Got to the hotel about midnight. Discovered the room I was supposed to be sharing was a double, not a twin. Went to find Mike and Adam, as organisers, and started to explain.
"I'm sure Jim's a good chap and all that..."
'but you don't want to sleep with him?'
It was sorted out easily enough but next year, I will remember to ensure single occupancy...
Had some local beers with the others in the party, went to sleep, barely noticed Jim's arrival from Bristol in the early hours of the morning
Got up early to try to finish off the work on the model I had to do, met Kate for breakfast as arranged, said I hoped to be done by lunchtime and carried on working. She was kind enough to check in on me but had to pass on the trip into Valetta as I was getting nowhere workwise. Said I'd try to catch up with them in Valetta but failed to get done before 6pm-ish, followed by a panic trying to find a working floppy I could email the document out from. Met with Mike and some of the others for dinner and beers afterwards. Not a brilliant start to the trip...
Most embarassing thing of the day - I got wrapped up in so many telephone calls with Germany my fully charged, in the morning, phone drained and died in the middle of a conference call. Rather depressingly, I'd anticipated this eventuality by bringing a fully charged, spare mobile...
A fair few of the guys were off early to fencing but turns out the way things were timetabled, Kate and I were fencing and not fencing on the same days so we boarded a bus to Valetta.
First stop - St John's Co-Cathedral. Looks rather dull and sandy brown from the outside, like most buildings in Malta. Inside, however, was possibly one of the most elaborately and lavishly decorated cathedrals I've ever seen, topped only by the Kremlin cathedrals. Can't help thinking that, being a military order, the Knights of Malta should have had better things to do than build such OTT tombs and monuments to themselves.
Next stop - Ollie Reed's final pub. We'd been told by an airsofting friend we'd be drummed out if we didn't go so I SMSed him from the pub. He called straight back to accuse of being a pair of drunkards (it was only 10pm in the UK...) but we reckon he was just jealous.
Then, Fort St Elmo, one of the major points of resistance during the Great Siege. Main thought - in all the heat, it was uncomfortable enough walking round in t-shirt and shorts, can't believe people actually fought in full armour round here!
Next, the Great Siege experience. Cheesy. Way cheesy... duff voice acting and glossed over a few minor issues like the Knights' using slaves to build Valetta etc.
The State Offices at the Grand Master's Palace were closed but the armouries were still open so we drooled over all the weaponry on display.
Another beer at the Ollie Reed pub and then tried to get into the Lascaris War Rooms (WWII command centre) but it was closed so we got on the bus back to Buggiba, stopping off to see the Mosta Dome (round Church, noted for having a Luftwaffe bomb drop on it and not go off). Nothing else round there really.
So, caught up with the others for more beers and dinner. Decided we really rather like La Valette (a Maltese red wine - it's good, cheap, and not just named after a Grand Master, but possibly the Grand Master - Jean Parrisot de la Valette, who commanded the Order during the Great Siege.
Men's epee wasn't till the afternoon so I had a leisurely wander around Buggiba. We got to the competition in good time to see Kate fight her way into the finals of the ladies' foil where she lost 15-14, especially impressive as she'd been 8-3 down at one point.
Much to my surprise, I did rather better than expected. Got into the final 8 of the men's epee and eventually lost 15-11 to the guy who was ultimate runner-up so I guess I performed respectably. Even got a medal for it which was a pleasant surprise (I'm told I yelped "Oh crap" when my name was called!).
I am apparently also co-responsible for the fastest bout of the day. For the elimination rounds, you fence first to 15 hits and have 3 blocks of 3 minutes, separated by 1 minutes' rest. Some bouts were still 0-0 after 3 minutes but, according to Kate, who was timekeeping this bout, Kev and I managed to score our 22 hits (I won 15-7) in 90 seconds!
One other interesting thing - our party included Jo Maynard, a top UK lady epeeist. She made us put our names on a list as we were elimimated and fenced us first to 5 hits, one straight after another and dealt us a serious load of butt-kicking.
Still, I think I've definitely got the buzz for doing more competitive fencing again. I'd been kind of shying away from it because I know I'm nowhere near as good as I once was but realised that if I don't do more of this, I never will be - I can't let myself be put off by worries about humiliating defeats...
Headed off to Mdina, an old citadel. Fascinating wandering around its narrow streets - Kate and I both admitted to being reminded of the opening levels of No One Lives Forever... Did few more "experiences" - the Knights of Malta, Medieval Times and Mdina ones. Not really getting any less cheesy.
