Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Big Family Trip: Malta, France & Italy

My family came to visit us for two weeks this February. During the first week we visited Venice, Paris, Rome and Sicily with them and they spent their second week here in Malta. They just began their long flight home this morning and we (and especially our dogs) are missing their company already.

The Big Family Trip begins
We had a great time eating our way through three countries and dragging two teenagers to dozens of museums and art galleries. It was chaotic at times with six people and two dogs in a two bedroom apartment and it rained and was quite cold in Malta during their stay (I’m beginning to think we are cursed to always have bad weather when we have visitors) so we didn’t get to do as many outdoor activities as I would have liked (no beach days). But I do hope that my siblings have now caught the travel bug and it was a pleasure to see my family discover new things about new countries, and to listen to my dad completely butcher three languages (I say gelato, you say gilletto). 

I also went back to school during my family’s visit in Malta, we bought our first car (surprise!) and M got in his first fender bender (less than 24 hours after we got the car). When Libya joined the “Arab uprising” Malta hit the airwaves as the closest EU country to Libya and now a base for people trying to escape the conflict – both foreign nationals and refugees. To say we had a crazy month on this side of the world would be an understatement. 

After a flight cancellation, a snow storm, frantic flight rebooking, and 30+ hours of travel my family arrived in Malta. I dragged them to the St Paul’s Shipwreck Festival in Valletta and we all boarded a plane to fly to Venice the next morning, less than 12 hours after they arrived in Malta. We spent a few (sleepy and cold) hours seeing Venice before flying on to Paris.  

Playing in the Maltese "snow" (confetti) at the Festival of St Paul's Shipwreck, Valletta
Family at St Mark's Square, Venice
Rialto Bridge, Venice

In Paris we did the usual tourist things and had a lovely visit with our cousin. We had a fantastic apartment near the Champs Elysees (Bridgestreet apartments – highly recommended!) which was conveniently located near a bakery. The eating tour of Europe began with hot baguette and pain au chocolat every morning. We convinced ourselves we were walking off the extra calories at the museums all day. 

Family at the Louvre, Paris

J at Musee D'Orsay, Paris (around this time my family got sick of being dragged to museums. I obviously didn't let this stop me from dragging them anyway.)
We rented a bicycle-for-two at Versailles, Paris
M & J at Versailles.
J and sister, Eiffel Tower, Paris
M and I were very lucky to have spent Valentine’s day in the City of Love – with my family. Paris was full of couples celebrating the holiday, and the bakeries were also full of Valentines sweets. The metro was also apparently full of pickpockets – my dad had his wallet stolen in the Paris underground.

"Love padlocks" on Pont des Arts, Paris
We went to Rome next, trading baguettes for pizza and pasta. M was the perfect (patient) tour guide and navigator because it was my first time in Rome too. In Rome we saw the main attractions and discovered real Italian gelato.

Family at Roman Forum, Rome

Family at Colosseum, Rome

J at Arch of Constantine, Rome

J, sister and mum at Trevi Fountain

Family at St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
National Monument, Rome
Palatine Hill, Basilica of Maxentius, Rome
We left Rome for a short stopover in Trapani, Sicily. We had the best lunch at a little restaurant near the Trapani port, drinking away our fatigue and sore walking legs. Then we realized we had forgotten a camera in the hotel in Rome during the rush of catching a flight that morning. The lost camera had all of my parents’ pictures on it from the trip up to that point. Thankfully M and I had some photos on our camera, so it wasn’t a complete loss, but we unfortunately don’t have any photos of the time we spent with our cousin in Paris or the priceless images of my mum and sister imitating the poses of every statue in the Louvre. If you’re ever in Rome do not stay at the Domus Romana hotel – they have been extremely unhelpful in finding or returning the camera to us.

Family in Trapani, Sicily
We arrived back in Malta and gave my family a tour of the country. My family quickly discovered the joys of the Maltese bus system, the politeness of the Maltese people, and the oddities that make this island our most favourite place in the whole world. 

