Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keep Cool

fountains at st george's square, valletta

as the mercury rises in malta and without a cloud in sight we are doing our best to keep cool and put on a brave face for the much hotter weather we know is coming our way.

a great way to keep cool? going to isle of mtv concert featuring snoop dogg, lmfao and far east movement tonight. fo shizzle.

- Jess

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Breaking up with the Malta Bus

Dear Malta Bus,

You've ditched me one time too many, failing to show up to our scheduled dates on time (or at all). That's no way to treat a girl, you know. So I wish to inform you that our relationship has finally sucummed to modern pressures. But it's not all you, it's me. I no longer wish to assume the fetal position while attempting to fit into your tiny seats. I want bigger, better things. I want shocks, and air conditioning, and reliable schedules and well marked bus stops. I want automated stop announcements. I want bus passes and card readers. I want to comfortably breathe at the bus terminal without choking on clouds of black exhaust fumes.

But you can't help that you were built in 1952. And I will always miss your musical horn and you're bright colours. And rocking out to your radio on the way to the beach. Nonetheless, I would like to inform you that our realtionship has come to an end. I've met someone else. And not a moment too soon.
- Jess

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

studying abroad at the university of malta (semester two)

School's out for the summer!

To recount, I came to Malta to study art history at the University of Malta as a visiting transfer student for one academic year. Why Malta? If you follow our blog you know that we love this little island more than anywhere else in the world. But as an added bonus Malta is very central to the rest of Europe so that we could do some travelling while I was studying. Plus I found it endlessly frustrating to study the history of art in a country that was 'born' only 144 years ago and whose history of art (not including Aboriginal art) is only about three hundred years old. And in Canada all the art is kept locked away in museums. In Malta I am surrounded by it all of the time.

I think I've finally gotten used to the 100% exam system at UoM and I feel like my exams went fairly well this semester. And to my great relief my exam results last semester exceeded my expectations.  Reflecting on the past year I am pleased with the courses I took as well as the lecturers who delivered those courses. I learned so much here that I would not have had to opportunity to learn at my Canadian university. This time last year I was still getting over what had been a very stressful academic year but today I can look back at my year in Malta as a very pleasant, less frantic one. (Ah, island life.)

My verdict? I have really enjoyed studying abroad for a year and I think everyone should do it if they can. Switching schools was easy for me, I've done it about once a year since I started my undergraduate degree, so adjusting to a new place was a breeze. My biggest challenge was accepting and understanding the very different administration and assessment systems at UoM.

UoM attracts many international students and will continue to do so in the future with tuition costs rising all over the world and a growing desire to learn English. But my criticism of UoM is that it needs to come into the 21st century and its administrative and teaching staff need to become more knowledgeable about the needs and expectations of international students.

International students = big money. If the University of Malta wants to successfully attract international students in the future it needs to continue developing its academic programs but, equally important, it needs to begin to see itself as a business.

My advice to prospective students? The key to getting along well when moving to a new place (for university or otherwise) is to accept the differences as differences. Because something is different doesn't make it inferior to what you are used to. Differences are why we travel, and why we study abroad. Oh, and pack sunscreen.

Generally most international students would agree that the best part of studying in Malta is Malta itself. It is truly a beautiful country, and an art history student's heaven. My on-site lectures at the University of Malta consisted of touring Baroque churches, Roman villas and medieval towns. If I could (and it was free) I would happily study at the University of Malta for another year to learn about the prehistoric and modern history of this little island. Its culture and history are endlessly fascinating to me.

*side note - i just realized that i bought and read 42 books for my courses this year. if you're a prospective uom arts student - be warned!

And the coolest part? I can look off of the terrace of our flat and see the chapel that the 18th century architect I wrote a paper about is buried in. I went to the library and paged through three hundred year old architectural plans and engravings (By hand. Yes, I was terrified of ripping one.) I walked around Mdina, Birgu and Valletta and heard the histories of those cities while standing in the presence of that history. I visited churches undergoing restoration and saw centuries old frescoes from three inches away. Like I said at the close of last semester, that is what studying abroad is all about.

