Malta with Adventures Abroad – An Introduction
It’s been seventeen months since we said au revoir to our friend and Adventures Abroad guide Victor Romagnoli at the airport in Belize, little thinking or knowing that the world of travel was about to change irrevocably. Like most of the people who travel with Adventures Abroad, Alison and I have an innate desire to experience the wider world both for the thrill of it and more importantly for the understanding and perspective it brings to your own life. Armchair travel is great, but it can never replace the real deal. So while we understood and agreed that the Covid lockdown was absolutely necessary, that did not mean that we didn’t also have a great sense of frustration in not being able to travel internationally. After we were fully vaccinated, I was in regular communication with the folks at Adventures Abroad hoping that they would finally announce a guaranteed tour somewhere, anywhere. So when we learned that Victor would be leading a short tour to Malta we jumped on board immediately. Writing this post after the trip, I can say without reservation that it was the right decision and the right place to go. Here’s why.
While it’s tempting to answer this question somewhat facetiously and say, “Because it’s a place I can go to.”, the reality is that Malta has taken the Covid pandemic very seriously. It has a fully vaccinated rate of over 80% which is virtually 100% of the people who are eligible to be vaccinated. That is higher than Canada’s 72% and way ahead of the United States at 56.8%. So technically you are far safer from Covid in Malta than in your home country.
As a member of the EU, Malta has high standards of cleanliness in regard to sanitation, food preparation and hygiene. It is also a developed country with good infrastructure including roads, telecommunications and an international airport. All that is a lead in to the main attraction for me and that is its amazing history stretching back over 5,700 years. It includes the Megalithic temples that are considered to be the oldest man made structures on the planet and the story of the Knights of St. John who ruled the island for centuries, withstanding the largest siege in modern history before building the wonderful little city of Valletta. Despite being the smallest state in Europe (it is not a micro state like Monaco or San Marino), it has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites of which the Megalithic temples alone constitute six different locations. Unbeknownst to me at the time of booking was that Malta also has a fantastic food and wine culture which I’ll discuss in a later post.
So there are plenty of reasons to add Malta to your bucket list and the Adventures Abroad itinerary featured all of them.
Getting to Malta
Naturally Alison and I were a bit leery about what it would be like to travel internationally for the first time since Covid. Being fully vaccinated we were qualified to join an Adventures Abroad tour, to get on an airplane and to gain entry to Malta, all of which required this vaccination status. It was comforting to know that our fellow air passengers and the people we would meet on the tour would all be fully vaccinated. It also meant we weren’t going to run into any of the anti-vaxxer nuts.
While everyone was responsible for making sure they had the proper documentation and tests to meet Maltese entry requirements, Adventures Abroad was very helpful in providing the links to upload our vaccine certificates and other info to the proper Maltese website. However, as we found out, requirements can change in the blink of an eye. I strongly suggest that anyone travelling anywhere internationally bring with them paper copies of proof of vaccination forms as well as digital copies. We were asked to provide proof of vaccination at Air Canada check-in, at German customs, at the Hilton hotel and at Lufthansa check in for Malta. The printed copies were accepted without question.
Just as important, make sure you know the requirements for getting back into your own country once the tour is over. Both Canada and the United States require negative Covid tests taken within 72 hours of departure. Antigen tests which are those with almost immediate results are not acceptable for entry to Canada, but are OK for U.S. entry. However, most Americans on the AA tours are opting for the more accurate PCR tests as in Europe they seem to be well ahead of North America in providing PCR tests sites at prices well below what you pay back home with much faster results as well.
Bizarrely the Canadian government requires a negative PCR taken 14 to 180 days before returning to Canada in addition to being fully vaccinated and getting the second PCR test within 72 hours of flying back. What the rationale for this is escapes me and I never even learned of it until I started the ArriveCAN process which every visitor to Canada must use to gain entry. By this time it was too late to get the test in Canada so we did it at Frankfurt airport where it was cheaper and the results returned within hours, not days.
Speaking of Frankfurt, which is where we landed on our trans-Atlantic from Toronto, we had a very tight connection to Malta so we decided to layover there rather then risk missing the Malta flight or making it without our luggage. It was a good decision as I wrote in this post on a layover in Frankfurt. It gave us time to decompress, visit the Frankfurt Altstadt and arrive the next day in Malta at a decent time.