Family at orchestra preformance, Teatru Manoel, Valletta

Family at San Anton Gardens, Lija

Family at Mnajdra Temples, Malta
J and dad at Golden Bay Beach, Malta
Dad and brother at Tarxien Temples, Malta.
Brother at Marsaxlokk Market. Pictures begin to get fuzzzy here as no one thought to clean the lens on the one camera they had left...
Having lunch at St Peter's Pool, Malta (aka coping with prolonged family-togetherness-time with wine)
Mum at Pretty Bay, Malta
Family and dogs at Pretty Bay
Family at Mnajdra Temples, Malta

Family at Xlendi Bay, Gozo
Parents near Xlendi Bay, Gozo

Sister at Ramla Bay Beach, Gozo

Dad working on his swing at Ramla Bay Beach, Gozo

Family at St George's Square, Valletta

Brother in Valletta

Dad and brother at Valletta Armouries

J and sister in Mdina, Malta

Mum and sister at Mdina Dungeons (we were tempted to leave her like that)

Siblings at Valletta Armoury

Family night out in Paceville at Bar Native

Sister and mum at Bar Native
Parents tearing up the dance floor at Bar Native
Parents at Bar Native
Lunch at Eddies in Valletta
Driving through Gozo
Thank you to my family for the expense and effort of getting yourselves over here. This was a once in a lifetime trip and I do hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did. Someday we will look back and laugh about the flight cancellation, the stolen passport, the lost camera, and the fender bender. Thank you to M for being the best partner (I am one lucky girl) and patiently travelling with and housing my family for two weeks. He was a saint when we were all ready to kill each other and saved the day many times with his rationality and navigational skills. And thank you to my dogs for relieving themselves on my bed twice when we had visitors and no spare linens. If you both weren’t so cute (and my mum wasn’t so sympathetic towards you) you would have been sleeping out in the rain all week.


Our Trip to Dublin

Once J’s exam schedule was released, we realized that J had a week off in between semesters so we decided to look for places to go for a weekend.  We looked on the ever-attractive Ryanair site and saw that the only cheap flights that worked for a weekend without having to take time off work was Dublin.

 View from our hotel
Despite being a portion Irish, and liking beer, I really didn’t know much about Ireland, or Dublin, other than they had a potato famine, they have an interesting version of English and that their economy is pretty much in the shitter at the moment. J also didn’t know much about Dublin but was too into study mode (see last post) to want to plan anything for the trip so left it up to me.  We booked our flights and hotel and decided to look into learning a few things about it before we got there.

About 10 days before we left, J started asking me if I had planned anything yet for Dublin, I answered not really and that I’d get to it.  A week before we left, Jess found out by reading her exam schedule for a second time that she actually had an exam the following Friday and that it ended 2 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave. She wrote her exam and we hopped on a plane to Dublin.

As soon as we got to Dublin we checked into our hotel and went searching for food.  We found a pub close to our hotel where there was a live band on.  We ordered some food & then the band started playing Oasis songs.  I felt strangely like I was back at the Split Crow in Halifax, only it was dark out and only half of the bar was embarrassingly drunk (of which I was actually not one).

We toured the city on a hop-on hop-off tour bus and went to a few places including one art gallery (only one, this is a new record), Kilmainham Goal (pronounced Jail), the Dublin Castle, Trinity College, the National Leprechaun Museum and my personal favourite the Guinness Storehouse “Museum”. 

J at Trinity College
Kilmainham Goal

The objects in the leprechaun museum looked large for  J, but believable because she's small
Whereas I just looked like a giggling elf.
"because we all have a choice"
You can guess what I chose

The Superbowl was on Sunday night starting at 11:30 and our flight was at 7:00 the next morning, which meant catching the bus to the airport at 5:10.  Naturally I wanted to watch at least half of the game but I wasn’t sure what bars would be open and showing the game.  I googled “superbowl Dublin bar” and the first hit was Captain America’s.  So we went to check it out fully expecting it to be full of American expats…. We were wrong.  It was full of 14-18 year old Irish teens drinking brewtenders (beer dispensers) and cheering for the opposite team than the one they thought they were cheering for.  After the 2nd Green Bay touchdown I decided that I was tired and had to wake up in 4 hours so we left the underage Irish to embarrass themselves without my presence.

Wild Superbowl at Captain America's
All in all it was a good short vacation that reminded us a lot of Halifax. We were more than happy to get off the plane in Malta and take our jackets and sweaters off as we waited for the bus home.