First World, Third Age, Thirteenth Trip

Years ago, before the notion of leaving the States occurred to me, if someone had said to me that, one day, I would be sitting on the quay-side, in Malta, gazing over the sparkling Mediterranean Sea and thinking to myself, “I liked Cyprus better,” I, literally, could not have believed them. It would have been akin to attempting to convince me that one day I’d be sitting in a café on Mars thinking, “They don’t do a grilled cheese here the way they do on Moon Base 7.”
I am here to tell you, however, that it is so. Not Moon Base 7’s famous grilled cheese sandwiches, but the fact that I have become such a world-weary traveler that I can sit in an extremely desirable Mediterranean destination, compare it to another, and find it wanting.
This opinion, I hasten to add, is not Malta’s fault. Malta is, in fact, a perfectly adequate island, in possession—I am certain—of many fine qualities. Those qualities, however, remain eclipsed by factors that, not long ago, would have been incidental, but which now loom large enough to derail an entire holiday. The first, and most pervasive of these, is the hotel.
Time was, a hotel was just a place to store my stuff while I went out and did things. More recently, however, I have come to appreciate certain qualities that most tourist hotels offer, these being an assortment of the following:

  • A decent sized room, sometimes large enough for a table and chairs.
  • A balcony, or outdoor seating area.
  • An adequately sized bathroom.
  • A café/restaurant/lounge area where you can sit with a drink and relax with a book.
  • Maid service that has your room cleaned by, say, 2 PM.
  • A view of something, anything.
Our hotel in Malta had none of these.

View from our room.

The room was tiny, with an archer’s slit of a window that looked out onto a brick wall.

The bathroom was so small that, after you showered, you had to dry off in the bedroom.
And there was no place in the hotel to sit an relax, which was a shame because the maids didn’t clean the room until 5PM, which made it less like a hotel and more like a B&B, where you were expected to get up and leave and not return until the end of the day. This wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been for the second factor: The Area.
Malta is lovely. On our wanderings we found much to admire, but the half-mile on either side of our accommodation was tourist hell. It was on a busy road, one side of which—the hotel side—was packed with restaurants, one after the other. And the dining rooms of these restaurants extended onto the sidewalk, so you were essentially walking through an endless string of dining rooms, dodging waiters, diners and other pedestrians. (We did, in fact, step into a restaurant\’s dining room when we stepped out of the hotel.)

The other side of the road—once you found a crossing—hugged the waterfront and might have been idyllic had it not been for the barkers. Every ten feet you encountered someone touting bus tours or boat excursions, making what should have been a nice stroll into something reminiscent of a county fair midway.

\”Step right up! Buy a trip for the little lady! C\’mon now, best deal in town!\”

Even this might have been manageable had it not been for a third factor: we were both sick.

I felt bad on the flight, and worse when we arrived. Then my wife got a cold. And being forced out of our room and not allowed back in until 5PM and having not much to do except wander around and pose as bait for barkers did not make for pleasant days.

Valletta, just across the bay from us. We went twice. It is a 2018 European City of Culture.
It was marvelous; you must visit!

I realize all the above smacks of First World Problems (Whaa! I went to Malta and didn’t have a marvellous time!) and the fact that I am older than I used to be (give me identical circumstances—illness and all—shave 20 years off my age, and I’d have had a brilliant adventure) but privilege and age aside, you can’t deny that this holiday did not stack up favorably when compared to others we have taken, and I put that down to the final factor: triskaidekaphobia

Midway through the holiday, I began to suspect that triskaideka-trickery was at work, and as soon I go home I checked my holiday spreadsheet (you knew I had one, didn’t you?) and found, to no surprise, that our Malta trip was our thirteenth excursion to the Continent.
I am not superstitious (much) but, I can’t deny the evidence, or the outcome.