saying goodbye to malta

These are my shoes. I bought them for the great adventure of 2015, I started to wear them on January 1 when we left the USA. According to the health app on my iPhone they now have 647 miles on them. Much of that has been accumulated during our time in Malta and our travels around the Mediterranean with Angel, Ben, Emma, Erika, Ethan, Jenna, Katie, Meredith, Meredith, Olivia, Rachel, and Tricia, hereafter known as our kids, or our Malta students. What started out as a funny offhand comment, referring to Jane and I as Mom and Dad has come to feel more true over the few months.

I’m starting this post on our penultimate weekend with our group, I am in Rome with Jane and Josh to take in an AS Roma football game tonight. Some of our students are in Florence for the Nordic choir concert, and some of them are back on Malta (behaving themselves). Its good to have a bit of physical distance to help put things in perspective.

I have also been reading each student’s final journal or blog entries, and I must be turning into an old softie (good thing I have the summer to fix that) but I find myself choking up about something that each student has written. It is true that these past few months of living and traveling together have turned us into an odd sort of family. I’d be happy to adopt them all if I could get that guy in Marrakesh to make good on his offer of 20 camels apiece. I’ve spent a bit of time lately looking back over all the pictures we have taken. I put together this gallery of our group photos. If you look at the first group photo in Malta and in Rome, and compare that to the last group photo this week, can you see the difference? Look at the group in front of the pantheon, this group was just getting to know each other, barely acclimated to the Mediterranean time zone. Now look at the later photos, photographic evidence that we have come together as a family.

So, what have I learned about myself this semester? What are my own conclusions? This heretofore unpublished entry written in Cambodia sheds a bit of light on the recurrent theme of living simply.

Conclusion number one: I can live a more simple lifestyle and live “in the moment”.

As I read over my early posts, and remember back to the end of January when we first arrived on Malta, I am going to admit that the following thought crossed my mind: Leave this flat NOW, and check-in to the Meridien until it is time to fly home (business class). I am very glad that I did not do that. Living in the cold, damp, drafty, loud, and then warm, humid, dusty, loud, almost-but-not-quite-a-place-I-call-home has been an important experience. Now that the end is in sight, I am glad that I had the experience of these last four months.

The elves at must be worried about me, as I haven’t ordered anything from them since December! I have lived with the same ten shirts and six pairs of pants for the same period. Other than going out to eat the material expenditures we have made so far this year are extremely minimal. OK, I am not totally reformed as I have a new Apple Watch waiting for me back home. But it was a good experience for me to not consume for a while. Hopefully this will carry over back home where the temptation of Amazon Prime second day delivery makes the accumulation of stuff all too easy.

What does it mean to “live in the moment?” For me it means accepting life as it happens. It means taking the time to enjoy each moment as it comes along, rather than always thinking about what is coming next. Because I have not had daily class responsibilities, I really have been able to live in the moment for most of the last four months. OK, I am still a worrier; I am always thinking about the worst case scenario, and what to do if said scenario becomes reality. I am a planner, and a goal setter, I am always thinking about next week, next month, When will my next exam be? What do I need to do for class next week? But this semester I haven’t really had any of that to think about. I did worry about some parts of our travel (Morocco, Istanbul…) But, our evening meals were typically planned at about 15:00 when I walked to Meats and Eats to buy whatever we were going to make for dinner.

My time during the day was spent walking back and forth to the University. I have subscribed to several podcasts and am now a regular listener to them. I’ve never had time for podcasts before. I don’t know why. I spent time in class, listening and soaking up lectures on Maltese history and current issues. I spent time in our flat, and in my office at the IT Faculty building sending countless organizational emails and working on projects and hacking.

Conclusion number two: Follow your passion.

While this may not be a discovery of the semester, it was certainly a strong affirmation of this oft espoused philosophy. I like to tell the students in Senior Project that: “If you don’t wake up in the morning thinking about what you want to accomplish during the day, you ought to be thinking about finding a new job.” Now, showers aside, I think that every day in Malta I did wake up and have a great excitement about what I wanted to accomplish during the day. Some days it was the excitement of a field trip, other days it was waking up in Morocco or Istanbul know that a day of discovery was in store, but even on the rainy days of February I had research and thinking to do that was very exciting.

In fact maybe one of the best things about our time on the island was that it gave me time to think. I spend a lot of time doing back home, and it is hard to carve out time to really step back and rethink things. Good things happen when you take the time to think instead of do. I feel like all of the projects I have been working on Skulpt, Runestone Interactive, and the classes I will teach next semester have reaped the benefit of taking time to think.

Conclusion number three: Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, good things will happen.

I have written a lot about pushing myself beyond my comfort zone in the last six months, but it has been very exciting to see the students do likewise. They have all grown this semester, becoming more self confident, more self reliant, and maybe more willing to take a risk. Whether that be jumping off a rock into the Mediterranean, or immersing themselves in other cultures. For me it may have been simply embracing my part-time role as a student of history and current issues of Malta this semester that pushed me to a new appreciation of history and culture. It was also surely the experience of living in a flat that is much less luxurious than back home.

Conclusion number four: Be thankful for the people who support you.

