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Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Pressure of the Cooker

I was lying on the cot in the outside room which had a door open towards the street. My mind was blissfully empty of any productive thoughts when my mom came over to me from the street side “This one or this one?”

 “What?” I had to get up to see what she was on about “Wow, they are pressure cookers?”

 The two items she was holding looked like miniature versions of alien spaceships but in fact were pressure cookers. Not surprising then that they were the new Hawkins model – sleek black bodies with curves in the right places.

 “How much is this one?” I asked.

 “Five litres.” Mom said.

 “And this one?”

 “Two litres.” She said “Take this one.” She pushed the five litre one at me.

 “No, this is too big.” I objected “Two litre one is fine for me.”

 “Are you sure? Or come and see more. Pammi has more options.”

 Pammi is our neighbour, wonderful guy, worked in this kind of merchandise for years.

 “No, this is fine.”

 “It’s not too small?” Mom asked “What if you want to make pulav?”

 Have you ever noticed how mothers are obsessed with the eating? They feel like their kid is just going to starve himself to death if they don’t force the issue. But you can’t blame them, they have seen you in that phase when you used to prefer playing in the dirt to having a proper meal. Maybe you grew up, but she doesn’t believe it.

 “No, mom,” I declared “two litre is enough for pulav also. I need space in my suitcase to carry this.”

 And that was that. Two days later I flew back to UK with the pressure cooker safely wrapped in my clothes.

 That was twelve years ago.

 Since then I have kept this trusty little pressure cooker with me every time I moved. It has been doing a good job of feeding me well. Kind of like my mother. May be my mother made it promise before I left India. I have made pulav in it, and mutter-paneer, chana masala and lots of other dishes.

But then last week, while performing its duties on the hob it started leaking steam. I quickly guessed that the gasket was gone. I had a spare gasket (the rubber ring that seals the lid to the body) so it was no problem. Only I could not find it. It was in one of those “safe” places where you store everything. I have seen it 10,000 times when I didn’t need it but not now. So, I looked at the lid again. No, the gasket seemed fine. But there was a hole under the handle. Oh, that’s that, the safety valve. Correct. That hole didn’t use to be there so obviously it was blown. Fine.

Normally, when something goes kaput I am happy because I can buy a new one. But this was a different case. I lost my mother eight years ago and this pressure cooker has been my connection with her even when she’s physically not in my life. Yes, I know, it’s stupid, but I am a sentimental fool.

These days everything is available on Amazon. The safety valve must be there as well. It was. I could buy a Hawkins safety valve for a couple of quid. Great. It arrived the next day. Out comes my toolbox (Yes, I have one, I am a macho man.). But the nut holding the valve would not budge. Well, as I mentioned, I am a macho man. I keep WD-40 in the house (machine oil). I took it out and sprayed some on both sides of the nut. After two applications and some wait, the nut moved, but now, it moved on both sides. Drat!

I tried holding the inside nut with pliers but it just slipped out of the grip. The message was clear, it was time to become super macho. I went on Amazon again and ordered a set of spanners. That arrived the next day. After that it was simply a matter of finding which one fit the nut. Using a spanner and the wrench I was able to get the safety valve off. Replacing it with the new valve was a piece of cake. Funny enough, the new valve was bigger and needed a bigger spanner but it fit perfectly in the hole left by the old valve in the cooker lid.

Once the replacement was in place, I put the handle back on. Then I put some water in the cooker and tested it. It worked perfectly.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Well, there isn’t one. Or may be we can say something about perseverance. Or you can’t solve everything by brute force, get the right tool for the job. Or don’t replace it, if you can fix it.

Do you like to replace things or tinker with them until they work?


[Note: The links in the post are affiliate links. They cost you any more but if you anything from those links it helps this blog.]  


Thursday, December 16, 2021

Malta trip #15 – Malta by Foot



I knew from my research beforehand that Malta has a couple of food items that it’s known for. On our last day, we wanted to cover that as well. In the morning we had breakfast at a place called “Manuela’s”. It was listed on Google Maps as the best place in Malta for Pastizzi. 


