Gozo

For once, I can say that I am NOT sorry that my latest post comes nearly 2 weeks after my last one. My life here, contrary to popular belief (which may or may not be perpetuated by me), is pretty boring. I go to class, go grocery shopping, and run errands. Nothing too exciting going on here. I’ve more or less fallen into a schedule that is somewhat difficult to break, especially being a student on a quite limited budget (if you’d like to contribute to the Meredith Needs a Life fund, please message me at your convenience).

So, I was determined last week that this weekend I would do something exciting. Something cool. I’ve been cooped up in my flat/at class for 2 weeks, with really nothing to show for it. I have made some amazing, delicious, stupendous, MIND BLOWING chicken stock:

You know you want it.

I’ve also expanded my culinary horizons somewhat by making weekly pilgrimages to Smart, and by buying massive amounts of prosciutto.

But again, this weekend, I was going on an adventure. I was going to go somewhere that reminded me of the awe and beauty that struck me when I first began exploring Malta.

That place, as it turns out, is Gozo.

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I had spoken to Danielle earlier in the week about making a trip out to Gozo, and she told me that she’s down for just about anything! She’d been to Gozo once before when she saw a production of Madama Butterfly at the Opera House there, and was eager to go back. Unfortunately, this time of year in Malta consists largely of rain, cold breezes, and some more rain. I told her that we’d try to plan for Saturday. If it wasn’t nice and sunny on Saturday, we’d have to scrap the trip for another date. I crossed my fingers…

Thankfully, yesterday was mostly sunny and non-rainy! And yes, I am writing this the day after my adventure. Shocking, I know. I emailed Danielle at 10:15 AM, and told her to hurry to my apartment by 12, because I wanted to get out there immediately! In hindsight, I probably should have gotten by butt out of bed earlier, because…well…you’ll see.

Danielle actually showed up at 11:45, and we left to get to the bus stop. In order to get to the ferries at Cirkewwa, we had to take the Arriva pretty much all along the northern coast of Malta, right along the shore. It’s about a 45 minute bus ride – not because it’s physically a long distance, but because of all the stops and small side routes along the way. Really, it’s no big deal. Who’s going to complain about riding in a nice, cool bus along the Maltese coast? NOT THIS GIRL.

So, we really lucked out, because as soon as we got to the harbor, there was a ferry ready to go to Gozo!! At the harbour, you really only have 2 choices. The big, official looking ferries to go Gozo, and the small, slightly sadder looking ferries to go Comino. Because Comino’s population consists of maybe 32 people and some sheep (NO LIE), the ferries that go there mainly go to Blue Lagoon…which will be a adventure for another day.

Also, you don’t pay for the fare at this harbor. You pay for the fare in Gozo, on your way back to Malta. So FYI – keep enough money/cash to be able to get home when you’re finished with your time in Gozo. It’s only €4.65, so it’s not a lot. But still. Don’t be stupid.

So we rushed up to the ferry, but we really didn’t have to, because there was already a line of people waiting to get on. They let you on (at least in Malta) via the car entrance/exit, but after all of the cars have been let off. You walk inside, and go up this set of stairs, and suddenly, you’re in the middle of the ferry. There is a cafeteria, a lounge, and a lot of seating room outside, on the deck. Since the ride isn’t really that long (about 30 minutes), we chose to sit outside, and it was definitely the correct choice. The Sea was nice and calm, and the boat swayed gently, so it was very relaxing as well. The pictures below are the ones taken from the  middle deck of the ferry, on our way to Gozo.

Goodbye Malta!

Danielle! See? My friends do exist!

Malta

Coast

St. Mary’s Tower – Comino

Comino, and behind it, Gozo

Comino and Gozo

St. Mary’s Tower, Comino. Again.

Caves along the coast of Comino

More caves, and sailboats!

More sailboats!

Gozo

Coastline

More coastline

As we “pulled into” (I don’t know what the proper term is…docked?) Gozo, I took these two photos:

I was trying to take a photo of the structure behind the huge pole.

UGH

but as you can tell, I had a fairly large pole. Oh well.

When we first started talking about going to Gozo, we had talked about going on the hop on, hop off sight seeing tours, so that we could maximize our time on the island as well as the time spent as some pretty sweet places. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this idea, you basically pay €10, and get a ticket. You then board one of the red buses in the previous link, and it takes you to all sorts of tourist hot-spots around the island. You then have the option of getting off at any of these hot-spots and exploring for a good amount of time, as you can then board the next red bus that comes along, usually within the hour. We were so excited to be able to have this option, as we wanted to have reliable transportation around the island, but didn’t want to pay separate fares for the Arriva buses on Gozo (tickets for Arriva purchased in Malta to not apply in Gozo. Bummer). We got off the ferry, and went to the CitySightSeeing booth to purchase tickets. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there early enough for the hop on hop off  buses, because the next line we could get on was the last line. I desperately looked to Danielle to make a decision, because in serious situations I am able to make decisions, but when it comes to simple things like this, I’m at a loss. She left it up to me…and I chose to purchase tickets.

I could tell she was angry with me. We were paying €10 each for tickets to, essentially, stay on a bus for 2 hours and not actually get to explore. Truth be told, I was a little angry with myself as well, because I almost felt like I allowed myself to be ripped off. BUT, the experience actually turned out to be enjoyable, and wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it would be. We sat on the top of the double-decker bus, which was open top. :)

But you didn’t come here to read my thoughts on ripping off tourists. You came for pictures.

I feel used.

I’ve tried to caption the pictures appropriately, based on where we were and what we saw. :)

Mural on a wall along the road going away from the ferry. That was a mouthful.

Cathedral on a hill – overlooking the sea!

Cathedral again – I’m actually really proud of the shots that I was taking.

It looked so pretty against the sky!

Stupid pole!

No big deal – we are on an island, after all.
Just kidding – why is it so beautiful here??

Gozo is incredibly hilly, and considerably greener than Malta is. This doesn’t adequately show how green it was. Hopefully, my later pictures do.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, from a distance. Sorry about the human head in the foreground.

Dome of the Cathedral peeking out above the town. Gozo, like Malta, is deeply, deeply Catholic, and very religious. I thought it was appropriate that the cathedral dominated the skyline above the town.

Cathedral with the sun – didn’t mean to give you a straight sun shot, but you can see the cathedral nonetheless. It’s that big.

St. John the Baptist

I loved this door, as well as the statues flanking it. Sorry for Danielle’s hand. Although, it’s probably retribution, because my hand managed to make its way into one or two of her pictures!

Oh I like this shot a lot. Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Countryside with the clouds in the background. It was pretty cloudy, and looked like it would rain at any moment. But, something was looking out for us, and we weren’t caught in the rain at all! I thought the contrast here was pretty neat.

Can you see the rainbow?? Best picture ever!! Again, another Gozitan hill, framed by dark clouds, seemingly emitting a rainbow. I WISH IT WAS A DOUBLE RAINBOW THOUGH.

I took this picture for the statue – mother and child. Virgin and Christ, for those (like lil’ old Jewish me) who didn’t get it right away.

Towns and cathedral

Hill with a cross on top – pretty typical, as we were finding out.

How amazing would it be to attend Mass while overlooking the Sea? I’ll answer that – AMAZING.

Even Cathedrals need face-lifts.

Coastline. Told you it was green!

More coastline – the sea!

Getting down to the Azure Window. Sea!

Hills and cliffs leading down to the Sea.

More cliffs and Sea

Troll sun ruining my shot.

I honestly have no clue why I took this picture. I believe it’s a factory of some sort near the coast.

Azure window from the top of the bus!

Fungus Rock from the top of the bus.

At this point, I have to stop and recount our experience while at Azure Window. Our bus driver stopped the bus and told us that he was getting off to stretch and hang out for 10-15 minutes. We were free to “hop off” and explore, so long as we were back to the same bus in 10 minutes. Danielle and I did indeed get off, and made our way out to the Azure Window and Fungus Rock.  It was a relatively easy, short walk, but it was rocky, and you had to take your time, or else you’d twist an ankle. So, as we were walking out, this old man came up to both of us, and placed picture books and calendars in our hands.

I’m sorry I missed you when you got off the bus – here are picture books of Gozo and the coast. I put these together by hand and make them myself. Take a look – beautiful pictures and a nice calendar! Such a nice calendar! This is my living. I do this for a living. Take one, and then take one for your family! Take one for your friends! Only €5! Take one!

Needless to say, I wasn’t down with being hawked when we only had 10 minutes to take pictures and take in the sights there. I had to tell him no at least 5 times, and began to walk away. However, as I was walking away, a younger man came up next to the older man and began trying to double team Danielle into buying the calendars. Once again, I turned around and told them “No, we’re fine. Thank you, but no. No. No. No. No.” as I tried to help Danielle escape. They ended up backing off, but it was highly annoying. HIGHLY.

