After leaving Comino Island and Gozo we headed into the northern section of Valetta’s harbours, Sliema Bay, and attached to an enormous mooring buoy.
Once settled, we took the ferry across to Valetta peninsula and walked through the charming streets, with gorgeous sights unfolding around every corner.
Our destination was the Mediterranean Conference Centre where we were hoping to be able to obtain tickets for a sold out performance of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto – which we love!
Meanwhile, we watched a match of Bocci – a kind of Boule, only more vicious! – being played down the water front. The players were highly skilled.
Once back at the concert hall, we were asked to wait in the foyer of the incredible St John’s Knights Hospital building and once all ticket holders had taken their seats we were ushered into the stalls and enjoyed the performance for FREE!
After that special treat we were on a high.
The next day we walked around to the Marina to check the position of our berth and had a bit of an explore. We then met up with David Mather, a pal from MdR, (who had kindly brought a parcel from Sicily for us) for a coffee in Marks and Spencer’s.
Later, we motored into Msida Marina and parked up with the able assistance of the delightful marineros. Lovely.
Next day, we hired a car and after refilling the dive tanks we set off to explore the island. We drove south to Marsaxlokk and enjoyed a coffee on the sea front. We popped into visit the brother in law of my friend Jane Blanshard at his restaurant in Birzebuggia.
After consulting our Malta expert, Paul Brennan we headed up to Mdina.
What a beautiful town with outstanding views across Malta and far out to sea.
We found the Xara Palace Hotel, as instructed, and stayed for a bite to eat and a glass of wine.
Soon it was time to head back via Lidl to stock up for our crew.
They duly arrived and by noon we were in the Mamma Mia restaurant tucking into a fabulous pile of pasta.
On the Sunday after preparing meals for the crossing and completing other prep, we explored the walls and turrets of Valetta and gazed out at the Grand Harbour and the cruise ships moored in there.
We had hoped to see a game of Bocci but there was no game on, so we had to settle for a beer in the Bocci Club Bar instead!
We left the comfort of our winter home base of the Porto Turistico di Marina di Ragusa, sad to say goodbye but pleased to be off adventuring once again.
I can now vouch for the fact that setting sail after a big night out is not the best preparation for a wallowy crossing from Sicily to Malta.
Mind you, we had had the best time! Thanks to Jacqueline and Peter on Dolce Farr Niente for great chat, nosh and ‘Farr’ too much wine, and to Gwen and Glen on Pardella for a tremendous sing-a-long! Ian, although tempted to try his own ‘party piece’ rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, settled for the no less dramatic and perplexing ditty (for the foreigners in the party) of Ilkley Moor Bah T’at! It was stunning! You can see how the evening had progressed! Such fun!
We completed the last minute jobs of charging all electrical items, filling up with water, raising the dinghy on to the davits and changing the lines to slips. By 0900h we were ready to depart. We glided out of the Marina just as the daily Marina Radio Net was in full swing and waved to the few of our friends who were up out of their duvets at that time.
We look forward to drinking, chatting and singing with them all again in future.
We had a fairly uneventful crossing although, of course, we did manage to break something. The block attaching the main sheet from boom to deck came asunder so a quick fix had to be arranged. It’s only been on for six months so there will be investigations in order.
Later, we were met by a pod of five common dolphins as we approached Gozo.
We decided that the southern anchorages would be best so we headed for Mgarr and anchored off the breakwater. It was a bit rolly in there but we were fine. We were able to leave the boat the next day and go off to Vittoria the capital town on Gozo and see a little more of the island.
The views from the citadel were incredible and the town was bursting with cultural possibilities. The most intriguing of which (for me) was the showing of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society film.
There had been performances of Jesus Christ Superstar earlier in the month a show produced by Hugh Wooldridge, the very same man who produced the Night of 1000 Voices at the Royal Albert Hall, which I was lucky enough to be involved with in 1997. Small world! On Malta itself this week there is a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin concerto and a recital by a brilliant pianist.
