Thursday, July 26, 2007

Terracotta Warriors

Last night we went to the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. We wanted to see the collection of Terracotta warriors from China before it left town. The display was very good. The major problem was that there was no air-conditioning in the Museum. While I am sure this is lovely in December, in July it is just brutal. It was so bad that after a half hour Lynne needed to leave. One thing Malta is trying to do is increase the tourism from the Scandinavian countries and Germany. I don't think a lot of Swedes are going to love looking at one of the bigger tourist attractions on the island when inside it is 95 degrees.


The Maltese really may want to take a larger view of the tourism offerings in this country and how to make them more attractive. Although there is a wealth of history and natural beauty here, a lot of people are turned off by oppressive heat that can not be escaped in a museum. Lynne and I had decided that we would not go to the museum back in April figuring we would leave the presumably air conditioned activities until summer when walking about outside was too hot. What a mistake. I never heard of a museum not being air-conditioned. OK there is one in New Delhi, but that is India! I don't think the tourist industry of Malta would like to be in same class as India. Other than the temperature issues the display was impressive. I will mostly go back in the winter to view the entire (permanent) collection.

Here is some information on the Terracotta warriors.

Jellyfish, Jellyfish Everywhere

I have been really behind on added to the blog. Luckily Lynne has more then filled that void. So here is the run down from my perspective for the last few weeks.

I have been swamped at work and I am trying to catch up following an upgrade that happened at post. Lets just say it did not go as smoothly as advertised.

Work at home has been more than anticipated. Keeping up with the pool, lawn, etc. Has been a bit of pain. This was compounded by the long hours at work.

Went out on a boat last weekend with some people from the embassy. All in all is was a fun time. I was the first in the water when we anchored. This was probably related to the fact that I was melting in the Mediterranean Sun by the time we were anchored. Within about two minutes I swam into a jellyfish (or maybe it swam into me). That was quite a startling pain. It hurt like hell. We poured salt water over it for the first couple of minutes then some white vinegar and that helped. There was a mild burning after that, and it lasted for a few hours. You can see the picture of the sting area above. After getting sea sick (I am such a wimp on boats) I later went swimming again. This time I took the goggles and a snorkel so I could see better in the water to keep the jellyfish at a distance. With the goggles you could easily see the bottom - 8.5 meters down. That is almost 28ft for us US Standard people. The water was extremely clear. As you swam around you could watch the fish and jellyfish swim around below you. The are really interesting to watch from a distance. Most of the fish are pretty small but it was still fun to see them. I have a link to one of the fish I could confirm that I saw. I have not been able to find a nice reference site for the fish off the island of Malta. If I find one I post some more fish picture links. Here is the link to the White & Saddle Bream.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Jellyfish, and our first trip to Gozo, sort of

On Sunday, we went out on a boat with a number of other Americans. It was an oppressively hot day, which made it perfect to be on and occasionally in the amazingly cool and refreshing, sparkly blue and perfectly clear Med. We motored over to Gozo and anchored at Dwerja bay, right by the Fungus Rock (so called because of a fungus that grows there that is reputed to have medicinal properties. It is forbidden to actually climb onto the rock.) This was technically our first time to Gozo, but given that we never touched land I am not sure it counts.

We spent most of the day in and out of the water, eating, chatting, and getting in or out of the sun as temperature and need for fresh air shifted. Sunscreen was strongly recommended and frequently reapplied. We also took turns going out in the dinghy to explore some caves nearby. In the caves the temperature was a good 10 degrees Celsius cooler than outside, at least. Some of the guys took the route of crawling from one cave to another - there is a rocky ledge that you can walk along, then a small opening where you have to crawl on all fours to get through to the other side. I was not permitted to take that trip. I am surrounded by mother hens ... even Terry, who went through on a second trip out, said it was good I didn't try. Hmph.

Several people had masks and snorkels, and we worked out a relay system whereby folks on the boat - who could see the water more clearly - would alert those heading into the water whether or not jellyfish were spotted nearby. Then, folks in the water with the masks would check out if they saw any approaching.

Terry, and another individual, still managed to get stung. Terry made me take photos of the marks on his arm, which I can only presume he will post when he gets around to it.

