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Archive for the ‘Traveling Abroad’ Category

What a difference this Christmas is compared to last Christmas.  Last year at this time we spent a very lonely, but cozy Christmas in front of the computer with hot chocolate watching ‘A Christmas Story’, one of our favorite Christmas films, with no tree, no Christmas decorations, and no presents.  The only people we really knew were the bartenders at the Hard Rock and the sweet ladies who ran the little ‘Step-In’ store right by our flat.  We have come so far.

We’ve been at our same flat for a year and have managed to endear ourselves to our landlords and their adorable little girl who loves the American candy I have ready for her when we pay the rent.  We really don’t know any of our neighbors, but there has been quite a bit of moving in and moving out, so it is very difficult to try to get to know anyone.  We’ve had Maltese, Italian, French, English and Swedish neighbors, but we really never had the chance to get to know any of them.

We joined an Expat group in March and have made so many friends.  The group grows and thins and grows again.  Many will be friends for life,  and the boat trips to Comino and the Blue Lagoon was a great way to get to know everyone better.  The expats also meet on Friday nights at different pubs and venues and we love listening to everyone’s story about how they ended up on Malta.  Every story is unique and its amazing how your path ends up crossing with certain people.  We’ve experienced many different restaurants, learning many different  Maltese traditions and I love trying the local cuisine, even though I still haven’t had rabbit stew!  Homie knows exactly how many McDonald’s there are on the island, and we have finally figured out how to explain where we are located when we order food to be delivered. That act alone has probably saved our marriage. 

We’ve gotten to know the buses, and don’t mind taking them at all, except when the students are here in August and September, then forget trying to get on a bus between 7 and 10 p.m.  We love the Maltese busses and the way they are decked out with the Virgin Mary, reminders to pray and promises of forgiveness.  Sometimes you will see the older Maltese women genuflect before they get on and we can never tell if that is a good sign or a bad sign.  We know where to catch the bus if we want to go to Mdina, Birkirkara or Mosta.  One thing that has struck me is that most of the Maltese people who I have gotten to know really dislike taking the bus, they’ll drive even if it’s a 10-minute walk.  The island is approximately the size of Staten Island, but because there are so many cars and the roads are so congested, it can take over 45 minutes to an hour to drive to a location that would take you twenty minutes to walk to.  I walk to and from work everyday and I’m home sooner than most people can get through the next stoplight. 

We have found great spots to swim, we have figured out the neighborhood shortcuts and when we go for walks we almost always run into somebody we know.  We’ve been invited to many of our friend’s homes and have gotten to see many different types of abodes with traditional stone architecture as well as very modern and updated apartments.

I have a wonderful stylist that already knows exactly how to cut my hair, I’m joining a gym soon and Homie has a key to a local tennis club where he joined a league a few months ago.  We are getting to the point where it’s a necessity for each of us to have a mobile, and we will soon.  A great friend loaned us an older model and we bought a €10 sims card and a €5 pay as you go card,  and it lasted us nearly three weeks.  It’s not the greatest device to sms on, but it does the job.  I’ve now gone without a mobile for a little over a year and I am starting to miss having it.  Kind of bittersweet, a friend who is moving home to Canada (hate to see her go…!) is planning on selling me her little beauty when she leaves next month.

Homie has gotten his visa issues squared away finally and it has been a rough road, especially for him as he didn’t know whether he was going to be able to stay or have to go home for a couple of months.  I really thought I did my homework before we left the States, but on an island this small, they can make  their own rules. But it is sorted and we don’t have to worry about it any longer.

I guess you could say we’re established.  We left the States with very little money, big dreams and a will to make it happen.   We had a vision, and we made it a reality. (That vision included a tumble dryer, so I have a little work to do, although I have temporarily solved that issue…)  In a year’s time we are sitting pretty good and with nothing but great things on the horizon.  What’s exciting to me is that one day, Homie and I said, “Screw it.  Le’t just do it.”  And we did.  And here we are.  Happy as bloody hell!  Can’t wait to see what 2011 brings.  Here’s to having a dream and then living it.

