It’s funny how your memory plays tricks on you. When I first visited Valletta, capital of Malta, in 1987, it was majestic and exotic in equal measures, or so I remembered. This time, not helped by the weather I guess, it just seemed like any other southern European city. Although, if you wanted to point out its uniqueness, you could say that it’s almost completely surrounded by sea and ships.
You might think that Valletta is steeped in thousands of years of history, but it’s actually a relatively recent capital, which clearly did well out of its suitability as a port. It is full of large natural harbours … and a few man-made ones added for good luck.
Malta was a big deal during the Second World War too. It holds a strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and the north coast of Africa. The Brits were based there at the time, and the Germans weren’t too happy about it.
The first time I visited Valletta, an old gentleman approached me in the street without warning. He pulled an old letter out of his pocket and gave it to me. It was from King George, thanking him for his war efforts. I’m not sure (I’ve slept since then), but I think he showed me a medal too. He told me that he loved the British.
The thing that struck me about Valletta this time around was that it was very much a working city, with more than enough rough edges. I guess they have struggled with the global recession as much as the next country.
But, as the night drew in, Valletta’s harbours were lit up by thousands of lights, transforming it into a watery jewel in the Med.