That hard to pronounce word is the name of a savoury pastry that Malta is known for. By the way, you say pass-tee-zee. It was quite good.

After we came back from the Saluting Battery, we were hungry again. This time we just walked around until we found a bakery shop. I wanted to have a Qassattat this time and I also wanted to try Malta’s famous Kinnie. Kinnie is a bitter soda. I think Roberta also opted for a Qassattat but I wouldn’t swear to it. This was one of the very few places in Malta where we had to pay by cash. This was also the only place in 5 days when we had a racist experience.

It was not a big deal and I didn’t even want to mention it but then I thought what’s the point of writing about my experiences if I am not open and honest about all of them. What happened was that Roberta was short some cash and asked me for a €0.50 change. Now if you are bean-counter type you would ask how did I have change when I had just donated my leftover change at the Saluting Battery? Well, I had just paid for my food at the same shop and he had given me change back.


Out of this, I gave Roberta some coins which I was sure amounted to 50 euro cents. But either from my hand to hers, or hers to the shopkeeper’s, we gave him too much. He returned the extra but at the same time made a comment to his friend in a Shakespearean aside “These English cannot count.”

Now, the funny thing here is that I am a naturalised citizen. I was born in India and even though I have a British passport now and live in England, I can’t claim to be English. But his tone was such that it pissed me off. He could have said the same thing in a way and that included us and we could all have laughed at it. But he chose to say it to his friend, loud enough that we could hear him and with that contempt in his voice that was more offensive than the words.

I would have liked to retort but the first comment that came in my head was so bad that it would have started an international incident. I refrained. Roberta didn’t hear his comment, lucky her.

His crime was compounded by the fact that his Qassattat was abysmal. The one that Sam had bought us after the Segway tour was very lightly and fluffy, filled with ricotta cheese but in a way that it was blended in the flour. Here it was very dry and lumpy with the ricotta visible in a big lump in one side. I think I did not finish it.



Kinnie was a similar story though not through any fault of our racist shopkeeper. It was just a bitter soda and I didn’t like it. Its initial taste was like an Indian soft drink Thums Up which I used to love, but the aftertaste was quite bitter. I did not even finish half of that bottle.


Then we walked around aimlessly which is the great joy of walking in a foreign city. While we were walking through the market, we stepped into a tourist trap (souvenir shop) and to my surprise and delight, they had the same soldier figurines that I had seen the day before, except they had them much cheaper. On Sunday, I had found them for €9.99 while the exact same figures here were going for €4.50. They are called tourist traps for a reason.


Obviously, I bought my favourite figure right away and also bought a fridge magnet, another soldier figure. This made me very happy. I have told you how little it takes to make me happy. See photos.


We had nothing specific to do so we just walked around until it was time to call the taxi. As I have mentioned before Roberta and I both like to get to the airport early to avoid stress. We took a taxi and got to the airport about 1500 for our flight which was at 1655.


Because this was our last stop before jumping the puddle to UK, I took advantage by ordering my last Latte Macchiato in Malta at the airport Costa. It sucked.

If you see security screening staff at an airport smiling and being all cheerful, just migrate to that country. I had noticed this when arriving in Malta also and again I saw the same thing. The staff was cheerful and chatty. I have not seen that often. Or may be ever. What’s in the Malta air?


Speaking of Malta air, we were flying back from Malta Air on the return journey. The flight was uneventful which is how you want your flights to be, except that wearing a face mask for three hours straight sucks. Neither of us ate anything in the flight so our masks stayed on the whole time. And a good thing it was, too. Watch this space.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Malta Trip #14 – Day 5 - The Reluctant Retreat or “Fire one!”


One of the reasons I had been ok with having only 5 days in Malta and had actually preferred it was that most places I get bored in 3-4 days. Malta proved to be a happy exception. Or sad, depending on how you look at it. The fact is that even though we had been living here for 5 days, we were not bored with it. Even with all the walking and being tired I was really enjoying Malta. It had a chill vibe that makes you feel relaxed and happy. I am sure some of it was the great weather but otherwise also, I felt quite happy there.


