Tuesday, April 24, 2007
I forgot to mention in the last post our amazing bus ride. On Sunday when we were on our way home from Valletta there was a festa or protest or something that involves people holding flags and blocking traffic. All the buses were backed up (cars too, actually) for quite a ways up. Our bus driver backed up, swung around the roundabout just outside the bus terminal at about 60 mph, (according to Terry he was within inches of another bus during the about-face) then zoomed up side streets to get us around the blockage and back on track. This guy was impressive.
Also, today was my 16 week visit and it turns out I am having a ... baby. Too early to tell gender, so we are still debating both boy and girl names. I did get to see baby's head moving, and its heart beating, on the ultrasound, and it is the right size for its age so all is good.
For those of you waiting for me to show and to get into my maternity pants ... well you'll be waiting a bit longer. I actually lost about 1 pound since my last visit. Doctor isn't worried, and I am sure it is due to walking everywhere and the ice cream either sucking or costing $10 for a pint. I am sure I'll be showing soon when the ship freight is delivered and the ice cream maker is fired up!
Sunday, April 22, 2007
The other news of the week is that we passed the embassy housing board and are on to negotiating the lease with the landlord of the house we want. We are supremely excited and still keeping our fingers crossed. I had tons of lawyerly fun completely revising the lease and making it more fair and more suited to our situation and I was very surprised that the landlord didn't fight most of the provisions I thought he would really want to negotiate. This means either he does recognize what a cash cow the embassy is, or he isn't actually planning to do any of the things we are putting in the lease that he has to do. Since he is our next door neighbor, though, I doubt he will be too difficult. As many of you know, I can be quite difficult myself and does he really want me knocking on his door every day asking when things will be done? So, we have passed a couple of hurdles and we still need to get the lease finalized, signed, and for him to get the work on the house completed. We saw most of the furniture that is in the house and we are perfectly pleased with what he has done (for the most part, and he is changing some things around to meet our requests).
Our car is scheduled to arrive in 2 weeks at at that point we should really become explorers around the island. So far we have not ventured too very far away because of the unpleasant roads and bumpy buses. Today our fun event was a self-determined walking tour of the gardens of Valletta (there are 3 rather large and supposedly very nice gardens). We both decided we prefer our gardens to actually have a certain level of trees, bushes and other plants in them and decided none of the ones Valletta boasts are worthy of the name. Also, Terry has decided that a garden that has a pond or fountain but doesn't have red ear slider turtles living in it should not call itself a garden. I thought that was a bogus complaint. So far "our" garden (the one local to the house we are pretty sure we will live in) is the best we have seen so far. Go us!
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Well it is official! We have been here a month. Things are going along. Yesterday we went to Mdina to see the walled city. Mdina is the old capital of Malta. The city is fully walled of and no cars are allowed in except residents. Very nice city kind of quiet. It is on a bit of a hill so you can see all the way to Valletta and the some. He is a link to the wikipedia site for Mdina if people are interested in learning more.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mdina
After walking around the city a bit we came home and went out for dinner. We tried another Indian restaurant. It was not the really good one (as the reviews go) since that one was booked full. We went to another that was near by. It was really not that great but it was ok. Malik's really spoiled us. Today I didn't feel great so we spent the whole day doing nothing.
At work we are still waiting on the housing. The security and maintenance guy did their inspections so at this point we are waiting for the housing board to give a yeah or nay still. Hopefully all will go well. We are really dying to get our house and then our stuff so we can start to feel like we are settled.
One thing Malta has a lot of is cats roaming around. Maybe that is why I don't see many rodents around. Not too many places for them to hide on the island.
Anyway here are some more photos.
Some more photos of Sliema Beach.
Some photos from our trip to Mdina.
Friday, April 13, 2007
I have been craving pasta in tomato sauce practically since I became pregnant, and every time I have ordered this in restaurants here I have been painfully disappointed. The tomato sauce sucks so bad sometimes it was completely inedible. Terry and I had a conversation about how I keep choosing the wrong dish at dinner and we realized it was the tomato sauce. When we have had cream or olive oil based sauces they have been tasty. We can not wait until we get our ship freight with the jars of pasta sauce from home ... mmmmm ... we may also try our hand at homemade sauce, it can't be worse than this. Anyway, it is NOT like being in Italy here. Do not be fooled.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Ok so I have been really bad about updating, but Lynne has been decent. Here is the scoop on what is going on. Shortly after arriving I had one week with my boss to go over everything before he left for 3 weeks of training and left me by myself. So I have been very busy at work between learning as much as I can and making sure everything is done in a timely fashion. We have not had internet at home till now so I could not do the updates in the evening. That is my reason for being behind. Lynne has kept the blog mostly update to date as to what is happening. Here is my quick highlight reel.
Found Housing, now the Embassy will need to say yeah or nay.
I went paint balling one Saturday afternoon. What a blast. If you have a chance do it.
Lynne went to doctor a few weeks ago. Baby is still doing well.
Not new but some people don't know. Girls name is determined, boys name is still being debated.
Fresh Fruit here kicks ass.
Old time butchers are still here (Very cool)
The rabbit here is awesome.
Fish is surprisingly expensive.
Haven't had chance to play tourist because we are looking for housing.
I work in an area that is like a dungeon with no windows or sunlight and I realized it does not bother me very much.
Everyone has an opinion on where we should live and none of them remotely correlate with our interests.
