Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bird Park Malta

We recently visited Malta's newest attraction: Bird Park Malta. And it certainly won't be our last visit.

Mike and I are generally uneasy about visiting zoos and wildlife parks, but on an island where there is very little wildlife to be seen, we were itching for a close encounter. I'm not sure that animals should be kept in captivity, and I always feel as though zoos and parks have limitless room for improvement. They can always provide more space to their animals, give better care, and better food. I haven't seen a facility that is an exception to this, Bird Park Malta included. But visiting this park was a very positive experience, too.

I commend Bird Park Malta for creating a space in which children and adults can be educated and come into contact with wildlife. Malta is a country where illegal bird hunting and animal welfare are hot topics and prominent problems, and if public education and exposure is needed anywhere, it's here.

At Bird Park Malta you can see over 200 species of birds and animals. Parrots, owls, geese, ducks, goats, meerkats, kangaroos, antelope, flamingos, pelicans. It was amazing. But what's more special about this park is that you can touch, hold, and interact with dozens of birds and animals who are willing and interested in human contact. Under careful supervision from park staff (which, honestly, could be more careful, there were some pretty rambunctious kids handling those little guys) looking into the eyes of a little owl, or snuggling a duckling, or playing with a parrot, or giving a goat a scratch round its itchy horns, is nothing short of magical.

- Jess

Before you go:
General admission is €8 per person, €5 for children
Current opening hours are 10am-8pm, Saturday and Sunday
Tours are available three times daily at 11am, 1pm and 3pm
There is a cafe on site with amazing views into the park
Tickets can be purchased from the cafe
Restrooms are located inside the cafe

Monday, July 30, 2012

I'm Freelancing and...

I'm doing freelance work for a new expat web site launched by the creators of EasyExpat and BlogExpat: Expat-Quotes.com.

Expat-Quotes.com is a hub for expat services and articles, where you can contact and receive free quotes from moving and storage companies, international schools, etc. and find out everything you'll need to know about your new home. I'm pleased to be developing content for their Malta and Canada country guides, where you'll notice that I'm writing under a new name. That's because...

Just kidding!

(I can practically hear the collective gasps and sighs of relief from my family members on the other side of the world.)

I've chosen to write under my soon-to-be married name for continuity's sake. I didn't want to publish under one name only to throw it away in a couple years. While most people chose to keep their maiden name for that very reason, I like Mike's name and I'm a five foot tall ball of contradictions over here: I've always liked and loathed tradition. So there it is. I'll take his name, but I'll take it early if I want to. Plus, pen names are kind of fun, aren't they?

I'm now publishing under Jess G. Maybe someday it will be as big of a pseudonym as Mark Twain, George Eliot, or Lewis Carroll. A girl can dream.

You can read my Malta articles here, and my Canadian articles here. I'm still developing content for both countries, so if you're a current or prospective expat looking for information, check back regularly.

Did you change your name when you got married? Do you plan to? How did you deal with the professional impacts (if any) of that decision? Hyphens? Office-wide emails? Mid-interview philosophical monologues?

To work together on a freelance project, contact me at mikejessblog (at) gmail (dot) com.

- Jess

p.s. we toyed with the idea of combining last names, but Gook just didn't have the same ring to it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Splash 'n Fun Waterpark, Malta

A morning in July at Malta's Splash n Fun water park wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. First of all - the slides are tame enough to almost tempt me, but scary enough that my mum got to the top of one and decided her life insurance policy wasn't up to snuff. And while the whole park is getting a bit run down (and the highly anticipated water Zorbing wasn't anywhere to be seen) the wave pool and lazy river were a welcome respite from the heat. Plus, all of the slides and pools at this water park are fed by filtered salty sea water (so much nicer than chlorinated!) And the water park staffs a highly enthusiastic team of young animators who engage sunbathers in water stretching, dance lessons, volleyball tournaments, and football matches, to the tune of Will Smith and Euro pop songs. Which made it feel more like being at a Club Med for a day than a little water park in Malta.

I would recommend Splash n Fun to families, groups of friends, and thrill seekers who need a break from museums and sightseeing. Go early to get a good sunbed (opens at 9 am during peak season) and bring your own snacks. While food and drink technically isn't permitted within the park, like all rules in Malta, this one is meant to be broken. And for good reason - the park menu is limited and so-so at best.

Splash n Fun Water Park Malta - Before you go:
Open Monday-Sunday 9am-9pm in peak season
€20 day pass for adults, €12 for children / €25 2 day pass for adults, €15 for children
€2 roundtrip transport available when booked ahead
Memberships, BBQs, and party facilities also available
Located in Bahar ic-Caghaq on the Coast Road. Parking is free. Accessible by bus routes 12, 14, 205, and 222

- Jess

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Comino: Malta's Desert Island

We arrived on Comino early one morning in July, and were lucky to enjoy a couple of hours of almost complete desertion before the teeny shorelines of this famous little island became packed with tourists. It was a breezy day, so we took a hike across half of this 1.4m2/3.5km2 rock, through the brown, dusty landscape, to Santa Marija Tower. We didn't see a single person along the way - a refreshing change to the densely populated villages on the main island.

Look familiar? Santa Marija Tower was the filming location of Chateau d'If in the film adaption of The Count of Monte Cristo! It was built in 1618 by Grand Master Wignacourt of the Knights of St. John/Malta as part of a defensive line of towers between Gozo's Citadella and the ancient capital city of Mdina. Today, the Din L-Art Helwa National Trust opens the tower to the public on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10:30am to 3:00pm. It is also available to book for private functions - what a romantic location for a destination wedding, or an unforgettable corporate function!

