I spent all of the week before last week on Malta. I was there for an academic conference that lasted Monday to Saturday. Malta is an uncommon destination, and like most people who took part in the conference, I’d never been there. It was an international gathering and I got to spend time with colleagues from the US, England, Holland, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Lebanon, and elsewhere. I never really got fully in tune with the time zone (eight hours different from my usual one) and so I was perpetually tired (partly from late nights, too, I’m sure!). There was not a lot of time to sightsee, since I was occupied for most of the day — the lunch break was two hours, not a bad idea! — with conference matters, and the evening was filled with eating and drinking with friends and colleagues.
The food was generally good, and I especially enjoyed rabbit (fenek) twice, one of which times was on a pizza with peas (!), and on the last night some fresh sea bass. I drank local wine, both red and white, which was very inexpensive and not bad (except one white variety) and a Maltese liqueur made from pomegranates. The local lager is the ubiquitous Cisk, which was not bad, but I preferred another local brew, Hopleaf, a pale ale. Finally, the espresso was quite good. (Incidentally, since I was flying through Amsterdam, I had the rare privilege of sampling on the way back some Bols Corenwyn, 6-year.)
English is understood everywhere, but the other official language of the country is Maltese, a very fascinating language with a base of Arabic but with strong mixing or influence from Romance (Italian and Sicilian); I have written a little about Maltese elsewhere. Of course, since I was participating in an international conference, I had the always welcome opportunity to hear (and speak a little) French, German, and Arabic.
While I didn’t have a lot of time (or money) to look around at the more famous places, I did of course have some occasion to wander through the narrow streets of Valletta. Most striking is the color of the buildings and the beautiful balconies, which however, seemed to be rarely occupied. Parts of the city are marked by reminders of past British rule, but perhaps more so by the stony presence of saintly statuary. I also managed on the last evening to go for a swim in the sea.
I hope these few remarks and pictures, based merely on a short time there and mostly in a single place, convey at least a little of the interest and uniqueness in store for visitors to the island (and its neighbor Gozo)!