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Natural Gozo and an Evening Feast

by Ben

overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Xlendi

Xlendi

Muriel and I started the day with a morning walk around one side of the Xlendi Bay. The walkway starts below our apartment and runs along the inner inlet and then crosses a small gorge over what is probably a 400 year old foot bridge to a small fortress on the bay called Xlendi Tower. The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds thus continually changing the appearance of the landscape. We just can’t get over the unique beauty of this place and the fact that we have it mostly to ourselves save for a few locals busy renovating apartments and businesses in anticipation of the tourist season.

Xlendi: Pools for making salt

Xlendi: Pools for making salt

During our walk we saw numerous rectangular indents in the soft rock below the tower –undoubtedly they were human constructs. I suspected that they were shallow ponds for making salt and a bit of research revealed that I was correct. What was interesting was that such a freely available resource such as sea salt was monopolized by the Hospitaler Knights to provide income. If you want to know more I came across this site.

Gozo Countryside

Gozo Countryside

Abby once again is not feeling 100 percent. She has developed a head cold that we are sure is going to be shared around the family before long. We had established a rule at the beginning of the trip that no one was required to go on any outings if they didn’t feel like it. Abby exercised this option while the rest of us set off for a few hours of leisurely exploration. Gozo is quite small so it doesn’t take too long to get anywhere although it does involve and negotiating a labyrinth of roads that wind through numerous villages. The secondary roads are often more patch than pavement and at times the potholes outnumber the patches. We were looking to go for a walk along some cliffs that overlook the islands of Comino and Malta. We found a dirt road that led us to an ancient landscape of stone walls abandoned fields and roads and the outlines of numerous dwellings. It felt almost eerie walking through an area that was once fully utilized and then universally abandoned seemingly all at once. At one time Gozo must have been much more intensely used for the raising of domesticated animals but now huge tracks of land are returning to the wild. The rocky landscape produces only a meagre amount of grass at best so it is not surprising that modern Gozitans have chosen to more intensively farm the truly fertile areas of the island.

It was fairly blustery so we kept our hike short in case a down pour should strike. The little dirt there is in this area instantly turns into cement like substance once it gets wet. In no time you are a few centimeters taller due to the accumulation of sticky mud on the bottom of your shoes.
After our cliff walk, we headed off to town of Marsalforn, which has the largest amount of tourist accommodation on the island and has possesses a few hundred meters of sandy beach which is a rare sight on Malta. Much like Xlendi, the town was largely abandoned with most shops and restaurants closed or undergoing renovation. The winter seas crashed waves over the waterfront road and a fairly sizeable amount of sand had been deposited on the patios of the closed restaurants. As in Xlendi there were a number of businesses in danger of flooding due to the waves and had small dykes of sand and boards built in front of their doorways to keep the seawater out. I guess the number one business principle of location, location, location makes the costs associated with annual flooding and the related repairs worth bearing.

Our visit to Marsalfron confirmed that we had located ourselves in the best town in Gozo and that winter was really the best season to be here. We can see that summer crowds competing for limited beach space would not be our scene.

Gozo: Monument of Christ

Gozo: Monument of Christ

On our way to Marsalfron we stopped to hike up to the Monument of Christ. It is like a mini Christ the Redeemer statue from Rio, Brazil. It looks the work of one church or even a farmer. On Gozo any hill can quite quickly give you a great view. This deceptively small hill gives a ripping view of the entire area and the wind blowing at the top is at near gale force. The statue itself is a bit disappointing being made of fibreglass but from far away it does add interest to the surrounding countryside.

This evening we had made plans for a very rare dinner out. Even though Abby was not feeling her best, she could not pass on a culinary fieldtrip. Travelling as a family on a budget has meant trading off on experiencing local cuisine. However, tonight we went all out trying to address this deficit. Our research told us the Boathouse Restaurant was the top restaurant to visit in Xlendi in the winter. It is right on the waterfront and we have noticed over the weekend it was packed throughout the day which we took as a very good sign. Fortunatley, a weekday evening in the winter saw many tables available and waiters quite ready and willing to be attentive to our needs.

A few of our readers may not be too pleased with some of the dining choices made by Muriel and me. We apologize in advance but really have no regrets. We wanted to eat Gozitan specialties. Muriel ordered a traditional Gozitan fish soup (Aljotta) and I ordered a deep fried pepper cheese (Ġbejna) served on top of a salad as our appetizers—both were absolutely delicious. Abby had French onion soup and Hannah a prawn bisque which both had a Maltese twist as they were very thick soups. Abby enjoyed hers while the consistency of Hannah’s along with its pungency required an acquired taste. All of our appetizers fully revealed that Maltese restaurants serve incredibly large portions of food.

