Monday, March 4, 2019

Turns out, you can go home again. Or at least stand outside and peek through the gates, Part 2



Day 3 - Can you go home again?  We first ran out to Ta'Qali to see how expensive the house signs really are, now that we finally came up with a name for the cabin that we all liked. Turns out that they are removing all the old Quantas huts and making pretty little stone buildings, so there is a ton of construction and it was hard to find Bristow Pottery (where everyone we knew back when got their signs) and also that they cost a lot more than we cared to pay for an upgraded 1950s hunting shack. Then off to the new Embassy (well, 8 years new or so, but they broke ground when we were there and we never saw it) for a tour by an old friend and seeing a lot of old faces in a very fancy new surroundings. I love that they created shade for the car parks by putting up solar panels. Solar in a country with 330 days of sunshine is just a no-brainer.

After that visit it was time for lunch and the "trip home". We first went to the parking lot of the local grocery store, where I used to buy all my produce from the lady with the truck. (this is a stock photo to get an idea of these produce trucks). She used to give Alex a banana to snack on while I made my selections and my weekly or more frequent trips were a big part of my Maltese experience.


Image result for malta produce truckThere was a truck still in the parking lot, but manned by someone who was clearly no relation. My heart sank a bit but we resolved to buy something there for old times' sake before we left. Then off  for pastizzi and other pies for lunch!  When we discovered the place we used to go to was still there and the cost of all the food we bought - the best meal we had eaten so far - was a fraction of even the  cost of the doner we ate the day before, we kicked ourselves for not eating more meals this way.  Thus fortified, we went back in time. Or rather, we walked past our old house. As we passed it, they had the front and back doors opened so I could see down the long, wide hallway that led from one to the other. We could see a tiny slice of the back yard and were reminded of how lovely the garden was. Then on to another one of our favorite spots in the country, San Anton Gardens.

The house where we had lived was one block from the Gardens and Alex and I had spent untold hours there in the shady green and relative coolness. There are ducks and swans in the various ponds, and red-eared sliders - the kind of turtle Terry used to have.  There's a small zoo-ish enclosure - all birds - to one side and a garden clock.  One of the side ponds now houses a pair of black swans who were mesmerizing to watch, especially noting the clutch of eggs the mom swan kept wandering back over towards (in their little shelter in the middle of the pond) when people came too close. Near the main pond is now a peacock and two hens. When we got to the main pond there were all the ducks and the white swans, but no turtles. We started to lament ever having tried to look backward. Then as we were leaving we decided to pop over to the third pond/fountain and there they were. All of them. Reminiscent of Yertle the Turtle's pond except with less fascism. Very survival of the  fittest, though, as we watched one particular turtle try to get out of the chilly water to sun himself and be constantly thwarted by other turtles either in his way or, in their own efforts to get up, pushing or kicking him back down. We all cheered when he finally got clear just before we headed out.

Returning to the car, we noted a different person manning the produce cart and he looked more likely to be a relative of the woman I remember so fondly. I asked him and it turned out he was her nephew, and he had been helping her for enough years he must have been one of the young men I remembered some times being there!

By then we were waffling on what to do next, whether to return to the apartment for a rest or hit one more spot. Going for gold, we decided to take the kids to the northwest coast where we missed the exact spot we were looking for and thus ended on a rocky, craggy part with much sharper points on all the rocks. Did not deter the kids, who by the end of the hour were soaking wet and thrillingly happy.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Turns out, you can go home again. Or at least stand outside and peek through the gates, Part 1

Ever since I was informed my next post would be Frankfurt, I have been planning to return to Malta and show Alex where she was born. The island generally, of course, not the hospital. That would be even more boring than the ancient historical pit where miniature hippopotamuses were found. Yeah, kids are too worldly and jaded.

Mid-February is the so-called Ski Break where apparently we're supposed to go skiing. Kids have never been, It's a great time to go to Malta, not too cold and there might even be rain. Between some issues with leave and Terry's ideas about how much time we actually needed to give to this venture, we booked a Tuesday to Friday trip. We also noted and kept marveling during our time there that we were returning to Malta within the week of the 10 year anniversary of our departure.

Day 1 - arrival mid-afternoon, discover that the apartment where we were staying expected the payment in CASH, and use almost every last Euro paying that. Find an ATM, replenish, and head off to my favorite city, Mdina. I really do love me a walled Medieval city. We wandered a bit before the sun went down, getting to the Bastions a bit late to watch the sun actually setting. The kids loved racing down the high walled narrow cobblestone streets of the nearly deserted city. We found a place for dinner, chosen because it opened before 7pm. Big reminder: Maltese food is rarely delicious and it's a near miracle to get out of dinner for fewer than two hours.

Day 2 - meant to be "see the sights" day. First stop, Ghar Dalam. It's a prehistoric cave that was filled with animal and human bones. There is a huge bone display in the museum area and a bit of information about the plate movements that led to Malta detaching from some other landmass (Sicily? Europe?) and the shrinking of some animals that were caught here as well as the enlarging of other animals.  Then you can go visit the cave. The kids were, as described above, absolutely not impressed. The ticket for Ghar Dalam also included admission to another prehistoric sight that was recently opened (within the last year) so obviously nothing Terry and I would have seen before so we also wandered down that way.  The kids insolently asked why we thought they would be interested. Ugh.

We decided to cut short some of the other sights we planned to see, and instead headed to Rabat and the Catacombs. When we got there we confirmed that although we had been to St. Paul's Church and Grotto we had never visited the Catacombs. With the kids' love of all things Roman these days we figured it would be a hit and it was. The Catacombs were marvelously done, with pavilions explaining an aspect of what we were seeing (for example, the different kinds of burial vaults, or the differences in how different religions used the spaces). The kids of course were thrilled with running in and out of the various vaults and places where lots of dead people used to be - bonus that it's underground!

As we had driven into Rabat to get to the Catacombs, I thought I recognized the vendor where I used to buy the crazy delicious Maltese nougat. After the Catacombs we all needed a treat so we visited the vendor, who offered us tastes of other treats we had totally forgotten, like a pastry that is what Fig Newtons want to be (dried figs, honey, nuts, I think some citrus, in a fresh buttery pastry crust). When everyone had made their selections, I also got as much nougat as I thought I could carry home. More than a week later I am still working on it and it is still as delicious as I remember. We took our treats across the street to a cafe for cappuccinos (mom and dad) and a non-dairy smoothie (kids). It was a moment where I was a bit astounded at how much we had remembered, as I don't recall going to Rabat even a dozen times and yet the town center felt very familiar.

Idstein Part 2

When Terry was here for the kids' last vacation, we had a weekend in town before leaving for Malta. Wanting to get out a bit more than we have in the Frankfurt environs, I suggested we check out Idstein. We had budgeted just a tiny bit too much time - we were tired and ready to eat before restaurants opened for lunch, and lunch was over before the tourist information center opened to hand out the key to the Hexenturm (the "witches' tower" that I had missed in my previous trip).

But, before the tired grumpies took hold of the kids and turned everyone into monsters, we had great fun wandering through the very charming city and all its half-timbered houses. 

There is a building that had a series of medallions set in the plaster depicting Johannes Gutenberg's apparent presence in the city and work on the famous press. We also stumbled on a larger stumbling stone than we had previously seen, because this one commemorated the destruction of an entire synagogue.