Jane and I joke that we are excited to get back home so that we have more adults to talk to. Not that our students are not adults, but we don’t have the same conversations with twenty two year olds as we do with our fifty year old friends. In some ways this has been a bit of an isolating experience for the two of us. But we have grown used to it. The silences are OK, as we know we simply don’t have anything else to say at the moment.

But, through it all Jane has been a fantastic partner in keeping this program working smoothly. The work she has put in on our travel plans is, extremely detailed, thorough and time consuming. Planning a trip takes patience and hours of research. I know I appreciate it and so do the students. It always amazes me when we arrive somewhere and she knows exactly where to go and which direction to turn, while my head is swirling in confusion. My advice to Ethan and Ben is to follow my lead and “marry above your station.”

I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Corby Preus and Jon Lund in the Center for Global Learning back at Luther for all of their support. Corby does an amazing job of helping with paperwork, and re-answering my questions about pretty much everything she has already explained to me at least once, and sometimes twice.

Here in Malta I would like to thank Dr. Emanuel Buttigieg for coordinating the History of Malta course, I know I have learned a lot this semester, and it takes a lot of coordination to organize all of the lecturers from many different departments on campus. And finally to Rachelle Mifsud for whom there is no request too large or too small for her to help out with. Scheduling transportation at the last minute, or helping with final exam schedules. Thanks!

Conclusion number five: Focus on the good

I think this is a nice one to save for last, and it is a fairly recent conclusion, and clearly one that will take some practice for me. The last Paideia lecture we did an exercise where we had to think about Malta from the perspective of each of our five senses. What stands out:

  • sight – yellow limestone buildings, dog poop on the sidewalk

  • sound – honking horns, the “angry” maltese language

  • smell – Pizza and the salt air

  • taste – Maltese wine, Wild Boar Pasta

  • touch – rough limestone, and cold tile

Many of us commented after class about how negative most of the things we came up with sounded. Even though the native Maltese professor came up with his own similar list. Familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes?

But I think the important lesson was summed up by a couple of the students in their own final blog posts in which they said. “I do not want to remember Malta for the dog poop on the sidewalks or the horns honking outside my bedroom window” Rather they , and I, will choose to remember Malta for the good stuff: The crystal clear water, the blue waters of the Blue Lagoon, St. Peter’s Pool and Golden Bay, the majestic cliffs of Gozo as viewed from the Ocean or the cliffs of Dingli from the land. The Neolithic temples of Hagar Qim and the mysterious Hypogeum. The beauty of the Auzure Window. The brightly colored Maltese boats in Spinola bay. And, yes, the ever present yellow limestone of Sliema and Valletta. This is the way to remember Malta.

Don’t sweat the small stuff my dad used to tell me. Let the unpleasant annoying pet peeves fade away.

Not Goodbye

Although this will be my final post from Malta, this is not the end of the blog. In less than a week, the students will be on their way either home or to european travel for part of the summer. Meanwhile Jane and I will be finishing up our own Mediterranean experience with a few days in Lake Como and then a Cruise from Venice down the Dalmatian Coast and through the Greek Isles, ending in Istanbul. We planned this as a celebration of the end of our time in Malta, and I’m sure it will be, but right now we are both facing this last part of the journey with mixed emotions. The call of home is very strong, and I know that if we simply boarded a plane to Minneapolis we would be ecstatic. But the comfort zone of home will have to wait another twenty days. Its really not all that much when you consider we have been gone 159 days already, and more adventure awaits us, you can be sure I’ll continue to write about it here.

cooking in malta

The first thing I should say about cooking in Malta is that there are around 600 reasons not to cook within walking distance. Some of our favorites are:

  • Guzé — OK, I love Pappardelle with wild boar sauce. I could eat this once a week.

  • Pepperoncino — The Rosettes (little bowls of pappardelle and proscuitto cooked in cream sauce) are to die for. Plus a totally small town friendly vibe that you just can’t beat.

  • Piccolo Padre – Eat pizza right out over the water. Diavola yum!

  • Wigi’s Kitchen — You can pick your fish or your steak right at the table. The window seats have an awesome view of Balluta bay.

  • Kebabji. – The students introduced us to this one. I think of it as “the chipotle of Sliema.” My favorite is Chicken-shish with Tabbouleh, Hummus, Couscous, Harissa, and Sesame sauce. Actually its the only thing on the menu I’ve ever ordered, but why mess up a good thing.

I’m going to divide the rest of this post into three parts, that roughly describe the three stages of cooking I have gone through here. I call them:

  • Subsistence cooking

  • Getting over it, and getting on with it

  • Grilling season arrives

Subsistence cooking

So, I admit when we first got here, I went through a bit of culture shock. As I’ve mentioned before, it was colder inside our flat than it was outside, and it was rainy, and dreary most of the time. Our kitchen was, and still is, tiny and isolated from the rest of the flat. The cutlery was dull, and the pots and pans old and dented. We must have set aside 50 knives and a dozen pots and pans from the three flats to be disposed of.

