Valletta greeted me with a balmy weather and lazy afternoon light that seemed to paint everything yellow. With about 7,000 inhabitants it is the smallest capital in Europe and a thoroughly lovable place. I am sure that once the season starts within a couple of months it will look very much different, but right now it is a quaint little town that is a bit like a cross between the architecture of La Habana Vieja and the topography of Lisbon. As soon as you step off the Triq ir-Repubblika (which is hardly crowded on its own), the whole place is almost deserted and oozes the faded grandeur. The only people you’re likely to meet are the old ladies labouring their way up the staired narrow alleys and the only sound you hear is that of pigeons cooing on the shoulders of stone saints or windowstills of magnificent sandstone palazzos.
One of the big reasons for my being here right now actually goes back to a book (one of my longstanding favourites) by Anthony Burgess, titled “Earthly Powers”. It begins with a sentence that often features on different lists of all-time best first lines:
It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.
Although it is only the very beginning of the book that takes place in Malta, it somehow left me an impression and I have been looking for an excuse to go to there for many years now.
I will probably stay another day in Valletta and then head on to M’dina and Gozo which, if to believe guidebooks, should be even more lovely and quiet. The weather is warm and sunny and good restaurants abound. It really is a perfect place for ducking out the snow that’s hitting pretty much rest of the Europe right now.