August 22, 2008

The Ancient Hotel in the Ancient City of Valletta

Valletta, Malta - Land of Anachronisms

You might expect that a hotel which offers its cheapest room for €299 ($440) a night would be pretty luxurious. Here in the city of Valletta on the island of Malta, I’m staying at Le Meridian Phoenicia, where I noticed the room rates sign at the check-in desk.

Of course, I’m not paying €299; I’m staying here for free using my Starwood points, where the same room goes for a bargain rate of 7,000 points a night. This turns out to be a smart decision for more reasons than one.

From the web site, the place looks gorgeous. Visiting in person, it looks like it was possibly gorgeous about 30 years ago.

I’m given a real key to my room instead of a room card, and when I get there via the creaking elevator that holds a maximum of three people, it doesn’t work. I head back downstairs with my bags for an apology and a new key.

My dusty room has a no-smoking sign on the wall and an ashtray on the desk, which of course I find amusing. I drink three glasses of water from the tap, and it tastes like drinking straight out of a swimming pool. As I set the glass down for the third time, I notice a picture near the sink that seems to imply that the drinking water is unsafe. Too late for that, and I’m sure not opening the mini-bar to pay for mineral water.

The Cocktail Party

At check-in, I was also given an invitation to a “Management Cocktail Party” at 6:30 that evening. I’m not sure what to expect, but on the principle that you should never turn down a free drink from a $400 hotel, I decide to attend. After resting in my room and watching French TV for an hour, I put on my nicest clothes (which aren’t very nice after a week of traveling without any laundry opportunities) and head downstairs to the lounge.

I take a free glass of bad chardonnay and check out the room. In a full ballroom, I observe that I am the youngest person by about 80 years. Okay, maybe it’s more like 30 years… but it certainly seems like everyone else here has come straight from the nursing home for cocktail night at Le Meridian.

There is a French corner and a British corner, but other than the language, you couldn’t tell them apart. Every single person is white, old, and looks strangely comfortable in this ancient hotel. It’s like a reunion of the Greatest Generation from both sides of the channel. I try to take a quick photo as inconspicuously as possible while balancing my chardonnay and a handful of peanuts, but it doesn’t come out well. A waiter gives me a bad look, so I put the camera back in my pocket.

a•nach•ro•nism. noun. something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, esp. a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time.

Later I run four miles around the city and down by the seaport. The hospital ship I worked with for four years in West Africa was registered here in Valletta, and more than 20 years ago it had docked in the city for registration and maritime certificates. I enjoy running along the docks of each side of the water, wondering which quay our ship had docked at and thinking about my memories of those amazing days from 2002-2006.

Afterwards I wander through the town, eventually buying an olive calzone to take back to my room at the hotel. The next day I run some more, explore the fort, and after another night of takeout olive calzone (no free drinks on your second night, apparently) I check out of the anachronistic Le Meridian.

I ignore the taxi drivers waving to me outside and take the bus back to the small airport. I’ll be flying back to Vienna, and the strange visit now feels eerily comfortable to me, just as it apparently does to the centenarians at the hotel. I’m writing these short notes in the departure lounge, and now it’s time to leave this island nation behind and return to the continent.

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Image by GordonMcKenna

Comment on this article

6 Responses to “The Ancient Hotel in the Ancient City of Valletta”

  1. Rates posted on hotel doors are often ridiculous. It’s the maximum that they are allowed to charge I think rather than anything they normally charge. For October I’m getting $A281 a night for a standard room on Trip Advisor. But some of the rates I’m seeing are crazily high for rooms with good views.

  2. Why not engage the old people? You really never know with whom you might be speaking. A member of the French Underground? MI5? There’s a reason it’s the Greatest Generation.

  3. August 22, 2008

    Elliot Webb

    @ Betsy

    I got talking to an older guy at my retail job the other day, who at just 17 years old was in a B24 Bomber dropping bombs over Berlin in WWII, and I couldn’t help but think that thanks to the bravery of people like him, at 17 I was able to enjoy whatever I wanted without any fear!

    I very much enjoy the older generation, I know they can be a pain sometimes ;) but that just goes with age.

  4. Welcome to Malta: it sounds just like your hotel :)

    Linda and I lived there for six months and I can’t think of anything to really recommend in terms of accommodation or restaurants.

    I would visit the temple sites, especially Gigantija (on Gozo – oldest free-standing structure in the world) and the Hypogeum (on Malta – dug about 3 stories down out of solid rock over 4,000 years ago).

    We did an interview with Maltese artist Caroline Navarro at the end of 2007 which might interest you too.

  5. Sounds kinda like being in a Twilight Zone episode, Chris – like going back in time. While it can be disconcerting at first, it’s kind of neat, too (is that what you meant by “familiar”?). It’s the sort of thing I hope for when I visit historical sites. I think I can get away with that comment because it’s unlikely people who frequent hotels with metal keys will find me on your blog (lol) and also because, when I was a kid, ALL hotels had metal keys.

  6. Chris,
    I liked Betsey’s coment about engaging the old duffers. Jay Abraham engages everyone he meets. Says he does anyway. Listen as if they have something interesring that you can learn. Take notes and say wow once in a while. They will be impressed at your conversational skills (really listening skills) and it might give you a tail to add to your post.

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