Monday, April 30, 2012

Malta vs. Canada: The Bathroom

There's no way to be delicate when discussing the bathroom, so please let me off with some less than ladylike language in this post.

Malta, Malta, Malta. I love your bathrooms. Shiny tiles, glossy finishes, bright, modern. I suspect bathrooms are a thing here in Malta, as I'm sure the ratio of bathroom stores to grocery stores here is 5 to 1.

And the most noticeable difference is...the bidet! OK, so this isn't necessarily a standard feature in all Maltese bathrooms, but we have one in our flat. Bidets used to send me into fits of giggles, but I've come to realize they can't be that weird if a good portion of the world's population uses them. And if you ever find yourself staring down at a sink-meets-toilet contraption in a European bathroom, here's how to use it.

Also, Maltese bathrooms (as far as I have seen) don't have fans! Fans are pretty standard in North America to move air around and (a lucky side effect) cover up bathroom noises. But not in Malta, although there is normally a window you can open for air movement. And if you're shy, you can always turn on the taps, or hum a little. Or try this genius app.

Shower or bath? Both are common in Malta. But showers in Malta don't tend to have shower curtains installed - we bought this Canadian comfort ourselves.

the shower in our new maltese flat

Like the bedroom, Maltese bathrooms don't tend to have a closet or any storage space built in. But it is quite normal to see Maltese bathrooms tiled floor to ceiling, which is a less common (pricey) feature in North American bathrooms.

Then there's the issue of water heaters. It's a love/hate thing. In Malta water heaters are generally exposed (normally mounted somewhere on the ceiling). You probably have one in each of your bathrooms, and they contain a limited amount of (precious!) hot water for your uses. They can be turned on and off using a normal electrical switch on the wall, whereas in North America generally all of the hot water in a house comes from one water heater that runs constantly. In newer North American homes you don't really need to worry about running out of hot water in the shower. But ladies, if you want to shave your legs in the shower in Malta you better shampoo real quick. 

our bathroom's water heater - we turn it off in the summer to save money, as electricity in malta can be costly

And my favourite bathroom difference? Toilet paper. In North America toilet paper is white and comes in several plys (or thicknesses). In Europe toilet paper is luxurious. Ours is printed with flowers, quilted, and smells like chamomile.

Our toilet paper smells like chamomile.

Take a moment to digest that one.

- Jess

p.s. we're trying to keep the photos of each room in our Malta vs. Canada room by room tour fairly nondescript, so we don't spoil any surprises! Our episode of House Hunters International airs on May 3rd, 10:30 pm and 1:30 am EST on HGTV in the United States.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thank you!

thank you from malta!

The entries were in: 128+ of them from some of the best travel bloggers out there. The competition was tough. And after two weeks of waiting today we found out - we are one of the winners!

We are RUNNERS UP in the Go with Oh blogger competition and have won a three night stay in one of their fantastic apartments in Europe. We are so thrilled, and really excited to partner with this team in the future.

THANK YOU for your support. Not a single tweet, comment, post, or email went unnoticed. We were absolutely blown away by the response we received from our readers, friends, and family, all over the world. Your kindness knew no limits and we won't soon forget it.

Thank you to GO WITH OH as well. We had a lot of fun participating in the competition and can't wait to continue working with you. A lot of great content and connections were generated through your contest - your choice must have been a very difficult one. Thank you for thinking of us!

CONGRATS to Leah of Leah Travels on winning the big prize - a month's stay in Europe this autumn. She wrote a great post about Florence and created a creative photograph campaign - her win was well deserved. Meet the other runners up - Gillian and Robin - here.

And STAY TUNED! We're still planning a big European road trip this autumn and we want you to follow along. And we've made it easier than ever - you can now also find our blog on Facebook and 'Like' us to get new posts delivered directly to your news feed.

