Wednesday, July 4, 2007
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'.
Sunday, 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.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Dad bought a deck of cards and we discovered we didn't really remember how to play any card games. We ended up playing gin rummy but I am pretty sure we did it wrong because someone won a hand within 2-3 rounds, and I remember the game going on much longer than that. We also headed up to the more comprehensive restaurant for a change of pace and hot food for dinner, and being Malta even an airport meal took over an hour.
Amazingly, the plane did actually take off at 12:30am, as we were first told.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Understandably, they were hot, tired and frazzled by the time they reached their hotel, so we kept it low key and ate dinner together at their hotel (Le Meridien St. Julian. centrally located, but has some housekeeping issues)
Thursday we met up for the "Knights of Malta - 1565" performance. It was held at the Powerhouse Theatre, which was formerly a powerhouse (electricity) when the Brits were here. Located at the Valletta Waterfront, it is of course in Floriana, not Valletta. I can't really recommend the show - there were many of what I would call non sequiteur scenes to showcase the various performer talents (i.e., belly dancing, ballet, baton twirling, dressage - yes, the cast included 8 horses) and they were pretty good. However, you leave the performance knowing no more about the Siege of 1565 than you did when you arrived, and the love story was simply annoying and distracting. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend 2 hours, but I also admit I don't think we'll go again. One interesting issue we ran against was that we were to be at the theatre at 8:30pm, yes could not find a restaurant that opened before 7pm. When I called that one, I was told we'd only make the 8:30 show if we took their recommendations on what to order, i.e. pasta rather than steak, one course rather than two, etc.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Well, by noon I was busy ..... Unpacking. My. Stuff.
WOO-HOOOOO. Tons of things we had forgotten we had even packed. Things we had been pining away for. It is amazing the things you realize you love. Butter dish. Cheese grater. Mixing bowls.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I am so obviously pregnant that 2 ladies offered me their seats on the bus! Also, I feel baby kicks every day now. Baby really likes 5-6am to do gymnastics. Without fail, every day, I have been awakened at that time. Oh goodie.
We finally heard the heartbeat - on all previous visits we just saw it beating on the ultrasound but this time my doctor has the thing that plays the heartbeat. Baby's got a good strong, slow beat - it never went above 150. Baby is measuring perfectly for its age, and overall doctor is pretty happy with our health. On the ultrasound we saw it scratch its head, then it waved to us.
This stuff is pretty cool.
Oh, and I finally have weight gain. I seem to be starting on the recommended 1lb/week gain and, again, doctor is happy with the progress. Mom is less happy, because it is still a net negative from when I became pregnant. Will I become a Jewish mother when I become a Jewish mother?
June 15, 2007
I don't think I mentioned that the pregnant lady who's been in the hospital for the last 3 months finally delivered her well-over-5lb-perfectly-healthy baby this week! This means she finally left the hospital and went home this week! I went to see them yesterday and her little boy is so, so cute, and so tiny, and he slept the whole time I was there (guiltily overstaying the "guidelines" for visiting new parents, but she had so much to tell me about the delivery and what they do and don't do here with a newborn, etc). She let me hold him and it was the first time I have held a baby so young (for both of my nephews' births I was in a different state and couldn't get back quite so quickly). One good thing to know - the preemie clothes were swimming on him. I have no real idea what to expect for size for my baby, but neither of us are particularly big so I am assuming something under 7lb - which means the newborn size may be big! I never thought that would happen. I guess we'll just figure it out in approx. 16 weeks. Or less, or more, depending on how baby feels.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
I am once again being tempted by rumors, and hope that my heart will not again be broken. I have been told that the documents that have been in Maltese government hands for more than 3 weeks (instead of the usual 1 day) have been released and we can schedule delivery of our ship freight. The date set right now is next Thursday, June 14, which gives me about 4 days to unpack everything before book club at our house and then my dad showing up 2 days later. Think I can do it?!?!