Life is busy on Malta.
We spent a nice couple of days in anchorages on Comino Island and had a lovely time exploring the caves and arches nearby.
We even had our first barbecue.
We said a quick ‘Hello’ to friends from MDR, Karen, Patrick, AJ and Esme on Laurin and gave a jaunty wave to Lynita and family on Dizzie. I am sure that we will meet up with more of our fellow live-aboards as the season continues.
So, we are heading into the marina near Valetta, Msida Marina, for a few nights so that we can pick up crew (David Heane and Chris Plumb) and get organised for a long crossing to Cephalonia. This is likely to take place on Monday as that seems to be when there is the best weather window.
Its mid-April and I am sitting here in the Porto Turistico di Marina Di Ragusa whilst the wind howls around us at about 50knots. The boat (A 1992 Bavaria Lagoon 430) is rocking in the wind so much that the cutlery drawer keeps flying open, as if it has been magically enchanted by Mary Poppins!
It’s best to keep busy and distracted so that I don’t find myself worrying about every squeak, creak and crunch.
The music of the marina is clanging halyards, windblown rigging singing and whistling, whipping sail covers and flapping flags that shred themselves sacrificially.
Tonight, there is a proper musical interlude in the Marina Lounge Bar. The music being provided by very talented musical sailors within the marina community together with some locals.
Tomorrow, the wind will have dropped back to more acceptable levels and a few of us are off to join the Kalura Walking group again for a walk in the Sicilian hills nearby.
For the last six weeks Ian has been working his way down his spreadsheet list of 180 boat jobs. He was able to complete some jobs despite recovering from his hernia operation and is now in a position to say that there are only three remaining pre-departure jobs to complete and they are all in hand!
Needless to say, fixing the heads (toilet) is a top priority – again. I had the dubious pleasure of cleaning the whole toilet pan. This involves chipping off the crystals that develop when wee mixes with the salt water that is used to flush the loo! Nice. The joys of sailing.
After arriving back at the boat in mid-March I immediately got on with the job of social secretary; catching up with marina friends and fellow sailors. We had an enormous lunch at the Azienda Magazze buffalo farm with a jolly group and waddled back to the marina full as eggs! Also managed a good few ‘Happy Hours’ at the Stella Marina Bar, a visit to the ricotta farm and a fiendish Bonus Whist session. Its been all go.
We had a lovely week back home with Ian’s mum in late March for the wedding of our eldest niece Sophie and her fiancé Adam. It was a wonderful day and so nice to spend time with all the family. Keira, Erin and Josh were all up north, so it was extra special to be them too.
Since arriving back at the boat, we have completed adjustments to the forepeak guest cabin to make it a little more spacious. (Well, there is room to just about swing a cat!) We have also come up with an improved storage solution for all the boat tools, spares and equipment. It means that it is easier to access everything and there is still room for the bunk room to accommodate one (small) person.
We now have comfortable and hardwearing cockpit cushions and a lovely new sail bag to protect the main sail. A new outboard motor cover, (From Krina on Spray, life raft cover, from Beatrice on Barracuda, and winch covers. I have made new covers for the guard rail pads and handy pockets for sun glasses etc. I also have made mattress covers for the forepeak and some storage solutions for the duvets.
I have covered everything that stood still long enough, in polka dot sticky-backed plastic to jazz u the galley.
I have also had my first attempt at making limoncello. (See the pages part of the blog for the recipe. It was very easy to make and tastes delicious.)
I have had a couple of journeys up to Ragusa with Helena (Amalia) and Aylin for the early morning market there. There’s all sorts available from; bags of ridiculously cheap vegetables; fish, meat, shoes, handbags, clothes, material, even woven palm frond ornaments for Palm Sunday.
I have continued to practise my Italian. Our neighbour Catherine has encouraged me to join her conversation group on a Thursday and I have made bad attempts to chat.