Lots of connection to Pennsylvania (read Lynne's post for all the details). We really kick ass.
Our Unaccompanied Air Baggage came on time and nothing was broken. Not sure that means how bad things will be with the rest of our stuff or the car.
That is the big stuff. I will try to consistently post once or twice a week going forward. I make no promises though. Also I will link photo albums of anything interesting that we shot. Below is a link to some photos I took on Sliema's beach.
Pictures From Silema's Beach.
April 6, 2007
Good Friday is a holiday in
We were unable to go visit the third and last of the top contender houses yesterday so we had to make another appointment with the same realtor as yesterday to see that house. Terry liked it a lot more than I thought he would, so this replaces the Kappara house as our #2. So, both of our top 2 houses are with the same realtor. I guess in any case Roslyn will be getting our enormous realtor fee! This place is the opposite of the one we love best – totally modern instead of very traditional Maltese, and the location is close to the thick of things rather than out in the village, but it suits our needs almost as well. Also, like the first choice house, it has a pool so that we can cool off in the summer without destroying our budget on air conditioning.
Easter at an embassy means Easter party at the ambassador’s residence. The weather was beautiful, the kids got chocolate-y and messy, and the adults really got into the games. The ambassador won the sack race – she is an athletic lady!
I got to put on my suit and feel important today – I was one of a panel of 3 interviewing Maltese academics seeking Fulbright grants to conduct research in the USA. The other panelists were an embassy guy and last years’ Fulbright awardee, who I know and will be working with at the University of Malta Law School.
April 11, 2007
We got internet set up at the house!!!!!!!!
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Today was daylight savings day, so for everyone I told we’d be only 5 hours behind east coast time during summer, sorry, I was wrong. I am sure in the fall we will have another lovely 2 week stint of being only 5 hours ahead of you, rather than the usual 6. The weather turned strangely wonderful yesterday so we have spent a lot of the last 2 days outside. Today we went to a couple of the neighborhoods where our top contender housing is located to see just how far away they really are from things like grocery stores and bus stops. Unfortunately, we were completely unable to find any grocery stores! At least there were lots of restaurants, so I guess we just eat out every meal … maybe not such a great idea.
I decided that I needed to have food that wasn’t Continental/Italian/Maltese tonight, so we decide to try one of the 3 Indian restaurants in a 5block stretch a little ways down from our apartment. The 2 places that were not in a hotel were closed – we were hungry too early, this is the Med, you know, only children and pensioners eat at 6pm! The one place where we did eat was in a hotel and … this is the best part … it is an Indian and Chinese restaurant. There are 2 entrances, but into one big main room. You can ask for either the Indian or Chinese menu. Bollywood music was blaring but the side of the room we were on was decked out in Chinese paraphernalia – red lanterns, dragons, scrolls. I imagine the other side had elephants and Buddha but I couldn’t see it from where we were sitting. It was surreal. On the plus side, the lamb curry was quite good and even had a kick, which impressed us. The minus side included the naan that wasn’t very naan-like and, horror of horrors, “butter chicken” that was, truly, chicken doused with a barbecue sauce. Ick! I thought that by surrounding it with rice and naan it would become edible, but alas we just finished off the curry and it was enough. I guess next time we’ll be trying one of the other places.
March 31, 2007
This was a week of errands. On Monday I went out for the first time with the new realtor, and saw another top contender house (for those keeping count, we are now at 4, although not one is really perfect for our needs). Because we can’t bring any kind of disk or thumb drive to the embassy, we got to do a lovely convoluted dance of putting our tax forms on a thumb drive, taking it to an internet café, sending the documents to ourselves, then on my next trip to the embassy downloading and printing the forms. Until we have our internet in the house, this is how we get anything from our computer to the rest of the world. Luckily, we found an internet café near the house with good rates and they are usually open. They are even a true café, so we can have cappuccino and sweets while we are there!
After spending parts of both Monday and Tuesday at the embassy, I took a break on Wednesday and joined the Spouse Coffee Morning, which is a chance for embassy spouses to meet at someone’s house, eat and chat and find out what everyone else is doing. I met more people – at even turn I am meeting more people, so although the embassy seems small, it is like clowns in a car – more fit inside than it looks like they can hold. I am pretty sure I haven’t even met everyone yet! Also, “coffee morning” is a euphemism for “hanging out until the mid-afternoon and even later if there is nothing else you have to do.” In the middle of things, I ran out for … drumroll … my 12 week prenatal appointment. I met the OB who’d been recommended to me and she is lovely and will be my doctor. In Europe you get an ultrasound at every visit so I got to see baby’s heartbeat, and she showed me the spine growing, and that it measured perfectly for its age, and we even saw its little hand up in the “air”. It was fun to come back to the other spouses with the photos and then hear all the mothers’ stories about their pregnancies. It was also a huge relief to know I am past the first trimester hurdle and the baby is so far so good.
On Thursday Terry and I went back to one of the top contender houses, since he now needs to see them so we can decide where we will live. The couple who own it live there now (not that common, actually, most places are rented) and are moving. After we toured the house they more or less insisted we sit and have cappuccinos and we chatted with them for a while. One interesting thing I should mention … at home I generally drink Tetley’s tea, it is a cheap mass brand but better than Lipton. Here, I got a box at the store and after a few days it was really making me feel sick – I just figured it was a problem of the tannins getting in the way of iron absorption and lay off the tea. At the same time, for some reason, cappuccinos have started tasting good to me, and with only 2 sugars! I guess carrying Terry’s baby is making me have a taste for coffee. Is this kind of thing genetic?!?!
