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Exploring Malta and Playmobil

by Ben

sunny 15 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

It is a sunny day in Malta and a good day for travelling for three of us at least. Unfortunately, Abby’s head cold is blossoming and she now has a bit of an earache but is still soldiering on.

Exiting our Xlendi apartment was made interesting by the winch system that is available. Right next to our apartment door is a boom on which is mounted a small electric winch. Being seven stories up, the winch is a wonderful amenity with which to transport luggage. Abby was not too convinced with the safety or reliability of the machinery (or maybe it was the operators) so chose to carry her bag down numerous flights of stairs. I guess she is the slimmest of the four of us for a reason.

Gozo/Malta Ferry

Gozo/Malta Ferry

In short order we headed for the ferry. They operate transit system where getting onto Gozo is free but leaving has a price. From our experience the reverse may be a better strategy if they don’t want to attract more residents. I believe everyone is more than willing to go to Gozo and most are reluctant to leave. Charging to leave is not the kind of disincentive they should be offering.

The Maltese Ferry system between Gozo and Malta is the picture of efficiency. These modern ferries operate around the clock and go every half hour.

On the ferry, we again experienced the sullen expressions and terse communication style of many Maltese. They appear quite affable and warm with each other but when a tourist is part of the communication equation a definite coolness sets in. I suppose being outnumbered in your own country by ignorant visitors from abroad does not warm the cockles of anyone’s heart. I would not call these interactions outright rude, but they take some getting used to. I would not say such mannerisms are universal but just very common. I suspect the fact that 80 to 90 percent of locals speak English as well as Maltese is a contributing factor. Tourists immediately speak in English rather than try any Maltese which may irritate the locals. Where is the respect for the local language? I must confess a lack of effort on my part as well. Maltese is a very difficult language with such nuances as “xl”is pronounced “shl” and “gh” is totally silent. One is more reluctant to risk some Maltese when a cold or sharp response is likely.
When we got off the ferry on Malta, we stopped at Melleha Bay to take a walk on the sandy beach in order to take in some brilliant sunshine. We then set course for some ancient temples on the very south of Malta. In general, the main roads on Malta are a refreshing change from the potholed curlicues that are the secondary roads. Even with these more recently paved streets,road speeds seldom go above 60 km/h. However, there was one road section which had an autobahn billboard next to it with a posted speed limit of 70 km/h along with photo radar signs and warnings that “Speed Kills” mounted on various signposts.

As we neared the temples the roads reverted back to more rustic tracks but nothing out of the ordinary until our GPS directed us to take a narrower stone fence lined road. There was a road sign for our destination so it appeared to be a legitimate route. The actual roadbed itself was in fairly good condition but the four to five high foot stone walls on either side felt a bit claustrophobic. Over the next few hundred meters the stonewalls seemed to devour the road width. Suddenly, the small Peugeot we were driving looked like an elephant attempting to negotiate an apartment hallway. I came to a complete stop when it was evident that I needed to pull in both side mirrors to move any further. It didn’t look good. Every 50 meters or so there was a break in the wall to an entrance to a field or farm building. Turning into one of these openings was tempting but to what end? The road we were driving on had to be one way, so driving back would be a last option if it were even possible to totally turn around in some farmer’s field without getting stuck.

We soldiered on even when at one point the folded in side mirror on the passenger side touched the stone wall. The roadway opened up slightly after this and we passed a farmer working on the edge of his field. He didn’t bat an eye at seeing our car using the roadway. Apparently this was a frequently used thoroughfare after all, and a road sign indicating a narrow road width was considered superfluous by the locals.

A few potholed roads later and we arrived at a very well-maintained building and parking lot for a complex of temples dating before the age of Stonehenge. A large school group was on the grounds and a small busload of tourists had just arrived. Our kids did not look too enthused by the prospect of touring the ancient ruins especially with the sudden influx of people. Considering the 32 euro price tag for a family visit, Muriel and I decided we should invest these funds into taking the kids out for lunch instead.

We went to the town of Birzebbuga which is near the main shipping port and factory area of Malta. Despite the industrial surroundings Marsaxlokk Bay was still quite pretty with a wide promenade along half of it. We had another well portioned Maltese meal that was heavy with British and North American influences. Food does a lot to revive a couple of teenagers.

Playmobil Factory

Playmobil Factory

For a total change of pace we decided to take a tour of the nearby Playmobil factory. Playmobil operates the second second largest factory in Malta. It has 800 employees working three shifts a day to produce all the small Playmobil figures sold worldwide. Other factories in Germany and elsewhere make the larger toy components. The factory produces tens of thousands of toys everyday mostly using robotics although there is still a fair bit of old-fashioned assembly line work taking place as well. From the complex processes used for producing each part and the quality of the workmanship you can begin to understand why these plastic toys are so much more expensive than most other plastic toys on the market. As factories go, it looked like a nice work environment where employees rotated jobs to prevent boredom.

Playmobil Factory

Playmobil Factory

During the factory tour we were taught how to assemble a Playmobil figurine by hand which we were then allowed to keep. Some of the smaller production runs are still put together by hand. Playmobil has people throughout Malta who also work part time at home putting together toys.

