Located a stones throw from southern Italy, Malta is one of the worlds smallest states with a population less than 400,000 (Wikipedia.org, 2011). Comprising of two islands, a smaller southern one and a larger northern one, the two predominant languages spoken include Maltese & English (again, Wikipedia.org, 2011). The island has a rich history, dating back 5200BC and over the centuries has been inhabited by and influenced by many different social structures in addition to the original Maltese inhabitants including the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs & the English.
Most notably in the countries aged history, the Knights of Malta, led by Frenchman Jean Parisot de la Valette, withstood a siege by the Ottomans in 1565, signaling to area their strength and resilience as an island state: a noteworthy feat from an island population, subject to invasion from grander scale. After the siege the country increased its fortification & built the current capital, Valetta, in honor of Valette.
Now admittedly, I didn’t know exactly where this little gem was before I flew there. My best mate Vlad had warned me that it is one place I would need to make sure my Cannon was ready to go as there are countless photo opportunities. Another mate, Darren who is Maltese had named a few places I should go to visit during my sadly short stop there.
With both pieces of advice in mind and still a splash of ignorance about the place I was to visit, with a sense of adventure I left my home a few days ago, eager to explore this little island nation I heard about. On this particular flight I was touched with perhaps one of the most blessed things I have witnessed all year. Sitting directly in front of me were two separate families, both of whom had adopted two Cambodian children & were taking them to their new homes.
Throughout the duration of the flight I made a conscious effort not to disrupt the new mothers, both drunk in love with their new sons. From a distance you could see this aura cascading from the women to the delicate, sweet babies they had just taken in as their own. Fathers sitting at their side, it was impossible to ignore the complete love that both families had adopted along with their children. On descent, looking at the women, their babies, their new fathers and feeling the awe that transcribed between the entities, a few tears silently washed my emotionally charged cheeks as I too wished that would be me at some point.
Cut a few hours later and I find myself walking through the claustrophobic streets of San Giljan, one of the hilly cities of Malta to the ocean, close to the hotel we are staying at. Like Vlad predicted, I am taking more photos than a Japanese tourist on a three day holiday to Cairns. It’s hectic. I’m drowning in history, feeling myself becoming lost in those amber lit streets where Maltese Knights may have once walked. At some point I stop to take it all in and my first Maltese Knight approaches.
She is at least 70 years old, short, brown, wears this thick Maltese accent that compliments her brown cardigan and invites me for a coffee in her house, hidden in one of those backstreets. As if I’m going to say no. So I leave the poorly lit street and continue my history lesson with a local, well educated in the anecdotes that the streets have told her. At some point she senses that I am hungry & I ask where I should go for dinner, specifically to eat rabbit. “Mucc,” she answers, “they have wonderful rabbit with this sweet garlic & wine sauce.” Instantly my mouth salivates.
I thank my first Knight and head toward this restaurant she has just described as my stomach has begun to digest itself. Thirty minutes later and I find myself within the homely confines of the restaurant described to me earlier. This is where I meet my second Maltese Knight. Walking down the steep staircase to the restaurant from the street above, a man standing behind an empty bar greets me in Maltese. Embarrassingly I reply in English and the language changes.
Having waited outside for fifteen minutes for the place to open, I place my order efficiently, not wasting anymore time, keen to stop my stomach from grumbling. Over the course of the next two hours the Knight and I talk, discussing our lives, his country, my work. We talk about the state of the economy in Europe and Malta and then Australia. I change the topic. So we start talking about Malta again and he offers me a free glass of wine. I smile, like I did in Hamburg and savor the taste of my pioneering year into the depths of myself and the discovery of Kurt.
