One of the charming things I’d forgotten about Maltese people is that they are not the tallest people in the world, generally speaking, so I am a giant among women for the first time since grade six. Funnily enough, half of them speak English with a stong Brunswick accent, having spent decades in Melbourne – making my pasticci, no doubt – or they sound shockingly like Cilla Black, which is a little disconcerting when you feel sure you’re in the middle of the Mediterranean.
Needless to say, the greatest collection of swords in the world is closed for renovation. But there are lots of boats, castles and cannons, baroque churches with illuminated manuscripts, medals, and ’50s buses. And there are a few swords. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, see Visit Malta.
In a bad way: suffering cathedral neck from craning to see frescoes (lucky I have my binoculars and torch); walker’s hip (lucky I have my father’s long-distance knees); ancient temple-induced sunburn (unluckily I have my mother’s pink nose); and most of all glutton’s bloat (all my own fault after calamari at Il Pirata). But I’ll cope, after days of fishing villages with more bright blue boats even than Turkey (luzzus, painted blue for the sea, yellow for the sun, green for hope and red for courage); chiselled stone temples more ancient than Stonehenge; palaces and cobbled streets and fortresses and bastions and vedettes and castles.
I have had a driver and guide for the last few days, who are very sweet, but I’m also suffering Travel Writer Grimace, from nodding politely. The guide’s getting the hang of things now, though, and can now advise on pirate landing places instead of wondering if I’d like to buy some lace. He even laughed when I sidled up to the famous cliffs of Dingli, a jagged precipice which plays a key part in the finale of the Swashbuckler! books, looked over expecting to see raging torrents and jagged rocks, and found instead olive groves and terraced fields – and that is why I had to come to Malta to check everything…