I see people on topless double decker buses in every touristy destination I visit and think to myself each to their own but not my cup of tea. For me it seems like the less adventurous way of seeing a place to fast. Something for the all-inclusive to do when the swimming pool is being cleaned.
7am Sunday morning, I peel myself out of bed and I’m getting the early ferry to Gozo to maximise the time of the one day I have to spend there. I nearly miss the boat because apparently builders are allowed to close down main streets and move bus stops on Sunday mornings in Malta. Running on to the boat I realise I have not had to pay or even been asked for a ticket which I thought was a bonus. I later found out that you only pay to leave the island not to enter it. I have only been up an hour and again this little group of islands never ceases to amaze me.
By the time I finished a coffee the ferry has already made the short and scenic crossing and I’m queuing to disembark. A young guy approaches me and tries to sell me a ticket for the hop on hop off bus. No thanks I replied, I will do my own thing. He asked if I was only there for a day and I said yes so he proceeded to inform me that public transport would not only cost more, it would be a mission and I would not be able to see all the sights. After a bit of thought and persuasion followed by some haggling on the price of the ticket I have sold out and I am cringing on the top deck a roofless red tourist bus, map of the island in hand and earphones to listen to the commentary in 17 different languages. As it turns out from reading the itinerary this is not a bad deal, the buses stop at all the destinations and sights every 45 minutes and you have the freedom to choose your own routes.
The first thing that struck me about Gozo is how different it is from Malta, It’s a lot more agricultural and green. After a short drive through the countryside we arrive in the first village which is like stepping back in time. I decide to skip this stop as I have no interest in churches (there is a lot of them in Gozo) and the driver can obviously see that whilst all the other passengers have gone to the church and souvenir shops, I have just got off for a cigarette and am not staying so we hit the road and Im the only person left on the bus.
The bus rolls on through the countryside to the islands capital Victoria which I decide to leave for the return trip. The next stop is the Azure Window, an arched rock formation jutting out in to the med and an inland sea where the sea extends through a cave in to a lake like bay surrounded by cliffs. I wave the bus good bye and wonder round here for a while then sit by the sea and take in the views outside a café. It is truly beautiful here but 45 minutes is enough. Public transport would have been a mission so the tourist bus wins and im slowly starting to like the idea.
Another quick spin through the countryside and I’m back in the capital town Victoria (Rabat) where I get off the bus for a couple of hours this time. The old town here is a scenic little maze of narrow, winding cobbled streets leading up to the Cittadella, a fortified citadel dating back to the 17th century. Inside the ancient city walls sits the cathedral surrounded by more narrow winding streets. Wondering round I was invited inside a building, told a bit of the history then taken through some small narrow tunnels that had been carved in to the rocks and lead to large vaults that used to be used to house gunpowder. On the way out of the tunnels WWII shelters remain preserved dug in to the sides like little bed rooms.
A quick walk around the Cittadella walls for a 360 degree view of Gozo then back down to the town where I sat outside a café on the main square and watched the world go by before ‘hopping’ back on the bus.
The next 2 stops were 45 minute breaks wondering round the coastal towns of Xlendi and Marsalforn before realising that a combination of spending too long in Victoria and accidently doing the same route twice meant I had no more time and the last bus was the next one. Xlendi was cool, a small bay surrounded by cliffs where a few restraunts and cafes line the small sea front. Marsalforn is Gozos main resort and is just a resort so I was wishing I had gone to sights instead but not complaining either.
Back in the picturesque harbour town of Mgarr I decided to wait another 45 minutes for the next ferry and watch the sun go down sipping coffee by the harbour thinking to myself that tourist bus was not to bad after all.