THE VIEW FROM THE TALLEST ARCHITECTURES IN THE WORLD!
How it all began:
When my boss told me that a Fam Trip/Familiarization Trip is being organized by the Tourism Authority of Malta and Emirates airlines and that he would like me to go.
Wait a minute, Malta? A sense of shame swept over me, I knew nothing of this place despite being in the travel industry, all I knew was that it was a small island nation tucked away somewhere in the Mediterranean. For Mediterranean to me was Greece, Italy, France Spain, North Africa and few west Arab countries, I couldn’t even find Malta Island on the map. I had heard vague references of it in financial news as being an offshore haven for European Millionaires who docked their money and yachts in Malta. I am now on my way to this Island, what will it be like? I had no time to research.
Malta is in fact a very old and popular destination for European vacationers and now many Asians, Americans, and people from the Middle East frequent it. It has been the location of choice for many Hollywood and international films, often depicted as other countries because of its architecture and ancient look which is very well curated giving the vfx team little to worry about. Drenched in history spanning centuries, it seems to be one of the oldest countries of the world. Malta, also like many resourceful countries had been ruled by different nations of Europe, the British and the Arabs alike, mainly for its strategic location as a lucrative port and military naval base; it thus has traces of all of these civilizations in its culture and folklore. I wouldn’t go into the statistical information on the population, longitudes, latitudes, century B.C. and all such information available on Wikipedia, but what I saw with my own eyes and what I understood of this place of my own account. I will further share with you really useful links and ideas that will give you information on how you can create your own experience, adventure, romance and blissful trip, should you wish to tread the less trodden path.
Coming to my first impression as a tourist, I’d like to begin with the airport which in comparison to Dubai airport or even Mumbai or Delhi airport is relatively small but efficient, and easy to get out of once you have landed. There are pieces of international art displayed across the galleries. The immigration officers were friendly and happy to see us. We flew Emirates from Dubai, it had a stop at Cyprus and the total journey lasted 8 hours. We were put up at the Hilton Malta at St. Julian’s, where almost everything happens, the waterfront, the resort, the amenities and the works. I was told that I could find sun, sand and activities within the small radius of 1 kilometer in St. Julian’s.
Mental picture of Malta:
Before I delve further into the places, I would like to give you a mental picture of how is Malta made up. It is as I said before an island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, but there are two more islands that make up Malta as a country. So there is Malta the main island, Gozo and Comino are two other islands with very distinct traits that all add up to be Republic of Malta. Malta is a member of EU, thus you require only a Schengen visa to enter the country and Euro is the official currency, although I did get to see the local Maltese lira in a few places. Two official languages Maltese and English are widely spoken, which was a pleasant surprise for me as I had absolutely no problem communicating with the locals, they all spoke perfect English and understood my English perfectly. Maltese, on the other hand sounds like a hotchpotch between Italian and Arabic written in Roman alphabet. Curiously, the word for God in both Maltese and Arabic is: Allah. The fortified city and ancient capital of Malta – M’dina & Rabat are actually Arabic derivatives, M’dina = Medina in Arabic means city, whereas Rabat = suburbs in Arabic. Malta, is mainly a Christian country, I did happen to come across one Mosque though which speaks of its small Muslim population. I happened to visit this place in November, which had a pretty pleasant and cool climate, slightly windy and chilly sometimes. I have heard of its smoldering summers, I doubt if it could be as hot as Dubai though.
Malta the main island:
Malta the biggest of the three islands has its capital in the city of Valletta. Apart from its administrative status, Valletta also has two important harbors Marsamexett harbor and Grand harbor on east and west coast respectively. We visited the Valetta Waterfront with its historic value of 250 years beautifully restored not only popular for its cruise liners, it is also popular for its up-market bars, retail outlets and restaurants. M’dina the old city, is car free (apart from limited cars of the local residents which remind me of India’s Maruti-800 cars of the 90s), I walked through the quaint narrow lanes and the old houses, it was quiet and peaceful, and it is called the ‘Silent City’. The main attraction, St. Paul’s Cathedral is an excellent example of baroque architecture. It was by chance that we got a glimpse of baroque sculpture being gilded in gold, as we were passing by the lanes a window was open and a handsome Maltese artisan was painting the statue of Mother Mary with real melted gold, he wasn’t surprised to see a bunch of women peering over his shoulder and flashed his most charming smile.
