Our French Crusade to Malta!
We sold our French home much quicker than we thought we would and it was a wrench to suddenly realise that it was no longer ours. All that hard work we’d put into renovations and making our home and garden a place of enjoyment. I constantly walked around the garden thinking that very soon we’d be gone.
However, research had been done, decisions had been made and we’d planned our big move to Malta. We had the excitement of another adventure to look forward to though I’d be telling fibs if I didn’t confess to some very real worries about what we were doing and I had phases of waking up at around 3am and not being able to get back to sleep again.
We had sold all of our furniture to our house-buyers as the house we’d found in Malta was fully furnished - so all we had to take with us was our dog, our clothing, our personal items, towels and bedding etc. It sounded so simple with Terry saying that we could manage the move by just taking our trailer (carrying all of our worldly goods!) bumping along behind us and with Willie (our dog) in the back of the car. However, as we started to pack we realised just how many things one accumulates through the years and that Terry’s plan just wasn’t feasible.
To cut a very long story short, we managed to find someone who had recently started up a transit business to give us a very competitive price to take our goods to Malta. We both booked onto the same ferry from Civitavecchia in Italy (just north of Rome) and we made all of our closing arrangements with the various services in France. It all seemed to go fairly smoothly.
However, two and a half weeks before our ferry’s sailing date we received a phone call to tell us that our particular sailing had been cancelled. If it had been similar to the cross channel ferries it may not have been such an issue but these ferries run just once a week - on Saturday nights and they arrive in Malta on the following Monday morning. We were told we could change our booking to the week before we had booked - or the week after. We had a brief panic before deciding that we must now depart a week earlier, so once both we and our transit man had managed to rebook onto the same ferry again albeit a week earlier than planned, we spent the next week doing nothing other than sorting and packing.
Willie was clearly puzzled as he knew something was happening - we didn’t usually stagger about carrying boxes from the house to the barn and he kept being told off for following us about to see what we were up to and getting underfoot in the process. Poor boy. We did tell him that he was coming with us but he wasn’t reassured.
We tried to see as many of our friends as possible before we left, but having had a week shaved off our time, sadly some plans had to be shelved.
Our departure day arrived and with hugs and kisses and promises to stay in touch with our friends and neighbours, we were off. We didn’t rush as having Willie with us, we’d planned on having a leisurely journey with lots of stops for his benefit and that is exactly what we did. We were blessed with glorious weather, so it was a sort of adventure in itself.
We had booked our first overnight stop at a hotel in Chambery. We knew that French hotels accepted dogs but weren‘t sure about Italian ones. It was Willie’s first stay anywhere else than at home or in kennels so I was a tad worried about how he’d behave, but he was such a good boy. He was so clearly delighted to be with us after all the upheaval at home that he seemed to accept everything that happened with a wag of his tail. He slept on his cushion supposedly at the foot of our bed (he usually sleeps downstairs in the kitchen) but he was so tickled at sleeping near us that he crept along to the floor at my side of the bed where he spent a very restful night snoring loudly or whimpering in his dreams. I spent the night poking him to shut him up or comforting him!
Next day we continued into Italy. - the hundreds of tunnels, the awful road surfaces - and of course, the Italian drivers! In this part of Italy we were not enamoured by the countryside or the villages. It all seemed very poor and scruffy. Still, the weather was lovely. My son lives north of Milan (he teaches English) and had advised us to look for a B&B in the country for our second overnight stop as it would be more likely to accept Willie than the big hotels - so that’s what we did. The Italian lady of the house didn’t speak English but she spoke French so we had no problem communicating though she first wanted to see Willie before saying we could stay - but she liked him and all was well. We had a large apartment on the ground floor and Willie did the same trick of creeping to sleep on the floor at my side of the bed again that night! Everyone staying at this auberge ate at the same huge family table. There was a friendly young chap staying there for a few days on business and he spoke English and there were a couple of other ladies and the husband of the lady who ran it all. He seemed to spend his time sitting watching the TV in the same room but was very friendly and chatty to us, albeit it all in Italian. He liked to rub my arms as he spoke to me (he was quite elderly!) so I let him get away with that. Willie had a lovely time running through their olive groves.