Today, after five days I realised that all the time I had been in Malta I had not seen a single beggar, homeless person or any kind of scammers. In the great city of Paris, scammers abound by the thousands. New Delhi is amazing, but you better hold on to your wallet in the crowded areas. New York is fantastic but you will see homeless people and be careful that you don’t get mugged. This was the first time I had not seen anything disturbing like that in a city. I don’t know what the reason is but it was refreshing.


On the last day we also had the second “greatest thing in Malta”.


Following my Maltese practice of getting up early, I was out of be
d before sunrise but didn’t try to capture it today. The sky was a bit cloudy this morning. This is how obsessed I have become with photography that I didn’t try to sit there and enjoy the sunrise just for myself. Granted the weather was not as nice as yesterday morning but still, I didn’t even try. The upshot of that was that I was showered, packed and ready before time. But the problem with being punctual is that you have to wait for others. 



It was raining lightly when we checked out of the hotel and stepped out. The whole time we were there we only saw light rain like that and that also didn’t last for long. We ne
ver saw long, sustained or heavy rain though one taxi driver did tell us that recently it rained for three straight days. I was tempted to tell him “Dude, we are from England!”



We took a taxi to Valetta where we were planning to see a couple of sights starting from the Lower Barakka Gardens. Here I realised that I was on the same spot where I had taken photos of the Great Siege Bell the day before. I was just across the road from there today. The bell looks even better from there and I took more photos and videos.


You might have already guessed that where there are lower gardens, there must be upper gardens as well. Yes, there are. There are Upper Barakka Gardens where the “greatest thing” was. Time to reveal that secret. The Upper Barakka Gardens are home to “The Saluting Battery”. They are a military unit that maintains several monuments in Malta including a bunch of cannons at the Upper Barakka Gardens. The most exciting part of this is that they fire one of these cannon everyday! Well, not everyday, only from Monday to Saturday which is why we were here on our last day even though this was the top item on my list of things to see. 

The cannon they fire is called the noonday gun which marks the time (Noon) and there is one at 1600 as well. Since, this is the military and the cannon literally marks the time, we didn’t want to be late for it. We were in fact half an hour early, but it was a good thing because we got a good spot to watch it from on the balcony. The funny thing here is that I was all ready to shell out €3 for the ticket but it turned out that the ticket is only if you want to watch it from the same floor and get a tour of the guns. Watching from the balcony was free, and for my money (or not) that was the better spot if you wanted to take photos.


Roberta found us a great spot at the railing which gave us the perfect shooting angle. This was the big moment, something that I had been anticipating days before we started on the trip, so I didn’t want to miss anything. I have this tiny tripod which comes with a phone holder. I set it up on the floor with my phone camera shooting between the trellis. I took a test video while they were doing a presentation, and then checked the camera and angle several times. Myself I placed to shoot from above the railing with the Panasonic GH5 pointing down to the guns.


Then we waited. I pressed record on the phone camera about five minutes in advance just so I would not forget. And then I checked again that it was recording because recently I had missed once. On the GH5, I set the camera to Burst mode so that I would be able to take a lot of photos quickly at the firing time. Even then I set the camera pointed at the action, set my arm on the balcony so I could click without looking, but kept my eyes free to look at the action. This is how excited I was about this. And then I missed it.

I was hoping that they would do a ten-second countdown like they do for rocket launches but I didn’t know if they would. So, I was constantly looking at the cannon below where a soldier had loaded it, checking my watch, then looking down again...

“Guard! Fire!” A loud voice said and BOOM!


By the time I pressed the shutter on my camera, the shot was out of there like....well, like it was shot out of a cannon. There was only smoke remaining. But, wait, didn’t I have my phone set up to record already? Yes, I did, and that was the saving grace. Roberta had had the same results as mine, getting only the smoke. But the good thing was that I had seen it, big flame, the huge cloud of smoke and that explosion....ooh, goosebumps! I have not celebrated Diwali for many years now but when we were young, I used to love firecrackers. Maybe that’s why I like redheads? Just kidding. But this was the biggest, baddest firecracker I had seen in my life where I also knew that I was safe, so I enjoyed it a lot.

