The driver of the Number 62 bus knew instantly there was a problem as he saw me waiting alone in the twilight by the stop close to Sliema Harbour. He halted his vehicle leaned out of the window and shouted: «They’ve changed the timetable the last bus went at 6.15pm.» «What should I do?» asked this bemused tourist before checking again that the timetable did indeed say the last bus to our hotel 20 miles away at the far north of the island left shortly at 6.30pm. «Don’t worry said the driver. Get on here and I’ll take you to Valletta Bus Station where you can change and get the Number 45. There’s one at 7.30pm.» In Malta everybody is helpful. Even more so if you are English for they just love us.
It probably stems from the Royal Navy convoys from Gibraltar which made the hazardous journey to defy the Luftwaffe’s attempts to starve the Maltese into submission during the second world war. The island earned the George Cross from the King for its courage in the face of adversity.
As the after effects of September 11 and different locations become more easily accessible for tourists Malta and its sister islands Gozo and Comino have been losing ground in the holiday race. But now in typical island style the tourism authority is fighting back determined to keep its slice of the tourist cake and indeed increase it if possible.
Malta Tourism has launched a £3m campaign offering vouchers worth up to £90 per person redeemable against extras ranging from car hire to museum entrance if you book your summer holiday to the islands this month.
More than 400 000 British annually take the three and a half hour flight deep into the heart of the Mediterranean. They come for the sun the culture the happy welcome and simply to enjoy themselves in a reasonably peaceful environment. There are lively night club areas like St Julian’s and St Paul’s Bay but there is little to fear from the threat of lager louts. Even one of our most famous drinkers called it a day in Malta. Hell-raising actor Oliver Reed had a four-hour drinking session consuming 12 double rums eight pints of the local lager half a bottle of Scotch then died from a heart attack sitting on his bar stool in his favourite location The Pub (Ollie’s Last Drink) which has become something of a shrine in Valletta. He was on the island to film Gladiator at the time and the rest of his scenes were filmed using computer expertise a 21st Century ending on an area which contains the world’s oldest inhabited buildings pre-dating Stonehenge by some three centuries at least.
Malta’s history is entwined with its present. From the stories passed down about the famous battling Knights of St John to the modern Malta Experience state of the art museum and exhibition centre. The centuries-old ramparts of Valetta overlooking the Grand Harbour seem to go on and on. More extensions were added before each battle. If there had been any more warfare the whole island would have been encircled in stone!
Even the famous orange bus fleet is being extended with a little help from traditional coachbuilding experts using modern chassis. There are very few beaches on the islands but they make up for this with fine hotels culture galore huge dollops of history more sun on most days than we see throughout July and . . . they drive on the left.
UK Newsquest Regional Press This is Lancashire, July 8, 2003