Malta: What’s Not to Love?

Aside

After the last pine needle is vacuumed up, we’re faced with cold, sunless days and no Christmas to look forward to.  That’s when my husband and I start looking around for vacation spots in warm places.

A few years ago, we researched all winter long and realized that nothing in February near us in Europe will ever be warm.  But the next best thing was Malta in March.  So we booked tickets to fly from Prague and started making lists of things to see.

Malta, a small country within ferry distance from Sicily (the ball island that Italy the boot is kicking).  It’s really three small islands – one main one (Malta), one tiny mostly uninhabited one (not even big enough for me to remember its name), and one medium one (Gozo, as in GO there!)

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We landed into another world.  There was a dry wind at the quaint airport and we just waltzed past the palm trees to our car rental.  (Actually, we don’t waltz.  But it felt like dancing compared to some other airports.)  Customs was quick and we had our first experience with the Maltese people.  I’m going on record saying that I have never been in a more laid-back culture.  All smiles, affability, and “everything will be just fine” mentality.  Maybe I haven’t spent much time in Mediterranean cultures but since Malta was my first chance seeing this, Malta gets credit for being the most amazing place ever.

They do drive on the left side of the road.  (Thanks, England.)  The good thing is that nearly every intersection is a roundabout (traffic circle) so you can just go around and around until you figure out where you want to go.  But since nothing is labeled, that could be several hundred times.  And you still won’t be right.

Asking directions is like asking a 4-year old to explain how electricity works.  “You just turn the light on.”  Oh, thanks.  Here are the three responses we got three different times when asking directions.

“Mdina.  Mdina.  Just follow the signs.”  (Let me remind you again, NOTHING is labeled, so this is pretty much a family joke now.)

“I don’t know.”  (Seriously, in a country that’s 122 square miles total, how can you not know where the three main cities are?)

“Just go straight.  Straight and straight.”  (This is now another family joke.  There wasn’t a straight stretch of road in the whole country, not to mention the impossibility of going straight through a traffic circle.)

So plan to be lost most of the time you’re there.  We stumbled on nearly everything we did and it was awesome.  After we let go of trying to follow our plan and our map.

I wax cheesy when I try to rave about things. So I’m trying to avoid that, but know that we really loved our family vacation on Malta. Plenty to do and see, totally different culture, geography, and architecture, and sunny, dry, windy weather. And they speak English.  And there’s a Pizza Hut. (We have little kids.  We can’t help it that sometimes we just want something familiar, easy, and kid-friendly.) Speaking of little kids, we’ve even been to the emergency room and the doctors were super friendly and competent.  Just go if you ever get the chance.  (To Malta, I mean.  Not the emergency room.)

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Where To Go

I’ll be up front – I don’t mean where to travel.  I mean where to go to find those elusive items you crave and sometimes actually need when you are off home base.  Of course, my  experience is very Czech centric from an American point of view, but it could amuse you others to see how desperate expats can get for a cup of real brown sugar.

So we’ll start with the brown sugar.  Back in the day (don’t I sound so experienced in expat living?  Or just old?) my roommate and I used to mix molasses with white sugar.  I honestly think that was better (because it was moist) than the massive, dry granules that you usually find at stores like Tesco, Globus, and health food stores.  Then the health food store I frequented in Brno, Czech Republic started to have fairly good “packable” brown sugar and in the last two years, I’ve have been an exclusive brown sugar shopper at Marks and Spencer, the British clothing store that has food products tucked into the back of most stores as if clothes were more important than finding brown sugar.

So I’m almost ready to make American chocolate chip cookies but have run out of the chocolate chips my mom throws into every package she mails us.  (Because she knows where the priorities are at.)  Sometimes Tesco or Globus have chocolate chips but these are teensy weensy and super expensive for the handful you get.  You buy five packs to make one batch of cookies and then can’t balance the budget that month.  No room for error or snacking as you bake (not that I do either, right?)  Besides, they aren’t even semi-sweet – just plain sweet.  Not the best for the chocolate chip cookie.  I haven’t seen these anywhere else.  I chunked up baking chocolate in my hand chopper and my husband and kids liked it better.  (They weren’t washing the extra utensil.)

Okay, let’s get off the cookie ingredients before I stop this and go make a batch.  (Incidentally, how many burned calories do you earn to use on freshly baked cookies by making them and cleaning up after yourself?  Just wondering.  No reason.)

Cereal.  This is one of the things that actually blows me away every time we’re in America – the overwhelmingly long aisle of cereal choice after cereal choice.   I love muesli but sometimes you just need (your kid) to have a bowl of cheerios.  Of course, there’s honey nut everything anywhere.  But we found multigrain cheerios (among other amazing finds) at a store in Prague called Roberstons.   They ship anywhere in Czech for a fair price so we just load up on all kinds of cereal (Rice Krispies, Grape Nuts, Special K with Red Berries, Frosted Mini Wheats, Raisin Bran) once a month or so, pay online, wait for the package in the mail, and enjoy breakfast as if we were sitting in Bixby, Oklahoma.  3712

Corn syrup.  I don’t usually use this, but come Thanksgiving, I desperately need a piece of pecan pie and then pull my hair out scouring stores for corn syrup.  Of course, the health food store wasn’t the first place I thought to look.  But that’s about the only place to find it.  Along with other, hard-to-find unhealthy foods.

Here are some more of the finds I count as major gastronomical victories for my little American family (and our big American mouths):

balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing: Marks and Spencer

amazingly thin American corn chips: Marks and Spencer

marshmallows: Robertsons

box stuffing mix: Robertsons

chicken broth: Marks and Spencer

peanut butter: health food stores or Marks and Spencer (elsewhere but I prefer these two for health, crunch and price.)

pizza like you grew up with: Forty’s Pizza (American style crust)

soft sandwich bread: Warburtons brand was at Tesco for a blissful 9 months or so.  Now they are not and going back to the old brands was NOT easy.  Sob story done, sorry.

I asked my husband what the hard-to-find things were we’ve found and he said, “ESPN sports channel from the O2 cable package.”  So for what it’s worth, even Monday night football is at our finger-tips.  With a glass of milk and chocolate (chunk) cookies.