For our main course, Muriel and I wanted to eat the number one meat on Malta; rabbit. Muriel had rabbit spaghetti, which is quite popular, and I had pan fried rabbit in a dark brown sauce of red wine, cinnamon and cream. When my plate arrived it appeared I was being served nearly an entire rabbit. With apologies to the Easter Bunny, Beatrix Potter fans and all pets named Fluffy, Muriel and I enjoyed our meals immensely. Abby steered clear of anything that hopped and had a savoury crepe stuffed with chicken and mushrooms which was equally delicious. Hannah decided to go with the Sicilian connection that Malta enjoys and ordered a seafood risotto. This dish came loaded with mussels, squid and octopus. It was the octopus that Hannah felt she needed to develop more of a palate for. All-in-all it was the best restaurant meal we have had since coming to Europe and for a higher-end restaurant it was great value.

With stuffed bellies we waddled home to enjoy the night view from our balcony. The ache we felt looking down on Xlendi wasn’t from our stomachs as much as from the thoughts that we were leaving this wonderful location in the morning.

Posted by KZFamily 06:42 Archived in Malta Tagged malta gozzo xlendi Comments (1)

Gorgeous Gozo

by Ben

sunny 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Xlendi: View from our apartment

Xlendi: View from our apartment

It is still a little hard to get our heads around the fact that we are visiting the tenth smallest country (approximate in terms of land area) in the world let alone staying on its smaller and less populated island. Gozzo is little bit like the Saltspring Island of Malta. Everyone who lives on Malta likes to come here for a daytrip or for a weekend in the winter and then abandon it to the tourists in the summer. The people of Gozzo are much like Saltspring Islanders in terms of maintaining a separate identity from their larger island neighbour. It supposedly would be an insult to call a Gozzon, Maltese.

We are staying in Xlendi, one of the most popular little communities on the island. We are on the top floor of an old apartment building that has been renovated off and on for the past 25 years. We have an incredibly large patio that has a commanding view of the small harbour below and of the unoccupied rocky hill and cliff opposite. It is certainly the most beautiful vista of any place we have stayed so far.

Xlendi: Our apartment balcony

Xlendi: Our apartment balcony

As has been the common theme for our entire stay along the Mediterranean, we needed to work at getting our place warm and address some defects but that is what you face in the rental price bracket we choose . Fortunately we have a gas space heater that does wonders and by the morning every inch of our totally glass fronted apartment was warm and toasty. We awoke to brilliant sunshine. The bright light revealed what we had already noticed when we arrived; our deck and windows were covered in sand and dust from previous storms. The housekeeper for the place hadn’t done much to prepare for our visit (many dead light bulbs etc). It was difficult to enjoy the view through all the dirt on the windows and enjoy the spacious deck due to the dirt. Fortunately, a broom, bucket, mop and squeegee were handy. If we were staying for four days I wanted to enjoy the full visual beauty. I spent an hour or two sweeping, opening storm shutters and washing windows and cleaning deck furniture. The result although not perfect was a vast improvement and I truly felt I had a million dollar view I could thoroughly enjoy.

Xlendi: Our homebase on Gozzo in Malta

Xlendi: Our homebase on Gozzo in Malta

The kids decided to enjoy a well-deserved break and stay in their jammies for a good part of the day. Meanwhile, Muriel and I got out to explore. We walked down a number of flights of stairs to get to the inlet below our apartment and headed up the walkway and eventually the rocky hill on the opposite side of the harbour. In the summer the inlet is usually still and transparent and a magnet for swimming. Today is was a bit wavy but still beautiful. A rough walkway has been built to a small cave that has an outlet into the inlet that swimmers can use. After exploring this feature, we hiked up the hill taking advantage of shallow steps that have been hewn into the hill to help farmers access the ancient rocky pastures above. It looks like these enclosures may have housed sheep or goats for grazing over the centuries although we saw none of either. The view from the top was absolutely brilliant. Just around the corner are cliff faces of a 100 meters or more and a view of a small fortress below. Any hill that is not solid rock has been terraced for pasture or for growing vegetables. It really was something out of a postcard.

As beautiful as the natural beauty is the human architecture leaves much to be desired. The practical and cheap multi-storey rectangular box is the only style used for residential construction. A flat roof for drying laundry and for housing each apartments water supply completes each building. Everyone has a water reservoir on the roof to create water pressure for their dwelling. The only bit of decoration on the building may be any archway for the front balcony and wrought iron or cement railing and these were not even universal features. Nearly every building is golden sandstone and the doors a rustic pine. The notable exceptions to these rough buildings are the abundant churches with their red domes. The population of Malta is less than 400,000 people but there are 365 churches on the island and each is capable of holding a sizeable congregation. The churches ring their bells several times a day noting prayer times and services.