On my other visit to the city, I was told never offer a Maltese person orange juice, because what I saw was orange trees growing on streets! The locals seem to be fed up of oranges; I could practically pick an orange off the tree. Just the way I can pick dates of the palm trees here in Dubai.
Malta hosts one of the most popular music concerts of Europe for free, it is called, ‘Isle of MTV’ concert. It happens every year in July at the Graneries in Floriana, it attracts more than 50,000 music enthusiasts from all over the world because this is a totally free concert featuring all the popular music icons like Lady Gaga, David Guetta, Maroon 5, Rihanna, Will.I.am, Jesse J, Snoop Dogg and upcoming bands. Just make sure you book accommodation in advance or you might have to sleep under the orange tree. This event is on my bucket list for my future Malta trips.
Gozo & Comino islands:
Gozo being the second largest island of Malta is the haven for adventure sports lovers, with excellent diving activities and adventure sports companies offering exciting options like climbing/abseiling, snorkeling, kayaking, biking, hiking and more. Comino is practically an uninhabited island, favored during summers for its beautiful lagoon and water sports, it has one resort though.
Coming back to Gozo, we traveled there by a ferry from Cirkewwa harbor north of Malta Main Island. I tasted the best cappuccino coffee on board the ferry, that swallowed our van and duly ejected it in Gozo, which further took us to very interesting sites. Gozo is a photographer’s delight, every street, every corner is picturesque. The Citadel – Gran Castillo, again rich in history for me was a long walk along the stone steps, exquisite for photography, but I was famished, tired and the sun was not kind either. Heaven sent stop in the itinerary was a visit to the local shepherd turned restaurateur Rikardu’s restaurant – Ta’Rikardu. He was a fine man with a passion for his craft, cheese making. But it was not just his cheese making techniques that glued our eyes, the ambience of the dark cellar which was cold without any ac, the smell of the pickled sun dried tomatoes floating in olive oil. The array of herbed and spiced olive oils, and the smell of freshly baked bread it all sent our appetite soaring. Rikardu offered bread, cheese and chili olive oil to taste and we ate like peasants. That taste will always remain at the back of my tooth. We did have a hearty lunch at Kempinski resort, after the show around of the resort. Surprisingly, I met one resident of Malta who was native of Kerala in India and worked at the Spa in Kempinksi, a sudden surge of patriotism came over me; it is such a pleasure to meet your countrymen in farthest corners of the world. Gozo is incomplete if you do not see the Azure Window, its rock structure reminded me of Krabi in Thailand. The fungus rock in Dwejra is famous for its medicinal properties.
End of Trip and last things to savor:
On our last day we tried to shop the local souvenirs and gorged on the famous local munchies, the pastizzi, it is pastry stuffed with local cheese and sometimes with mashed peas and potatoes which is savory. The savory ones tasted like veg. puff of Ahmedabad that I grew up eating. You can eat it with tea or coffee or just the way they are. There isn’t much shopping except for local made stuff, like laces, crochet umbrellas, hand knitted woolens, hand carved souvenirs.
We missed seeing the Blue Grotto, which I regret till date, but hey! It goes on my bucket list. I felt I had only begun to see Malta and it was time to go back, but not without a romantic note, literally. I returned to my hotel room to see a message from the operator on my TV screen, it read as such:
“Dear Ms. Najeeba Yusuf,
Kindly note that your husband called this evening around 8pm to tell you that he misses you.
Key information when travelling to Malta:
If you would like to plan your journey to the T, go to www.visitmalta.com
All information is available and up to date.
For the Concert Isle of MTV this is their official page, http://www.isleofmtv.com/tv/
This year it will be held on 7th July 2015.
Alternative accommodation options like home stays and hostels can also be found via the above website.
If you are planning a Trans Europe trip, applying visa via Malta is a good idea, just ensure that your stay should have maximum days in Malta.
Movies and TV series shot in Malta:
Gladiator, Troy, The Da Vinci Code, HBO Game of Thrones season 1, Agatha Christie’s Poirot “Murder on Orient Express” to name a few.
Najeeba Yusuf is based in Dubai and works for travel industry!
Watch more Youtube videos on Malta : https://www.youtube.com/user/Malta/videos
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