- Mike & Jess

Malta vs. Canada: The Kitchen

Truly, kitchens are the heart of every home no matter where you live. I've been to Cape Breton kitchen parties in Canada (kind of like this), and parties in Malta where everyone ends up in, you guessed it, the kitchen (or kċina). And the general sense of warmth and congregation in these kitchens is basically the same in both countries. But there's a lot going on in the kitchen that is also very different from Canada.

You say appliances, the Brits and Maltese say whitegoods. As in machines that are white. Makes sense.

Stoves are smaller in Malta than in Canada, and can be electric or (more commonly) gas. Ovens generally have hoods on them, and stovetops can be electric (ceramic or metal) or gas. Microwaves aren't a standard feature of a Maltese kitchen, and unlike in Canada where you can pop over to Walmart and grab one for $20, the cheapest we could find a (tiny!) microwave for here was €100!

our new flat came has a fully equipped kitchen with microwave
- but if you're renting in malta, note that this isn't standard!

Fridges also tend to be smaller in Malta than Canada. I also haven't seen a chest or deep freezer in any flats I've been in, but I can't say I've seen many in Canadian apartments either. In our last flat we had a mini freezer, the size of a mini fridge, but in this flat we just have a teeny freezer built into the fridge. The upshot? We're eating a lot more fresh food, and I can't stash four tubs of ice cream away in there. Small appliances are forcing us to eat healthier, and we like it.

stacks of plates in our maltese kitchen

Moving on to the good stuff, the food. Food in Malta is generally much cheaper than in Canada, and availability is much more dependent on seasons. Buying a cantaloupe in the winter? Dream on. But that's not all bad. Eating seasonally is a growing trend around the world. And unlike Canada, where we can't grow anything from October until May, in Malta produce grows all year long and we are spoilt for choices with fresh, local goods. Oranges and lemons in the dead of winter? Gardens bursting with strawberries by April? I'll take it. And, like I've said before, for some reason parsley is free at the grocery stores here. Taboule anyone?

Other foods that are more common in Malta than Canada are marrows (like round zucchini), prickly pears, capers, and figs. Plus you'll find food here that is practically exclusive to the islands - Ħobż, ġbejniet, Maltese honey (great article about it here), and olive oil (great article about it and other Maltese foods from a traveller's perspective here).

Any Italian food is significantly cheaper to buy here than in Canada. Makes sense - you can practically see Sicily from here. And somehow it tastes better. I can't tell you why flying or shipping a can of tomatoes across the Atlantic somehow ruins their taste, but I think it just might.

Then there's the booze. Anything with alcohol content is significantly, significantly, cheaper to purchase in Malta than in Canada, where alcohol is highly taxed and sold at government controlled stores known as liquor commissions. In Malta we can wander over to our grocery store, a local confectionary, or a kiosk on the side of the road and get affordable drinks practically any hour of the day (not that we do). A decent bottle of wine should set you back €5 a bottle, with the cheapest cooking wines priced at just €1. Spirits and beer are also cheaper here: less than €0.50 a can for beer, and around €10 for a large bottle of vodka or rum.

So now that we have the ingredients, let's get cooking. Following European recipes is an adventure when you are used to cooking with cups, teaspoons and tablespoons. In Malta (and Europe) everything is done by weight, which was a great excuse to buy a snazzy new kitchen scale. And this also makes sense - since when is a teaspoon a logical unit of measurement?

Now it's your turn. What is something unique to your kitchen that I wouldn't see in Canada, or Malta? What's the strangest kitchen difference you've ever noticed while traveling or living abroad?

- Jess

p.s. we're trying to keep the photos of each room in our Malta vs. Canada room by room tour fairly nondescript, so we don't spoil any surprises! Our episode of House Hunters International airs on May 3rd, 10:30 pm and 1:30 am EST on HGTV in the United States.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Malta vs. Canada: The Bedroom

In the week leading up to the airing of our episode of House Hunters International in the U.S. (May 3rd at 10:30 pm & 1:30 am EST on HGTV [Home and Garden Television]) we'll be taking you on a tour of the Maltese home, room by room, and telling you about the differences us silly Canadians have noticed between it and its North American counterpart. For our purposes, we'll be referencing Maltese flats, not villas or large family homes.

