If you read my last post about the group of guys in my shared dorm, you know that I’ve gotten next to no sleep since I got to Malta. I wake up at 8:30 everyday (gotta get that free breakfast!) having slept for maybe an hour in total throughout the night. So going sight seeing is something I kind of had to force myself to do. It all just seems so daunting when I’m tired, thinking about taking a hot, crowded bus on a winding road for an hour to go see something that might be flooded with other tourists.
But as with most things I wine and complain about doing, the minute I start out on the journey I’m having a great time and and am totally enthused with all of the experiences I’m getting to soak up. Mdina was no different.
The thing I’m really loving about Malta is that there’s still this very old-fashioned charm to it. If you stay in the bigger, more touristy, party oriented places like St. Julian’s you’ll miss it. But take a bus an hour outside of the city and you’ll be totally surrounded by it.
The bus I took to and from Mdina was an experience all it’s own. Like the idiot that I am, I missed the 11:30 bus to Mdina from Sliema by five minutes. They only run every hour so I got to sit and watch the occasional car drive by for an hour until the next one came.
And this bus was packed. Standing room only, and even with that the bus driver eventually had to stop letting people on. ‘Sorry, you just have to wait an hour for the next one!’
The thing is, normally I can’t stand situations like that! I hate feeling crowded and uncomfortable, it really stresses me out. But everyone here is just so nice and friendly, I actually had a really good time bumping into them and laughing about how crazy the ride was for an hour. Before I knew it I had chatted my way through the long bus ride and we were at the stop for Mdina.
Mdina is over 4,000 years old, and used to be the capital of Malta before the 1500’s when the capital was moved to Valletta. It has also been referred to as Citta Notabile because it was has been (and still is) home to Malta’s rich noblemen and royalty (more information can be found here)
After visiting, however, I prefer the nickname Silent City. There’s almost no traffic, it isn’t crowded, and it’s painfully romantic. I say painfully because walking around the cobblestone streets with the hanging baskets of flowers and only the sounds of birds chirping and the echoing of your own foot steps against the old stone buildings could have only been made better if Rob were with me. And all I could picture was me pulling him by his hand to nowhere in particular, and stopping for kisses whenever we wanted to since there was nobody there to see us. *sigh*
While I did miss him terribly, I was able to focus on every beautiful detail and really let all my senses soak up Mdina by myself. And it was amazing.
Mdina (and Malta in general) is just such a cool and interesting blend of the many civilizations that have resided here. And if you remember from my Granada blog post, I love places like that! Mdina is not quite Roman, not quite Arabic, not quite Spanish, not quite French and not quite British but they’ve all had their hands on this city at one time or another, leaving the people here (whether it was forced or not) with a little piece of their culture each time.
Maltese cuisine feels very Italian. You’ve got the old, walled in fortresses and cities you see in a lot of older Arab historical sites (hello Granada!). Everything shuts down in the middle of the day, just like the famous Spanish siesta. The colorful little fishing boats along the coast are reminiscent of the French Riviera. And you’ll have no problems finding helpful locals who speak English (they also drive on the opposite side of the road, a tell tale sign that the British were recently here).
After a few hours of walking and gazing and taking pictures in Mdina, I stopped for lunch and called Rob because I felt like my heart was going to explode. Then I went back to those wild buses and headed towards the Dingli Cliffs.
One thing about Malta that I’ve been really impressed by is how not crowded these tourist attractions are. I’m not sure if people just stay in St. Julian’s for the most part or if I got lucky by getting here just before summer vacation. But just like Mdina, the Dingli Cliffs had almost no people there.
Traveling by yourself can be kind of lame sometimes, but this is not one of those times. I could’ve sat at those cliffs for hours, just looking at the uninterrupted sea and the ancient farmlands below the cliffs. Thinking about how incredibly fortunate I am to be here. Thinking about everyone that I miss, everything I gave up to do this, the ridiculous things I let frustrate me sometimes. I might have sat at that Cliff’s edge all night if a sweet little group of french girls hadn’t interrupted my hour long space out to get me to take a picture for them. It was probably for the best, I was in the middle of nowhere and the sun would be going down soon.
Back on the crazy bus packed full of people to head down the windy narrow country road back to Sliema. This one was even more difficult to keep my footing, as we were going downhill and the driver was even more hasty than the one from this morning. And because the Maltese countryside is so unbelievably charming, he was also dodging men being pulled by horses down the road in their small, one-person wagons. Somehow I ended up not having a very good spot to hold on, so I really felt like a pinball in an arcade game this time, bouncing off of one person to another person and so on. I apologized to a younger British guy that I bumped into, probably a traveler like myself, and an older local woman stopped me and said, “No no no don’t apologize, it’s good luck.” All the other women nearby nodded their heads enthusiastically.
Malta has something special, that you really don’t find many places. The beautiful historic spots aren’t over run. People still talk to each other and can laugh at a seemingly annoying situation. They’ve got a little piece of a bunch of different cultures that you can still experience. There aren’t shuttle buses full of people passing you by on every corner and leaving you coughing up the exhaust fumes. It gives you the opportunity to really be by yourself, reflect on whatever it is that needs reflecting, and eventually get to a place that I did where you’re feeling incredibly grateful and fortunate. Thinking about where my head was at when I woke up that morning, I’m so happy that I gave the Maltese countryside a shot at turning my crappy mindset around.