Merry Christmas to you all and may 2011 be every thing you dream it will be. ♥

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It seems hard to believe that we have been living on Malta for an entire year.  We have come so far since we first arrived and even though we are still waiting to hear if my husband is going to be deported (well, deported isn’t really the right word, but I love teasing him), we have done quite well and we are pretty proud of ourselves.  I’m working full-time, Homie has finally had a chance to take some time off of work to decide what his next goal in life may be and we have met so many cool people, friends for life from all over the world that we never would have met if we wouldn’t have taken the chance of following a dream.

There are many things we miss from the States, but when you come right down to it, other than family and friends, it’s all material.  There are so many contrasts from our former life, but in other ways, our daily life is not that much different.  I’m working everyday, in an office where I’m the minority.  It is a really different feeling and I’m not sure I like it all that much, but it offers a sense of perspective I never would have gotten in the States.  My colleagues automatically speak Maltese not to shut me out of the conversation, but because it’s their language and I have to remind myself daily not to take it personally.  Homie and I are taking a conversational Maltese language course in January, so I hope to at least understand some of the language before we go home for a long visit next summer. 

We are feeling pretty comfortable in our surroundings and now dress like the locals and not the tourists in November!  We know where to shop, what trucks to buy our produce from, where to get the freshest seafood and what Maltese wine tastes the best.  We know how to take the bus wherever we need to go and when we go for walks we almost always run into someone we know.   

I should have my Maltese ID card soon and with that I can finally open a bank account here, but it amazes me how easy its been to be able to live completely on cash, without checks or a debit card or any credit cards.  It has also been rather easy living without a mobile phone, (I vowed to go a year without one, just to prove that I could) although there have been some days when it would have come in handy.  It’s been easy living without a car, almost a blessing really with the parking issues here and auto congestion.  If we need a ride anywhere our friends pick us up or the Wembley cab will take you mostly anywhere for €10-12. 

We are used to watching the Weakest Link instead of Wheel of Fortune, having ham for breakfast instead of bacon and watching Eurosport instead of ESPN.  We went to Africa and will be spending Christmas in Sicily and find ourselves blessed to be able to travel all over Europe for so little.  We are now used to thinking in terms of Euros, kilos, kilometers and metres.  Lots of Brits migrate to the island and I find myself saying things like brilliant, straight-away and bloody hell! I go out for a fag and say Cheers! before even thinking of drinking before anyone else at the table or bar.

Skype and Facebook keeps us connected with friends and family and sometimes it doesn’t seem like we are over 4,000 miles away from home.  But now that we are at the one year mark and have taken a moment to reflect on all that we have been through with the visas, finding work and fitting in to a land where we had never even visited prior to moving to, I can honestly say that moving to Malta has turned into an adventure of a lifetime and we’ve never been happier!

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When Homie and I left the States a little over eight months ago, we dreamed of traveling all over Europe and knew that we would eventually make it to Tunisia, Africa as it is less than an hour’s plane ride away from Malta.  Since we needed to re-new our travel visas and were required to travel outside of the Schengen zone, Tunisia was our destination.  We just returned from an 5-day, all-inclusive vacation that served two purposes, we have a freshly stamped passport and we added another continent to our list of travels.

We were excited and just a little bit nervous because we had no idea what to expect.  When we told our friends in America that we were traveling to Africa, most immediately assumed that we were going on Safari!  This girl does not do Safari, she does all-inclusive hotels with a pool, a spa and room service.  Well, we never used room service, but we did see a live camel and he was only there to provide entertainment for the children lucky enough to get a ride.  We found out that we could book a two-day trip for a camel ride in the Sahara desert, stay at an African version of a bed and breakfast for less than €100 each.  Homie was very excited at this prospect, but luckily for me we didn’t have enough time and the camel ride would have to wait for another trip.  A camel ride in the Sahara?  Ummm, no thanks.  With my luck it would be like the time I went horse back riding and the saddle fell off the horse with me in it.  I don’t like riding live animals, they are so unpredictable and they have no brakes.

We arrived to the hotel late and just made the buffet before it closed down for the evening.  I don’t mean to be a complainer, but I really am not in to buffets, especially ones that don’t have the germ/sneeze/cough glass covering all the selections.  I was starving though, after traveling all day and my empty belly won out.  We walked in and the first thing I see is a cute little five-year old reaching into the olive tray with her hands and another woman picking apart a baklava desert with her fork.  Yum.  So I grabbed some roasted chicken (very hot so I knew that no child could have touched it with their dirty little fingers) and a jacket potato wrapped in foil and reminded myself to let it go, we were on vacation!

