Friday, 13 July 2012

Valletta, Floriana and Aircraft Spotting at Luqa - Day 13

After a packed itinerary the previous day, we decided to reward our weary bodies with a much needed rest and got off to a relative late start in the morning.

We decided to check out the rooftop terrace of our hotel after a leisurely breakfast and unanimously agreed that it would be the ideal place for dusk photos of the Grand Harbour with its unobstructed views of Malta's signature view.
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The multi-layered bastions of Valletta give rise to a convoluted network of roads along the perimeter of the peninsula which would certainly serve to frustrate anyone who is new to the neighbourhood! Beyond the car lined streets of Triq Battery and Triq Lesse, the mesmerizing blue hue of the Grand Harbour sparkles in the mid morning sun.
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Shopping at Valletta

Taking the opportunity for a leisurely stroll around the capital city, we savoured the time to soak in the atmosphere and the timeless medieval charm of Valletta.

Overhanging first floor balconies provide a much needed burst of colour and variety to the tightly hemmed in shophouses along the steep Triq San Gwann.
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Great Siege Square located to the northwest of St John’s Co-Cathedral. The bronze sculpture commemorates the Great Siege of 1565 (inscribed in Roman numerals MDLXV on the marble base) and is the work of celebrated Antonio Sciortino. Unveiled on 8th May 1927, this poignant monument depicts Fortitude as the God of War in the middle and being flanked by two female figures, Faith and Hope.
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The Malta Law Courts cuts an imposing sight with its majestic Baroque entrance foyer and complements the stately St John's Co-Cathedral located across the Great Siege Square.
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Perhaps with the exception of Alitalia, the other airlines featured on this antique sign outside a travel agent office are either history or had considerably changed their corporate identity. Dearly clinging on to its rich heritage and colonial past, Malta had been seemingly stuck in a time warp as compared to the rest of its counterparts in the European Union.
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The main shopping belt at Republic Street cuts through the centre of the Valletta peninsula and offers a variety of merchandise from both local and well known international labels.
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The open air street market at Merchants Street (Triq il-Merkanti) tempts shoppers with sizeable bargains for clothes and accessories. The market is opened daily except on Sundays when the bigger Sunday Morning Market is held outside the city walls.
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A shirt seller patiently waits for customers behind his pushcart at the open air street market. Much like their fashion conscious neighbours across the Mediterranean Sea, the Maltese are generally very well dressed even on hot summer days.
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We were spoilt for choices at the souvenir shops as the iconic Maltese buses had evolved into a tourist attraction in their own right and were featured on a wide variety of merchandises. It certainly makes one wonder the relevance of those souvenirs, especially as Arriva Malta had since displaced the longstanding Maltese heritage.
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While walking through the numerous streets in Valletta, we were seemingly whisked back to the UK in the 1930s as an array of period signboards call out for attention.
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A tantalising range of local products such as jams, wines and nougats proudly front the glass showcases of confectionaries. The national soft drink, Kinnie, is also widely available throughout the city to satisfy the thirst of hungry shoppers or the insatiable lust of visitors who had fallen in love with the unique concoction.
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Away from the bustle of the main shopping belt, Valletta residents went about their daily task of shopping for fresh produce from the local grocer.
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Maltese porcelain signs for sale.
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A quiet narrow alley off Triq St Orsla
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A selection of the medieval city's feline denizens.
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Satisfied with our haul from the morning, we decided to head out to the City Gate Bus Terminal and catch a bus to Porte des Bombes gate in Floriana.

The City Gate Bus Terminal outside the city walls comprised of a series of concentric island platforms around the Triton Fountain. Passengers had a choice of either waiting under the hot sun or seek a seat in the shaded (but sometimes stuffy) confines of the bus while waiting for the bus to depart on its next trip. DBY 373, a Bedford YRQ with Scarnif bodywork was photographed picking up passengers headed to Mater Dei Hospital/University.
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From the wide choice of buses available for this short hop, we decided on an AEC Swift on Service 8 which plied between Valletta and the airport. DBY 380 was formerly operated by London Transport before it was imported into Malta in 1981.
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The unique interior configuration of the AEC Swift includes 2 steps which leads to the rear half of the bus. Some of the Maltese AEC Swift owners had eliminated the steps by raising the floor height at the front half of the bus.
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We had an unpleasant experience in getting off the fully packed bus as navigating through the maze of luggage in the aisle required a fair amount of dexterity.
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Our original intention was to get nearside photos of southbound buses with the imposing gate in the background, but the sunlight direction was not in our favour and we assessed that the spot would be better later in the day.