Next, tried to catch a bus to Rabat but a bus driver chucked us back off telling us we were already in it. Sharp reminder that Malta's not that big really... So, into Rabat to check out St Paul's Church and Grotto (where he was held captive by the Romans) and tried to go to the St Paul catacombs but they were shut. Fortunately, St Agatha's were open. Interesting - they don't block off tunnels, they just turn the lights off. You're free to wander down them if you want (and have a torch)!
Similarly, the Wignacourt College Museum was also closed (seems like half the buildings in Malta are named after a Grand Master ie L'Isle Adam Band School!). Started to wonder, if Malta's supposed to be such a tourist trap, why do so many attractions close early or on weekends etc?!?
Group outing by boat to Blue Lagoon. Took the optional speedboat trip into the grottoes/caves and even signed up for a bit of paragliding. Brilliant fun - superb view and the closest I'll probably come to parachuting again for a long time. Regretably, my camera's batteries failed while I was aloft but at least Kate got a load of video footage from the boat. When I got back in, a wholed bunch of others from the party decided to give it a go. Should have asked for a rebate!
Headed out for the neolithic temples at Hagr Qim and Mnajdra. Interesting but it was an especially hot day with no shelter - landscape was very rocky and exposed and Kate started to fry and had to pass up on the boat trip round Blue Lagoon - more grottoes! Also had a surreal experience, sharing a bus stop with a bunch of German schoolgirls on some sort of field trip and under instructions to speak only English - kind of weird listening to one of them reading a prepared report on Blue Grotto. Informative too...
Original plan had been to then walk back to Mdina to find a recommended ice cream parlour and for Kate to buy a Maltese Falcon as her entry in the tackiest souvenir competition (I'd already got a Coats of Arms of the Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta tea towel!) but this was no longer viable so back on the bus to Valetta, grabbed another beer at the Ollie Reed pub and SMSed Flinn again to wind him up - his rude reply was most gratifying... and then noted the Lascaris War Rooms were still open.
The War Rooms are terribly old-fashioned - static dispays with audio guides on cassette and narrated by someone who could have been on a WWII newsreel. Yet, it was easily the most effective of the "experience" tours I took. It just suited the attraction perfectly.
Packed up early, wrote final postcards and flew off back to Stanstead. Not quite end of story - rather than go home, I basically had to check back in again and fly to Germany due to urgent summons! Flight from Malta would have cost 827 Euros and still only got me to Lübeck one hour sooner, due to transitting via Frankfurt!
Fortunately, Kate offered to take my bulky, heavy, smelly (and potentially suspicious in the eyes of German airport security) fencing gear back with her for me to collect on return. Then had to visit Thomas Pink, Austin Reed and Tie Shop to purchase suitable work clothes though!
"Thank God It's Friday, Again."
Met up with Cathy, my colleague, who then said the client people knew I was flying in more or less straight from Malta 'cos she'd told them. Doh! Still, Thomas Pink double cuffed white cotton shirt. Hmmm.... :-D goes well with my Maltese Cross souvenir cufflinks ;-)
Anyway, here I now am, still in the office because I flight back from Lübeck doesn't leave till 11pm!
- Bloody Hell, that was a fun week, even with the day lost to work!
- Definitely intend to return next year - not been to Gozo yet and there's a bunch more temples and forts I want to see
- Also determined to do more competitions, especially in fun locations - Mike's mentioned on in Amsterdam, Adam's stirred up interest in an intensive 2-week training course in Budapest and I kind of talked myself into doing a web site for our little fencing tourism group...
- Kind of weird spending so much time with people from the fencing club - I see them regularly, obviously, but most of that time our exchanges are limited to the likes of "Fancy a few hits then?", "En garde, are you ready?" etc...
- The trip's revived my interests in the monastic military orders and am currently reading the Monks of War
- A big memory card means you take a scarily large number of photos - steer clear or risk being bored witless...
- My video camera didn't get used as much as I'd expected - still a bit too bulky I guess
- I must look different when I'm working - a couple of times guys in the party came up to me when I was SMSing and said "you're not working, are you?" and were dead right each time
- Bit worried because Mike apparently took leave of his senses and went skinny dipping on a fishing trip, was spotted by two tourist boats and a Maritime Patrol Vessel and was extensively photographed by members of our group who now intend to upload anonymised piccies. Why does this worry me? Mike is a fellow Malaysian Chinese... I'm not sure I fancy the idea of people thinking I might have been the group streaker!
- Wondering what the bill for moderately involved SMS exchanges with the likes of Selena, Heather and Jackie is likely to be...
- Last but not least, I am missing my heat of the Tangent 21 SF trivia quiz because I'm out here in Germany, Goddammit!