I finish my tantalizing rabbit, pay the bill and leave, satisfied with the meal I have just eaten. To those who haven’t tried it, do. Whilst the meat is tough, it’s extremely sweet. I would liken it to chicken, only it feels healthier: like the feeling you get when you drink pomegranate juice, like you have just done your body a favor. After dinner I head back to the hotel to snooze for a while and pass my colleagues on the way. Realizing that they don’t know where to go, I suggest the restaurant I have come from, understanding that it’s winter and the owner would appreciate a few more people to cook for and entertain on the lonely winter’s night.
The Night & The Day After.
After a short and much needed sleep I walk back through the streets, navigating my way to a good night and a chance to meet a few more locals. At this point I meet my third Maltese Knight. Under Darren’s guidance I find Hugos, one of the in places to go in the clubbing precinct. The place is three levels and looks like it’s the place to be. The music is commercial and Western, the crowd is young, good looking and fun and the alcohol is very cheap: all these independent factors amount to it being a great night.
As I stand alone at the bar enjoying my drink a Maltese guy approaches with a girl, aware that I am alone. “Hi, I’m George and this is Denise,” he confidently introduces. “Hey, I’m Kurt,” I coyly reply, distracted by his beautiful, long eyelashes. The ladies at Maybelline New York would be incessantly jealous. Somewhere inside me my inner school girl does a back flip as this guy starts to flirt with me as I playfully flirt back, understanding that this is as far as it will go. I have another person to consider in another city and this year I have learned the painful way about how these things work if you aren’t honest.
George and Denise are wonderful and make a genuine effort to make me feel welcome. It’s lovely to meet them. As the night passes on I tell them that I would love to see more of the island tomorrow morning before I leave the following afternoon. Listening intently, George offers to drive me around. Like my first Knight’s offer, it would be stupid & rude for that matter not to accept. With that in mind, the night comes to an end earlier than I had planned as I excitedly walk back to the hotel ahead of the following day’s adventures.
With only a slight hangover I accept my alarm clocks invitation to wake up, ignoring gym for the day. Showering quickly, glad that I bought my trainers and casual walking clothes, looking like the tourist, I get my camera, message the third Knight and brush my teeth as I walk out the front door. Foolishly I skip breaky, budgeting to eat somewhere out under that glorious blue Maltese sky that I have been admiring from my bed. Soon enough George arrives at the hotel lobby and day two begins.
We go to Mdina first to walk through the historic fortified city, painted on the hill in the middle of the tiny island nation. It’s breathtaking beauty tricks me into me believing I have just stepped back 500 years in a time machine. The town is built around this massive, central Church that stands at top the hill. Around it lie these intricately woven interconnected houses and shops, all sandstone multistoried buildings with colorful green, red and blue Mediterranean style window and door shutters. Even more so than San Giljan, the paths that map out Mdina are thin. Thin enough in fact that a car could not travel those streets, built hundreds of years ago when horse and cart or foot where the way to travel.
We leave Mdina and drive on through the rural countryside. As the winding roads takes us from north to south, George explains how the country differs in only an hours drive. He outlines that the Northerners perceive themselves to be more educated and of a greater social structure, being able to speak English as well as Maltese whereas the Southerners are thought to be less educated, harder, rurally ingrained people. The winding road continues, we pass the native prickly pear trees and the rubble roads and I continue to click my Cannon.
Next we head to on to Furjana, Msida and Sliema where the third Knight of my adventure explains that we are now in the main shopping area. I see Moschino, Gucci & Prada and agree. Quickly we dart through the streets, pick up Denise, drop her off at work and head back to my hotel, knowing that I will have to leave this little darling of an island nation & my three Knights in the back of my fond memory bank. Soon enough I get back to the hotel, shower, shave and change. I go downstairs to check out of the hotel, meet my colleagues for the flight back to my home and joke with one particular first class lovely lady, explaining to her about how I have just had perhaps my best layover yet.
Like all good trips, the people of Malta have touched another part of my soul. The newly adoptive families, the three Knights and the greater feel of the island nation that hides innocently and beautifully south of Italia. Again I have had a wonderful layover.