DBY 403 BMC Falcon illustrating the intended photo composition with the Porte des Bombes in the background. All bus services originating from the City Gate Bus Terminal in Valletta will pass by this location, with the notable exception of Sliema bound services.
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City Sightseeing COY 015 Daimler CVG6 passing by Porte des Bombes.
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After a brief stay capturing offside photos of northbound buses heading towards Valletta, we decided to split up with one group heading towards the airport for plane spotting at Malta Luqa airport while another group preferred to maximise the freed up day by joyriding on more of the classic route buses.

Soon after the latter had boarded a random Bristol LH which had eventually brought them to Siġġiewi, we boarded a Bedford YLQ on service 34 bound for the airport periphery. Probably recognising us from our previous photography sessions at the City Gate Bus Terminal, the driver had initially thought that we were headed to the airport and tried to direct us to take service 8 instead! With some basic online research that had yielded clear instructions on getting to the spotting location, we had little trouble locating our intended stop after crossing the tunnel which runs under the airport's runway and taxiway.
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Aircraft Spotting at Malta Luqa Airport

The spotter's platform is located approximately along the halfway point of runway 13/31, and had been recently rebuilt when the airport perimeter fence had been extended to include the adjacent Medavia hangar as part of the airport compound. It takes about 20 mins to walk from the airport terminal building to the spot, or just five minutes from the nearest bus stop. Three public bus services served the bus stop direct from the capital city of Valletta, with a journey time of between 20-50mins depending on the service. With the takeover of the public transport system by Arriva in July 2011, this had been reduced to 2 services with an average frequency of 20-30mins each.

The purpose-built structure consists of several stacked sandstone blocks which allow spotters to take photos above the fence, and a welded steel pipe which functions as a safety guardrail. A bench and a table are also thoughtfully placed under the platform to provide an area for spotters to seek respite from the scorching summer sun. A discarded radial engine is also placed in the compound as a monument, centrepiece or random work of art depending on how one looks at it. Due to unobstructed view towards both ends of the runway, we had ample warning for approaching aircraft and there was sufficient time to climb up the platform slowly.
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There are two runways at Malta Luqa airport, but the longer runway 13/31 is the dominant runway in use except in severe crosswind conditions that usually only occur in the winter season. The traffic comprises of mainly Airbus and Boeing narrowbodies, and the only regular scheduled widebody flight into MLA is a daily Emirates A330-200 flight from Dubai via Larnaca. The sunlight is in the correct direction from late morning (~10am) until late afternoon (~6pm).

Air Malta is the flag carrier of Malta and operates scheduled and chartered regional flights from its base at Malta Luqa airport. It has a fleet of 5 Airbus A320 and 5 Airbus A319 aircraft. One of the company's A320, 9H-AEP, was photographed taking off from runway 13 with the airport's characteristic terminal building in the background.
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Airbus A319 9H-AEG on its landing roll on runway 13 at the end of another regional flight with the town of Il-Gudja in the background. Due to its abundance, sandstone is the construction material of choice for almost every building in Malta.
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Medavia is a subsidiary of Air Malta and mainly offers charter and ad-hoc services from its 2 bases in Malta and Tripoli (Libya). 9H-AEY, a Medavia DHC-8-315Q Dash 8, was photographed climbing out from Malta Luqa Airport.
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Low cost carriers comprise a large percentage of the daily movements to cater to summer visitors to Malta. In fact, one might even be misled into believing that Ryanair has a base at Malta Luqa with the number of movements throughout the day! B737-800 EI-DLI sports a special “Comunitat Valenciana” title on its fuselage.
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Easyjet A319 G-EJJB from Milan-Malpensa (summer-only route).
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Vueling A320 EC-KKT 'Vueling Together' arriving from Madrid.
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Apart from the LCCs, a number of European legacy carriers also serve Malta during the summer schedule with narrowbodies. Lufthansa operates an A321 on the noon flight from Frankfurt-Main, with D-AIRW 'Heilbronn' being rostered on the day of our visit. On a 1.6× crop body, an A321 requires only 75mm to fill the frame of the photo.
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Alitalia A320 EI-DTD from Rome-Fiumicino in the carrier's revised livery which features an updated cheatline below the windowline.
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Emirates operate a daily A330-200 flight from Dubai via Larnaca, with A6-EKT being rostered on the day of our visit.
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Apart from scheduled operators, Malta Luqa airport also sees a fair amount of general aviation traffic throughout the day.

