The last and only other time I was in Malta was almost six years ago, but the island hasn’t changed. I have. Everything was exactly as I remembered it, yet the way I remembered it was so much grander. Six years ago I had no reference point for Malta, because I hadn’t been to Italy and I hadn’t been to the UK. I was overwhelmed by Mdina, the most beautiful little medieval city on a hill, because I hadn’t seen Noto or Siracusa or Modica yet. I was puzzled by the food, not particularly Mediterranean, because I didn’t realize how English it was. I thought the countryside was lovely, and I still do, although a lot of the standalone houses in rural areas looked run down to me this time around. Apparently I’ve learned to separate “rustic charm” from “actually we can’t afford to paint this right now”.

But it isn’t fair to compare Malta to anywhere else in Europe. It’s a tiny place where every big city feels like a small town, connected by a surprisingly finite number of roads. The beaches are rocky but beautiful. The language is a masterpiece of it’s own, blending Italian vocabulary with Arabic grammar. The local supermarket might carry Jaffa cakes and frozen shepherd’s pie, but it isn’t hard to find fresh seafood either, and I personally could live for days off pastizzi, filo dough pockets filled with peas or ricotta or both. Sampling the full spectrum of Maltese pastries by holiday and by season would require you to stay the year, but in case you have a job or kids or some urgent thumb-twiddling to get back to, you can buy a bag of imqaret (date pastries) and know that you’ve tried the best of the best.

Having also been to Malta in the dead of winter, I can say good things about the “off-season”, a term which refers to any country not presently being utilized as an amusement park for Brits and Americans. In December of 2009, my friends and I had many of the island’s main tourist attractions to ourselves. There were a fair number of stray Italians running around, but the vast majority of shoppers, bus riders, church goers, and cafe sitters seemed to be Maltese folks going about their day. The countryside turned into a vibrant green patchwork of little land plots separated by low stone walls. Feudalism was a bad idea, but it left some very picturesque spaces behind.

And it was warm out. You know, by the standards of most people who are gonna read this.

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