Wednesday, January 4, 2017
“Say WHAT! Malta? 2017?”
“Well, Yeah, Malta. Sliema, Malta; across the harbor from Valleta, the capital.”
Christmas weekend in Nice we had some cool weather and clouds. But in the afternoon, the clouds gapped at the horizon and partly broke overhead. Some amazing sunset colors appeared along the Cote d’Azur. I think I sent them last week.
Bagnols was nice after Nice. We had a fine time with David, Alice and the two grandsons, Tristan and Gabriel. Gabriel was in the depths of bronchitis and unhappy when we arrived at lunch time. He had seen the doctor in the morning but Tristan was in good spirits.
We had time to tour some small hill towns and wineries, drove some narrow curvy roads, ate some yummy home made food and drank some excellent local beverages. We were in bed by 10P every night including New Year’s eve. Weather was fine with frost in the AM and mid 50s by late afternoon.
“Oh yeah.” Last summer while waiting for a plane from Newcastle to Nice, we had talked to an English couple who were heading to Malta for their 15th time. Having never been to Malta, it seemed like a good idea to fit it in when we planned this trip. So here we are, in a Sliema guest house at 30 euro a night, across the harbor by water taxi from Valleta.
Malta is a mix of many Mediterranean influences; Sicilian (90 minutes away by ferry), English, Continental, North African and Turkish. Approaching Valleta by ferry it visually reminded both of us a little of Istanbul but with church steeples and domes not the mosques. Buildings are of sandstone; tan/yellow/beige, three to five stories tall, and tight packed along narrow one way hill streets. Buildings all have narrow balconies over the street. They reminded us of Spanish colonial balconies in the Americas and the Jewish quarter of Marrekech. We spent the day walking, photographing, touring. Many visitors were about even though the week after New Years is not a busy time.
Malta is famous for the Knights of Malta = the Knights of St John from the time of the crusades. It is famous for the bombings it received in WWII. Now it is famous as the Hidden Jewel of the Mediterranean. Visitors from Europe and the Far East (China and japan) are everywhere. We haven’t seen evidence of many Americans. (are they “traveling as Canadians” like during Bush’s presidency?)
A story; I needed to have a watch band replaced. In Bagnols, David had given me a nice older Skagen analog watch to replace a digital one I had broken in the summer. I wore it a couple of days and broke band. On a whim, I stopped in one Valleta shop that did watch repairs he said it needed a special band because of the design. He gave me a fancy watch address. We went there but they said that they didn’t service that brand anymore and gave us another address. The third address said he carried the brand but “did not do repairs”. He thought a minute, checked his watch, “He’s open.” He gave us the name and location of someone who should be able to help. Yupe! I found and got in line behind four other customers. They all had watches and/or clocks that needed batteries or ??
The tiny shop had a hundred clocks on the wall, all different kinds and all with the same CURRENT time! My turn. He looked and went to a special box with leather bands; “not a metal one for this watch.” Three black ones to choose from; choice made, he took a tool and cut the band to fit the watch, new springs, cleaned and done, 13 euros!! Now I don’t have to guess time or ask Meg for it.
Food here is a mix of culture. With so many europeans about, and Sicily so near, it is not hard to find familiar food. Maltese have their own influence in this fusion. Arrival night, Tuesday, I had a super octopus spaghetti with olives and capers. Meg had fish soup and salad.. And we split a pint of Carlsberg beer. Last night after touring Valleta I had rabbit spaghetti. Meg had a Maltese ftira (yes that is how pizza is spelled); pizza with anchovies and olives. This time we each had a pint of local beer, Cisk. For lunch today, we each had asparagus soup with truffle and an interesting new dish for us; fried rabbit livers with a raisin wild mushroom ragout.
Octopus was twice cooked, once to partly cook it and the second to mix it into a garlic, olive oil, caper sauce with a little tomato. Then the pasta was added to finish it. Rich, filling and wonderful. And then added to the AND FILLING! The rabbit is cooked in both/water/gravy sauce and finished with the pasta. Mine was the front quarter of the rabbit, judging from the clavicle and long leg bone. The fried livers were delicious; surprisingly large, rich in a caper-raisin-rabbit jus.
Rabbit was introduced to this small island for the European nobles to hunt. Locals were prohibited from hunting them. Some rabbits got away and you what they did. Now rabbit is a national dish.
Tomorrow, Thursday, we’ll use local buses and a ferry to visit a small island, Gozo off the NW coast of malta. It will be cool with wind. Locals are saying that this is late February weather for our visit, low 50s. Yes, we are layering to stay warm and no outdoor dining for us or a lot of other people as well.
“Travel light and wear a smile.”