This week will really be like Christmas in July, between all the stuff Terry is bringing back from his trip home and now having access to my stuff again. Who knows, maybe I'll even be more parsimonious with my blog entries :-)
June 9, 2007
Today the hospital where I plan to have my baby had an open house for mothers-to-be so I went, having no idea at all what it would be about. Turns out it was lots of vendors of baby products and some seminars on topics like banking cord blood, postpartum depression, natural childbirth, etc. The schedule of seminars was totally wrong, so I didn't know when the ones I wanted to attend were, so after accidentally getting sucked into the cord blood one (we're not planning to pay to bank cord blood and certainly wouldn't be doing it at a facility in the UK if we did want to) I stayed away from the lecture room.
The very interesting thing is that they had a lovely assortment of warm hors d'oeuvres, mini sandwiches, etc. The sandwiches had either (1) gbejniet - Maltese goat's milk cheese, it MAY have been pasteurized but that is doubtful; (2) shrimp and smoked salmon, or (3) prosciutto. In the USA, every one of these sandwiches would have been verboten for pregnant women, and this was at an event specifically for pregnant women.
I walked away with bags of reading material and goodies such as samples of formula, diapers, baby massage creme ... mmmmm.... One thing I found very interesting is that for many of the vendors, they didn't have any real offices. Everyone gave me a card and said I could call or SMS for more information or to place orders. One vendor of formula said they deliver for free and will even deliver diapers. Now that is service! I did find it interesting that in a country where breast feeding is completely assumed - every hospital that has labor wards has lactation specialists, 24-hour hotlines, etc. - that there were so many formula vendors. And even the vendors acknowledged they assume we will all breast feed, but that when people return to work or want to have a break there is formula to fill the gap. I wonder if they don't pump and store breast milk - the way most breastfeeding women I know in the USA would do - because of the apparently frequent power outages that would spoil any milk in the freezer. Something to think about.
I was also amazed this morning when I was walking Kirby in the Gardens (aka San Anton Gardens) and got yelled at by a lady in Maltese for allegedly not picking up my dog's poop. First, of course I picked it up. Second, it had happened long before she walked in so the person she thought she saw could not have been us. Third, and most importantly - NOBODY cleans up after their dogs here. At first I was greatly put out by her, then I decided I should appreciate that there is actually someone else here who wants the sidewalks and pathways to be clean.
June 11, 2007
When will I learn?!?!?!?!? Our ship freight can't be delivered in Thursday because ... are you ready for this ... IT IS NOT IN MALTA. We just pissed away 4 weeks of our lives waiting for MFA to finally give our docs back, and when we contact the shipping company to arrange the delivery, they realize they can't find our container. Oh wait, they left it in Italy.
I had been joking that they pushed the container overseas and are now stalling to avoid paying the insurance, but now I am not so sure that isn't what happened here. We'll hope to find out more today. Poor Terry, first day back after 3 weeks away and he has to run around dealing with admin crap that should have been dealt with weeks ago!
June 12, 2007
OK, our container is still in Italy (allegedly) and who knows when it will be put on a boat? Im'shalla, we will receive our container some time before March 2009, when we leave this post.
On to good news ... I am getting off the island! Although I have not felt the island fever everyone talks about, I have been desperately missing good red meat. Baby needs extra iron, so I think I am taking it harder than I would have otherwise - I didn't have these cravings when I was in India for the summer. When my dad comes to visit a week from tomorrow, he will be heading off to England before back to the USA, and through the good work of a good travel agent, I will be heading to England with him. As an extra bonus the flight home includes an 8 hour layover in London so I get to get out into the city a little, at least hit a museum and a restaurant. My wonderful husband then gets to pick me up at the airport at 1am. He's very good to me.
Other good news - baby kicked for Terry tonight. He got to feel a few good ones - it was the first time he'd felt it (the other night when I think baby had the hiccups at 5:15am I didn't think he wanted to be awakened, so I let him sleep through that one) I have heard the baby's sleep and wake schedule in utero is the same one they will have once they come out, so I have been trying to keep general track of when baby's active.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Tuesday starts off with some Kirby SNAFUs - getting too close to people on the walk and having anxiety and snapping, and tripping me, causing me to land rather heavily on his paw (he didn't try to bite me for that, though, which is unusual for him. Maybe he is starting to see me as "in charge of him"?) He also had some stress because some things were delivered from the embassy warehouse and I had to shut him out on the porch while the guy was in the house.
