The Other One suggests a week in the sun. This involves wrestling with a guilty conscience….think of all that carbon payback a flight to anywhere warm will entail…We decide (with the help of our meagre holiday budget) that the footprint could be curtailed to that of the paw of a very small dog if we stick to Europe. And we deserve a holiday. We haven’t had one all year. Not a proper one.
Good plan, we agree. But where is warm in Europe at this time of the year? It’s recent enough since our European Extravaganza, when we wintered in Southern Portugal and Tuscany, to remember that jumpers and raincoats were vital components of our travelling kit.
We settle on Malta, a place we didn’t manage to get to in our van, largely due to the expanse of sea between the continent and the island – though, it has to be said, that didn’t stop us from going to Corsica. Malta’s average daytime temperature 17-18°. A cool 4° in Whitby, and that sounds positively balmy.
So, The Other One kisses his Gibson Les Paul goodbye, and we head off for the airport. I should have smelled a rat when, just prior to landing, the pilot announced that there was “a bit of weather” in Malta. We dive down through cloud thick enough to hide a Christmas pudding the size of London, and practically water-ski on to the runway, the wind gusting us into a neat little conga before coming to a more or less dainty halt in heaving rain.
Still, it’s warm, and we pile on to a number three bus and would have arrived almost majestically had it not been for our driver’s enthusiasm for attempting to drive down an extremely narrow street with a diversion sign at the beginning of it. What a surprise when he finds the road quite definitely barred… He reverses our bus back through the narrow gauge of parked cars with the aid of honkings from the cars behind and a fellow traveller, who nobly climbs off the bus and plays on-duty policeman until the reverse is complete.
By now, it’s late, it’s dark, it’s pouring with rain and we haven’t eaten for a very long time indeed. Hastily we check in to the hotel.
“Is the restaurant still open?” we ask sagely. Of course it will be, we nod to each other. This is Southern Europe not the Outer Hebrides…
The receptionist shakes her head dolefully. Then smiles, eager.
“I arrange taxi for you, take you to very fine restaurant.”
The Other One and I exchange glances. We’re not sure we can afford “a very fine” restaurant. Usually a back street pizzeria is more our style. As for the taxi, we’ve had enough of travel for one day.
“Are there any restaurants around here?” we ask.
“No. I order taxi. Very fine restaurant. Taxi only ten euro.”
The Other One has read on TripAdvisor about a great value Greek restaurant in the vicinity, but apparently the receptionist has not heard of it.
“Taxi to very good restaurant only ten euros,” she repeats.
I feel like the fish who has just been hooked. The more I squirm, the further the sharp curl of metal embeds itself into my gaping mouth. I’m ravenous and I need to eat. Now.
“Could you order the taxi, please,” I say weakly.
The Other One scowls.
“It’ll cost a fortune,” he hisses in my ear.
“Not as much as my funeral if I don’t eat something,” I hiss back.
Chris (or is that Kris?) the taxi driver, is very friendly. He shakes each of us by the hand and smiles a lot. When we arrive at the ” very fine restaurant” he accompanies us into the dining room and introduces us to the staff. Then he demands the ten euros, plus the ten euros for the return fare, before disappearing off into the night.
“That’s the last we’ll see of him,” we murmur to each other.
Then scold ourselves for being doubting Thomases. Although, actually, we are quite right. We do not see Chris/Kris again.
However, when we have finished our “very fine” meal (which despite all our doubts is very good and extremely modestly priced, with a very modestly priced and most quaffable Maltese wine), we ask the restaurant to call the number on the card Chris has left us, and in due course a driver turns up. In a minibus. We bundle in, taking great pains to advise him that we have already paid for the journey.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Nobody tell me.”
However, he doesn’t make a fuss, just calls someone as he’s driving through the rainy streets, and delivers us to the hotel door.
We decide to have a nightcap in the bar. It’s only ten past eleven, positively early for this part of the world. Except the bar is closed.
“What kind of hotel is this?” I ask.
The Other One nods at a sign. Saga Holidays.
“The ‘S’ word.”
“Does this mean that people over 50 don’t drink brandy after eleven o’ clock?” I ask.
“We should be tucked up in bed with cocoa,” he says.
After which, we tuck ourselves up in bed, with neither cocoa or brandy, and fall into the most comfortable of slumbers, dreaming of the sunny week to come.
to be continued…..