A big thank-you to Mike for allowing me to think big and helping to make all of this possible. And for putting up with me for the month of June while I was an exam writing monster machine. He is kind of the best that way.

University of Malta History of Art Graduating Class 2010-2011 (+ me)

jesuit church and college, valletta (picture 1 + 2), fresco restorations at our lady of victory church, valletta (3 + 4 + 5), main gate of mdina (6), university of malta coat-of-arms (7), roman mosaics, at the roman domus, mdina (8)

want to read more about my first semester?

Monday, June 20, 2011

we have a winner!

yes, i win things. and mike has to put up with my squealing for an entire evening about how i actually won something online. but when mike is reading useless things on wikipedia or the globe and mail or playing weird computer games like civilization i waste my time on the internet looking at beautiful style web sites and blogs. and sometimes blogs do giveaways. shopmamie is one of them. i can't remember how i found it in the first place but i really love their stuff.  last week i entered one of their giveaway contests for a summer dress and i was chosen to win!

did we mention we're heading to venice in a few weeks to see the venice biennale?

i know, the horse shoes up our bums are going to give one of us colorectal cancer one of these days. it's okay, at least we know it's coming.

shopmamie is a small independent clothing company run by two best friends based in washington, dc. they ship internationally and everything they sell is under $100. they offer really personal service and they can advise you on sizing and styling. and their stuff is seriously cuter and way more unique than the big box brands. check 'em out. thanks again, shopmamie!

updated - i wore my sweet new dress to the biennale in venice, photos here!

Baroque Malta: Mdina

This counts as studying, since I write my final exam on architecture during the time of the Knights (of the Order of St John) on Wednesday. So there.

I'll spare you the dry art history student bits and just give you the pictures and a brief run down. (Yes, I can write about this in a more academic way. But that's not as fun for you)

The Knights of the Order of St John take care of sick pilgrims in Jerusalem in the 12th century. They are a celibate, frugal and serious bunch. They get kicked out of the Holy Land by Muslims in 1291 and go to Cyprus, then Rhodes. They get kicked out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks after a couple hundred years and come here, to Malta in 1530. (They hate Malta at first because it's not as nice and green as Rhodes. And it has a teeny population. But what can you do.) They pay rent to King Charles V to stay in Malta - a whooping sum of one falcon a year.

These Knights start out in Birgu and eventually build their own city across the Harbour at Valletta. They forget the whole celibate, frugal and serious thing. They start to think they are pretty cool. So cool that they start building great big Baroque palaces in Valletta and Mdina to make sure everyone knows they are the shiz. 
Then something really weird happens. There are no more Turks in the Mediterranean to fight. The Knights don't really have a reason to exist anymore, plus they are getting poor. Why? That darn Napoleon confiscated all of the estates in France, which is where the Knights got their money. So they start cost cutting and stop building great big Baroque palaces.

Eventually Napoleon hands them their pink slip and they leave Malta in 1798. Quite embarrased and humiliated, I might add. Poor knights. Sweet job with the palaces, though. 

main gate to mdina

main gate to mdina

main gate to mdina

torre dello standardo, vilhena coat-of-arms

magisterial palace (museum of natural history) mdina

magisterial palace, mdina

magisterial palace, bust of vilhena, mdina

banca giuratale, mdina

banca giuratale, mdina

banca giuratale, mdina

seminary building, (cathedral museum), mdina

seminary building, mdina

corte capitinale, mdina

Sunday, June 19, 2011

happy fathers day!

happy father's day to our dads who didn't question our sanity (too much) when we decided to move to the other side of the world. we credit both of you with our knowledge of all things sports, DIY & air travel. thanks!

+ a happy father's day to our grandfathers in nova scotia, cape breton & ontario. we think you're all pretty great too.
love - jess & mike

Thursday, June 16, 2011

an eclipse (of the non vampire variety)

we saw a lunar eclipse last night driving home from the beach (after seeing a lovely pink sunset). living somewhere that isn't covered in clouds in june is sweet.

okay, so this picture isn't of the eclipse. it's of the moon tonight. but it's still neat in a it's-not-photoshopped-the-moon-was-actually-that-orange kind of way.

