April 21, 2011

an unpaid advertisement for malta:

Ah, Malta. There's so many things to say about this strange little country. Jaime and I were completely surprised by everything Malta has to offer and we would both go back in a heartbeat. Sometimes you visit a place and leave thinking to yourself Alright, not bad, glad I went but I don't need to see it again.  This was not one of those places...gotta go back. 

The island is super tiny - it's got a population of around 400,000 and you can get from north to south in about an hour.  Jaime and I relied heavily on public transportation to get everywhere because they a) drive on the other side of the road and b) drive manual cars. Not happening. It took us maybe three full days to even learn how to look out for oncoming cars when we were crossing the streets...and even then we sometimes were looking at the wrong lane and doing the whole street dance where you run out to cross and then realize you shouldn't have and then contemplate finishing what you started or just making a run for it. I usually ran for it, Jaime usually went back. When we could find crosswalks, they were our best friends and usually the only time we made it across the road together. So, we took a liking to the buses. And who wouldn't? Look at these gems...they are all unique, most were pretty old (and consequently, not the most comfortable rides I've ever had) and the best part...one ticket was .47 cents!
The people in general were so nice, super helpful and most of them spoke English. The bus drivers, however, were another breed. Jaime and I had noticed that the buses didn't really come to a full stop when picking people up or dropping people off, they were a little impatient with traffic and loved to take corners really fast. We thought that maybe it was our Minnesota Nice mentality shining through but our observations were confirmed by a local shop owner the day before we left saying that yes, the bus drivers and crazy, rude and impatient. And here is further evidence that they just don't care...this picture was taken in the middle of a bus route.  Our bus driver pulled over, took the keys to the bus and walked over to a convenience store where he chatted it up for several minutes with a worker. He then came back with a sandwich that I thought maybe he would eat while driving. Well, here he is...outside of the bus just leaning up against the wall enjoying his sandwich while we all stared at him from inside. 15 - 20 minutes later we were back on the road. It was bizarre.  
Jaime has a knack for finding awesome places to stay while vacationing and the place she scored in Malta gets first prize, hands down. We had an entire Maltese "house" to ourselves...there's not much space in the capital city of Valletta so our house was stacked and had four stories: the first floor was a kitchen/sitting area, the second and third floors were bedrooms and the fourth floor was a rooftop terrace. I don't know what was better, the prime location or the unique decor...part of me thinks the decorating wins - it kind of felt like we were living in the pages of a magazine or something.
The House
First floor sitting area
This creepy monkey pillow slowly won me over and I liked him by the end of the week
Second floor bedroom
Lots of stairs all to ourselves
The only thing Jaime and I decided was missing from the house was a basket. The first morning I was getting ready and I saw a basket across the street being let down from someone's window...naturally we had to go check it out and creep on the neighbor. Little did we know this would be an every day occurrence, but we were both completely fascinated by the basket situation. Basically, there are little convenience stores/grocery stores on the streets - and I really mean little. The one next to us was maybe the size of a full bathroom in an American home...it could either be me, Jaime and the owner inside or one of us, a stranger and the owner - three is the limit for being able to move around in there.  So people living around these shops drop their baskets out of the window while the shop owner runs over and puts their items inside and voilà - shopping is done! Even after creeping around every day watching this happen, we still aren't sure about the logistics like how does the shop owner know what to put in the basket?, how do they get paid?, etc. It's probably better that I live in a place where the whole basket thing wouldn't work - in the winter I'm not sure if I would ever leave my apartment. Here's the exchange in action:

We spent a lot of time just walking around the tiny streets because they all had so much character. By the end of our visit we both had a ton of pictures of door knockers and handles. Every door had something unique...since they don't have space really, I felt like this was their version of a suburban competition between neighbors of my lawn is greener than yours but they've got competing doorknockers instead.

Since the island is so small, we were able to travel around to different areas pretty easily.  It wouldn't have been a complete trip without me getting roped into a conversation with an elderly local gentleman...this happens on every vacation I take for some reason. Jaime was a victim of this interaction because we were coerced into taking a boat ride with this man around the harbor at sunset.  It turned out to be a good time, despite the fact that it was a little chilly, a little long and the apple of my eye was missing some digits on his left hand. 
Our new friend on his boat
He insisted on taking a picture of us on our boat ride. Between the wind, the waves, his shaky hands and the absense of some important fingers, I was terrified for the entire time he was holding my camera. It all turned out ok in the end...my camera did not go overboard, which is all I could have asked for.

On the way back to dry land
Before we got on the boat
After the boat ride we grabbed dinner along this harbor

We also made it to Malta's former capital city called Mdina. It's a completely walled in medieval town that's fairly small (I would say you could walk across the whole thing front to back in several minutes) and has a population of around 300 people. It was pretty quiet when we were there but I could see the potential for it to become a tourist trap during the right part of the day.  We walked around the city, shopped around in stores that boasted an impressive collection of it's famous glass in various forms (I miraculously escaped without breaking anything) and had a little break for tea + cake at a café that had been recommended to us. So to sum up Mdina - tea, cake, glass:

One morning we ventured out to Marsaxlokk, a fishing village in the southeastern part of the island. Not surprisingly, it smelled overwhelmingly of fish and there were avid fishermen fixing things on their boats all up and down the boardwalk.  The water was unbelievably blue and the boats were so colorful...it looked like something out of a travel book. Ok, so actually it was the picture on the front of our Malta travel book that we had with us...but usually those are photo-shopped and look better than reality so when you get somewhere you're a little disappointed you aren't seeing things through a photo-shopped lens. BUT, this place was maybe better than the travel guide pictures.

And lastly we journeyed in our favorite buses way north for beaches and sun - the only sandy beaches are in the north, the rest of the island basically consists of giant flat rocks leading out to the ocean. We took the bus to the edge of the island and then hopped on a ferry that took us out to an even smaller island called Comino. It was on this ferry where I gained a new-found respect for the sea...the boat was small, the waves were big and there were a few times were I was pretty sure I would find out what it meant to capsize. It looked and felt like we were on some crazy amusement park ride except we had the joy of not being able to get off even if we wanted to. And we wanted to. But the good news is we made it there and it was beautiful. We spent some time at the blue lagoon - to clarify this is not THE blue lagoon but just a lagoon that happens to be blue. And it was so very blue.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and so we left Malta the next morning. It was probably for the best, though, because Jaime and I both miscalculated our proximity to the equator and on this day suffered severe sunburns. It didn't look cool when it was bright red, it didn't look cool a couple of days later when it turned purple and it doesn't look cool now, peeling off in all its glory. I hope we both have learned that our ivory Minnesota skin can't handle sun like that for when we visit again...which will definitely happen.


  1. As I read your "unpaid advertisement for Malta" I felt as if I were there too. What an experience. It sounds like a great place to go back to again-and-again


  2. Where's the picture of the fried skin? I LOVE to travel with you on-line cuz' it's FREE! What beautiful lodging accommodations and the pictures you took are vibrant. I would have liked to have known how the whole basket thing works . . . intriguing.

  3. AMAZING Pictures. So colorful. Jealous!

  4. looks like "Budapest you da best" got dethroned. What a cool place and what a wonderful update for us to view. This is now on my list of places to see!