Monday, January 26, 2009

Malta, part 2

It was nice to visit Malta again, this trip I had much more time to site see, (mostly) better weather, I found the Maltese falcon, and had a very pleasent ride home in a police car! After dinner one night, I decided to call it an early evening while the rest of my work friends stayed out, but no taxis were arriving at the stop, which was conveniently located right next to a remote police station. When I asked the officers there if they had a number I could call they kindly offered me a ride instead. It was all very funny, I was jut sorry none of my work colleagues were at the hotel to see me arrive…ooh, the story I would have given!
In my free time from work, I visited the National Museum of Archaeology and was quite intrigued by the pre-historic art, which was mainly phallic shaped or portraying a very shapely female form. The most interesting piece on exhibit was the Sleeping Lady. It’s believed to represent death or eternal sleep. It is no bigger than the palm of your hand, but it dates back as far as 3000 B.C.!
On the other free day, my friend Charles and I took a site seeing bus tour around the island. I was surprised by just how many different, interesting areas there were to explore. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to make many stops, but we did manage time for a cozy lunch in the medieval, walled city of Mdina, which comes from the Arabic word for fortified place. Today it is known as the silent city, but it was once the capital of the country due to it’s strategic position at the highest point of the island and the farthest from the sea. Eventually, as trading and thus the need to be closer to the sea grew in importance, the capital was officially moved to Valletta and everyone moved out of pretty Mdina...hence the silent city. Now it is a tourist destination, probably really incredible in the summer time when all the shops and restaurants are open, but not so much on a chilly, rainy, and generally nasty winter day! Although the weather wasn’t very cooperative, we did enjoy our very short time there. We shopped for Mdina glass and had some tasty pizza and chocolate cake at the lovely Fontanella Tea Garden cafĂ©, positioned inside the city walls with amazing views over the countryside.
The more I come back to Malta, the more I like it – I just hope next time I will have the good fortune to visit in the summertime!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sweden for the New Year

I didn’t have to work over the New Year’s holiday so my friend from work, Rixt, and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and check out Stockholm since neither of us had ever been but had heard plenty of good things.
It was just as we imagined, really, really cold!, but also very beautiful and clean. Our hotel was just at the end of the main shopping street so we spent our first day basically strolling around and checking out the quaint souvenir shops, restaurants, and various other boutiques throughout the winding, cobbled stone streets of Gamla Stan (old town) area. Stockholm is built on 14 islands so there were amazing waterfront views basically everywhere you looked. It took quite a while to walk the 3 km because we literally had to stop every 30 minutes at some of the thousands of coffee shops around the city to warm up!
The first night we discovered the world’s largest Christmas tree and had a very authentic dinner of Swedish meatballs, the best ever!, at the Pelikan, a 100 year old beer hall.
On New Year’s Eve we went to the Vasa museum, an indoor exhibit of the world’s oldest war ship that sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628! The ship was entirely intact and completely restored after its rescue from the bottom of the ocean in 1961, 333 years later. After a few hours of gazing at this amazing piece of history, we ventured on to Skansen, displaying actual period homes, churches, barns, windmills, etc. from various regions of Sweden and the indigenous wildlife to the country such as moose and reindeers….what could be more festive?
NYE night, we tried in vein to find a nice restaurant for dinner in old town, but as we had no booking we were reduced to an extremely dodging Mongolian bbq, but it accomplished our need for nourishment before ringing in 2009 with the Disney On Ice crew that was in town. Although their hotel party was quite a trek from the city centre, we had the best views of the most spectacular fireworks display I’ve ever witnessed – the entire Stockholm skyline was ablaze for no less than 30 consecutive minutes.
Since pretty much everything in Stockholm was closed on New Year’s Day, we took an excursion to, what we expected would be the sleepy town of, Stigtomta. To our delight, we found that the city had a massive lake where tons of people were spending the day ice skating. It was incredible watching people skating off as far as the eye could see. Of course all of the cute shops in the very quaint village were closed for the holiday, but the trip was well worth it just to see how Swedes enjoy a typical day of winter recreation.
I class the first visit to Sweden as a major success and the ringing in of ’09 as possibly the most pleasant I’ve ever had!