- Jess

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sangria Bianca

It is so darn hard to find a real glass of Sangria, even in Spain. I get so disappointed when a restaurant or bar advertises sangria when really what they serve you is sangria from a carton with cut up apples and oranges in it. Seriously, how is raw apple adding flavour to my drink? That is not sangria.

We aren't really red wine drinkers so when I found this receipe for white sangria I had to try it. It is so yummy and super easy as a summer drink. Move over mojito.


for 2 large pitchers
2 white peaches
2 white nectarines
6 oranges (medium)
1 pint strawberries
2 bottles of any non-oaked white wine
1/2 cup rose infused simple syrup (see recipe for syrup below)
optional - 1 bottle of sparkling water


Don't ask me why you put rose syrup in this. It's one of the great mysteries of sangria and, since it's so difficult to make a good sangria, I just went with it. And so should you.

The recipe I used called for the petals of "one very small perfumey rose". But, silly me, I didn't actually have a perfumery rose lying around the house. (I don't even know what one is, for that matter). So I used the substitution of 1/4 teaspoon of rosewater.

I am not a big fan of fancy recipes that call for too many ingredients I've never heard of and won't know where to buy. But rosewater is used a lot in Moroccan cooking so I actually knew what this one was and I found it in the International foods section of my local supermarket. It should be with the middle eastern food - the brand I use is made in Lebanon.

Step 1: To make rose syrup combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small pot. That's the simple syrup part.

Step 2: Bring it to a boil and let it sit for 10 minutes to steep. (I don't know if you have to steep if you aren't using a perfumery rose, but I let it sit anyway just in case. It took me 10 minutes to cut the fruit anyway, whatever.)


Step 1: Slice the peaches and nectarines into eigths or tenths.

Step 2: Slice 2 oranges (I prefer them in chunks with no skins or membranes - that's how we liked it the most in Spain. Plus I don't like dumping large slices of fruit into my mouth from the glass. It's just not very ladylike.)

Step 3: Halve the strawberries.

Step 4: Juice the other 4 oranges.

Step 4: Add the syrup, orange juice and wine to the fruit, and let the mixture sit in the fridge for 4 hours minimum (for best results) to stew. We think this drink is best when icy cold so ideally chill it for as long as possible in a very cold fridge.

Step 5: Optional - my favourite sangria is slightly fizzy so I added some sparkling water to this recipe. I'm a fizz freak and I don't like flat drinks so I waited until just before drinking the sangria to add the sparkling water to each glass - not the pitcher  - for maximum fizziness. Use as much as you like, or none at all.

Step 6: Drink.

- Jess 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Green Thumb

It was such a treat to see plants grow throughout the winter in Malta. And, even better, we haven't managed to kill our herb garden yet despite the summer heat and wind. If these plants live until the end of August it will be kind of a miracle.

container garden herbs

growing on our terrace: mint, rosemary, basil, oregano, chives, cilantro

Monday, June 6, 2011

Importing dogs to Malta + Traveling to & Visiting Malta with Dogs

updated October 2012 to include that Air Malta allows small pets in the cabin. updated July 2012 to include new pet friendly facilities in Malta and new resources. updated December 2011 to include new pet import rules in effect as of January 2012

When we moved to Malta in the autumn of 2010 leaving our dogs in Canada was simply not an option for us. They are our family. You wouldn't ditch a family member if you were moving, would you?

Well, maybe you would.

Anyway, at that time the old pet import rules still applied and we had to crawl through a lot of bureaucratic procedures, fill out a lot of paper work, and visit the vet often before Ellie and Winn could make the journey with us. They were spayed, vaccinated, blood tested, microchipped and registered - a process which took six months start to finish.

In the autumn of 2010 they finally got the green light to make the seventeen hour journey by plane to Malta with us.  Shortly after arriving in Malta our dogs got their EU Pet Passports, and became more officially European citizens then we are.

Moving two dogs to a small island on the other side of the world was frightening and complicated. We are happy to answer any questions that expats (current or soon-to-be) have about the process.

