Monday, April 1, 2013

Whoever Started Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours was a Genius!

Josh and I have found that when we don't have a lot of time in one place that the hop-on, hop-off bus tours are fantastic.  I can hear the groans as you read this... "what, they are soooo touristy!".  Yes, they are totally touristy, but when I'm on vacation, last I checked, I am a tourist.  And often if we don't have much time, these buses (and sometimes boats) are the perfect way to hit all the hot spots that often lead us to that locale in the first place.  Now, it certainly doesn't take us to where the locals go, but it covers most of our bases.

I didn't expect there to be a hop-on, hop-off bus in Malta.  I was picturing the island to be more like Menorca which to my knowledge has nothing at all like this.  I always expect these types of tourist attractions in the bigger cities.  But given that Malta ended up being more city than we had anticipated, I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised.

Josh was on-board with the idea of doing the tour.  Since the island was more urban than we thought and they drive on the opposite side of the road, he really didn't have an interest in driving if he didn't need to, not to mention the obvious challenge of finding parking on an island that has the fifth highest number of vehicles per capita in the world!!

After talking with the concierge at the hotel, it was decided that we would do the south part of the island tour first and then if we had time, to do the north.  The south would take us through some historic areas but most importantly to us, to the Blue Grotto, an area famous for it's crystal clear waters and caves.

The bus took us thru Valletta which is the capital of Malta.  It was a pretty city with several harbors that boasted some centuries old buildings that were a beautiful accent to the yachts and small Maltese boats in the water.  We also passed by Manoel Island which is where Josh did some diving the day before near a WWII wreck.

Harbor in Valletta

Interesting fact about this church and many on the island - there are two clocks.  One with the real time and one with a fake time.  It is supposed to confuse the devil.  Who knew?

The kids on the bus... Liam listened to the tour for about 15 minutes before he requested his itouch.  I don't think Aidan even made it that long...

Valletta Harbor from another angle

Another harbor... in the forefront is a Chinese warship that was docked

This is where Josh did his diving

More harbors (there are a lot of harbors on this island)

View of church from the distance

Valletta Harbor

We didn't hop off as much as I thought we would.  Many of the locations just didn't intrigue us.  And many of the towns felt very run down.  I found it interesting that many were dated in the 1980s and 90s and looked like they could have built 100 years ago - yes, they seemed that decrepit.  In hindsight we wish we had gotten off at a fishing village right before we got to the Blue Grotto.  I don't think we anticipated that the Blue Grotto wouldn't take all that long.

Church and cemetery in the distance

Chinese warship

Yet another church

Vittoriosa Harbor

More of Vittoriosa Harbor

And more... it was really pretty though.  

Church at Vittoriosa Harbor

Building as we were driving along...

Marsaxlokk Fishing Village - this was our only regret on the trip, we wished we had gotten off the bus here to explore...

The fishing village with some of the traditional Maltese fishing boats...

More of the fishing village

So pretty!

Some of the little bit of countryside that we saw in the interior...

However, the Blue Grotto was pretty amazing.  Natural caves and water so clear you could see to the bottom of the Mediterranean.  We took a traditional Maltese boat and Aidan was pretty thankful that it was a quick, 20 minute tour of the caves (as impressive at they are, he tends to get pretty bored on these boat trips which then means lots of whining).  I must say that these are some of the most impressive caves that I've seen.  They were huge!!

As we approach the Blue Grotto

Huge falcon sitting on top of the roof

Look at how tall Aidan is getting...

Traditional boats in the grotto

As we head toward the caves... Liam was holding on to me with a death grip

Caves were much bigger than the pictures show

How gorgeous is this water???

The only other stop that we made in the south was at the Malta Falconry Centre.  We knew that the kids would love this part of the bus tour.  We made it just in time to catch part of the live show.  Unfortunately the part we missed was the part with the falcons but we did get to see some vultures and owls and got some one on one time with the owner.  The kids loved seeing all the birds and getting to even touch some of them!!

Cat that Liam took a picture of while we were at lunch...

This is Hagar Qim Temple - we had lunch next door.  But then we decided we weren't motivated enough to explore it with the kids since they wouldn't appreciate it.  They date back to pre-historical times (this temple is under that dome in the distance that protects it from the elements).  For actual pictures and information -

Liam as we wait for the bus to take us to the Falconry

Aidan with one of the owls

Vulture flying

And here he is in front of us... this particular vulture gets pink in the face when he is excited and otherwise has a white face.  


Another owl



Up close to the falcon

The eagle is not very happy to be there...

After a relaxing night at the hotel, we decided that the best plan for our last day in Malta would be to do the bus again.  With all the traffic and so much congestion, we figured it would just be easier to hit our last few places using the bus.

Shortly after sunrise on our last day... view from hotel room

Near Valletta

The entire street was lined with buildings like this - just couldn't get the right shot with from the bus

Old aqueduct

Our first stop was the Mdina Glass - the kids got to see glass blowing for the first time.  Liam didn't have the attention span to watch it for long but Aidan was pretty fascinated by the assembly line process that the glass blowers had going.  We got some marbles for the kids and an ornament for our Christmas tree and were on our way to our next stop.

Liam in his world... he was done with the glassblowing...

The second stop was also the last that we did on the bus tour (other than going back to the hotel of course) - it was the ancient city of Mdina.  We could see it in the distance as we were driving which shows it's elevation as much higher than it's surroundings.  Along the way we passed the Mosta Church which has the 3rd largest unsupported dome in the world.

Mdina in the distance

Mosta Church

The Dome from a distance as we drive towards Mdina

We finally made it to Mdina.  Mdina was the original capital of Malta and dates back to around 700 BC.  It is located up at the highest point of the island, with views of the water and the ability to defend themselves from intruders.  Much of the walled city was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1800s but was rebuilt.  Today there are about 300 people that live in the walled city.

We did a horse and buggy tour of Mdina and it's neighbor Rabat.  For 35 euros it was the cheapest horse tour we've done, which is the reason we did it... normally at 100 euros or more, it's not worth it.  But for 35 we didn't really care if it ended up a rip off.  And while it wasn't as long as other tours we've taken (guess that explains the price difference) nor did the tour guide offer up much to say during the ride, it gave us a really nice perspective of the entire walled city.  And it didn't hurt that it was fun to just trot around in a buggy :)

This is what you do to naughty children.... too bad they weren't tall enough to stand on their own (I had to hold them up)

Feeling a bit windblown from the bus tour

Me and my boys at the Mdina Gate 

Liam in a tree... 

Liam with Georgie, the horse we did the tour with...

Museum in Rabat

The boys on the horse tour

As we enter Mdina

Very narrow streets

Like super narrow

And very tall walls

Our horse and buggy

View of the Mediterranean and surrounding lands from the edge of the walled city

Church in Mdina

Not so great restaurant that we had lunch at in Mdina

Liam on Georgie

In front of the walls of Mdina

Doors of Mdina

We had thought about hitting up some of the beach areas that the tour bus went by before heading back to our hotel to pick up our bags.  But as the day went on, our beautiful sunny 65 degree weather was replaced by darkening clouds and winds (which made me super excited for our flight home as you can imagine!).  And so we opted to just head back to the hotel and hang out in the lobby until it was time for us to head to the airport.

Overall, our trip to Malta was a fun time.  While the island wasn't what Josh and I had anticipated, we didn't let that bring our trip down.  At the least, we can check off one more country to our list :)  No more trips planned, believe it or not, in the immediate future!


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