When the desk clerk told us that a bell hop would watch our luggage as we ate, we didn’t think she meant literally.  We wander back after Homie filled his plate three times (did I mention my husband loves all-you-can-eat buffets?) and the bell hop is still standing next to our luggage smiling as if he just won the lottery.  He took us up to our room and patiently explained all of the amenities and waited for a tip.  I had to nudge my darling husband who reached into his pocket to oblige and handed over three or four dinar coins, and as the bell hop was leaving I inquired about the air conditioning.  He stomped over to show me, then stomped out.  It wasn’t until the following day, when we exchanged more euro for dinar that we realized we gave him about .30!  We felt horrible!  We were able to make it up to him on the day we left.  He happened to be the one who put our luggage in the storage room because we had a seven hour wait for our shuttle to the airport. 

The hotel had two large swimming pools, a salt water pool and a pool just for the kids.  We quickly learned that in order to get a lounge chair with cushions you had to get out to the pool by 7 a.m. to claim your spot, leave your towel on your chair and then go to breakfast.  We just happened upon this information our first full day there because we were up really early wanting to explore the hotel grounds.  We got a lovely spot, under an umbrella and spent the whole day at the pool, and it was a good thing because it was nearly 100° and humid.  I knew we were in a Muslim country but I was not prepared for the traditional Muslim women’s bathing suit.  While I was in my bikini and still feeling the heat,  these Muslim women were covered from head to toe, (only showing face, hands and feet) in their bathing garb while their fat and hairy husbands were in a regular bathing suits and I couldn’t help but think how unfair it seemed.  Now, I know it is their belief and their religion, but it bothered me.  In all other respects, each Muslim family I observed acted just like any other family on vacation and I never saw any man treat any woman badly, subservient or rudely, so I just had another cocktail and let it go.

The second day we decided to check out the hotel’s beachfront offering and it was a completely different experience.  A beautiful sandy beach was just what we needed after weeks of laying on the rocks near the sea in Malta.  There were many vendors walking up and down the beach selling their wares and they never tell you how much anything costs.  You have to offer a price, then haggle as though your life depends on it.  They get insulted if you don’t haggle, as if what they have to offer you isn’t worth haggling over.  I thought I was good at it, but in reality I’m a wimp.  I know this because I bought a lovely ankle bracelet for six dinar and the lady next to me got it for four.  So on our last day we had time to souvenir shop and went to a little bazaar area to look around.  I found a beautiful Chanel knock-off bag that was only 24 dinar and I haggled for 20 dinar.  The shopkeeper went down to 22 and I demanded 20.  He wouldn’t go for it, so I started to walk away, assuming he would chase after me and give in, which happened when I bought a little harem outfit for our friend’s daughter.  He didn’t chase after me and all I have been thinking about since we returned is that damn Channel bag that I really wanted and was too cheap to pay 2 extra dinar for.  We’re talking the equivalent of 1 euro.  I’m just heartsick over it, and I console myself with the thought that he is probably just as mad that he didn’t sell the bag for 20 dinar.

After a little over two hours in the shuttle bus, we finally get to the airport in Tunis and we check in.  We are immediately told to follow a customs official into a room with our luggage.  He didn’t speak English and we don’t speak French or Arabic.  He shouted at me to open the suitcase and he went through everything, simply tore it apart.  When he was done he said, “Put it back!”, which I did.  Then he went through our backpacks.  All I could think about was this stupid show Homie and I always watch called ‘Banged Up Abroad’.  We weren’t the only ones, nearly every one on the shuttle had their bags searched as well.  Our backpacks were searched three more times and twice the customs officers asked me for my passport and ticket as we waited to board our flight that was delayed for over two hours.  Most of the passengers around us came to the conclusion that they were looking for someone, they were everywhere.  It was really kind of scary and I couldn’t wait to get on the plane!  We finally made it back to Malta at about 2:30 a.m. and it felt so good to feel like Malta is finally ‘home’.

~Peace~

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