And we'll start in the bedroom, where it's all about size.

Clothing and bed sizes, that is.

All of the beds we're seen in Malta don't have box springs. So after a year of sleeping on a rock hard bed we gave in and purchased a mattress topper. We've slept like babies ever since (seriously - get one!) In North America there are Single, Double, King, Queen, and California King sized beds. Here, bed sizes are measured in actual numbers (centimetres) which you would think would make the whole bed system easier. Not so much. In Malta, we are fortunate to have both Continental European and British bed and linen sizes. And just when you think you've figured out what a British 'double' bed size is, you buy Continental 'double' sized sheets. Alas.

None of the Maltese bedrooms I've ever seen have built-in closets. Instead, clothing is stored in dressers or wardrobes. Which makes perfect sense to a chronic furniture re-arranger like me.

Now let's go inside that wardrobe. In Malta clothing sizes follow the British and Continental European models. Which means I feel much skinnier while shopping in Canada. Here, an American size 0 is a European size 4. A 4! You're already starting at a 4! Not especially helpful when your diet consists of unhealthy amounts of crusty Maltese bread and Gozo cheeselets.

As to what you do in the bedroom, that's your business. Well actually, not quite (little known fact!)

In the Maltese bedroom you will also typically find an air conditioner, and quite often a small terrace used for air flow or hanging laundry. Like the rest of the Maltese home, the walls in the bedroom are constructed of rock and covered in a thin layer of plaster. Making them absolutely impossible for hanging paintings on, even for a former gallery girl like me.

Do any of these differences surprise you? What your bedroom. How would it be different from a Canadian or Maltese bedroom? Do tell.

And tomorrow - the kitchen!

- Jess

Monday, April 23, 2012

You Could Be A Map Maker

18th century map image via

Did you know you can improve Google Maps by adding to it? Google Map Maker allows you to add points of interest - businesses, roads, bus stops, apartment buildings, hospitals, banks, universities, cafes, restaurants, gyms, theatres, you name it - to their map service.

How cool is that?

And so useful in a place like Malta, where we don't even have Streetview, let alone official public transit routes on Google Maps. Or any kind of half-decent public transit maps, really.

If you live in Malta, give it a go! I've added three bus stops already, and your local knowledge could be valuable in helping others navigate the ins and outs of this lovely little island.

+ Here is another free online service (coming soon) to help you find your way to shops and avoid traffic in Malta.

- Jess

p.s. blogging will be a little light this week as we work on perfecting our upcoming series of house hunters international posts, and show our current visitor (my oldest childhood friend) around the island!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dog Training in Malta

Last weekend we started a dog training course for the pups (specifically, this PET scheme). We are happy to have found a fantastic trainer who works with positive reinforcement techniques and focuses as much on owner education as he does on dog training. Which is good, because these are two things we need help with.

Our dogs are pretty cute. Too cute for their own good, really. And their looks allow them to get away with much more than they should. We suspect the root of our problems is doggy anxiety. But our biggest complaint is with Ellie - the brown dog.

When we are out in public she barks when she's bored. If we take her for a walk and sit for a rest on a bench she barks for us to keep going. If we go to the beach she barks for us to play with her in the sea. And Ellie's barks are not as cute as you would think they are. They are very loud, ear piercing sounds. It's gotten to the point that outings with Ellie are less than enjoyable, and we are really looking forward to learning about why she does this and how we can help her.

Last weekend we went for a drive to Ghar Lapsi, a quiet little corner in the south of the island where Mike has gone rock climbing. We climbed to a rocky plateau and sat to watch the waves crash against the island of Filfla. A picture perfect moment.

Except for the loud little wiener dog whose barking echoed out across the sea.

Have you ever met a dog who barks when it's bored? Do you have any success (or failure) dog training stories? 