Luckily, folks who have been here longer than we have had all the necessary provisions to promptly handle the sting - white vinegar and anti-itch cream. If you get stung by a jellyfish, you want to first rinse the area with salt water (NOT fresh water, which releases the toxins even further) then apply white vinegar to the area. When it has dried off, apply anti-itch cream. It won't be pretty, and it will continue to sting and sort of burn for a while but it too will heal and if all goes well without a scar.

As a side note, when I was snorkeling around, I could see tons of little fish, as well as jellyfish that were quite pretty when they stayed far away. The water was reputedly over 10 meters deep (I think. Terry will correct me if I got that wrong) and we could see all the way to the bottom. The clarity of the water here is unbelievable.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Olives, honey, and camping in

Last night we attended a CLO-planned event that was one of our highlights of our time in Malta so far. A pretty decent contingent of embassy folks showed up at a gorgeous estate towards the north end of Malta where Sammy Cremona is almost single handedly reviving olive oil pressing on the island. With his small batch press, he even invites folks with orchards to bring their own olives. He is also the producer who presses the Ambassador's olives (the Residence has orange and olive orchards, among other things)

Their main walkway is lined with olive trees, along with the resident emu (penned) and dog and cat (roaming freely on the property). The owner took us to his olive press and explained the process, also telling us that there are olive trees on Malta that date back 2000 years and that his farm is part of a program to re-introduce more of the native tree. The night was cool, the atmosphere relaxed. You couldn't ask for more!

All the food they prepared was grown on their, or neighbors', property, and was some of the best food we've had in Malta. I had a piece of the sheep's milk cheese before I knew what it was, and it was heavenly. I drooled over, but did not partake in, either the port-dark beef carpaccio drenched in their oil, herbs, and served with kiwi slices or the tomato-red sashimi tuna. They brought out loaf after loaf of Maltese bread and homemade rosemary foccacia cooked in their brick oven, served either simply with their oil or with this spiced pea spread. I was quite content to stick with this "acceptable" food.

They have relatively recently begun to make honey - just a few years - and Sammy showed us some of the trays of honey that were ready to process and bottle. They smelled delicious. One of the older hives works off carob trees, and their honey is chocolate dark. I can't wait to get my hands on some of that! Apparently, a hive will find a kind of flower they like and work that until there is no more nectar. The cookies they served for dessert was made with their honey and some kind of nut (I think almond, but I know they have pine nut trees so it may have been that), topped generously with powdered sugar. Mmmmm.

Here is some information about the husband and wife team.

The adventure of the evening continued when we got home. It turns out that the air conditioning units in our house are not all they are cracked up to be. Poor Bethany had no AC in her room the entire time she was visiting us last week, and the night she left the AC in our bedroom died. Our landlord called the AC folks but this is their busiest time so they can't come until this upcoming week.

Walking into the sauna that was our second floor, we realized we couldn't sleep there. When we moved into the house, both guest rooms had single beds ... we ended up putting the two mattresses from the main guest room up in storage on our third floor and putting our double bed, that we had shipped from the USA, in that room. So, we had extra mattresses that we had expected to use to house overflows of visitors - we're still waiting for an overflow of visitors! The mattresses were brought down and we slept on the floor in the living room, where the air conditioner seems to be leaking (there is what looks like a wet mark down the wall) but still working. I guess we will continue to sleep here until the weather cools off (October?) or the air conditioning folks can come and fix the units. Mind you, the units were brand new and installed the week we moved in - only 3 months ago!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The glamorous life

A movie is being shot on our street this week. Our first alert of this fact was when we came home on Tuesday and there were signs all along our street that street parking would not be permitted for the next week (starting the next day) and a letter was wedged in our gate to the effect that the crew would be shooting from 6am until 8pm Weds-Fri, then Mon-Tues. It also advised that there would be explosions and fake gun shots - it is always good to have loud startling noises with an anxious dog in the house!

I have looked up the name of the movie and have seen nothing about it. I have no idea what production company it is, who the actors are, what the plot of the movie is. I have no idea if it will ever make it to a movie theatre anywhere in the world. But if it does, you will get a good look at my street, assuming all those scenes don't end up on the cutting room floor.