The first thing I did after my heartbeat normalised a little was to check the video on the phone. It was there and it was great. I will try and share the video here in some format that works otherwise the photos will have to do.



I was so happy after that that I went down to their gift shop to see what I could find. They had some nice things and I bought a tiny model plane as a keyring. It’s a little Hurricane. I also had a little Euro change left in my wallet which I dropped in their donation box. The Saluting Battery is a non-profit and works only on donations.

When we left there, I was quite happy. Malta rocks!

Next chapter: Our failed culinary experiments and the retreat from Malta.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Malta trip #13 – Malta Nightlife

Dinner time was again challenging, especially as I was bored with Italian. After a lot of browsing, physical and digital, we agreed on an Indian restaurant for tonight. It was a little distance away from the clubbing precinct and was called “Emperor of India”. It was quite popular and we actually had to wait for a table which I hate doing. I would rather go and eat in some other place if one is busy. To me, waiting for a table is a very bourgeois thing to do. I think it comes from my Indian upbringing where you can get great food even in a cheap, roadside restaurant (they are called dhaba’s and even in them some are better than others.)

Our wait was only about 10 minutes though, and we had something to keep us busy. Tell you later about that. When we got our table, I thought I recognised the couple at the next table. I asked them if they were staying in Corinthia. They were. They asked if we were as well and that told me that they were not the people from the swimming pool which I had earlier thought them to be. It was only coincidence that they were staying at Corinthia.


They were from Germany, the lady spoke a little more English than the gentleman. I see non-native people and I immediately assume they speak English. So stupid. The gent was from Garmisch in Germany which excited me because I have been there. I opened my blog on my phone and showed him the blog header image. 


“This was taken at Garmisch.” I told him.


He nodded and let it go. Two days later when I opened my blog I saw that I had changed the blog header image a while back. In my excitement I had not noticed it in the restaurant but the Garmisch image that I kept on my blog for about 15 years had been replaced by a more recent photo from Rohtang Pass in the Himalayas. The German tourist was just too polite to say “Are you shitting me, bro? This ain’t no Garmisch!”


Anyway, the food was good as we had hoped. The restaurant owner was also a great character. On the way back, we had to walk through the clubbing area so we decided to stop at one place to have a drink. The amusing thing there was that one of the bouncers at the door asked us for our “Proof of Vaccination”. He had to repeat it four times before I got it even though his pronunciation was perfect because I had never been asked this at a club in my life and I am too old to be id’ed. In some malls, we had had occasion that someone pointed something at us. After my first shocked step-back, I realised it was a thermometer. But this was the first time after the airport that anyone asked for our PoV.


Both of us opened the NHS app on our phones to show the NHS Pass as proof of vaccination but the signal wasn’t good and the app just kept showing the spinner. After a while he just said thank you and let us in. We do have trustworthy faces, Roberta and I.


As for the drink inside the less said the better. The drinks were not great and the party was kind of DOA. The drinks were not overpriced if you assume that they would have alcohol. We finished the drinks and came back to the hotel. Admittedly, it was Sunday night but in a tourist place like Malta I had expected it to have more of a buzz.


Our main topic of conversation this evening was the arrangements for return travel. We had our flights booked but there were other arrangement that needed to be made in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.  The UK government had set requirements that everybody coming in had to take a Covid-19 test within 0-2 days of arrival. The way they were enforcing that was to make all passengers book a test online with a test provider company, get a booking reference and enter that booking reference in a “Passenger Locator Form”. Remember, we had to fill a similar form for travelling to Malta? It was the same going back with his additional wrinkle. I sorted out my test booking and form at night, Roberta did hers the next morning in the taxi. I chose to have my test kit sent to my home.


Apropos nothing, one thing I hate is the hotel hand wash soap. This was a 5-star hotel but this practice never changes. They always give you this round bar (circle?) of soap which you put in a soap dish and use it every time you need to wash your hands. It always smells horrible, always makes your skin dry and the worst thing is that it gets disgustingly wet and melty. Why can’t they put a small bottle of liquid handwash there? This time with the pandemic still a concern, the hotel toiletries included two tiny bottles of sanitizer. I am sure they can do the same for liquid handwash in a way that’s cost-effective, if they want. I was carrying my own sanitizer and sanitising wipes but I still swiped those tiny bottles because they were perfect for bringing through airport security.


