Christmas and New Year 2019 in Malta
Living in a motorhome and travelling around Europe full time is a pretty great life. We love it! Every day we can choose where to go and what to see. If it’s raining or we don’t like somewhere we can move on, if it’s beautiful weather and we’re having a fun time then we can stay longer. We love meeting people on the road and have made some incredible memories and wonderful friendships. What we miss most though, are our friends and family living in Jersey and the UK. Giving up our home, car, jobs and even the motorbike was nothing compared to leaving our loved ones. Many tears were shed, from both of us, when we said good bye.
We knew we’d miss our favourite people so, before we left Jersey, we made plans to meet up with our friends and family along the way. On the way back south from Amsterdam we met up with our friends Toni & Oz at Efteling theme park, in Holland. For Christmas and New Year 2019 we invited our friends and family to join us in Malta. Originally we had planned to meet up in southern Italy but we already knew some friends living in Malta and it made more sense to make that extra ferry journey to all be together there, or so we thought.
The ferries turned out to be much more expensive than we had originally hoped. We had 4 separate ferry journeys in the end: Greece (Igoumenitsa) to Italy (Brindisi), Italy (Salerno) to Malta (Valetta), via Sicily. Then on the way back Malta to Italy (Salerno) and Italy to Spain (Barcelona). It cost us about €1,600 in the end. Our main concern was for Theodore though. The only time he’d been on a ferry was the 1.5hr trip to France when we had originally left Jersey and he had stayed in the van whilst we had seats on board the ferry. These journeys would be between 12 and 36 hours! Even with the extra cost, we decided to get a pet friendly cabin. The reviews online about Grimaldi lines and the cleanliness of their cabins, especially the pet cabins weren’t great but we had no other choice. We paid our money and hoped it would all be OK.
The ferry to Italy from Greece was pretty uneventful. It was a much larger boat than the little ferry from Jersey to St Malo and the journey went well. We had 2 days to travel from Brindisi, on the east coast, across to Salerno on the west coast to catch our next boat. We didn’t see much of Italy, apart from a stunning sunset. The scenery we did pass was quite beautiful but the roads weren’t great & the drivers were crazy… and that’s having just come from Greece! We’re hoping to go back later this year (before coronvirus we had planned to be in Italy for my birthday in May, but now we plan for around October).
The day we were getting on the boat for Malta a huge storm had hit the west coast of Italy. We had stayed for one night at a campsite near Salerno, which was right on the seafront. The waves crashed over the railings and the storm had taken out all the power at the campsite, which lead to a freezing cold shower, in the dark. Not great timing to begin our 24hr ferry to Malta! Since we had no power at the campsite we decided to head down to the port 5 hours early. It was lashing down, the roads were like rivers and we could just about see in front of us. After driving around trying to find the entrance, we finally pulled up at the harbour, only to be ushered into a gated area where two men quickly looked at our ticket information and instructed us to follow a group of cars further along the pier. We followed and were immediately directed to get onto the huge ferry that was already nearly full. After being bustled along, I pulled aside an official looking man to just check that this was the right boat for us(!) & within 2 minutes we were parked up on the boat, 4 hours before our scheduled departure time! They were leaving early to try to get away before the storm got too bad to sail. With no communication from the ferry company we had somehow got to the boat just in time.
The boat was surprisingly luxurious and the pet friendly cabin was perfect. We had 2 x bunk beds, a small desk area and a little bathroom with a shower, sink & toilet. This was about as much room as we have in the van, so we were happy. Theodore got on brilliantly. As usual, we put his litter tray in the shower cubicle, his carry case on the floor and his bed on one of the free bunks. He took a few minutes to sniff around the cabin and get used to the area, then he spent the rest of the journey either lying on a top bunk bed (he likes to be up high) or on the window sill, watching the world go by (we put his soft bed there too). The storm was rough, the boat was tossed around and we were told to stay inside for most of the journey, but Theodore mostly slept. He’s such a chilled travel cat!
Callum and I spent most of our time watching movies on the laptop, reading or putting together our travel videos from Greece. As it was an overnight boat we spent a good amount of that time sleeping too. The estimated arrival time kept changing, due to the storm. In the end we were on that ferry for 28 hours. Our stopover in Siciliy was spent on the ferry, unfortunately. We’d love to visit there one day.
We arrived in Malta at 10pm on December 23rd, headed straight for a Chinese take away to pick up some food then to the airbnb to meet up with Callum’s family. It was great to see some familiar faces again & it was really starting to feel like a proper Christmas. We were going to be in Malta for three weeks. I had organised a beautiful old style Maltese house (through airbnb) to stay in over Christmas and another, larger house, for the week of New Year (through booking.com), with our friends. For the final week we were going to either stay in our motorhome or with our friends who lived in Malta, in their apartment.