Friday was a big day of accomplishing things. We had been warned that Malta was very Mediterranean and that when people spoke about time and schedules and deadlines, they really are only talking in general terms. A 3pm appointment could be at 3pm, or 3:30pm, or later. On Friday, our air freight was due to arrive between 2-3pm. Imagine my shock and surprise when at 2pm precisely there was a buzz at the door! Having learned from our previous delivery of air freight in DC, I asked them to unload everything from the boxes so they could cart the boxes away (the boxes are big and thick and not easy to dispose of.) I started putting things away to give them more room for laying things out. Suddenly, one of the men gestures for me to come over to where they are opening the second box. “Ma’am, there is a white powder.” The three of us (me and the 2 men) then behave exactly as we are NOT supposed to act in the event of an emergency. I walked over to the box, looked at what they were pointing at, touched it, and wondered out loud what I had packed. Admittedly, I was present when the box was packed and sealed, so I was pretty sure it was something I had packed, but in retrospect it was still stupid. Of course, it turns out that when I packed baking soda in a Tupperware, the Tupperware opened up and it was baking soda that made everything look like Christmas.
Another important event on Friday was we finally got our telephone figured out. Here in Malta, many landline phones are on a system where you need to buy phone cards and essentially charge up the phone they way you charge up a pay-as-you-go cell phone in the USA. The problem is that we could not figure out how to add money to our home phone, so we were unable to make outgoing calls for a full week (which is part of the reason I ended up at the embassy so many days this week). The instructions on the phone cards are not actually correct. The instructions given to me by my landlord were not correct. The instructions given to one of the nice embassy guys who called the phone company and spoke to them in Maltese for me were not correct. Finally, on Friday I called the phone company myself on their toll free line and we went through, step by step, everything I had tried and what the errors were. He told me to try one small tweak to what I had been doing; I was dubious and told him I’d be calling back when it didn’t work. Of course, it worked like a charm and I finally had communication once again.
Friday night we went bowling with some embassy folks, some of whom I had not yet met. I sucked, and we all had a good time. Terry was thrilled to find that there were other big bowlers in the crowd – at least 2 people had their own balls and shoes. He also lamented that we had put his bowling ball in ship freight instead of UAB – who would have known?
April 2, 2007
Have I mentioned the joy that is produce in Malta? I still can’t wrap my brain around being at a similar latitude as in the USA but having in-season, local strawberries to snack on. Yep, you heard right boys and girls, tonight’s dessert was a bowl full of tasty strawberries, some as good as anything I picked in Bucks County. And the tomatoes …. Terry has become quite skilled in the cucumber and tomato salad, which we have been gobbling up most nights for dinner and I have been finishing off at lunch time. The tomatoes are also, presumably, local because how on earth could they possibly ship such tasty food, and if it were possible to be shipped, why don’t we get this in the USA? I have to admit, the grapes and bananas are imported, so I am not totally talking about local produce, but to have such variety in March (now April) is so mind-blowing that I just need to talk about it. Here, it is summer time, with the parched land not seeing any water for several months, when fresh produce is said to be at its lowest in quality, quantity and diversity. On the other hand, shouldn’t the tomatoes be in their prime (as thought they can get better than this)? Check back with me in 4 months and we should have some answers.
I should also mention that we are starting to notice the things that will probably drive us crazy over the next 2 years. First, give up all hope of finding any kind of shop or store, including the pharmacy or grocery store, open past 8pm. Being spoiled with all of our 24 hour conveniences, 8pm seems remarkably early to close down, in my humble opinion. Also, although I had noted that many restaurants and tourist-focused shops do remain open on a Sunday, that is about all you can expect to find open. It is a good way to enforce down time, although we continually find ourselves venturing to the neighborhoods where our top contender houses are located on Sundays, to scope the area and see how far away things are on foot. This Sunday we went to Attard, which is a small village inland, where there is a gorgeous house with a pool. I have been warned that if I find a house that has actual grass on the land, I am likely to be a target for mosquitoes in the summer. This is something to consider, however, Kirby will be enamored with the spacious yard and lots of things to sniff. We do need our realtor to actually set up the appointment to bring us back there, then get the embassy to agree to let us live there, but these are hurdles for another day. It is strange to me that after days and days of driving me around the island looking for housing, now that I am actually ready to make a decision which will make some realtor quite a chunk of change, I can’t get these people to call me back! We may end up sleeping on park benches after all.
April 3, 2007
The newspaper here is surprisingly good. It is not too thick, a little smaller than the Northeast Times, which was our local paper in Philly. However, the letters to the editor are completely worth reading. This is a pretty highly-informed little nation, and I have read some very interesting arguments and facts I hadn’t known about various issues. One big debate these days is about hunting. In Malta, there are rabid hunters (well, like anywhere, some hunters are rabid) and they want to shoot anything that flies – literally. And they want to shoot at any time of the year. Now that Malta is part of the EU it needs to abide by the EU laws, which forbid spring hunting. Malta has ignored this directive for the first 3 years since it became part of the EU and it set to ignore it this year, but the EU is getting pretty annoyed with this behavior. There is also a new series of articles about a newborn baby that had been abandoned as trash. These kinds of things don’t happen in Malta – where the first murder in over a year occurred a few weeks ago!
