Saturday, March 7, 2009

Malta (no, its not a drink !)

I was in Malta last December and first off, it was a refreshing change weatherwise - from cold and grey to bright and sunny !

For non-geography enthusiasts, Malta is an island country in the Mediterranean, about 90 km off the coast from Sicily, Italy. Although it consists of many islands only Malta (island), Gozo and Comino are inhabited.

When I planned my trip to Malta, I really did not have any expectations (I practice what I preach, you will know what I mean if you had read my previous post :D) and so I was wonderfully surprised not only by the unspolit and picturesque landscape but also by the history (having read Da Vinci code, seeing the Grand master's place and the structures built by the order of the knights literally made my imagination run wild and I was playing a high-budget hollywood movie in my mind, one that was much better than the Tom Hanks one, even if I say so myself :D !)

What I liked (and would definitely recommend to anyone going to Malta):
- St.Paul's Catacombs, Rabat: Catacombs are ancient underground burial places. I was really impressed with the audio tour (If you are going to Malta I would suggest skipping the next few lines if you want to be surprised !). Unlike conventional tours, this one started with asking one to imagine living in Malta in the medieval times and ended with the speaker pointing to her grave...was surreal !
- Mdina: this is where my version of the Da Vinci code was made. It is an old town and the small streets as well as the 15th century buildings made it a perfect setting !
- Valleta: The capital city was simply beautiful...the view from the upper and lower baracca gardens left one totally stunned while the ornamental carvings in St.Paul's Cathedral made one go ''this really is one of a kind !''
- Gozo: No visit to Malta would be complete without a visit to Gozo by taking the ferry. People in Gozo are actually very proud of the fact that Gozo remains untouched by the pangs of development and industrialisation unlike Malta. Apparently, they were very happy when the Japanese project of building a bridge between Malta and Gozo was dropped.
- Christmas Celebration: Europe has a tradition of celebrating Christmas in its own quiet way...yeah, there is the usual shopping-for-presents rush and the decorated christmas trees but I really and truly missed the street decorations, the stars adorning balconies and the twinkle lights (that is very common in India) and Malta made up for all that and more. Every street in town was decorated, there was a beautiful crib in every corner and the churches were always full !
- What else: Mosta dome, the horse-driven carriage ride in Valletta, cathedral in Paula, the sandstone houses, the glass work, stalactite and stalagmite caves and above all, the mediterranean weather....

What I found interesting:

Culture: Maltese are very conservative and orthodox. Christmas carols were played everywhere (in restaurants, tourist places, even bars!). Dress codes were given in many places (I saw a sign in a grocery store that said thank you for coming in decently dressed !). It is apparently very normal for a girl to be married at 20. People on the streets were very hospitable and friendly and did not have the usual i-mind-my-business-you-mind-yours attitude.

Driving: Malta has very small streets and in many cases going uphill or downhill. So driving a manual and manouvering the car in such a way that you do not roll backward or hit a rear view mirror of a parked car was a very effective driving lesson ! Be prepared to get lost a few times while driving between cities if you are not used to roundabouts or reading a map or asking for directions!

Comino: No cars are allowed in Comino. People can take the ferry to reach the island and then explore the island on foot to enjoy the literally unspoilt nature or go deep sea diving to look at the equally unspoilt coral reef.

Chocolate Massage: They do not use edible chocolate for a massage, its just the beans (I know, i know, it should have been obvious but chocolate seems to drive all logical conclusions away :D !)

What I missed:
Nativity, at times: The influence of the British empire was blatant not only in english being one of the official languages and the left-hand driving but also in the numerous British pubs, British tourists and British electrical outlets !

Good vegetarian food: Maltese cuisine is primarily meat-based and the influence of the British made its unpleasant appearance here as well in the form of mint sauce and sweet pasta (pasta is the one vegetarian dish I always count on) ! But there is a silver lining since there is no issue of gaining a few pounds by going overboard with the local specialities.....

On the whole, if I had a chance I would definitely go back to Malta to relive my fond memories and to catch up on what I had missed out during my first visit !
Hit Counter
Website Hit Counter I had decided to have a counter only after I hit a 1000 views and since it happened last week (as on 14 Dec 2009), now is the time to see some stats :)