Friday, August 31, 2012

Nice to Meet You!

my favourite souvenir and i in front of the valletta skyline
Today I am guest posting about my favourite Canadian souvenir at La Mia Vita while expat blogger Nicole gets settled in her new home of Madrid.

If you're visiting from La Mia Vita, welcome! Do stay awhile. (And thanks for not being too weirded out by my entire blog post dedicated to a beach towel.)

The Guide: our picks for the best things to eat, see and do in Malta + advice for expats

Short attention span? Try our quick & dirty guide to Malta

Where else you can find us on the web, in print, and on TV

+ connect with Mike & Jess in Malta on Twitter, Facebook & Pinterest

- Jess

p.s. We're currently taking a big road trip through western Europe. Today we're travelling through Pisa, Italy - have you been? We would love to hear your tips below!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Travel Plans: Outtakes

Since our car broke down and we'll be flying to Italy and renting a car, instead of driving ours from Malta to London, we had to cut and paste to our road trip itinerary. Here are some of the (pet friendly!) destinations that didn't make the cut:

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I suspect Positano is like Santorini (Greece): a good place to splurge on a lovely seaside hotel. Like rain on a tropical vacation, for me, nothing ruins a holiday like staying in the cheapest/ickiest hotel in such a lovely, luxurious location. We'll save this travel destination for when our pocketbooks are fatter.

Tip: not many hotels on the Amalfi Coast allow pets.

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Located in Maremma, an area of Tuscany between Rome and Florence, Pitigliano is like a town out of a fairytale book. Built layer upon layer on a rock cliff face it is absolutely stunning.

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Also located in the Maremma area, the tiny village of Saturina boasts these gorgeous sulphurous springs. According to legend, they were created by a bolt of lightening thrown by Jupiter or Saturn. A balmy 37°C/99°F all year long, we might just have to visit these during the winter months someday.

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How amazing is this curious little village? Alberobello is located near Bari in the heel of Italy's boot. Its stone conical homes are called trulli and for about €100 a night you can sleep in one! We planned to stay in this gorgeous trullo outside of the town, or this one in the city centre. Have you ever seen anything like it?

Tip: if you're headed to Alberobello, public parking in the city is free!

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A couple hours from Alberobello is Matera, an ancient town where many hotels have 'cave rooms' or rooms cut from rock! This one would be a splurge, so we were going to stay at Fra I Sassi Residence (isn't the view from its terrace lovely?)

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Can you believe this town is in Italy, not Greece? In the vicinity of Matera and Alberobello, Ostuni is Italy's 'White Town'. It also has free public parking.

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I had never heard of the town of Caserta before I stumbled upon the eighteenth century Palace of Caserta online. This palace puts Versailles to shame. Rolling gardens, immense state apartments (44 compared to Versailles' measly 22!) and bicycles built for two? I'm looking for any excuse I can get to make my way to Caserta soon. We planned on staying at Hotel Jolly Caserta, right on the front lawn of the palace!

Tip: Caserta is north of Naples and the Amalfi Coast. You could easily fit it in as a stop over or a day trip, along with Pompeii and Herculaneum (just 45 minutes away by car). 

Mike's only road trip request was that we drive along the Rhine river in Germany (mine was that we not have to eat schnitzel). Unfortunately, we had to cut this portion of our trip out (no schnitzel! hoorah!) But, since we fly through Germany to get to Canada every year, we plan on tacking a quick Rhine road trip on to one of those trips. Boppard and Sankt Goar look like beautiful Rhine river towns. With free parking, this super affordable hotel in Koblenz, where the Rhine meets the Mosel river, is a steal.

Because we were originally going to take our own car on our road trip, we would have had to take a ferry from Malta to Sicily, making Palermo an easy stop. We're not too disappointed we had to cut it from our plans. Only a 90 minute ferry ride away, we'll get there someday. And when we do, I have my heart set on also visiting San Vito Lo Capo too.

Tip: if you're taking a car into Palermo, expect to pay the parkers or posteggiatori! (Must be where Malta gets it from...)

Since everything that got cut from our itinerary is in southern Italy, I'm thinking this could be a great off-season road trip in itself. Maybe by that time our car will be healthy again, and the pups can come along too!

- Jess

p.s. I pin places I'd like to go to someday here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Travel Plans!

We are super excited about our upcoming road trip through western Europe. Here's where we're headed (in chronological order):

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This is our 'stopover' city - we're only going to Pisa because the price and schedule of Ryanair flights was right. We'll be renting a car and starting our journey from here. And what's a trip through Europe without that infamous photo of you pinching/pushing/kicking/holding up the leaning tower? (See a hilarious slideshow of them here)

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I've been to Florence once, on a trip to Europe with my mum in 2007, and it rained the whole time. Standing in line for the Uffizi for three hours in a downpour? Not fun. We're hoping for drier weather this time around. This is one of the few places I've been to that Mike hasn't, so I'm hoping to show him a thing or two. And find that little shop that had that amazing blackberry gelato...

