Harvesting Sea Salt on the Maltese Island of Gozo

On the northern coast of the Maltese island of Gozo, mounds of snow-white salt sparkle under the summer sun in salt evaporation pans. About 300 of these pans cover a section of Gozo’s northern coast, called the Xwejni Salt Pans. It’s believed that such pans have existed here since Roman times.

When we visited the Xwejni Pans last month, three of the family members who manage them were carefully sweeping the moist salt. Like gardeners raking the pebbles of a Zen rock garden, the men and women methodically moved the salt crystals to ensure the water evenly evaporated. Not far away, a mammoth mound of prepped salt was cloaked with a black tarp. With the family’s salt shop just across the road, housed in a wind-swept cave, we were guessing they’d soon be carrying it away to be bagged and sold.

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Into the Blue: A Mediterranean Sailing Trip from Malta to Comino

As the sailing yacht, the Moon Song, gracefully cut through the glittering water of the Mediterranean, I tried to recall some of the peoples who had made the islands of Malta their stopping point the last few thousand years. Whether aspiring conquerers, merchants, or explorers, they had all traveled on this maritime superhighway on which Malta is strategically located. Some, like the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs had successfully established themselves here for a time, while others, like the Ottomans, had famously failed.

Having lived in Malta’s diminutive capital, Valletta, for seven months by this time, I thought I had already uncovered most of the city’s varied vistas. However, from the waters below this UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shawn and I were now seeing the city with new eyes. From our starting point in the Grand Harbour, Valletta landmarks like the Victoria Gate and Siege Bell Memorial looked dollhouse-sized, while the city’s fortifications, which we regularly stroll through at sunset, appeared formidable and unbreachable.

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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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