We are so excited to have a jam-packed weekend coming up. Besides going to our dog training course, we'll be at the Amitex Holiday show at the Malta Fairs and Convention Center on Saturday, and the SPCA Malta Spring Fair at Palazzo Parisio on Sunday. We would love to meet some of our local readers at these events, so come out and join us!

On Sunday evening my oldest childhood friend is coming to visit and we are whisking her and her friend off to the St. Publius Festa in Floriana. I can't wait! What are your weekend plans?

- Jess

On a completely unrelated note - can you identify this teeny-tiny mystery flower we saw at Ghar Lapsi?
It looks like an iris, but it's about the size of your nail!

view of Filfla from Ghar Lapsi

Ghar Lapsi

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Marsaxlokk Market Morning

A local's tip to Marsaxlokk: go very early on Sunday morning (like 8 am early) to avoid the crazy crowds of tourists. At this time of the day it's just locals at the market getting shit done. (Pardon my French.) And it's awesome.

Our purchases? Strawberries, as they are perfectly in season right now. And a Maltese lace tablecloth for Mike's mum. Apparently they are the best tablecloths in the world and you don't ever need to iron them. This is her fourth Maltese tablecloth, so it must be true.

Tips for buying Maltese linens and lace: Have your measurements ready in centimetres. Go for the fabric with linen in it if you don't want to iron your tablecloth (you can tell it's linen because it won't be pure white). Most sellers have more stock than what is displayed, so if you don't see something you like just ask. Sometimes the seller will even throw in a few place mats or a runner for free. And a little bartering is permitted if you are making an expensive or bulk purchase.

If you're interested in Maltese textiles, or textiles and fashion generally, head over to my friend's blog The Warp and Weft, where today you can read about Maltese costume in her ongoing Mediterranean Costume Series.

- Jess

marsaxlokk market produce

marsaxlokk market salted fish
marsaxlokk market, salt fish

marsaxlokk market

maltese lace at marsaxlokk market
maltese lace at the marsaxlokk market

maltese linens at the marsaxlokk market

strawberry season in Malta peaks in April

flat pastizzi - cheese cakes - the perfect way to end a market morning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

SPCA Malta Events + Why Volunteer If You're An Expat

As our long time readers know, we volunteer with a cause in Malta that is both special and important to us - the SPCA. The Society for the Protection and Care of Animals does great work on the island to educate the public about responsible pet ownership, advocate for animal welfare, and care for abandoned and stray cats and dogs. We are currently working with them to create a new web site and do a little rebranding, and we also lend a hand at events like the San Grigor festival in Marsaxlokk, pictured below.

A lovely fellow volunteer

La Ruelle restaurant, Marsaxlokk, Malta - sponsoring the SPCA Malta's upcoming Supper Club series!

The SPCA Malta at the San Grigor festa, Marsaxlokk, Malta

Why volunteer if you're an expat? First, it's a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people - locals and fellow expats alike. Heck, its a great way to meet new people even if you aren't an expat. As we get older making friends comes with all kinds of new challenges - especially in a world of web 2.0. Many of us are stumped about where to make valuable new connections, and volunteering is a great place to start.

Volunteering as an expat also provides good insight into the workings of non-profits in your new home country, and sometimes provides an opportunity to interact with more people than you might come into contact with on a daily basis. This is particularly true for us - a student and a work-at-home guy. Of course, it's also something to add to your C.V. But volunteering also gives a sense of normalcy to an expat life that might feel anything but. And, perhaps most importantly for us, it allows us to feel as though we are contributing to the country we love so much, if only in a small way. 

If you're in Malta there are some fantastic SPCA events coming up. We would love to see you at them and meet more of our local readers in person. Please do come out this weekend and say hello!

We'll be at the SPCA Spring Fair at Palazzo Parisio on Sunday, April 22nd from 10 am - 6 pm. There will be homemade cakes, face painting, clowns and games for the little ones, and an animal garden. Its a wonderful opportunity to do a little good and explore the palazzo and its stunning gardens. There is a small entrance fee of a €5 donation to the SPCA at the door (applicable to adults only - a regular admission to the palazzo normally costs €12) and, if you can believe it, pets are also welcome! Imagine wandering around this 18th century palazzo with your pup!

