Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Malta By Night - Day 12

Malta By Night Tour

We signed up for the Malta by Night tour as we found the €25 price very attractive for a full 3-hour open-top tour around the island and inclusive of dinner. The tour starts from Buġibba and has additional pick up points at Paceville, St Julians, Sliema and Valletta. Given the same price regardless of boarding location, taking the full ride from Buġibba is obviously the most value for money and would also allow to enjoy the full length of the route along the scenic northern coast of Malta. By scheduling the tour after the visit to Gozo, we were able to avoid unnecessary detour to join the tour.
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Cancu Supreme offers a complimentary pick up for passengers to join the tour at any of the pick up points and we arranged for a pick up at Ċirkewwa at 1830hrs to maximise our available time at Gozo.

With over one hour to spare after our speedboat ride from Mġarr Harbour, we decided to make use of the evening sunlight to obtain photos of route buses turning around at Ċirkewwa bus terminal although we had suspected that a parked Cancu Supreme Mercedes Sprinter would be our transport.

Optare Excel demonstrator FBY 805 operating Service 48 to Buġibba. Despite the shorter route, Service 48 charged a flat fare of €1.16 as it was classified as a “direct” service (does not serve Valletta) whereas the full fare on Service 45 was only €0.58 for three fare zones. We would had taken this to Buġibba had we not arranged for the pick-up service, but it might not be wise on hindsight as we might have some difficulties finding the pick-up point for the tour.
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Two of the four new Dennis Darts introduced in 1997 were fitted with East Lancs Spryte body, such as DBY 367 which was photographed working route 645 to Sliema.
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DBY 340 King Long XMQ6113GMC showed off an impressive amount of body roll as it rounds the bend at Ċirkewwa to operate route 45 back to Valletta. It also has a rooftop air-conditioning unit installed but was apparently not used from the open hopper windows.
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DBY 308 was a very smart looking AEC Mercury with Gauci bodywork and was found working yet another variant of route 45. Service 450 linked Ċirkewwa with the Hospital Mater Dei/ University.
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With a couple of minutes more to go before the arranged time, we made our way to the Sprinter and identified ourselves. As we had initially suspected, it was indeed our transport and the driver did not seem too pleased at us hanging around the terminal and not approaching him earlier. However, we also simply pretended that we did not know that was to be our transport.
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The Mercedes Benz Sprinter was also our air-conditioned bus that we had rode in Malta but the cabin was rather stuffy due to the weak aircon.
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The Tour - Buġibba to Mdina, The Silent City

Despite our best wishes and positive thinking, we were slightly dismayed to find LPY 017, another Scania N230UB with Optare Visionaire bodywork waiting for us at the pick up point outside Hotel Topaz in Buġibba.
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Upper deck interior of LPY 017 with weatherproof plastic bucket seats. As with other open top sightseeing tours operated by Cancu Supreme, each passenger is handed a pair of inexpensive earphones to listen to the onboard commentary during the tour.
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The 3hr 45min tour departs Buġibba at 1900hrs daily and allowed passengers to savour the magical sight of the scenic northern coast being bathed in the golden rays of the setting sun due to the long daylight hours in summer.
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Buġibba is popular with tourists as the flat surfaces on its mainly rocky coast are ideal for sunbathing.
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A manmade beach in front of New Dolmen Hotel caters to visitors who prefer sandy beaches.
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St Paul's Bay, Buġibba.
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As the heart of the coastal town, Buġibba Main Square offers a bustling array of nightclubs, bars and restaurants which caters to both residents and tourists alike.
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A myriad of advertising panels from various sightseeing operators compete for attention at the aptly-named Triq it-Turisti (Tourist Street) in Buġibba.
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Old (left) and new (right) bus stop poles in Qawra. The new bus stop poles show the name of the bus stop as well as the direction that each service is heading towards.
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Coastal road along Salina Bay.
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The St Mark’s Tower (Qalet Marku) stands on Qrejten Point and is one of the thirteen fortified watch towers built by Grand Master Martin de Redin of the Knights of Malta between 1658 and 1659.
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The landscape of Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq village is characterized by low hills with terraced fields. The name is literally translated as “sea of pebbles”.
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Passengers were temporarily transported back in time as the open top bus made its way through Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, where period vehicles basked in the warm glow of the setting evening sun amidst crumbling sandstone buildings.
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Village of Madliena.
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Leaving behind the idyllic coastal villages, the tour crosses to the other side of St Paul's Bay and into the urban sprawl of Paceville.
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The Portomaso Business Tower in St Julian’s has the distinct honour of being the tallest commercial building in Malta.
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Passing through St Julian’s with its modern luxury hotels and facilities, we experienced a different Malta from what we have been used to. Portomaso Marina Complex at St Julian’s.
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Waterfront real estate comes at a premium at the popular neighbourhood of St Julian's with tightly packed eateries offer al fresco dining options to their patrons.
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Street artists ply their trade by the bay at the waterfront promenades of St Julian's.
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View of Valletta across the Marsamxett Harbour from Sliema. The beauty of the fortified medieval city is accentuated by the intense evening sun that cast a warm hue over the sandstone buildings.
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Elegant wood panelled sailing yachts line the waterfront at Sliema with the city of Valletta in the background.
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Sunset over Msida Marina after over an hour's ride from Buġibba.
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DBY 335 Bedford YRQ with Plaxton Elite Express II body laying over by the roadside at Msida at the end of a work day.
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As the sun slipped below the horizon, passengers on the bus enjoyed a tour of the Valletta Peninsula along the perimeter road. There was a minor traffic diversion where trailers and other vehicles were parked along the narrow perimeter road in support for the filming of a new blockbuster featuring Brad Pitt, World War Z. When the film finally premieres in December 2012, it will no doubt break the hearts of many a bus enthusiast as it was widely rumoured that a large number of the old Maltese route buses would be acquisitioned and destroyed as part of a scene in the movie.
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St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral in Valletta was commissioned by Queen Adelaide during a visit to Malta in the 19th century when she found out that there was no Anglican place of worship on the island.
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With its rich heritage and charming sandstone buildings, many restaurateurs had chosen the medieval city of Valletta to set up a number of concept restaurants and bars in recent years. Taking its name after its address, Two Twenty-Two Wine Bar at 222 Great Siege Rd, Valletta stands out from the crowd with its unique al fresco layout and concept.
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The Independence Square at Floriana commemorates Malta’s Independence from the British on 21st September 1964.
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Heading past the City Gate Bus Terminal, we continued on to Triq Girolamo Cassar for a short loop in the heart of Valletta where various landmarks such as the Great Ditch and Auberge de Castille were highlighted to passengers via the onboard commentary system.
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An elevated view of The Three Cities situated across the Grand Harbour with one of the bastions that form the medieval defences of Valletta visible in the foreground.
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With the rapidly deteriorating lighting conditions, we stopped taking photos and just enjoyed the ride in the cool evening breeze. Some of us who were listening to the commentary also vividly remembered the tour passing by the Simonds Farsons Cisk factory where Malta's national soft drink Kinnie is being manufactured.