We had booked Stevie (our motorhome) in for a service that first week in Malta. It would be one of the few opportunities we had to leave it at a garage to be worked on whilst we had somewhere else to stay. It happened to be a great decision because parking around our airbnb was very limited, so we only needed to find street parking for the van for a few days.
When Callum drove the van to the workshop, he had a uniquely “islander” conversation with the owner – it turns out, the mechanic lived on the street that we’d parked on, and had already seen us! We were a large motorhome with a foreign registration, parked in Malta the week before Christmas. “I knew it had to be you guys, there can’t be many people daft enough to drive one of those over here in the winter”.
We explored the old towns surrounding St Julian that week, visited the megalithic temples and also the blue lagoon. The owners of the airbnb had decorated our accommodation so beautifully that it was the perfect setting for our Christmas dinner. After three months of travel it was so nice to just chill out on a sofa for a couple of days.
On the day that Callum’s family left we explored Valetta, the capital of Malta. More Game of Thrones scenes were filmed here. The old walled town is beautiful, the views over the harbour are incredible and there was also a ‘Winter Wonderland’ set up at the gates of the city with ice skating, fairground rides, a big wheel & my favourite- the carousel.
We picked the motorhome up from the garage and our first friends from the airport. That same day we said goodbye to Callum’s family and welcomed our new guests; our friends from Jersey & Wales. We moved into our home for the next week: a 6 bedroom, 3 storey villa with an inside AND outside pool! Complete luxury. In total there were 11 of us staying at the villa and another 5 joined us for our New Year’s Eve party (our friends who lived in Malta). Being with some of our friends again made it feel like ‘home’. We had an action packed few days including a boat excursion to explore the coast, a speed boat trip, a super quick visit to Gozo, ice skating and fairground rides at the Winter Wonderland, lots of swimming in the pools and of course, our 1920s themed New Year’s Eve party!
When it was time to say goodbye to our friends, there were more tears. We’d had such a brilliant time with them all, made more unforgettable memories and were sad to see them go. Thank you so much for coming all the way to Malta to see us. We love you ❤
In the meantime, we’d heard from the ferry company that more storms were headed across the Mediterranean so our ferry to Italy, then onto Spain, had been pushed back a week. Our planned three weeks in Malta soon turned into 4, which was fine with us. Malta turned out to be a great place to explore, even in the motorhome. We had looked for information online regarding taking a motorhome to Malta before we booked our ferries and the opinions weren’t that favourable. Some of the streets were too narrow for us, but they were mostly within the individual towns/villages. Coming from Jersey we are used to driving down narrow lanes so maybe that helped us. Each area of Malta is so different. We had found a campsite to stay at for a few days (despite, again, the internet not being helpful on that front) near the volcanic Coral Lagoon & had decided to take a day trip over to the neighbouring island of Gozo. The ferry for foot passengers was just €4 each for a return ticket and we hadn’t really seen any of the island on our whistle stop bus tour earlier that week.
In Gozo we hired two quad bikes for the day (€150 for both bikes for 5 hours). It was well over our daily budget but completely worth it! The quad bikes are exactly the right vehicles to tackle the little roads and dirt tracks. It was a stunning day, for early January and we would highly recommend a trip over to picturesque Gozo, if you’re ever in Malta. Remember to take your camera and your drone, if you have one. You won’t be disappointed. The views are breathtaking! Here’s our video of the day: Gozo.
The following week we helped our friends move out of their apartment and into their new home, which conveniently meant that we had a few days of free accommodation (with a bath!) and some very friendly tour guides. They had moved to Malta, from Jersey, the year before and were eager to show us around. We were very tempted to look at properties whilst we were there but knew that we had more travelling to do & it wasn’t time to settle down just yet! Theodore, as always, took it all in his stride. Acclimatising to each new home with ease.
Before we knew it, the day to leave had arrived and it was time to say good bye to more of our incredible friends. This is definitely one of the most difficult things about travelling but we make sure we keep in touch through social media and will try to meet up again when we can.
Our ferry to Italy was through another storm and took 31 hours! The next one onto Spain wasn’t much better and took another 36 hours. After a quick drive up from Salerno to Civitavecchia to catch our next ferry, we arrived in Barcelona. By now we’d spent over 90 hours on ferries! We finally got to Spain on January 23rd, the day after their north east coast had been battered by hurricane winds. Our journey in Spain will come next…