You can keep up-to-date with the SPCA Malta's other events - including an upcoming Supper Club at LaRuelle restaurant in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk - on Facebook here.

Are you an expat volunteering where you live? Expat or not, why do you volunteer and what do you get out of it?

- Jess

p.s. You can read more about our volunteer experiences with the SPCA Malta here, about volunteering at their used bookshop in Floriana here, volunteering with them at the Farsons Beer Festival here, and that time Mike rescued a bunch of one-eyed kittens here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Medieval Festival & Carmelite Priory, Mdina

Last weekend we went to a medieval festival.

Yes, you can roll your eyes.

Medieval festivals get a bit of a bad rap sometimes for being quite touristy or just downright strange. But you don't have to ask us twice to attend one that is set in an authentic medieval city, especially when that city is one of our favourites in the whole world.

During the Mdina Medieval Festival each April the Silent City springs to life for a weekend with actors in full armour and period dress reenacting historical battles and parades. There are also jousting competitions, medieval games, markets, and a display of birds of prey (think the infamous Maltese falcon). During the festival, museums and restaurants throw open their doors and admission to most attractions in the city is half price.

We had a lovely time wandering around Mdina and popping into sites we might not normally see - like the Carmelite Priory. With its grand 17th century Baroque church - the first elliptical church on the island - it is certainly worth a visit. Here you'll find paintings by Mattia Preti, Giuseppe Cali, and Pietro Paolo Troisi. And if you time your visit right - Saturdays at noon - you'll be treated to a classical music performances held in the beautiful space of the priory's refectory (dining room). While you'll be tempted to look up at the priory's incredible painted ceilings the whole time you're here, don't forget to look down and examine the traditional Maltese tile work. I have a (strange?) affection for these tiles, and to be frank, for the entire city of Mdina. Both are quiet, humble, and so beautifully Maltese.
- Jess

Visiting the Carmelite Priory in Mdina: The church and museum is open 10 am - 5pm and admission is €4-€3. Your visit should take less than an hour. Private tours are also available. Historical information is clearly displayed throughout the museum in English. You can also eat lunch here at the Old Priory Cafe (we have in previous years and it was fine). You can find an event calendar for the priory here.

carmelite priory, mdina, malta
the carmelite priory's recently restored elliptical dome, mdina

carmelite priory kitchens, mdina malta
carmelite priory kitchens, mdina

carmelite priory kitchens, mdina
carmelite priory kitchens, mdina

carmelite priory kitchens, mdina butcher cleaver
carmelite priory kitchens, mdina

carmelite priory's painted ceiling, mdina malta
the painted ceiling of the refectory (dining room) in the carmelite priory, mdina

carmelite priory's painted ceiling, mdina malta
the painted ceiling of the refectory in the carmelite priory, mdina
carmelite priory mdina malta
carmelite priory's refectory (dining room), mdina - used as a performance space for theatre and classical music

carmelite priory's painted ceiling, mdina malta
carmelite priory's refectory (dining room), mdina

maltese tiled floors
traditional maltese tiled floors

carmelite priory, mdina
the carmelite priory's church in mdina is accessed through the back of the altar -
a bit unconventional, and quite intimate.

carmelite priory, mdina church dome malta
circular dome of the carmelite priory, mdina

carmelite priory, mdina
carmelite priory, mdina

carmelite priory elliptical dome mdina malta
the carmelite priory's elliptical dome in mdina - the first in malta

mdina medieval festival 2012, malta
mdina medieval festival 2012, malta

mdina medieval festival 2012, malta

mdina glass maltese beer malta
a maltese beer on a mdina glass table.
yes, we felt a little touristy at this point.

mdina medieval festival 2012, malta
mdina medieval festival 2012, malta

archery at the mdina medieval festival 2012, malta
archery at the mdina medieval festival 2012, malta

the ancient walled city of mdina. one of our very favourite places on the island.