Next to the Xlendi harbour is a gelato stand. We took a second trip down to the waterfront with the kids to have some dessert. We are really enjoying the prices here. A generous scoop of gelato complete with cookie and sprinkles or nuts is only a Euro. We had hot chocolate and cappuccino for the four us the afternoon before right by the water for just over five Euros.

We spent the rest of day just enjoying the view from our seventh storey apartment and each other’s company. We are feeling like we have the town mostly to ourselves even though we are in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It also has one of the highest per capita rates of car ownership in Europe-but that is a story for another day.

It is never a good idea to generalize about a people, because you usually get it wrong. However here are a few impressions we have had of the people so far. They are not easy to smile and seem to have fairly stand offish mannerisms, although Hannah has described it more accurately gruffly hospitalible. The language is a mix of Sicilian, Arabic and English which is unlike anything we have heard before. It is semetic language and is the only semetic language that uses a latin alphabet. Malta is definitely unique unto itself in terms of unique layout of its villages and roads and the amount of churches.

Zoom in on the map below to get up-to-date on our recent travels.

Posted by KZFamily 12:03 Archived in Malta Tagged malta gozzo xlendi Comments (7)

Malta: Another Country to Explore

BY Abby

all seasons in one day 13 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

This morning we got to wake up nice and early for a plane flight. It was quite refreshing. Haha, just kidding. We got up at quarter to five, and by six o'clock we had grabbed some individually wrapped muffins from the hotel breakfast table and were on the road. We got to the airport with surprising ease, and soon we had returned our car (Steven) and were waiting for our flight. I slept for the duration of the short trip and before I knew it we were in a completely new country, Malta.

L-Imdina, Malta

L-Imdina, Malta

We picked up our car and just as we got inside it started to rain. My dad took a few minutes to get himself acquainted with Donovan, as now he had to use his left hand to switch gears, as well as sitting on the other side of the car. We tried to go to a place called the Blue Grotto, but the main road to it was blocked off due to construction (definitely not the first detour problem we've had), and we weren't that comfortable going down the small back roads. We then decided to go to Mdina (a walled city) and walk around. We saw a lot of expensive looking construction going on, as well as several guys offering horse and carriage rides... "For very cheap, good price!!" We chose to pass on these and went to the tourist office to find out more. After getting some maps we looked at a glass-making shop, and the whole time we were in there I was pestering Hannah about how her backpack was flinging around everywhere and she was going to break everything on the shelves. I was then told to be quiet and fill the role of younger sister instead of parent. There were signs everywhere that stated "To us a breakage is a sale"; I thought that this was probably the way they made most of their money. It's very clever though, if you don't have many people buying, and they thought so too obviously because most objects for sale were precariously placed on very unstable surfaces. Just walking beside a set of shelves could cause them all to topple over...and there you go, you've today's salary! You can see now why I was worried about the backpack.

L-Imdina, Malta

L-Imdina, Malta

After we were done in the shop we walked outside again and consulted our map. Then before we knew it there were buckets of water falling from the heavens... most of you know this as heavy rain. For a couple minutes we waited underneath an arch, but as the rain wasn't get any lighter and we didn't know what we could do about it we decided to just go out in it anyways. I didn't really like this idea because today I had worn my keds, which aren't very good at resisting water... being canvas shoes and all. We continued to look around for a place to eat but we could only find a couple of high end restaurants. Everything and everyone seemed to have gone somewhere else; I think we saw a total of three people while we were walking around. But as we were still hungry, wet and cold we chose to go to another part of town where we found a small place to sit down. It didn't seem as though it was heated, and it was run by an older lady and her mother, but it was all that we could find, so we gave it a try. My mom tried to order soup and was asked which type she wanted. To this she said that she would like to have the chicken soup (there was a choice between chicken, oxtail and tomato) but she was told that there was only pea soup. My mom got the pea soup and Hannah my dad and I each got a cheeseburger. My mom also got a tuna sandwich (which ended up having green olives in it, which my mother detests--it also had tomato paste and shallots). But we were all happy to be full, and my mom and I got hot chocolates while my dad got a small (instant) coffee.

We then went back to our car and tried to find a grocery store. It took a while but in the end we found one, along with a free parking spot not too far away. We had a very successful shop and then we were headed towards the ferry. The thirty minute ride went smoothly and we even got to try Malta's signature drink... Kinnie (a sweet orange juice drink mixed with bitter herbs). None of us really enjoyed it, but my dad and I could stomach it so we finished the small can off. We found the agreed on meeting place for getting to our apartment easily, and soon we were shown to the house. We had a couple problems (couldn't find the washing machine, and the heater was broken...) but those were figured out soon enough as well. Dinner was good and we all had a very relaxing evening after our day of travelling and sightseeing. But my shoes are still wet.

Posted by KZFamily 12:01 Archived in Malta Tagged malta gozzo mdina Comments (4)

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