Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Maltese Falcon

So I admit, before moving to London, I had no idea where Malta was. Other than the 1941 film noir, The Maltese Falcon, I had never heard of this pint-sized sunny Mediterranean country. In fact the film only has  a loose connection to Malta other than the name of the film was  taken from the jewel encrusted Maltese Falcon, originally a gift to Charles V of Spain from the Knight Templars of Malta in 1539, but was stolen by pirates whilst sailing through the Mediterranean and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery. The central plot of the story follows a San Francisco-based detective, Sam Spades, and his dealings with three private clients who are in search for the Golden Falcon. Despite the name, not a single scene took place in Malta, at least, not that I was aware of. 

Just a quick 30 minute flight from Sicily and some 150 miles from Tunis, Malta is a microcosm of Mediterranean and North African cultures. Even the Maltese language is Semitic sharing many similarities to Arabic, but written in the Latin alphabet and borrowing terms such as 'Grazie' from the Sicilian-Italian language. But as Malta was a former British colony, English is widely spoken and the ubiquitous red post box dot the streetscape in Malta. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect from Malta other than glorious sunshine and gentle sea breeze. 

We made ourselves comfortable at the Hilton in St. Julian located on Porotomaso waterfront overlooking the harbour for three nights. The hotel not only has three pools, a massive conference centre in which the annual Nestle sales conference was taking place, but also walking distance to numerous restaurants and bars, including the infamous nightclubs (read: trashy) of Paceville. If you're not a fan of Soho clubs, most likely you won't like Paceville.

We spent most of our waking hours lounging by the pool and stocking up on 3 months worth of vitamin D. When we weren't glued to our sunloungers, Keenan and I also went to explore the stamp-sized capital city of Valletta. Exuding loads of characters, this UNESCO world heritage site is full of charm with cafes spilling out to the main drag of Triq ir-Repubblika and Triq il-Merkanti. Whilst you can take the bus to the capital city, I highly recommend taking the ferry back to St. Julian, if only for the view of the harbour. We spent some time meandering around the backstreets of Valletta before having lunch of regional specialties of rabbit ragu and Maltese sausage, all washed down with local Maltese wine. 

To celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary, Keenan and I went for dinner in the lovely medieval town of Mdina, the old capital of Malta. A beautifully preserved town is simply delightful for an evening stroll through the silent maze-like alleyways. There are some impressive architectural gems to marvel at.

That evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a restaurant aptly named Medina, tucked away in a little courtyard. The atmosphere and covered courtyard remained me a lot of our favorite restaurant in Aleppo, the Sissi House, which sadly has probably been destroyed from the war in Syria. The wait staff at Medina was friendly and extremely attentive; the portions were huge by European standard. We lingered around for dessert and coffee before taking a 15 minute cab ride back to St. Julians for last night in Malta. Had we had an extra day, we would have loved to do a day-trip to the its sister island of Gozo for some hiking and snorkeling, but alas, we had to get to London. 

It was a great week away from the hustle of London and a much needed break from work. Thankfully, we soaked up enough vitamin D  to last until our next sun-trip to the southeast Asian island of Borneo in December. 

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