I had to run to the grocery store - less than an hour round trip. In that time he managed to pee and somehow get my purse off the front door side table, which resulted in his eating my Luna bar mini and who knows what else. At least it was lemon and not chocolate but I really don't know, in the aftermath, if it would have made a difference.
The day passes and everything seems OK. Then around 7pm the power goes out. Given that this has happened twice so far I didn't worry too much about it, and it was still too light out for me to tell if it was just my house or if it struck the whole neighborhood. Some time before 8pm I notice others have their power, so I call my landlord/neighbor. Turns out he is away for all of 2 days but his daughter (who also lives there) comes over and together we play with the breakers/fuses/whatever they are called. She calls the electrician but he declines to come out, even after she pulled out all possible pity excuses (I'm alone and pregnant) but says he can come in the morning. She and her husband very kindly offer for me to pack a bag and come stay at their house, but at this point it is past 9pm, I have candles and a torch [flashlight] and I have Kirby to deal with, so I decline.
While all this is going on, it seems Kirby's digestive system really gets a whiff of what he's done and rebels. First come the dry heaves, then comes the grass eating, and finally the puke - we were outside at the time, for which I am incredibly thankful. Apparently that didn't make him feel better enough, because he went back for more grass. He puked chewed up grass a mere 1/2 hour later - again outside - so I decided that even though he wanted to go back for more it was time to come in for the night.
My lovely neighbor plugged in extension cords from their bedroom to mine (they are both at the front of the house and my balcony practically reaches their window) so I was able to plug in a side lamp and I read and knitted before bed, which at this point was pretty soon.
Although her tales of woe were not enough to motivate the electrician to come last night, they worked well enough that he was at my house around 7:45am. He did find the problem and I had electricity by around 8:30am. There were remarkably few casualties from the fridge and freezer, mostly because lots of things were able to become Kirby treats. Hey, if the dog can eat partly decomposing dead pigeon parts without any ill effect, he can eat cooked chicken that got cool (not all the way to warm).
I was out today for a few hours and had debated crating Kirby while I was gone, given that his pee-while-I'm-gone rate is around 50%. VERY glad I decided against it because when I came home there was waiting for me the nastiest, smelliest, watery-and-yet-chunkiest poo explosion on the floor. It would not have been nice to have to clean that off Kirby himself. Obviously, the Luna bar had not yet completely worked its way out of his system. I sincerely hope it is over now, though.
Tomorrow is a Maltese holiday, Sette Giugno. It commemorates something like the Boston Tea Party that occurred in Malta in 1919. The gist is the British raised the price of bread, the Maltese rioted, and British soldiers shot into crowds and innocents were killed.
Here are some links about it
Monday, June 4, 2007
I pick them up at the apartment, and in trying to not take the long way back, we get completely lost in Sliema for a good 20 minutes or so. Remember, this is a tiny island so 20 minutes lost is a lot of time. They have a good sense of humor about it, which I had made sure about before I offered to take them out. We finally get onto a road I know and we are off to Rabat to check out the catacombs. Rather than repeat the exciting adventure we just had, we decide to park in a known area and walk to the sights of Rabat, because everything is incredibly close together. First stop: St. Paul's Church and Grotto. The grotto is allegedly where St. Paul stayed for the 3 months he was in prison when he came to Malta. It is more interesting than my guidebook led me to believe it would be. We also got to see a crypt for some important church people, which is also down there. The church itself is insanely ornate, and definitely overwhelming, but if you focus on one piece at a time (not that you would ever get through all of them that way) and focus on the skill/craft involved in creating the piece, and how long it must have taken the artisan, and then look around at ALL the ornate pieces, it is quite impressive. There are paintings, frescoes, statues, altars, tapestries ... everything you can think of is there, and all hand crafted about 300-400 years ago. It is remarkably well preserved.
Next stop, St. Paul's Catacombs. Here you get audio guides that lead you through first the outside courtyard then down into the catacombs. In several places the lights were out, and we all cursed ourselves for not having brought flashlights. The catacombs are pretty impressive, they go much farther back than we are allowed to go, and the audio guide does a pretty good job explaining how it all worked. It is amazing to think all the now empty tombs or whatever they are called were once filled with dead people. And without the electric lights it was pitch black ... back in the day they only had small oil lamps (there were some artifacts of these lamps in the reception area where you pay and pick up the audio guides) and these lamps didn't look like they shed much light.