The next day we were planning to check-out and see the city before going to the airport so I made sure to put all my devices on charge before going to bed. I also made sure all my media was backed up including this morning’s great sunrise photos. Then I went to bed to dream of Covid-19 tests. Just kidding, my dreams are more cinematic.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Malta trip #12 – Day 4 – Lazy and Free

As a tourist I am the lazy type, but as a photographer I make more effort to get the shot I want than I would put in anything else. But this morning, which was a Sunday morning, both sides of my personality were satisfied at the same time. I wanted to take a great shot of the sunrise, but I didn’t have to go anywhere for it. I could shoot the sunrise right from the balcony of my room, in my pj’s. What can be better?

For some reason, I got up very early in Malta on most days. I am talking 0430, 0530 type of times. And I got up easily without having to force myself to keep my eyes open. I didn’t feel fatigue or sleep dep type of symptoms from it either. Was it the sunshine, the nice weather, the sea air, I don’t know. This day also I went and looked out the balcony a couple of times for the colour in the eastern sky and when I didn’t find it I went back to my writing. Yes, I had carried that keyboard from Gozo back to Malta.

Then the next time I went out, I found Roberta on her balcony, quiet as a ninja, shooting the sky with her camera. The sky was just beginning to show some reddish colours. I set up camp on my balcony and shot a lot of photos. There was a low, rambling building in the sea on our left. The waves crashing against its base presented a great scene. I used my mirrorless camera for a couple of long timelapses and used the phone for videos and photos. In case you don’t know a timelapse is when you set up the camera in one place and used the programmed mode to take photos at set intervals. The result is video that flows like a....ummm, well, like an animation,  you could say. It’s used in films a lot to show the passage of time.


For some reason, Blogger is not able to display the videos that I upload. Might be it’s too high resolution or the file sizes are too big. For now I will share just the photos from that morning session and later I will see if I can compile the videos into a vlog episode.

After shooting the sunrise our paths parted. Don’t worry, just for the day. Roberta wanted to cover a couple of sights today and I wanted to just roam around which I find to be a good way of getting to know a place. Plus, the first spot on her list was Mdina and I don’t know why but I could not get excited about that place no matter how many people recommended it.


Here is the story in two parts. Roberta left for her sightseeing and after lazing around for a bit, I got ready and went out by myself. I found a café to have a coffee and sandwich. Have I mentioned Latte Macchiato yet? Well, they didn’t have it. The sandwich was ok. Then I walked through St. Julian’s clubbing area to find the nearest bus stop. Have you ever been to a nightlife spot in the morning? It looks like the tail end of a misspent life.

I grabbed the bus for Valetta which is the capital of Malta and a historic city. Again, this was a crowded bus and I had to stand for a large part of the journey. Not fun. In Valetta I just walked around and took pictures of anything that took my fancy. That was the plan to begin with.


Although, I got tired in Malta a lot, it was quite funny in that way that it was not my knees or legs that felt tired but the bottom of my feet. They felt kind of rough from all the walking around, kind of like blisters but not as severe. I think I have been too sedentary during the pandemic and the soles of my feet might be too soft now. Need to work on that for the next trip.

Reminds me of an Urdu sher which you won’t understand but I will explain:

Jinke hothoN pe haNsi paavon mein chhale honge

Haan, wahi log tere chahne wale honge.

 Translation: Those who will have a smile on their lips and blisters on their feet, yes, those people will the ones who will be in love with you.

 What’s the deeper meaning? I have no idea. Actually, I do but it doesn’t fit here so let it go.


