Part 3 – Malta, Mulled Wine and Mistletoe
I awoke to a slightly more cloudy morning, but there were still enough breaks to see the sun. In the Moiré restaurant I was met with more talk of Meatloaf, or as I call myself at Karaoke, “Maltloaf,” as folks wanted to know how the previous night’s exploits had gone on.
Sonia told me all about the evening spent with Deej in the Karaoke bar and how many songs they had sung – this was all confirmed by some excited text messages following up my well-wishing as Deej made his way back to England on the plane.
It seemed to be the most talked about subject even more so than comics, or the trips for a while… LOL.
Breakfast over; we were soon leaving our meeting place, the foyer, to board the coach for the start of the trips. The coach arrived at the first stop, Rabat, which lies in the middle and the south of the island. There we visited a Roman Domus.
From outside it looked like any other museum-type building, but inside we saw the marvellous columns and mosaics that would have once been very opulent and colourful, The mosaic was painstakingly created and beautiful with the Romans even managing to create gradients in the colour schemes and optical illusions that Escher would have been proud of – incredible!
The tour guide showed us around the place and, like on previous year’s trips around Malta’s Heritage sites, he was interesting and gave all sorts of insights into Malta’s past in Roman times.
We had group photos taken outside the place and then we found ourselves walking to the next stop the, catacombs. En route, we stopped outside a little café-type place where we were treated to a Maltese treat, Pastizzi. The guys had been speaking to me of them since Friday asking if I had ever tried them, so they obviously had the stop off planned between the trip venues.
A Pastizzi is a savoury pastry, which usually contain a filling of either ricotta or of mushy peas, and are called pastizzi tal-irkotta, "cheesecakes", or pastizzi tal-piżelli, "peacakes".
Pastizzi are a popular and well-known Maltese food – and no wonder they are delicious – I had one of each… for good measure. Well the guys bought a whole load of them and wanted me to try one of each, so who was I to say no?!! These delicacies are usually diamond-shaped or round-shaped and made of filo pastry.
Eventually, brushing off all the crumbs, we made we set off for the next point of call, the catacombs. As we reached the central square in Rabat we came across a little confectionery place; Parruccan, where I bought some Maltese nut-brittle, which I thought would be great for when guests came around over Christmas.
I wasn’t alone and quite a few of the other guests also purchased some of the wares on display there. Then we were off once more and finally arrived at the catacombs. Like I have said in my previous Maltacon Blogs the tours are very well organised in advance with tour guides awaiting our arrival.
The catacombs were fascinating as some of them are from pre-historic times, whilst others are from Europe’s dark ages and medieval periods and perhaps a little later too. Once more the tour guide was interesting and answered any questions we had. Access to them is down a steep set of steps carved into the rock down to the underground burial chambers. They are quite claustrophobic as they twist and wind in very confined spaces from the initial foyer or hall-like starting point were the prayer or altar area takes pride of place.
There are single and family burial places carved into the walls and the floors. All of them long since emptied. We were told grave robbers down the centuries took anything thought to be of value. Dimly lit, cold and eerie the place would be a perfect setting for Tom Sawyer’s hunt for Indian Joe in the novel, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer.
Outside, the sun shone still and we looked into another set of burial chambers in a separate underground chamber, adjacent to the ones in which we had just been. These were identical, but it was a smaller area to look in. The area we saw was just a small part of the catacombs, as some areas have been sealed up and others have had their access blocked, I guess for safety reasons apart from anything else.
Next stop was the Il-Vedutta Pizzeria and Restaurant in Rabat, where I sat next to Sonia discussing her pregnancy and future child’s birth, my Granddaughter, Phoebie, our respective families, our present workload and future plans for our books amongst talks of Christmas, New Year and what 2013 might hold for us both. It was a very enjoyable meal and chat and then we all spent a short while on the terrace taking photos before making our way on foot to Mdina.
It had become increasingly dull and although still not what I would call cold, it was markedly cooler with a little breeze too for good measure. We passed by the glassware places and the cathedral and made our way along the silent city to the wall at the top where we once more took photos from the high vantage point. Other folks not being from the north of England were feeling the cool air and so we headed back down towards Rabat and the awaiting coach. I must add here that fellow Scottish guest Richmond Clements was also wearing a T-Shirt and even sported shorts!!! I was suitably impressed. It's a northern thing... LOL.
