IT'S LYNNY KANSAS
DON'T LET THE RUBY SLIPPERS,
OR THE DOROTHY INSPIRED NICKNAME
FOOL YOU., THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME,
BUT TRAVELING IS FUN.
Yes, this is me, way back in 1973, sitting near the harbour in St. Pauls Bay, facing the Gillieru Hotel. My family visited Malta on holidays many times from the late 1960's through the 1970's. I have so many happy memories of my time there.
So, my return in 2016, some 40 years after the last time I visited, was a remarkable experience for me, and I loved every minute of it. I had a brilliant time reconnecting with the places I remembered, as well as a couple of very special ladies who were a massive part of making our holidays to Malta so wonderful.
Our families love affair with Malta started in the 1960's. My Dad started working at Manchester Airport, in the UK, as ground maintenance crew for British Airways (back then it was known as B.O.A.C.). In those days staff travel was a perk of the job, and my Dad sure made use of it, as it gave us free standby air tickets. Not to be sneezed at in those days. Family holidays followed to Majorca and Cyprus, then Dad heard through the lads at work that Malta was the place to go. From the very first time we visited Malta in the late 1960's, our family loved it. This led to us coming back some 14 times between 1967 or so to around 1976. We always stayed at the same place in St. Paul's Bay, simply known to us as The Farewell Bar. This fantastic place consisted of a bar/restaurant with self catering flats above, which is where we stayed. We came to know the owners, the Couchi family - 9 siblings, plus their extended families. Three of the sisters, Carrie, Rina and Doris primarily ran the bar/restaurant and the self catering flats, so we knew them very well, each time we returned it felt more and more like a home away from home.
My Dad just loved to get to know all the locals, especially the fishermen. Two I remember were Pepe and Didi, Dad would buy them a Wine and Kinnie - the local drink of choice, sit in the bar and chat. He even went out with them a few times on their early morning fishing trips.
My mum and Dad went back to Malta a few more times during the 80's and 90's, once we kids had flown the coop. Mum stayed in touch through Christmas cards for many years, but then sadly contact dwindled. I often wondered what had happened to Carrie, Rina and Doris. For many years I kept telling my husband that one day I would love to go back to Malta, although I was a little nervous that so many things would have changed and it would be unrecognisable.
Finally, in October of 2016 our plans were in place, we were heading back to Malta, I was so excited. Although I knew the name of the street where the Farewell bar was located in St. Pauls Bay, I did not know the exact address, although I could picture it so clearly in my mind, and knew that once I got back to Malta I would be able to find it no problem. I tried doing some research, trying to find out if the bar was still there, and searching for the Couchi sisters on social media but had no luck.
I started following a Facebook page called St. Paul's Bay, Malta History - I reached out to them, asking if they knew anything about the Farewell Bar. I was pretty surprised when I got a response, they had gone to take a look, telling me that it was no longer a working bar, but was still a home to two elderly sisters. I was amazed!!! Could they be Couchi sisters??!
Finally, we are back in Malta, and although on this trip we were staying in St. Julian’s, I couldn’t wait to go back to St. Pauls Bay; albeit with nervous trepidation. St. Paul's or San Pawl il-Baħar as it is known locally, was always a fairly sleepy place back then, now, it is even more so. Bugibba, the area adjacent to it is was starting to be built up in the early 70's, and is now the main area for tourists in this part of the Island.
We headed straight for the harbour and parked the car. As I got out of the car I just smiled. Yes, a few changes but still totally recognisable. Perhaps the biggest landmark, St. Pauls Shipwreck Church, standing in the middle of the road. The Giilieru Hotel was another landmark heavily engrained in my memory, many hours spent fishing from the dock at the front of this Hotel.
Another distinct memory, and something that had not changed, was the narrow street between two buildings near the harbour. Lovely to see.
We walked from the harbour through this narrow street, I led my husband straight to The Farewell Bar ( I have to keep calling it that, even though it is no longer a bar). The sign is gone from over the door, and the colour of the door was slightly different, but I knew it in an instant. Wow! I almost had to pinch myself that I was really here again after all these years. My husband and I took some photos, and I was just wondering whether I should pluck up the courage to knock on the door, to see if anyone was home. I mean really, to come all this way and then to not find out if there were still members of the Couchi family there, well, that would have had me wondering for the rest of my life. I was literally just about to knock on the door, when it opened and two elderly ladies came out. I just could not believe it, I recognised Doris and Rina straight away. I think they were a little taken aback when I said their names. I quickly explained who I was and mentioned my Mum, and Dad - "Ged with the Pipe" - then I think they remembered. By this time I was very teary eyed. They very kindly invited us in for a beer and a chat. We learned that Carrie had passed away, as well as a few of their other siblings, very sad news to hear. We talked about all the fun times and I think they were amazed at how much I remembered - it was very special to be sitting there, in the space where all the bar tables and bar had been, which incidentally apart from the addition of a couch and a TV was little changed from 40 years ago.
Going back to Malta after so long away really was very special for me. Catching up with Rina and Doris was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. But it was also great to be able to show my husband all the great places I remembered, like Valetta, Mosta, and the Blue Grotto to name a few. Truly a walk down memory lane. I managed to compare some of the old family photos I have to the new ones I took in 2016.
Invariable on our Malta holidays we were joined by Aunties & Uncles, my Nana came with us a few times, also Dad's friends from work and their families would sometimes be there at the same time. We all had a great time.
I truly feel so grateful and blessed to have some fantastic childhood memories of holidays in Malta. My parents were two of the best, they worked hard but knew how to have fun! An example to us all. I also feel lucky to have been able to go back, to revisit Malta, to take a lovely walk down memory lane. I thought about my parents a lot whilst I was there, I knew they would have loved to hear about my experience. Love you Mum and Dad. x
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