Malta - where a stranger is a friend you've never met before
A small place with a big heart
There are only 9 countries in the world that are smaller than Malta. Only 1 of those countries are in Africa (Comoros) so it has been a very long time since I've last been in a country as cozy as this one. Malta is a European country in the Mediterranean between the main body of Europe and the African continent. Apparently a lot of you didn't know that? Well now you do :)
That's Malta, just at the end of my henna colored fingernail.
The day my father flew back to Denmark was also the day I checked out of the hotel he had booked us into. A Danish Dane from Denmark named Johnny Haarup is a long time supporter of the Saga and we have been in touch several times through the magic world of facebook. A while ago he reached out again and asked if I might be interested in hooking up with some people in Malta? I replied "sure, why not". Before I knew of it I had been approached by a man named David (Dave) Mariner. We corresponded for a while on facebook as he introduced me to his wife Alexandra (Alex) and invited me to come and stay for a while in their apartment. So as I checked out of the hotel I headed straight to the address Alex had given me. This was also my first experience with the exciting landscape which is Malta. On google maps it looked like a short 15-20 minute walk to their apartment. In reality I had to do a fair amount of uphill walking with my heavy luggage. Shortly after passing beneath an overpass bridge (while I was looking more down than up), I suddenly heard a woman's voice from above: "Thor! Thor!" As I looked up to my left it became clear that I had reached my destination. It was Alex standing on their 3rd floor balcony waving at me.
Jules the family cat. He spent a night sleeping on top of me? :)
Alex is half Danish and half US American. As I was huffing and puffing having climbed the staircase Alex immediately offered me a glass of water. I mentioned last week that she then went on to reveal that she actually spoke Danish and I think that's pretty much where I left you? Anyway... Dave came home and he is British. Dave and Alex lived together for a while in Denmark so he too speaks the mystical Norse language (a little bit of it anyway). Dave works within the online video game business which is not completely uncommon for foreigners across Malta. Apparently tax laws have made it lucrative for both the online video game business and iGaming (online betting) industry to pick Malta and apparently that means that there are many Swedish people in Malta? It's something I've heard over and over again: "There are many swedes in Malta". Taxi drivers, shop owners, the man on the street... everyone knows that there are a lot of swedes in Malta. Not that anyone minds. Any business which a tiny Mediterranean country can attract is surely welcome. Elections are currently the big thing in Malta and the Maltese are highly political creatures. Around 98% of the population votes on elections which should put many nations to shame! How dare you stay on the couch?!? ;) I'm guessing that one of the candidates has been mentioning the taxation of the iGaming industry as a part of the campaign? At least that would make sense in terms of everyone knowing about it. Or perhaps it's just because Malta is a country with 450,000 people and everyone knows everything anyway?
Alex and Dave are so easy to be around. They are both working for Karmafy (www.karmafy.com) which is a company they have started together. The aim, as I understand it, is to create a platform for sustainable gaming. By sustainable I mean that someone in the world can play an online game and with each level which is reached someone else receives clean drinking water, or medicine, or education...you get the idea? Suddenly there is a reply to your mother: "but mooooom... I'm helping vulnerable children. I can't go outside and play!" ;)
Watching 'Captain Fantastic' with Alex.
Apart for being fun and easy to be around they are both great cooks and self announced "foodies". I have surely not had any food so far which wasn't well above average! A lot of the food they eat is adventurous and off the beaten path and somehow still very cost efficient? They create a lot of food from scratch which might keep the costs down. Nothing is really ever thrown away as it can always be used in some way... eventually the remains can simply go into a stew :). The other day Alex and Dave headed out to pick capers. A few hours later they came back with several bags full. Both the capers and the leaves can be pickled and that's exactly what they do. Capers across Malta is a remnant from the Maltese Knights. Malta is so full of history. Apart from the good food we cozy up on the couch at night and watch a movie or a few episodes of 'Alone'. Alone is a concept where 10 "survival experts" are dropped off into the Canadian wilderness with 10 items each. The one that survives for the longest duration wins $500,000. They are equipped with cameras and do all their own filming. They are truly alone. Some tap out after a few days. The winner of season 1 stayed out there for more than 50 days before the production team came and picked him up. There are elements of the show I identify with... but mostly it's just pretty solid entertainment.
