Husband and I spent two weeks in Europe last year. I wrote about our first few days in Paris but, for one reason or another, never got around to writing about the other places we visited (England and the Netherlands.) This year, we were in Europe three weeks and I'm determined to document our adventures in a series of four posts briefly describing our time in Malta, Provence, Normandy and Paris. This is the first in that series.
We'd been wanting to visit Malta for years because several old friends live there and we'd heard it's a lovely place. We weren't disappointed. During our eight day visit, we spent time with dear friends and their families, saw heaps of interesting stuff, ate great food, and savoured the natural beauty of the landscape. In fact, we did and saw so much, there's a serious risk this post will be far too long so I'll try to focus on the things we liked best.
Seeing old friends
Despite leading very busy lives, our Maltese friends offered incredibly warm hospitality. They put us up, treated us to delicious meals (both in their homes and at local restaurants), took us sightseeing and offered helpful information and advice at every turn. We sincerely hope we have the opportunity to return their generosity in the not-too-distant future. (Thank you again, Catherine, Charles, Joseph, Pier and Matina!)
Malta has been at the crossroads of human civilization for thousands of years and is doing a great job of uncovering and preserving its history so we had no trouble filling our free time. Before going, I'd read a number of books highlighting the country's role in WWII (extraordinary!) and the Siege of Malta (even more extraordinary!) so especially looked forward to seeing Valletta and the Three Cities.
There were also heaps of archaeological sites to visit. Unfortunately, because we had so little time, we didn't make it to many of the "must see" sites, but we did have the pleasure of touring the excellent Museum of Archaeology and exploring the ancient walled city of Mdina, a UNESCO heritage site.
And did I mention the churches? Malta has lots of them and all that we visited were elaborately decorated and lovingly cared for.
Malta is a tiny country that boasts some truly stunning landscape. One of our favourite outings was the walk we took to Dingli Cliffs. The cliffs aren't quite as impressive as the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland which we visited a decade ago (they're much less steep), but they're breathtaking nonetheless - especially for a person as afraid of heights as I am.
We also had the pleasure of spending time on the island of Gozo. Gozo is much less densely populated than the main island of Malta so there was more open countryside to admire and people moved at a noticeably slower pace. We'd love to spend more time there one day.
We enjoyed the ferry ride to Gozo as well.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the beaches. Although we didn't spend much time on them, we managed visits to two and very much enjoyed our brief swims in Mediterranean waters.
The Maltese LOVE fireworks - the noisier, the better - which is surprising given the intense bombing the population endured during WWII. In fact, despite its small population, the country has apparently won a number of international competitions. Our last night in Malta, friends took us to one of the many local festivals (known as "festas") that take place in the country each summer. Mqabba's festa is reputed to be one of the best, and I can certainly understand why. The town and its main church were elaborately decorated and the fireworks were seriously impressive. The show started with aerial fireworks choreographed to music which were followed by "ground fireworks". Ground fireworks are fireworks attached to a series of complicated wood and metal structures set up on the town's main street. As the fireworks burn, the structures bob, spin, and gyrate in stunning displays of creativity and engineering!
Check out this video on YouTube to get a better sense of how they work.
Maltese people seem to love cats almost as much as I do. Everywhere we went, we saw "street cats" fed and cared for by local residents.
Cats are even welcome in shops and restaurants. We met this little guy when we stopped for a glass of wine and pastry in Mdina.
In summary, we had a fantastic time in Malta and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a new place to visit. It's got pretty much everything - beautiful scenery, great food and wine, friendly people, and a fascinating history. Once again, our sincere thanks to old and new friends who made our time there so special. For more photos from Malta, check out my Flickr set here.