Christmas Interlude: Malta I

I haven’t written anything in quite a while! I’ve been extremely busy with my vacation-turned-Masters-degree trip to Europe 😦 :D.

Well, I’ve finally got a break for Christmas and enjoyed it with a few good friends in the Mediterranean on the island of Malta. At less than £90 round trip, the flight there was a really good price. I used Thompson airlines, which offered a holiday service to the island and was allowed one checked bag and one carryon. Some of us stayed at a really cheap hotel that checked in at about 115 Euro for the full 7 days. The weather was beautiful and sunny: a wonderful >10 degrees more than London’s frigid 8-10°C. My hotel, nor the other hotel used by others in my group provided complimentary wi-fi, but free wifi was easy to find at numerous cafes and food stands along the coast where we stayed in Sliema. In the first few days, I was able to visit other cities (really little communities more than distinct cities) of Valleta, San Giljan (St. Julian), and Gzira. In Malta, the official languages are Maltese and English. Many of the signs were written in English to my simultaneous relief and chagrin. I learned the word for “street” in Maltese is “Triq,” which prefixes streets’ proper name (Triq Tas-Sliema = Sliema Street).  In Malta, tourism is a big source of GDP. There were lots of hotels, tours, and cheap easy transportation to and from the airport.

The Island’s history is filled with conquest and occupation including that of the Spanish, the Knights Hospitaller, French, and the British. Many of the things to which I have grown accustomed in the UK were present in Malta such driving on the left, and the chunky three-prong wall socket. There were traces of Arab and European (mainly Italian) influences in the language and family names. Being a 98% Roman Catholic country, the people proudly referred to themselves in a cultural and national way as “Catholic” and crucifixes visibly graced their shops and public buildings. Churches dominated the landscape, with domes and bell towers on almost every horizon and their monuments regularly consisted of crosses and hagiography, with almost every other site bearing a name related to Christ or the saints.

On Christmas day at noon, the entire country it seemed was awash with the sounds of bells in celebration of the Christian high feast. It was a really beautiful experience, that really filled me, as a student of political science, with awe at a modern Western democracy so actively claiming a visible religious identity. Even when we went to watch a movie, the theatre featured a Christmas choir with the most melodic voices! -> I’ve attached a short vid!

In the short while I was there I learned so much about Malta’s history and elements it shared with other countries. Many older Maltese churches had two bell towers with a clock on each, one with the right time and the other with the wrong time, historically, to fool the devil about what time the mass was to be held. You should be able to see this architectural phenomenon in some of the photos I’ve uploaded.

One of the coolest things about visiting places with such a rich and ancient history as Malta is its ability to recall its past through preservation and awareness, while at the same time introducing modern conveniences into the process. For example, you’ll see shiny metal elevators running on electricity alongside ancient limestone fortresses or a gargantuan oil rig sitting for repairs in the middle of a centuries-old harbour.

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