April 4, 2007
Today’s adventure was with the fishmonger. Like the fruit and veg trucks, on certain days of the week there is a guy in a truck with various fresh fish on ice, mostly whole fish. Since I know nothing about fish, was worried he might not speak English, and knew that we didn’t have a fillet knife in the house, I have stayed away. I figured that one of these days Terry would come with me and we’d sort it out. I walked past, heard the fishmonger speak English with a customer, and decided to ask him to identify the various fish he had. Some I recognized by name – snapper, mullet, whiting, tuna. I recognized the salmon by sight. Then there was a fish I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I am still not sure what it was, but he had it in big and small sizes. He recommended the baby tuna, which was one of the whole fish, then explained that he can fillet it for me. I was sold. Now we just need to figure out how to cook it.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
When we arrived at the airport and checked in, we were told that although our bags were checked straight through to Malta, we could only receive boarding passes for the Dulles to Frankfurt leg but we would have to get our Frankfurt to Malta boarding passes when we got to Frankfurt. Trusting the competency of Lufthansa and the efficiency of the Germans we decided this was no big deal. Our flight was relatively uneventful, with the highlights being that the movie wasn’t working and the food service was exceedingly slow (normally they have us fed within an hour or so and get the movie on to keep us shut up and happy, the modern day version of bread and circuses). We were tired so we did sleep all 3 hours between dinner and breakfast.
We disembarked in Frankfurt and blearily tried to figure out which way we needed to go to find our next flight and get boarding passes issued. We thought we were doing very well, given that the plane landed almost ½ hour early. Well, we needed every minute of it. We were directed to an extremely long line that wasn’t moving very fast (in a 10 minute period at one point we didn’t even move up a single person). When we got to the gatekeeper person she told us we could go to the gate, we told her we tried that but the gate are itself had another security check and we needed boarding passes to get through, she said the line ahead of us was too long, we would never make our flight, and we stifled the “duh” look while she decided to let us go ahead in the 1K/First Class line. When we stepped up to the ticket agent, he asked if we were going first class. We said no, but that our plane was leaving in about ½ hour (true). In stereotypical German fashion he sternly told us that everyone else was waiting in line. We said his colleague had sent us into that line and he did grudgingly issue us out boarding passes. We ran downstairs to our gate, again waited in a long line, this time to get through security, then into yet another line to get onto the shuttle bus that would take us to our plane. Note, the plane was not some tiny prop plane, they just don’t have enough gates.
March 15, 2007
Surprisingly, every one of our bags arrived and we headed out to where our sponsor, Carlos, his wife Judith and his son Juan were waiting for us, with a rose for me. What a welcome! They helped us get our bags outside where Charlie, another embassy employee, waited with the big van to carry us and our bags to our apartment. Carlos handed Terry his work cell phone, on which there was already a text message from our Community Liaison Officer (CLO) Lisa asking if we got in OK. Judith went to get their car and came out with the next happy surprise – bags of groceries to get us through our first few days. They included ham and cheese and bread for sandwiches. Like my very lovely client who sent me a Honeybaked spiral cut ham with a 6 pound wheel of Swiss cheese to thank me for something around Christmastime, our sponsors have a strongly Catholic background and the concept that there could possibly be a Jew around probably never even occurred to them. It gets even better.
Our apartment is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath seaside apartment in one of the “hotter” locations on the island. The floors are all stone and it has a balcony where we have already spent hours standing out and looking at the sea and the promenade next to the sea. One thing I have to say about the building materials used here – it is freezing in this apartment. When it is almost 80 degrees outside, even Terry has a hoodie sweatshirt on inside because these buildings keep their cool very well. Yes, July and August will be miserable, but it will probably be comfortable inside the home otherwise.
In our effort to stay awake until bedtime, we went ahead and unpacked all the bags, took showers and went outside to see the neighborhood and get some sunshine. We also decided that Maltese money would be very good to have, so we went off in the direction of the HSBC bank, which we knew would take our foreign ATM cards. It turns out that in Malta the ATMs only take money out of checking accounts, not savings accounts, so we were unable to get money out of our joint account. Luckily, I remembered I should have had some cash in my personal checking, so I got out a pitiful LM10 ($30) and we went to find me a snack, since I was of course by this time starving. Thus, I got to try on my very first day the pea pies that I had heard about in several guide books. They are basically English meat pie type foods with curry spiced peas inside. Yummy! While we sat with my treat and some hot beverages, Carlos called to see where we were because he was going to come over with dinner cooked for us by his wife. You guessed it – pork cutlets, and a rice dish with sausage and pork, as well as potatoes and salad. I was able to pick out the meat from the rice and it was very tasty, and Terry said the cutlets were delicious. Judith can cook.
After dinner we went back out, mostly because it was the only way to keep us from falling asleep. This time we walked the other direction, along the water, where we discovered about a dozen or more stray cats hanging out. We also saw some really amazing playgrounds. In Maltese fashion, we got some fruit at a produce truck – we have been advised that produce and fish are best gotten from folks in trucks who set up on the side of the roads. It is weird handling such “small” sums of money, because the Maltese Lira is about $3 = LM1 so a bag of fruit cost 1 lira and change. It looks like we can get almost any fruit we want here, from apples and plums to lychee and pomegranate. We make a salad and try the tomatoes – they are ALMOST garden-good, and at least a thousand times better than any tomato found in a USA grocery store. We congratulate ourselves on finding something we like about Malta. We had gotten home around 7pm and by 8pm we were dying and finally let ourselves go to bed.