At this point it is already close to noon. We head over for a quick walk through Mdina and go to lunch. Because Laurie's mom requires gluten free food, our options were limited. We headed to Cafe Jubilee on the Sliema strand and actually found it pretty easily. Lunch was fun, and we picked up something to go for Laurie – I was bringing her parents to the hospital before I went home. When we walked out of the restaurant it was pouring down rain. Pouring may have even been putting it lightly. Where the road seemed to have the lowest water point the water was above my ankles. Wet feet! We ran to the car, got in, and turned the ignition. Dead, deader than a doornail dead. Silent dead – not even a sputter.
I do a pretty good job not panicking. I know we have our insurance docs in the glovebox so I take them out to see if we have anything there. It is just car-crash insurance. I am thinking we didn't get roadside assistance service. We both had AAA back home and Terry is so handy I think we just forgot all about getting something for overseas. I call Post 1 and because I start my sentence with “I'm not sure if this is something I'd call post 1 about” he doesn't even listen to what's wrong, he transfers me to the operator. Luckily it was Charlie who answered the phone. Charlie works with Terry and is a really wonderful guy. I explain what is going on and that I don't know what to do. He says he can call a tow service and give me the number for getting the roadside assistance service. He takes my number and says he will find out what my options are and call me back. Meanwhile, Laurie's dad has an idea about what is wrong so he has me pop the hood and he jumps out and is playing with the battery cable. He tells me to turn the ignition. The car starts!
Charlie calls back and I tell him the car is running. We are trying to get the windows a bit defogged before heading out, and I finally put the brake on to put the car into drive from park. It goes dead again. Laurie's dad says he knows what the problem is – we have the loosest battery cable he has ever seen. He has seen cables 10 times tighter than ours that didn't work. I call Charlie and he suggests we find a store, restaurant, something in the area that might have pliers and we can get the cable tightened. Not a perfect fix but something to hold until we can get a new one. Laurie's father has another great idea, goes running out of the car yet again, and eventually knocks on my window to have me turn the ignition again. It starts. He jumps in and we drive away. He had put a pin somewhere wedged into something and it should at least hold until I get home ... and I am advised not to turn the car off until I am somewhere safe. Yes, sir!! I get them to the hospital just fine, and head out to go home. Somehow I manage to go the wrong way at one point and have to drive around lost trying to find the right way back. When I find the way back to the main road, there is no way to get to the correct side of the road except to keep going down the wrong way until I get to a roundabout. I go a distance and realize that there may not be any place to turn around until I am practically at Valletta, so when I see a U-turn cutout – meant for folks going the other direction – I check the road is clear and I take it! Meanwhile, the defroster isn't working hard enough and the only way to see is to keep the windows open, so rain is pouring into the car. At one point the rain is so hard that even with the windshield wipers going full blast I can barely see, it is like a faucet of water running all over the car. Finally, finally, I am on the way home, this time I do it all correctly and make it home in one piece. I park under our very new carport, and am home. Wet, completely freaked out, but home.
In the midst of all the hoopla, I had to cancel our stuff coming from the warehouse because I got home too late. The embassy has a certain amount of stuff available to embassy families, like dehumidifiers, space heaters, refrigerators, etc. so we had placed an order for a few things and they were to come today. When the guy comes tomorrow, though, he will bring pliers and we will try to get the cable fitted more tightly to the battery, and when Terry returns we'll probably get a new cable and he can probably put it in himself. I don't have anywhere I have to drive until I pick him up at the airport on Sunday – this is part of why we decided to live where we do – i can walk to whatever I need and a friend is picking me up and driving me to lunch when we go out one day this week.
Completely off topic but it also happened today: occasionally there is a produce vendor across the street from me. I can't figure out which days he comes and he never stays long, in fact I had thought he was just stopping for lunch or something and wasn't actually selling anything. He was out when I got home so I decided to take this opportunity to get a few things without having to leave Kirby because I was very low on fruits and veggies. Turns out this guy is sort of a ripoff, I paid way more to get way less than any other trip to the carts since i got here. Maybe there is a premium for the special trip, the guy told me he comes here because he makes a delivery to one of my neighbors.