Shades of Blue: Capturing the Island of Malta in Azure & Indigo

With perpetually-blue skies and a location in the heart of the Mediterranean, Malta naturally seems defined by the color blue.

If you’re a fan of blue, as I am (it’s my favorite hue), you’ll be delighted to find that it’s often Malta’s color of choice for much more, including its classic doorways, wooden balconies, and traditional fishing boats.

We called this southern European country home for twelve months; it’s hard to believe that two years have passed since we left it!

During our year in Malta, there were certainly moments when we were “feeling blue” — whether because of challenging neighbors (who let their children run wild until the wee hours of the morning!), or pollution, or notoriously-bad traffic.

However, in hindsight, it’s the happy memories that we made in Malta that remain at the forefront of my mind, like when we went sailing, or watched locals harvest sparkling sea salt, or took part in festa celebrations, or met a world-famous diving dog named Titti.

In this piece, I’ve focused on Malta’s blue accents, including the island’s sky, sea, architecture, and other details. I hope you enjoy the series!

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A Sanctuary for the Lovable and Threatened Donkeys of Split, Croatia

In a pine-shaded park overlooking the sea in Split, Croatia, a fuzzy donkey emerges among a cluster of joggers, dog-walkers, and families.

The passersby stop and smile, delighted to encounter such a creature in Croatia’s second-largest city. Some people snap photos of the grey donkey with their phones. A father and his young son ask the animal’s handler if they can stroke the animal’s muzzle. Eventually, the donkey wanders off, searching for the ideal patch of greenery to nibble upon. She seems content when she finds a grazing place. It has commanding views of the sparkling Adriatic Sea and neighboring islands.

With a short attention span, the donkey trots off again, stopping next to an abandoned phone booth. Seemingly unrelated at first, the juxtaposition of the two is symbolic in that both animal and booth were once considered essential in daily life. Today, in most parts of the world, they’ve both been rendered obsolete by technology.

Not long ago, donkeys were commonplace in the Mediterranean — beasts of burden that sometimes carried weight greater than their own. They toted water and food and helped to mill grain. But today, because of new forms of transport, the animals’ numbers have shrunk dramatically. By some accounts they are approaching extinction in their native environments.

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A Guide to Exploring Valletta: Malta’s Tiny, But Mighty, Capital City

Malta’s capital, Valletta, is a grande dame undergoing rapid change. With more than 300 monuments crammed into the city’s small peninsular borders, Valletta has one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. This means that there are lots of things to do in Valletta, whether you’re an architecture aficionado, military-history buff or passionate wanderer eager to see a city reawakening from a long slumber.

Shawn and I were delighted to have called Valletta home this past year, living on one of the city’s most infamous streets – a narrow lane which was once a red-light district that lured sailors. When we first learned we’d be moving to Malta for Shawn’s studies, we thought we might develop island fever living on a tiny island nation for twelve months. Surprisingly though, there was so much to experience in and out of Valletta that our weekend calendar was always replete with activities.

A decade before moving to Valletta, I also played tourist in the capital city, making it my home base during a long-weekend visit. Back in 2006, Valletta was eerily quiet. Half of the city’s buildings were boarded up and abandoned. Accommodation in Valletta was so scarce that I literally had to sleep in a spacious maid’s closet for one night, until a proper room became available. Coincidentally, ten years later, my future in-laws would choose to stay at a boutique hotel located just across the street from the same guesthouse in which I stayed as a solo female traveler in 2006. It’s funny how life comes full circle like that!

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Malta’s Cliff-Diving Dog Captures Hearts Around the World

It was a sweltering September afternoon on the sunny island of Malta when we headed to St. Peter’s Pool. With its dramatic limestone cliffs and access to the Mediterranean, St. Peter’s isn’t a pool in the conventional sense. And at this point, it should ceremoniously be renamed ‘Titti’s Pool’ in honor of its most famous diver: a Jack Russell Terrier dog who has captured the attention of animal lovers worldwide.

Upon reaching a point overlooking the picturesque swimming venue, I had already spotted Titti –  a stocky, black, white and brown ball of energy. St. Peter’s Pool is photogenic in its own right, but the swarm of swimmers sporting mobile phones and cameras instead tried to capture Titti’s every move. This proved to be tricky because of the dog’s sprinting maneuvers and high jumps alongside her master’s ankles.

Anticipating her owner’s hand signal, Titti waited at the jagged cliff’s edge, an impatient aura about her. With her master’s motion now executed, her stubby little legs launched her into the azure water below. Titti’s makeshift paparazzi documented the split-second maneuver, and applause and yelps of delight followed as Titti’s head emerged from the foamy water. In her mouth, she carried a prized plastic water bottle which she’d just fetched out of the sea.

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Exploring Malta’s Roman Roots at the Domus Romana Museum

Malta was ruled, occupied and colonized by a great number of different peoples throughout the last few thousand years. Not surprisingly, since the island is in the heart of the Mediterranean, the Romans were among them.

Situated just outside the popular and atmospheric walled city of Mdina is the small Domus Romana Museum. It was once a townhouse for a Roman aristocrat living in the ancient Roman town of Melite, in what is now Mdina and Rabat. (In Latin, domus means ‘home’ or ‘residence’.) It’s believed that it was built in the 1st century CE.

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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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Seeing Red: Capturing Malta in Cardinal & Crimson

When we moved to the Mediterranean island of Malta last autumn, we imagined that our leisure time would be devoted to exploring the country’s heritage sites, soaking up the sunshine, and strolling by the inviting blue water that encircles the tiny nation.

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 overwhelmed by it all.

Once we overcome bureaucratic tasks like securing a visa and finding an apartment, it was time to get acquainted with our new home, 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 who attended a high-profile summit and a meeting of Commonwealth nations. And shortly thereafter, 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.

When we finally had time to appreciate these details, we went from feeling daunted to being delighted by our new surroundings.

As I reminisced upon the past six months on this colorful island, I noticed that red hues are especially plentiful. From the country’s flag, to its crimson-colored phone booths and enclosed balconies, Malta abounds in red.

What follows is a photo essay of some of these vibrant splashes of color. Continue reading “Seeing Red: Capturing Malta in Cardinal & Crimson”