March 16, 2007
Today began with a realtor picking us up to begin the fun search for housing. We had absolutely no idea what we wanted; to be honest we didn’t even know what all the types of housing in Malta were. Now we know that a “maisonette” is a duplex; a “bungalow” is a ranch house; a “villa” is any detached home with a pool; a “house of character” is any older home. Every house we saw had a pool, although some were small enough that nobody but a 2 year old could actually do laps. A few had indoor plants, meaning there were actual plots of dirt on the inside of the house – generally front entrance area – where plants grew. One house had a row of citrus trees – orange, lemon, tangerine. One house had a front area between the gate and the door which was where the animals used to be hitched – there was even still standing the food and water troughs, of course all cleaned out and looking like large built-in stone planters. Terry decided that would be a great house for us to house the goats. After 6 very different houses, we decided we had a better idea of at least where we wanted to be, and a slightly better idea of what we wanted. We discussed meeting up again on Tuesday to look at more places, and he dropped us off at the apartment.
We then called the other realtor, who had been recommended to us and arranged for her to take us out tomorrow, then we went back out to the internet café we had seen yesterday to take care of a few things and to wander that area – it has all the fancy shops. Carlos called to see where we were, as he had been tasked with rounding us up for the “meet and greet” for us and a new Marine at the embassy. It was great to finally put faces to email addresses and as always nobody looked anything like we thought they would. The Ambassador even showed up to say hello and to meet us. Before coming to Malta we had joked that we would certainly be the only Pennsylvania license plates in Malta ... well, you know what they say about making assumptions. It turns out there are no fewer than 4 Pennsylvanians at the embassy – and the embassy only employs about 30 Americans. One lady is from outside Scranton and knows Harveys Lake very well – who ever would have thunk it? We are not complaining about this, but we are seriously over-represented.
Additional Pennsylvania coincidence #1: earlier in the day, while poking around the kitchen, we found Villanova Law School Alumni cups. This started an argument as to whether it was more likely that a Maltese person who happened to own, rent or know the owners of this apartment had gone to Villanova, or if this was the apartment where Michelle Pistone had stayed when she was here last year. (Michelle is the Villanova professor who came on a Fullbright last year and helped the University of Malta law school create a clinical legal program that provided representation to asylum seekers.) The embassy community is small, heck the Maltese community is small, so everyone knew the apartment where we are staying, and I knew Michelle had gotten to know some of the folks at the embassy. At the meet & greet I asked if anyone knew if Michelle had stayed there and the answer was yes. I love being right! I also scared one poor guy who, after being introduced with only his first name, I put his last name to it – Michelle had known him and given me his name.
Additional Pennsylvania coincidence #2: On our way to the grocery store, we saw a car with a Penn State sticker on its window. The car was an EU car, not USA plates, and the plates were “PSU 095”. Elissa, did you ever hear about any Maltese people at Penn State before you got there?
Terry’s boss had told him that the two of them would go into the office on Monday – a national holiday – so Terry could start to get up to speed with nobody else around. I was fine with that because I had already arranged to go for a walk/hike around the Dingli Cliffs with other embassy folks – an outing arranged by Lisa. Happily, Bruce (Terry’s boss) said he and his wife would be driving us to the outing – they only live a few blocks from where we are staying – so Terry gets to go! It is only a few hours, apparently, so they will go in after that.
March 17, 2007
Today began with a different realtor who only showed us 3 places, but they were all much more like what we are looking for than the stuff shown to us by the other realtor. She also has friends with sailboats who are always looking for fellow sailors (yahoo!). Two places we saw were on the same street at the Maltese President’s palace and the American Ambassador’s residence - think she’ll give Terry a lift to work ;-) ? We’re set up to see a couple more places on Tuesday – once she learned that we were able to look through construction and have a sense of what a place will look like when finished, she decided there were more places we had to see. For those of you who were along for the ride during our house renovation blog, you know we can look through blotchy red paint on a stucco-like surface and see what beauty might lie beneath, or in that case, by adding drywall above.
Like the USA 20 years ago, we are told, Malta is shut down tight as a drum on Sundays and because of the public holiday is closed Monday as well, so Terry and I had to get our grocery shopping done today to take us through the weekend. It was fun walking home with big bags of groceries and experiencing something we were beginning to think was only a story – rain in Malta! It was a drizzle most of the time, gathering force during our walk home and reverting to drizzle again halfway back. But, we can now say with certainty that precipitation does happen here.
March 18, 2007
Today we finally decided to take the leap and try to figure out the buses. One thing that makes this easy is that for the most part, all buses start and end at the Valletta bus terminal, so as long as we get on going towards Valletta, that is where we will end up. Although the embassy claims to be in the neighboring town, Floriana, you could probably crab walk backwards to the embassy building from the Valletta bus terminal (but you would get run over). The bus trip cost 20 cents ($0.60) and takes about 15 minutes on a Sunday without traffic. We’ll see how long it takes on a normal work day.