Off again after breakfast next day and by this time Willie was a seasoned car traveller. We had been in touch with our transit man on and off and as we approached the docks we sent him a text asking how far he’d got (we left a day before he did because of our longer travel arrangements because of Willie).
He had arrived there a little before us so we very happily met up with him at the docks at Civitavecchia. We had a few hours to wait before we could board our ferry so we sat and watched the goings-on there which included several Italian prison vans turning up at a ferry that was headed for north Africa and they off-loaded several prisoners onto the boat.
Our ferry was due to sail at 10.30pm and we were supposed to go and queue at 9pm but we were a bit bored so went round at 8.30pm and to our surprise found about 20 classic and/or veteran cars there also waiting to board. Naturally we got out to chat with the drivers. They were a mixture of nationalities but several were English so we were in our element. We then found out that much to our surprise, our ferry - which we had thought went straight to Malta from Italy - was actually due to stop and off-load these classic cars in Sicily.
We all got on board at about 11.15pm and were shown to our cabins. This was another huge surprise. I have no idea how we managed it but we were shown to our cabin which turned out to be one of only two luxury 2-berth cabins on the entire ship! The steward who insisted on carrying our bags clearly expected a tip - and this was a ferry, not some sort of cruise! He got lucky though as we were so delighted. We had a lounge area with sofa and TV and a window that looked out onto the bows of the ship plus a bedroom with a huge double bed and a window looking out onto the port side, plus an ensuite bathroom.
We had booked a kennel for Willie. I have to say that we were really upset when we saw his accommodation. It was on the very top car deck where our car was, luckily. It was simply a slatted metal block divided into five cages and open to the elements of rain and wind. Dogs absolutely had to go into these kennels so we had to place some bedding for him in this very small area with barely room for him to turn let alone have dishes for his food. Fortunately we were told that we could visit him and take him for walks round this deck, which we did - UNTIL ….
By the second enening there was a huge storm. We were fine but we were no longer allowed to go out on deck to see to Willie as it was considered dangerous. I have to say that having crossed the English Channel hundreds of times, we were a bit scornful of the supposed “storm” but could only comply. It happened that the ferry already in the docks at Sicily could not get out so our ferry had to bob around outside for five hours until they came out and we went in to disembark all the old cars. At last we reached Malta and Terry was allowed to go to Willie. He left his bedding there as he was so disgusted with the poor kennelling facilities. It was totally soaked to dripping point. Willie jumped into the back of the car very gratefully and looked like he would never get out again.
We were met as we disembarked by the vet who informed us he’d been there since 6am. He quickly looked at Willie’s paperwork and passport, signed it all and rushed off so we were at last on our way on dry land to our new home.
On arriving at our house Terry and Jonathan had to do a rapid unloading of his van as he was returning to Italy and therefore his home in France via the same ferry we’d arrived on.
Willie took a lot of persuading to get out of the back of the car but we took him for a run on the land opposite (one of the reasons we’d chosen the house was that not only did it have the most amazing views over Mellieha Bay and Gozo but there were no buildings opposite, just lots of lovely sloping land leading eventually down to the bay and lots of potential dog-walks nearby.
We have been here now for a week and five days and we love our new home. I’m sure that there will be things that aren’t perfect as no-where is and there is as much red tape here as there is in France, but winters here are between 12C & 16C and we can walk into town in less than 8 minutes. The locals all speak English ( as well as Maltese, of course) and I have already met my neighbours, and nicer and more friendly people one couldn’t wish for.
Willie seems to have settled down very well considering he’s 12 years old and only ever lived in the country. He knows which is our house and happily trots over the road for his necessaries and we take him for some stupendously lovely walks every afternoon.
We still have lots of things to do and to sort out. We have applied for our ID cards - a necessary thing here and there are lots of benefits in having one - discounts for water and electricity, half price fares etc.
So - this is our story to date. We loved the beautiful Creuse and lived our dream there very happily for seven years. Now we’re on our next adventure in life.
Thank you for being some lovely people. Bye, Bye. Goose and Terry.