The sea is pretty much the only kind of wildlife Malta can offer, so spending time in and near the sea is very important for making the most of living on this island. Thanks to my friend M. I had an opportunity to try out sea kayaking, which is one of the most exciting ways to explore the islands from unusual angles.
I bought a few mini canvases from Nanu Nana on my last trip to Germany. I love using them outdoors in Malta.
In San Anton gardens
Near Hagar Qim temples
Coffee is one of the greater joys of this life. But it’s important to know the cultural norms of each place to avoid disappointment – I learned it the hard way.
Rule No. 1 is easy: never order a coffee by saying just ‘coffee’. In Portugal, ‘coffee’ means ‘espresso’. In Luxembourg, Lithuania and many other places, it means a regular black coffee, which is a less diluted version of americano. In Malta, by default, ‘coffee’ it means tasteless instant drink. Fair enough, despite being so close to Sicily, this is what local people seem to enjoy. But if you, like me, like the continental style black coffee, espresso lungo is as close as it gets.
In anticipation of the opening of the Valletta – European Capital of Culture 2018 programme, the city of Valletta prepared a full list of activities for residents and visitors – local and foreign bands, an acrobat flown around by a giant balloon, interesting characters walking in the crowd, colourful projections and, finally, fireworks. As ugly as Mediterranean winters can be, the day was exceptionally nice, with almost no wind. Predictably, many people chose the main square of Valletta to meet the new year – it is estimated that there were around 85,000 attendees, which is around 13 times the population of Valletta!
Between the main inhabited islands of the Maltese archipelago lies a not-at-all hidden gem, the island of Comino. It has only three permanent residents and serves as a bird sanctuary. It is also known as a habitat for various reptiles. As such, it is not overdeveloped like the island of Malta, and tenting, heavily restricted on Malta, is popular here. Despite these advantages, it′s not the land that attracts hordes of tourists to the island. Like a cumin seed from which its name is said to be derived, it adds delightful flavor to the archipelago experience.
I finally went there after visiting Malta on vacation and having moved to live here this year. I was told that May is the best time to go, and it′s best to skip the high season, but I missed that chance this year. I can see why people were giving me this piece of advice. The Blue Lagoon, the most famous place on Comino, with sea so magically blue that it could serve as an endless artistic inspiration, was littered with noisy party boats, pedestrian paths full of vendors selling stuff, so and reminded me of Sharm el-Sheikh a bit. Continue reading
The best excuse to explore more of one′s country of residence is teaming up with people who are there for a very short visit. This is how I set out to explore the famous South-Eastern areas on a warm and lazy Sunday. Specifically, the fish market of Marsaxlokk has become a popular tourist attraction, and as for Birzebbugia, I did not know what to expect at all.
My first impression of Marsaxlokk was that it was shockingly hipster. I realized that I hadn′t seen such a concentration of hipsters anywhere in Malta. Whatever their lifestyle, the faux-lumberjack look is not popular with the Maltese at all. Accordingly, hipster men were in a company of colorfully dressed women, who would otherwise not stand out as much. There were many elderly tourists, too, probably English, given how much they had undressed for the bright but still not so generous Mediterranean sun. And some local families, too, looking for a bargain.
I was among, apparently, around 170 people who signed up for a free tour by Nature Trust Malta to explore Babu valley (Wied Babu). When people sign up to an event on Facebook, one must divide the number by three and extract a square root to know the realistic number of attendees, but hiking tours in Malta are different. When people click they will attend, they actually show up and bring their friends. This is the scale of the ‘invasion’ in Wied Babu.
I like my cities walkable, so as much as I like the Mediterranean island of Malta, sidewalks are something I still cannot get used to. Not only because they are often sloping – this is not different from Vilnius old town. In British English they call them pavements, so there is not even a promise of walk as in ‘sidewalk’.
My experience on the island reminded me of my first day in Cairo, when my friend G. instructed me to walk on the side of the road at all times. “You are much safer on the street than on the sidewalk,” he said, contrary to my habits and intuition. Sidewalks there were a colonial imposition – just like traffic lights. They were not used the way I′m used to. I had to accept it – this is simply a different culture, and this is how they do it. I must adjust my mind this way here as well.
Having worked with Asian Studies over the past couple of years, I heard the argument that, when faced with a vast choice of European locations to visit, East Asian tourists take into account the UNESCO list of world heritage. So I was not surprised at all when I saw that many of our fellow passengers on the bus between Segovia′s distant train station and old town held guidebooks in Asian languages. The small town graces UNESCO world heritage list since 1985 because of its prominent Roman aqueduct and other remains of various eras.
Segovia is cute, and its winding streets easily absorb crowds of tourists so that walking there would not feel artificial and de-localized. The aqueduct, over 800 meters long and built, apparently, around 50 BC, is the most obvious tourist spot, where people make selfies, wait for buses or catch taxis to take them back to the train station. The station is notoriously far, buses run quite seldom and are poorly aligned with train schedules – this is probably an incentive to use taxis. Yet with more than two people on board, a taxi pays off. Solo travelers returning to their train could easily find company for taxi sharing by the aqueduct, since most people hanging out around the aqueduct will probably be tourists.
Nearly everyone I met in Spain praised the beauty of Cartagena. They said it was one of the most beautiful Spanish towns, with ancient history and freshness of a sea breeze. As I was planning my vacations in Murcia region, many travel websites directed me there. So Cartagena was certainly on my map. Perhaps only because of these high expectations it was the greatest disappointment in Spain so far.
The strongest impression that stayed with me has to do with lots of closed doors.
Ironically, as I found this perfect image to summarize the vibe there, it also captured a hint that something extraordinary and colorful will happen. Indeed, the trip started getting better and better from then on.