Our flight home was at 17.15 on Monday evening, so before that we just had time to fit in one more day trip. Our destination for the day was Mdina, an ancient walled city located to the west of Valletta. We were aiming for a bus at 09.30 so we made a fairly early start yet again, checking out of the apartment and getting breakfast on the way to the bus station. The bus turned out to be horrendously busy once more, but luckily we did manage to get seats We had to keep an eye on our location throughout the journey, because Mdina was not the terminus of the bus.
After around half an hour on the bus, a stop called Rabat was announced and we decided to get off there. Rabat, not to be confused with the Victoria/Rabat which we visited on Gozo yesterday, is the more modern town which borders Mdina. The name Rabat apparently comes from the Arabic word for 'suburb', which is why it crops up a lot in place names!
Our first impression as we stepped off the bus was that Rabat itself looked quite scenic.
We crossed the road and soon got our first view of the Mdina walls.
Behind the walls we got glimpses of various towers and turrets.
The main gate into the town looked rather imposing.
We walked through the gate and began exploring the city.
Mdina used to be the capital of Malta, from ancient times until the arrival of the Knights of Malta in 1530 (who selected the area around Valletta as their capital).
Today the walled city only has a population of 300, although we did notice that despite that it has its own police station. We can't imagine the police here have a lot of work!
It was another very sunny day, but the narrow little streets were nice and shady as we wandered around...
...and there were some little arches, like those we had seen in the citadel on Gozo yesterday.
Mdina is sometimes referred to as the 'Silent City', which is partly a reference to the fact that it never regained the importance it had prior to 1530 and partly also due to the fact that there is supposed to be no traffic (only a limited number of cars belonging to residents). In some places it was indeed very silent...
...however, in other places it was difficult to take good photos because the streets were full of vans, unloading goods to the shops and restaurants within the walls. I guess that was a hazard of visiting on a Monday morning!
At the far end of the town we were able to climb up onto the walls, giving us views out over the countryside. Initially I wasn't sure which direction we were looking in and thought perhaps the sea we could see was the west coast of Malta (because we had travelled west from Valletta to get to Mdina). Later we realised that we had actually been looking at the east coast, in the direction of Valletta, which shows that Malta is really not a very wide island!
As with everywhere in Malta, there were lots of churches in Mdina.
This square was in the centre of the town...
...and was home to the cathedral of St Paul, which had an interesting dome.
The best views of it were probably from further away.
We successfully managed to walk around all of the old town before the majority of the tour groups descended, then went outside again to walk around the outer walls.
It's too small to make out properly in the photo if you don't know what you're looking for, but from this viewpoint at the edge of the walls we could actually see the dome of the church which was on the same street as our apartment in Valletta.
We still had some spare time before lunch, so we decided to explore nearby Rabat, which the guidebook had said was also worth seeing in its own right.
Rabat had its own massive church, complete with dome.
This one is also named after St Paul. St Paul is a particularly popular saint in Malta, because he was shipwrecked here during a bad storm when he was on his way to Rome.
Even more than seeing the churches, we enjoyed strolling around the quiet little streets....
...and seeing more beautiful Maltese balconies
Eventually we found a nice restaurant where we sat outside and both ate large pizzas, followed by ice-cream, in the sunshine
Then it was time to catch the bus in the direction of the airport. There are two buses which go directly from Mdina/Rabat to the airport, without the need to go back into Valletta and change. The first of these, the X3, is an express bus which goes straight to the airport. We caught the second bus, the 201, which takes a slightly longer (but much more scenic!) route.
Unfortunately the windows of the bus weren't good enough to take any photos out of, but we were treated to some brilliant views as we made our way across Malta to the western coast and then proceeded to follow the coast for several miles. In particular, we had fantastic views of the very steep Dingli cliffs, which definitely look like a place worth visiting if we come back to Malta again. This side of the island seemed much less developed than the other coast and so we drove through plenty of countryside before finally arriving at the airport.
We were flying back with Thomas Cook and first impressions weren't very good. The instructions I'd had when booking the flight said that we needed to be at the airport three hours in advance, which seemed a bit excessive, and while we hadn't got there that early, we had arrived earlier than we normally would have done, in part because it hadn't been possible to check in online. It seems that you can only check in 24 hours in advance of your flight, which makes it difficult to print a boarding pass, and while there is some sort of Thomas Cook app, it didn't like my booking reference (perhaps because we weren't on a proper Thomas Cook holiday). We were quite annoyed though, having arrived at the airport this early, to find that while check-in was allegedly open according to the airport screens, in reality there was just a growing queue of people in front of what appeared to be a closed desk!
We waited and waited and waited... for over an hour in total. Apparently there was some sort of issue with Thomas Cook's systems which meant that the people manning the airport desks didn't have the names and details of the people who were supposed to be on the flight. It was all sorted out in the end but it was rather a frustrating experience and meant that we didn't have time to do much else at the airport except get through security.
The flight back was fine though and we have had a really lovely weekend Malta is beautiful, the weather was absolutely perfect, and it definitely felt to me like we had been away for longer than three days.