Lovin Malta wrote a superior article about my arrival to Malta. Superior because they never contacted me, they never interviewed me and they still managed to get it all right:
The article did its rounds in Malta and triggered several invitations from kind Maltese people who wanted to show me Malta. Luke was one of them and we soon met up to go and take a look at the island. You can actually go from one side of Malta to the other in less than an hour. Luke and I drove around, talked about the world, took some pictures and then went back to his place to pick up Luke's girlfriend Anastasia.
Together the 3 of us then proceeded out to see the sunset but that was interrupted by a shower. It was nice to see some rain for a change.
St. Peter's Pool in rough weather.
Anastasia and the sunset. Minutes before the dust filled rain starting pouring.
Golden Bay with a Red Cross first aid station in the left corner ;)
As the evening fell upon us we opted for ice cream before ordering dinner and chilling out. Great people :)
If this looks familiar then it could be because you watch Game of Thrones ;)
The following day I met up with Sergio and his father David. Sergio had contacted me through the Sagas social media and suggested that he would show me around his island together with his father who he said knew all the fun and interesting facts.
They picked me up and together we drove out to Mdina which is an extraordinary citadel and the former capital of Malta. Sergio's dad David certainly knows a lot! We had a great afternoon in the old crooked streets amongst the charming old buildings.
Then afterwards we stopped for pastizzi and a beer. It doesn't get much more Maltese than that.
Pastizzi and the local Cisk brew.
Our joint exploration of Malta continued as we took in the scenic views of this island nation, came across a 100 ton canon France from WWII, wondered at the Ħaġar Qim megalithic temple which dates back about 5,700 years, saw the Mediterranean Film Studios and then drove up and down the narrow streets of Valletta and every town that surrounds it.
Who wouldn't like to sit on that bench for a while and think about life as the boats come in?
As it turns out there's a new Maltese town every 50 meters!! Okay, perhaps not that extreme but it shifts rather often and without a guide you're unlikely to notice the change at all. In my ignorance I would quickly call several towns for Valletta under one name. But that would indeed be ignorant.
If there's one thing Malta has plenty of it's boats...and cars...2 things! :)
There are the annual boat races where various towns compete for a full year of bragging rights. There are the festivals where every town appears to have its own character and special fingerprint. Malta is clouded in history, traditions and stories.
A few of the movies made in Malta are: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Midnight Express, Popeye, Cutthroat Island, Gladiator, U-571, The Count of Monte Cristo, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alexander, Troy, Munich, The Da Vinci Code, The Devil's Double, Kon-Tiki, World War Z, Captain Phillips, Assassin's Creed, Risen, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (+ a lot of Game of Thrones).
Sergio's dad definitely knows a lot and was happy to share. So while I definitely increased my knowledge I also think it's fair to say that I might have forgotten more about Malta than most people will ever learn. I personally love history and Malta has got enough for everyone.
Finally my friend Mike, whom I've known for more than 10 years, reached out and offered to pay for dinner. Mike works in Italy but knew Michelle in Malta. So he set up a meeting between us. As it happened Michelle already had plans to have lunch with her family during the weekend and she asked if I wanted to come along?
This glass Maltese Cross wine stopper was a gift from Michelle. The shapes origin dates back to the 6th century however was largely adopted and used by the Maltese Knights from 1567 and upwards.
Michelle and her husband came to pick me up around midday. They had their 9 year old Sienna Erika and 11 month old Kian with them in the car. Together we all drove off to dine at a spectacular Italian restaurant called L'altro Orso. That's where we met Michelle's oldest daughter Chelsea and her boyfriend Emerson who both joined us for lunch. If there's something I already know about the Maltese then it's that they like to socialize over food and take their time doing so. Great stuff! This was by any definition a wonderful family to spend a Sunday afternoon with. So thank you Mike and thank you Chelsea, Emerson, Sienna Erika, Kian, Kevin and Michelle.
Blue Grotto with the Filfla island in the back.