The hassle of bringing our dogs to Malta was, in the end, totally worth it. And they have adjusted beautifully to the change. We still get the same strange looks when we walk them in public (Dachshund x Chihuahua cross dogs are not very common in Malta). Strangers still ask to pet and hold them. And they probably miss green grass a little, but they are relishing the increased amount of sunlight. And did we mention our dogs now have collar tans? Yes. Collar tans.

Importing Pets to Malta

Pet import rules in Malta are changing. As of January 1st, 2012 Malta will be harmonising its pet import rules with the rest of the EU. What does this mean for you? It will be easier and cheaper for you to travel to Malta with your pets (dogs, cats and ferrets too!)

Other countries also harmonizing their rules include the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden.

Under the new rules all pets must still have a rabies vaccination prior to importation (it's always a good idea to have anyway) but pets from the EU and listed non-EU countries (including the US, Canada and Australia) will no longer require a post vaccination blood test. This used to mean a minimum six month wait between vaccination, blood test, and importation, but no more!

As of January 1st, 2012 pets can now travel to Malta (and other affected countries) just 21 days after their rabies vaccination. Pets from non-listed EU countries (including India, Brazil and South Africa) will still be subject to the blood test requirement but the wait between vaccination and blood test has been shortened to only three months.

Pets imported from any approved country must still have an EU Pet Passport or equivalent third-country documentation.

The government body responsible for pet import regulations in Malta is the Department of Fish and Farm Regulation Control. This department has recently published updated documentation which reflects these new rules. You can read more here.

Tips for Importing your Pets to Malta

If you are considering importing or travelling with your pet to Malta the very first thing you should do is email an official at the FFRC Department to verify import requirements and to ask for any relevant paperwork that must be filled out prior to your arrival.

If you are confused about any requirements or about any of the paperwork ask questions until you get a satisfying answer. In our experience, the staff at the FFRC Department are very happy to help you – they want to ensure a smooth importation process for you because ultimately it makes their jobs easier too.

Try to work with a veterinarian in your home country who is familiar with the import procedures for animals to Europe (ideally to the UK or Malta). Our Canadian veterinarian was not familiar with these procedures. As a result, our importation paperwork was incorrectly filled out and our dogs had to spend two days in quarantine when they first arrived in Malta. Not fun.

Remember to get in touch with the Fish and Farming Regulation Control Department in Malta to notify them of your arrival. You will be asked to provide your flight or ferry number, and the date and time of your arrival. An animal inspector will meet you at the airport or seaport to verify that you meet all import requirements before your pet is allowed entry into the country.

Living in Malta with Dogs

What is it like living with pets in Malta? We have found pet related services in Malta to be as good, if not better, than in Canada. Our vet in Msida is fantastic. Our vet provides great service and mostly the same brands of pet pharmacueticals that we are used to. Our vetrinary bills are also substantially lower than in Canada (Canada-$100 vet visit vs. Malta-$20 or Euro 15).

For information about protecting your dog against the lethal Leishmaniasis (sandfly disease) in Malta, read this blog post.

We also love our boarding kennel, where our dogs are very well taken care of when we go abroad (boarding is also cheaper than in Canada). Before boarding your pets at a kennel in Malta they must be up to date on their vaccinations, dewormed and treated for fleas & ticks (whether or not they have them) 48 hours prior to visiting the kennel. This means a visit to the vet before each kennel visit, therefore it's wise to find a vet clinic in your area if you plan to travel often.

There are plenty of pet supply stores in Malta and you can purchase basic food and treats at any supermarket. They have many of the same pet food brands in Malta as they do in Canada, the US and the UK.

We received some push back from real estate agents when attempting to find pet friendly properties to let in Malta. Our best advice is to be nice but firm with your agent - after all, it's their job to find you a property. Also, kill them with kindness. We offered pet references up front and we were also willing to pay a pet damage deposit if necessary (it wasn't). Acknowledging that you are willing to do a little work on your end to get a good pet friendly pad always helps. But definitely don't settle for less, or allow your agent to talk you into a property that your gut tells you is wrong, because 'it's so rare to find a pet friendly property in this area!' We found one, twice, and are glad we didn't settle when our agents pressured us to. For more information about our experience renting property in Malta you can check our this blog post.

