Tuesday, February 28, 2012

{Guest Blogger: Mike + Jess in Malta}

I was so pleased to be asked by Liz to guest post on her blog while she and Corey are in Seville (Seville!). I'm Jess, one half of mike-jess.com, a blog I share with my partner, Mike, and our two pups, where we document our life abroad in Malta.

If you've never heard of Malta, you aren't alone. Malta is a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean, measuring only 121 square miles/316 square kilometers, with a population of just over 400,000. Situated between Italy and North Africa, Malta is a unique blend of both cultures. And it's not all sun and sand here. With a history of settlement predating the pyramids in Giza, we are spoiled with endless opportunities to learn and explore. Since moving here in 2010 Mike and I have been soaking it all up, offering advice to fellow expats and visitors, and sharing photos of our experiences along the way.

Some of our favourite things about this little island:

i study art history and malta is the perfect place to do it

enough said

a burst of colour and energy in the middle of winter, carnival is traditionally how the maltese let loose before Lent
the view of valletta's skyline (the capital city, a unesco world heritage site). this view still gives me butterflies.

from poking around little fishing villages to hiking along malta's cliffs and rocky shores, there's always something unexpected to discover

this is where malta's italian heritage really shines through. feast (or festa, in maltese) is really code word for party.
at most feasts there are fireworks before, during, and after. in the summer this means there are usually fireworks every night. and sometimes even during the day! in april malta also plays host to an international fireworks festival. last year we missed it because we were traveling through the greek mountains and going to london for the royal wedding, but we are super excited to catch it this year.

a former british colony, cuisine in malta is a curious mix of italian, british, and north african. plus we get fresh, local produce all year long - a novelty, for us canadians. citrus season in january? yes, please. and don't even get me started on maltese bread or ravioli.

ancient neolithic temples and hypogeums, medieval walled cities, roman houses, baroque churches, impressive fortifications, malta has it all. some of our favourite historic sites include the walled cities of valletta, mdina and birgu, as well as the Hal Salfieni Hypogeum and Hagar Qim temple.
brightly coloured fishing boats called luzzus pull right up to the market to unload their goods at this seaside market in the village of marsaxlokk (pronounced mar-sa-shlock). when you order seafood in marsaxlokk's restaurants sometimes you are even lucky enough to have to wait until it comes off the boat. now that's fresh.
mike's a sports guy (that's him rock climbing) and he's loved taking advantage of being able to do outdoor activities in malta all year long. again, a big novelty for us canadians. and what better way to take advantage of malta's balmy weather? windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, diving, snorkelling, hiking, and of course malta's favourite team sports - football (soccer, for us north americans) and water polo, are just a few activities for athletes to take up here.
summer is a magical time in malta. big-name outdoor concerts (like the isle of MTV), DJs spinning at open-air clubs, wine and beer festivals, feasts, fairs, seaside bbqs, sunset picnics, hot beaches and warm seas. absolute perfection.
while we've certainly felt the european cold snap in malta this winter, we are normally lucky to have very mild winters and hot, dry summers. in malta it doesn't rain a drop from may until september, and we like it that way.

We also love that living in Malta allows us to travel more affordably and more often. During our first (whirlwind) year in Malta we were able to visit 11 countries and 19 cities (biggest lesson - pack light). We also bought our first car, got our dogs their own passports (for real), and just finished filming an episode of House Hunters International. Please, somebody pinch me.

But, as Liz knows, moving abroad is not all picture-perfect. And we have our (short) list of complaints and challenges. Making friends while working from home, language barriers, strange shop hours, walking on cobblestone in heels (not happening), smoking in public places, lack of dog friendly spaces, renting property, no good dill pickles, crazy driving. Life abroad is still life, and it has its ups and downs. But would we trade it for anything? Not a chance.

For a better look at life in Malta and our travels, follow along on our adventure at mike-jess.com.