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I travel. A lot. And I love it. I like finding new places, seeing new things, meeting different people. And when I go back again and again to the same place, be it for work or pleasure, there’s an extra satisfaction in showing my special places to those who travel with me. The site of the Azure Window (Tieqa Żerqa) in Gozo is one of those places. If you take an early-morning ferry from Malta across to Mgarr, then you can get there before the hordes descend and make it  too busy for comfort. I managed this one month and failed miserably the next. The difference was inconsolable. [UPDATE: Of course, now that the window has collapsed into the sea, the crowds may have lessened but the place is still worth visiting.]

When I last visited San Lawrence was closed off for construction so by the time I’d found the detour we’d lost that all-important hour. The place was packed. First-time visitors were parroting the usual reaction – how amazing, spectacular, the blue – oh my what a blue…  Old-timers were looking disgruntled at the number of people there. Me? I was so sorry that the experience wasn’t what it could have been.

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But the inland sea was relatively deserted because the water was too choppy to take out the boats. I was glad of this, in a way. To be fully appreciated, it needs quiet. Last month, we took a small fishing boat and travelled through the rock wall to the outer sea. It was the first time in I don’t know how many visits that I’d felt the need to do this and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve long since learned the value of realising that I can always come back – there’s no need for me to pack everything in to the time I have available. No where is going anywhere (except perhaps for the Maldives and the like, should sea levels continue to rise).

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There’s a particular type of coral that only grows here – it’s purple and as eye-catching as a coral can be. With one hand on the side of the boat and the other on my camera, the choice between being tossed overboard and capturing the essence of what I was seeing made me long fleetingly for the days when cameras needed plugs, bulbs, and tripods. Days when a choice wouldn’t be a problem as it wouldn’t have existed.

I was torn between enjoying what I was seeing and my compulsion to share what I’d seen. I was reminded of a Venetian writer whose name I can’t remember telling me to leave my camera at home and enjoy the moment. But what about those who will never get to Gozo, and boat through the wall, and get to the other side – shouldn’t they be able to come too?

IMG_0394 (800x600)I’ve never been much of an artist. My rather dark wardrobe will testify to my lack of imagination when it comes to colour. Yet there was something quite surreal about this purple coral as it mediated between the gray walls and the blue sea. Had it been a colour spectrum, the purple would have been out of place. And yet there it was, in all its glory, mediating between two shades of similarity – a foot in both worlds. And it reminded me a little of me…

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On the journey back inside, what looked like an impossibly narrow opening gradually opened up. Crossing this gradual revelation was like travelling through time, in slow motion. And although I’d seen the inland sea many times before, this was the first time I’d looked at it from a different direction. There was a lesson in perspective there… should I choose to learn it.

Malta is one of the few places I visit repeatedly  – and each time, there’s something new or something old seen in a new light. And more often than not, that new light comes from seeing it from someone else’s perspective, experiencing second-hand the pleasure they get from places I’ve shown them. What’s not to like about travel, I wonder? Were I queen for the day, I’d make it compulsory.

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carnival in Malta, colourful floats, carnival floats, prinjolata

Shrove Tuesday – the last chance for you to use up your eggs, empty your jam jars, use up the syrup and pig out before embarking on 40 days of fasting… or, as in the old days, one main meal and two colations! This day is traditionally marked around the world with a knees-up that raises the bar on partying to a new level. In Malta, it sees the last day of a three-day festival on the main island and THE day of a rather alternative five-day festival on the island of Gozo. Read more

Maltese lace bobbins

Back home in Ireland, in Carrickmacross, they’re famous for their lace. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1820s apparently and from what I know of it, the lace is made with a tiny hook, a little like a crochet needle. On Gozo, the Gozitons use an imhadda (pillow) or what the Maltese call a tribu (from the Maltese word tarbija for baby) complete with bobbins and pins.  Read more

Fort Chambray Malta

Do I need to drag myself, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, or can I stay in my self-enforced state of denial, at odds with planners everywhere? I’m all for progress but I’m also for preserving the past. I detest new developments and yet I have enough sense to know that when my building was built in 1896 it was new to someone, just as the newly built apartment blocks behind me will be old to someone in 100 years (if they last that long). Would I rather see a historic city or town alive or dead? Alive, of course. Would I rather see buildings still in use than abandoned to rats and litter? Of course, I would. So why then is the Fort Chambray development coming between me and my sleep? Read more

Island of Gozo near Maxokk Bakery

It doesn’t look like much, does it? And its name, The Maxokk Bakery, apart from being unpronounceable, isn’t really an accurate description of what it offers. Buried in the back streets of Nadur, a little town on the island of Gozo, this bakery makes the best pizza I have ever had the joy to taste. Apart from the fact that the end-product is similar in shape to a pizza, the likeness to what’s served up the world over is minimal. Read more