I forgot to mention that during our flight to Cyprus I quite enjoyed watching the islands below, as well as a brief glimpse of the coast of the Anatolian peninsula, as I was able to follow along easily on maps.me. The flight to Malta was equally thrilling, in that we passed over the island of Crete along the way, and doubled back in the bay of Mleiha with a commanding view over the harbour and the entire island of Malta as we descended. Luckily, the descent was much less harrowing than our descent into Larnaca. The entry through the airport was one of the most efficient we’ve ever experienced. Our bags were already laid out in front of the luggage claim, and we passed quickly through immigration as well.
It took us a bit of effort to check in, however. I got quite motion sick on the short drive down the middle of the island on the narrow, winding roads typical throughout the island. No one was in the hotel, however, so we ended up following a friendly local old man to the nearby restaurant where we met the owner to check us in.
My first impression of Malta was a mix of Morocco of Italy, which I suppose makes sense given its location and history. Mashrabiyya’s lined narrow beige-stone streets dotted with baroque churches and seemingly the statue of a saint at every corner. I did not expect to be be so thoroughly impressed by the tiny island nation. Throughout our time in Malta, I continually reflected on my own education and the many holes in the teaching of history in the standard American curriculum. I say this without accusation – any curriculum must necessarily omit. Every program of study is in its very existence an exercise in narrative design. In the case of Malta, about which I learned nothing at all in the States, its a simple difference of emphasis. When speaking with my Russian tutor, she mentioned Malta’s importance to Christianity as a primary reason for it featuring in Russian history curriculum. For neolithic civilizations we choose other parts of the world to study in the USA. For the struggles over the Mediterranean we focus on Rome to the near exclusion of all others. For the modern wars of Europe we focus on American involvement in the World Wars. Malta has always waited just at the fringe of the scope of our curriculum.
Of course I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I. Suffice to say that Malta is steeped in history, linguistic and cultural richness, fabulous architecture and art, and natural wonders that I hope to return to again. Shortly after arriving in Rabat, for instance, we chanced upon a procession for the festa of Rabat – a Catholic Saint’s day celebration with the solemn pronouncements delivered over a walkie-talkie held next to an electronic megaphone in the fascinating Arabic-Italian-French-English derived language of Maltese. We followed this procession through Rabat, then split off and explored the “silent city” of Mdina. I’d chosen this location specifically for this moniker and it proved an inspired choice. The cities were indeed silent at night, with very few people – let alone tourists – out and about. We ate a decent pizza in the courtyard of a baroque Palazzo – why did the AP chose the inaccessible Palazzo Rucelai in Florence instead of one of the many brilliantly preserved and still-in-use exemplars of such architecture in Malta?
Our brilliant hotel came equipped with an excellent espresso machine, delicious breakfasts of just the right size and variety, and, to QQ’s delight, beautiful blue tilework of many designs. In retrospect I regret my determination throughout our vacation to fill our days with tourism, and particularly in Malta – it would’ve been lovely to just spend time doing nothing in the beauty of Rabat and Mdina.
Most of our time in Rabat and Mdina was late in the afternoon or at night after we’d returned from other destinations. This tended to be earlier than most other destinations, because everything in Malta closes strangely early – four in the afternoon. I was also always quite exhausted by then, anyways. We therefore spent most golden hours back in the old capital, a time when all the museums and sights were closed, but also when all the tourists were gone. We even lucked out (apparently a phrase that can mean its opposite depending on location) one evening when St. Paul’s Cathedral happened to be open for mass. I scribbled the interior and a fellow tourist asked to take a photograph of me drawing. I’d pass him later on at an excellent restaurant in Rabat and give him my card.
There’s not much to write about our time in Rabat aside from the quiet beauty and pleasant atmosphere. Nothing grand or dramatic. In many ways it was my ideal vacation destination – I only wish we’d taken better advantage of it.
Even the food was lovely at all price points. We tried some nice Maltese rabbit and quail at a mid-range restaurant – Adelphi’s, had a brilliant baked gnocchi at the very casually fancy Townhouse No.3, and my personal favorite – hilariously cheap pastizzi and qassatat with pea, cheese, or chicken filling. Simple yet subtly delicious – addictive in the way that the 小籠包 from 萬壽齋 are – nothing you can pinpoint, exactly, just a humble recipe made perfectly.