Sunday, 3 June 2012

To Malta - Cops and Tramps and Horrible Camps

Malta is not what I was expecting. I thought it would be another half-English, half-local, worst-of-both-worlds craphole like Gibraltar. Maybe it is in some places but not in Valletta. Valletta is fairly magnificent.

Getting here, though, was a pain. Let's forget that I had to cycle right down the leg of Italy. I mean, that bit was lovely.

Lovely, lovely Italy

And then I got to Sicily and, on Thursday, arrived at the ferry port of Catania, the harbour from which the Malta ferry leaves. Except that it doesn't, because you have to get on a bus - something the Virtu Ferries website was strangely silent about - and it drives south for an hour and a half to the real port of Pozzallo. Except that it doesn't, because there's no room on the bus for your bicycle. Strangely, though, there was enough room for the four, boxed up, metre and a half wide, flatscreen tellys loaded by a friend of the driver. Oh well. So at 7 o'clock in the evening, suddenly realising that I wasn't going to Malta and that I needed somewhere to stay in Catania, I legged it out of town to the only place my map showed a camping symbol. What the symbol didn't show was that Campeggio Europeo was The Worst Campsite In The Whole World.

I arrived at the site to be greeted by the surly, middle-aged owner who openly mocked by admittedly sad attempts at Italian. That's OK, I thought as I smiled at him. He's obese. He'll be dead soon. Passive aggression at its finest. I pitched my tent and then set out to find the site's bar or restaurant or minimarket for which there were numerous signs. The directions led me all around the campsite in a big circle until I ended up back at my tent. Mmm, so no bar or restaurant or minimarket, and I was miles from any shop. Oddly for a site lacking any entertainment at all it was full of 18 year olds. I'd find out why shortly. Luckily, there were some holiday homes next door and an amiable but deaf old bloke with admirable capitalist spirit had set up a table and a fridge selling crisps and beer and other essentials. I happily bought some of each. It's a pity he hadn't bothered to plug in the fridge. Back to the site and a visit to the lav, I found shite and what looked like vomit all over the floor. Lovely. You really should go there.

Campeggio Europeo notice - I couldn't agree more

I had a long way to go tomorrow - 140 kilometres - and so I planned to be gone by six thirty. I had my warm beer and crisps and settled down for an early night. At ten o'clock the music started. Now, I can't blame the site for this, but I'd managed to pitch my tent in the ideal spot to attend the Rizla Original Cucaracha beach party, attended by world famous DJs like, er, Monika Kruse. No, me neither.

On the other side of the slender fence behind my tent was the dirt track to get cars in and out of the event, but at least they drowned out the music. Sleep was difficult. Then, at three in the morning, the fireworks started.  At four o'clock, as some people started to leave, the car alarms kicked in. I think I managed to grab an hour around five-ish.

During the night I'd warmed myself with the happy thought of a noisy early morning department as revenge on the bleary-eyed youngsters but obviously the buggers were still partying when I woke up. I cycled off, half-comatose, to the sound of cool and funky teenagers jigging to Imagination and naff '70s disco. I think Monika Kruse is probably available for weddings and 18ths.

I cycled and I cycled. Approaching Syracuse, I was taken unawares when my nice, normal A-road suddenly and without warning turned into a motorway. This has happened before in Italy. Illegally, I keep going determined to escape at the first exit that took me somewhere useful. But then, around the next corner, in the hard shoulder sat a police car. Someone was being done for speeding. The first police bloke saw me and pretended to be angry for a bit. Seriously, how distraught could he have been? He fights the Mafia, for Christ's sake. Compared to organised crime, what's a tit on a pushbike? Faced with an apology and a smile they decided not to fine me and in the end gave me a police escort off the motorway. I wonder if the other drivers thought I was royalty.

Finally I made it to Pozzallo. I had a few hours to wait for the ferry and so I settled down for a nap on a wall inside the port, resting my head on my rucksack. "You are not allowed to stay here!" Eh? Some citrus-arsed port official had obviously mistaken me for a tramp getting my head down for the night. The way I looked, I couldn't blame him really. I had a shave once I arrived in Malta.

The super-modern ferry departed from Sicily at half nine in the evening. It had a big screen in the lounge that showed you the view from the front of the ship. Given that it was dark, the contrast was turned right up so that anything could be seen at all, making a single harbour light blaze like a sun. As we approached, Valletta was in the middle of a fireworks display, presumably to celebrate the Queen's 60th year of living on the dole. Watching the blasts and explosions on the high contrast TV screen made it look like we were arriving in Fallujah.

Turning up on a bike in a strange and pitch black port at 11pm isn't the best idea ever and luckily I'd booked the reasonably priced Castille Hotel and memorized the Google map to get there in the shortest time. What Google Maps didn't tell me was that the route I'd chosen was predominantly steep steps, which are even more unpleasant on a heavily panniered bike. By the time I arrived in reception, I was sweating more heavily than I was after I'd cycled the 140 kilometres in the mid-afternoon heat. I looked a mess. The friendly bloke on reception waived all need to check-in properly - that could wait until tomorrow - and I removed my sweat and stench from his nostrils - possibly the real reason for the hasty entry procedure - and soothed them all away in a long, hot bath.

But I was here in Malta, the second most southerly country on my trip (after Cyprus in July). And it's a great, little place. Although thinking about it, I have found one thing that is the worst of local/worst of British: Their homemade lager is a pissy 4.2% brew, similar to the stuff you get in a lot of British pubs. Last year at this time I was drinking some of the finest beers in Europe, in the Czech Republic. But it doesn't really matter. Beggars, and tramps, can't be choosers.

No comments:

Post a Comment