We passed the square, which in Game of Thrones saw Sean Bean’s character Ned Stark ambushed by the Lannisters – which sounds like something out of a Carry On film, now I have written it, LOL. So to re-phrase that; Ned Stark was ambushed by Jaime Lannister and his men. Anyhow, suffice it to say that as my original photos from my first trip were lost when one of my computers went down a few year’s ago I decided to take some more.
The place was quiet and one of the Maltese organisers told Inko about a supposed ghost legend, which certainly did the trick of scaring her as she would not go near any of the large oaken doors as we passed them by. As they tried to get her to touch the door behind some iron railed outer gates someone in a long black robe rushed past and she almost climbed to the rooftops and screamed, which had the rest of us in fits of laughter – it could not have been timed better, if it had been planned.
As most of us continued to take photos on the way back to the coach of the battlements and other sights some of the female contingent decided to spend time with a couple of local doggies, who seemed quite affectionate towards the ladies.
By and by we reached the coach, eventually, after prising them away from their furry friends and were soon on our way back to the hotel to prepare for the evening meal, which this year was not to be cooked by the esteemed mister Chris Stellini, which gave him the opportunity to join everyone for the evening as he did on the very first Maltacon.
Showered, changed and ready for action once more we all met up in the hotel foyer and then strolled the short distance to the eatery we were to enjoy a great evening at, La Stalla Pizzeria and Restaurant, which like the Hotel Santana is in Bugibba.
There I sat next to Samantha Abela on my left, Dan Lester on my right, with Dave Gibbons, his wife and Sean Azzopardi across from me. Another enjoyable evening of conversation with some great people, whilst consuming great food and great drink too. Phoebie was once again the topic of conversation along with a close second once more being our thoughts on teaching using comics and of course the impending season of Christmas and New Year.
I ordered a Chicken Kebab on skewers and it was huge when it came to the table.
Towards the end of the meal the guests were invited to draw part of a character and then fold the picture over, showing only the tips of any marks as a hint of where to draw the next bits. It was great fun and our table was split into two groups. It was the brainchild of Chris de Souzza Jensen's partner and I reckon this will become part of ever MaltaCon from now on. I have even started using it in my Fantasy Art Unlimited sessions on Wednesday evenings - Thanks!!!
Then it was approaching that time again and Mike Quinton attracted everyone’s attention to give his farewell closing speech, followed by an equally heartfelt one from Chris Le Galle. It is so obvious that the guys love organising this event – despite its massive undertaking.
Once more personal thanks were given first to Sean and I for our continued support, which was lovely and then the other guests, followed by the organisers receiving their fair share of appreciation. Then it was time for lots of photos and sad farewells and the last group photo of the trip, now a tradition at the convention.
We made our way back to hotel where we had a long chat outside with Mike, Sean, Dan and Chris de Souza Jensen and his partner, then it was decided with everyone else having gone off to bed to set off to find a bar that was still open. We walked for a while and it didn’t take too long before we found a Brit pub – complete with a Blackburn Rovers football club scarf on the wall. No sooner had we entered then we heard the doors close behind us, were we about to witness a scene out of An American Werewolf in London. No, we were in a LOCK IN!!!
A slightly more than inebriated lady called upon Sean and Mike and proceeded to give them both hand massages and an Indian head massage to boot. Well this scene caused lots of laughs and as we continued chatting Dan became her next victim. He eluded her efforts to entice him to receive a massage and I suppose the struggle with the amount of alcohol she must have consumed turned her attention to the table top at which she sat and she promptly fell asleep, much to Dan’s relief.
Well, several pints and whiskeys later and we made our way back to the hotel and the now much needed beds that waited inside. We said our farewells and I arranged to meet up with Sean and the gang for breakfast. Then Mike and I continued to talk for at least an hour outside the hotel under the stars and then agreed to meet up later the next afternoon for a meal with Emma and Jean Sebastien.