It has been a very pleasant time indeed, made even more so by the delivery of one hundred litres of Frattelli Mazza boxed wine. We have stowed it away. Now, we just have to try not to drink it all before we set sail!
Our first experience of Palm Tree Heritage Hotel was sitting beneath the trees on the edge of the beach, examining the wave action of the Arabian sea and watching the red kites swoop and soar overhead; whilst sipping a mint soda drink. If this was to be the format for the next few days then it would be fine by me.
We were checked into our perfect little room on the cliff top and listened to the waves pounding the rocks below. With a beach on both sides we were in a prime position. Palm trees shaded our little balcony and we enjoyed watching people stroll by along the red tufa path.
At night we could see the lights of around forty fishing boats twinkling on the horizon.
We managed to exert enough energy to walk both north and south along the cliff path and discovered that we were in just about the most perfect spot. Unspoilt and quiet. The shops along the cliff to the south were interesting enough and I visited the Varkala Aquarium to while away an afternoon. I could have seen a 3D film for an extra 25rupees but there weren’t enough visitors to warrant showing the film. I elected to pay the full amount (£2.50) and sat in the cool of the air-con with all the members of staff who had come in to watch with me.
Every day; the farmers drove their water buffalo between beach and farm, right past our front door. Every morning; the fishermen laid their nets from the beach using remarkable coconut trunk canoes and lots of enthusiasm.
From about 0730h they began pulling these enormous nets back onto the beach. One morning, I happened to be there and offered to assist. The fishermen were amused by my joining in.
After about 45mins the net, and the daily catch was in. They had pulled in many small fry; all wriggling and shimmering in a fishy mess enclosed by the tiny mesh of the net. There was also a sting ray and some larger fish. There was an awful lot of plastic too but that was simply thrown back into the water!
The work was not over yet The nets were laid out along the entire area of the beach and the men sat down and began the intricate process of fixing any holes. The huge boat also had to be dragged and spun on its axis to a safe distance up the beach.
Locals told us that the beach used to be a wide curving expanse of sand but after a very severe cyclone hit Kerala in November 2017 (Cyclone Ockhi ) the coast line changed. The waves at that time were as high as 7m in some areas and there was a deluge of accompanying rainfall. The cyclone claimed at least 12 lives and more than 200 fishermen were left stranded and had to be rescued. This was a sobering thought as we looked out over what looked like a fairly benign stretch of water.
Since then, the water level has risen to such an extent as to be a threat to properties along the cliff. The remaining beach was really quite small. The waves came crashing in full of sand. Swimming from the beach was quite challenging especially entering and leaving the water. I didn’t fancy it but Sue was brave enough to swim.
One day, we decided to head into Trivandrum, the capital of communist governed Kerala. First stop was the Temple, well, after a masala dosa snack! After that, we felt armed and ready to head out into the heat to walk round the beautiful building. We wandered the streets and then went to the park intending to visit the zoo and the museum there, but both we closed on Mondays.
The heat sapped our remaining energy reserves and we were glad to get back to the station and thence to the cool breeze on the beach.
The day after we organised a quick visit to the elephant sanctuary near Varkala, where we saw a number of elephants chained up in the shade. We fed one of the elephants 5 kilos of bananas which he dispatched in about 30 seconds. It was a rather dispiriting experience and not at all what I had hoped for.
After our few days relaxation, we headed back to Cochin on the train. We met friends on the train and had a good chat with them as we trundled back to Cochin.
We stayed in a lovely hotel on Princess Street and enjoyed wandering around the area. We had a pleasant evening sampling the delights of the Old Harbour Hotel and The Tower Hotel next door. We ate at a fantastic waterside restaurant on our last night. Our visit to the Folklore Museum; housing an incredible private collection of items and antiques from around Kerala; involved a wonderful ferry ride across from Fort Cochin to the modern part of the city; Ernakulam. That was one of the highlights for me as it was a cool and stress free way to travel.