March 19, 2007
Today we met up with a bunch of other embassy folks and took a hike along the Dingli Cliffs. Yes, it is fun to say. It was a very, very nice way to get to hang out with some of the folks we will be living and working with for the next 2 years. We also got some good dog cuddling time, as several people have dogs and the pooches enjoyed the hike as much as the people! Terry’s boss and his wife live only a couple of blocks from us, so they graciously drove us to the outing, as there are no buses and our car probably won’t arrive for another month or more.
One very interesting phenomenon I am seeing is that everyone seems to assume I have been offered and accepted the secretary job at the embassy. I suppose that with only one applicant during the time that they need someone to fill the job, it makes sense, however I had assumed that as a government job I would need to at least make the face effort of applying. Our CLO is planning an orientation for me on Thursday, so when I am at the embassy I plan to find her husband (my future boss) and find out exactly what is what. Nobody wants to talk shop on a holiday, or I would have prodded already.
March 20, 2007
Today’s highlights include: seeing my 2nd favorite house, lunch at the Malta Yacht Club with my realtor, making my first solo trip to the fruit cart and the grocery store, and seeing a car flip (the elderly man driving it, after being helped out of the car that stood on its hood, walked away without a scratch. It was amazing, and of course quite frightening). Also, our landlord called to let me know the cable folks were coming on Thursday morning and after that is set up the internet can be arranged. So I will soon be able to put all these random musings up where unsuspecting souls can read the thoughts of a woman spending too much time on her own! OK that isn’t really true, I have been with Terry all weekend and realtors all week.
We also discovered that the one outlet near the kitchen can’t handle having 2 ovens and a space heater plugged in at the same time, so we blew the power just before dinnertime. Luckily, Terry did manage to find the right switch to get the power turned back on and we unplugged the space heater. We then decided to finally use the dehumidifier that has been sitting in one of the spare bedrooms and it does make a big difference in how cold this place seems.
March 21, 2007
Today I saw a new second favorite house. I also met a lovely woman who’s leaving in 2 months, and who currently holds the job I am most likely to be taking. She showed me her seaside apartment in Sliema, which seems to be the most popular choice of locale for folks who don’t have small children or dogs. Between meeting her, running around with our realtor – who showed me 3 places in the morning, came back for me around 3pm and is coming back again at 6pm – I have not had my nap, nor have I eaten as frequently as I should. Result – grumpy Lynne. The good news is I checked in with the regional nurse, who’s here only today from Tunis, and he confirmed that what I am doing is exactly what I should be doing, namely finding an OB/GYN in the economy, and letting me know we can work out details if I want to be medevac’d home to deliver or if I want/need additional testing that is not done in Malta. I also got the name of another realtor because I keep feeling like there must be more than I have seen – I have spent 4 days (well, parts of days, but I couldn’t schedule anything else) with realtors and only seen 15 places – 6 of which were entirely too far away and inappropriate for our needs.
March 22, 2007
I ended up spending most of my day at the embassy, quite unexpectedly. It started because Terry needed me to access a web site where he refuses to memorize the password, and print something for him from it. We decided it would also be a good time for me to get my embassy badge so I can come and go without having to have a specific person meet me and escort me around. Sounds simple enough, sounds like a couple of tasks that take 1, maybe 2 hours to accomplish. We must always keep in the forefront of our thoughts that this is Malta (to be honest, we also said that a lot in Singapore).
First, I ended up getting introduced around to almost everyone at the embassy, which was very helpful although of course I remember about half of the names, and that is only because half of the people are named “Jo/Joe” both male and female. Of course, putting the name, even Jo, to the right face is also a challenge right now. Then, to get the badge I needed to get a photo taken at one place then the badge printed at another place. The machine to print the badge decided to show who’s boss and chose to stop working, which required the expertise of two different technical folks – neither of whom were Terry – to come and attempt to solve the problem. I was finally told to go amuse myself and the badge would be brought to me. This was my opportunity to get on the internet to satisfy item #2 of my mission, and check email. Of course, the printer hadn’t been installed on that computer, but I was able to download what I needed and send it to Terry where he could print it. During my round of introductions, I met the cashier who told me Terry had arranged to meet him at 1pm to open our joint bank account. So, I guess I am sticking around until 1pm!
While hanging around the embassy, I got invited to the next (all-women) book club meeting – tonight, with a 600 page book I have never even heard of, much less read. I figure this is a good opportunity to meet folks I haven’t met yet, so I agree to go. It also helps that the woman hosting is lives only about a 10 minute walk away from our apartment. As Terry comes home at 7pm I am heading out, figuring that I’ll easily be home within a couple of hours. The women I meet are lovely, and our conversation ranges from the book for the night, the other books in the series that some have read, recommendations of realtors and doctors (for me), and discussion of life inside and outside the embassy. I finally wander into our apartment around 11pm and practically collapse into bed. There are times I really hate being Pregnant Lynne (not that Pre-pregnancy Lynne could stay up past 11). At least I can still get 10 hours’ sleep before getting up tomorrow in time for the realtor to pick me up!
Oh, and the discovery of today – in the back of our minds we remember being told that fruit and veg deliveries are made on Mondays and Thursdays so those are the best days to load up. Terry ran out while I was at book club because we were low on fruit and he was in love with the selection and quality. I guess that means we have new standard shopping days – like most of Europe, people here shop every few days and have very fresh foods rather than stocking up like we do at home.