Valetta main street was like a normal market and here I was able to do something I had been wanting to do since I arrived. I went into a tourist trap shop and bought a couple of tshirts. Both were great. See pictures. They were €10.99 per tshirt which is not expensive but quality wise they were only ok. Hey, nobody twisted my arm to buy from there. They also had lots of souvenirs and I really liked the small soldier statues they had. I am the poster boy for buying things I don’t need but lately I have been thinking about toning down this habit, not stopping, just toning down. I thought about my living room and decided that I didn’t have any place to display that figure. In front of my TV would be ideal but that space is limited in height and it would block the screen. I have two small angel figures there that my nieces gave me on a birthday long ago but they are small so they fit in that space. Anyway, I liked it a lot but I left it on the shelf. The story of this soldier is not done, wait for the next part.



Walking around in that pleasant weather was great and when I found an ice cream shop I did not hesitate even for a second. But then I was ready to go back. On the way back, I didn’t even consider taking the bus and simply called a Bolt. I don’t know if it’s because of the size of the country or what, but whenever we book a taxi, we didn’t have to wait very long. Ten minutes would be the longest we had to wait.


Roberta was still out when I got back to the hotel. She got back in another hour. She had been to Mdina and also the Blue Grotto. The latter was one of the sights on my list as well but I preferred walking around as we had only one day left. The sea was too rough today but Roberta’s taxi driver drove her to a high point from where she could take photos of the natural arch that makes it photogenic.


The Corinthia had five swimming pools including one that was indoors and warm. Roberta’s plan for today’s included swimming. I had packed my swimming shorts as well because, well....I was going to an island. We found that you had to book your time in the pool so we made a booking for 1800H and looked around the hotel in the meantime.


At 1800, we were back there. There were only four more people there with us who were all good swimmers. Roberta is a better swimmer than me so did a couple of laps. I did my usual thing of walking as far from the shallow end as I dared and then swimming back to the shallow end. It was super fun. We tried the hot tub and even the sauna for a bit.

 [Photos from Roberta's travels. Unedited.] 

Next part – Malta Nightlife.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Malta Trip #11 – Sunny and the Sea


 Roberta had checked the times of the various boats but she wanted us to get to the Mgarr harbour early because she needed to “make enquiries”. I was joking that she is like a Scotland Yard inspector, always making enquiries. But her enquiries got results. She found us a boat that would follow the exact itinerary we wanted to follow.

On this day we were moving from Gozo to Malta where we were going to stay for the next two nights. Between the islands of Malta and Gozo is the tiny island of Comino which has a permanent population of three people (don’t ask me their names.). The famous Blue Lagoon is on the coast of Comino. This boat was going to take us to Blue Lagoon, show us the sea caves and then take us to Malta. For the small payment of €15. And that’s how started my nightmare.

It was not a big boat, not a rowboat but well, it had an engine and 12 seats in total. Let me find a picture for you. The back of the boat was open and on the left hand side there was a big opening. The boat pilot (captain?) told us to sit in the front two seats. But Roberta and I crowded near the opening on the left. I should have listened to him. The sea was a little bit rough today due to the wind and the boat bounced along on the waves like a pebble on the surface of the water.



Did I tell you how everything scares me? Add rollercoasters to that list. Roberta, of course, was enjoying it immensely, but I was whiteknuckling on the support rail with one hand. Still, I could not have been too scared as I was still taking photos with my right hand. Those were not well-composed shots though, once again I was simply pointing the camera at things and clicking without having any idea what was actually in the frame. The boat pilot looked at us from time to time and smiled reassuringly. That did make me feel better to see that he was not scared. Also, he gave it the gun as soon as were away from the harbour which made it bounce a little less. Other than us there was only a couple in the backseats who got thoroughly drenched while they took photos. They got off at Blue lagoon.


Blue Lagoon was a bit of a let down because pretty as it was, there was not much to take photos of there. There were a whole lot of people swimming and tanning so it was again a doing place then looking. The water stunningly beautiful, very blue and clear, but it’s hard to take photos of that. We stayed there only about ten minutes then our pilot/captain was ready to go. He took us this place where there caves in the cliffside all around us and did a full 360 between them. I took pictures, but the boat was again bouncing so they are not great pictures.