As we picked our way out to the edge of the cliff, we saw just why people come here from all over the world to take pictures.

Fungus Rock! Ohhh – lichen!

Azure Window – due to the cloud cover, it’s not as impressive as some of the other photos on the internet. Trust me when I say, however, that it was that impressive.

The Sea! I actually like the dark/light contrast in this picture.

More Fungus Rock!

The rocky cliffs and pools. Also, I REALLY apologize for the picture of the crouching woman with her crack hanging out. I had no clue she was even in this picture until I saw it 10 minutes ago.

Me in front of the Azure Window.

I wear my orange Birkenstocks everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
Also, me in front of the Azure Window again.

Small seaside Church.

Our ten minutes were up shortly after this, and aside from Danielle and I almost dropping my camera into the Sea, we got back onto the bus without any fuss.

Here are the rest of the pictures from going around Gozo.

Another Church overlooking the Sea. Apparently, Pope John Paul II came here.

Church again

Statue in front of the Church – ignore the crane behind him.

I thought this shot was really pretty as well.

Hills again – the clouds were beginning to clear up, and I thought it was just so beautiful!

Aqueduct which was once used to bring fresh water to Gozitans.

Rolling hills and quiet towns.

Fountain with Troll Sun in the corner.

My favorite part – the cliffs overlooking the sea.

I think this is my favorite shot out of all of them. Simply gorgeous.

White cliffs, dotted with greenery, dropping into turquoise water. WHAT IS MALTA?

You can just make out Jesus at the top of the hill – it was pretty impressive!

Sunset in Gozo.

So, sitting on top of the bus was really cool, and allowed us to take pictures of things that we might not have been able to see otherwise. Again, I was feeling better about my decision. But, it was cold. FREEZING. Due to the winds from being on the top of a moving vehicle, and the fact that it was maybe 60 degrees out, Danielle and I were freezing our cute little butts off.

We also got a charming and heartwarming show in front of us. This random couple, possibly from Eastern Europe, got on, and took the seats right in front of us. Now, the bus had some people on it, but there were certainly other seats that they could have taken. But no. The ones directly in front of Danielle and I were perfect, apparently. To make matters worse, they were super, crazy affectionate, and were making out like starving walruses less than 10 inches from my face. I was then reminded of this scene, and swore off of kissing anyone for at least 5 minutes.

BUT IT GETS BETTER. So, then, the man whips out this piece of chocolate cake that they must have bought at a bakery or something. They proceed to share it, by passing it back and forth and taking bites out of it. Not bad.  But then there’s only one bite left. The woman puts it in her mouth, chews it up into a paste, and then

TRANSFERS THE CHOCOLATE SPIT PASTE INTO THE MAN’S MOUTH, WHERE HE PROCEEDS TO EAT AND SWALLOW IT.

It looked like they were passing a brown turd back and forth between their mouths. I nearly passed out. My Uncle Michael reminded me that mastication and transfer is the preferred feeding method of birds to their chicks. I was then reminded of this lovely tidbit. I couldn’t deal with it, and sat in a state of shock for the remainder of the bus ride.

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At last, the bus deposited us back at the ferry terminal, where we made our way as quickly as we could to the ferry. We had originally wanted to eat in Gozo, but we needed to get back to Malta anyway, so we just decided to eat in St. Julians!

Fastforward to actually getting to St. Julians (it’s a long, crazy, vaguely interesting story involving an Arriva bus, a drunken Russian dude, and 5 angry Hebrews) – we got some bubble tea to tide us over, because we were STARVING, and it was mindblowingly delicious. I got coconut with tapioca pearls (OMG OMG OMG) and Danielle got Coconut/Honeydew with Mango Boba. Delish.

Dinner consisted of 3 courses, plus dessert, at Gululu, located on the St. Julian’s waterfront. Of the very delicious and not too expensive dinner, these are the items ordered:

  • Local green olives marinated in thyme and garlic
  • White beans with garlic and parsely (this one was incredibly delicious)
  • Small pastas with minced pork, onions, parsely, parmesean cheese, and sweetish spices (mine)
  • Tuna fritters with potato, lemon, and fresh herbs (Danielle)
  • Fried rabbit in garlic, then simmered in white wine, rosemary, and marrowfat peas (this was mine, and it was DELICIOUS. Rabbit tastes like dark-meat chicken with the consistency of white-meat chicken)
  • Pasta shells filled with ricotta and herbs, baked in a clay dish, covered in cheese (Danielle)
  • Maltese bread/olive oil
  • Cannoli – these were absolutely spectacular. An order came with 3, and they were smallish, so you didn’t feel like a pig. Filled with sweet ricotta, candied orange peel, and chocolate chips, and then covered with almonds. Dusted with powdered sugar. I lost my mind, and wanted to eat more than I did.

This dinner was leisurely, having started at 8 and completed at around 9:45. Danielle and I then waddled over to the bus stop, where we boarded the same bus (funny enough). I got off at Qroqq 4, and Danielle still had a few stops to go.

Overall, it was a beautiful, if somewhat frustrating day, with excellent company and such great experiences. I can’t wait to go back with all of the people who are visiting me!!

xxx

Ciao ciao!

 

Birgu

I want to start off by apologizing. Truly, deeply apologizing. I know it must get super annoying to read every other post that starts with “I’m so sorry”, but the truth is, I’m a horrible blogger. There are some people who can sit every day and crank out posts like nobody’s business. They can grab a nice cup of tea, blog about whatever, and be done in 30 minutes. They are left with a sense of satisfaction and happiness, and a small amount of anticipation, because they know it’s all going to repeat again tomorrow.

I am not one of those people. I write a post, and it takes me 1-2 hours to complete, because I’m constantly being distracted by a variety of things.

“Oh! The cats outside the window are eating! Let’s take some pictures and watch them for 20 minutes!”

Things of that nature. So, actually, don’t blame me. Blame my parents. They encouraged my imagination and love for everything in the world. It’s their fault.

The events of this post took place on the 19th of October. I know, I know. I’m terrible. Yet, here you are. Reading my posts. You’re perpetuating the craziness, really.

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Fani and Philip (whom I had met through the Synagogue) had messaged me on Wednesday, the 17th, and asked me if I wanted to join them in Birgu for Birgufest. Being the person that I am, of course I accepted. I checked it out briefly online, on the same website that you probably just clicked on, and decided that it looked to great not to pass up! My classes are pretty intense, and although I was tired on Friday, I knew I simply had to go.

Fani and Philip picked me up at the Turkish Market at around 5:45 PM, and we started off. Philip decided that the easiest way to get parking and get into Birgu would be if we parked on the opposing shores of L-Isla and took a “ferry” across the harbor into Birgu. Sounds like a pretty good plan. We would avoid the traffic going in and out of Birgu, and wouldn’t have to bother with parking. I was completely on board.

Until I saw the “ferry”. Instead of what you think a ferry is, or even a water taxi, we came up to an old man with a rowboat, who offered to row us over for 3 euro. Now, you can imagine my trepidation when I saw this because:

A. The rowboat looked about 75 years old, and could fit maybe 5 people

B. The old man was about 75 and weighed just about as many pounds

C. I am not the most dainty, lithe little flower in the field

These factors made up my perfect storm, and truth be told, I was absolutely terrified to get in that boat. I could just see myself stepping into it, and it tipping over, sending everyone into the water. They don’t call us fat Americans for nothing!

But, I’m also a good sport, and didn’t want to let on that I knew that the rowboat was going to pull an H.M.S. Bounty and send us all into the water. I bravely stepped on board, and felt the boat lurch somewhat violently to one side. I quickly put my other foot near the other side, and balanced out the boat. I stood like that until Philip came on and sat on the opposite side, ensuring that we wouldn’t be capsizing today. I silently prayed to God and to the Crew Deities, thanking them for sparing me the ultimate shame and humiliation. Fani got on and sat down, and then we were off!

Well, I don’t really like that term, because it implies we were moving rather quickly. We were not. The old man had 2 handheld oars, and was taking long, slow strokes. It was a pleasantly cool and breezy night, so I didn’t mind that it took us nearly 20 minutes to get to the other side.

Coming up on Birgu, we were greeted by the waterfront buildings and church, which were outlined in candles. I can’t stress this enough. Nearly all sources of electric lights outside were off, and instead, thousands of small candles lined windows, door ways, and the street. It got more impressive once we actually walked into Birgu, but I’ll save that for later.