We made our first trip to a grocery store called Lidl, a german chain. All of the ingredients were labelled in anything other than language. There was little produce or fresh meat, and it was nowhere near our flat. Next door to us is a small corner market, at the cash register is a young boy who ought to be in school but never is. They have produce outside, but no fresh meat, and a totally random selection of dry goods. There is a large supermarket about 1km away, and it has a lot of things. Going to the Park Towers supermarket for the first time was like an adventure. Taco shells! A butcher, a cheese counter with Parmeggiano Reggiano, hot sauce, spices, asian ingredients.

The first meal we cooked in the flat was a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. Not regular ham but delicious prosciutto ham, and tomato soup. Sound familiar? I’ll bet that is the first thing that many people learn to cook. I’ll bet it was two weeks before we cooked an evening meal in the flat. In part because going out for dinner meant that we had some place warm and heated where we could go for a few hours before coming home and huddling under our covers. The first true good meal I cooked was this pesto with chicken. We quickly discovered that we don’t care too much for pesto in a jar even this close to Italy. We also learned that vegetables and fruits are much more seasonal here in Malta than in America. So we had to wait a few weeks before basil came into season to make a good home made pesto.

Getting over it, Getting on with it

Eventually, the temperature warmed up and we got more comfortable with our surroundings and we reached the point where we could not stand to eat out anymore and so we started cooking in the flat more. One of my goals was to learn at least one new recipe while we were in Malta. I figured it would be so me kind of seafood, but it turns out the Maltese don’t really eat that much seafood despite living on an island. After our trip to Rome I realized that what I really wanted to cook was spaghetti carbonara. For some reason I have missed out on this delicious yet simple dish my entire life. This is one of those simple yet delicious Italian dishes. Eggs, wine, noodles, cheese, and good cured ham or bacon. I have been making steady progress on mastering this dish, but I still have a ways to go before it will live up to that first night in Rome.

The second thing that made a turnaround in our cooking was learning to shop. Now there are four places that are worth highlighting.

  • O’Ryan’s on the corner

  • The college street mini market (the green market)

  • park towers supermarket

  • Meats and Eats on Dingli

  • all the vegetable trucks

Let’s dispatch with Park Towers first. Big, indifferent to rude staff, distant. Shopped there a couple of times and decided not to go back. Jane has been back a couple of times to stock up on cleaning and bathroom supplies, but we don’t shop there anymore for groceries.

The corner store is great for water, limoncello, Pringles, and the occasional need for baguette and salami. It’s about double the size of my living room, but packs in all of the essentials including frozen meats. The owner and his family run it together. Nine times out of ten when you go in there you would think that the mother is on the verge of killing the father or the son. Or it might just be that most Arabic conversations still sound like arguments to my western ears. Much of the time the cash register is “manned” by a boy who clearly should be in school but is not. I suppose he will inherit the store and so is learning the trade and the family does not feel the need to send him to school.

The green market is much larger than the corner store, and has great fresh baked bread every day. They have a reasonable selection of fruits and vegetables out front, along with canned goods and other essentials. Most of the time the cash register is manned by an old man who has never once rung up an entire order correctly, but he is charming and friendly every time we go to the store.

Meats and Eats is probably the single best thing that happened to my cooking during our stay in Malta. The store is bright and clean and staffed by a bunch of friendly Italians. The meat counter is a joy to visit almost every day. It’s the kind of meat counter wher they have several big hunks of ribeye, originating from around the world, and they Will cut you off a hunk of whatever thickness you like. They also have marinated pork and chicken and fresh minced beef and pork. The rest of the store has great gourmet ingredients as well as some nice convince items like prepared curry sauce. The cheese counter has huge chunks of parmigiana reggiano at a ridiculously low price. Next to the checkout counter is a wine selection that is just about as good as anything you can find in Malta.

I knew that I was going to have a great time shopping at Meats and Eats the morning I decided to give carbonara a try. I went to the meat counter to get some bacon and had the following conversation:

Clint: Sorry sir, we only have streaky bacon today.

Me: Uhhhhm streaky bacon? Ahh, the stuff that just looks like regular bacon to my eye. What’s the difference?

Clint: Very thin, not the good cured pork belly.

Me: Oh, well I’m just experimenting with carbonara sauce so I think the streaky bacon will work.

Clint: Oh no sir, you should not do that. If you are doing carbonara you need the good bacon or one of the packages of pancetta in the case over there.

Oh yes, agreed the lady standing next to me at the counter. Now I am left wondering how I will find this wonderful chunky pancetta back home.

Another thing I’m excited about continuing back home is fried spring rolls! Jane and I had lessons on making these in Vietnam, and were excited to try our hand on our own. When I discovered an Asian market on my walk to school I knew this would become a reality in Malta. Shopping in the Asian market is like Christmas, I see all of these cool exotic ingredients and I want to get them and try them out. Fresh lemon grass, six different kinds of fish sauce, Hoisin, Sirachi, you name it. Now the key to good spring rolls in my opinion starts with the wrapper, and I definitely like the frozen wrappers much better than the dried. They are easier to work with and I like the texture of the end product better. With a little more practice I’ll be ready to challenge my friend Nancy to a Spring Roll Throwdown!