 He again gave it gun and headed for Malta. If anything the boat bounced more this time. We had already been sprayed with water, this time we got sloshed. The left leg of my jeans got completely soaked and my camera also got a faceful of water. Fortunately, I was carrying lens cleaner spray and a microfibre cloth which I used later in my hotel room to clean off the salt from the lens and the camera body.

 If I am totally honest, the boat ride was not that bad. It was a bit of a thrill. I have done white water rafting, twice, on the Ganges in India and while this reminded me of that it was not nearly that bad. If I had to go on that boat ride again, I would, even knowing what I know now. I would not go white water rafting again.

 The boat dropped us at Cirkewwa and I remembered that we were supposed to buy ferry tickets on the way back from Gozo to Malta. That’s how we cheated them. We didn’t take the ferry back. From here we took a taxi to our hotel – Hotel Corinthia in St. George’s Bay. Again, thanks to Roberta’s expert planning, we were going to live for two nights in a 5-star hotel, paying what you would normally pay for a BnB in London. Both our rooms were sea view rooms.

Well, they were supposed to be. The first room they assigned me was far from Roberta’s room and while hers was proper sea view room, mine was more of a pool plus sea view. We went down to the reception and asked for a change. I had taken a picture of the view I had from my balcony and was ready to go into my irate tourist routine but they didn’t let me. They couldn’t have been nicer. The girl at the reception changed my room to one next door to Roberta’s and now I had the same view. That view was stunning.

For the rest of that afternoon we settled in and took possession. My room had twin beds put together and the reception girl had offered to get the mattress changed to a double bed mattress. So, I had to wait for them to do that. In the evening, we went down and walked out of the back of the hotel, right down to the water. It was not a beach just a sea front, but it was nice to waves crashing there.

I was realising how much my life was revolving around photography that I could not think about anything at all without thinking about its implications in my photos. So, I left my camera behind and just tried to enjoy the moment. 

The compound had many eating establishments. We looked around and settled on an American diner whose menu seemed to interest us. We were early so we could have a table otherwise all their tables were reserved from 2000 onwards. They had a nice burger that I enjoyed. They also had happy hour with two for one cocktails right now. I don’t want to talk about it.

Because of the way the balcony was facing, the sunset view from the hotel was not good. But you know what, where there’s a sunset there’s a sunrise. Wait till I tell you about the sunrise from that room.


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Malta trip #10 – The Malta Moment

In the morning, following a discussion with Roberta, I had texted Phyl our plan and asked her if she was ok with it. She was happy to help. We had packed our bags before leaving the apartment and left them in the living room. We had also talked to the owner, Roberta had, to ask if we could check-out late, at Noon. He was fine with that. Original check-out time was 1000.


After saying bye to Sam in Nadur, we got in the taxi with Phyl. First of all, I emptied that bottle of water in my stomach. I needed it. You might not have noticed but we had left without breakfast this morning. I also wanted to eat that “Cheese thing” but it looked like it would be flaky and I didn’t want to mess up Phyl’s car. She was moved by my tales of hunger and tried to find me a paper napkin so I could eat it while she drove but tough luck. By the way, the cheese thing was called Qassattat, I found out later. It will feature in the story again later. 


Following our plan, Phyl brought us back to our apartment so we could pick up our bags. On the Segway tour I had used a small crossbody bag which I had recently bought for photography day trips. This I left in the car for the time being. I had one backpack and one suitcase. During the flight to and from UK the crossbody bag was emptied and stuffed in the suitcase. I was travelling light, so there was space for it. In all my years of travel, it has been only once when I have travelled with three pieces of luggage on a trip to India and I regretted it very, very much. Now, I only ever have two. Backpack goes on the back, one suitcase I can push with one hand, the other hand is free to hold passport, boarding card, ticket, phone or take support on escalators.


Right now I behaved completely ungentlemanly and left Roberta to deal with her bags (she always did anyway) while I used my free to hand to devour the Qassattat as we went from the apartment to the car. By the time we had stuffed our bags in the boot, my Qassattat had disappeared and my stomach was happy. It was absolutely delicious, by the way.