All too soon, it was time to be heading back to the UK. We have had such an amazing time and have many wonderful memories from our trip.
Til the next time India……
Next: Back to the boat, Linea in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily.
Our sojourn at the Ayervedic spa may have been brief but it was interesting. The festival celebrations at the nearby Hindu temple went on most of the day and night. We now feel familiar enough with Hindu tunes to offer our services next time. We met the other four guests and really enjoyed their company. It was a shame that our schedule didn’t allow us to stay longer. I indulged in a massage which was one of the best ever.
After a little discussion and some research, we booked a train from Palakhad to Aluva (pronounced Aloowa). Then the plan was to head up to Munnar and the tea plantations by taxi.
We had another wonderful train journey down from Palakhad. The taxi was easy to arrange and our lovely driver stopped at a fabulous local restaurant en route so that we could have refreshments. I introduced Sue to her first taste of the delicious masala dosa! A massive, thin disc of rice flour and lentil pancake that is filled with a potato and vegetable masala and loosely rolled. It is gently laid across a tray and droops over the sides. There are accompanying lentil dahl, vegetable curry and coconut chutney. Full marks!!
We continued on up into the cool of the hills and turned off the main road as darkness decended. We bounced along yet more pot-holed and rock strewn road and finally arrived at Eagle Mountain Hotel. (Bison Valley Road, Ottarmaram, email@example.com www.eaglemountainmunnar.com) We were shown to our enormous bedroom with balcony and were keen to see the view in the morning.
Oh WOW! What an amazing sight met our eyes. We were also able to hear the distinctive off-key whistling of the Malibar song thrush entertaining us and accompanying the view to music. Well, a rendition remarkably like, ‘Happy Birthday to You’.
We spent a quiet first day relaxing and enjoying the mountain air. I booked a walking tour (MunnarTrekkingAdventure.gmail.com www.munnartrekkingadventure.com) around the tea plantations for the following day. We organised a tuk-tuk to take us to to the meeting point at 0630h and then we were taken off on a beautiful, breath-taking and extensive tour of the surrounding countryside. Our guide was informative about the history of the tea plantations. After walking 12km we were ready for a reviving cup of chai and a lime soda. Once again, we met some interesting and friendly fellow travellers.
After our walk, we explored Munnar town which hasn’t really got much to recommend it, I’m afraid to say. The market area was quite interesting however, and we also enjoyed the tea museum. I was able to get my wedding ring expanded for a fee. About 30p!
By late afternoon, the fact that i had been quite sun burnt in the morning, became apparent to me, as my face and neck were very sore where they had been exposed to the rays. I was like a beacon!
To save ourselves a bit of time we booked a night bus to take us on to the coast to Kollam. We then spent the next five hours biting our nails as the bus practically time travelled its way down. We arrived with our hair standing on end, hot and sweaty (there was no air con!) and collapsed with nervous exhaustion into our hotel at 0200h.
The next morning, we met with the agent from Palm Tree Heritage, and were taken to our houseboat which was to be our home for the next couple of days.
This was yet another wonderful way to spend time and enjoy India. The boats are converted rice barges and they have a beautifully wrought wicker cover over them with openings for windows and sun decks. Ours had two palatial en-suite double rooms and a miniature spiral staircase to take you to the shaded dining area.
We were fed like Maharanis on a delicious array of Keralan curries. Rama, the chef, gave me a lesson whilst Captain Mohan instructed Sue in how to drive the boat.
The lovely Biju looked after us providing drinks, food and fruit in a constant flow. We were taken on a guided tour of a local homestead and shown just how lush and productive this area is. There were bananas, jack fruit, coconuts, rose apples, green pepper corns, pomelo and pineapples growing with gay abandon.
All too soon, it was time to disembark. We took a taxi to Varkala and checked in to Palm Tree Heritage hotel right on the beach.