Is Malta dog friendly? I would say it’s as dog friendly as you, the pet owner, chose to make it. There is a different dog-culture in Malta than there is in Canada; this has certainly been an adjustment for us. Not everyone cleans up after their dogs here. Stray dogs are also common, and responsible pet ownership is not always practiced. The result of all of this is a much different perception of dogs and dog owners than we were used to in Canada. We do our best to improve this perception by leashing and socializing our dogs, by always cleaning up after our dogs, and by raising awareness of responsible pet ownership by volunteering with groups such as the SPCA Malta.

Malta has recently put into effect legislation which bans dogs from all sandy beaches and swimmer’s zones on the island. Read more about the beach-ban here. Dogs are also banned from many (but not all) public parks. Previously, we wrote/lamented about the lack of pet friendly facilities in Malta. But this is slowly changing. As of this writing (May 2012) leashed pets are now allowed in the Ta Qali National Park (where they were formerly banned - a small triumph for pet owners!) And there is now also a brand new dedicated off leash park and agility training center for dogs in Ta Qali. And as ever, pet owners, trainers, the SPCA Malta and Dogs Trust Malta are working diligently to create an even more pet friendly atmosphere on the island.

Visiting Malta with your Dog

If you are considering visiting Malta on holiday with your dog, or moving her permanently – don’t be discouraged by the complicated import rules and beach bans! There are still endless things to do in Malta with your dog. Dogs are permitted on public buses (Arriva), provided they are carried in suitable containers or carriers and held on the accompanying person's lap. Dogs are also welcome to walk along the beautiful coastal promenades which stretch from Gzira to Bugibba. You can also take your dog in any of the public parks in Sliema, the island's tourist hot-spot, thanks to recent legislation by the Sliema Local Council. Dogs can also take a stroll in the historic capital of Valletta, in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk for the traditional Sunday market, or they can hike along the Dingli Cliffs.

While dogs are not permitted on sandy beaches in Malta they are allowed on the large expanses of rocky coast on this little island, a great place to explore warm pools of water and local vegetation. But remember, your dog is not permitted in the water in any swimmer's zone (marked off) on sandy or rocky beaches.

Fido can also join you on a day trip to Gozo; you are welcome to take your (leashed) dog on the ferry to Gozo at no extra cost. We’ve also found that many outdoor restaurants and caf├ęs will allow us to sit for a meal or a drink with our dogs under our table (particularly in Xlendi Bay, Gozo). All you have to do is ask.

In the winter we take our dogs to Ghajn Tuffieha beach for off leash runs. There is a great hiking path there and it appears to be the beach that dog owners frequent most often on the island. It's also less busy than Golden Bay or Ghadira beaches. We've also taken them to Buskett Gardens which is a good, quiet place to let them run off some energy, especially in the winter when we know there won't be many visitors for them to disturb.

There are at least 10 hotels in Malta which allow dogs and they fit every budget. These include the Le Meridien in St Julian’s, the Sliema Hotel, and the Bayview Hotel and Apartments in Gzira. If you are a pet owner travelling to Malta holiday short lets are also a great option; there are many holiday rental properties that allow pets throughout both Malta and Gozo.

Dogs can be transported to Malta on airlines such as Lufthansa (in the cabin/cargo), Air Malta (in the cabin/cargo), and on Virtu Ferries from Sicily. Remember, when flying or taking the ferry to Malta, contact the FFRC Department to notify them of your arrival and arrange for an inspection of your pet and importation documents.

We've also written about pet air travel to/from the UK in this blog post.

If you are coming to Malta between June and September you should be considerate of the heat. Temperatures average around 35°C or 95°F in the summer. Dogs should never be left in cars or hot hotel rooms, and make sure to keep your pet well hydrated. And do as the locals do – the best times to be outside are early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Your dog will thank you for avoiding the mid-day sun!

 - Mike + Jess 

p.s. We've recently discovered the new web site, where you can also find a wealth of information about pet friendly places to swim, eat and walk with your dog in Malta, a directory of local pet services, pet forums and classifieds, and articles by local animal experts.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

water & rain

Total Canadian moment right here: our cold water is no longer cold. It comes out of the tap warm. Like warm enough to shower in. There's nothing wrong with our plumbing - it's just gotten too warm in Malta to keep water cold! Weird.