Cabair Diamond DA42 Twin Star G-OCCY. Cabair is a UK based flight training school which offers professional flying lessons from its six bases in southern UK, thus it was rather interesting to find one making its way to Malta!
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Vista Jet Bombardier Challenger 064 OE-INY landing on runway 13 after a short test flight.
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Avio Delta Cessna Citation CJ 1+ LZ-FNA. Heat haze is a major problem when spotting at Malta in summer as daytime temperatures often rise above 35 degrees Celsius.
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There were also government and military aircrafts scheduled for the day, which captivated the attention of the local enthusiast community who were out in full force despite it being a weekday. On hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise that we unable to carry out our original plan on Tuesday despite missing a number of UK charters.

French Air Force (Armée De L’Air) Aerospatiale SA330 Puma was the first military aircraft which we had spotted. This helicopter carries the tail number 1375.
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This was followed by a pair of Kuwait Air Force Lockheed L-100-30 Hercules (L-382G). KAF 323 backtracking down the runway to the military apron shortly after landing and treated the crowd an encore of the deafening roar from its 4 Allison turboprops. Luqa airport does not have a parallel taxiway to the runway as it is tightly hemmed in by neighbouring towns and villages.
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KAF 325 landing on runway 13
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The star catch of the day was undoubtedly the French Government A310-300 F-RADB which was ferrying official delegates into the Mediterranean island. The crowd of spotters were enthralled as the crew braked unusually hard late into the landing roll to narrowly make the exit to the terminal in order to avoid backtracking along the runway and causing further delays to the passengers on board. The aircraft had since been replaced with a newer A330-200.
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UN World Food Programme had leased Medavia’s Beech 1900D 9H-AFH for its humanitarian activities in Libya.
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We finally made a move after our main target for the afternoon, an Egyptair Express ERJ-170, arrived from Cairo. Egyptair Express ERJ-170 SU-GDK exemplifies one of the more spectacular liveries to be applied on an ERJ.
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During a quick late lunch at the airport's MacDonald's, we received a call from the second group who informed that they were at Valletta and intended to head to Sliema to wait for us.

We chanced upon the only Volvo B6BLE in Malta, and were pleasantly surprised that it did not sound like “a fully-loaded washing machine” which some of us had experienced on Citybus's examples in Hong Kong. However, our initial excitement quickly died down and we slept for more than half of the journey, as the bus sounded like a rougher, yet less powerful version of the Volvo B7RLE being used on Sentosa services back home in Singapore. We had initially planned to travel to Valletta, but one of us suggested alighting at Floriana to transfer a bus to Sliema instead and thereby skipping the detour into Valletta.
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FBY 727 Volvo B6BLE with Scarnif bodywork passing through Floriana for another trip to Żurrieq. Scarnif is an anagram of the Maltese bus bodywork builder's founder, Francis.
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Floriana – Porte des Bombes

However, the favourable sunlight direction proved to be too good to resist and we got carried away camping for photos instead of heading to the transfer stop to catch a bus to Sliema. Unknown to us, the second group succumbed to the temptation of a ride on a MAN to Mater Dei Hospital/University after calling us and led to a 'geographical confusion' when we spotted them passing by on a northbound bus towards Valletta from our camping location at Floriana!