After our factory tour, we headed to our hotel in Sliema which is in the heart of the densely populated region of Malta. It is a couple of kilometers from the Maltese capital of Valletta. It is really impossible to discern where one town begins and another ends. The streets and traffic are very thick in this area of Malta and one can only imagine what it is like in the summer. Fortunately our hotel has free underground parking. We are in a modern hotel with extremely large rooms. I had booked two rooms since a 4 person room was not available. The cost per room was quite inexpensive so the two rooms together did not put us much above budget. When we saw our rooms I realized we could have fit a large family in each. At least the kids like the idea having their own place.

Muriel and I looked for fixings for a picnic dinner at a mall two blocks away. The mall was a bit of a shock since it was a brand new four storey affair that could compete with anything in North America. Quite a contrast to everything we have seen in Malta so far. The food store attached revealed big city North American prices as well. A long English cucumber goes for 1.90 Euros or a little less than three dollars Canadian. The modern Malta is not necessarily an improvement over the historical but it is nice to have some comforts-except for the food prices in the grocery store which are in sharp contrast to the more reasonable prices we have encountered for most things elsewhere in Malta.

Posted by KZFamily 06:52 Archived in Malta Tagged malta gozo playmobil Comments (3)

Gotta Go to Gozo - Republished

By Muriel

overcast 13 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Gozo is proving to be simply a wonderful place to recharge and appreciate God's beautiful handiwork. I love the sandy arid cliffs combined with the green of the terraces and the blue-green colours of the bays. It seems to soothe my soul and generate a peace within. And this despite the trials that come to Ben while driving on the wrong side of the road! Actually, he is doing just great and has discovered how to drive with just the right amount of aggression and restraint. It definitely is a two person job, however, and I am a fully active partner as navigator. Between the GPS' sometimes nebulous' directions and Gozo's many 'diversions' (seemingly permanent detours), the journey is only really restful when the car stops and we get out to walk or take in one of the many vistas. The first order of the day was to find a grocery store to purchase supper fixings. Seeing a free parking stall in the centre of Victoria, Gozo ("quick, Ben, grab it"), we took advantage of it and hoped there was a store nearby. Alas, once found, the grocery store was closed for the daily three-hour siesta so we elected to visit the Citadel in the town instead. It is an imposing fortress but its best feature was that it provided a beautiful view of the countryside.

Victoria, Gozo: View from the Citadel

Victoria, Gozo: View from the Citadel

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Today, we visited the Azure Window, so named because one can view the sapphire-like sea through a natural arch, formed over many thousands of years. It is on a beautiful, craggy coastline, sharing its natural glory with another rock formation named Fungus Rock, because of the fungus that readily grows there. There were a few tourists but not many due to the winter climate. Several come by bus as there is both the tourist sightseeing bus which allows patrons to ‘hop on, hop off’ at various spots on their own timetable and the island bus. Each would be a worthwhile option for people without a car. We find our little Peugot very handy, however, and make the most of travelling around, especially considering the following: when we picked it up from the Malta airport, they ‘very kindly’ had filled it with half a tank of gas, charged us for that (with appropriate markup) and told us to ‘bring it back as empty as possible.’ Even with seeing much of Gozo, we have only used an eighth of a tank so I see their scheme to supplement their rental profits is a reliable one. (Most other car rental places provide you with a full tank and if you return it full, you have no extra charges so , in this way, you only pay for gas you actually use.) Those astute Maltese!

Azure Window, Gozo

Azure Window, Gozo

Next to the Azure Window is the Inland Sea, a small body of water that comes through a channel from the Mediterranean. Surrounding it are a couple of dozen boat houses. All appeared to be locked for the season. As we humans are wont to do everywhere it seems, they have put in a road to see these two geological sites, added a restaurant, some souvenir shops and an ice cream truck for good measure, and promoted it. Voila, insta-tourist site. I must admit we partook of the ice cream but declined the insistent ‘guide’ who was attempting to sell guidebooks by thrusting them into our hands through the car window upon arrival.

We felt we couldn’t leave Malta without having stepped into one of the 365 churches on the islands so, on our way back home, we popped into one that still seemed very much in use. I can’t recall the name of it just now but it was quiet, dark and restful inside. The many churches on the Malta Archipelago rise high into the sky and provide startling interruptions to the otherwise diminutive skylines. Several of them have imposing domes, with one actually larger than St. Paul’s in London. Pretty impressive for such a small country

Victoria, Gozo: Typical Maltese Church

Victoria, Gozo: Typical Maltese Church

We came across a very well-stocked little store and were happy to find a choice of pre-made curry sauces. We paired the find with mango chutney, bought some chicken and rice, and enjoyed a delicious, easy meal at home tonight. Fortunately, the girls were hungry by then, despite having a rare sojourn to a restaurant for lunch on their own. They were served very large platters of pasta and had to leave portions on their plates. They almost didn’t have room for dessert but, luckily, gelato stomachs are separate from lunch stomachs so they were able to go to the same cheap, beach-front gelato stand we frequented yesterday. The evening saw us doing laundry, puttering and playing Dutch Blitz --no one remembers who wins the first game of the evening, just the last one. Sigh.

Posted by KZFamily 09:33 Archived in Malta Tagged malta gozo Comments (4)

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