Up early for breakfast in the Moiré restaurant the next morning, as per usual, I met up with Sean and Sonia. Herb and Patricia arrived and we exchanged contact details and agreed to email each other as soon as we arrived back in our respective homes and to keep in touch afterwards. Then they had to dash off to head out to the airport. Sean and Sonia also went off to their rooms, as they too had to leave later that day.
Then, for me, it was a lazy day. Around mid-day I went out for a walk to the left of the hotel along the coast road. I hadn’t been that way before except for the journeys on the cars, minibuses and coach to Valletta, which had nearly always gone along that way, so it was a change to walk down there and experience the area like that. The previous year I had gone with Jon Haward to the promenade to the right of the hotel and wanted to see what the other side was like. Again, there was a beautiful blue sky; so it was a lovely walk bathed in the warmth of Malta’s sun.
That evening arrangements had been made for Mike Quinton to meet up with Emma Rios, Jean Sebastien and I for an evening meal. He met the three of us in the hotel foyer and took us along to a superb restaurant called Luzzu in Qawra. There was lots of chatting as we all shared our thoughts on the convention and the state of comics in our respective areas and it was truly a great evening; laid back and great to see the different perspectives too. The meal was great and unrushed and when we had finished we continued to talk for quite a while over coffees and then we made our way back to the hotel once more.
There was a brief conversation outside the Santana as we all wished each other all the best and for each of us to have safe trips home; Emma and Jean Sebastien were leaving the following day, Jean Sebastien quite early.
Mike and I carried on talking and decided to go out for a drink somewhere. We came to a bar that was open, The Watson’s Pub. There was a chorus of angels – there in front of us lay a Karaoke at the back of the bar. It wasn’t too long after we got there that they closed it down for the evening, but the bar remained open for a while longer and Mike and I continued our conversation until we had finished our drinks.
Then it was back to the hotel once more where we checked out the bar, but it was shut. So under a starlit evening sky, which was fast becoming a common theme, we continued to chat about all manner of things. Mike’s a great guy and is really interesting with his background as a musician and his knowledge of Malta and its history – a great ambassador!
We arranged to meet up again the following evening and then it was time for bed again.
I was up early, once more, for breakfast in the Moiré restaurant on the Wednesday morning. It’s always really funny to me that I eat breakfast when in hotels or on holiday when normally I don’t have much to eat, if anything at all, usually.
For me, it was another lazy day and a time to catch up on some reading, send text messages back home and another chance to check out the local scenery. I decided on a walk to the second Karaoke bar that Mike and I had found the previous evening The Watson’s Pub and ask the owner, Marco if there was a Karaoke on that night – there was!!!
Well, hardly containing my excitement I contacted Mike straight away and asked if he fancied going to the bar tonight for a laugh? His answer was a resounding yes so you can imagine my joy and anticipation at the impending night ahead.
I headed back to the hotel and went to the Castagna café bar inside it. There I had a couple of Kinnies and sat in the café window area. I sat across from a northern couple, Tom & Mary and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with them. Over the next couple of hours I learnt he was a builder and had some very amusing anecdotes about his time in the business. They were intrigued to hear about my job and seemed totally fascinated that I had worked on so much stuff.
When they got up to leave I headed back to my room to have a shower then it was off to the Chinese down the road for a meal, I was starving… LOL. I recognised the waiter from one morning in the hotel foyer with the rest of the guests, whilst we were waiting for the coach. He had been talking about comics and I thought he was part of the group. With that in mind I asked him if he had enjoyed the convention. He told me he had been working so had to miss it, but sounded really upset that he hadn’t been able to get along to it.
My meal finished I went the short distance back to my room at the hotel, signed a copy of my Worlds End Ashcan and then went back to the restaurant. The waiter was behind the reception desk. I told him I too thought it was a shame he had been working and hadn’t managed to get along to the convention so thought I would bring a little part of the convention to him and handed over the Ashcan. His eyes were wide with appreciation. He looked so happy and said thanks so many times I lost count. I added I hoped to see him next year at the convention and wishing him well left for the Karaoke bar to meet up with Mike.