We made it to the other side, and I got off the boat as quickly as possible, so that I wasn’t the last one left and potentially tipping the boat over. Philip told me that we had reservations for a nice waterfront restaurant, and I was SO EXCITED when I saw it.

See the candles and lanterns lining the balcony? Imagine that times 1000, and you’ll have a good idea as to what Birgu looked like.

Since it was still relatively early, there were not many people at the restaurant just yet. People here don’t eat as late as they might in Italy or France or Spain, but it’s still typical to see dinners beginning between 7 and 8 in the evening. The thing about restaurants here is that you check in with the hostess (if you have a reservation), and then you seat yourself (if you’re going to be sitting outside). Fani and I picked a nice table right on the edge of the patio, closest to the street and the water. Fani was just about dying of hunger (it reminded me a lot of Mom, actually), so Philip suggested we order starters before we really began looking at the menu. Being hungry as well, I nodded eagerly in agreement. I left it up to him, as I was more concerned over my dinner than the starter. I guess I momentarily forgot that any sort of food here is going to be amazingly good, and assumed that the main course would be better.

Philip ordered 2 plates of Bruschetta (yes, I’m one of those snobs who pronounces it Brus-kay-ta) and some wine. Since I’m no sommelier, I basically told him that I didn’t like white wine, and to choose for me. He doesn’t like red, so we compromised, and we ordered rosé.

Um, it’s official. I love rosé wine. I don’t even know what kind we had, but it was SO GOOD. It was sweet, without being like Manischewitz (which is like grape juice that’s been passed over alcohol), and just dry enough to make me feel grown up, and not like a 13 year old preferring the aforementioned grape juice. 

So I ended up having 2.5 glasses over the course of dinner (I paid for the 2nd and 3rd glasses, because it didn’t seem fair to make Fani and Philip pay for my drinking).

Finally, the bruschetta came, and it looked amazing, as always. Small pieces of bread were brushed with olive oil and grilled, so that they were nice and charred in some spots, and crispy in all the others. It was then schmeared with garlic, and topped with olive oil, chopped tomato, garlic, basil, and red onion. It was then drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I had to control myself, because I could have eaten a whole plate by myself. As it was put down, we placed our orders, and tucked into the food and conversation. Fani and Philip are some of the sweetest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and conversation comes easily to us. There was a lot of laughter and joking, which is a good thing to have when you’re enjoying good food.

I felt like no sooner had we finished our starter than our main courses arrived. Here, as in most Mediterranean places, you have the option of eating in courses, and it’s customary to order pasta as a course before the main course. However, I didn’t want to break their bank, and knew that we were going to be meeting people in Birgu, so I opted to get pasta as my main course. Fani did the same. Philip just didn’t order pasta, and instead opted for protein.

My pasta was penne with chicken and broccoli in a spicy cream sauce. Simple and delicious. It was really rich, so I took my time eating it. I could have stuck my face in it and eaten it like an animal.

Fani got ravioli filled with porcini mushrooms with sliced chicken, covered in a black truffle cream sauce. That was amazing as well. SO MUSHROOMY AND LOAMY.

Philip had filet of beef in a black pepper cream sauce. I’m not a huge fan of black pepper, as I can’t really taste anything else when there’s too much of it, so this wasn’t my favorite (in case you were wondering, yes, we did share).

There was a lot of cream sauce all over everything, but it was good, good cream sauce. Plus, we had good bread and some french fries to sop it all up with. So it was a creamy, creamy dinner.

But enough food porn. You came for pictures, and maybe some words thrown in there every so often.

After a long dinner that left me smiling and satisfied (man, I’m on a roll here), we decided to walk up to the town square to meet Philip’s sister and her family. Of course, this being Malta, nearly everything is uphill. BUT, this time, the schlep up was absolutely beautiful:

The candle lit street going up to the square. Some people even had their doors open, turned off all the lights in their house, and lined their staircases with candles. It was like something out of Tangled.

Close up of one of the many lantern/chandeliers that were strung up in the streets.

My stupid flash went off, but in this one you can see what the street looked like clearly. Not as magical.

After walking up this hill, we were spit into the main square of the town:

Candles, people, and a huge stage with performances (you’ll see the stage in a second). Sorry for the quality – I couldn’t stand still long enough to get a clear shot. People here like to push if you’re in their way.

Some of the buildings facing into the square.

Stage where people were singing a variety of songs – traditional Maltese, American Classics, and pop music of today.

Statue in the square that was lined with candles both on the top and the bottom. Again, being pushed around in this picture.

Beautiful balcony facing the square.

The Birgu banner!

It was super loud in the square – with the performers, the food and wares stalls, and the billions of people. Malta’s population is only 419,000, and I feel like 418,995 showed up. 5 people didn’t get an invite, apparently.

We were surrounded by performers, stalls and booths selling all sorts of delicious smelling foods (I could have eaten again, if I forced myself), as well as an incredibly large amount of people.

Philip introduced me to his sister, Anna, her husband, and their daughter, Catherine. Catherine is my age, and goes to the University for accounting. It was really nice chatting with them – I feel like everyone here is really very nice and welcoming, and we talked for a very long time! When she and her family had to leave, she told Philip to give me their phone number, so that we could get together a few times while I’m here.

While we were chatting, 2 Maltese teenagers decided that they were going to throw some punches at each other while in the middle of a crowd. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. Anna’s husband (who is seriously like 6’7″) broke it up and yelled at them, and told them to go somewhere else if they needed to fight. Teenagers everywhere are stupid, apparently. But these guys had on the skinny jeans, tight v-necks, and overly gelled/intricately shaved hair. I was positively shaking in my Birkenstocks. Also, if you’re going to fight, I’d appreciate some actual punches, or maybe a tackle, or something. Slapping at each other and bouncing around on the balls of your feet hardly constitutes as a proper fight.

As Anna and her family left (they didn’t want to stay too long), Philip and Fani and I began to walk around the winding alleys and streets. Candles lined every possible inch, and the glow that is was giving off was positively surreal. We stopped in the Inquisitor’s Palace, which has been turned into a museum, because the tickets were discounted for Birgufest. It was a sobering visit, to say the least. Those in Malta who had been accused of blasphemy, witchcraft, and being non-Catholic were imprisoned and tortured there. The cells in which they were held were open to the public, and of course were small, cramped, and terrible. There were old scratches and marks on the walls – whether or not they were made by actual prisoners wasn’t clear, but it was chilling nonetheless. To read accounts of what people were imprisoned for, and to read their forced confessions (usually after torture) was really hard, and it reminded me once again the persecution that non-catholics faced, and of the persecution of my own ancestors.

After the museum, we began walking back along the streets to the main square, and we stopped to get some nougat brittle, which I had never tasted before. OH MY GOD. First of all, they shape and form the brittle in front of you while it’s still warm, so you can smell all of the deliciousness floating off of it. We bought 2 bags, and I began munching on it right in the street. It’s hard, like brittle, but it’s sweetened with honey, packed with crunchy almonds, and spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and sesame seeds. Cut into 2-bite sized squares, and thrown into a bag while it’s still slightly warm. It’s amazing, to say the least. I plan on buying more bags, and hopefully will be able to take some home with me. If you’d like some, let me know!! Philip also got a huge chunk of regular soft nougat, which we munched on as we walked back.

After being in the square and listening to the music and dancing for a little while longer, we decided we were tired, and started to leave.

Remember how we had to take a boat over? Well, guess what we had to take back.

Oh joy.

It was just as pleasant going back as it was coming, let me assure you.

All in all, it was a great evening with some great people!! I’m always on the lookout for new things to do here, and having friends with the inside scoop always makes that easier!

Ciao ciao!!

Xxxx

Hamrun

I didn’t wait so long between posts this time!! The event that inspired this post actually happened within the past week! I’m getting better, I swear.

I got better…

So, last Saturday, 13 October (oooooh, spooky), I went to the annual Chocolate Festival in Hamrun with Fawsiya and a friend from my classes, Danielle. She’s actually from America as well, and goes to the University of Southern Indiana. She’s here for a year, lucky girl, and so she really needs to get a hang of Maltese culture. As for me, well, I’m continually exploring that myself, and every time I find myself becoming sure of what the Maltese culture actually IS, I get thrown for a loop.

So we left at around 6:45 PM, as the festival didn’t start until 7. We knew that we wanted to get there early because:

  1. Fresh chocolate and pastries are better than old ones
  2. We didn’t want to have to stay late and end up having to take the night bus home (not to be confused with the other, more magical bus), which would cost an additional 2.50€, and would be crowded.
  3. We were impatient to stuff our pieholes with chocolate and pastries. Can you honestly say that you’re any different?

