Nato and I made the decision to go to Malta on Boxing day. My Mum’s side of the family traditionally met at my Nunna’s house (their childhood home) on Boxing Day and Nato and I had flown down to join them. The idea had been growing for some time and rough numbers for the trip were being worked out. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up, so we put our hands up to join the group.
We saved our money and our annual leave, and poured over the slim Malta Lonely Planet guide. To make the most of being so close to the rest of Europe, we also booked a tour of Italy to follow our week in Malta. The chunky Italy Lonely Planet guide joined it’s Maltese cousin and we raced from work on Wednesdays to our beginner Italian language lessons. We bought a big memory card for the camera, checked our passports and changed Australian Dollars for Maltese Lira and Euro. At last we were cramming it all into a suitcase and meeting my Mum at the airport to board the first of our flights towards Malta.
The three of us filed off in Singapore to stretch our legs while the plane was being refuelled. It was the middle of the night and the only other people at the airport were the security guards, who were casually holding the biggest, scariest guns I had ever seen in real life.
“This is the furtherest North I’ve ever been,” I declared to Nato.
“You better not keep saying that all the way to Venice,” warned Nato.
I had every intention of doing so. After Venice we would pass through Pisa, the most western point of the trip and I intended to declare that too.
In Dubai we met up with the rest of the family who had flown in from other Australian cities. We greeted each other excitedly, or as excitedly as possible considering we had all been flying for at least sixteen hours. Together we boarded our final flight an six hours later we touched down in Malta. The sun was blazing as we hailed a series of taxis to take us to our hotel. The driving was absolutely insane, brakes were either slammed on or not used at all, no one used indicators, but everyone gestured and tooted. We soon got used to hearing the fanfare like toot of the curvy, egg-yolk yellow buses that dominated the roads.
Standing in our bright hotel room, over twenty-four hours after boarding our flight in Australia we should have been exhausted, but were far too excited to lie down and go to sleep. Instead we decided to check out the hotel pool. I lay down on a free sun lounger and immediately felt the overwhelming sinking sensation of falling into deep sleep. Dizzy and disoriented we staggered back to our room, fell onto the bed and slept for the rest of the day.
We woke as the day was ending, the island was finally cooling off as it entered twilight. The family strolled along the promenade to a little restaurant overlooking the sea which served Maltese pizza, a thin pizza base covered in mozzarella topped with ricotta cheese chunks, Maltese sausage, sun dried tomatoes and whole olives – delicious. My Mum and her siblings ordered Kinnie, a Maltese bitter orange and herb soft drink which is so refreshing in the hot, dry Maltese climate. Nato tried it and was immediately hooked, I didn’t mind it either. As the streetlights started to illuminate and the moon rose, we joined the locals strolling along the promenade. The most delicious smell was wafting from a little stall, so we all lined up for imqaret – deep fried date parcels dusted with sugar – divine!
The ‘Imqaret’ sign was our first brush with the Maltese language, imqaret seems to be missing a u after the q and is pronounced im-a-ret. Maltese is a Semitic language, a mix of Arabic, Italian, Sicilian, French and English, basically everyone who invaded Malta left a little of their language behind. It uses the Latin alphabet, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to learn. It’s dotted with q’s without u’s, j’s, x’s and double z’s. Luckily for us English is sp oken throughout Malta. We passed other remnants of British rule of Malta as we strolled back along the promenade to our hotel, red telephone booths, red post boxes and the most enduring remnant, hordes of sunburnt English tourists.