March 23, 2007
Like every other day this week, it is cold, windy and rainy. From the embassy folks I am told that this is winter, and it normally lasts through January and February, and is easing off by now. This year, winter never came, and temperatures stayed mild and the sun stayed up. I guess this is our welcome to Malta – other than the rain I think Terry prefers this so I don’t complain … too much. The wind is awesome, though, and the sea is the choppiest I have seen it today. I am now questioning weekend plans of doing any wandering around if the weather is to be like this. We’ll have to find something to do indoors. My realtor for today calls and begs off because of a migraine. This is my first day to just laze around and do anything (or, more appropriately, nothing) since we got here. Conveniently, our landlord finally got us TV (basic cable, like many places back in the USA without at least basic cable there is no TV) – this is also the necessary predecessor to getting internet in the apartment. Just like in the USA, with a couple dozen channels, nothing is ever on! We do get the Discovery Channel, and it is even in English, so that is generally the best bet. Right now the thunder is causing some vibrations in the building. When the weather wants to be severe, it really follows through.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Friday we went with one Realtor that showed us a bunch of houses that were a little far out. You talk to some people and they say there is no where on the island that is too far out. The next person will then say that same place is way too far. Just for the record those place are probably about 9-12 miles from the Embassy. The big deal is how long it take you to get in with traffic. All the houses were much bigger than our house in Philly. All of them had pool and small to large gardens. We are told as you get closer to the embassy the gardens and houses tend to get smaller.
The first Realtor, who took us out on Friday, is a South African who married a Maltese woman. Some of the things he said contradicted what was said by other people at the Embassy and people Lynne had met. Realtor number two took us out on Saturday. This one was a Maltese woman who was very chatty and loved to call everyone sweety or sweets. Saw three places with her. All were closer in. One is very close to the night life. Again a large house with 3 terraces. There was a garden downstairs, but not a lot of dirt for Kirby. He may have survive pooping on pavement for two years. The second two were on the same street in Attard, which is a little village. It is a little farther from the sea but I don't think that one would be too bad. The first one had an amazing garden with a pool. The house was an older home that was being refurbished. It was very nice and had plenty of room. Both Lynne and I thought that was our favorite so far. Right down the street was another one that had a small garden and pool. The owner was a doctor who like to collect antiques. It was lovely but a bit intimidating with all of the things that could break on you. The other odd things was that you had to go through one bedroom to get another bedroom and bath. The one cool thing is the house had an old bunker from the second world war with steps carved in the bedrock going down into it.
Sunday we took the bus into Valletta to check out how the bus worked. We wandered around Valletta for a couple of hours then took the ferry back home. The weather has been pretty nice so far - not too warm and pleasant during the day. The house and apartments are largely built with marble and limestone so they don't hold heat. They are quite cool. This will be very helpful in the summer when it is brutally hot but right now it means the house is actually colder than outside which is not making Lynne happy one bit.
Pictures of the Temporary Housing.
I attached a file that has the location of the temporary housing in for Google Earth. You will need Google earth installed to use but for those that have it is here.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I spent a very short weekend in Brookline with my dad, then ran back to PA on MLK day – if I picked Terry up at his dad’s on Monday morning and drove him back to Philly where he’d left the truck, I could avoid having to drive the round trip on Tuesday to bring the extra car up to his dad’s … so around 7am on Monday I got back in the car and trekked back south. The visit was short, but dad will most likely be our first visitors, in June, so we won’t even really have a chance to miss each other!
The rest of Monday I spent scurrying around doing all the last minute things I had forgotten to do previously, and being very thankful that I had the extra time to do so. On Tuesday I drove all the stuff we weren’t having movers deal with to the hotel I would be staying in for the rest of my time in PA. The government generously pays for up to 10 days of housing and per diem for packout, starting the day before packout begins – which makes sense because once you pack the sheets and pillows, what do you have to sleep on?
My friend Valerie arrived later that day to assist with the packout. Packout is what happens when the movers show up. We were told that we were not allowed to do any of our own packing, and later discovered that movers are happy to peek into a box, satisfy themselves that nothing inside is likely to break, then just wrap up the box as is. The packout itself went just fine, much more smoothly than I had expected, although after this experience I can say with full confidence that it is not for the single individual. Beg, bribe or pay homeless people to help you because if you don’t, all your things may get packed into cardboard boxes and taken out of your home, but you will never see them again because you will have no idea which thing was put into which box, and who knows what gets lost along the way. To add to the fun, one of the movers was adamant about fitting the most things into any box without regard for keeping like items together, so our mixer attachments are in 3 separate boxes, none of which also contains the mixer itself. Yikes! We’ll have fun looking for those things when we are back in DC or if we ever get a post that uses 110 voltage power.
Friday morning I bade Valerie farewell and headed off to my new adventure – my super cute, super short haircut! I had donated my hair for Locks of Love a few years previously, and had really wanted to do it again before we left. My hair hadn’t had time to grow quite so long as last time, so after Gina took off the minimum 10 inches, she then circled me in the chair muttering to herself “Now what can I do with this?” I trusted her completely and she did not fail me, although I do admit it never again looked as cute as it did after she styled it. It has been 2 months now and my hair is still the shortest it has ever been.
Monday I began my final journey to Virginia, arriving on Tuesday to begin my stay at the “retirement home”. To backtrack, Terry began his training in one location in Virginia in September, and moved to a different location way outside of anywhere in November. When he moved, he got a house with 4 other guys in his class, which they originally dubbed the “frat house.” Terry, Larry, Will, Jim and Yavuz learned what happened when people stopped being polite and started being real, except that MTV wasn’t paying for the housing or putting them into wacky situations. One thing they learned is that most of the house inhabitants were in bed by 8:00pm.