A Sunday morning expedition to the Marsaxlokk (Mar-sa-shlock) fish market provided an opportunity to learn how to fillet and cook fresh caught sea bass. There are many other types of fish available at the market as well, but Jane and I had both watched a you-tube video on filleting sea bass, so that was the direction we went. The market also has huge king prawns, but taking the head and legs off the prawns is a lot of work for my lunch. One thing that amazed me about the fish market was that it was not the least bit fishy smelling. In fact other than the fish market in the middle of Gzira I have yet to walk along the sea here in Malta and think, oh fishy, or ocean. I guess it goes with the crystal clear water.

One thing that we have really had to work on is finding variety in our diet. Back home we enjoy the cuisine of many different countries all in the same week. Tex-Mex one night, grilling the next, indian or Thai curry after that, italian, vietnamese, pot roast in the crock pot (an American Tagine), you name it, we like our variety. Making tacos is definitely a comfort food that we miss. The ingredients are just about impossible to find. Sour Cream and creme fresh are not the same, The salsa here on the isaland is just not up to par. Finding taco shells is possible at the Park Towers supermarket, but you have to go there to buy them. Then there is the beef, or what the British and Maltese call mince I suppose that if you look at it objectively mince is no worse of a word than ground but having grown up with ground beef, minced beef sounds a little disgusting to my ears.

The other odd thing is the lack of soups. You simply cannot buy cream of mushroom anywhere! So we have gone six months without one of the staple comfort dishes of my entire life, namely beef stroganhoff. The availability of wonderful Parmiagianno Reggiano makes risotto a good comfort fill in, and here we run into the lack of chicken stock. I suppose I could, and should, make my own stock but that takes advanced planning. I’m used to just grabbing a carton of stock from the coop to make my risotto. Here it appears that boiled water with bullion cubes, or a little container of gelatinous chicken stock substance that you disolve in water takes the place of a good stock. It does the trick, especially with a little extra Reggiano.

And finally a word about wine. Maltese wine is surprisingly good, and incredibly cheap. While many of the students pride themselves on keeping it under 3 euros a bottle, I have found many good wines for under ten. My favorites are:

  • ISIS, a rather unfortunate name for a wine in this day and age, but it really is my favorite

  • Maltese Falcon

  • Marsamena – a delicious chardonnay from Gozo

On the subject of wine I would be totally remiss if I did not mention our local wine shop. Owned and run by a young man from the south of France, Vini Culture is a fun place to stop in on my way home from school, or to just run around the corner and grab a bottle for happy hour. The young guy who runs the store is extremely friendly and pleasant. I never stop in there without having an enjoyable conversation about wine and France and all the new things he has on order for us to try. Its hard to understand how he makes a living in a specialty shop like that in the middle of Sliema but I’m happy I got to know him and shop there.

Grilling season

And suddenly grilling season was upon us. The roof was a much sunnier and less windy place. The sun was starting to stay out until a reasonable cooking hour. Meats and Eats has a wonderful pork steak marinated in mediterranean spices, and we can grill that and serve it with some roasted new potatoes from my Sicilian vegetable man. Some fresh baked bread, and some spinach salad with strawberries and vinaigrette dressing.

The Sicilian vegetable guy, I have no idea what his name is, is another great story. Since meats and eats does not sell vegetables, I just walk another half block to this guys fresh vegetable truck. I know he thinks I’m kind of odd because I usually come in and buy one hot pepper, six small potatoes, or one head of garlic, depending on what I need for the evening meal. Its not usually much, and it almost always under one euro.

One day I was buying a pepper and an onion for a total of 40 cents, I had forgotten to put change in my pocket before I left the flat. As I struggled to find some coins and then started to pull out my wallet for a bill he said “listen, don’t worry, you can pay me tomorrow.”

Grilling season brought with it much more than an opportunity to stand on the roof and cook meat with a drink in my hand. It brought a huge transformation in the weather, and consequently my enjoyment of our time in Malta. No longer did I get out of bed in the morning and wrap myself in multiple layers of clothing, no longer were we huddled in the front room, door closed, heater running in order to feel comfortable.

I miss my Hasty Bake, and its ability to cook and smoke meat slowly, but this little gas powered grill has brought a lot of enjoyment. Meats and Eats sells Kobe beef patties, as well as Ribeye steak from five different countries, including Australia and Ireland. It has been fun to try the variety. They have chicken marinated in three or four different marinades an so that provides us with a great variety of things to try.

It is certainly true that you can learn a lot about a culture by its food. Malta is definitely no different. The Italian influence is obvious in the pizza and pasta restaurants that are everywhere. Their national dish of Pastizzi is not my favorite, but has certainly become a cheap lunchtime staple for many of the students. The traditional Maltese foods include rabbit, which is also quite good – especially the rabbit pie at Guze – and some other stuffed meat dishes. There are turkish kebab and pizza places everywhere. We think its an odd combination, and we wonder about all the kebab joints. I think it must have to do with the influence of the Ottoman empire on the island long ago, but I may be completely wrong. In general, it is a diet high in carbohydrates, which works for me, but drives Jane crazy. Jane and I had one of those funny conversations back in January, where the question was if you had to give up variety, and live with one cuisine, which would it be? Both of us chose Itialian or Vietnamese as our top two. Then I was leaning toward Italian, but now I am looking forward to more of the fresh healthy variety offered by the Vietnamese.

enjoying island life on a warm may day

Every day is a good day when you are on a boat, in the beautiful blue Mediterranean. After a bit of a mixup on the bus this morning, we got to spend 4 amazing hours with Captain Franz on a boat trip from St. Paul’s bay to Gozo to Comino. Complete with caves, and cliffs, and swimming. Click on the thumbnail below to see the photo gallery for today.

