back on board after a rather exhausting day, dinner was served and I headed to bed. The sea rose shortly after midnight, but by daylight it had calmed and we could see the Italian coast in the distance. I arrived in Salerno at 16:00 right on schedule. Although the entire trip was less than three days, it felt like a much longer enjoyable vacation. I must remember to thank that waiter in Naples.

#Malta #Malta #Express

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