Drive a car only when you are a bit crazy
Driving in Malta is dangerous, crossing a street too.
When you drive in Malta it might help when you are a bit crazy. Malta drivers have a bad habit: they don't care about driving on the left side of the street. They drive where there might be a shade or where the holes in the streets are not so big - and they know each hole in the streets!
So take care and consider that you can get to the most places very comfortable with a bus.
- Historical Travel
Avoid if you can.
I have ranted and raved on various VT pages about the perfidy of taxi drivers elsewhere in the world, especially my home city of London, %L% where I find licensed taxi fares obscene. I know the scams and I know how to get the proper price.
I have written elsewhere on my Malta pages about avoiding the taxis hanging about at the airport as the airport bus is equally quick and a whole lot cheaper. One evening, however, I wanted to go from St. Julians to where I was staying in Sliema where I was staying. I normally walk this two or two and a half mile distance but on this particulat evening the weather was particularly foul, as it can be in Malta at that time of year so I decided to treat myself.
I did everything right, I knew the route (effectively a straight run), the meter was on and all the normal things were in place. I could not believe it when a very few minutes later and having been dropped exactly where I wanted, I was asked for €10. These are London prices. I have no idea how they justify this.
Yes, the taxis here are good, clean modern vehicles. The drivers willspeak English if that is your first or available language but, believe me, they will charge you for the privelege.
Definitely not for the budget traveller.
The traffic in and around Valletta is pretty bad at all times of the day, but at rush hour you can expect your bus journey to take much longer, sometimes twice as long. Sometimes I was stuck on a bus and overtaken by pensioners and people with pushchairs.
Malta is a very safe place with minimal levels of crime. Fist fights make headline news on this small island. Most of the trouble probably comes from tourists, who unlike the Maltese can be unpredictable and often drunk (but usually happy and harmless). Areas heavy with bars and clubs, like the Paceville area of St. Julian's, have a bad reputation and could be problematic at night.
Keep your clothes on.
Whilst out walking shortly after arriving in Malta, I came upon the sign pictured by the beach in Sliema. In truth, it would have been a fairly hardy person who would have been sunbathing at all on what was a fairly raw February day but I thought I would share this with VT readers for when the glorious summer comes around. Basically, topless / nude bathing and sunbathing is not allowed in Malta so do not get caught out and risk a court case and potential fine by doing it.
A quote from the Justice Ministry, taken from the attached website suggests that there may be a slight decriminilisation of the matter as in not being taken to Court but being dealt with by a local tribunal in the same manner as for minor traffic offences etc. However, you should be aware of the current law. You have been warned and the decision is now up to you.
Here is the quote,
"Maltese law does not allow nudism in public places and beaches are considered public places.” The arraignments of tourists in Malta were normally treated quickly. This was to ensure that they could return home on their pre-booked flights, with no extra costs incurred, a ministry spokesman said. When asked if there are any plans to introduce spot fines to replace court cases for such incidents, the spokesman said the government was in the process of reviewing all possible offences and some might eventually be “decriminalised”. “Once this happens, these offences will no longer be dealt with by the criminal courts but by regional tribunals, as is already the case for traffic and certain environmental offences. “Individuals accused of such offences will also be able to settle fines electronically, by post or at one of the local councils’ offices.”
THE SUN CAN BE YOUR FRIEND OR YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE
Mostly in summer some Visitors to our island tend to take it for granted and do not protect adequetly against the harmfull rays of the sun.
This could lead to a severe sun burn and other skin illness if the right precautions are not taken.....so in the summer months get a hat....grease yourself well with suncream ....wear sunglasses....drink a lot of liquids....wear light clothing....and stay as much as possible in the shade or under an umbrella....if you do not want to feel and look like a roasted chicken that is!!
The Maltese are friendly, helpful people when you meet them in the street, but they are pretty horrible behind the wheel of a car. Don't assume they will stop for you at a Zebra crossing because quite often they won't. On the few occasions that someone did stop, more than once the person behind overtook them aggressively and nearly ran me over. And I had a child in a pushchair!
It won't help either if you aren't used to British style left-hand driving.
Malta with Infants
The Maltese are very kind towards children, especially the smallest ones. We would constantly have strangers entertaining our son, even teenagers on the bus. He was rarely bored. Our son attracted a lot of attention, and it was always welcome. People were very helpful when they saw us struggling, and the restaurants all had baby chairs and the staff paid a lot of attention to him.
Getting around can be a bit of a challenge though. Pushing a baby carriage up the steep hills is exhausting, and jumping onto a bus to take a rest isn't so easy either. It's improved now they have the modern buses, but often the bus driver won't open the easy access doors at the back unless you ask him. Getting on the bus is a scrum where all the Maltese kindness disappears. There's limited space to put a pushchair on the bus, and these spaces are prioritized for disabled people. We had to give up the spot twice on one trip to Marsaxlokk, on the way there, and on the way back. Our son was not happy to sit in my lap for an hour.
Pavements are generally pretty good, but the traffic is quite dangerous. Drivers don't often stop at zebra crossings even when they see you are with a push chair. Often I had to move out a little into the road to get them to pay attention and stop, and even then I risked having some idiot overtake the stopped car and hit me. The bus drivers are also often reckless and act like they are competing in a Formula One race, which is both bad when you are on the street and inside desperately trying to stop your child flying down the corridor.