Because at this point the concept of spending one whole consecutive week in one location is just not fathomable, we decide to go up to the cabin my first weekend in Virginia, with friends from Terry’s training class. It turned into a lesson in outdoor survival preparedness as the well pump stopped working within about ½ hour of our arrival. Luckily, we had some amount of drinking water that we had left there and the stream was running – it wasn’t too cold up there – so we could get water for toilet flushing. It turned out that Terry’s dad had left 2 large buckets filled with clean water, and they had frozen, so Saturday night was spent boiling small quantities of water to pour over the ice and try to melt it, then re-boiling the melted parts so that in the end there was water for each of us to take what was essentially a sponge bath. I am pretty sure JT and Yoko have never roughed it like this before!
The next week was glorious for several reasons – one, the house sale was to close; two, the standard part of Terry’s training would be over and there would be a nice graduation ceremony; and three, we discovered I was pregnant.
As usual in my dealings with our realtor, there were problems. The main one being that although I had called her before I left Philadelphia to confirm that there was nothing further she needed from me, she failed to tell me she needed the receipts from the contractors who did the work that had been required by the home inspection. Her first proposal was for me to fax her the receipts. I explained that the nearest public fax machine was 12 miles away and it was her responsibility, not mine, at this point. Her next lovely idea was to hold our settlement check in escrow until the contractors sent the receipts, which she assured me would be the very next day. At that point I went ballistic, and the end result was that her commission check was held in escrow. Of course, the contractors did not send the documents as promised and I was slightly gleeful when she called to ask my help in getting any kind of document to prove the work was done and we paid them. Of course, she got us back because although she assured me that all utilities were paid out of the closing funds, Philly Gas Works is not so paid so we had to deal with getting a final bill and of course it was overdue. However, we were able to pay it without penalty and we got the settlement check a day or two after closing so in the end it all worked out very well.
That weekend I went to Florida to spend time with my mother before we left the country. In speaking with my sis-in-law before leaving, Heather told me that my mom thought I was going to get off the plane and tell her I was pregnant. So, of course, I had to consider it but thought of how she was then going to have to drive us home and figured it would be best to wait. I did tell her the next day and cautioned her that it was still way too early and I never would have told her yet if I weren’t leaving the country and I was still deeply in potential miscarriage territory. Her response was of course “pooh pooh and kana hora you say such a thing” but she did promise not to say anything. Of course, you’d think it was be a little telling when, later that week, we were driving a friend to the airport and helping bring her bags to the car and my mother was trying to wrest the bags from my hands. Yeah, very subtle mom. Various family responses to the news: from Heather “Really? Really? REALLY?” from Randy “Well THAT’s a bet I would have lost.”
After 3 ½ months in the retirement home, it was finally time to move on. In preparation for a month of hotel living, we brought both cars to PA and brought Kirby to stay with Terry’s dad. Unfortunately for us, the day we left was during the huge PA “unable to clear the snow” scandal that left three major highways closed for about 4-5 days. We knew the ride would be longer than usual because (1) our normal route took us on 2 of the closed highways and (2) like everyone else, we would be packing the one remaining major highway so the traffic would be insane. What we did not expect, although in hindsight should have, was that when we got onto the one remaining major highway a tractor-trailer carrying hazardous materials would jackknife on the side of the road we were on, thus closing the highway for a few hours. Adding to the fun were (1) we were in separate cars so we couldn’t even keep each other company; (2) I was in the car with no antenna and only 3 cassette tapes; and (3) I was pregnant, which if any of you know anything about pregnancy, means that I needed to stop for a bathroom break about every 1-2 hours. To keep perspective, though, we reminded ourselves that on the night of the actual snowstorm, people were trapped on the one (now closed) highway for us to 36 hours. No joke. This is why it was a scandal.
After 8 ½ hours on what is normally a 4 hour trip, we finally arrived at Terry’s dad’s house. The original plan to go up to the cabin that weekend was quashed because (1) we didn’t want to spend one more minute in a car ever again and (2) the third highway that was closed and not reopened during the weekend was the one we’d need to get there. Needless to say, the trip back to Virginia after the weekend never seemed so quick. We spent a lovely 5 day week at the Comfort Inn, where – luckily – a guy in Terry’s class was also staying so he drove Terry to work and I could have the car – this hotel wasn’t as centrally located as the retirement home was and I would otherwise be trapped with only a 7-11 for entertainment within safe walking distance.
Saturday was best because we finally moved into DC. It was wonderful not needing the car except for the trips out to Burke to see my family.
Other than the immediate family, we had been doing our best to keep mum about the baby until we passed the first trimester. Around week 9 (the week before we left), I was tired of not telling anyone and, hell, I was just damn tired. I went from the one who woke after 8 hours of sleep, no matter what time it was, to the one who went right back to sleep after the alarm went off and only woke again – briefly – to say goodbye when Terry left for work. And 2 hour afternoon naps didn’t leave me groggy, although they also didn’t leave me too well rested. I had also gotten an ultrasound at my 8 week appointment so it was confirmed that there was a fetus – only one – and it had a heartbeat, so I was feeling pretty good about everything. According to the ultrasound, baby looks a lot like an anvil-shaped white blob.