The bus mixup is amusing now that I look at it a day later… We had arranged for van to pick us up at 9:00 to bring us up to St. Paul’s bay. But after waiting and waiting I finally connected with my contact, Rachelle, at the University who handles all our transportation scheduling for us. It turned out the bus company had screwed up the schedule for the day. The solution was to send a coach. The only other vehicle available and in the area. No, not one with horses, a giant bus. Wait by the corner we were told. Oooops wrong corner. More delay. Imagine the 14 of us on a coach that could easily hold 60 people. So we made it to St. Paul’s in Style and in the end were only about 35 minutes late. Thankfully Frans was a very patient captain, and it was no problem to extend our time in the afternoon to make up for our lateness.

We're driving in our Car

We’re driving in our Car

One thing we never thought we would do in Malta was drive a car. From the way our neighbors fly down the road, to the fact that nobody uses turn signals (actually that is the same practice as back home) to the fact that it appears to be impossible to find a parking spot in our neighborhood it just didn’t seem worth the trouble. We can walk to almost everything we need, and with some patience take the bus almost anywhere else. However, when one of our students sprained her ankle and we discovered just how long it was going to take her to bus to school, we decided to give driving a shot. It was especially easy when we found out we could rent one for about \$5.00 a day!

Our Chevy Spark. Not as big as a Volt. (or a

It is an experiment that has been modestly successful, but one that we’ll be glad to see the back side of in a week. Yes, it is nerve wracking, yes, parking is a pain, and yes, people just honk their horns for no good reason.

Really dude behind me? Don’t you think I would get out of your way if I could? But there are 20 cars stopped in front of me and nobody is going anywhere so just calm the heck down.

On the positive side the car has allowed us to enjoy the island in ways that would have required hours of painful bus riding, and that is what I would really like to highlight in this post.

Dingli Cliffs

Our first outing in the car was to the Dingli Cliffs. As spectacular as they are from the shore, we can’t wait for warmer weather so that we can experience the cliffs from the water side. You just don’t get the scale from pictures but these cliffs are 250 meters. Straight down.

The Dingli Cliffs. Yes, thats me.

We arrived in the morning, just after the rain had stopped. So although we knew we were in the right place we were well ahead of the rest of the tourists and hikers for the day. After a couple of long dead ends that led to some nice scenery, we hit the jackpot and were rewarded with some spectacular views.

After hiking the cliffs, we continued south to check out the Blue Grotto. Again, a bit of hiking away from the normal tourist crowd left us alone with plenty of time to just take in the sites. We had yet to actually find the Blue Grotto, but after we returned to the car, we were informed by the local captain that he was the parking lot guard for the day. He said this as he extended his hand with palm up, ready to accept a euro coin from us. We were not sure exactly what his duties were, but he told us where we should go to get a good view.

The Blue Grotto with the small island of Filfla in the

The little island in the picture is called Filfla and it looks like an aircraft carrier. So it was used for target practice by the British air force during world war II.

Golden Bay

Another weekend, and another short car trip. Remember that Malta is only 122 Square Miles. So we never have that far to drive. This time toward the Northwest side of the island where there are a series of bays, the most famous of which is called Golden Bay.

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This bay actually called Ghajn Tuffieha, was the site of the incident with the sprained ankle. All I can say is that after seeing the place in person, I’m glad they called the ambulance. I can’t imagine trying to carry a person with a sprained ankle across the rocks, then the beach, then up all of those stairs!

The weather was great and the scenery was spectacular. We just walked slowly and took in all of the great sights. In the distance we could see the sheer cliffs of the southwest side of Gozo. The water is so unbelievably clear that you can see the bottom of this bay from the top of the cliffs. Its not terribly deep but at least 12 meters we are told. Now that is some visibility. It definitely motivates us to want to dust off our SCUBA diving skills again before we leave the island.


This last Sunday we took a morning drive to Marsaxlokk (pron. Marsa-Schlock). This is a smallish fishing town at the very south of the island. On Sunday mornings they have a great farmers market with fresh produce and tons of fresh seafood. We ended up at a stall where the lady was nice enough to educate us a bit about finding fresh fish. I was pretty sure she was being truthful with us as there was a chef from a restaurant also at the table getting fish for his restaurant. Clear eyes, red gills. The clear eyes thing is a bit subjective, but the Sea Bass we bought was Amazing. After a couple of youtube videos on how to fillet the thing (thankfully our fishmonger gutted it for us) we had some nice fillets for Sunday lunch.

There is a nice looking fish market on the way home from the university that I will not hesitate to try in the near future. I think some nice King Prawns and risotto is on the way to our table soon.