Which, looking back on it, are all amazingly brilliant reasons. We took the bus from Qroqq 2 to Valletta, and from there it took less than 10 minutes to Hamrun. It was actually pretty awesome, because there were 3 bus bays in which every bus that pulled in went straight to Hamrun…so it was pretty idiot proof.

Once we got off in Hamrun, we quickly realized that we had no clue where the festival actually was. However, being the intrepid, highly experienced global explorer that I am, I made the astute and highly intelligent decision to follow the crowd. Because there was already a pretty large one.

Yeah, I’m pretty much the greatest genius you’ll ever meet.

So, we followed the crowd, and gradually, we began to smell the chocolate. But not just chocolate. Fried dough, fried meat, fried cheese…the air was perfumed with the twinkling scent of foodstuffs frying in scalding hot oil. Delicious. At this point, Danielle and I realized that it was a great idea to not have eaten dinner beforehand, and right at the start of the festival area, there was a lovely fried food cart. Danielle and I ended up getting deep fried chicken kabobs, which were pretty much the temperature of the surface of the sun. But it’s ok – it was healthy, because there was no breading on the chicken. We also got chips (french fries for all you commonfolk) and drenched them in ketchup and mayonaise (it’s the thing to do here, and it’s kind of awesome). Paired with some cold water, we were ready to go!

The festival itself was set up along 2 winding blocks in Hamrun, so we knew we weren’t going to get lost. The first stall we came upon was probably one of the best, and I am eagerly looking forward to going back to their shop in Ta’Qali. It was a handmade silver filigree stall, and the old couple that were manning it were the owners of Jade Filigree – the Attards. They were so sweet, and true to my nature, I had a good conversation with Mr. Attard. It was clear that he loves what he does, but he also has a great sense of humor as well! He was joking about how since I was taking pictures of him, he would be famous. Mr. Attard, your work speaks for itself, and judging by the quality and the care put into it, I’m shocked that hasn’t made you famous already:

All of the silver at his stall was so delicate and amazingly beautiful. I normally don’t like silver and I would have gladly bought everything there. Keep in mind – it’s ALL HANDMADE.

I love this tiara more than words can describe. It’s 400€, so obviously, I’m not going to be buying it anytime soon. It’s just so delicate and feminine. Breathtaking.

Ignore this particularly bad photo of me, and focus on what’s on my head. I WAS BORN TO WEAR THIS.

All of their lovely, whimsical earrings and pendants.

A particularly beautiful pair of silver filigree earrings.

This is silver filigree with gold plating. One of my favorites, obviously.

The beautiful Mr. Attard himself – making another piece RIGHT in front of us! Such a nice and genuine man!

So, I could never do this. Ever. It takes a delicate touch and insane amount of patience. That’s the outline of a Maltese Cross on the board.

So, after having an amazing conversation with the Attards, and promising them that I’d visit them in Ta’Qali at their shop, we continued on. At first, we smelled the chocolate, but it wasn’t immediately available. What was surrounding us at the moment were stalls of homemade jewelry. Now, most of it was not as spectacular as the Attard’s. In fact, theirs was really the only jewelry that stick in my mind, even now. I remember taking this photo, but unfortunately, I don’t seem to remember the people selling them. I’m kicking myself.

Handmade brooches and pendants. Very pretty!

Handmade lace is also a big thing here, as I”m sure I have mentioned before. Here are some lovely examples:

So pretty and intricate!

Fawsiya got information on lace-making lessons being offered on the island. I think I’m going to go to a class or two!

I also found this delightful magnet:

This is so true, you have no idea.

It was after we passed the multitudes of handmade goods that we started descending on the chocolate. And boy…was there chocolate.

Augustus Gloop ain’t got nothin on this festival.

Chocolate bars. Chocolate chips. Hot chocolate. Chocolate candies. But it didn’t just stop with the actual chocolate. There were so many pastries, baked goods, and confections that I felt like a kid in a candy store.

Wow. I’m sorry. Truly. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Completely horrendous. That was lazy, and I apologize.

So anyway, we start walking up to different stalls, and begin buying our lovely chocolate wares. I bought these lovelies from a stand selling cookies:

The tube looking ones near the top are puff pastry stuffed with chocolate mousse and hazelnut. The tan, small ones beneath those were filled with a chocolate-fruit filling, and the checkerboards are chocolate butter cookies. You paid by the weight, so as long as you chose small cookies, you could get a lot for your money!

I resisted the urge to eat these right away, because I knew I wanted something to eat at home. They are obviously pictured on one of my plates.

I also bought this INSANELY AMAZING delight:

Dark chocolate ball covered in crunchy nuts, filled with dark chocolate and rum mousse. I managed to save this one for home as well, and it was worth the wait. Rummy, rummy goodness. Sorry for the lack of quality in this photo. I was too eager to shove it in my face.

Past that, I knew I couldn’t restrain myself for much longer, and thankfully, I didn’t have to. Behold:

If your sad, non-whimsical mind can’t begin to fathom what this is…I pity you.

They were small, fried ravioli filled with sweet ricotta cheese, covered in dark chocolate drizzle and dusted with cocoa powder as they’re served to you, as hot as Satan’s…rage (get your mind out of the gutter). You got 6 in an order, and only paid 1.5€ for the serving. I could have eaten 6 trays of them. They were amazingly, wonderfully, blisteringly good. As good as they sound.

After this stall, we came upon the largest baked goods stall there. It was easily 20 feet long, 4 feet wide, and filled with so many baked goods that I couldn’t focus on just one. Tarts, cookies, cakes, biscuits, muffins, muffin tops. It was tantalizing…and the most popular stall there. Unfortunately, in Malta, the concept of lining up and waiting for something really doesn’t exist. You kind of have to shove yourself to the front, fight to keep your spot, and then you’re STILL not guaranteed to be served, as the guy dishing out the goods chooses who he wants to serve when. Needless to say, I didn’t get served. It was actually very frustrating, because I was RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM for about 5 minutes, and he kept helping people next to me, on either side. I eventually just gave up, but the moment wasn’t a complete loss.

At the moment I was turning, I felt a tap on my arm. I turn, and there’s a reporter with a camera crew, asking me if they can interview me and my experience here. Here’s a rough transcript of my brief brush with fame:

Reporter: What brings you to this festival?

Me: I’m a student here, and I’m always looking for fun things to do on the weekends. What’s better than a chocolate festival?

Reporter: Well, where are you from, and what are you studying?

Me: I’m from America, right outside of Washington DC, and I’m here studying International Relations.

Reporter: That’s great! Have you tasted anything delicious yet?

Me: The chocolate ravioli! It was AMAZING!

Reporter: Are you worried about the calories?

Me: Honestly, no. Not tonight. Tomorrow I’ll worry about them. But who wants to worry about the calories when you’re surrounded by all this chocolate?

That was it. Nothing special. I hope it aired somewhere, although I’m sure I won’t be able to find it. I’ll look, though, and post it here if I end up finding it. I will also post it on Facebook. And Twitter. And email. And pretty much just throw around the fact that I was interviewed by a foreign news station.

We then came across these lovelies:

Puffy goodness.

and instantly everything was better. These beautiful pockets of joy helped a lot too:

Fried puff pastry filled with chocolate. Served piping hot and insanely delicious.

Walking past all of the chocolate goodies, we started to come upon chocolate inspired art and goods! This one was particularly cool:

It may look like regular body paint, but it’s actually warmed, colored chocolate! What you can’t see in the picture are the pots of gently bubbling colored chocolate, waiting to be used on this cool little canvas. The woman behind her was painting a flower with chocolate.

And then came the sculptures. Which were pretty mindblowing:

This is actually a mold – sorry for the confusion. Still really flipping cool though.

Chocolate art to hang on your walls! Hand sculpted and molded, of course.

This was actually sculpted – it was a giant replica of a building in Valletta. All hand done. MIND BLOWN.

While this was all very cool (and very crowded), we came on the main square, where there was a huge stage. Onstage, there were people singing kareoke (some good, some…not so good), but then they had someone jump up there with a bunch of kids and lead a Zumba class for everyone! I guess to burn calories…I dunno. It was cool.

Past the main square, we came on some more chocolate themed goods. There are from a homemade beauty products line. They had both a collection especially made for this festival, and their regular collection there:

Cupcake bath bombs! And to the right are solid cake hand lotions.

More sweet-inspired bath products!

These were soaps! Darling! Look at the mini croissants on top!

I had to share this, because it’s handmade honey soap from Maltese honey and beeswax. This was from their regular line. Everything else was pink and sparkly and nice, but I liked these the best.

And then we came to the most magical stand of all. This young woman hand made all of these absolutely adorable pieces, and has a small shop in Birkirkara. I’m totally visiting her this week to buy one of these, because unfortunately by the time we got to this stall, I only had enough money for potentially a bus ride home. Still, I love, love, love these pieces:

They’re mini-cupcakes and donut pendants! Each one is different! I preferred the cupcakes, because they had tiny, tiny slices of fruit on them, which made them even more adorable! My favorite one is near the bottom right hand corner, with the brownish-pink icing and the mini-grapefruit slices. UGHH I want ALL of these!

A close up on my favorite. Isn’t he precious??

Danielle got one that looked like a chocolate cupcake with turquoise icing, and had tiny slices of pears all over it.

I’m going to Birkirkara and getting one this week. Possibly tomorrow. Or Friday. It’s happening. If anyone wants one, message me. I’ll pick one up for you!

So, it was a night filled with stuffing ourselves with chocolate, culture, and good company. Fawsiya and Danielle got along fabulously, and it was a great time!! I had so much fun! We all initially took the same bus home, but Danielle lives at the University Residence in Lija, so she got off after Fawsiya and I did.

So, now I’m sitting at home, eating the last bits of my cookies and reminiscing about a really cool, really chocolatey night out with friends!

Seriously, if you want a cupcake pendant, message me.

Ciao ciao! XO

Sliema

So, finally, here is my 3rd, and most recent adventure filled blog post!! I went on this trip yesterday, with my lovely neighbor Fawsiya. She’s a student from London (born in Somalia) who is here to study medicine. She’ll be here for 5 years, and will be spending the first year alone, as her husband can’t join her until around this time next year. She’s a great person, fun to be around, and I was VERY glad to be able to explore a place with someone else (not that Marcelle isn’t an amazing travelling parner!).

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6 October 2012

I had texted Fawsiya, who moved in a little under 2 weeks ago, the day before our trip and asked her if she’d like to join me in going to Sliema and possibly San Giljan. I had passed through these two places while on my way back from High Ridge (which is an area of Swieqi), where I had an audition for a high level choir (I got in!). I was struck by their beauty and their shops, and wanted to go back and explore!

She told me she’d love to go, and so we made a plan to leave at 11:00 AM the following morning. Of course, being the person I am, I spent the night cleaning and straightening, just so that when Fawsiya came into the flat, I wouldn’t look like a slob!

Fawsiya came at 10:45, and we hopped on the next bus bound for Sliema. Fawsiya is already a better bus-goer than I am, because when she first got here, her husband and mother stayed in a hotel in Bugibba, and she took the buses out there to see them every day after classes. So, I let her take the reins on that one. Because we all know my sense of direction is not the best. Ask my Dad about my adventure in DC. Wow.

So we get on the bus, and it takes us about 20 minutes to get to Sliema. Let me just reiterate the fact that this island is so small, and it takes like 15 minutes just to go ANYWHERE. Of course, the buses have stops to make, and they all don’t go in a straight line, but I love, love, love being able to hop on anywhere and be somewhere new and exciting in 20 minutes.

Let’s just get this out of the way. Sliema is beautiful. It’s right along the coast, and has a ton of cool shops (mostly clothing, but eh) and cafes. Here are some photos I took right off the bat:

Nothing beats this!

Much like at the Arno in Florence, lovers place locks with their initials on them on this railing above the water, and throw the key in the water. Link below!

Lover’s Locks of Italy. Lover’s Padlocks of Sliema.

Gorgeous!

Ahhhhhhhh

Private Pool of a local, fancy-pants hotel.

How awesome would it be to have these views?!

The water is impossibly blue, even here.

Hotels and buildings along the coast!

You can see all of the masts of the boats in the distance, dry-docked. I thought it looked cool. Also, it looks a lot cloudier than it really was.

Pretty green trees!!

See? Not so cloudy!

Strikingly blue water

I could spend my whole life on this island.

So after all of these pictures, we decided to hit the Point at Tigne, which sounded like a nice, air-conditioned option in the growing heat. While we walked, we passed some nice, typically Mediterranean things: flower carts, fruit stands, bread carts, bakeries, fresh fish stands, etc. I wish I had though to take photos of some of them, because they are so unique to this area. I’ll be going to Sliema again, and will most certainly take pictures that time around.

The Point is small – maybe about half of the size of Pentagon City, but physically, it’s stunning. I never thought I’d say that about a mall, but it’s justified:

Seriously?! This is a mall?!

Don’t you wish your mall was hot like mine?

View from the courtyard of the Mall…no big deal.

Again, no big deal.

Again, this is the Mall. Why can’t malls in the US look like this?!

While in the mall, we mostly just walked around and chatted. There were a ton of clothing stores, but there was this AWESOME store called The Kitchen Store, and I bought tupperware, oven mitts, a pepper grinder, and a silicone spatula. I love shopping for this kind of stuff. Plus, I felt slightly better about walking around Sliema with a bag full of stuff. :)

Coming out of the Point, we decided we were hungry. It didn’t help that the mall smelled like Cinnabon, and Fawsiya absolutely cinnamon buns. We hightailed it out of there so that we wouldn’t buy the whole stand. Walking around in the heat, surrounded by good smells, makes you HUNGRY, and not for something heavy like pasta. Of course, seafood is always a good choice.

We stopped in a small restaurant near the waterfront, but sat inside, because we were melting and needed the AC. We knew based on the menu posted outside that the seafood here was going to be good, and it didn’t disappoint.

We sat down, and were brought a basket of Maltese bread and some house made hummus. I loved the hummus because it wasn’t perfectly smooth, and still had some texture to it. It had a tremendous amount of garlic in it, which is amazing, and had paprika or red pepper flakes or something in it, because there was a little heat that came up at the end. I would have spread that over ANYHTING, including but not limited to my finger.

Fawsiya and I both ordered, as a main meal, the grilled Stone Bass (information also here), which was absolutely delicious. The fillet was grilled, and put on a light layer of rock salt on a plate, skin side down. It was drizzled with olive oil, cracked black pepper, and lemon juice. It was amazingly simple and delicious. The fish was light and mild – SO YUMMY. The only thing was it still had some small bones, so you really had to work it around in your mouth before swallowing (don’t be gross!!). It was served a vegetable medley and roasted potatoes. We lounged over lunch for a long time, nearly 1.5 hours, but there were people there who were there when we got to the restaurant, and were still there when we left. It’s just the way here. I would have ordered a glass of wine, but I didn’t want to spend too much money. That’s me! We finished the meal with gelato – chocolate for me, and lemon sorbetto for her. Such a perfect, light, easy lunch with a friend.

After that, we walked back to the bus stop, hopped on the bus, and went home! She lives 2 doors down the hallway from me, so we literally walked each other home. :)

I love the mentality here – hop on a bus, go somewhere, lounge around, hop on a bus, come back home, lounge some more. Of course, there are responsibilities and actions that I have to fulfill, but it’s so nice to be able to have such freedom of mind and body. I feel much less anxious and stressed here – I find myself taking deep breaths more often, and I love being outside in the sunshine and the fresh air.

This is seriously the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

<3

Science in the City

My second of three consecutive blog posts – seriously, I need to get better at this. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing. On the contrary, I find that it’s a great way to be introspective and solidify memories, as well as share these with family and friends. It’s just when I get home from a day of walking, eating, and soaking in culture, the last thing I want to do is hop on the computer and write. Usually, the first desire that I have is either to shower, sleep, or both. :) So, again, this is another blog, long overdue, that is finally seeing the light.  Sorry, I had to do that. Please watch it though. Seriously, one of my favorite Disney moments ever. Doesn’t hold a candle to Beauty and the Beast, but it’s amazing nonetheless. It’s a beautiful scene.

 

Ok, I’m done.

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28 September 2012

Marecelle had been talking about this for a while. Science in the City was happening in Valletta, and she knew that her whole family would want to attend. So she graciously invited me to attend with her family. How could I say no?

We were to meet in Valletta around 8:00, so I hopped on the first Valletta bound bus and headed for the capital. Buses to Valletta typically take anywhere from 15-20 minutes, and it’s a pretty drive! You’re going through nice streets, areas with GRASS (I was shocked the first time I saw grass here), and neat architecture. The bus terminal in Valletta wouldn’t seem like anything special, but it is. Because there’s a huge, gigantic, enormous, and highly dramatic fountain right in the middle of it.

Fountain – see the Tritons? They’re like mermen, but with two tails instead of one.

Another shot of the fountain – the water was misting everywhere.

More mist

I think this is the best shot I got – it’s seriously a gorgeous fountain.

So while I fooled around at the fountain, Marcelle and her family were struggling to find parking. This event was very popular, and people were coming from all over the island to come and see the exhibits. I had to wait a few minutes for them, but that’s ok. I’m a creep and like to people watch, so that’s exactly what I did.

Marcelle and her family (husband, Ezekiel, and Jasmine) came and met me at the Fountain, and we walked up Triq ir-Repubblika, which is sort of like the main artery of Valletta.

We didn’t really have any specific exhibits that we wanted to go to, so we decided to wander around and duck into anything that struck our interest. That’s kind of my preferred method of tourism, actually. So, as we walked, we briefly consulted the map we were given just so that we would hit some exhibits, and off we went.

Marcelle is a constant method of great conversation, so I always enjoy walking with her. She and her daughter needed to use the restroom, however, so we ducked into the McDonald’s so that they could use it.

That was the first time I had ever been in an international McDonalds, and I wasn’t impressed. I mean, I’m not too sure what I was expecting, but it was crowded, greasy, and had the same gross smell that permeates McDonald’s in the US. I am certainly not going to waste my money buying the same crappy food here that I can get in the US. Ugh. And the worst part was that I saw tourists in there. WHY DO YOU GO TO ANOTHER COUNTRY AND EAT AT MCDONALD’S? I just find it incredibly odd.

So, thankfully, we escaped the McDonald’s, and continued down the road. We first went into an exhibit regarding sustainable energy and green projects that are being started throughout Malta. It wasn’t very entertaining, certainly, but it was very interesting and informative, and it made me happy that people around the world are concerned about the quality of our world, and the future of our world.

Imagine!

Past that, we came upon a small table that had a huge crowd around it, mostly kids. Intrigued, we all walked toward it. There were two scientists and a muppet-like puppet performing simple experiments for kids, to show the importance of the scientific process. Of course, it was in Maltese, but Marcelle was kind enough to translate for me. Ezekiel scampered to the front and watched from there, and it was clear he was enjoying himself!! The experiments were simple, like weak acid on a plastic cup, and oil and water, but it was good to see an emphasis on science within the community here.

Then, we came up to the square in front of the Library, and they had huge replicas of popular science characters:

Wall-E and EVE behind him!! I love him!! Can you see the Angry Birds to the left?

A little farther down, the square in front of the Parliament Building had been converted into this area with a large stage and big sculptures of intellectual and scientific merit:

One of the sculptures!

Onstage, there were multiple things going on – some people were talking about robots and their benefits/drawbacks (apocalypse, anyone?!), while other people were talking about agriculture. Then some musical performers came on, and sang some cool science songs! Once again, it was all in Maltese, but Jasmine was translating for me.

At this point, I was hungry, because I hadn’t eaten dinner and was looking forward to getting something in Valletta. Unfortunately, like many places here, the restaurants are not typically open very late, and thus I didn’t have a huge choice. But, we did find a small hole in the wall cafe that was still open, and I happily ordered an arancino filled with bacon, cheese, and peas. It was warm and DELICIOUS, of course, and I was able to walk around with it, which was even better!!

So then, we hit this outdoor exhibit that looked like a giant spiral staircase, but it actually was a double-helix DNA strand!! So cool! All of the steps were labeled with the bases, and the railings were labeled as well. It was really cool and interactive.

Another exhibit we hit, which I was not allowed to take pictures of, was a sculpture exhibit of humanized fruit flies. I’ll explain. Fruit flies, apparently, share many of our biological traits, and thus are used in scientific experiments quite frequently in the place of humans. This artist chose to represent this by sculpting human-sized fruit flies in a variety of human poses – shopping, kissing, reading, walking, etc. Her goal was to draw parallels between the flies and humans, especially since they are used in place of humans. It was pretty cool, but I wasn’t allowed to take pictures…so I was pretty sad.

After this exhibit, we walked to the front of the Presidential Palace in Valletta, which is directly across from this park. The park itself has a lot of lovely benches, all of which overlook the water, and in turn, the Three Cities. They jutted out like fingers into the thin bay, and were lovely and lit. My pictures don’t do them justice, but I’ll post them anyway.  I’l be going back and taking more pictures of them soon, for sure.

One of the Three Cities at night. Don’t ask me which one it is, because I don’t know. :) I’ll try to find out.

Another one of the Three Cities at night. I think the glow they gave off was absolutely breathtaking.

After hanging out in this area, we began to walk back to the car, because Marcelle’s husband was incredibly tired, and wanted to get home. Marcelle and I walked a ways behind everyone else, so her husband said he’d just pick us up near the fountain. When we saw the car ahead of us, we decided to run over. This was a bad idea, at least on my part. My calves began to cramp, and it was the worst cramping I’ve ever experienced in my life. If you haven’t seen videos like this one, watch it, because that’s what my calf looked like. I thought my legs were going to fall off. But, because I didn’t want to be seen as the slovenly American, I didn’t say anything, and didn’t change my stride at all. Getting into the car and sitting down didn’t help, as we were still kind of confined, and I couldn’t stretch. So, really I cramped all the way from Valletta to my flat in Msida, and didn’t say a word. I think I did a pretty good job, actually.

All in all, Science in the City was AWESOME, and I love all of the cultural and scientific outlets that this country has to offer!

 

Ciao!

Qormi

Firstly, I really must apologize once again for my delay in producing a post. School started last week, and between the stress of finding the courses, finding the offices, and finding the professors, it didn’t cross my mind to write!! Then, I realized a bit sheepishly, that I had left a full 1.5 weeks of experiences out of the blog! Therefore, this blog post is the first of 3 that will be posted tonight. I’ll detail the dates before each part. Thank you so much for your patience!! I hope I fulfill what you’ve been waiting for!!

 

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21 September 2012 – Independence Day

I had been planning on going and doing something for Independence Day from the day I first arrived in Malta. I thought perhaps I’d go into Valletta for the afternoon, or maybe head down to the Ta’Xbiex waterfront and see if anything was going on there. But, true to her superhero ways, Marcelle contacted me earlier that day and inquired as to what I had planned for Independence Day. Being someone who loves partaking in any sort of traditional event with locals, I jumped at the chance to celebrate with her.

She and her daughter Jasmine picked me up at my flat around 7:15 that night, and told me that we were going to be heading to Qormi  to celebrate, as they were having a huge festival, which was going to include the largest Ftira  in Malta! I was very excited about that part, let me tell you. What a surprise. Meredith’s excited over traditional food.

WHAT?! Meredith enjoys food?!

It was maybe a 15 minute drive from Msida to Qormi, but it did take us a little while to find parking. This festival was going to be huge, and people from all over were coming to attend. Marcelle finally found a parking spot along a winding alley, somewhat removed from a main road (note – this information is important to remember).

We walked downhill a little bit, and pretty much followed the noise, lights, and music to the town center. I’d love to point out that I feel like no matter where I’m walking in Malta, I’m always walking downhill, or more commonly, uphill. Whatever – my glutes are getting a nice workout!

Coming to the town center, I was first struck by the sheer number of people there. I feel like 1/2 the population of Malta showed up here to come to the festival. There were kids of all ages, old and young people, tourists, natives, EVERYONE. It was incredibly crowded, and you were constantly brushing up against someone or straight up plowing into them. What most people didn’t understand was that it’s NOT OK to simply stop in the middle of a crowd, particularly in a bottle necked area, and have a conversation. “Oh, it’s crowded and tight fitting in this particular part of the street. Seems like a good place to stop and chat!” WRONG. LET’S MOVE, PEOPLE.

So we begin to walk to the center of the square, which is dominated mostly by a large church community center. This center was lit up by lights and candles of all different colors:

The Church Community Center was in the middle of the town, and had beautiful lights all around it.

Another shot of the Church Community Center – note the dates near the top of the building. 1862-2012. 150 years!!

However, cutting through the square and the outlying streets was the longest, most impressive Ftira I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve seen that many, but it was huge). It was at least the size of one football field, possibly 2. Many tables had been set up to hold it, and it was being guarded/manned by people who would only cut you a slice if you had bought a ticket. The following picture is the only one I could get, as many people wanted a slice:

I was at the remnants end of the Ftira – it doesn’t look that long, but I am not exaggerating when I say that it was the size of one, possibly two football fields. All of that Ftira goodness was beckoning me…

But before we ate, we decided that we were going to walk around and find some things to look at. As Marcelle was telling me, Qormi is known for its extremely well made and detailed religious statues and woodworking. We walked into a shop that held traditional wood pieces, and as I raised my camera, I was told that there were no pictures allowed. UGH.

The crafts being displayed in this crowded, hot, and incredibly small shop were breathtaking. Each was finely crafted and highly detailed. Many were religious, and depicted different stages of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. While I couldn’t attach myself to these spiritually, they were exquisitely made, and it was clear that much time, care, and energy went into them. Among these pieces, though, were secular pieces as well. I saw a beautiful hand carved clock, made out of differing grains and colors of wood. It reminded me of Mom. Many different pieces were featured there, and it was obvious that the artists who produced them were incredibly proud of their handiwork.

After leaving the shop, we made our way around, and saw so many different things! Most notably, in my opinion, was the cart being manned by an old woman, which sold fresh coffee with a variety of spices, as well as traditional Maltese pastries and sweets. Coming in a close second to this, though, was the man selling puppies on the corner. THEY WERE SO SMALL. I told Marcelle that we needed to keep walking, because if I stood there any longer, I would end up buying one. Or six.

Walking along the winding alleys and streets at night was very romantic (but not in the lovey-dovey way), even if the streets were crowded beyond belief. Inbetween the buildings hung lanterns of all sorts of soft colors, pictured below:

Sorry about the quality of this picture – I wish I had a slightly better camera.

Regular hanging lanterns, not strung up, looked like this:

Again, the quality is horrendous, but the lantern gave off a low orange glow – it wasn’t harsh or bright or anything.

To get the full effect of the lanterns that I loved so much, I took this picture:

So beautiful!

While walking along one alley, we spied a small courtyard, selling pizza and tickets for the Ftira. Also in the courtyard was a recreated scene from a grain mill, complete with live animals!! Ducks and a donkey, to be more precise. I’m not quite sure what the ducks were doing there, but I loved them.

Well, this is me right before the courtyard – it’s behind the hay wagon, to the left, where all the people are streaming out from. I like the semi-hot guy to the right of the picture.

The recreated mill! I don’t think you can see the donkey, and certainly not the ducks. But they were sweet. :)

While Marcelle went off to get us a ticket for two pieces of Ftira (they were cut VERY large), Jasmine and I waited for a fresh pizza. The dough was unlike any pizza dough I’d ever seen – it more resembled foccacia. It was very thick, but lighter than one might think Certainly not as dense as American Deep Dish pizza, although it resembled it in shape. They were serving two kinds – one had potatoes, olives, and anchovies, while the other had a light tomato sauce, light cheese, Maltese sausage, and slightly carmelized onions. The latter type was selling incredibly fast, and Jasmine and I had to wait a round or two until they could serve us that one! Once I bit into it, though, it was certainly worth it.

The crust was chewy and thick, and the tomato sauce was nice and sweet, without being overpowering (Papa John’s, I’m looking at you). The onions were still slightly raw, so they had a beautiful bite to them. But the sausage. OH. It was porky and salty, and seasoned wonderfully!! They took it out of the casing (nice and natural, I might add) and crumbled it on top. It gave such a good, meaty, salty bite to the pizza. I could have eaten the entire thing, which many people were doing, because they were medium-small sized and had 4 slices cut out of them. But I resisted.

Then, Marcelle returned with the Ftira. Ftira is really just any sandwich, and can be filled with any variety of things. This one had fresh and SUPER garlicky pesto shmeared on the inside, sliced tomato, and mozzarella cheese. Sounds simple, and it was, but it was deliciously simple. There are so many bad sandwiches back home, and this yummy goodness makes me wonder just how hard it is to mess up a sandwich. Of course, it was GIGANTIC, and with my abnormally small mouth, I had to smush it down flat before I could shove it in there. The insides were delicious, of course, but the bread was the main star. The crust was shiny, slightly crunchy, certainly crumby, and CHEWWWWWY. The inside was nice and soft and yeasty. Beautifully, simply baked bread. Seriously, people, it’s not that hard.

Speaking of bread, Qormi is known for many things – woodworking, sculptures, religion, and BREAD. Below are two small testaments to the lovely bread of Qormi:

This is a windmill. Made out of bread. BREAD.

The accompanying well to the windmill. Because every bread windmill needs a bread well.

So it was a night of good food, good company, good music (traditional Maltese music is actually pretty engaging!), and good location.

So, as we started to head back to the car, Marcelle thought she knew a way so that we could avoid the crowds. It turns out, she didn’t, and we spent a little while trying to identify streets, cars, and buildings that looked familiar. It didn’t help that we were parked on a side street. :)

But with signs like this, who cares? Note – the sign isn’t talking about streets. Mostly food. And services. 

Of course, we did find the car, and I returned, safe, well fed, and ready for more. Happy Independence Day, Malta!!

Ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marsaxlokk, Luqa, and Mdina

I’m sorry for the delay in the publication of this post – I was first waiting for the pictures from Marcelle (which, to her credit, she sent me 48 hours after we got back), and then I procrastinated to the point where I felt badly. It’s not that I didn’t want to write about it. I just couldn’t muster up the energy, what with the 5 billion mosquitoes that descended on my flat.

Continuing from where I left off, when we left the beach, we were faced with the task of walking up the steep hill to the car. Worst. Walk. Ever. Walking back from a beach is typically no fun, but this hill was steep. We were also sweaty, damp, sunburned, salty, and tired, so it felt more like a military training exercise than a nice walk back to an air conditioned car. If you know me, you know what I get like when I’m overly hot and tired. I’m not pleasant. I was keeping it contained, though, because I didn’t want to frighten Marcelle and Ezekiel away.

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who was nearing defeat. Marcelle was tired and hot as well, and we made nice shuffling partners as we trudged up the hill. About halfway up, Marcelle decided that we needed some bottles of water. I couldn’t have agreed more. We stopped in to a restaurant with a terrific view (seriously, what’s up with these restaurants and amazing, mind-blowing views?) and bought 3 bottles of water.

This is what I looked like in the moments right before I gulped down half of the water bottle. If you don’t get the reference, ask my brothers or any nearby child under the age of 20, but older than 8.

As I guzzled the wonderful, life-giving cold source of sanity, I watched Ezekiel prove how limitless his energy truly is by performing some of his parkour moves on various tall objects.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we reached the car. As we got in and prepared to drive off, Marcelle asked me where I wanted to go next. As I am still new to Malta, I really had no clue.

“Why don’t we go get something to eat, visit Marsaxlokk, and then we’ll go to Mdina. It’s beautiful at night.” I then asked her if we could go to where she grew up, and she enthusiastically agreed.

As we drove, Ezekiel’s chatter from the backseat grew more and more infrequent, until silence crept up from the back. I looked behind me, and sure enough, Ezekiel lay splayed across the backseat, completely asleep. If he had been Caleb, Mom, his ears would have been completely purple. It was really cute.

Because Malta is incredibly small (17 miles long by 8 miles wide), traveling from one point to another by car does not take long at all.

The driving route from Blue Grotto to Marsaxlokk. It took about 25 minutes, and that’s only because we drove to Luqa.

On the way to Marsaxlokk, we drove through Marcelle’s town, called Luqa (the corner most point on the blue route – the white circle). It’s pronounced Loo-ah, because the letter “q” in Maltese is a silent break. It is a difficult concept to understand if you’re not familiar with a Semitic language, but basically, it’s a pause, or break, between the syllables. Luqa is pronounced Loo[break]ah.

While passing through, Marcelle was telling me all about her childhood among the narrow, winding streets of Luqa. Like many families in Malta, and indeed in Europe, most of her immediate and extended family lived within walking distance of one another. It was fascinating to see her explain that on one street corner, her maternal grandmother lived, while directly across the street, her paternal grandmother lived, while down the block 4 houses lived her uncle, while on the top floor of her uncle’s house lived Marcelle’s family, while two houses down lives her brother and family currently, and the next street over houses another uncle, aunt, and brother. If that seemed like a run-on, slightly confusing sentence, that’s what the explanation felt like. It must have been wonderful to have so many family members within reach. I’m so used to having to drive at least an hour to see my cousins/uncles, and 4-5 hours to see my grandparents. It seems like such a nice idea, and I know I would have loved being able to see my cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents on a daily basis. That’s the nature of Malta!

Luqa was nice, but brief. We were going to stop at the Pastizzeria that Marcelle went to as a child, but they were closed for the day. Undeterred, we continued on to Marsaxlokk.

When we pulled up to the harbour, it was like something out of a movie. There were multitudes of brightly colored boats, and fishermen pulling in from work, repairing their boats and talking about the day. The following pictures are of my short experience in Marsaxlokk:

 

Me with a particularly colorful boat and fisherman. I loved this one!

Imagine how amazing your view would be if you lived in one of these buildings overlooking the harbor? Waking up to that every morning would be amazing!

Me with the boats – the harbor had all of these nice benches and places to sit. You can watch everyone.

All of the boats had the Eye of Osiris on the side for protection. You can just see this one. I’m sorry it’s not zoomed in more – when I zoomed in, I couldn’t get it to stop being blurry.

Eye of Osiris

Again, your view would be amazing!! I love the mix of modern boats and older boats.