I sat in the bar chatting with a few of the folks there for a while and received a text message from Mike, he was running a little late, but would be with me in around half an hour. I asked the lady behind the bar, who was taking the Karaoke requests and was pointed in the right direction.
I added my name to the list and Maltloaf was ready once more. I did Bat Out of Hell as my opening song and I have to admit to feeling much happier with it than on the Saturday evening. The folks in the bar seemed to really appreciate my song, if the applause was anything to go by and so, thanking them with a nod, I returned to my seat at the bar. I added another song, this time Two Out Of Three and waited my turn.
The other folks there singing were really good and it was turning into a really fine evening of entertainment. Before I knew it, my name was being called again and up I got to the stage area. Half way through the song I realised Mike had arrived, winked and carried on to the end of the song. He was very complimentary and we sat at the bar once more where we chatted, listened to the other performers and had a few quiet drinks.
I wasn’t able to convince Mike to have a go on the microphone, but that didn’t stop me, LOL. Heaven can Wait was next, followed by the Eagles’, Hotel California. As I began to hand the microphone back to Tony, the Karaoke DJ/MC, he told me to keep the mike and sing another song, this time, Desperado again by the Eagles. I was really chuffed I tell you. Not a bad evening’s singing and one I really enjoyed.
Mike again told me that he had been talking with the others and after being let down by the hotel said that they had decided that the next convention party was to be held at a Karaoke bar – YEEEEAH!!
Maltloaf strikes again!!!
The owner, Marco, called for last orders and Mike and I had a last drink. Marco asked if we would be back the following evening to which I replied that I would be flying back to England then, but would hopefully be back in late 2013.
Tony & Miriam the Karaoke organisers were almost packed away and came over to me to thank me for joining in with the singing. It had been a great night and I agreed and said I hoped to see them again next year.
Mike and I walked back the short distance to the hotel and then had another long chat in the moonlight outside the hotel. Madness, as we could have sat inside in the warm and comfort of the leather suites inside the foyer, but it had become the way of things that week and we continued to this end all the while, Mike said he was to take me to the airport again on the morrow, which I really appreciated.
Eventually we forced ourselves to stop talking and, bidding him goodbye until the next morning, I went back to my hotel room where I packed the rest of my things into my bags ready for the flight home later that next afternoon.
My bed looked inviting as my head hit the pillow and then my alarm went off – it was time to get up again.
Thursday morning, and I was up early for breakfast in the Moiré restaurant. Here I met and chatted with Dez Skinn and Aniko Boholy who were staying on for a few days longer having turned the convention into a part holiday to make the most of the visit.
They wished me a safe trip, which was reciprocated and then they returned to their rooms. I checked in my luggage, in the outbound luggage storage room, signed out of my room and then decided to walk around Buggiba taking the names and photos of the nearby places we had visited restaurants, Karaoke bars, etc for this series of Blogs.
The day was glorious and definitely the best and warmest one of the trip. The locals still had their sweaters or light jackets on, but for me, a northern barbarian from Cimmeria I was in my shirtsleeves, as I had been all week long, today especially – it was a scorcher!
At length I made my way back to the hotel where sitting in sunshine on the entrance veranda I met up with a lovely couple, John & Anne. As we found out a little about each other they checked out Worlds End Volume1, which to my relief they said that they loved. After only a short while Mike arrived. I introduced him as one of the organisers and my friend and then I went to get my bags. Upon my return it was time to bid farewell to the couple, who were by now busily chatting to Mike and we were off.
Mike said there was plenty of time and would like to take me to a favourite restaurant of his – Melita Gardens in Balzan for a meal and where I had my last Kinnie of the trip.
The car ride took through areas of Malta that I had not been before now and was most enjoyable. Mike as usual told me all about the places we drove through, about how all the towns and cities have grown over the years until it almost one continuous conurbation.
The restaurant was lovely and my chance to have a last Maltese Pizza and a glass of Kinnie. It was a last chance to chat with Mike over the last week and then before I knew it we were off to the airport once more.
Once at the airport Mike waved me off and I checked in. Once through customs I walked through the duty free lounge and saw my present for my little Granddaughter, Phoebie; a little Christmas Penguin. He was too good to resist and with him firmly in hand I headed for the departure lounge, where in a very short space of time I found myself on a plane heading back to the UK.