This island has been inhabited since Roman times, but did you know only four people live here now? They operate the charming little Comino hotel. We've always wanted to stay here (you get the whole island to yourself! pool! tennis courts! scuba diving!) but haven't gotten around to it yet. Someday!

- Jess

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What it's like to go wedding dress shopping in Malta (Part I)

Before we get started, my wedding dress shopping point of comparison is two reluctant trips to two bridal-wear stores in my Canadian hometown to price compare and confirm my uneasy relationship with wedding dresses.

If I'm going to spend any money on a dress (which I'm not very keen on doing) I want it to be one bad-ass work-of-art piece of clothing. I don't want an unintentionally designed dress. I want something a little different, but still recognizably wedding-esque. It's a thin line, and not an easy one to walk. Definitely not an easy one to explain to a salesperson. But if all else fails I'll just head over to Zara and pluck up a cheap white-ish number. I'm just not keen on anything in between.

Stepping off of my soap box, I walked into Pronovias on the Strand in Gzira, Malta, to try on my first wedding dress. I don't need to buy any time soon (one of the many luxuries of a long engagement), but my mum and little sister were in Malta, and it was probably one of the only times I'll be able to get in-person familial input during the whole wedding process.

I had made an appointment to try on dresses, and my salesperson - Marisa - kindly took down my details and helped me look through Pronovias' current collection on a touchscreen monitor. I chose four dresses I didn't hate and we headed to the change area - a What Not to Wear 360 degree mirrored room. I stripped in front of Marisa and put on a crinoline hoop contraption, which Marisa told me would allow me to walk (as I skeptically raised my eyebrows).

Then Marisa opened a closet full of cream coloured high heels, and asked me my size. I am probably not wearing heels on my wedding day but I went along with it anyway. In a country where most women wear heels every. single. day. I was sure Marisa wouldn't understand that I wanted to be able to walk down the aisle without cringing (Maltese women are so practiced and elegant in heels they never cringe).

Between the hoops and the heels it was, needless to say, difficult to move.

Marisa came in with one dress at a time, and surprisingly, they went over my head, instead of me stepping into them, which I hadn't expected. The dresses were all a sample size UK 12/US 8. Which, even though that's not far off from my size, I was swimming in.

Then it was just me, Marisa, and the mirror. And the session went much like any other wedding dress session does (I assume. I'm new to this whole bride thing). Marisa made all the right comments, and I found things I liked and loathed about every dress I tried on. Then she called in my mum and sister to have a look. Easy.

(we were actually happier than we look in these photos)
wedding dress shopping in malta
There was almost no sales pressure, which was a nice surprise. Marisa thought my train would look lovely flowing down the aisle of a Maltese church. Which was really sweet of her, but we will have a civil ceremony, and I don't like most long trains. Like the heels, this is a cultural difference, so I let it go.

The dress I hated the least (or liked the most, if you're a glass half full kind of girl) was a simple, natural waisted gown in soft tulle and feathers (pictured above). Yes, feathers. A la Swan Lake. Still a bit too much on the traditional side for me, but not altogether awful. Alas, I did not purchase the dress. It cost €1900 (ohmygosh! way more than a month's rent!): exactly what I estimated this one would. Alterations - the bodice and the length - would have cost an additional €80.

I was particularly surprised to learn that if I put a deposit down on the dress, no other bride in Malta could wear it until after my wedding. I suppose that on a small island such a policy avoids the always awkward situation of wearing the same wedding dress as your best friend's cousin (the horror!)

Regardless of my uneasy relationship with wedding dresses, I think I'll be popping into Pronovias again. Although I'm not sure I'll find the work of art I'm looking for there, the no-pressure atmosphere was exactly what I wanted and nothing like similar bridal shops in Canada, where I was faced with a never ending cascade of personal questions and unsolicited opinions. And I didn't even make it to the change room!

- Jess

p.s.  I pin obscene amounts of sparkly, frothy, bad-ass, modern wedding fluff on my Pinterest boards. Follow along!

p.p.s I didn't cry/see fireworks/gasp/squeal when I tried on my first wedding dress (although I think it's adorable when other people do). And I'm okay with that. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

St. Peter's Pool

In the south of the island there is a little rocky cove known to locals as St. Peter's Pool. Surrounded by little cliffs, incredible rock formations, and soft limestone, it is covered in inscriptions, bearing witness to years and years of sunbathers and swimmers.

Do you notice a similarity in all of the carvings pictured above? That's right - famous R&B and Hip Hop stars. How curious!


psst - directions to St. Peter's Pool - from Marsaxlokk take Triq il-Patrijiet-Terezjani (at the big roundabout with black asphalt at the top of the village) to Triq Delimara. Follow Triq Delimara until the second small parking lot on your right, in front of the power station. Park here, or proceed a few meters up the road and turn left onto a (really bad) dirt road between fields. Follow this dirt road to the end, where you'll find yourself in a parking lot. Follow the marked path down the hill to the water. Wear shoes you can easily walk in, and take lots of water. There are no water or W/C facilities at this off-the-beaten-path (literally) swimming hole. There are rubbish and charcoal bins, and ladder access to the water in the summer months.

Monday, July 23, 2012

When your mother & little sister show you up.

You end up snapping photos from the ground and chasing two little pups around while they (15 and 47 years old!) scale a rock wall in Wied Babu (Babu Valley). How awesome are they! And they weren't even sore the next day (show offs).

- Jess

rock climbing in wied babu, malta

I did not inherit those athletic genes. Or the blonde locks.