The boats were all very colorful – I loved this one! It looked so old and antique.

I would kill to live in one of those buildings. To be able to look out onto this harbor? Priceless.

The boats in the harbor – so many fishermen!

I would kill to live in one of those buildings. To be able to look out onto this harbor? Priceless.

I will definitely be going back to the harbor, because on Sundays, they have a public market where among other things, one can buy fresh fish and seafood. Now, I’m not sure I’d be able to purchase seafood and transport it back to my flat, but if there’s fresh fish there, then there’s fresh fish in the restaurants 20 feet from the harbor, meaning I’m going to have one hell of a lunch. :)

After we took some pictures, we left shortly afterwards. There really wasn’t anything left to do on a late afternoon in Marsaxlokk, considering that many of the fishermen had delivered their catch for the day and had left.

Marcelle then told me that we were going to continue on to Mdina from Marsaxlokk – this drive took about 20 minutes.

Marsaxlokk to Mdina – if crossing 2/3 of an island takes 20 minutes, you know you’re in the right place. 

Mdina, as Marcelle was telling me on our way there, is known as the Silent City in Malta. Those who live there are commonly the well-established, historical, and old money families of Malta. It’s Silent simply because it is – the noise level of the city is greatly reduced, and towards sundown, the streets are deserted and quiet, filled only by tourists and Maltese people who have come to revel in the old, mysterious silence of the city.

But before Mdina, we stopped in the decidedly un-silent city of Rabat for some pastizzi. According to Ezekiel (who has woken up at the prospect of food), you’re not a true citizen of Malta until you’ve developed an obsessive taste for pastizzi. Needless to say, I’ve developed something much more than an obsessive taste. I’d say it’s on par with a religious experience.

We walked into this pastizerria, and I was immediately hit by the heat radiating from it. They make all of them fresh, and take them out of the oven pretty much to order, because they are so popular. There are many types of pastizzi – some including meat, some including vegetables. The two most traditional and most preferred types of pastizzi by the Maltese people are pastizzi ta’ l-irkotta and pastizzi tal-pizelli. The former is filled very simply with ricotta, as you can tell by the “irkotta” part, while the latter is filled with spiced, mashed peas. They are both wrapped in buttery, extremely crispy/flaky puff pastry. Both are savory treats, and are the size of a fist. The ricotta ones are called “cheesecake” by some, but don’t be confused! They are savory, although the ricotta are mild and cheesy. The ones we got from this particular pastizzeria were piping hot and bubbly.

Marcelle ordered 6 of each, which I originally though would be way too much for the 3 of us. However, I was quickly proven wrong.

We drove to Mdina, which is a 30 second drive up the hill, and it took all I had in me not to tear into the bags with the pastizzi right in the car. We got a great parking spot, and walked 15 feet to this public playground right outside the walls of Mdina. While Ezekiel sprinted around the park and swung on the swings, Marcelle and I broke into the pastizzi. I took a mashed pea one first – and it was like an explosion of spiced pea and richness in my mouth. The peas are spiced with slightly sweet, slightly spicy spices (my mom would be able to discern what’s used in 2 seconds), and there were globs of the pea that had slightly leaked out of the sides, and got crispy and slightly burned. It was flaky, crispy, pea-y, and delicious. I burnt my tongue shoving it into my piehole.

Fun fact – a Maltese colloquialism for a sensitive part of the female anatomy is “pastizz” because, well…just look at them! Once you have this knowledge, it’s pretty funny to eat them.

However, I still had the ricotta to try. Now, many people who know me know that I absolutely hate ricotta. I’ve had terrible lasagna made by the most white-bread girl scout moms in Northern Virginia, and the taste of the ricotta in the lasagna reminded me of throw up, along with its consistency. I have forced my mom to use cottage cheese in lasagna because I refuse to deal with ricotta. So, needless to say, I was apprehensive upon trying this particular pastizz.

But, being the budding culinary adventurer that I am, I put the piping hot pocket from heaven into my unsure mouth. Upon tasting it, I wanted to smack myself. The ricotta here was soft, creamy, and completely unlike vomit. The puff pastry was crisp and flaky on the outside, and soft and buttery on the inside. It had such a mild, non-chalant flavor, and it was incredibly simple.

Ultimately, I ate 2 ricotta and 2 pea, albeit slowly and leisurely. Marcelle ate the same amount, and Ezekiel ate the same as well. Washed down with cold water, it was an amazing, and cheap, dinner. Buying pastizzi at the pastizzeria 2 minutes away from me is the cheapest meal I’ve ever had – 2 pastizzi cost €0.60, or roughly $0.77. Now, you can’t eat them every day, because they’re full of carbs, butter, and heaven. But a quick snack every now and then? Perfect.

Marcelle and I ate the pastizzi while we chatted about food customs and culture from Malta and the US. I am always fascinated to hear about foods and the culture that stems from them, and hearing about the traditional foods of Malta, as well as the way Marcelle grew up with them, was beautiful. Ezekiel was a ball of energy, and would run over to take a few bites of pastizz, and then would run back to playing. It was leisurely and pleasant, and there was a nice cool breeze. Marcelle explained to me the Mediterranean lifestyle thusly:

“People think that the Mediterranean people are lazy, and that all we do is sit around and eat and gossip and smoke. But let’s examine this. When most non-Mediterranean come here, especially to Malta, they come in the summer. In the summer, it’s hot, humid, and the days are long. We take breaks because the climate and the area’s culture demand it. Everything moves a little slower because who wants to move quickly when it’s hot, sticky, and still? We’re not lazy – we’re just obeying the demands of the Mediterranean.”

I thought this was interesting, because I had not viewed it this way before. It makes sense though, and I appreciated the leisure with which we ate our meal and chatted. I felt like I could enjoy the food, conversation, and environment just a little more.

We finished eating, and of course, the pastizzi were gone. Then, and only then, did I feel up to walking through Mdina.

Mdina is old, and is winding. But it’s absolutely beautiful in an old, classic way. Marcelle was telling me that the only way to live in Mdina is to either come from old money and be very, very rich, or marry into a family. Based on the way the houses looked (pictures below), I was considering typing up a marriage resume and dropping it off at the door of each house, just so I might have a chance with some family’s single son. Mdina looked like this:

 

 

The main gates to the city – the city is walled, and this is one of the only ways to enter it. Impressive and OLD. I am so in love already.

Marcelle and I in front of a winding alley. My kind of city!!

Beautiful winding alley. So quiet and mysterious.

Mdina Cathedral

Cathedral Door. Sigh.

This was an olive tree in the main Cathedral square. So cool!

Mdina skyline…breathtaking.

My house. This is absolutely my house. It’s simply the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen. It’s so old, but classic, and the vegetation, trees, and flowers screamed out to me. I NEED THIS HOUSE.

This reminded me of my mom. The purple was such a whimsical pop on the street – I can see her living in it.

Me in front of Mom’s house.

Another gorgeous house. So, so beautiful.

Skyline again – can it get any more beautiful?

Ezekiel and I in front of the view!! Mdina is situated on a hill, and has amazing 360 degree views. He looks so somber here, but I promise he is absolutely full of energy.

Ezekiel and I again – he was in the middle of telling me a joke. The aftermath is in one of the pictures below.

The view. That blue in the distance? That’s the Mediterranean. No big deal.

Me by the wall.

Me with the view.

The aftermath of the joke. He’s pretty funny.

View…ahhhhhhhh.

More of the view…ahhhhhhhhh.

It was completely true to its name – I have never been in a quieter city. Just walking around, you feel like you have to whisper. And we definitely weren’t the only tourists there. Still, you could hear a pin drop on the street. There were many shops that were still open, however, so we popped in them to see what was for sale. Among the kitschy, touristy items were traditionally handmade Maltese wares. They were towards the back of the stores, however, so you had to keep an eye out for them. Handmade lace in different sizes and for different uses was beautiful (I love lace), and the homemade nougat was delicious (I bought some and am slowly savoring it as I write this). Handblown glass was spectacular, and vibrant in amazingly different colors. There were so many things to see and marvel at, but unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures of the goods.

The walk around Mdina was slow, quiet, and beautiful. It’s not a long walk, nor was it difficult. It was just an absolutely beautiful city – you could feel how old it was, and how important. I could walk around it for days, and not be bored.

So that was it, really. We left shortly after completing out walk around Mdina, and Marcelle kindly drove me home afterwards. I was exhausted, and quickly crawled into bed as soon as I got home. I have never had a more fulfilling and beautiful day. Truly, this country is amazing, and the perfect place for me, because the history, and the beauty of the history is preserved and treasured by the people here. I came back so inspired and so awed.

Seriously, it’s f’ing amazing here.

 

Ciao!!

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