Christmas in Malta
I thought being a Catholic country, and a fairly religious one (it's the most religious country in the EU) that everything would shut down over Christmas. But I was wrong. In fact it was very busy shopping day the Sunday before Christmas, and Christmas Eve the shops opened later rather than closing early. On Christmas Day it seemed most important services were still running, including the ferry to Gozo, but the early part of the afternoon was quiet time for workers to be with their families. I was still able to hire a driver to take me to the airport, and of course the airport was running as normal except for all the shops there being shut.
Get plugged in.
I am not sure if this is exactly the correct section to put this in but I cannot really think of anywhere else to put it. I suppose it is a warning to those of you used to the standard European two pin electrical plug.
Undoubtedly as a result of the long period of British influence on the island, the M use a three pin square 13 amp electrical plug which I use in the UK but have not seen elsewhere. The plug is as shown in the image. If you are coming from just about anywhere else in the world, you will need an adaptor and / or transformer. I am certainly no electrician but I am told that the supply here can fry your delicate appliances like computers fairly well if you do not have the appropriate equipment.
Hopefully, the attached website should assist.
Avoiding the jellyfish!
As you may or may not have heard, unfortunately Malta keeps getting plagued by more and more jellyfish every summer due to the constant increase in temperature. In order to avoid travelling towards a beach and on arriving not even being able to swim (or risk getting stung), a good trick is to ask for the weather report.
Check the local newspaper or ask at hotel reception for the direction of the wind on that day. Then just grab a map of Malta and if for example the wind direction is West then the good beaches to go swimming on that day are those on the East of Malta - since jellyfish move with the current.
I have always used this tactic and it has always worked out very well for me! :)
If you want to be on the safe side, carry some vinegar with you in case you do get stung. Then just apply it as soon as you're out of the water after 'scraping off' the sting with a credit card to get rid of the excess poison.
For what is a relatively flat island, Malta sure has its share of steep hills. The problem is that it seems almost every town is built on some kind of hill. Valletta is the worst, with some of the steepest, scariest streets I've ever experienced, but Sliema and the Three Cities are also challenging. Riding a bike down some of them would be an exhilarating and quite possibly life threatening experience. You'll need to develop iron calves if you want do so some serious urban exploring.
Timeshare at Golden Bay
We'd ended up at Golden Bay by mistake, having misunderstood the buses. However, after having stayed and enjoyed the beach/water, we were wandering back to the bus-stop when we were accosted by a British man who handed us free competition vouchers.
After (surprisingly) having won a free trip to stay in the Radisson Hotel, we ended up being herded into the aforementioned hotel and staying there for 3 hours whilst they tried to tempt us into buying an apartment. Worked out alright in the end, as we were given a free mini-bus ride directly back to our hotel (fantastic, as we still weren't sure where we'd end up on the buses) and 2 bottles of wine (which we gave to our hotel staff), but a wasted 3 hours of our precious holiday none the less!
Just be aware of what they're after, which unfortunately we weren't at the time. A polite no and walking on would suffice, they aren't that pushy, but if you fancy having a laugh and getting some free wine out of it then go right ahead. Note - they do seem to avoid the 'T-word' and get quite upset when you suggest that it is, infact, timeshare that they are trying to sell to you.
I am a smoker and I make no apology for it. I realise it is not good for my health and so on and I also realise that my country's economy would be in an even more parlous state if it were not for the punitive taxes imposed upon us by the Government. Allow me to explain the situation regarding smoking in public places in Malta.
I was interested to find out that Malta was the second place in Europe to introduce a smoking ban, a mere week after the government in Republic of Ireland had imposed similar restrictions upon it's citizens. So smoking in public places is against the law but what are the realities?
Smoking outside is permitted and most bars / cafes etc. have semi-covered areas. This is, after all, Southern Europe where the cafe society is King. I have seen a thing here in Malta that the British Government and anti-smoking lobby in UK would not have the decency to consider, that of the "legal smoking room". Admittedly, they are not common but they do exist. They are fully enclosed rooms where smoking is permitted. I do not know what the legal requirements are for having such a room but if, like me, you visit in months where the weather is less than brilliant you may want to look out for them.
As for enforcement, well that is another thing. Some places, late at night with only a few locals in, will break out the ashtrays or even just tell you to stub your butts out on the floor. I have even been in small locals bars where they just ignore the ban completely and carry on as they have done for years. I have yet to see any police checking on it.
You should be aware though that if the police do come calling, not only is the premises owner liable to a fine but you are also liable to a personal fine for smoking. As always I have tried to present the facts accurately here so the decision as to whether you light up or not, even if everyone else is doing so, is up to you.
Update September 2013.
Just to add a little further confusion to a pretty baffling situationI will share another piece of information with you. A specific place I had been drinking in for a couple of weeks had a legal smoking room. I will not name it for reasons that will become obvious. One evening I went to this place and noticed there were no ashtrays in it as was the norm. I made a comment to one of the other regulars who I had spoken to before and he told me that smoking was no longer allowed in the room. When I enquired what had changed, I was told that the management had not "paid off" the police enough and had been threatened with being fined heavily. I had this information subsequently confirmed by a member of staff.
This throws into some confusion the concept of the legal smoking room I mentioned in my original tip. Are they actually legal or are they just a little perk bought off a corrupt police force? I really do not know. To be on the safe side, I am now going to amend my advice and suggest you only smoke in the semi-covered areas provided.
Hard Rock "Beaches"
It's tough to find a sandy beach in Malta. The "beaches" near the tourist hotels in Sliema are solid rock with grooves and pathways cur or worn into the surface. The nicest beach I saw was in Birzebbuga near the container port.