Now, let me try to paint you a picture while knowing that I won’t be able to do it justice. As we drove off from there to do sightseeing with Phyl in the driving seat, this was my mindset. I was in a car with a good friend and a friendly driver (call her a second friend). The sun was shining, the weather was warm and pleasant. I was on a beautiful island far from conference calls and meetings. I had been fed and watered. I had my cameras and I was about to go see some beautiful sights. I think the French have a phrase for it – bien être  – the feeling of well-being. That moment for me, was Malta.


The three of us chatted about a bunch of things while Phyl drove us over some rough roads. It was easy to see why other drivers don’t take that route. The magic of Phyl’s personality was that you didn’t feel like you were riding in a taxi but with a friend who was going to show you around. She was driver, guide, photographer and friend all in one. That’s why I called her a character because she was not your average taxi driver.


Often people exaggerate their own goodness and the value they bring to the world. We found that Phyl was not one of them. Everything she had told us was true and accurate – the roads were bad, the sights were stunning and she did care that we got a lot out of that trip. It was like riding with a family member. She even gave us ultimatums for each stop. There were many things to see and we were short on time, we had told her already.


Unlike the hop-on-hop-off bus, Phyl’s tour was not signposted with clear stops. She just drove on a route which she knew had great visuals and stopped anywhere she thought we could get a good picture. In some places it meant stopping by the side of the road, I got out, snapped a few shots and away we go again. It was glorious!


She drove us by Marsalforn and I saw that it was very pretty if you had the right perspective. Then there was a cave by the salt pans. Then the salt pans themselves. Don’t ask me what they are, see the photos. At each stop I was torn between using the camera or the phone and ended up using both, especially the phone is really good for videos.


Remember, I told you about the futility of taking photos from the top deck of the bus? In some places here I literally stuck my hand out of the moving car with my camera, or phone, and snapped a few shots. I could not see what I was shooting, I could just point the lens in the general direction of the scene. So much for composition. Surprisingly, a lot of them came out well.


In one place, Phyl told us not to look back just look ahead until she told us. Well, that doesn’t work with me. I sneaked a look and knew what she meant. Finally when she stopped in an open plain and told us to look we could see caves in the cliffside below. It was a beautiful scene. See pictures. The reason she told us not to look back was that the drive up there was in a curve and the caves were coming into view one by one as we drove. If we had looked behind, we would have wanted to stop there, but the best place to stop was at the top of curve from where we could see all the caves. I hope that’s clear from the photos.


Because Roberta and I are both photographers our cameras usually point outwards. Roberta does try to document her journey with some selfies but I forget that also. In this place we got a few photos of us because Phyl offered to take them for us. This place was quite windy and because of that felt a little colder than the rest of Gozo. I am saying “this place” because we didn’t know what it was called. Neither did Phyl. She just knew it was a nice place to take photos. We stayed here a few minutes to admire the beauty and marvel at the craziness of those who go kayaking down there.


The big stop, and the final stop, on this route was Wied-il-mielah. Unlike the last evening, Phyl got us so close to it that we could see the window spot as soon as we got out of the car. She gave us 15 minutes to do our thing there if we wanted to get to the harbour on time. The window itself was nice, huge, but neighbouring with another cliff and therefore not easy to photograph in its entirety. There was a concrete staircase leading down which got us in a better position to take photos.


I don’t mind telling you standing on that small platform was a bit nerve-wrecking because I can’t swim, the sea was noisy and had to be there. I get scared easily anyway – heights, water, work, dentist, pretty much anything. We managed to take all the photos we wanted in 15 minutes, then we were back in the taxi. This time Phyl took the road that we would have taken the previous evening coming down to the window. We timed it to the spot where she had picked us up. It was a long road.

When Phyl picked us up in Nadur, she had told Roberta to create a multi-stop trip in the Bolt app for the apartment, Wied-il-Mielah and the harbour because that was the cheaper way to do it. But the Bolt company would only pay Phyl for driving the route. All the stops and waiting was not included in that. So, we added a tip equal to the meter on top to compensate her for her time. She had been really good to us and I can honestly say that the tour with her was the best time we had in Gozo. A close second was the Segway tour.


Let’s break it here, in the next chapter I will talk about the scariest time I had in Malta.