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When I conjure up an image of Nice in my head all I can think of is white linen pants. And Mike has those in spades, so I think we'll fit right in here.

In my wildest travel fantasies we would spend the night in Monaco instead of Nice, and I would get glammed up in a silky dress and go to the casino with James Bond and titter appreciatively at all of his clever comments and drink cocktails garnished with gold leaf. But my pocketbook said 'maybe next time...' (or maybe never)

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Avignon is Mike's pick for the trip. He's got a thing for castles, and the Palais des Papes is not like to disappoint (unlike my Monaco reality check).

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If we were going to be in the south of France, so close to Spain, I couldn't resist nipping down and stuffing myself silly with Spanish food. I'm also really interested in the city's eclectic architecture: Moorish castles, La Seo Cathedral - a great example of Mudejar work - and Roman theatres and monuments. But let's be honest, it's really all about the food. I am to paella and sangria as Homer Simpson is to donuts.

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I've wanted to go to Bilbao since reading Christine's glowing recommendation and beautiful photos here. Pinxtos and txakoli? Count me in. Every time Mike and I visit a Spanish city we find ourselves sitting at a cafe saying 'we could live here'. Christine thinks the same about Bilbao, so I'm intrigued. 

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On our way from Bilbao to Chambord we're going to stop in San Sebastian, Spain, for breakfast. Isn't it gorgeous?

And on Christine's recommendation we'll also be checking out lovely Lekeitio. We'll be there for their (infamous?) Day of the Geese, which both appalls and intrigues me (see why here).

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In our original itinerary we had to make a stop in France somewhere between Bilbao and London. We were going to stay in a cheap little roadside hotel near Poitiers (and the Futuroscope - a 4D & 5D cinema themepark!) but, frankly, I wasn't that excited about it. Poitiers Shmotiers.

Then we found Chambord, the Loire Valley's biggest castle. And our mid-France stop just got a whole lot more interesting. It's like a Disney castle, but for real.

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Last spring, amid the craziness of the Royal Wedding and our over-travelled fatigue (yes, it exists!) London stole my heart. We're thrilled to be returning to London where we're attending a friend-of-the-family's wedding. Unfortunately we couldn't scoop up any Paralympics tickets (we're keeping an eye on Rio...) but we'll be there to catch the end of some of the Cultural Olympiad events (Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern! huzzah!) We'll also be seeing a theatrical performance, but we can't decide between Shakespeare's Timon of Athens and The Phantom of the Opera. What would you pick?

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I'm so excited about seeing Bruges after reading Liz's post about it. "A more fairy-tale like version of Amsterdam"? Sold!

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Remember last Spring when we were runners-up in Go with Oh's travel blogger contest? We'll be using our three free nights in this incredible artist's studio in the 11th arrondisement. In my wildest I-live-in-Paris-and-have-incredible-metabolism-and-eat-French-bread-every-single-day dreams we live in this flat. 

see more here
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Mike's dad recommended we stop over in Annecy on our way from Paris to Italy. I really know nothing about it, except that it looks like a fabulously gorgeous French version of Venice. Once I Google-Imaged it (new verb I just made up) I decided Annecy is the town for me.

Google Image is a completely legitimate way to decide if you want to travel somewhere, right? Plenty of time to stock up on historical trivia later.

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Sirmione! I was so pleased when I found out about this little peninsular town on Italy's Lake Garda. Home to Scaliger Castle and the Grotto of Cattulus - one of the best preserved Roman villas in northern Italy - I'm itching to spend a day here swimming in its thermal pools and the lake, and exploring ancient ruins.

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We'll be ending our trip in Bologna, where we'll return our rental car and catch another Ryanair flight back to Malta. If I know nothing about Annecy, I know even less about Bologna (home of Bolognese sauce?) Have you been?

We've been getting lots of great travel tips and recommendations for the places we'll be visiting this September from blog readers, Twitter followers, and Facebook fans. Thanks guys! Keep them coming.

Also, we don't usually divulge our travel expenses on the blog. But would you find our travel costs breakdown interesting or useful? I know people often wonder how much these things cost, and it might help you plan your own European adventure. Let me know!

- Jess 

p.s. I'm pinning our road trip plans, including recommendations we receive from readers, here.
p.p.s tomorrow - the travel destinations that didn't make the cut (this time!)

Monday, August 27, 2012

I flew a plane.

italian fighter jets at the malta international airport (armed?)
aerial view of dingli cliffs

aerial view of valletta

aerial view of valletta, malta's capital city

aerial view of tigne point
landing at the malta international airport in luqa

My super-awesome-fiancĂ©-supreme (who may or may not have suggested this nickname) bought me a microlight flying lesson with the Island Microlight Club Malta for last month's instalment of my birthday gift. Microlight planes are very small planes that can only carry up to 400kg. The last time I was in a small airplane was when I was about 12 years old and my father's cousin showed up at our family cottage (and sunk our sailboat) with his float plane. 

