When you plan a last-minute trip, you should be prepared for a few bumps along the way. In my experience, a few things are bound to go wrong, so you should just accept that, and adapt to make the best of your circumstances in order to still enjoy yourself. In an attempt to escape the cold January weather in London, I made an impulse decision to book a weekend getaway to Malta.
I spent the three-hour flight reading a guide to Valletta and creating an elaborate schedule on my phone to try and see every single one of the top 10 sights during my brief stay. As I landed I was extremely proud of my organisational skills… until I arrived at St John’s Co-Cathedral. Panting after a short sprint from the station, I reached the door a good half-hour before closing time, but then I realised I had missed the last admission (this was not stated in the brochure).
According to my guide it would be closed for the rest of the weekend, so this had been my only chance to see it. I knocked on the door and pleaded with the guard to let me in to no avail. So with a sinking heart I turned around, walked down the steps, and only then did I take the city in for the first time. A sea of old yellow stone, adorned with balconies with malachite green, sapphire blue and ruby red window shutters.
I was so enthralled, that I completely ditched my schedule, and I even put away the map. I saw the glint of the sea at the end of one of the side streets and I followed my instinct. It was so easy to get utterly lost in the narrow streets, each so similar to the next.
I spent a long time just strolling aimlessly and snapping different details of the city’s architecture.
I only realised I hadn’t had any lunch late in the afternoon. In one of the streets behind the Cathedral I came across a tiny restaurant called Ambrosia, which was a bit pricey due to its location, but their mushroom risotto was heavenly!
I continued my stroll along Republic street, which opened up on a wide square with the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of St John on one side, and some other beautifully decorated buildings on the other.
Finally I stumbled upon the National Museum of Archaeology, which I faintly remembered from my list, but it felt so much more fun to explore it this way, rather than as part of a schedule. The exhibits include a number of prehistoric artefacts, such as the well-preserved clay figurines of Malta’s Fat Lady and the Sleeping Lady.
I only stopped and saw what attracted my attention. It was a liberating and enriching experience, and it meant I discovered many places I wouldn’t have even noticed otherwise, while on my crazed jog between landmarks. Like this incredible raw cacao cafe, for instance! I wish I could say I didn’t buy a whole bag of chocolate nibbles, but… ah well.
Dinner was another good instinctive decision on my part. I noticed a small outdoor cafe with a sign advertising tapas. It turned out to be highly rated and recommended on TripAdvisor, and after witnessing how welcoming the staff were, and tasting the food, I can’t say I was surprised.
I couldn’t resist an Amorino ice-cream cone. On holiday one can indulge, right?
I finished my long stroll at the big roundabout at the entrance to the golden city of Valletta. Even in the darkness of night, it was easy to see why they would refer to it by that name.
Eventually, I did see the Cathedral. What is more, I experienced it in the best possible setting. I was walking toward the station to catch my bus to the airport the next morning, when I passed by the Cathedral and saw people going in. It was Sunday Mass… but of course! There were no guided tours, the museum was closed, but the essence was there. And it was breathtaking.
It seems that in travel, it’s best to follow your instincts. Everything else will find a way to fall into place.