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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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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Conquering Montenegro’s Kotor Fortress

When night falls over the rugged mountains cradling Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor, it becomes very clear why the country’s native name, Crna Gora, means ‘black mountain.’

As the sun is snuffed out each night, the mountains make like a chameleon, going from steel grey to a black silhouette. Eventually, the water of the mighty bay transforms into a shiny onyx. In the historic city of Kotor, the buttery-yellow lights of the buildings in the town’s center are enhanced by the city’s centuries-old, illuminated ramparts, which encircle the city like a ring of fire. Seeing this nocturnal spectacle for the first time, I thought that the UNESCO World Heritage-listed area must be most striking by night, but after hiking to Kotor’s fortress by day, I concluded that both were incredible times to observe this historical site.

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Savoring the Moments in Modena, Italy

 

 “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” – Cesare Pavese

As we strolled the cobbled streets of Modena, Italy, surrounded by the graceful city’s earth-toned buildings, we couldn’t help but feel that we were back in an exotic part of the world that doesn’t often see visitors. The portico-packed, elegant lanes were decidedly Italian in architectural character, but locals seemed to approach us at every turn, asking us to take their photograph, curious about our story and what brought us to Modena. The latter certainly wasn’t a phenomenon that either one of us had ever encountered in Italian tourist meccas such as Florence, Rome, or Venice, but here in Modena, we visitors seemed a bit like a rarity, and that made interactions come even more effortlessly.

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Strolling Through Šibenik, Croatia

 

A bit of a diamond in the rough, Šibenik is a city that quietly invited us to stroll in a pleasantly-aimless fashion. Situated near Croatia’s stunning Dalmatian Coast and Krka National Park, we didn’t find an abundance of things to do in Šibenik, but that just added to its charm. Instead, our afternoon was filled mingling with locals and a friendly feline, and people-watching moments from the window of a cozy café. Children skipped by with a red balloon in hand, or played on the centuries-old lions that guard the town’s famous cathedral which acted as the backdrop for the action. Šibenik is the oldest Croatian town on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, whereas other cities along the coast were founded by the Romans, Greeks and Illyrians.

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Love in the Air: A Wedding in Modena, Italy

 

Where there is love there is life.” – Mahatma Gandhi 

Shortly before the centuries-old bell tower tolled five o’clock, a crowd of uninvited and surprise guests huddled together on Modena’s Piazza Grande to celebrate a marriage. A crisp-white Fiat dressed in balloons stood guard on the cobbled Italian town square, ready to whisk the new couple away.

Step-by-step, in elegant unison, the two sauntered down the staircase of Modena’s town hall, the Palazzo Comunaleand the crowd sang Can’t Help Falling in Love. Perhaps in English, perhaps in Italian. Pieces of confetti danced in the air above the pair, blissful grins on their faces.

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Photo du Jour: The Red Balloon – Šibenik, Croatia

 

A young girl, carrying a cherry-colored balloon, explores the entrance to the Cathedral of Saint James in Šibenik, Croatia, as lion statues seemingly look on. During our café break, across the square from the cathedral, we actually saw a steady stream of local little ones climbing atop the lions and playing hide & seek.

This Gothic and Renaissance cathedral was built completely out of stone between 1431-1535. Its history and architectural style was influenced by 15th and 16th century art movements of northern Italy, Dalmatia, and Tuscany.

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Savoring the Sunset at Greece’s Meteora Monasteries

 

“When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.” – Mahatma Gandhi 

As we looked out into the sea of dramatic rock formations being gently highlighted by the lemon chiffon-colored setting sun, our Greek host George asked the five of us to observe two minutes of silence.

Up until then, we’d been oohing and aahing about the monasteries perched atop the sheer rocks, perpetually clicking our cameras’ shutters, and continuing conversations started while dining together al fresco with our new Greek and Italian traveling companions.

Now the moment was more serene and contemplative. I noticed the birds dancing in the sky, high above the monasteries’ terracotta rooftops. My attention was drawn to the contours of the rock formations, and the gentle gusts of wind, tickling my cheeks. I was again reminded of how lucky we were to be in such a special place, and I understood why the name Meteora means ‘suspended in air’ in Greek.

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