Saturday, 31 October 2015


It’s now been almost two weeks since Emma and I got back from what was a truly wonderful holiday to Malta, which means that we are both now back at work and the memories of the sunshine and sea are becoming more distant by the day.

Unfortunately, the holiday did not begin in the best way.  Although the flight was uneventful, as was the transfer from Luqa to Sliema, it was when we arrived at our hotel, the Bay View Hotel, that there was a bit of a hiccup.

Having booked into the hotel, we were given directions to our room, which we eventually found down a corridor that had one light that was blinking on and off and another that wasn’t working at all.  The room itself looked like a hostel and the small balcony overlooked, and was overlooked by, several other rooms and our view was an inland one and of a building site.

Emma went straight back to reception, and after about an hour and viewing six other rooms (I was blissfully unaware of her room inspections) she returned to inform me that we would be moving to a different, better, room the following day.  So, without unpacking, we strolled along the harbour front (not that we could see much at 10pm!) and found a small bar for a drink in the very balmy evening.

The following morning, whilst the staff in the hotel transferred all of our bags to the new room, we again walked along the harbour front, able to see much more now, stopping to buy several excursions for our week-long stay.

The new room was much better and provided us with a fabulous view across the bay and to the capital in the near distance. 

We were able to discover after lunch just how close the capital was when we made boarded the small ferry for the five minute trip across the Marsamxett Harbour to Valetta the “new” capital.

We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the narrow streets of Valetta and buying presents for the kids, before getting the ferry back in time for dinner, which was when Emma had her first experience of rabbit, a local delicacy.

On our second day, we embarked on the first of the excursions that we had paid for, which was an open-top bus tour around the southern half of the island.  However, the advantage of this tour was that it was “hop-on/hop-off”, which meant that we could get off the bus at various places and get a bus 30 minutes later.

Our first intended stop was at the Hypogeum, which unfortunately was fully booked until mid-November, so after a coffee we got the next bus and made our way to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, where we stopped for lunch.

Our final stop, prior to returning to Sliema, was to the Ħaġar Qim Temples.  We had intended to stop off at the Blue Grotto, but the sea was quite rough and it seemed there were no excursions on the day that we were there.

The temples were fascinating, although mostly ruins.  It is incredible to think that they had been here for more than 5,000 years.  Sadly, we did not have a lot of time to fully appreciate them, as we only had just over an hour before getting the last bus back to Sliema.

Having had a sore throat for most of the second day, I was unlucky enough to wake up on our third day with a full-blown cold, which meant that the excursion that we’d planned for that day was postponed for a couple of days.  Instead, we did the boat tour around Marsamxett Harbour and the Grand Harbour, which took about 90 minutes and explained a lot of the history of the island as well as the buildings.

After this, we took the ferry across to Valetta again and had a pleasant and leisurely stroll around more of the capital, including going round St John’s Co-Cathedral.  The décor of this building was spectacular, but it still amazes me that at the time that much of this marble and gold was being placed inside the cathedral, much of the population of the island would have been incredibly poor and struggling to survive!

On our return to the hotel, we made our way to dinner, something that we both grew to dread as the week went on.  This evening was the first one in which we decided to treat ourselves to some decent food and made our way to one of the local restaurants, Tre Angeli, where we both had a fabulous meal washed down with a very pleasant bottle of wine.

Day four saw us heading out on the bus-trip around the northern half of the island and our first stop was at the Ta’ Qali Crafts Village.

Although this was my first visit to Malta, Emma had been as a teenager with her parents.  On one of these trips they had visited the glass factory, which Emma told me had been in the middle of nowhere when she had last visited, but is now in a very commercial area, with lots of other crafts shops and factories.  On her first trip, Emma had watched a glass mushroom being made, which she had then bought.  However, in the intervening xx years, it had got lost, so when her back was turned I had managed to buy her a replacement.

After Ta’ Qali, when then made our way to the city of Mdina, which had been the capital of Malta during mediaeval times.  There is no traffic in this city, other than cars belonging to the residents and the horse-drawn carriages that ply for trade outside the main gate.

I found the place fascinating, and one thing that really struck me having played the Assassin’s Creed, particularly the first one, was that the city of Mdina had the feel of one of the cities from the game.  

However, I don’t think that Emma was that struck by the place as there was not an awful lot to see, so after a pleasant lunch, we boarded the bus again and made our way to St Paul’s Bay.

The reason for stopping here was that whilst we were having a lunch before our flight out, I’d noticed that an old school friend had posted that he was in Malta, so I had contacted him and we had arranged to meet with him and his wife at the hotel where they were staying.  After a pleasant hour or so with Sean and Andrea, we made our way back to Sliema.

