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Malta: Love It or Hate It!


© Steven Slater
© Steven Slater

I fell in love with Malta when I visited as a child. I loved the people, the history, the food and especially riding the old yellow buses. Unfortunately, even the resourceful Maltese have had to bow to the inevitable, now that they are members of that bureaucratic stronghold, the European Union. As I write this, the old yellow buses have disappeared, having been replaced by modern buses lacking in character. My daughter and I also love Malta for the sea and the scuba diving. My wife is not so enamoured, preferring to laze in the sun while we half kill ourselves in the sea. However, when wearing her photographer's hat, my wife sees Malta in a different light. She sees it as a place packed full of photographic opportunities including nature, people and the many festivals.

Still, Malta does not have the ‘party’ atmosphere so prevalent in many other Mediterranean locales. Could this fact, together with the general calmness and tranquility of the island and that there are only two really good beaches and two more that are passable for the bucket and spade brigade, have any bearing on the average age of tourists being above 45? Could this be a reason many hate it? Malta is a place where you can enjoy a holiday without the disturbance of the usual 18-30 party crowd, though my teenage daughter has assured me repeatedly that they are there if you look for them. Thank goodness I am past the age of looking for them.

© Steven Slater
© Steven Slater

Tourist Malta is centred on two areas, the first is Sliema, just outside the capital, Valetta. Sliema also takes in St. Julian's and St. George's Bays. The second area, St. Paul's Bay, is a little further north and includes Bugibba and Qawra. Malti is a language spoken only in Malta and Maltese enclaves around the world. As the saying goes, you learn a language at 33 rpm; they speak it 78 rpm. For all my years of travelling to the island, I have yet to master the language and being fluent in four tongues, I consider myself not without linguistic ability. Fortunately, being the base for the Royal Navy's Mediterranean fleet since the time of Nelson, English, also an official language, is spoken by 88% of the population.

Historic Malta centres on the capital, Valetta, and Mdina, about a half-hour's bus ride from Valetta. One of the best tips I can give any visitor (apart from sunscreen, a hat and bottled water) is to buy either a one- or seven-day bus ticket from a bus driver or any bus station. The fares are ridiculously cheap, if you are used to the prices of public transport in Europe and the UK in particular (£10.00 GBP, at the time of writing, for seven-days unlimited travel). Car hire and taxis are also available, but why bother when the buses are so cheap, frequent and fun? Travel on one, wait for an argument to erupt, and you'll see what I mean! Plenty of shouting and gesticulations, but that's all. Beaches are few and far between, the best ones are towards the north on the eastern side of the island at Mellieha Bay, Golden Bay on the west and Armier Bay on the north coast just up from the Gozo ferry terminal. Be warned, during the summer these places are absolutely packed with locals on weekends and after work (or instead of, in some cases I'll wager). St. Julian's and St. George's Bays' nightspots are packed most nights. Surprisingly the capital, Valetta, closes relatively early. Food ranges from the ubiquitous McDonalds to restaurants and cafes serving all manner of European and Maltese dishes. Fish are abundant. Maltese Rabbit is a dish not to be missed, but beware small bones.

Photographically where's best? To my mind, the whole island! Industrial photography is to be had in the 'Three Cities' (Cospicua, Senglea and Vittoriosa) opposite Valetta and across the Grand Harbour. Malta has a strong nautical tradition of nautical engineering. I also recommend:

  • Historical Malta in Valetta itself,
  • Floriana
  • Mdina (or the silent city as only residents' vehicles are allowed within its walls)
  • Rabat, next to Mdina for St. Paul's catacombs,
  • Mosta (for the Dome)
  • Balzan for San Anton Palace and Gardens

Archaeological Malta is everywhere. The temples, built by a lost civilization, are older than Stonehenge. The more interesting sites are:

  • Paola for the Hypogeum (booking required well in advance, a couple of months before you travel at peak holiday times)
  • Tarxien Temples
  • Qajjenza for Gar-Dalam caves and museum
  • Qrendi for Hagar Qim and Mna Dra Temples
  • Mgarr for the Ta Hagrat and Skorba Temples

© Steven Slater
© Steven Slater

Call into the bookshop near to McDonalds on Republic Street in Valetta and purchase a Landmark map, Malta and Gozo, Illustrated Road Map, one of the best. I usually spend my allotted free-time from the family travelling on the bus network, getting off and on as I please, photographing the locality, and chatting with the locals. Ah, the beauty of the seven-day ticket! Plan your photographic excursion in detail, if you need to fit in with family activities. If you're using the buses, download a route planner and timetable before you start your holiday and you may order the bus ticket as well! http://www.arriva.com/mt

