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 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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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.

Continue reading “Into the Blue: A Mediterranean Sailing Trip from Malta to Comino”

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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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”

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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The Door Knockers of Valletta, Malta

A collage of 9 Door Knockers in the city of Valletta Malta

The Mediterranean island nation of Malta may be diminutive, but its limestone buildings’ distinctive door knockers and knobs make a big impression.

Known as il-habbata in Maltese, the knockers largely feature maritime motifs such as dolphins, sea horses, and fish, but I have also spotted a plethora of Maltese crosses, even delicate brass hands, which reminded me of those I saw during past travels to Morocco and Tunisia. I collected this bunch of door adornments in Malta’s capital city of Valletta.

I’ll be featuring a lot more of Malta in the coming months, as Shawn and I moved here two weeks ago! I had a special five-day visit to Malta about one decade ago, but I am looking forward to getting reacquainted with the island and the lovely people I met here last time. For now, we are immersed in bureaucratic tasks like securing visas and official paperwork, and finding an apartment. Please wish us well! :)

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