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Published: March 17th 2018
Ferry from Sliema to Valletta
Time flies. Last time I have been to Malta is now a stunning 8 years ago, during my last months of living and studying in the Netherlands. I remember coming here with an old friend from my hometown, partly because of a trip to the Faroer Islands gone wrong, partly to escape the merciless Dutch winter. This was shortly before I started writing this blog and moving to Asia - times which seem ages away these days. In those days Malta was as exotic to me as a backpacking trip to South Sudan would be now.
Nonetheless, my memories of Malta were clear and I was more than happy to come back here for a week of work-related leisure - or leisure-related work. Valletta had remained in my heart as a small, fortified Mediterranean wonderland where my friend and I used to do one or more of the following things: eat rabbit, eat Maltese pastizzi (pastries), climb up and down steep stairs, eat more rabbit, and try to find an open bar at night. While the former were all quite successful, finding a place to have a decent drink after dusk was not easy. I remember that, one evening we
were walking through the barely lit streets of Valletta and a drunk sailor threatened to "rip our hearts out and eat them". For some reason, we laughed it off and remember it as a funny little travel story - which, thinking of it now, has a slightly macabre undertone.
Except being an artwork of stunning beauty, Malta's tiny capital was a mostly dead city 10 years ago. Although I remember people crowing up the streets during the sunny days, you would not find the crowds sitting and drinking on the evening streets in a way you would in Portugal, Spain or parts of Italy. On the last days of our previous stays we discovered the more modern, quasi-suburb of Sliema, where more Maltese resided and life was a tiny bit livelier - or it seemed so at a first sight. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore Sliema any further as our plane was literally leaving on the next morning.
Here I am now, back in Malta - this time not based in Valletta but the northern resort of Bugibba - which I will dedicate another entry to. I have been back in the capital for a
couple of times since I arrived here 5 days ago and although all the Maltese tell me that "it changed so much you would not recognize it", my memories pretty much match what I have experienced this week. A stunning "borgo"-like fortress city, built on a steep, rocky cliff falling directly into the clear waters of the Mediterranean. Cruise ships and ferries crawl their way out of the harbor and white bedsheets fly from the wind-ridden balconies. Narrow, descending alleys, where sandstone-built houses and saint-statutes paint a picture of true southern wonder and style. Now, "what about the crowds" you might say. Are they still disappearing like some type of reverse vampires once the sun sets or has Malta awoken in the last decade?
The answer is yes, they mostly do disappear after dusk. Malta is still sleepy and the tiny Valletta is certainly no exception. This raises and obvious question - how can Malta, the southernmost country of the European Union, be so unlike her other Mediterranean cousins? I did wonder for some days and even dared to ask some locals about it, unfortunately without getting any clear answer to my question. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to
Me and a pig
sit in a lecture given by a Maltese tourism academic which blew my mind for several reasons. The local university certainly does a good job. When I got the chance to talk to him in private after his job was done, I somehow timidly popped the question - why are the Maltese the most indoorsy of all Mediterraneans?
Surprisingly, I got a very precise answer and a nod of agreement from the locals. Although the story was much longer, the answer goes more or less like this: Malta was occupied by numerous populations throughout history, ranging from the Phoenicians to the French. When the British blockaded the islands in 1800 to fight off Napoleon, Malta became a British colony until its independence in 1964. Having fought alongside the British through both world-wars and being in still good relations with the UK, the Maltese got heavily influenced by their former colonizers. Unsurprisingly, one can find plenty of fish and chips and Sunday roasts next to Maltese pastizzi and rabbit stews. Marks and Spencer is a big name on the islands and HSBC is everywhere too. The British are still Malta's number 1 inbound tourism market and are here to stay.
One more legacy of the British empire is a trait that bothers me a lot since I moved to the UK - their infamous indoorsy lifestyle! The Maltese eat dinner at 6, so the locals explained (a habit which creates issues particularly with the ever-growing number of Spanish inbound tourists). Considering this and making a 1+1, we might have come to our answer: The Maltese learned from their former colonizers not to stroll around at night like the Italians, Spanish and Portuguese love to do! The local coffee shop I went to for the last days kicked me out at 9.30pm for closing time. The seaside promenade, although very pleasant in terms of temperature, feels abandoned after dark. Low season yes, but Malta is way less seasonal than other Mediterranean destinations.
Valletta, the tiny, touristic capital of Malta embodies this lifestyle in a nutshell. Mediterranean food and architecture, a language which is closest to Arabic and last - sleeping time which is closest to the British. A weird place it is, but this makes Malta special and different from its neighbours. Not to mention, Valletta is one of the most beautiful little cities I have ever come across.
Gluten free baguette
Good to be back, good to be happy. Have a good day!
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