Happy Birthday Mama--From Malta to Venice with the Family Day 2--Trains, Planes, Automobiles and lots of Busses to Malta

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June 11th 2016
Published: June 12th 2016
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We made it!

After planes, trains, automobiles and our fair share of busses we made it! We got to Dulles by 7:15 (sweet!), found out we did indeed have TSA Precheck (sweeter!) and were through security and at the gate by 8:00 (sweetest!) Had dinner at an airport restaurant and then went and hung out by a charging pole to juice up our devices. There was a group of teenagers from an Arab country who were traveling back home (my guess is) and they had most of the charging stations plugged in. It looked like wire trees were everywhere. But we found a free station in the corner. I had gone to look for something at the airport and as I passed by the message board for our flight, it said, “This flight is overbooked. If you can travel at a later time, please contact the gate agent.” Rut roh. Mark and I had a window and aisle seat with a seat in between. Of course the young man who had been in the middle did not mind moving to the aisle so it was okay. Flight was indeed packed. It left on time, though, and arrived a few minutes early in Frankfurt so no complaints. I slept a fair amount on the trip and Mark read a few pages and dozed for 30 minutes, which is his want.

When we got to Frankfurt we were loaded onto busses to go to the terminal. Mark and I were stationed in Germany in the early 90s and have flown in and out of Frankfurt quite a few times. I swear, that airport has not changed a bit. We walked and walked and walked and walked. At one point I said, “When we get out of these corridors, we’re in Malta, right?” One unique experience today, however: they have real live passport control now which they never had before. After all of those years living overseas, I finally have a German stamp in my passport! Woot woot!

After we got out of passport control and walked down another long corridor and up a ramp, we arrived in the Duty Free Bazaar. Now THAT was new. In the middle of all of this was a Range Rover. Mark said, “Dang, honey, I forgot to pack the Range Rover!” I said, “Well you’re in luck! Pick one up here!” It turns out they are having some sort of promotional give away thing but it was funny to see a Range Rover in the midst of liquor, cigarettes, designer sun glasses and lots and lots of perfume.

Walked some more and some more and some more and arrived at our gate to see the Watkins sitting there, Brian and Steve each nursing a beer. Yay! Reunion in the airport! They arrived on time, every indication was that the Spartanburg crew’s flights were on time and we knew that Liz and Jose were already there. Mark and Steve immediately fell into conversation about the merits of this Fit Bit over that one (they have the funniest competition about Fit Bit steps which I figure will come up again and again throughout the course of this trip) and both acknowledged that sitting on a plane for 8 hours for us, 11 for them was not going to lead to a successful Fit Bit day.

As we sat chatting, I heard a woman sitting at the next table saying no, they weren’t staying in Malta, they were leaving on a cruise on Monday…going lots of places in Italy and Greece and then some of the former Iron Curtain countries…12 nights. I finally said, “Are you sailing on the Navigator?” She said, “Yes! Are you here with Dennis? Let me get my list out and mark you off.” I said, “No, there are 13 of us sailing to celebrate our mom’s 80th birthday.” She said she is part of a group of 50 to 70 people sailing with Dennis Prager. She said, “He’s got a nationwide talk show and he’ll be lecturing on the trip and then doing services on Friday nights.” Julie and I went back to our conversation but I kept hearing, “rumble rumble rumble DENNIS rumble rumble rumble DENNIS rumble rumble rumble…” So these people are 60-year-old fan girlies. I asked Mark later if he’d heard of Dennis Prager and he said, “Yes, he’s a conservative talk show host and Orthodox Jew. I’ve read his stuff on Town Hall and heard his talk show once or twice.” Mark listens to public radio classical so he quickly explained he’d heard him when he was in the car with a colleague of his going to retrieve some paperwork. He said, “I know my buddy’s a fan. I’ll try and get a picture!” Add another DENNIS fan to the group. Doubt he’ll become an Orthodox Jew, however, or a girl, for that matter.

They called our flight and we got in line to board. At one point they stopped the boarding process and the gate agent came on and said, “We are stopping boarding because, as you can see, the line is quite long. You will be more comfortable waiting out here.” I thought that sounded SO German. Ve know vhat is best for you and are taking appropriate action. I thought yep, back in the Fatherland!

Plane was full but I had a window seat (yay!) right over the wing and engine (Boo!) but really, I slept for most of the flight. At one point I woke up and there was drool coming from my mouth and traveling down my chin. Nothing like a little travel fatigue. Mark did his usual read a page and doze for a bit. It took the edge off so we were grateful.

