Overlanding to Malta: adventures in a small blue car.
So I decided to move to Malta. Even weirder is that I decided to do it by car!
My mum’s garage had a cheap right-hand drive car for sale, so we figured it might be a good idea to buy it and then use it in Malta (where they drive on the left - former British colony and all that). After some licence plates issues with some sketchy dudes, we finally left on Tuesday the 8th of October in our little blue Volkswagen Polo. The licence plate is 1-FRZ-something, so we decided to call her Franz (Franzi in Switzerland).
The first stage of our journey took us to Strasbourg. Irene (that’s the beautiful princess who captured me on her island) has lived there for a long while, and we stayed with her Armenian/Irenian “aunt” (not technically an aunt, but certainly affectionately). We got in late, after dark, so we only got to explore quickly the next morning. It certainly seemed like a beautiful city.
The next day we had to make it to Biel, Wallis, in the engineers’ wet dream that is Switzerland. Not a long drive by any means, but we were curious about how the small, heavily loaded and not so powerful Polo would make it through the mountains. Halfway through we stopped in Luzern, which is supposed to have magnificent mountain views, but it was really cloudy so we didn’t see those. Still, I have an old friend from there who happened to be in town so we quickly met for a coffee. Also, it is the place were Irene’s parents first met! On a bench, by the lake. We don’t know which bench though.
After Luzern the mountains really started. Sadly, the weather wasn’t all that great. While we were listening to a great indie mixtape by my dear friend Wim (Slint! Pavement! Yo La Tengo! Sonic Youth!), we were making up our way along narrow winding roads, shrouded in mist moreover. I would have loved to drive over the Furka pass, but since the weather was so bad, we just loaded the car on a train instead, and then the train took us through a tunnel, saving us the hassle.
We stayed with Irene’s aunt & uncle Leni & Bruno, a lovely old couple living in the tiny village of Biel (permanent residents: 57 or so). It’s a beautiful place, with super impressive, ancient wooden houses (up to 200 years old), at the top of the Rhône valley, where it is just a little stream still. To complement the Swiss cliché, we got raclette as soon as we arrived! Score!! Bruno & Leni were really funny, super sweet people, cracking jokes all the time.
The weather was a bit crazy. After a sunny walk in the morning, it started raining, and then snowing! By late afternoon, everything was white. The next day was sunny again, so most of it melted. But then during the night before we were meant to leave, it snowed even harder again!
See? We were excited to test the heated seats in Franzi, but they didn’t work. Luckily though the main road was totally driveable, and we drove down the valley to Brig. There we could - after nearly two hours of waiting - take another train-through-tunnel that took us straight to Italy!
Ah, la bella Italia! Until this year I had never been to Italy! What a mistake-a to make-a! Italy is just a gorgeous country! Landscapes (the sea! The mountains!), the architecture, the food! Mamma mia, I just totally love this country now.
We had a long day of driving, since we’ve had to scrap Cinque Terre from our programme because of the licence plate issues. Instead, we soldiered straight on, past Milano, Bologna and Firenze to Perugia, bang in the middle of Italy, where we arrived just in time for sunset. The little Polo was doing fine. Driving a car with the steering wheel on the right hand side is surprisingly easy, even when driving on the right side of the road.
Anyway, Perugia, a stunning medieval city on a hilltop, simply gorgeous! We decided to stay there, partly because it was on the way but also because Irene’s father used to teach there at the university for foreigners. (We were sort of copying her parents, who also drove a full car from Germany through Switzerland, all the way down through Italy to Malta.) We stayed in the Etruscan Chocohotel (Perugia is famous for chocolate), which seemed a bit tacky, but was fun enough (and good value. And it had a free, private parking - believe me, that’s something you look for when you’re driving a car full of all your personal belongings). It was a bit out of the centre, so we got to take the minimetro up the hill! The 11-year-old in me was very excited about that! The wannnabe gourmet was very excited about the food we had!
So Perugia was great, but we didn’t stay very long either, because we had to move further south in the direction of Salerno, where we would catch the ferry to Malta. So on we went, past Rome, Naples and the Vesuvius, to the Costiera Amalfitana, a truly spectacular stretch of coastline. Mamma mia - molto spectacolare! If you ever want to test your driving skills (our just want to enjoy amazing views), you should drive the SS 163, the narrow, winding but breathtakingly beautiful coast road. I know, it sounds like I’m constantly quoting travel guide blah blah here, but it was that amazing! (I will only drive that road once in my life though, ‘cause it can be quite stressful too.)
We spent two nights in Praiano, a quieter place in between the busier/posher/more expensive towns of Positano and Amalfi. So the next day we had time to walk the Sentiero degli Dei or “Path of the Gods”, a walking trail high along the mountains, with dazzling views of the sea below. The perfect postcard shots. Seriously, one of the five best hikes in my life. Also, perfect summer weather again, after the mist in Strasbourg and Perugia and the snow in Switzerland. Extra cool: we spotted a snake and some dung beetles on the way.
The walk took us to Positano, a super posh resort town, built on incredibly steep slopes - it looks like a giant sugar cake or something. And from there, we took a boat to Amalfi, once an absolute maritime super power but now just a tiny town. We were surprised to see Maltese crosses everywhere, so we went to the tourist office to ask why (me, in my best Italian, even though Irene speaks perfect Italian, being a new Maltese resident, particularly interested in this). Turns out some dude from Amalfi founded what would eventually became the order of Maltese knights. Food for thought, food for our stomachs: some delicious gelato.
After two days in this wonderful, wonderful place, all that was left was a short drive to Salerno, the large port where our ship was waiting for us. An 18 hour sailing, overnight, with a stop in Sicily. Everything went very smoothly, except for the last three hours in open seas, which were very choppy, so we went back to our cabin, lay down, bobbing up and down, and fell asleep again, until we entered the grand harbour of Valletta! Home sweet windy new home!