On Sunday morning, we were up bright and early and made our way down to the harbour for the ninety minute cruise to the island of Gozo.  I have to confess to being somewhat anxious about this trip, as I knew that Emma was not at her best on water (see Trips and Birthday Treats) and we would be going into the open sea for this, which was something that we had only done once so far on this trip when we travelled from Marsamxett Harbour to the Grand Harbour, which had taken about ten minutes each way and made Emma decidedly uncomfortable.  However, I needn’t have worried as the Mediterranean was a lot more calm than the English Channel and the trip was very enjoyable.

Once we arrived on Gozo, we commenced what was, for me, the least enjoyable part of the trip.  I had been looking forward to visiting the island and doing the bus tour, but unlike the two bus tours that we’d already undertaken, this was not a “hop-on/hop-off” service, as we had to stick to a tight schedule to be back at the port to meet the boat.  Consequently, we drove at great speed to a place called Dwejra, where we were able to get off the bus for 30 minutes before driving at great speed to the capital, Victoria, where we were given 90 minutes in which to have lunch, prior to making our way back to the port.

Admittedly, as it was Sunday, everywhere on the island was closed, but I would still have liked to have been able to take it a little more leisurely pace and see a bit more of the island.

Once back on the boat, we made the short crossing to the island of Comino where the boat moored in the Blue Lagoon.  However, prior to setting foot on the island and having a swim, Emma and I decided to have a closer look at the famous caves of Comino, famous due to their use in the film Popeye.  To do this, we transferred from the boat that we’d cruised on to one of the company’s powerboats.  Emma was a little nervous at first, but once the boat got going, she loved it.  Not so one of the other passengers who I was sure was about to have a full-blown panic attack.

Once back on land, we changed into swimming costumes and had our first swim in the crystal clear waters of the Med, Emma providing the comedy moment by seeming surprised that there were fish in the sea.  No doubt these small fish will become enormous, with huge fangs and dangerous red eyes by the time the story is told by Emma, but they were actually only this size:

The cruise back was a little rougher and I don’t think Emma enjoyed it as much as the outward journey.  Having had such a nice day, we decided not to spoil it by eating at the hotel and headed off to Tre Angeli again.

Once we had arrived back in Sliema, and as we were making our way back to the hotel, we passed through one of the cafes that had a TV on, which was showing the World Cup quarter final between Scotland and Australia.  As we passed through, there was about five minutes left and Scotland were winning by two points.  Sadly, by the time we got back to the hotel, the match was all over and the Aussies had won by one point.

The next day was our last full day in Malta and we had now done completed all of the excursions that we’d paid for, so after a leisurely breakfast we caught the bus to Valetta in order to get some last minute bits and pieces.

I have to confess at one point that I did abandon Emma when she got collared by a guy who try to convince her to by some honey-based facial scrub for a mere , so after a leisurely breakfast we caught the bus to Valetta in order to get some last minute bits and pieces.

I have to confess at one point that I did abandon Emma when she got collared by a guy who tried to convince her to by some honey-based facial scrub for a mere €200 (£160)!  We also visited the Mdina Glass shop where Emma was looking for glass dish centrepiece for her kitchen table.  Unfortunately, the shop in the main town didn’t have one, but there was another shop down by the waterfront, so we made our way there.

It was during this trek that Emma came across a place that she actually recognised from her visit with her parents, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, as it apparently hadn't changed, unlike almost all of the rest of the island.  The view from the terrace over the Grand Harbour was fabulous, so we took a few pictures before taking the lift down to the waterfront level and along to the Mdina Glass shop where Emma was able to get her centrepiece.

After a pleasant lunch in Valetta, we got the bus back to the hotel for a power nap before dinner and then, as it was our last night we went down to Tre Angeli to sample some of their cocktails.

On our last day, we explored a bit more of Sliema before making our way back to the hotel and chilling in the lounge (we’d had to check out by 11am) until our transfer picked us up and took us back to the airport to get the flight from the 23° temperature in Malta to the 7° temperature in the UK.

I had always been a bit reluctant to visit Malta as my dad had been stationed there when it was still a British Colony and whenever someone mentioned Malta he would always say “Smells, bells and pregnant women!”  However, have now experienced the island first had, I would thoroughly recommend a visit and would love to go back, albeit staying at a different hotel.  It’s just a pity that there are so many other places that I want to visit, so unless I have a huge lottery win, it may be a while before I do get the opportunity to go back.

Friday, 2 October 2015

It's been a busy couple of weeks!

It’s Friday and the weekend is here (thankfully).  The last twelve days have been both busy and tiring, so it’s nice to think that I now have two days where I can relax completely.

