A confession: I like my creature comforts. I like my nice modern home with in-floor heating and its “open concept” design. I like my big screen TV. I like my big kitchen with my fancy range, large refrigerator. I like things that are new and clean. I think that is part of what attracted to me to computer science.
When we were traveling in emerging economy countries like Vietnam or Cambodia we always knew that no matter what we saw during the day, we would return to our five star hotel in the evening and have all of the comforts of home. We saw some very poor living conditions in some of the places we visited, and I’m working on writing up a post about that, and what Jane and I took away from that experience.
But now we have moved into our flat in Malta, a developed country, with an advanced economy according the IMF. Yet, things feel very different and its going to take a while to acclimate. Moving in to a new country was always part of the excitement of taking on the directorship of the Malta program. The point was that we would get to settle in, and actually live in a place outside of the U.S. for an extended period of time. We are both excited about this opportunity.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to note some of the things that stand out right now, in the first week or so, and then revisit this at the end of our time in Malta. I hope what I write in the coming paragraphs will not be construed as overly negative. I’m not judging, just trying to record my feelings and observations as we get used to a new place.
Yes, we are on a mediterranean island, but they have winter too. The highs have been in the mid fifties. We have had some rain each day, and a bit of wind. The winters are short, and we are told that the temperatures will begin to climb again at the end of February. Hurray! The views of the ocean are everywhere, and they are beautiful. I can’t wait for a bit warmer weather to take more pictures of the boats in all the little harbors.
In the meantime, we are learning how to stay warm in a big stone building. We have no heating other than a little oil filled electric radiator, and an electric blanket on our bed at night. I SO want to go out and buy a big old 20,000 BTU gas powered heater and set it up in our hallway, but I think that will not happen. We are learning that running the dehumidifiers is important. Dryer air feels warmer. We dress in layers, and use blankets while relaxing in the evening. The chill has been the hardest thing to get used to in our first week. I hate being cold, and knowing that I’m here until June keeps me from finding a nice warm hotel room. We did join the health club at the Meridian Hotel, a few blocks away. The membership ensures us a nice place to work out, and a shower with LOTS of hot water. They also have a jacuzzi and a heated indoor pool that we can soak in to warm ourselves the evenings.
The odd thing is that in the daytime it is nicer outside than inside. So yesterday we had a nice lunch on the roof in the sunshine and it was very nice.
We have no car. We have no bike. We have no scooter. So we walk, and walk, and walk. When we arrive at our building we climb 3 flights of stairs to get to our flat. Walking is good, but with all the hills my shins really suffered the first couple of days. They are getting better now. We are also learning the bus system for the longer trips. But really the island is not that big and we can walk almost anywhere to get what we need. We are told that the Maltese would be appalled, as they will drive their cars two blocks to the store rather than walk.
They have people to clean the streets and sidewalks regularly, but its amazing what litterbugs people are around here. And many people let their dogs poop on the sidewalk!! They just leave it there for the sidewalk cleaner to pick up later. Watch your step as you are walking. You have to be alert to many things while you are walking. First the sidewalks in most places are so narrow that you can’t really walk side by side. If you meet someone, chances are one of you is going to step out into the street. You just better hope one of the drivers doesn’t choose that moment to get the carbon out of their car and come roaring around a corner at you. Most of the streets are one way, and are only wide enough for one lane of traffic. I’ve talked to several people now about getting a bike and they have all strongly advised me against it!
We have been very fortunate to be welcomed to the island by some Luther alumni, both Maltese and American expats. This has been really nice. We haven’t really met many people in the neighborhood yet, but we have only been here a few days, so we surely look like we are just short term visitors to most people. The owner of the Ironmongery (a hardware store) was super nice to me today when I stopped by to purchase a gas grill for the roof. The people at the University have been very welcoming, and we have a long list of helpful advice and things to check out. We are looking forward to meeting more new people and reconnecting with Luther classmates who have come back to the island.
Everyone seems to speak english very well, and in fact english is the co-official language of Malta. However, most everyone we have run into seems to prefer to speak in Maltese. I assumed that it was probably a derivative of italian, since that is what it partially sounded like to my American ears, but in fact it is Siculo-Arabic. About half the vocabulary is standard italian, and 20% of the vocabulary is english, with the rest coming from this Sicilian Arabic dialect.
There is nothing like a Target, or Walmart on the island. You do all your shopping at small neighborhood stores. If you need pharmaceuticals you go to the pharmacy on the corner. If you need a grill you go to the ironmongery on the other corner. If you need electronics you go to the electronics store. If you need wine, you can go, well, almost anywhere. Seriously, there are all kinds of little wine shops on every street. I honestly don’t know how they stay in business, from my own observations they don’t move a huge volume of wine in a day.
I kind of like this way of shopping. Its like we do back home for groceries, the coop for this, and Fareway for that, etc. However, back home I don’t hesitate to order from Amazon. Sadly, my Amazon Prime membership does not cover me here in Malta.
Another little thing to get used to is that most shops close up shortly after noon, and stay closed for an hour or two or three. Then they are open again until about 7 p.m.
Of course I saved my favorite topic until last. There is a wide variety of restaurants within walking distance of the flat. Great Pizza at Piccolo Padre is just a couple blocks away. Fish and Chips at the Scotsman Pub is a bit further, but appears to be a good place to watch EPL football, as does the Balluta bar just down the street, but we haven't tried that place yet. Vecchia Napoli is another close by Italian place. We had lunch there the other day and found out that we had to sit outside under a heater since we had not reserved an indoor seat in advance! For lunch! We are trying to balance our eating habits so that we cook either lunch or dinner at home, and then try out a variety of eating places opposite. I'll leave this post with my favorite discovery... I can buy an entire kilo of Parmigiano Reggiano for just 19 euros! I may need another suitcase to bring home my cheese!
We are generally late eaters back home. I don't usually start cooking until around 6 p.m. But we are quickly learning that the dinner hour in Malta is very Mediterranean. Most places don't even open for dinner until 7 or 7:30p.m. With the busy time coming around 9. Similarly, lunch time is also later with people eating at around 1 p.m.