Where we go from here with respect to the car is an unknown. It goes back next Monday, and I think Jane and I will both breathe a sigh of relief. Although once we get back from spring break we will not have too many weekends left on the island, I think we may take advantage of a one or two day rental to continue to get out of Sliema and enjoy the open spaces of Malta.

Go Go Gozo

Go Go Gozo

The first thing you notice when you get to the Cirkewwa ferry terminal is how close you are to Comino and Gozo. All this talk of using EU funds to build a bride, doesn’t seem that far fetched. One hop to Comino, another to Gozo. Nevertheless the short ferry ride gives you time to anticipate the day ahead. After weeks of cool and rain we had a fantastic weather day to visit the island.

I was trying out the GeoTag Photos app for the trip, that would use the gps in my iPhone to track our movement around the island. Later you upload the gps data and sync it with your photos. Since my camera doesn’t have a built in GPS, this works well for adding location data to your photos. It worked great, and you can even use the data you capture to build a map of your day.


We hired a van and a guide for this day because we wanted to cover a lot of ground. You can get everywhere on public buses but you end up spending half your day waiting around bus stops. It is also a law on Malta that at many of the outdoor attractions groups of 10 or more must be accompanied by a licensed guide. So, our guide, Joseph, met us at the ferry terminal on Gozo and we were off on our whirlwind tour. Now you may think that this was quite a marathon day but you have to know that Gozo is only 8.7 miles long and 4.5 miles wide.

Our first stop was Ramla bay, a red-sand beach and lots of green space. Yes, glorious, fabulous, wide open space free from limestone buildings and paved roads. Over the course of the day it became very clear to me that this is exactly what I have been missing, and I’m really coming to understand that although there are things I like about the city I am really a small town guy at heart.

After some time of watching the students cavorting on the beach we moved on to Calypso cave, where we had a great view of the underwater sea wall built by the Knights of St. John as part of the islands protection against the Turks. You can see the wall, closer to shore than you might think pretty clearly in the picture.

A great day out of the city! Enjoying the green and some nice

From the bay we headed to the Megalithic temples at Ä gantija that date to Neolithic times. We had heard a lot about these temples in our History lecture and so it was great to visit and see these massive structures first hand. They truly are massive. There are some hints about how the giant slabs were moved around, in that they have hundreds of stone balls that have been discovered. The theory is that the balls were used like bearings and the slabs were rolled on top of the balls. Pretty clever for 5000BC if you ask me.

From the temples we made short stop at the salt flats in Marsalforn. It was only a five minute stop but is definitely on the list to return to. I managed to purchase a bag of sea salt from the guy who owns the salt flats, and so I should be set with some great salt for cooking the rest of our time here in Malta.

Next was a stop in Victoria for a quick slice of pizza as we walked to the Citadel. Today was really about great outdoor scenery, but I include one shot of the citadel. Bonus points to anyone who can spot the problem in this photo.

The highlight of the day was the Azure Window. This is nearly iconic place for Malta, and it certainly lives up to all expectations. What I wasn’t expecting was the awesome little boat ride from the inland sea to the Azure Window. You start out in this little bit of inland water, and the boat takes you through a tunnel out into the mediterranean sea, into a few caves and finally under the big arch that forms the window. It was so beautiful and I can’t wait to get back to Gozo again to visit this place. You could easily spend half a day hiking around and on top of the arch.

Our final stop, and another highlight is the town of Xlendi (pronounced shlendee). The first thing I said to our guide was that I felt like I had just driven into Cinque Terre, and he agreed. This is a beautiful blue bay, with lots of space for hiking and enjoying the outdoors.

Although there were a lot of places that needed more time, the trip was a real success in that we got a great taste of all the places we want to revisit.

I Want to be an Archeologist

I Want to be an Archeologist

I think I might want to be an archeologist when I grow up. In the last week we’ve had four lectures involving geology, geography, and archeology here in Malta. All of them have been fascinating along multiple dimensions. It has been such a positive part of our Malta experience that I wanted to write my thoughts down right away. To give you a clue where this ultimately rather long post is going let me tell you what I find so interesting up front.

  1. Observing some really good professors do their thing.
  2. Getting to be a student again.
  3. Learning how other fields do problem solving as good as CS.
  4. Understanding what the phrase “learning in place” is all about.

First, its been really fun for me as a professor to observe other professors doing their thing. I know that we are really privileged to be getting some of the best in their field to speak to us. But they are all really passionate about their topics and it is amazing to me how that passion comes through. I honestly walked out of today’s lecture with Professor Vella and said to Jane: “I want to be an archeologist when I grow up.” She may or may not have said that “I would never grow up,” so there was nothing to worry about. Then one of the students mentioned something about archeologists living in tents for long periods of time and that further tempered my enthusiasm.

Hypogeum Ħal Saflieni (Malta), the sanctuary chamber Holy of Holies
Hypogeum Ħal Saflieni (Malta) built 6,000 years ago. Image

Second, its really nice to attend class as a student. I’m sitting in on our History course called “Malta and the Maltese -- A Historical and Cultural Review,” and of course I’m attending our Paideia II course on “Ethics and Current issues in Malta.” I have to evaluate the student for this one. Most of the content of the courses I’m attending, I know absolutely nothing about. But I can’t even tell you the number of times during our lectures that I’ve had that little tingle of excitement at the base of my neck. I feel like the poster child for “lifelong learning.”