The flight back was uneventful. I was sat next to an older gentleman and we chatted for a while. He was an elderly ex-navy man and very interesting to talk to. Like most folks he was fascinated by the fact I created comic books and graphic novels, as it is such a strange job to have.
Soon, we arrived at Manchester Airport, where once en route to the train station I started to feel a much cooler air. Once at the train station I realised it was freezing, indeed there was a little light frost in scattered here and there.
By the time we arrived at Bolton station it was even worse and most things were frozen with dustings of white frost everywhere. The train journey to Blackburn saw me standing the entire journey as the train was full to bursting and my thoughts were on the coming Christmas; the first one for my little Granddaughter, Phoebie.
I arrived at Blackburn station and everywhere was covered in white, everywhere was covered in snow and it was lightly snowing too. My thoughts at the time were that it was REALLY freezing!!!!!!! Nothing like the sunshine I had just come from and I was so grateful that I had had the foresight to bring along my bob hat, scarf and gloves for the return trip.
My text message had told my wife, Margaret I was due to arrive and by and by she picked me up. Her car was toasty warm and very much to my liking.
Once home I regaled her with tales of my trip, as is now customary after my trips to Malta and I downed a much-needed warm brew of tea. I unpacked my bags all the while chatting about the convention and the Karaoke nights.
To end this series of Blogs I would just like to add my heartfelt thanks to:
Mike Quinton for taking such good care of me after the convention was long over – after all he made sure I had company each day of my stay, which goes some way to saying what kind of guy he is.
I would also like to thank Chris and Joanna Le Galle who invited me back to their home once more to a wonderful evening spent with friends, reminiscing – along with a beautiful meal and some great wine too. These guys are so lovely and inviting.
Chris Muscat for making sure my initial arrival was met with friendship and a smiling face, again and for keeping me supplied with water and pop throughout the weekend.
Fabio Agius, and his little niece Jessica who looked after my tables when I wasn’t there – she is a little star – x, Samantha Abela for making sure I was always fed, organising everyone and ensuring that we all caught the coach on time, Mark Ellul and Anthony Pirotta for all the laughs on the Saturday evening – priceless, Elaine Muscat for keeping Mark in line - LOL, Kenneth Micallef for looking after me during the convention days, young Juan Mario Farrugia, who saved the day on the Saturday when he found my sketch sheets and promotional posters, Chris Stellini for his humility and friendship, Olivier for setting up the Workshops, and all the other organisers for making this fourth Malta comic convention another successful one for all involved.
Thanks also to the local artists, Jeanelle-Marie Zammit, Bernard Micallef, Maria Isabella Grech, Joseph Bugeja, Dean Fenech, Chris De Souza Jensen, Iella, Samwell Mallia, Liz Mallia, Inez Kristina and all the other local artists that continue to grow in their talents and, again, show me far more respect than I deserve – I am humbled by your friendships.
Thanks each and everyone of you, most of all for your friendship, but also the fun, the laughter, the conversations, the help throughout the trips and for the undeserved respect you show to me each time I arrive on your wonderful island. Your caring of and attention to “all” the guests, not just the “hot” folks of the moment is appreciated by all of the guests – everyone notices that. You guys are second to none.
Malta has some great ambassadors and they deserve every little bit of endorsement and respect they get and more. Their love of comics and their country is infectious and has enabled foreign writers and artists, such as myself to see a rich and wonderfully historic country. I have learnt a massive amount about the small islands history, culture, cuisine and lots more besides, which I would otherwise never have known and feel all the more rich for having done so.
These guys are worth their weight in gold, people of Malta. Check them out at MaltaComicCon 2013.
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I, for one, am looking forward to MaltaComicCon5 in 2013 – in fact I am counting the days.
And now to round off this series of Blogs, some more photos:
And a couple more from photographer, Aniko Boholy:
And one last photo for this year from my buddy and local artist, Dean Fenech:
Until next time, have fun!
February 27th 2013
Leo Baxendale 1930 - 2017
13 hours ago