Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Week One

Departure, thanks to M's mum for the photos!
We left Halifax last Sunday afternoon and arrived in Malta last Monday afternoon. We’ll spare you the details of our “experience” getting here and summarize by saying that “getting there is half the fun” did not apply. The dogs were quarantined for two days upon our arrival due to bureaucratic paperwork issues and were released Wednesday morning.

We rented a car for several days this week so we could get the necessary things to set up our apartment like deck furniture and several large grocery loads. We had a fantastic time at the “Smart” grocery store in Lija, the village we lived in in 2008, where we stocked up on all of our favourite foods (mostly wine, cheese and bread) for pennies.

It was great to be back in Lija and to shop in a familiar place after driving around the country on day-long shopping trips. Unlike North America, Malta doesn’t have any big box stores. For each item you want to buy you need to figure out what small, local store sells it. And then you need to figure out when that store is open, as the Maltese have “siestas” and stores tend to be open from 9-1 pm and 4-7 pm. We needed lightbulbs and outlet converters, which you buy at the Ironmongery (like a hardware store). Cleaning supplies, food and drinks are found at the supermarket. Fresh meat and bread come from the butcher and the baker, and produce comes from “vegetable carts” which are vans parked on the side of the road all over the place that sell produce straight from the farm. Appliances come from appliance stores, but you might also find them at mom-and-pop shops that also sell other things like dishes, Christmas decorations and garbage cans. We found a “department store” that carried mainly linens, but also things like lamps and office furniture. No such thing as one-stop shopping here.

Ghajn Tuffieha
On the weekend we took some time to relax from all things moving-related and went to our favourite beach, Ghajn Tuffieha (pronounced Ahn-tuff-ee-ah), for a couple of hours with the dogs. The water is very warm and we were very pleased to be there. We also took a walk along the sea from our apartment in Msida to Tigne Point in Sliema. Then we took a ferry from Sliema to Valetta and walked around the city for the afternoon. In the two years since we have been here they have done a lot of restoration work in Valetta, the capital city, and it is even more beautiful now with updated facilities for tourists.
Updated street in Valetta with art installation from Notte Bianca Art Festival (similar to Halifax's Nocturne or Toronto's White Night)

Old street in Valletta

Ferry from Sliema to Valletta

"The Strand" the main sea walk in Sliema

On the Strand

The Strand

Manoel Island viewed from the Ferry
I went to orientation for International students at the University of Malta on Wednesday and had a campus tour and got basic information on registration and visa processes. Most of the International students at UofM are Erasmus students (students from other Universities in the EU, mainly Germany and Spain) or exchange students from Australia, Kuwait, China, Japan and the United States. I don’t think there are any Canadian students here this semester but will keep my hopes up for the winter semester. I start classes tomorrow and went to “Freshers Week” today which is basically an information fair that is organized mainly for Maltese students entering their first year of studies. The best observations I can make about the University so far is that: everyone looks Mediterranean (surprise!) and the hallways are all outside which is very nice. I have overhead several frustrated International students complaining about the way the University does business (hardly anything is online, for example, class schedules are posted on  bulletin boards around campus, you simply can’t find them anywhere else).  Coming from NSCAD I am used to this kind of archaic system so I am adjusting quite nicely.

Being an “expat” is a strange thing indeed. We tend to be getting two reactions in Malta - we are mistaken for American tourists or we are mistaken for locals and people speak Maltese to us. When people find out we are Canadians who have just moved here we get interesting reactions. Mostly, the Maltese people want to know Why? and most people ask us if our parents are Maltese. They can’t believe that people know Malta exists (despite receiving over 3 million tourists a year -M), and that someone would actually chose Malta as their home if they didn`t have any ancestral connection to it. More on this later, but for now let’s say that I believe to truly love a place you have to not be born there. Other funnier reactions to our foreign-ness were from a lady in a pet supply store who asked us if we had Bieber fever (her teenagers are big fans of Canadian pop star Justin Bieber) and a lady at a car rental company who, when presented with an Nova Scotia drivers licence, told us that NS is near PEI because she watched Road to Avonlea as a child in Malta and they frequently referenced visitors from Halifax in the show.

Interesting facts about Malta that we already knew but are rediscovering: There are cats everywhere. A crazy cat lady next door keeps about 10 strays in her front yard. Stray cats get fed and watered here on a regular basis by concerned cat-loving citizens. We don’t think stray dogs get the same nice treatment but we haven’t seen nearly as many of them as there are cats. Our dogs do not like these cats one bit.
Fireworks over Santa Lucija from our roof
The Maltese are fireworks-crazy. There are fireworks factories all over Malta and there are fireworks displays literally every other night. We first saw fireworks Thursday in the middle of the day near the airport. Then we saw them Friday in the middle of the day over the village of Santa Lucija. Then we saw them Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night over Santa Lucija (we think they are celebrating the centennial of their village parish). During the day and in the morning the fireworks have been sporadic, but in the evenings the displays last for a minimum of thirty minutes and sometimes up to three hours. It is truly impressive. Since M & I both love fireworks we are happy to have rediscovered this fun perk to living in Malta and living in a penthouse – we will have a great view of most of the fireworks displays in the country.

We are looking forward to getting a regular internet connection, exploring more of our village and getting into a regular routine with school and work. We are having a really fantastic time so far and are very grateful that everything has worked out as we hoped it would.

More on our new place, our village Msida, and University later.

View of Valletta at sunset from our deck

- Jess


  1. Wow sounds like you guys are having an amazing time! I'm so jealous... I promise I'll stop saying that eventually! The pictures and descriptions are great Jess, I'm going to become your guys long distance creeper so I can live vicariously though you. Just knowing it is possible to escape Canadian winters is very comforting.

    PS. I'm impressed if Mike hasn't managed to loose/forget anything yet? !

  2. this looks amazing... please keep taking pictures!!

  3. Great job Jess! Love the pics! Hope you guys are having lots of fun!


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