Third, in my own myopic way, I assumed that computer science, and some of the other sciences had a monopoly on problem solving. It turns out that archeologists solve some pretty interesting problems too. And they use some of the same techniques as the computer scientists. Or maybe its the other way around. To be fair the closest I’ve come to an archeology class is Indiana Jones.

Of course problem solving starts with a problem or a question, such as: How do we know that the so called megalithic temples were really temples? Why is metal better than stone? What can we learn from contents of the cargo hold of the Ulu Burun? As our lecturer said, I have a colleague who knows everything there is to know about this pot, its chemical composition, every marking and scratch. Meh. Who used this pot? What did they use it for? Who did they use it with? These are the important questions. Now the chemical composition may be important in helping us answer those questions. But we cannot stop with that. In fact it was chemical analysis that showed that of the four sites where obsidian could have come to Malta only two of the sites matched the chemical fingerprints of the obsidian on Malta. Which tells us more about who the people were that were coming to the island at that time.

The Tarxien Temples are examples of Megalithic structures which are
among the oldest in the world.

In our history class we have heard much about the importance of Malta through the ages because of its location on the routes into and out of the Mediterranean. For the most part people have assumed that ancient sailors tacked their way through the Straight of Malta against the prevailing winds. It turns out that would not work well at all. In fact ancient square rigged sailboats could not even tack that way! So sailors probably made for Sicily, then south and around the island of Malta and maybe even further south around Lampadusa and then worked their way west. But you have to know a bit about sailing and ancient boat design in order to figure this out. I love how this incorporates techniques from lots of different branches of the academy.

Finally, The faculty of Luther College received an email from our assistant dean, Jeff Wilkerson, the other day inviting us to a discussion about “learning in-place.” I will have to respectfully decline, but I think that is exactly what we are doing here in Malta! There is something really compelling about our lectures when everything we are talking about is within about an hours drive on public transportation. We can learn some theory about the Megalithic Temples, and now I’m much more interested in taking the time to actually go see them. It feels like the entire island is our classroom.

Everyday on the news we hear about the migrant crisis in Malta and Italy. People from Syria and Somalia are fleeing their countries in fear of their lives. They are coming by the hundreds of thousands and overloading the ability of the Italian and Maltese governments to handle them. We have seen why this cannot be an easy decision for them, as many of the people who flee across the mediterranean in these boats die in the process. Three evenings a week, our students come face to face with people who have made this journey and survived. Most are the same age as our students. Only the young and strong can survive the journey.

Just think about that. How many of our Luther Students have truly had to risk their lives. How many of us in the Luther community even understand what it means to live under the threat of death? This is one part of living abroad that makes me very grateful for the security, relative safety, and freedom we have in our country.

Our students travel to the Hal Far detention center to work with the residents who want to learn english or to improve their english skills, so that they can leave the Hal Far center, find a job, and ultimately apply for citizenship somewhere in the EU.

A personal pet peeve of mine.

Here is one more example, that I find particularly interesting because it gets at one of my pet peeves about where we live in Malta. In a lecture on sustainability we were told that because of their colonial past the primary moral frame of reference for the Maltese is the family not the community. This is interesting, especially for those of us who think that community is a nearly sacred word on the Luther campus. But what does it mean to have a moral frame of reference centered around family? Do we see evidence that it is true? We are told that because the moral frame of reference is the family and not the community there is not a highly developed sense of citizenship or emphasis on “the greater good” here in Malta. We see this in the streets every day in the form of litter, and even worse dog poo casually left on the sidewalk by all sorts of people. People take very good care of their homes on the inside, but the public areas of the city are not treated with respect. One has to get used to looking up and down as you walk on the narrow sidewalks here. Down for the aforementioned reason, and up, because in many places there are drain pipes from overhanging decks that drain the water onto your head! We see further evidence of this idea as we hear about the myriad of government programs that are started, but never fully supported by the people, and therefore abandoned. On the flip side of this, the Maltese people are justifiably very proud of their country and its amazing history. We’ve been told more than once that most Maltese think their country is the best thing ever.

Of course, I’m still a newcomer here, and I’m not a social scientist, so I may be interpreting things all wrong. If I am, then I would be happy to have further conversation to understand better. For example, some of the issues in Sliema may simply be due to the large number of international people who are living here either on holiday, or as long term residents. I also know that I am generalizing, which is always dangerous. Just like any place I know there are Maltese who do not litter and care deeply for the environment, and work tirelessly to improve the island. I’m sure there are people who pick up after their dogs. Although I’m less sure about the latter than the former. There are lots of people who volunteer their time through NGOs. I’m sure it takes years to leave the laissez-faire attitude in the past. After all, Malta only gained independence in 1964, and statehood in 1974. After thousands of years of being conquered by almost everyone else, 50 years of self rule is hardly any time at all. I can imagine that after an entire history of being ruled by others, it would be easy to let external things slide and to focus inward.