I use three Canon lenses (16-35 f2.8, 70-200 f2.8 and a 50 f1.4) with a Canon 5D body. For my 'street' work, Canon 28 f1.8 and 85 f1.8 lenses replace the zooms. A 0.6 ND graduated filter (glass not plastic), remote release, Gitzo tripod and ball-head, a 580 Ex flashgun with off camera cord (http://www.flashzebra.com), Minolta lightmeter and a hotshoe bubble level completes the kit. All of these are carried in a Tamrac 767 extreme back-pack (the one made in the USA, not Asia): in my opinion, the best back-pack made. My wife uses a Canon 7D (with the electronic level as she points out to me with annoying regularity) and a Sigma 10-20 f3.5 lens and what a belter it is too! She has a Gitzo tripod and ball-head and shares the Canon lenses and accessories when required. This camera she carries in a Domke F3X bag, as she says, it has big pockets in which to put the essential equipment, lip gloss, blusher, eyeliner, etc. leaving the sunscreen and water in my bag. Do not forget plenty of water, but forget the chocolate (it will melt, believe me). There is always a village nearby, and there is always a cafe, bar or restaurant for sustenence. Stout shoes are essential if venturing 'off-road', as in many cases the lanes are only dirt tracks. There is no worrying wild life except for the odd dog (use the tripod). Some locals enjoy shooting and trapping birds (wear something bright). Early morning and late afternoons are the best times: avoid the mid-day during the height of summer. Get over to the west coast, especially near to Hagar-Qim Temples or the cliffs at Dingli for some spectacular sunsets.

I am in the process of costing and organising photographic trips to Malta and Tunisia (subject of future travel article) in 2012, so contact me via our website http://www.5studiosphotography.com and check out the blog.

Editor's Note

See larger versions of the images by clicking the thumbnails. See more images from this destination in the album "Malta ".

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Victoria Bergesen

Tuesday, October 11 2011 @ 11:14 PM EDT

 I really enjoyed this article.  It gave me some really specific tips on traveling around the island and taking photos there.  Having lived in England for a decade, I knew it was a popular vacation spot for seniors, but I never knew about the archaeological aspects.  I will definitely read up on Malta.  Can you recommend any book(s) about the early history of the island?

Anonymous

Thursday, October 13 2011 @ 07:05 AM EDT

 Hi Victoria

Thanks for the kind words, my favourite book is titled 'Malta, Its Archaeology and History' edited by John Samut Tagliaferro and distributed by Miller Guides, Luqa, Malta. ISBN 88-7280-704-2.

Kind regards

Steve Slater

Bettie Coetzee-Lambrecht

Wednesday, October 12 2011 @ 12:43 AM EDT

 Stephen your Malta article came just in time! Im leaving for the airport here in Cape Town in a couple of hours.Really an enjoyable and informative read. Thanks for shelving my doubt whether or not to inlude my heavy 70 -200. Already packed, but always have arguments at some airports about my too heavy handluggage - which consist only of the camerabag inside the roller bag! And of course a loose handbag with a book for the 19 hour flight via Dubai.

Will be staying on Gozo-island for seven days and afterwards for another 5 want to move to Malta Island. Could you recommend something in the 30 euro or lower :-) region? Found such B&B on Gozo via a Facebook friend, but nothing yet on Malta.

Go well

Bettie Coetzee,South AFrica

 

Anonymous

Saturday, October 22 2011 @ 08:21 AM EDT

 Hi Bettie

Thanks for the encouraging comments, I have replied to your private email address with suggestions but remember, they are only suggestions! Have a good and safe holiday.

Go in peace

Steve

Valerie LeBlanc

Thursday, December 29 2011 @ 06:26 PM EST

 I enjoyed your article a great deal. I had the opportunity to visit Malta in May of 2011 and agree that it is a photographer's dream! Just wanted to add a recommendation to check out Marsaxlokk (bay and fishing village) for amazing fishing boat photo opps and I also recommend the Blue Grotto on Malta, Azure Window on Gozo and a trip to the island of Comino as well for more rustic but equally beautiful photo opportunities.

Anonymous

Wednesday, January 04 2012 @ 11:47 AM EST

 Thanks Valerie, I totally agree with you.