The crew and I have been completely pissing each other off. Yesterday was really the worst, mainly because I had to get Terry to a dentist appointment and my friend to the airport. When returning from the first errand, the police officer at the barricade at the far end of my block only let me through when I assured him I was a resident of the street and had off-street parking. While I was navigating the road, though, another individual or two felt the need to confirm those facts as well. It was a mass of humanity and cars - without drivers - blocking the road. We live only one house in from the other end of the street (the road at the corner is called Lord Strickland Street), but we have some debate as to whether it is legal to drive up the Lord Strickland - there is a sign at one end that it is one way except for residents, but then halfway up the street there is another sign just proclaiming that it is one way. I have seen plenty of folks turn onto my street from Lord Strickland, but then I have seen many clearly illegal driving tactics so you have to take these things with a grain of salt. Anyway, it did become clear to everyone that any further venturing from my house would have to take place via Lord Strickland. I thought that was the simple solution. Silly me, it never occurred to me that there would also be the unmanned truck parked directly at our gate, and when I asked them to move it I was told they were shooting right then and I would have to wait.

What idiot messes with a heavily pregnant lady in the oppressive heat?? They did end up moving the truck within the minute, and even helped me open the gates to our driveway. When I returned from that errand the guy manning the barricade was nowhere to be seen, so I moved them myself (they were less than 40lb, mom!) and again had to make them move the truck that was in front of our gate.

I am pretty sure I am their most troublesome resident.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

more tidbits

  • This is festa season. We have a lovely roof from which you can see a large swath of the island - it is very convenient to live in the middle of the island! Well, on a Saturday night we can just pull out our folding chairs onto the roof and check out the fireworks from the various festas. On June 30 we got good views of 2 fireworks displays, and a tree-obstructed view of a third. I have a feeling this is where we will spend many Saturday evenings in the summer (ah, and next summer I will do it with a cold beer or glass of wine in my hand!)
  • We both swam in our pool, finally, 2 months after moving in. Terry went at night about a week ago, and it was too cold for me at that time. I went in during the day and it was incredibly refreshing. We want Kirby to get into it, he'd be so much cooler if he would, but I couldn't get him remotely close to me when I was in the water. We have a pretty large ankle deep area at the shallow end, so he could even lie down in the water. Terry will have to throw him in one of these days.
  • I think summer is finally here in full force. The stuff at the produce stand didn't look as good as usual and there was much less selection. I went Tuesday morning, so it should have been full of prime stuff, the vendors get their new shipments Monday afternoons. We may be down to frozen veggies in the next month, and I don't think the fresh stuff starts up again until after the rains, which would be after October. Just think, baby will be here by then.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Tarxien Temples

I think I am going to earn a reputation for taking folks' parents out and about in Malta. One woman at the embassy is supposed to be vacationing with her mother right now, but because of an injury she can't travel, and her mom is having to find her own entertainment in Malta. Today we decided to go visit the Tarxien Temples, which I was promised were signposted very well. We did get lost, but only at the very end - we were within 1/2 km of the temples by the time we realized we didn't know where we were.

The temples were much nicer, in better condition and had more useful information than the Mnajdra and Hagar Qim temples - and many of the friezes and statues are replicas, so why they can't do that at Mnajdra and Hagar Qim I don't know. Tarxien were the last of the neolithic temples built on Malta, and . Here is some more information about them.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Festa!

We live in the village of Attard, but really we're practically in Balzan. In fact, I think our area could legitimately be called Baltard. Or even the two whole villages together.

One thing that clearly separates the two, though, is the festa. In the summer every village has a festa to a saint, some villages have multiple festas over the summer season. We somehow had gotten the idea that this past weekend was Attard's festa, but in fact it was Balzan's. Fireworks began on Thursday, during the day, of course. It seems loud noises are even more appealing here than pretty lights, because an awful lot of fireworks go off during the day in this country. We are uniquely situated, because Attard is smack in the center of the country, and most high buildings are located on the coast. This means we have amazing views from the roof of our house. In fact, we have left a couple of chairs up on the top floor (which is really just a storage area) so we can bring the chairs out to watch fireworks in the distance on the weekend.

This weekend we were at the Ambassador's Residence on Friday night (when festa celebrations really start to heat up), because it was the official celebration of our Independence Day. The night was actually cool enough that Terry was comfortable in a long sleeved shirt and I really considered going home for a wrap - we live a convenient walking distance from the Ambassador - except that I had nothing that would match my dress so I just endured.