When we finally reached Malta, I was interested to see what it would look like since I know NOTHING about this place except that St. Paul was shipwrecked here. It looks, from the air, very scrubby and brown. The buildings are made of sandstone block, flat roofed and low to the ground. There is very little green anywhere but when it appears, it’s like a shock of color in the midst of oceans of beige. Since Malta is part of the Economic Union and, it appears, only flights from other EU nations come to Malta, Germany was our passport control so, after we got our luggage, we walked through the Nothing to Declare door and we were officially in Malta!

Steve had talked to a woman who advised that we take an Airport Shuttle van to the hotel so we got that arranged (€33 for all of us and a whole buncha luggage—not bad), found the appropriate booth and went outside to wait. After about 15 minutes a man came up and said, “You go to San Julian? You come with me!” He picked up two bags and started towards a van. Steve said, “We’ve already paid…” Man said, “Yes, yes. You come with me.” So we did which is good because he was indeed the right driver. This was a 16 passenger van and he drove that thing through the narrow and hilly streets of Valetta and San Julian like it was a Mini Cooper. Julie was sitting in the row behind the driver and I said to her, “You win!” It reminded me of the trip through Roman streets when I got to sit in the front seat with the driver. Never. Again. I said this reminds me of Rome and Katie said, “I just said the same thing!” Narrow streets, hilly terrain and crazy drivers. And the steering wheel is on the left. Got it covered.

We did arrive in once slightly jarred piece at the Intercontinental hotel in San Julian, Malta. Lovely hotel (Note: traveling with Mom has its perks) and after some confusion at check in because all of the reservations were in Mark’s name we finally got our keys and went to our room. Our room overlooks a courtyard and just beyond it the sea. Very pretty. We did not lie down because we knew that would be dangerous. We did a little unpacking and cleaned up our acts (nothing like brushing your teeth after being mostly awake for 36 hours) and got ready to meet the family in the lobby at 6:55.

We got there at 6:58 and no family. I said, “I thought we’d be last. We’re first?” I sat down and Mark wandered around and finally came back and said, “I think they’re in the bar.” OF COURSE THEY ARE! Where else would they be? It was 2-for-1 happy hour. They were in the bar. Reunion again with the Spartanburg crew minus Mom and Jack who had decided 7:15 was the earliest they could make it. They arrived, more 2-for-1 and we all chatted and drank and enjoyed being together. Precious people, my family.

Michael made the very wise decision to just eat in the hotel that night which is what we did. They had a lovely buffet with lots of fresh seafood and vegetables. It was great and a whole lot easier than trying to herd 13 people, two of whom are octogenarians, through the crowded streets around the Intercontinental Hotel in San Julian, Malta. After dinner, there were the options of going to bed or traipsing around with the young people. Julie, Michael, Steve, Mom and I decided to traipse. For a very little time, that is. Liz led us down a very crowded street, up 4 sets of stone stairs and up more streets (it’s 30 seconds away, she said, a dozen times) until we reached a fish foot massage place. Liz said, “I think we should do this!” Okay, why not? Mom, Julie, Mark, Katie, Liz and I all got our feet washed and then climbed onto benches and put our feet into water vats teeming with tiny fish. The fish were about one to two inches long, silvery gray and boy do they love calluses! They glommed right onto our feet and started sucking away. At first it tickles but then when I got used to it, it just felt like a funny massage. I said, “I need to check in on Facebook from here. Let’s see if it’s listed.” Yep. The Fish Lounge. Checked in. Who’d believe otherwise? The manager asked if we were here for the week and we said no, we were sailing on Monday. I pointed to Mom and said, “She’s having a milestone birthday. Guess how old she’ll be?” She cocked her head and said, “50? No wait, what’s the relationship of you all.” Mom said, “These are my children.” She said, “Oh, okay, 70?” Yes, it’s true, she had me when she was 15. Mom said, “’ll be 80.” Her eyes got big. “80? For the birthday girl, 30 minutes with the fish for the price of 20.” There! 80 years got us 10 extra minutes of feet-sucking fish. Score!

After that it was back to the hotel. Passed a raucous bar which, turns out, was where Steve, Matt, Wil and Michael had landed. Ya’all have fun, ya hear? Steve, who laid down in the room when they first got to the hotel, Julie said, and when she told him it was time to go, he said, “But I’ve only had an hour of sleep in the last 24!” Julie said, “Congratulations. You’re in the club.” But now he was at a Malta bar. Not me, though. We got back to the hotel and said our good nights. It was a long day but a great reunion. Tomorrow more fun in Malta. Tonight—good night!


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