Day 09: Fights and Sights

Waiting for our bus (I'm the one in the hat)

Waiting for our bus (I’m the one in the hat)

This morning had an early start, as we were HOHOs and had an 8:45 bus to catch.  We managed to find the HOHO bus stop in spite of the fact it was nowhere close to where the HOHO salesman said it would be, and waited patiently.  In Malta there are two companies who sell HOHO privileges, CitySightseeing (our company) and Malta Sightseeing and they both seemed to offer the same three different circuitous routes around the island (Green, Blue, and Red; one-day ticket is good for any of the lines).  As we waited for our Green Line CitySightseeing bus we saw 3 shiny Malta Sightseeing buses come and go.  It was at this point, coupled with the fact the CitySightseeing bus stop had been nowhere near as advertised, we were beginning to wonder if we had hitched our horse to the wrong wagon.  We also wondered if CitySightseeing was Arriva in disguise.  Hmmm.

THE largest man-made ditch in Europe (for scale, that's a cafe top right)

THE largest man-made ditch in Europe (for scale, that’s a cafe top right)

Eventually our Green Line bus arrived; we secured two seats upstairs and enjoyed the ride to the Valletta waterfront, where we were going to transfer to the Blue Line route.  We had been given headphones with which to plug in and listen to commentary pointing out the history of various points along the ride, and learned some interesting facts.  For instance, the ditch that surrounds the main gate into Valletta is the deepest man-made ditch in Europe and had been shoveled out by Turkish slaves a few hundred years earlier.  And to think, just one day before we had seen the ditch and photographed it willy-nilly, totally unaware of its stature as the deepest man-made ditch in Europe.

Both floating land masses, the smaller one is forefront

Both floating land masses, the smaller one is forefront

We soon reached the Valletta waterfront, but because the Green Line bus had been late we missed the Blue Line connection and had to wait for a later one.  In the meantime, where we had been let off at the waterfront happened to be in the shadow of what only can be described as the biggest floating land mass we’d ever seen:  the Ruby Princess cruise ship, capacity of over 3,000 passengers.  Another fun farm fact we were about to learn is it was the very first time the Ruby Princess had docked in Malta and she held the distinction of being the largest cruise ship ever to grace the Valletta Waterfront.  And to think we were there on that historic morning to witness all 3,000 people disembarking, many of whom were intent on becoming HOHOs too.  But wait, what was that parked right behind the Ruby Princess?  That?  Oh, that would be the Queen Victoria, capacity over 2,000 passengers.  And they wanted a piece of the HOHO action, too.

So here we found ourselves again:  bus chaos.

Lines were formed and disbanded, CitySightseeing employees were looking frazzled and completely unprepared to handle the tonnage storming the gates, no one seemed to know which bus was designated for which color line, and there we were, in the middle of it all and completely baffled as to how this was happening.  Again.  As we stood there deliberating a Plan B, we suddenly heard a flash of loud shouting followed immediately by two meaty men engaging in a fistfight.  And not just any two men, a CitySightseeing employee and a Malta Transit Authority employee.  They went to blows so quickly and without warning that people were unable to get out of the way as they came barreling right through the crowd, knocking people down as they tangled and threw punches like two cats in a bag.   They landed just feet from Jim and me, and by that point one of the men’s pants had… fallen… down.  Their colleagues managed to peel the two apart and the pantless one just stood there red-faced, huffing and puffing, and trying to look tough, meanwhile his pants were located firmly around his ankles and his boxers were being broadcast to 5,000 cruisers and Jim and I.

Two camera shy San Anton denizens

Two camera shy San Anton denizens

In the end, and as ridiculous as it was for two grown men to be fist fighting, I actually think the fight helped our situation.  First of all, the pantless wonder added a great deal of comic relief.  Second of all, it turned out the CitySightseeing bruiser needed to get out of dodge quickly because the local constabulary were being called, so they started throwing people onto a bus, ourselves included.  It just happened to be a Blue Line and off we went, one step ahead of the law.  Finally, we were on our way.

Jim knockin' on the gate to Mdina

Jim knockin’ on the gate to Mdina

We rode up top again and the first spot we hopped off was San Anton Palace and Gardens.  I enjoyed the gardens because there were animals, few people, and minimal trash.  After an hour or so we hopped back on the bus and rode it to Mdina, a medieval walled town that was once an ancient capital city.  It’s located in the middle of the island and up on a hill with vistas abounding.  We found it to be an interesting place, with narrow streets lined by stone buildings and churches.  Jim especially liked Mdina, and considered it a highlight.

It had been quite a day so far, and we needed a little sustenance to keep going so we stopped at a café in Mdina with a beautiful outdoor terrace overlooking Malta and the sea.  Once fortified, we continued our touring with a brief look around the neighboring city of Rabat before hopping on another bus back to Valletta.

Once safely back in Valletta we hopped the harbor ferry across to Sliema, intent on taking the 14:45 harbor cruise that was included with our HOHO ticket, which turned out to be a very pleasant way to end the day.  The 1 and ½ hour boat ride slowly and lazily took us around both the Marsamxetto and Grand Harbors, which flank each side of Valletta, while commentary was presented in 4 languages about what we were passing.  From the water we were able to take in all angles of Valletta and pass by the shipping docks and port where they have the ability to dry dock massive boats.  We were also just in time to witness the Queen Victoria departing, and it was something else to see something that large navigate its way through the harbor and out to sea.

Queen Vic lumbering out, dwarfing miniscule guide boat on her side

Queen Vic lumbering out, dwarfing miniscule guide boat on her side

After disembarking the harbor cruise we wanted to get straight back to our hotel, but Arriva punished us for cheating on them by making us wait for 4 crammed-full public buses to pass before we were able to flag down one that had room.  Oh, Arriva, it’s nice to know you are at least consistent.  Once back in our ‘hood, we bee-lined for Costa Coffee to take advantage of their Wi-Fi and find a good Indian restaurant for dinner.  We succeeded, eating dinner at the delicious Emperor of India before going back to our room and collapsing into bed.

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