It’s simply not enough to say that I enjoyed Malta or that I would go back again. These are both undoubtedly true statements – in fact, they’re almost an understatement. How could I not fall in love with Malta and its ancient temples, its fairy-tale seashores, and its miniature cathedrals dotting the villages? Every cathedral served as each town’s crown jewel. The goal of my Dreams Abroad articles is to give accurate estimations of the places I see and the things that I experience, whether positive or negative. Malta will be no different. Let me elaborate.
Pre-Arrival Expectations vs. Post-Arrival Realizations
It was easy to choose Malta as my next destination. Places such as Norway, Iceland, and Greece are definitely on my bucket list. That being said, they aren’t as economically attractive as flights to Malta (€55 round trip through Ryanair, as opposed to hundreds of euros regardless of airline or search engine). My not-so-thorough Google searches quickly led me to believe that Malta had literally the nicest climate in the world (which is a bit comical after being confronted with the reality). Furthermore, I would be conveniently and attractively plopped into a most ancient culture with all of the niceties of modern convenience. Hey, they speak English, too! Ever hear of that song with the lyrics “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot”? Yeah, that’s Malta.
Too often, we tourists are so hypocritical. We want a place that is as authentic and as pure and untouched as Carthage in 405 BCE… but then we turn around and complain if the buses don’t run more than once an hour! In my case, I was happy that English was the official language. Unfortunately, that came about from being formerly owned by the British Empire for about 200 years. Despite that, Malta retains (thankfully) much of their amazing limestone architecture that rises up almost seamlessly from the terra firma. They also were able to keep their unique, local Arabic/Italian sounding language. However, other Maltese aspects appear to have been all but lost unless you really dig beneath the surface.
But what is Maltese culture really? The strategic location of these beautiful islands has led to an almost continual conquest from foreign powers throughout history. Truly, it is a topic deserving of its own post. I’ll get on with it then. I said all of that to give one example: nearly all of the food has been westernized. If you want to try a local dish in any random restaurant, Maltese rabbit will probably be your only choice. Indeed, I did feel as though I arrived a few centuries too late. Even now, the last vestiges of this grand land and its people are being drained away by modernism all in the name of progress. But that’s just a foreigner’s observational opinion after nine days. So don’t take my word for it.
(It may not be Starbucks like I originally thought, but it seems certainly a bit derivative in its own unique way.)
A Myriad of First-Time Experiences
Being in Malta felt new for me in several different regards. It was my first time being in a place where people drive on the wrong – sorry, I mean left side of the road! It was my first time buying my own ferry ticket and traveling between islands. This is something I didn’t even do in the Canaries, as it was way too expensive there. It was a unique place with a unique language to my ears. Also, it was my first time ever scuba diving! This gave way to an abundance of new micro-experiences: I saw my first few octopuses in their natural environment! They were hiding in their little cubby holes and I was enthralled by their combined cuteness. When had I ever thought of full-grown octopuses as adorable? Never before that moment, I was certain.
There was a moment when I looked up from the ocean floor and gazed into the watery, sunlight-drenched heavens above to realize that we were being silently serenaded by perhaps hundreds of angels of the sea. Or in other words, perfectly harmless jellyfish.
Never in my life had I imagined that breathing underwater through a fallible human contraption could after, a short amount of time, begin to feel like second nature, but life is full of surprises.
After each of the two scuba diving sessions, I felt a unique sense of elation. It also gave rise to wondering how anything ever could top it. I asked myself, what now? Nothing would ever compare!!
If you go to Malta, I recommend that you don’t go in late September. I had about five hot, glorious days of summer sun and cloudless skies that amounted to perfect visibility. Then, suddenly the season changed on a dime to the chilly rainy season.
I recommend that you buy the €21 seven-day Abono traveling card. These can be bought at bus stations. They allow you to take as many buses as you want on either of the islands, so you can get around quickly and cheaply!
Go to Comino, the smallest of the islands and the most touristy. When you go, go as early as you can because by mid-day it will be suffocatingly packed to the brim with people – at least in the most well-known spots.
Some life-changing tips: take an umbrella. There is almost no natural cover or protection from the sun. Rent a kayak so that you can explore otherwise inaccessible and unbelievably gorgeous cracks and crannies that lead to beyond perfect snorkeling opportunities.
Split your time between the two main islands of Malta and Gozo. Gozo, Malta’s little sister, can only be reached by boat or ferry. The price is a reasonable €5 roundtrip. Each island offers so much and deserves your undivided attention.
In the back of my mind, I have always staunchly maintained that eventually, I want to live in the Oklahoman countryside surrounded by nothing more than family, trees, animals, and peace. However, either ancient, picturesque, crime-free, tranquil Gozo or equally breathtaking, busy-as-bees Malta could seduce me away from that life, with nary a look backwards.