I fancied seeing Valletta as a yachtie might, from sea level, so last evening I booked a harbour cruise with one of the enterprises offering such excursions from Sliema.
“You better go tomorrow,” the sales girl said. “Sunday and Monday may be too rough and cruises may be cancelled.”
Promising to go on Saturday, I paid my €16, pocketed the ticket and returned to the hotel to charge the camera battery and deal with all the photos on the SD card.
This morning was lovely. The sky was blue, the breeze not enough to ruffle a feather, the sun warm enough to sting even at 9am as I caught the bus to Sliema Ferries (€1.50 return).
I sat on the quay at the Sliema Ferries terminal watching the frenzied Saturday morning shoppers getting ever more frenzied and arguing over parking spaces much as they do anywhere. It’s great entertainment watching people. I’m not surprised at the number of vehicles bearing the scars of altercations.
At last the vessel arrived at the ferry wharf, reversed into its slot as they all do, and lowered a metal gangplank with a reverberating clang. I joined the queue of optimistic sightseers boarding and opted for a lower deck seat on the starboard side, which I figured would be closest to the walled city.
The noise of the engine was such that the commentary, provided by a Maltese lady whose linguistic capabilities were confounded only by the appearance of a dozen Japanese tourists at the last moment, was rendered quite inaudible. Just as well I had a pretty good idea where we were anyway. We headed up the creek first, Sliema Creek, that is. A few minutes later we circled Manoel Island and sailed through Marsamxett Harbour to Msida and Pieta, then back through Marsamxett to the open sea.
The sea might have looked calm from my hotel room this morning, but when actually out there… well, it was anything but, and the stripe of rust running along the waterline that I had observed from the ferry wharf (but dismissed as unimportant because, well, it didn’t appear overnight, did it?) came to mind again. Still, I wondered… The sea wasn’t that rough, but it was only a small vessel. A deep, plastic lined bin was strapped to the hand rail. Several passengers utilised it but, heck, it only lasted a few minutes and we were soon chugging through the narrow gap between Fort St Elmo and the breakwater and we were once again in calm, harbour waters.
Grand Harbour is not just grand. Grand Harbour is stunning.
The curtain wall which towers above the water, protects the city of Valletta today just as it has for centuries and it can be appreciated so much better from sea level. It’s easy to imagine how difficult invaders found it. Suleyman the Magnificent tried in the 16th Century; the Mussolini/Hitler Axis had a go in the 20th Century. Tunnels and caves in the curtains provided shelter for the Maltese during the air raids of WWII when Malta was declared the most bombed place on earth.
We sailed up the far reaches of the harbour, to Marsa Creek, then headed out past the cargo wharf and the Dockyard Creek dry-dock – in which a huge bulk carrier was undergoing maintenance – then an ocean oil drilling platform and past Fort St Angelo and into Kalkara Creek, home to some pricey yachts.
Out in the ocean once more, we sailed into the rough stuff. The little boat stuck her bow into a couple of big waves and a cold shower was provided for all passengers free of charge. Concerned about the effect of salt water on the camera, I stowed it away in double-quick time. That’s my excuse for having no photos of those walls of deep blue water that hurled themselves at me! I have a clear 60 year-old memory of just what the waters of the Mediterranean can do. A crossing from Malta to Sicily… but that’s another story.