The Porte des Bombes gate was originally part of the Floriana Lines fortification which was built in the 17th century by the Knights to improve the defence of Valletta. Today, the elaborate arch served as the gateway to the capital city of Valletta.
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FBY 720 was one of the two Volvo B6 buses with the distinctive Alexander Dash bodywork which were imported in 2008. The other unit replaced DBY 364, a Bedford QL which was subsequently preserved in UK and garnered a certain amount of fame amongst the bus enthusiast community. We had several encounters with FBY 720 on this day as she was rostered to work the short route between Valletta and Santa Luċija as service 15.
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DBY 396, a Bedford QLR with Debono bodywork, sported an interesting variation of the yellow based livery worn by Maltese route buses under the old regime. It was formerly an Army Bedford QLR 4x4 radio lorry before she was converted to its current guise in 1959.
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EBY 552 shared a similar military heritage and was a Ford V8 forward control lorry used in WWII before being finally rebuilt by Tonna in 1962. The chassis however, dated back to 1939!
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FBY 702 was one of the more interesting catches of the day and was a Leyland Hippo with Cassar bodywork. Formerly a Royal Navy lorry of WWII vintage, the relatively new bodywork was installed in 2000 which gave it a modern appearance.
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EBY 528 was a Bedford SB delivered new to Malta in 1969 and was fitted with a Debono bodywork.
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Bedford SB DBY 468 illustrated the route taken by Sliema bound services which passed under a flyover near our camping spot at Portes des Bombes. Service 66 served the cluster of hotel developments overlooking St George's Bay in the Pembroke district.
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An Arriva Malta XMQ6800J on driver familiarisation training with what seemed to be a Chinese destination displayed on the electronic destination sign. This bus had been allocated its permanent BUS registration prefix, while many of the other buses had been temporarily registered with DBY prefix at the time of our visit.
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Apart from the constant stream of Maltese route buses, we also managed to photograph a number of coaches which were ferrying tourists heading for other destinations on the island after a day tour of Valletta. LCY 860 was the Dennis Javelin GX demonstrator with Plaxton Excalibur body which was introduced to Hong Kong in 1997. After the demonstration period ended in April 1999, it was stored until being bought by Paramount Garage in June 2000. The original demonstration livery has been retained, except slight modifications to reflect the name of the current owner.
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City Sightseeing COY 014 Leyland Fleetline fitted with ECW bodywork was photographed plying the Northern 'hop-on hop-off' route.
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Even though lighting conditions remained favourable, we decided to move on to Sliema after the 1800h wave of departures had passed by. The first bus was a King Long which we were not keen to take, but subsequent traditional buses were rather packed due to the lower capacity and the fact that it was peak hour. Therefore, we decided to skip Sliema and return to Valletta early.
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FBY 748 was an AEC Reliance 4MU3RA with a Brincat bodywork which featured a highly polished chromed front radiator grille that gleamed in the bright afternoon sun. It was photographed passing by our camping spot en route to Birkirkara Old Station. The short route of Service 71 takes just 20 minutes in each direction
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Simple dashboard layout of the vintage AEC Reliance. The driver proudly showcased photos of his old buses in the Rabat route livery.
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The Final Evening in Malta

The cool evening sea breeze made for an enjoyable walkabout as we let ourselves loose in the characteristically steep and narrow streets of the medieval city centre.

Old Bakery Street (Triq l-Ifran). St Augustine Church is one of the churches built as part of the new Valletta city in the 16th century and was rebuilt in 1765.
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Old Mint Street (Triq iz-Zekka). Highlighted by the intense rays of the evening sun, the characteristic dome of Carmelite Church is a prominent landmark in the skyline of Valletta.
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We decided to order takeaway baked rice and pasta from South Street Restaurant as we had planned to have dinner on the sky terrace of the hotel while getting photos of the Grand Harbour at dusk.
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Upon walking back to our hotel, we chanced upon a rehearsal for a colourful regalia parade outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that was possible staged for the French delegation which arrived in the afternoon. Dressed in their colourful tunics and bearing an array of standards, they quickly became the centre of attraction and we joined other curious tourists to take some souvenir photos.
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Stern and uncompromising, the instructor ensures that every detail of the Regalia display is in perfect order before the ceremony.
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As the sun dipped below the horizon, the Three Cities were bathed in the warm hues of twilight while the dusk sky took on a magical purplish hue.
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Tucking into our dinner, the final rays of the evening sun soon gave way to the captivating deep blue of a cloudless Mediterranean night.
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We stayed on the roof terrace to chat and review the photos which we had taken over the past few days, while enjoying the panoramic view of the harbour – certainly one of the best ways to indulge in the beautiful island of Malta.
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With the reflections from the streetlamps dancing across the darkened waters of the Grand Harbour, we reluctantly stole a last look at the night scene before retreating back to our rooms to prepare for departure from this enchanting island on the next day.
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