Cominotto island, Comino

It's been cloudy and rainy in Malta all week and we're dreaming of blue skies again. So this old picture from our first beach day on Comino in April, when Mike's friends Cherie and Tim visited, is appropriate. (They are the little ants on the cliff) You shouldn't feel too badly for us, but we have had an unusually cold and wet year here in Malta. We keep telling ourselves it's good for the gardens... yes?

- Jess

Saturday, June 4, 2011

See dog. See dog swim.

Big accomplishment in our house last week: Ellie learned to like swimming. We took her to Sliema several times where there is a shallow pool of sea water and threw a tennis ball into the water until she fetched it. Another day we didn't bring a ball - and she went in anyway. Success! We also made progress with Winnie. She will now stand within three feet of the shoreline. Baby steps, right?

diving for the ball.


Friday, June 3, 2011

SPCA Malta

We recently began volunteering at the SPCA here in Malta and cannot gush enough about how great it has been. We help out at their used book shop and animal home center in Floriana.

The SPCA Malta currently cares for over 100 dogs and puppies and 100 cats and kittens. There are so. many. animals. And they are so lovely! Seriously, if I lived in a cage all day I would be just a little bit grumpy but the animals at the SPCA, particularly the dogs, are some of the nicest shelter animals I've ever met. Which is really incredible because, did I mention, there are over 100 of them?

We don't have a lot of pictures from the SPCA yet. It's a very busy place and there's not a lot of time to whip out the iPhone, let alone a camera. But here are a few to start.

If you live in Malta and want to get involved at the SPCA Malta you can check out their website or Facebook page. Their staff and volunteers are a fantastic bunch. The SPCA is also a great place to send your unwanted books, magazines, textbooks, clothing, linens, blankets, pillows and pet supplies - there is always a great need for anything you can spare. That being said, if you are in the market for used goods in Malta you can check our their thrift shop, Paws4 a Cause, in Sliema. Finally, memberships, sponsorships and donations are another great way to help these lovely animals and this organization that does so much to keep them healthy and find them homes.

Interesting facts about the SPCA Malta:

  • In partnership with Dogs Trust Malta they offer free neutering, microchipping and vet services to qualifying pet owners. Contact Dogs Trust for more information.
  • The adoption process is easy- you can chose and take your new pet home in a few days.
  • It costs 3 Euro per day per animal to feed and shelter each animal at the SPCA
  • The SPCA Malta hopes to one day move their facilties from their current site in Floriana (where they occupy a maze like structure dug into the bastion walls) to Ta Qali where the new Animal Welfare Center has recently been opened - but they need big funds first
  • Can't bring a pet home? You can also help by sponsoring a dog or cat at the SPCA for just 1 Euro/week.

Yeah, I know this sounds like one big advertisement for the SPCA. What can I say? I love it, and I really respect the work they do there. And 100 dogs? Be still my canine crazy heart. You can be sure there will be more pictures of cute creatures to follow.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

strawberry sorbet

For some reason I never thought sorbet was something you could actually make. By yourself. Without any fancy skills or ingredients. But Mike's mum gave me a fantastic recipe after she visited last month and I tried it. And it worked! And it was easy! I added mint, since we currently have a bit of a bumper crop on our terrace, plus it's the perfect way to use the strawberries that are in season in Malta right now. And it's delicious.

(still working on my food photography skills. I'll get there someday.)

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 cups strawberries - washed and quartered
handful of fresh mint leaves (optional)
juice of 2 oranges
juice of 1 lemon

Step 1: Puree the strawberries (and optional mint leaves) in a food processor. 

Step 2: Bring water and sugar to a boil for 5 minutes.

Step 3: Add pureed strawberries, orange and lemon juice to boiling water.

Step 4: Pour into a 9" x 13" metal pan and freeze.

Step 5: Cut up into large chunks and puree in food processor. Keep frozen in freezer.

(Seriously. 5 steps. That's it.)

- Jess