After a full and busy week last week, I then spent the weekend course directing an Advanced Life Support course at the hospital where I work, so it was an early start on both Saturday and Sunday.  However, the good news was that Emma was attending the course as one of the helpers (she has passed the course, last year, and so is a “provider”, but isn’t an instructor).

On the Saturday night, we stayed in a hotel in Tunbridge Wells and had a very pleasant faculty meal before working all day on Sunday.  All but one of the candidates passed and even they only need to re-sit the test paper.

Even on Monday I wasn’t able to lie-in (although I was off) as Emma was working and I had to ensure that her son was up for school before getting myself ready for the long journey up to York, where I was heading to teach on a course for the Army on Tuesday.

Having left at lunchtime, I made reasonably good time, but on the way there remembered that I hadn’t packed a towel.  Normally this would not be a problem, but I wasn’t staying in a hotel, having opted to stay in a service mess for the night, an institution that doesn’t normally supply towels.  I therefore had to take a diversion into York, passing the hotel that Emma and I had stayed at just two months ago, visiting various supermarkets before finally finding one.

It was therefore dark by the time I arrived at RAF Linton-on-Ouse and booked into the Officer’s Mess.  The reason that I had chosen to stay here, rather than the barracks in Strensall was that my friend Barry is living in the mess, although sadly he wasn’t there the night that I was saying.

The room was comfortable and like every other transit room in every other Officer’s Mess in the UK, except that the RAF apparently supply towels.  At least, there was one on the towel rail in the bathroom of my room.

After a couple of pints in the bar (£1.83 per pint!) I had an early night as I had to be up early to get to Strensall the following morning.

Having had a good breakfast, I headed out into the thick fog for the 30-minute drive to the Army Medical Services Training Centre where the Immediate Life Support course was taking place.

At the end of the course, I jumped in the car and headed back to Emma’s, the Tom Tom telling me that the journey would take just over four hours, meaning that I would arrive at about 9pm.

All was going well until just before Gonerby Moor on the A1 in Lincolnshire.  I had clearly just missed an accident as there was a car in the undergrowth at the side of the road, debris all over the carriageway and a little brown dog haring north on the southbound carriageway.

I stopped the car and approached the vehicle, calling for the emergency services as I did so, finding that I was not first on scene, but second.

The driver was a lady in her fifties who was sitting in the car holding a handkerchief to a very deep gash on her head.  The car was completely destroyed, so my first thought was that she was lucky to only have the one gash.

Although the driver was distressed, it was not because of the accident, but because the little brown dog that I’d seen was hers.  Despite my attempting to get her to remain in the car until she had been seen by the ambulance crew, she refused and attempted several times to get out of the vehicle.  However, the first lady on scene had more luck, keeping the driver in the car.

Eventually the Police and Ambulance arrived, but the driver still refused to be treated and was adamant that she was going to go after her dog.  Even the doctor that had arrived with the HEMS could not get this lady to accept treatment.

However, this all changed after the Paramedic reported that she thought that she could smell alcohol on the driver’s breath.  The driver was breathalysed and found to be over the legal limit for driving, was arrested and therefore forced to accept treatment.

Once I had given my details to the Police, it was back in the car, ‘Tom Tom’ telling me that I wouldn’t arrive until 9.45.  Despite this, I made good time and was actually back at Emma’s earlier, which was just as well, as I had to be up early again on Wednesday.

The reason for the early start was that I had to be on a train at about 7 to enable me to get to Kensington Olympia for an expo entitled Healthcare Efficiency Through Technology.  This was an interesting (in parts) day, but probably more appropriate for those working in healthcare management.

So I have now had two days back at work in the hospital, which meant much more catching up than usual as I hadn’t been there for almost a week.  But that’s all done, and as I said earlier, I now have a weekend of relaxing, which I shall do by watching the Rugby World Cup games that are on.

There’s now only a week or so left of the Pool games before the competition moves onto the knockout stage and so far the almost all of the Home Nations are undefeated, the exception being England, who lost to Wales last weekend.  This means that for England to have any chance of progressing to the knock-out stages, they will have to beat Australia tomorrow evening.  If they lose again, it is likely that it will be Australia and Wales that progress, which will mean that this would be the first time that the host nation of the Rugby World Cup has not progressed to the knock-out stages.

However, before that match is, for me as a Scot, the more important game when Scotland (who’ve won both of their games, against Japan and USA, comfortably, gaining a bonus point for scoring four tries in both of the games) play South Africa (who lost to Japan but beat Samoa). The result of this game is likely to decide the 1st a 2nd positions in the group.  In theory, the winner should get the easier game in the quarter final, but as the opponents are likely to be either Australia or Wales, I don’t think that it will be that easy!