I wish I could travel forward in time a thousand years to see what the archeologists of 4015 have to say about Malta in 2015. In the meantime, I know that I will enjoy the next three months and all that I will learn in that time.



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.

Living Arrangements

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.


Getting around

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!


The People

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.

Lifestyle Reflections

Lifestyle Reflections

Note: I wrote the first part of this post as a draft, while in Cambodia, and then forgot to “un-draft” it. So I just realized four months later that it has not been finished or published. I will finish and publish it now.

Some of my earliest memories are of a small house in a small town in Southwestern Minnesota in the late 1960’s. My Grandma Sundahl lived in this house. As you came in the side door, you could turn left and go up a few stairs to the kitchen, or straight down the stairs to the basement. The basement had three rooms, a laundry room off to the left as you went down the stairs. I remember big crockery bowls on the counter in that room and a big black adding machine that we could play with endlessly. To the right was a cinder block room with a cement floor. Grandma had painted the walls and decorated them with big posters of the Campbell Soup kids. There was a ping pong table at one end. As far as I can remebmer the other end of that room was open for us to run around in. Straight ahead as you reached the bottom of the stairs was the big dark scary room. there was a shower in there, that I never really wanted to shower in. This was also the room where Grandpa Sundahl’s tools were.

In the kitchen the sink was straight ahead as you entered with a window to the back yard yard. I remember using the hand mixer in that sink hundreds of times to make more bubbles out of the dish soap. To the right of the sink was a stack of shelves. The third door down was the magic drawer. There was always a package of M&M’s for each of us, and this was where Grandma kept the matches for her cigarettes, which we hid endlessly. Behind the sink was the gas stove and refrigerator. A felix the cat clock was on the wall over the small kitchen table.

In the living room was a black and white television. If we wanted to watch Rocky and Bullwinkle we would have to turn the rotor to point the antenna towards Sioux Falls in the west. Sadly, Lawrence Welk was non-negotiable and required the rotor to point the antenna towards Mankato in the Northwest.

The upstairs was my personal kingdom. The stairway divided the small dormer style upstairs room into two halves. There was a half-wall around the stair to keep you from falling, and we would endlessly pile up grandma’s pillows on a blanket that we stretched across and over the stair. We would call grandma to come upstairs and then drop the pillows on her. Amazingly she never caught on.

In Storden we were allowed to walk anywhere on our own. We could go to Witt’s grocery store and get groceries for grandma, and of course a pushup, or some other ice cream treat for our efforts. As far as I remember no money was exchanged everything was done on account. Down the road from the grocery store was the elementary school with swings, teeter totters, and of course the tall metal slippery slide with a big hump in the middle. Nothing was made of plastic in those days, there were no soft recycled bits of anything to land in at the bottom of the slide.

You may be wondering why I’ve just written four paragraphs of memories about small town Minnesota life in the late 60’s when I’m in the middle of Cambodia. Actually I’m a bit surprised myself, but once I started, the memories kept following one after the other, and it seemed right to get them down. Maybe this blog needs a good editor! Still, its a valid question.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those early days as I’ve been traveling through Vietnam and now Cambodia these last few weeks. Its not a conscious effort on my part, the memories just keep arising as we drive around.

My learning style is to make connections between things I know and the things I’m learning. I find patterns, and make associations. You may be wondering what connections and parallels I see between Southwest Minnesota and the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam and Cambodia. To me the parallels are obvious.

For me, these memories of my childhood represent a simple “make do” style of living. We had fun, but it wasn’t expensive and it wasn’t complicated. Later in life I learned that my Mom, the oldest child, and grandma and grandpa had lived in the basement for a period in order to save the money to build the rest of the house.

### Here we pick up the thread several months later

After four months in Malta and around the Mediterranean, I think I understand why I was writing a lot of what I wrote. I comes down to thinking about your own lifestyle. The stark contrast in January between my own lavish lifetyle and the lifestyle I’ve lived in Malta these last four months is pretty amazing. I have learned to live with a lot less than I do at home, I have learned to enjoy cooking and eating even without my gourmet kitchen, I have accomplished a lot of development work on projects that I am truly passionate about with nothing but a laptop and an internet connection.

The flat we live in was built in the 1950’s probably a decade after the house in Storden was built. There is almost nothing in common between this long narrow limestone flat, and the house in Storden other than the shared experiences of the members of the generation that built each structure.

One of the interesting things about Malta is that the tension between the generations is more evident to me on Malta than it is in my own country. There is a real sadness among the older generation about how the island has changed in the last 30 years, and i guess I honestly can’t say how the younger generation feels, but I can observe their actions as they overbuild, and overuse the limited resources available to them on the island.

The Gang's all here

The Gang’s all here


All of our students arrived safely by 11:00 last night. We got them up early this morning for a bit of sightseeing and wandering around Valletta. We all did The Malta Experience, which gave us an amazing overview of the history of this island dating back to 4000 BC. It is really incredible, Malta has been ruled by: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Swabian, Aragonese, The Knights of St. John, French, and British! I’m sure I left out a few! A lot of it has to do with the fact that Malta is right on the trade route from the eastern to the western Mediterranean and beyond. I am really looking forward to our history class which starts this week.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the sunshine, and the Amazing views that are everywhere!