A Bittersweet Introduction to Malta’s Celebrated Honey and Bees

Our first encounter with Malta’s revered honey was destined to offer a bittersweet lesson.

At a Christmas market in the Mediterranean country’s capital city, Valletta, we first met third-generation beekeeper and retired science teacher, Michael Muscat. On that chilly evening, girls dressed in holiday hues sang familiar Christmas tunes, peppered with Maltese lyrics. Politicians delivered their Christmas speeches in the open air, and I shook the country’s president’s hand three times. (She was making the rounds throughout the crowd, Shawn and I were moving about as well, thus the comical trio of salutations.) Inside an adjacent tent, vendors sold everything from handmade jewelry, to carob-infused wine, to candles. And as we edged towards the booth operated by Michael and his wife Mary, they literally had their last jar of honey in hand.

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Putting Malta in the Limelight: Valletta’s Manoel Theatre

 

From the outside, Malta’s Manoel Theatre is handsome, but unassuming. Step through its main entrance and into the theater though, and the 285-year-old Valletta structure is dazzling – bringing to mind a gilded jewelry box or a terraced wedding cake.

Stopping by this Maltese landmark on an overcast morning uncharacteristic for sunny Malta, Shawn and I were greeted by Josette Portelli, a veteran employee who has been with the Manoel Theatre for more than 40 years.

Upon entering, Josette’s colleagues fumbled with the complicated switchboard at the back of the seating area, trying to illuminate the theater. Soon, the space went from pitch black and mysterious, to opulent and inviting. A delicate chandelier high overhead was the stunning focal point among a sea of smaller crystal sconces, bathing the 65 or so theater boxes with mood lighting.

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Green & Tranquil Malta: Tasting Maltese Food & Wine in the Countryside

Close to where Malta’s Victoria Lines fortifications taper off, there’s a little piece of Mediterranean paradise –  a plot of land where olive and pomegranate trees, along with chickens, goldfish, frogs, and bees mingle. The spot, called the Tan-Nixxiegħa Olive Grove, began its transformation from overgrown and forgotten, to tended and tranquil, just over a decade ago, thanks to two farmers named Charley and Raymond.

The duo, who are part of the Merill Ecotours Rural Network, converted the green-space, allowing the parcel’s flora and fauna to thrive. Today, thanks to Charley and Raymond’s hard work, you can hear the clucking of chickens, the whisper of the trees’ branches as they dance in the air and the babbling of a tiny fishpond.

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Sinking my Teeth into Subotica, Serbia: A Tale of Art Nouveau & Dental Tourism

Sitting in a dentist’s chair half-way around the world from ‘home’, I was told the disappointing news: I had my first, albeit tiny, cavity. Shawn and I had come to Subotica, Serbia to devour its delightful Art Nouveau architecture, but I hadn’t imagined that one of my teeth would be wearing a porcelain souvenir upon our departure from the historic city. While we’d read about Subotica’s gorgeous architecture and promising wine in a New York Times article dubbing it one of 52 Places to Go in 2014, we had only learned about the northern Serbian city’s well-respected dental tourism by chance, once we’d arrived there. Long curious about the medical tourism phenomenon, we sandwiched routine dental check-ups in between a Subotica walking tour, market visit and leisurely strolls.

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Seeing Red: Capturing the Island of Malta in Cardinal & Crimson

 

When we moved to the Mediterranean island of Malta last autumn, we envisioned our leisure time swiftly being spent exploring the country’s plentiful heritage sites, soaking up the sunshine, and strolling by the beautiful blue water encircling the tiny island. Back then, we couldn’t imagine all the red tape that we’d have to ‘cut through’ in order to settle into another new country. At times, we were feeling a bit daunted by it all.

Once we’d overcome bureaucratic tasks like securing a visa and finding an apartment, it was time to begin getting acquainted with this island, which boasts 7,000 years of history and a fervor for festivals. Not long after we arrived, Malta ‘rolled out the red carpet’ for world leaders attending a high-profile summit and meeting of Commonwealth nations. And soon, Malta’s communities began ‘painting their towns red’ with traditional saint’s day festivals (festas), and lively celebrations of the Carnival, Christmas and New Year’s sort. In finally being able to soak up all these details, we went from feeling daunted to delighted by our new surroundings.

As I looked back on the past six months here, I noticed that of all the fantastic color that makes Malta’s street scenes come alive, red hues are especially plentiful. From the island’s flag, to its ubiquitous crimson-colored phone booths and enclosed balconies, red simply abounds here.

What follows is a photo essay of some of the splashes of red which I’ve spotted. Continue reading “Seeing Red: Capturing the Island of Malta in Cardinal & Crimson”

Of Orange Groves & Tangerine Sunsets: An Ecotour in Rural Malta

Living in Valletta, where there isn’t much green space, Shawn and I have swiftly fallen for the charms of Malta’s countryside. While honking horns and heavy traffic prevail in the densely populated parts of the Mediterranean island, the feeling is relaxed outside these urban areas. Open fields are dotted with agricultural plots of land and rocky walls, and the air is fresh and crisp. And if you keep motoring far enough, you reach land’s end and the beginning of the brilliant blue sea.

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The Doors of Valletta, Malta

 

Valletta-Malta-Architecture-Doors-Collage

When I had my maiden visit to the Mediterranean nation of Malta in 2006, the island’s capital city, Valletta, was largely a diamond in the rough. Countless old limestone palazzi were forgotten, shyly sporting boarded-up windows. Nestled among these once-noble structures were shuttered storefronts, many of which still wore vintage signs that showed what businesses were housed inside decades before. I tried to imagine who passed through the doorway of a former ironmongers’ shop. I visualized sailors, in port for the day, buying their sweethearts something sparkly at the jeweler’s. I could almost hear the laughter and pleas of children, begging their parents to purchase them a sweet treat from the confectioner’s shop.

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Harvesting for a Cause: Picking Olives in Mediterranean Malta

Strolling some Mediterranean sidewalks during the late-autumn months, it’s not unusual to see shriveling olives wasting away on the ground. There are, of course, locals who spirit away buckets of a forgotten tree’s olives, or the odd pigeon that might take a peck at the bitter fruit, but it’s been my observation that a considerable amount of urban olives go to waste.

Enter enterprising University of Malta Professor, Dr. David Mifsud. Late last year, Shawn received an email from the university inviting students and community members to participate in an olive harvest being led by David. As something that’s been on our must-do list for some time, Shawn and I jumped at the chance to spend a few hours as volunteer olive pickers. We were also thrilled to hear that this Mediterranean staple was being harvested for a cause. The olives picked would be pressed into oil, bottled and sold, all to benefit charities serving Maltese residents with special needs or illness.

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