Remember I wrote above that entry requirements could change rapidly. That’s exactly what happened at Malta customs. I presented our passports and the printed copies of the Maltese documents I had completed on line which included uploading a pdf of our vaccine certificates. Instead of accepting them I was asked for my Verifly proof of vaccination. This was the first I’d heard of this and of course did not have it. I did have the Verifly app, but had not attempted to upload the certificate to it. Alison and I were led to a room where a number of other people were also detained. The Maltese were by no means unfriendly and a fellow was assigned to us who thought it would be an easy matter to get the info onto Verifly and then proceed. No such luck. Verifly requires a QR code on the certificate which our province, Nova Scotia did not provide. Therefore, after multiple attempts to upload it the fellow realized there had to be another solution. He asked how we had received our certificates and I said as an email attachment. He asked to see the email which thanked me for getting fully vaccinated. That did the trick. While the certificates themselves, which had worked for Air Canada, the Germans, the Hilton and Lufthansa, were not convincing to the Maltese, an email proving that we had received the certificates was. Go figure.
I should note that this glitch has now been resolved and Canada and Nova Scotia have provided a joint certificate with a QR code.
It was a relief, after a delay of a couple of hours, to get in a taxi and head for our hotel. The trip took about twenty minutes and I was surprised at how well developed the Maltese road system is and that unlike their Italian neighbours to the north, they do not drive like maniacs. Quaintly, they are the only country in continental Europe that drives on the right hand side.
The Maltese language is one of the strangest on earth, being the only Semitic based language in Europe, but with a large admixture of Italian and English. Although the Maltese communicate with each other in this language, they almost all are also fluent or at least conversant in English. The written language reminded me very much of Basque with lots of unpronounceable words to an English speaker including most of the places on the road signs. Here are few examples – Xewkija, Mgarr, Marsaxlokk, Mnajdra and Gnien Kbir.
This is the only Adventures Abroad tour I’ve ever been on where we stayed at the same place for the entire trip and as usual the place chosen gave excellent value for money. While the capitol city of Valletta has a mere 5,760 people within its walls, the Valletta metro area population is almost 400,00 which means that almost every visitor will stay somewhere in the ring of communities around Valletta. The Hotel Valentina is located in Paceville, one of the few Maltese suburbs with a recognizable name. It actually means ‘Place of Peace’ which is ironic because it is the nightlife centre of Malta. Now you might ask, why is Adventures Abroad taking its usual bunch of 50+ patrons who are often in bed by 10:00 PM, to a nightlife district? Fair question.
The Hotel Valentina, while definitely hosting some guests who are here to be at party central, is actually very quiet. None of the action takes place here and the rooms are very sound proof. There was a happening bar across the street, but with the windows closed, Alison and I could not hear a thing.
The hotel is within easy walking distance of a tremendous number and variety of restaurants. It is also only a block from the ocean, although admittedly not the most attractive shoreline, being limestone and not sand.
However, it’s also very close to the largest marina development in Malta, Portomaso which is a fun place to walk around and you can see how the 1%ers spend their time while dreaming of your next yacht.
The polar opposite of Portomaso is the Millenium Chapel which is a stone’s throw from Hotel Valentina. While I’m not religious I found the sense of quietude here comforting at the beginning of each day.
Hotel Valentina has a nice bar to enjoy a drink before or after the evening meal.
One of the changes wrought by Covid and actually a good one in my opinion, is the death of the self serve buffet. Breakfast is served at the hotel in a buffet format, but there is plexiglass between you and the food. A server gets a plate and you point to what you want and the server puts it on and so on. The breakfasts here were very good, especially the lattes.
The rooms are of moderate size with no particulars views, although we did have this balcony garden across the street. Wifi is good and there is that other essential, a fridge. Beer, wine and other necessities can be purchased at a number of small stores only minutes away.
Okay, I’ve gotten us from Canada to the Hotel Valentina in Malta. Time to meet Victor and catch up with a drink at the bar.
In the next post we’ll talk food, wine and cats. Please join us as we start another great Adventures Abroad experience.