The bus continued on a long drive without a dinner stop which we were expecting at Qormi, until we eventually reached Mdina for a one hour long stopover. The elaborate Mdina Gate was beautifully lit with white flood lights and lent an additional measure of romance and intrigue to the old capital city.
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Spared of the usual throng of tourists during the day, it was an entirely different experience walking through the deserted lanes of the Silent City as compared to our first visit 2 days ago.
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After checking with the driver, he led us to an upscale restaurant set within the walls of the medieval city for our inclusive dinner. Maltese crackers Galletti was then served with a tuna-based sauce and patrons were offered the option of having a bottle of local red wine or Paradiso drinking water to accompany the meal.
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Comprising of goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, Maltese sausages and olives as its main ingredients, we found the Maltese platter to be unpalatable primarily due to the overwhelming stench of goat cheese as compared to dairy cheese that we were used to.
In actual fact, the Maltese platter is regarded as a regional delicacy and we noticed that several other patrons at the restaurant savoured the gourmet dish with delight.
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Regrettably, it was only after we had made our booking with Explore Malta that we learnt about direct booking with the tour operator, which offers the option of the tour without dinner at a cheaper price of €15. With most of us still feeling hungry, the dinner was certainly not worth €10 but it was nevertheless one of the most unique tasting experience during our trip!

Malta Sightseeing LPY 017 laying outside the Mdina Gate.
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The Tour - Return from Mdina to Buġibba

The tour resumed after a one-hour stop at Mdina with the bus heading northwards back towards Buġibba. Despite the high daytime temperatures which can reach over 30 degrees Celsius in the day, the temperature often dips below 20 degrees Celsius after nightfall. Thus, some of us found the upper deck rather chilly and sought the refuge of the sheltered lower deck for a more comfortable ride.
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The first photo stop was at the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady in Mosta, otherwise commonly known as the Rotunda of Mosta, or shortened to as The Mosta Dome. The church is famous for the bomb miracle during an afternoon air-raid on 9 April 1942, when a 200kg bomb pierced through the dome (two others bounced off) and fell among a congregation but did not explode.
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The brightly lit Triq Il-Konstituzzjoni / Triq Il-Kbira roundabout in front of Mosta Dome.
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The next photo stop was at the Naxxar Parish Church, which was one of the ten existing parishes found by Bishop De Mello in 1435.
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From there, the bus continued to the Lija, which forms part of the Three Villages of Malta together with Attard and Balzan. The villages are known as such because of their close proximity to one another in the centre of Malta. After a photo stop at the Belvedere Tower, the bus headed back to Buġibba. The tower was originally part of Villa Gourigion, and the authorities allowed the tower to remain at its original position after the demolishment of the villa.
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At the end of tour, we transferred to the same minivan for transport back to hotel. After travelling for some distance, one of us was alarmed to find that we were heading to Ċirkewwa and asked the person seated at the front to clarify with the driver. In our correspondence with the tour operator, we had much difficulty explaining to the admin staff our different pick-up and drop-off locations for the tour and it became apparent that she had not noted down our request properly. Needless to say, the driver was not very pleased but one of us gave him some tips which made his day. For us, it was a long and tiring, but rewarding day.
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Next Post: Valletta, Floriana and Aircraft Spotting at Luqa - Day 13

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