People here in Malta are friendly and curious. People here are also proud and not without reason. Malta has a very long and well documented history of people coming to take it. As you can imagine Malta is of very high strategical value given its exceptional location in the Mediterranean Sea. Nonetheless Malta is now in the process of yet another election for the most competent governance of one the worlds smallest and most densely populated countries. If you feel that you haven't heard anything in the news about this election then it's partially because they don't have any Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump types running for prime minister. And partially because a Maltese election would hardly mean the end of the European Union or the end of the world. Malta is just quite peaceful like that. I feel safe wherever I go and there is a lot to see.
Traffic and more traffic. At least it moves.
A very common sight across Malta is traffic! With a population of around 450,000 people and about 380,000 registered vehicles traffic takes up a lot of space. I heard that 30 new cars are registered every day? On top of these statistics you need to add all the foreign vehicles from nearby Italy... and potentially Sweden I guess? ;) Traffic here is pretty bad. But it's not bad in comparison to many other places. I recently left the African continent having spent more than 2 years across it. Nairobi traffic and Cairo traffic is truly bad. I lived a year in Bangladesh and the capital (Dhaka) has truly horrendous traffic!! All across the world people are moving towards urban settlements and cities are growing. Traffic will only get worse. As I recently watched a brief video with Elon Musk (business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor) he explained something I never realized before? He said that once vehicles become fully automated and will be able to drive themselves we will have more traffic - not less. That makes sense! Electric cars will get very cheap someday and you might just have a car that picks up your children from school and takes them to after school activities. Meanwhile you'll have a vehicle that brings yourself around and so does your spouse. Also taxi services will be offering more of these vehicles to meet the a growing demand. It could quickly become cheaper than taking the bus. So more vehicles and more traffic awaits us.
Malta is a rather religious country. Catholicism is the state religion.
A classic American mistake has been to build cities around vehicles and not around people. So now many US Americans find themselves in situations where walking simply isn't a real option anymore. Malta also appears to have been structured to accommodate vehicles over people. I tried walking from Luqa (near the airport) to St. Julian (near Valletta). The distance covered roughly 8 km (5 mi) and was highly unwalkable. Meanwhile several new overpasses are under construction so that traffic can be in layers! Malta is a very beautiful country with some very charming landscape and architecture. It is in my opinion a shame that increasing traffic has been given so much priority and not public transportation. Our planet has rapidly grown from a population of 3 billion people to more than 7 billion. If you increase the width of the roads then you will just have more vehicles as the middle class keeps growing all over the world. Expansion will never be sufficient. Collective transportation is the only solution. Besides I missed the bus and that's why I ended up walking from Luqa to St. Julian ;)
I'm working on reaching the final 3 countries in Africa and will soon go back to the continent. I'm keeping my cards pretty close as you never know who might be reading this. What I can say is that Libya is quite a challenge. Both logistically, bureaucratically and in terms of safety. I'm taking it very serious of course, however there will be a solution to enter and exit safely. I believe that there isn't a single branch of the Red Cross or Red Crescent which wants me to go. I have actually been warned not to go. This is where I would like to take a moment to remind everyone that the basis of this entire project is as follows: "I am traveling to every single country in the world in a single unbroken journey completely without the use of flight". This is something which has never before been accomplished throughout history. There is a reason why it hasn't been accomplished: It's hard! Anything else is an "add on" to the project: The Red Cross Red Crescent, the social media, the blog, the interviews, the friendships, the positive promotions... all of it! The core element is that it is EVERY COUNTRY and that it is WITHOUT FLYING. If you can't get with the program then that's to bad. However that exact "program" is what enables everything else. Especially the inspiration, the education and the entertainment.
Fortunately I'm in really good hands while I'm trying to work all of this out. There is always a way. And be sure that I will find it ;) The base which Alex and Dave have provided me with is an oasis in the storm of information I am trying to sort out. The good food is like a warm smile when everything else seems to fall apart. Finally their friendship and kindness is simply priceless!
A Stranger Is A Friend You've Never Met Before ;)
The Maltese Red Cross is rather impressive.
Now, I could have written a lot about the Maltese Red Cross and their very impressive exercise earlier this week. It included a real Cruise Ship!! I'll do a post on Facebook this upcoming Sunday and the exercise will be included within the 'Always present' story which I write for each National Society.
That's all for know. Take care and stay open minded :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - my own worst enemy
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga