August 12, 2014, news broke that Robin Williams, the star of Popeye and many more movies had died, apparently by his own hand. My thoughts quickly returned once more to Popeye Village Malta and this earlier review of our visit.
Hubby and I had a fun day out at Popeye Village, which can be found near Mellieha on the Island of Malta. The fact that we were two adults, approaching middle age made not one difference to the visit experience.
However, if you visit as a family or with a group of children the experience will be even better. Since our visit, Popeye or Sweethaven Village has grown in size and added many more attractions.
We stayed at the resort Bugibba on the Mediterranean Island of Malta. Sandy beaches are in short supply on this lovely Island and Bugibba has only rocks near the water's edge where holiday makers gather like basking seals.
Mellieha is only a short bus journey west of Buggiba and has a pleasant village, a magnificent church, some hotels and a beautiful sandy beach; this meant that we visited a couple of times during our two-week vacation.
We actually came upon Popeye Village almost by chance.
Being too hot for the beach at Mellieha one day we opted for a stroll. Not far from the beach we saw a dirt track between fields which had Popeye Village signposted. The sign stated the distance and as it did not sound far away, intrigued, off we went.
As we strolled in the hot afternoon sun there were huge gourds at the side of the road. It was September and the crops were rolling in. About halfway along this track we could see back to Mellieha and forward to the coast in the south of the island, where Popeye village is located. This part of the island is so slender that you can see the water in both the north and the south of the island at once; well you can if you look at the right time and you are in the right place.
One thing we learned when we visited Malta is that the island's tourism is ingenious and inventive. Anything that could be even remotely turned into a tourist attraction is! This made for some unusual and fascinating attractions.
Popeye Village was actually the set of the 80's Robin Williams film Popeye.
Ever the opportunists the Maltese had turned this set into an attraction for tourists. These days it is more like a small theme park though.
When we visited the entrance fee was reasonable, so in we went.
The setting was certainly perfect. Popeye Village is set on the coast of Malta where the beach is a soft sand and the waters turquoise blue. There was a tourist shop with the usual gifts such as Popeye tea-towels and numerous items displaying Popeye Village or Malta.
Hubby and I stuck our heads through wooden cut-outs of Popeye and Olive. When I find the old photos, if I ever do, I will scan them and add to this review.
These days the programme of events includes boat trips, mini golf, beach sun bathing, wine tasting, a silversmith demonstration, fun park, cinema screenings and more. There are special school package deals for organised visits. Popeye Village also hosts various corporate events.
The characters and events at Popeye Village will vary according to the time of year.
But I have fond memories of our visit to a less commercialised Popeye Village.
Even if you just briefly visit, like we did, and sunbathe, have a dip in the Mediterranean, stroll around Popeye village and saunter back to Mellieha it is a great day out.
A day trip to Sicily might sound a bit strange to those who know me a little as after all I live in the UK and Sicily would be a long way to go for a day's visit, unless I was very wealthy of course.
My day trip to Sicily though was taken during a two-week vacation on the Island of Malta a few years ago. The day trip to Sicily was to begin with a sea-trip on a high speed catamaran with promised views of dolphins plus a smooth fast journey.
At the time the price of the day trip to Sicily was not cheap but we felt it would be worth every penny.
Was that the case? Well, yes and no.
Let me try to explain and then any visitors to Malta who may be faced with the prospect of this day excursion can make an informed choice.
The boat leaves Valletta Harbour very early in the morning and so the first thing to bear in mind is that this excursion is a long day. I seem to remember we had to rise around 4.30 in the morning in order to travel to Valletta and catch our early morning boat.
Memories of our day trip to Sicily, and in particular our visit to Mount Etna, sprang back to mind with the travel chaos caused by the fairly recent Icelandic volcanic eruption.
Mount Etna is an active volcano that erupts fairly frequently although often the blasts are not classed as major eruptions. Over the years local residents have faced the threat of Etna erupting on a fairly regular basis but this has not deterred them and people still live quite close to Mount Etna.
Although we did not visit Etna to 'Volcano watch' our Sicilian trip did include a visit to the slopes of Etna; not right to the very top but as far as coaches are allowed to travel.
What were we thinking? Heaven only knows
Within a few months of our visit, Etna came alive and a massive eruption occurred. I guess it could have happened when we were there although, these days, scientists seem more able to predict such things.
My overall memory of Etna was that it was rather like a huge coal slag heap; you know a huge pile of coal, cinders and the leftovers of a fire.
The coach stopped where there were some shops and I was fascinated as these were all wooden and on wheels. This meant that these shops could be moved easily and quickly when the need arose.
I had thought that we would go right to the top of Etna and look into the molten lava.
Etna was smouldering when we visited and actually some of the best views of it were as we travelled to and from the volcano and from Taormina. On the slopes of Etna it was rather cold and all we could see for miles was a scene that looked like something from another planet; it was barren and harsh.
The Day Trip
Having made the early start from Malta we expected to be in Sicily quite early. Life is never simple though is it? The weather was windy and the sea became choppy. Our oh so smooth journey to Sicily was anything but. To this day Hubby always recalls, to anyone asking about our day trip to Sicily, that we saw no flying fish or dolphins just one huge wave after another and fellow passengers throwing up.
As one, the travellers on our trip became ill. Some managed not to throw up but looked ghastly. Others spent the whole journey in the toilets. The expected 90 minute journey became almost three hours long as we diverted to avoid the worst of the weather.
But we disembarked in Pozzallo in the south of Sicily to a lovely September morning.
It was still reasonably early in the day as the coach began its meandering journey to the north for our visit to Taormina, Catania and Mount Etna. Initially the scenery was pretty bog standard and this was a problem. With everyone having been sickly, plus the early start, it was hard to keep your eyes open on the warm coach as it sped along a motorway. I had been really looking forward to our day out but unfortunately snoozed most of the way across Sicily.
We stopped at Taormina for a light lunch before visiting Etna. Taormina is a charming place but pricey. We were to discover that shopping, be it snacks, meals, gifts or what you will is expensive on Sicily.
Hubby and I settled for a cold drink and hot pies which we decided to eat in the warm sun. We both sat fascinated as the congregation and guests of a local church wedding spilled out onto the streets in a scene that appeared to be from the Godfather gangster movie.
You can climb to an amphitheatre at Taormina which is worth the effort especially for its fine views of Etna.
From here our coach began the climb to Etna and up its winding slopes. We could see the evidence of previous eruptions. Houses and villages were buried under a pile of ash and debris.
Etna was worth visiting despite our visit not being as I had imagined. Whether I would want to do it now, I am not sure. For those wanting to reach higher there is a train which takes you the final lap before the last climb. I guess for us time was short.
Our coach tootled down to Catania which is a beautiful city but we were warned to be vigilant as pickpockets were rife in this city.
We had a final stop above a lovely looking resort where we bought the tastiest and most expensive ice cream I have ever consumed. The resort below looked so tempting too.
Pros of this day trip
The full itinerary depends upon who you book this day trip with. It does vary slightly. Of course the Mount Etna visit depends upon that volatile volcano.
When we visited we also had to take our passports with us from Malta and this may still be the case.
The Euro has made the currency easier when you are abroad in Europe.
If you are visiting Malta and fancy a hop over to Sicily go for it. Bear in mind though that it is gruelling in some ways and will not suit everyone. If we had known the timescales we probably would not have visited.
On the whole though I did enjoy Sicily and still have a couple of cinders from Etna's slopes in my garden.
Why we chose Malta
Hubby and I were late starters as far as foreign travel goes. We finally booked a holiday abroad that included a plane journey back in 1991. It was to Yugoslavia.
As we excitedly returned home the turned on the TV we were greeted by the sight of unrest in Yugoslavia. This quickly turned into a full scale conflict and we were left wondering just what would happen by September when we were due to visit.
Our £100 deposit would be lost if we chose to cancel and so we sat it out.
When finally later in the year the UK foreign office advised its citizens not to travel to Yugoslavia we had our deposit returned but where would we choose to visit with such short notice?
Having finally plucked up the courage and found the money to travel abroad we were determined to have a two-week vacation in a 'foreign' land.
Malta was the choice for a multitude of reasons.
Did we enjoy our holiday?
People the world over will tell you that you will either love or hate Malta and thankfully we loved it.
We flew out of Manchester airport and both Hubby and I were absolutely terrified believing we would run away when faced with getting on the plane. Somehow or another we managed it and had a fairly settled night flight to Malta.
We arrived and disembarked the plane around 7am
Despite the time and the fact that it was early September the weather was hot. It was very humid and the temperature was in the high 70s fahrenheit.
Most people had told us that it was a different heat abroad to that experienced in Summer in the UK but the weather in Malta for our vacation was similar to back home as it was so humid. Apparently it was unusual for Malta. The heat though was nothing like the UK summer and as the temperature began to rise each day we sizzled.
We had also been informed that Malta was very British and that you would come across old English telephone boxes and the like. Well, although this is true, Malta felt very foreign to us. It was our first encounter with armed army personnel in an airport and they looked very scary. The skyline of Malta was full of TV aerials and had a strange feel to it. Also, if our first glimpses of Malta were anything to go by it resembled Beirut during its worst bombings.
Our accommodation was in Bugibba, which is in St Paul's Bay
We stayed at the Santa Maria Hotel and it was fine. It was not the best hotel we have ever stayed but nowhere near the worst. As it was toward the end of the season there were a few minor problems in the room but reception tried to get things fixed. We were on a half board basis which meant we had breakfast and an evening meal in the hotel each day.
The sun was very hot each day and the air dry and dusty. The first day we browsed the books outside a nearby shop we thought that the colours were faded but itnwas as they were all covered with a fine dust.
The buildings are all pale coloured anyway as they are constructed from local stone.
The local buses are fun, if not a bit of a white knuckle ride. The driver usually have lots of crucifixes, pictures of saints and the like hanging in their seating area adding to the quirky feel.
The bus fares are quite reasonable. The main bus station is in Valletta, the island's capital.
The Sunday market in Valletta is huge but it does get very crowded.
You may see small wild birds, hi g high outside of residential properties in small cages. These are captured as they fly over Malta to migrate and make a sad sight. But worse still Malta continues to have a bad record for shooting and killing migratory birds as they wing their way over this island.
The locals speak fluent English and are very friendly.
Malta can suffer from power cuts
One night during our holiday even the street lights went out. This happened around 8pm. Any beer for sale was warm as cooling equipment stopped working. Everyone was sweating profusely.
Following a friend's advice before our vacation we had packed a torch in our luggage and were glad of this. We usually slept with the large ceiling fan switched on all night to keep cool. The power suddenly resumed at around 4am and the fan shot to life nearly frightening us to death.
We avoided tours offered by the reps as they were quite pricey
We opted for TIS Tours, which stands for tourist information. The vehicles were smaller and the excursions more personal. However the back seats of the mini vans were very bouncy and not for those who do not travel well.
The Malta Experience, in historic Valletta, details the fierce battle these plucky islanders put up against the German Nazis. Walk around Valletta or take a horse draw carriage ride. Remember to barter for the best price available.
Hubby was fascinated by the seemingly ancient models of cars being driven around the island. It would seem that Malta's dry climate has extended the life of these cars by years.
We visited Sicily and Mount Etna on a day trip. It is a long journey. Overall it was not a great visit. A better option would be an overnight stay.
We used the local bus to visit Mosta, Valletta, Sliema and took a tour to Mdina.
In Mosta there is a famous domed church which still has the huge second world war bomb, in situ, that dropped through the dome whilst the church was full. Thankfully it did not detonate.
Remember if you want to enter a church in Malta ladies must cover their shoulders and men their knees. So, women no strappy tops and men trousers, not shorts.
Our trip to Gozo and Comino was part of an organised TIS tour and the price included the ferry ticket plus transport on themislamd of Gozo.
Golden Bay has a beautiful beach area and will be perfect for those wanting a quiet vacation.
Bugibba was fine in September but does get busy and commercial in high season.
St George's and St Julian's Bay have a great nightlife if you like clubbing, loud music and a European feel. It was not for us.
We visited Mellieha quite a few times on the bus and enjoyed the sandy beach. Most of Malta's beaches are not sand. From Mellieha we took the short walk to Popeye Village on the south of the Island of Malta.
This is a small theme park built around the set of Robin Williams film Popeye. The beach here was a lovely soft sand and the waters a clear turquoise blue.
Although the water in Malta is safe for using to clean your teeth and the like it is advised that you buy bottled water.
At the time of our visit canned drinks were not sold. Drinks such as Coca-cola came in bottles which you could return to the shop when empty. We had to buy a small bottle opener though so if this is still the case it might be worth packing one.
At the time of our vacation Malta had an unfinished feel to it. There were cranes all over the island and half finished buildings. However fellow travellers told us they had visited ten years earlier and it had been the same.
Of course all of this building work means that Malta may be completely spoiled by now.
Malta has a year round tourist trade with many older people taking an extended vacation through the winter months. It does however have something for all ages.
If you accept Malta, warts and all, it is a great place to visit.
Note: Although our visit was some years ago a relative visited tecently and it seems little has changed except that in 2008 the country adopted the Euro as its currency.
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