Saturday, May 30, 2015

Five Tips When Visiting Malta

Last spring after returning from my 2014 Europe trip I mused about how Malta was a destination on my radar for future ‘Old World’ adventures. A year later I was able to visit the small island nation (much sooner than expected thanks to my wife being sent across the Atlantic for work).

In that earlier blog I suggested that Malta seemed to be the perfect combination of the history, culture and food Europe is known for, with an added splash of idyllic beach living normally reserved for more tropical locales.

Malta slotted into our trip for three days between Barcelona and London, two cities that demand extensive sight-seeing. We were more than happy to spend these days enjoying the beautiful weather, gorgeous landscapes and unique cuisine. Our expectations were high, but our experience surpassed even those lofty standards. This was the perfect middle portion to a whirl-wind 10-day Euro adventure, and it was arguably the best part of our trip!

Here are a few photos of this beautiful island, along with five tips I can offer up to future visitors:

Three days isn’t nearly enough

Malta may be small, but it has so much going for it. Beautiful beaches, historic old cities & legendary nightlife. If you are coming to experience everything it has to offer, make sure you come for at least a week. Also, if you have plans to visit the smaller islands of Gozo and Comino (which apparently you should) you may need even more time.

Mediterannen beach living at its finest
Never-ending pristine landscapes
Don’t miss Mdina

I say this because we did. We were staying on rural Golden Bay beach, as our main prerogative was some R&R. We set aside one of our three days to sight-see and choose to do it in the capital, Valletta. While it was an enjoyable day we found Valletta to be more of a relaxed shopping destination and thought it lacked a little in memorable sights. Our cab driver recommended Mdina and we should have listened as it is a beautiful ancient walled city with huge tourist appeal.

Main drag in Valletta
Utilize the efficient island bus system

For 1.50 Euro per day you can ride an extensive network of buses that travel all over the island of Malta. From Golden Bay we were able to grab a bus right outside of our resort and travel to Valletta (at nearly the opposite end of the island) in about an hour. Considering that a taxi from the Airport to our hotel was 30 euro and a shorter distance, it’s clear how amazing of a value the bus system is. The route map and time table are both extremely easy to read.

Great vantage point in the capital
Try local cuisine

This can be said for most places in the world, but it’s worth mentioning for Malta. Two items I particularly enjoyed were pastizzi (I will provide this link to avoid lengthy description) as well as rabbit in its various forms including stewed. If you are staying in the Golden Bay area I highly recommend Apple’s Eye restaurant. It is nothing fancy but offers great local comfort food at excellent prices.

Delicious pastizzi
Embrace the shoulder season

Malta welcomes the majority of its visitors during the summer season, June to August. We went in late-April and the weather was absolutely beautiful, the crowds relatively thin and the prices still not fully rebounded from their winter lows. The sea, while beautiful to look at, is a little too chilly for most to swim in at that time of year, but the pros far outweigh the cons in shoulder season.

Even in mid-April I was enjoying the sea
View from our room at the Radisson Blue Golden Sands

Checkout my TripAdvisor review of Radisson Blu Golden Sands here

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Go! Running Tours Barcelona

After arranging my flight into Barcelona to join my wife who had earlier gone over on business, I knew I would have one solo morning to kill while she was still in company meetings. I was looking for something active that would help me beat the jet lag but at the same time give me a quick introduction to the sights Barcelona has to offer. Initially I was thinking about a bike tour, but I noticed that Go! Running Tours Barcelona was one of the top rated activities in the city according to TripAdvisor. As I am an avid runner at home, this seemed like a fantastic option for Day 2 (my first full day) in Europe.

Go! Running Tours Barcelona offers several different options which vary in length, route, private vs group etc. I chose the 10K Old Town private run. I initially found the cost a little steep at 60 euro, but when you consider that it is essentially a private tour guide as well as a private photographer the price-point ends up being very fair for the service offered. I booked my run for 8am which was a little early, but provided some open space as well as the exciting backdrop of a city just coming to life for the day. 

My guide Robin was awesome! We met at the convenient Plaça de Catalunya (they offer to meet at your hotel, but mine was a little too far out of the way for the tour so this central location was chosen). After a quick meet and greet we were off, with Robin allowing me to set the pace while he ran alongside with his pole-mounted GoPro camera in hand. For the next 2.5 hours we would explore much of Barcelona’s historic Old Town. Main stops included Plaça Reial, El Raval, Las Ramblas, Palau Güell, Parc de la Ciutadella, Santa Maria del Mar and many more. 

Our total time on the move was about half of the 2.5 hour excursion and the rest of the time was spent standing in/around the aforementioned sights while Robin provided both factual historic information as well as humorous personal commentary. Of particular interest to me was the history behind the Estelada flag that I saw all over the city. In all we ended up covering just under 12.5K, so even more than the 10K that was paid for. In my remaining days in Barcelona I was able to use this base knowledge of the city to further explore with my wife.

The day after the run Robin emailed me over 70 excellent photos as well as a map of our route. He also offered for me to further contact him by email at any time later in the trip or even down the road if I had any questions about Barcelona.

I would highly recommend Go! Running Tours Barcelona for both casual and serious runners who want to keep up their cardio abroad while receiving an excellent jumpstart on their city sightseeing. Robin is a real pro and a great ambassador for his city. Here are some of my favorite shots from the run:
Meeting up with Robin for the run!
El Raval Cat
Picking up speed through the old hospital
Las Ramblas in the morning, before the crowds
Heading for the docks
Santa Maria del Mar - The "People's Church"
Fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella
Pretending we are running the Barcelona Marathon through the Arch

Here is the Go! Running Tours Barcelona website.

Mike & Palms & Pints