Thursday, May 8, 2014

The first time I drove in Malta

I wrote this post, oh, six months ago. It sat in draft for reasons I've forgotten. Here it is!

Update: I'm a pretty confident driver now! I have a few near misses under my belt, to be sure, but so far no harm done to anyone or anything. (Knock on wood.) It's a nice feeling.

I have been the owner of a car for three years. And last week was the first time I drove it.

Cue the angels singing!

Three years is a long time to own a car and not drive. But I like walking, and our neighbourhood is made for it. I also live with a very capable driver who is calm enough behind the wheel to not flinch at the craziness that happens on Malta's roads. Who learned to drive in a manual (stick shift) car. Who switches between driving on the left side of the road and driving on the right side of the road like it's no big deal. And he was gracious enough to chauffeur me around the island for the past three years.

That is, until my last birthday.

This year my birthday gift was car insurance (groan) which I had been unable to procure until now due to insurance regulations in Malta on convertibles.

Newly insured, and absolutely terrified, I got behind the wheel of our little blue car a couple weeks ago. And I drove. In Malta. With the crazies. On the left side of the road. Shifting gears. And no one died.

Driving in Malta is like driving anywhere else in the Mediterranean: Chaotic, intense, tricky. There are rules but they're not strictly observed. No one stops at stop signs. No one uses signals. Drivers are more guided by intuition (and sometimes, a sense of entitlement) than rule books.

But driving in Malta wasn't as bad as I had convinced myself it would be. In the villages, with their tinier than tiny roads, I held my breath and white-knuckled a lot. In the 'city' we live in I said some very bad words as drivers swerved and ducked around me in traffic. I stalled in the middle of intersections. It took ten minutes for me to back out of our garage. I yelled at my patient teacher a lot (sorry Mike). But we're making slow, jerky progress. And it feels good to be behind the wheel again.

Tell me, what is driving like where you live?


  1. I don't often drive in Norway and when I do it's not legally :\ (I procrastinated away my deadline to do the driver's exam here.) I also have a very nice chauffeur who is calm and fine driving abroad. From what I experienced, it's fairly low key. Joe complains about motorcycle drivers as they don't follow any rules and the pedestrians take a bit of getting used to - if it's a crosswalk, you cross and they never look both ways before so one has to be ready to stop at a moment's notice. The pace is relatively slow and it's organized. Gabon, was of course, a different story altogether but I drove there daily - I had to. It was near impossible to walk and not safe to travel by taxi. I remember being nervous the first time but I got used to it.

    1. Is it necessary to have a car in Stavanger, or do you find you can get around fine without one? I always figured in Nordic countries they would be necessary, but I suppose Stavanger could be a big enough city that it's not. It is quite charming that pedestrians in Norway assume/know that drivers will stop, though. In Malta you take your life into your hands when you step out onto the street, even at (or especially at) crosswalks. You have to really make eye contact with a driver and use hand signals to get them to stop.

      I had no idea you drove in Gabon! Or I knew from reading your blog posts and forgot. (Now that I think about it, I do remember you writing about the crazy roads.) Do you ever miss driving?

  2. It's pretty fitting the first post I read after popping over to your blog from Betsy's is one about driving. I've never been as scared driving as I was in Malta (correction, being a passenger... I never dared drive). Mostly I got around on the Oscar-Meyer-Weinermobile busses. I figured my odds were better. haha.

    1. Thanks for popping over Kelly! Hehe, I love that you call them Oscar Meyer Wienermobile buses. I've never heard anyone describe them like that but you know what? You're absolutely right!

      They're now called the ''old buses'' since we now have a new, modernized system (with air conditioning!) and the buses look normal and turquoise. A few old yellow buses were kept as tour buses, and some were converted into gift shops, which is quite cool.

      I'd love to hear more about your time in Malta! It's funny how many people have a connection to such a tiny island :)

  3. You're brave! And it's so great that your husband is a talented driver :)
    Last year we've been to Sicily and rented a car. When every guide I had read was telling what a terrible driving experience we would have in Sicily, in reality it was great. Sure, the streets are narrow and in 40 km/h zone people drive 120 km/h, but the roads outside the cities are wide and in good condition, the drivers are considerably polite and what's most important - it's the right side traffic.
    Okay, so this year we went to Malta. The plane landed at midnight. We were met by a guy from the rental cars company, signed the papers, paid 90 euros for extra insurance (smartest move ever!) and left to our destination (Mellieha). Now if we had bought a map of Malta, we would have known there was one main road and lots of tiny paths suitable only for bike traffic. Sadly, our navigation system didn't see any difference and we ended up driving on some extremely narrow and curvy road. What's worse is that there were stone fences on both sides of this road. What's even worse is that in addition to the fences there were poles on the driving part of the road. Driving through the fields we saw a car coming to us and we tried to give it way... unfortunately there was not enough space for both the afore-mentioned pole and our left side mirror. So the pole won against the mirror and we were left mirrorless. It was quite a welcome :D Oh, and then couple days later in Rabat during some kind of rush hour we broke our tire as well. We've never had so many car misfortunes, not in Cyprus or Portugal or Norway or Northern Italy. And parking in Floriana's parking garage for the May 1st fireworks turned out to be a nightmare as we had to wait for an hour inside our car just to be able to drive outside.
    Of course, I complain about the driving conditions (and parking conditions) but the island(s) is great. I would definitely visit it again. Just this time I would use Malta Public Transport services (where did Arriva go?).

    1. Hehe, your story made me giggle, Vita. Because it's so familiar here! Giving way is sooo tricky, I'm terrified of it so I try to avoid the tiny winding roads (it's easier after you've been here for a few years and actually know where they are). Normally there's enough space, but sometimes one person has to reverse all the way down the street and start over. I don't think I could do that, just yet!

      You're right, driving in Sicily is an absolute dream. I thought the driving there was even better than in Canada, actually (and much prettier!) except in Palermo. Which is hands down the most terrifying place to drive ever. If you've ever seen the traffic at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it's a thousand times worse.

      I do hope you'll return to Malta! Arriva Arriva Arriva. It's a long story, but basically they were forced out due to public and political pressure (and left quite willingly, because it turns out it's harder to make money off of buses here in Malta than it seems when the government keeps asking you to reinstate rural bus routes that lose money). So now we are back with Transport Malta, until a new provider is found (there's a tender out now). So far, it seems to be working OK. Thankfully, we've kept the Arriva buses, web site, and sign posts, and just changed the name :)


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