“Why did you choose Malta?” That was the question I received from friends and relatives prior to my trip. There were a number of reasons I chose to spend my winter break traveling to the tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean. A year round temperate climate, English as an official Language, cheap and reliable public transportation, and affordable accommodation all played a role in my decision to discover the Maltese Islands, but in the end, it was the picturesque medieval waterfront city of Valletta, and the medley of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that had the history buff in me eager to jump on a plane and start exploring.
Born and raised on Vancouver Island, I like to think that “Island Life” has a different pace, and I feel this was applicable to Malta as well. Although apart of the EU, the islands of Malta and Gozo did not have the hustle you get in most of Europe. With a population of just over 400,000 inhabiting the two islands, the main cities were busiest with the rest of the population spread out among a number of smaller cities.
We had two weeks to spend exploring and we wasted no time in checking off bucket list items. Visiting the 5,000 year old subterranean Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni. The Ġgantija Temples in Gozo. Eating gelato and traditional Maltese pastries while walking along the waterfront promenade. But some of our favourite days were spent off the beaten path. Unbeknownst to us, both Malta and Gozo provided endless unmarked trails and pathways weaving along the jagged rocky waterfront. Whether it was happening upon millennial-old Roman bee hives while pondering the shores of Gozo from the edge of Malta, or finding fossils while enjoying the warm Mediterranean sun on a dead end road, it was the experiences not listed in my travel guide that made me truly fall in love with the islands.
As a self proclaimed “foodie”, I was eager to delve in to whatever Malta had to offer. While the national dish of rabbit was not exactly to my liking (I prefer my bunnies alive), I happily overindulged in Ftira (Maltese style pizza), pasta and pastries galore. My favourite snack ended up being Pastizzi. Widely available from street vendors, cafes and restaurants, Pastizzi is a savoury pastry filled with either ricotta or mashed peas stuffed between many layers of soft flaky phyllo. At a cost of around 50 cents Canadian, it was a quick, cheap and delicious snack, and naturally became a staple of our diet.
When I returned home with stories and photos of coastal hikes along the turquoise ocean, 7,000 year old megalithic temples, retracing the steps of the Knights of Malta, and indulging in the traditional pastitzi and qasatata pastries, my friends and family were no longer asking “why” I chose Malta, rather they were looking in to booking a future trip for themselves.
Article by Nadine Biggs
MA Student, Intercultural & International Communications