mingmerciless (mingmerciless) wrote,

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Back from Malta

Short version: Had a great week of fencing, World War II and Knights Hospitaller geekery and much quaffing of Maltese wine and beer.

Longer version:
After all, my nominal reason for being there. The red Templar-style crosses on our fencing jackets were noted with amusement by the Maltese fencers so I guess they had the desired effect.

Did OK in the men's foil: 10th place, respectable but unspectacular; about as good as I could have hoped given my current level of ability with that weapon. However, it was rather embarassing to be eliminated by someone who seemed 1/3 my age and 1/2 my height but about 5 times the energy.

The epée was the big surprise though. Amazingly, I finished 2nd! I did however have some help from the organiser who appeared to have made some very suspicious allocations for the seeding pools (mini leagues to determine rankings for the elimination rounds). Our pool contained the two weakest fencers (beat them both 5-0, hard to do in epée where you can get double hits, one in, apparently, 6.03s total fencing time) so it was easier to score victories, and was the bigger pool so the maximum victories possible is higher. Oddly enough, the event organiser was in that same pool while the bulk of people who worried me most were in the other one...

Still, very pleased to have got as far as I did. However, it was a reminder of the limitations my fitness or lack thereof impose. Getting through the semi-final bout was so tireing that the final wasn't all that close (lost 15-9). Guess this should be a major motivation to improve my level of fitness!

Heard one wonderful comment from a Maltese fencer: "Watching men's epée is like watching paint dry. Watching women's epée is like watching dry paint." I can see so many other potential uses of that e.g. SG-1/Atlantis ;-)

Only realy downer is that half the road system was blocked off for work (apparently it's all the Queen's fault - she's visiting later this year!) which made trying to get to the gym at Mtarfa a nightmare (we must have circled round Mdina and Rabat three times on the first day!).

One disappointment: Fort St Elmo (one of the most important sites of the Great Siege) has been annexed by the Police Academy so tourist access is now restricted :-(

Nothing's changed at the Lascaris War Rooms but it's still a superb place to visit. Very old fashioned but it fits with Lascaris' role as British WWII control centre. The audio commentary on the supplied Walkman units even has a wonderfully appropriate newsreel-style voice delivering it.

The War Museum has one of the famous Gloucester Gladiators that defended Malta in it. Rumour has it that it is in fact all of them and none of them, being cobbled together from what was left of Faith, Hope and Charity. However, if you stand underneath the propeller spinner and look up, a hole is clearly visible. We knew to look for this because Guy, one of the UK organisers, had confessed to us in the bar the night before that he'd put the hole in it when he got pressganged into helping move it!

The Aviation Museum was another treat. Unlike most similar museums, there are no barriers around the aircraft - visitors can walk right up to the exhibits, including a Spitfire and Hurricane! Ah, heaven... There was also a hilarious description next to a Lightning cockpit which told of how it had been offered by a British visitor who happened to have one in his back garden and that "his wife was none too pleased about it" :-O

St Paul's Catacombs - after last trip's experiences with St Agatha's, I brought a tac torch which meant we could wander around far more of the catacombs than we were strictly supposed to (they don't rope areas off, they just don't turn the lights on!) :-)

Still failed to get to Gozo. Turns out that getting there is no problem but the transport infrastructure on the island is poor. If/when I return, I'll need my driving license...

Small world:
Turns out Mike, who helped organise the trip and, like me, is a Malaysian Chinese, went to the same primary school in Kuala Lumpur as I did and the same secondary my father went to. Likewise, Kev also went to (a different) school in Highgate Village. However, spot the guy who's a bit slow on the uptake: Kate started talking about what a small world fencing could be; bumping into someone who'd been at the same event of less than 50 people. I started agreeing that that was indeed weird. Then she went on to mention airsofting and... "Oh my God, I just realised who you're talking about: me!" Doh!

Also turns out that Jo (another fencer at Poly who didn't come out with us) was born at Mtarfa, where the competition was held!

Really sad things:
On the bus passing through Mosta, Kate caught me looking at a shop sign. "No, Ming, it says Marpac, not MARPAT!" Still, she obviously formed the same impression so even though she's been strictly DPM till now, maybe the Nintendoflage faction of Team Sheep may be closer to another convert than I thought...

Also in Mosta, we'd spotted a fast food shop called Kentish Fried Chicken, "Southern style" and, on the outskirts, we'd passed a military surplus store. I was keen to photograph the former and check out the latter but was going to let it pass as too sad a notion. Imagine my surprise when Kate suggested that on Wednesday we do just that. Imagine just how much persuading I took... Shame then that it was a public holiday and the military surplus place was closed. Alas, Maltese camouflage therefore remains a mystery to me...

The group tacky souvenir competition was abandoned when we found no one seems to sell Maltese Falcons any more.

Walking through Mdina and admitting the streets made us think both of Castrovalva and No One Lives Forever...

Kate was a very bad influence on me. As last time, being the two history geeks in the group, we largely went round together with the result that my alcohol intake went through the roof - it was like being at a week-long convention! Unfortunately, Cisk beer and La Valette wine are just too pleasant, the former especially so at The Pub aka Oliver Reed's last bar, in Valetta (if anyone cares, his last order was apparently 8 strong German lagers, 12 double rums and half a bottle of whiskey...). An airsofter friend of ours had threatened to have us drummed out if we didn't go there so we've made a point of SMSing him every time we're there which now provokes responses like "Gits!" and "Rotters" ;-)). Even better, Marsovin now does a La Valette blanc which is every bit as wonderful as the original red. Spot the guy who grabbed a bunch of bottles before flying back...

First night in Buggiba, we wanted to get back to a particular restaurant we'd really rather liked. Only problem: we couldn't remember the address or name, just vague recollections it was "down this way a bit" and so on. We eventually stopped, puzzled agreeing it had to be "round here somewhere". Then Kev pointed out we were in fact standing right outside it... Needless to say, I have now made a note of Da Rosita's details!

Judging from the number of email responses and enquiries received, maybe I should go on holiday more often to boost the job hunting...

Got back yesterday morning at Gatwick and went through the most horrendous immigration queue ever - made Heathrow Terminal 3 look like a wlak in the park. Really must sort out my nationality stuff... And, despite large quantities of wine and beer the previous night and a 5.30am pickup from the hotel to get to the airport, for some reason I thought it was a good idea to go to fencing last night...
Tags: booze, fencing, malta, military, tourism, wtf

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