Saturday we had planned to check out the festa. After our experience with my father at Qormi's festa, we had resolved onto to attend ones we could walk to, and this certainly qualified. Again, we mistakenly thought the festa was in Attard, so our plan was to eat dinner in Balzan, and then head over to Attard. We were lucky that there were restaurants open in Balzan, and decided to try Fra Giuseppe, which is just off the square where the church is located. Terry had a fantastic salad and acceptable ftira (a panini-like grilled sandwich), while I had a mediocre soup and salad with the same yummy dressing, but a quite awful piece of not-grilled chicken.
Stuffed, we did not partake in any of the festa food, which is largely similar to fair-food back in the USA - soft serve ice cream, cotton candy, etc. No fried dough or funnel cake, though, but there are several stands selling Maltese nougat.

The decorations at a festa are ornate, with banners, lights, and statuary. The church is completely lit up with multicolored lights. The main street was lined with statues of the major Old Testament figures. We had not thought to bring our camera, but will not make that mistake when we go to other local festas, because it really is amazing the detail, and the work, that goes into preparing for these things. The other amazing event is the music - every little village has a band club, some - like Balzan - have two. There was one band set up in the square, and one that looked like a marching band except that they didn't march anywhere, just stood there, that we listened to for a while on our way home. The quality of the music was impressive, again you have to remember that the only pool of talent they have to draw from is from the folks who live in the area, as a good musician living in, say, Hamrun will be in Hamrun's band club. According to wikipedia, Balzan's population is a whopping 3,400.

We debated sticking around for the fireworks, but decided it would be better to watch them from our roof. Wouldn't you know, Balzan is in the direction of the few tall trees in our neighborhood, so we could only see the high ones! We ended up watching the fireworks from some other village's festa off in the distance ... to be honest, the other village had more consistent delivery, and slightly more impressive fireworks anyway. Terry tried to take photos of the fireworks but they just didn't come out.

Sunday is usually the main event of a festa, when the statue of the saint being honored is carried around, but we did not get going early enough in the morning to see that part. More fireworks Sunday evening, and on Monday the street cleaners were already hard at work.

Lemons, lemons everywhere


The lemon tree is in full fruit production. We have been picking them this week, and as you can see we have a major motherlode of lemons. The one tree that produces all the fruit is not too big, and we have no ladder to get the stuff way at the top, so you can only imagine the production potential we have here. Terry had some really good intentions of ways we could use the lemons in cleaning products, but after some research we learned that lemon scent, and lemon oil, are common ingredients in household cleaners. However, lemon juice itself has limited application, one major use is cleaning copper. Well, we don't exactly have a large copper pot collection, so that information is largely useless to us.

We froze quite a bit of juice, and Terry has the idea of essentially canning a batch of lemon juice to avoid taking up so much freezer space - also, because of power outages, large amounts of freezer storage is a risky proposition. We'll report back on how that goes. In the meantime, there will be lemonade flowing from our home for quite a long time to come, and I think we'll try lemon curd, lemon pie, etc.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

4th of July

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I brought back steaks from my trip to England. It is permitted to bring meats within/among EU countries so it was perfectly legal. Between our weekend outing and Terry's work-til-2am night at work, we have been a little slower than planned at finishing them (we had 3 meals' worth). The night of July 3rd, the temperature cooled off, Terry was able to leave work when it was still light out, and we grilled and feasted on good red meat. Then he put together our new TV stand and we tested a DVD - worked wonderfully. It was a lovely way to begin the holiday.

On the 4th we had to get up earlier than normal for a day off because we both had plans. Terry - the guy who can't handle heat - decided playing softball on the 4th of July was a must. I was going with some folks to Buggiba to an "Underwater Safari" - essentially a boat with underwater viewing section. This woman's daughter had gone with her school and really enjoyed it, so we decided we'd go too.

