Of Valletta, Knights and the ’30 second’ horseman

The Knights of Saint John and The Grand Masters are a very significant part of Malta’s history. These men were considered warriors, leaders and lawmakers of their time. Although their age is since long gone, there are reminders all over Malta that pay homage to that era. The most poignant of these is located in the UNESCO recognized World Heritage site that is the Maltese capital city of Valletta.

The remnants of the morning rain were still fresh and the skies were decidedly grey as we set out from our base in Mdina to Valletta. We found public transportation in Malta to be cheap, reliable and relatively comfortable. An uneventful bus ride took us through cosmopolitan districts with the familiar sights of shops, offices and traffic. However, in 20 minutes, we were were dropped off at the bus terminal just outside the entrance to Valletta. Once inside Valletta, the familiar limestone architecture returned.

 

HDYTI Tip: You can buy a bus ticket that covers you on most routes for most of the day for just 1.50 Euros per adult. 
 City Centre of Valletta, Malta
Travelling during the winter off-peak season has its pros and cons. One of the downsides is the fact that the local authorities tend to use the period for renovation and construction work in readiness for the busier summer tourist influx. This unfortunately meant that a few places of interest in Valletta on our list such as the Fort of St Elmo, were inaccessible on the day. However, our visit to the truly spectacular St John’s Co-Cathedral more than made up for the closures at the other sites. 

 

The Cool Cathedral

Located less than 10 minutes walk into Valletta, the St John’s Co-Cathedral is made up of a collection of chapels, each dedicated to a patron saint or Grand Master. A significant part of the cathedral’s charm is the ceiling art and we were amazed by how much detail had gone into its production. However, the other head-turning display is the intricate marble floor, with murals depicting knights and Grand Masters. We were so busy looking up at the ceiling that we nearly missed the beautiful detail on the very floor we were walking on.

HDYTI at St. John Cathedral, Valleta, Malta

 St. John's Cathedral, Valleta, Malta
HDYTI Tip: The price of admission into the cathedral will cost you 6 Euros per adult. However, the ticket also comes with an audio tour guide which is quite useful.
 
 Main area of St. John's Cathedral, Valleta, Malta
 
The cathedral also features an oratory section which houses the famous painting of The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio, a striking piece of work which, even to the untrained eye like ours, draws the viewer into the story through the clever use of light and shadows by the iconic 16th century artist.

 

HDYTI Tip: As this painting is quite popular, expect the oratory to get very busy; so make sufficient time in your visit to see this piece.

 

The ’30 Second Horseman

We left the cathedral and rejoined the main artery through Valletta; heading down Triq lr-Repubblika, a street which took us along Valletta’s main shopping thoroughfare, past restaurants and the Presidential Palace. With entry costing over 10 Euros per adult, we decided it wasn’t worth it to visit the Presidential Palace and instead kept walking towards The Fort of St. Elmo hoping to visit the National War Museum.

 

Unfortunately, again due to renovation work, the fort was closed. As we stopped to consider what next to do, we sighted one of the many horse drawn carriages that appeared to be popular with tourists in Valletta. Apparently the canny driver (whom we shall call ‘Buggy Man’) had spotted us staring doe-eyed at The Fort of St. Elmo and decided to pitch his services. The following encounter ensued:
Valletta Bugg Man & his horse
Buggy Man: The fort is closed. Everything closed for renovation. You can’t go in.
Mr & Mrs HDYTI: OK. Thank you for the information.
Buggy Man: You want horse ride? I give you good price.
Mr & Mrs HDYTI: No thanks.
Buggy Man: I give you 2-for-1 deal. Only 25 Euros for 30 minutes.
Mr & Mrs HDYTI: We’re not really interested but thank you.
Buggy Man: I take you around Valletta and drop you off at the bus terminal.
 
At this point we both became interested…after all we’d been walking for most of the day and could do with putting our feet up for a bit, with the added bonus of being dropped off at the bus station.

 

Mr & Mrs HDYTI: OK. Did you say 25 Euros for both of us?
Buggy Man: Yes. Don’t worry. I give you good price. I take you lots of pictures too.
 
We both stepped into the carriage and the horse cantered off. We had mentioned we from the UK, so Buggy Man proceeded to describe his family tree which included ‘cousins’ in London. Along the way, he pointed out an old hospital. Barely 2 minutes into the ride, Buggy Man stopped at the Siege Bell War Memorial, a gigantic bell erected in honor of the thousands who lost their lives in the Nazi siege of Malta during WW2. This viewing point provided spectacular views of the Grand Harbor.

 

Buggy Man: This is good place to take pictures. I stop for you. Stay as long as you want.
Mr & Mrs HDYTI: OK. Thank you.
  2015-03-04_0014
 
We got out and looked around for less than 10 minutes and headed back to Buggy Man who by this time was smoking a cigarette and chatting up one of the local ladies. He seemed surprised to see us back so soon and quickly put out his cigarette. He turned the horse around, heading back in the direction we came from and carried on his commentary, most of which got lost in the wind. Less than 5 minutes after, we arrived at a viewing point which afforded us great views of Manoel Island and Fort Manoel, another Hollywood favorite which has featured in Troy, and Game of Thrones.
  
Buggy Man: I take you picture here. Very nice place for picture.
Mr & Mrs HDYTI: OK. Thanks. (We handed him the camera and Buggy Man took a few photos while we sit in the carriage and smiled)
  
HDYTI take a short buggy ride around VallettaEulanda in Valleta, Malta
Buggy Man: Nice ride eh?
We both nodded our heads.
Buggy Man: From here you walk back to bus station easily.
We exchanged puzzled looks.
Buggy Man: Tour is finished.
Mr & Mrs HDYTI: Huh? Really?
Buggy Man: Yes. Finished. You can walk to bus station from here.

 

Mr HDYTI paid him the agreed 25 Euros and Buggy Man buggered off. We both realised a the same time that we had just been scammed by a Valletta horseman. The promised 30 minute ride ended up being a waste of time and money. We could have walked the same distance in the same time. 

 

HDYTI Tip: It is possible to walk around Central Valletta in a few hours and not get lost. Don’t bother doing the horse drawn carriage unless you simply love horses and can’t resist the temptation to be close to one.
  
Views of Valletta, MaltaViews over Valletta, MaltaBirds of Paradise, Valletta, Malta
After our underwhelming horse ride, we headed to a local cafe with its interior dressed up to look like a small rain forest and simply hung out for the rest of the afternoon before heading back to Mdina as the sun began to set.
 
Except for the rugged Gozo, like much of Malta, we found Valletta to be small and understated yet packed full of history and rich culture. Just avoid the Valletta horsemen while you’re there 🙂

 

Other views…

Are you planning to visit Valletta? If you’d like to see what else you can do in a full day, you can hardly go wrong with Kasha Dubaniewicz’s wonderful narrative in her blog ‘Lines of Escape’.

 

We did not get a chance to explore the Upper Barrakka Gardens Of Valletta during our visit. However Paul Steele of ‘The Bald Hiker Life’ blog gives a very good description in his post’.

 

Toe Rating: 4/5
 
 
Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).