Flying a small plane was exactly how I remembered (minus the sinking the boat part). The instructor, who was a Maltese Canadian by chance, flew with me from the airport in Luqa up to Bugibba, then along the coast and above our apartment in Sliema. During my flight we also circled over Valletta and the cruise ship terminal. After 30 minutes of tight turns and unpredictable winds I landed feeling like I just got off a really good roller coaster. 

Jess was happy to see me safely back on the ground, and perhaps even happier that she didn't have to go for the aerial roller coaster ride.
- Mike

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Picture of Innocence

You would never know, beneath those big brown eyes, lies the heart of two vicious crazy spirited lizard hunters. Every day and every night Ellie and Win look forward to taking a walk. Not only to relieve themselves, but to stalk their prey. The Maltese wall lizard. This island's version of the squirrel.

Poor little guys. The bigger ones are pretty quick to hide under a rock or between the cracks of a wall, but the smaller ones haven't quite caught on that dogs are predators. Despite our best efforts to protect the lizards, Elle has managed to scoop them up in her mouth a couple times. I think their wriggling freaks her out, and she immediately spits them back out unharmed. You would think that would turn her off lizards altogether (and I don't imagine they taste very good) but no. If there's something to be said about Chihuahua Dachshund mixes, they are stubborn times two.

But back at home, nestled in the sunny space between our doors and curtains, they are the picture of innocence.

This weekend we're headed to the beach, eating breakfast for dinner, checking out the greasy pole action in Spinola Bay, and a friend from Canada is flying in to see the island. What are your plans?

- Jess

Thursday, August 23, 2012

This is Summer

Aren't these shots Mike's dad took while visiting us great? When the mercury rises tourists and locals all over the island head to the shore to cool off. I love that the shorelines are dotted with ladders for easy sea access, and the rock cut sections that create perfect little turquoise pools.

What does summer look like where you live?

- Jess

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Capture the Colour PhotoBlogging Contest

We were recently nominated to participate in TravelSupermarket's Capture the Colour PhotoBlogging contest by fellow travel bloggers Travelling Tonito and Christine in Spain. The prize? An iPad or £2000 in travel money. The task? Submit a travel photo blog post on the theme of five colours.

We're still learning the ropes of this photography thing, but living and and travelling around Europe, we're surrounded by no shortage of colour. So here we go.

WHITE: During our weekend in Venice last summer Jess caught this little intimate moment on camera: a shot of Mike and a bit of Italian sunshine bursting through the shuttered windows of our hotel room. No, it's not the most glamorous of travel photos - no pretty landscape, no quirky locals, no expensive lenses or overzealous Photoshop doctoring. But not many photographs capture the feeling of a memory, and for us this one does.

RED: During a road trip from Mayrhofen to Vienna, Austria, we stopped at the Mauthausen Gusen concentration camp. The plastic flowers laid at its memorials were a poignant reminder of the humanity that still endures in that cold, isolated, and unimaginably cruel place. Jess wrote about her impressions of the site, and the importance of visiting it, in this blog post.

GREEN: As we drove through the Greek mountains in the Spring of 2011, alternately marvelling at our surroundings and white-knuckling the steering wheel down impossibly narrow roads next to the sheerest of cliffs, we were stopped in our tracks by a herd of sheep. Like a scene from a movie, with the sun setting behind us, it was incredible. During our time in the Greek mountains we frequently encountered shepherds tending their flocks. For us, they came to be symbolize the little pockets of authentic culture and tradition that the luckiest of us travellers come to find. Like sheep in the middle of the road, those little pockets stop you dead in your tracks. And you're grateful for it.

BLUE: This is the La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias de Valencia (City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia) which we discovered during our trip to Valencia in November of 2011. This photo is a reminder of all that Valencia was for us: vibrant, modern, and stunningly surprising. (Incidentally, this was also the first trip we ever blogged about!)

YELLOW: We are firm believers in travelling at home. Our blog is a testament to that. And our favourite travel photos are those we capture right here in our backyard, on the little island in the middle of the Mediterranean that we have made our home. If we had to chose a colour to represent Malta it would be yellow. The searing sunshine, the yellow wildflowers that cover the island in the springtime, the bloom of the prickly pear cactus, the honey coloured limestone that is the cornerstone - literally - of Maltese architecture. The shades of yellow on this island become most vibrant (almost surreal) at sunset, during that golden hour that photographers so covet. When the last fingers of sunlight touch the limestone fortifications of Birgu (pictured above) and Valletta, the skyline comes alive in a golden hue that is completely unique to these shores. And it is nothing short of magical.

As part of the contest we are nominating five other travelling bloggers to participate:

// Jay - From There to Here
// Liz - Explore. Dream. Discover.
// Kristina - Le Fabuleux Destin
// Jenna - A Home Away from Home
// Nicole - La Mia Vita

Best of luck!

- Mike & Jess