We gave ourselves about 45 minutes to travel about 10km. Silly us. It took at least 15-20 minutes just to go about 1km through Sliema and St. Julian. By the time we got to Buggiba it was already 10:30am - boat launch time - and we hadn't found parking or the boat site. So, we ended up settling in to the noon boat ride and we had about an hour to kill in Buggiba, where none of us had been previously. Buggiba is a coastal town on the northern portion of Malta. It is very cute, lots of shops and little places to stop for snacks and a cold drink. In some ways it is a lot like Sliema, clearly tourist-focused - but with less traffic and fewer people crowding the promenade. Here is a bit of information about it.

The boat was much smaller than we had expected, and from the top we could see down into the viewing area. We could see a surprising number of fish just right off the dock, and they were surprisingly large. We had only seen little guppy sized fish everywhere else along the coast, and these were at least a foot long. No, not big, but you see our comparison. The boat took us out toward an island with a statue of St. Paul and we went down to the viewing area.

Those who are prone to seasickness may not have enjoyed this part, as it got a bit warm and stuffy down there and occasionally another boat would pass nearby and the wake would rock us a bit. The viewing area was basically a row of fold down benches, for 2 people each, and rows of windows on both sides. From what we could gather when we re-emerged upstairs, the boat took us around the island. It was probably 20-30 minutes in the viewing area. We did see a LOT of fish. One minor complaint I had is that there was a great poster of the fish one finds in Malta, with their pictures and names so you could match what you see with its name. However, the poster can't be seen from anywhere other than a few certain benches in the middle, and once you were seated you couldn't get up. There were a few we saw often enough that we remembered their markings and were able to match them up when we walked past when viewing time was over, but I would have preferred to have access to the poster while we were watching. Although there was a decent variety of fish, they weren't particularly colorful or with interesting markings, for the most part. Yes, I learned to dive in Australia so I have probably been completely spoiled and jaded regarding the aquatic life found in most parts of the world.

All in all, I thought the tour was worth it, and would go again with visitors who want to take the trip. We had tentatively planning to go with Terry's dad, we thought it was something he would really enjoy, but as he and Terry get horribly seasick, we may give it a skip.

The ride home was of course only 25 minutes, as we had expected the ride there to be, and Terry and I met up and headed out to a barbecue hosted by an embassy family. Our contribution was my apple pie, which was not as good as it can be - I have to tinker with the timing of things in this climate. Also using fresh lemon juice has a different effect from using the concentrated stuff we have at home.

It was a little strange having a 4th of July without fireworks, not even on TV, but it turns out our village is having its festa this weekend so the fireworks are a-comin'.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Beaches

July 1, 2007
Today was full of excitement. We decided to head down to Marsaxlokk (pronounced Marsa-schlock), which is a little fishing village to the south and where the traditional fishing boats are still used by fishermen who still go out and get the day's catch. There are also several beaches nearby and we figured we'd finally get ourselves wet in the Med. Like most beaches in Malta, the ones we visited (went in at 2, only walked a bit around a third) were rocky, craggy, had some sharp dropoffs and were generally not like the nice soft sandy gently sloping beaches at home.

Within our first ten minutes in the water I got stung by a jellyfish on my arm, painful but not dangerous, and Terry's water shoes - never before worn - got a huge tear in them. Later, I cut my knee on a rock and Terry got a couple big scrapes on his arm. I should mention that we are not really beach people, in fact we have never been to a beach together in our 7 years together. Days like today remind us why, and make us really happy to have our pool.

The coolest thing, though, was witnessed at the beach. A power boat came towards the shore and it had advertising of a local ice cream company. We kept saying "Do you think...?" and "Is it..?". Then we saw the swimmers all coming to shore and grabbing their wallets. Yup, we got our first sighting of the Ice-Cream Boat. The folks lined up, got their treats, then the boat motored off to another shore. What a great idea!

After the excitement at the first two beaches, it was getting cooler when we hit the third and we just walked it a bit. The interesting part was that it had clearly been a salt pan at one point. Some parts still had crusted salt dried along the relatively smooth and even ground. We'll probably go back there with the camera. There were a bunch of people fishing in that area, we didn't see any swimmers.

We finished the night with dinner outside at a restaurant in the town of Marsaxlokk itself. We each got the fresh catch - sea bass and breem - the breem was better than the bass, and that seems to be a trend around here. They were both tasty, though, and quite fresh. It was cool enough that Terry was comfortable and I needed my sweater. All in all the evening was lovely, and I don't see us going back to a beach any time soon.