Fourth Week in Malta

This was a rather scrappy week, with weather again a limiting factor and further aggravated by having no car, until Friday night.

One of the most notable things about this time of year here are the migrating birds passing through on their way north from their winter roosts in Africa. We have seen many bats, swallows, some finch-like birds and a large bird of prey (?buzzard/eagle) from our window. There are also a huge number of white butterflies, but so far have seen no brightly coloured ones. Must bring our binoculars back next time.

The winds were strong enough to blow my planters off the balcony sill onto the patio (replanting of geraniums needed) and the cars locally are all heavily covered with the red sand carried with it. This weather then continued to Friday which was a beautiful day.

The car saga has now come to a conclusion. The agent here in Malta of the company we shipped the car with has been amazingly helpful. The registration of a foreign car here is not an easy thing. They offered to do it all for us which we readily agreed. They had to find our car among 3000 on the dockside, get the equivalent of an MOT inspection, get it insured and taxed, pay the huge registration fee and get the Malta plates put on. As they knew the system, we felt it would be easier. Thank goodness we did. However, Charles queued at the ADT (Malta Transport Administration) on Thursday to do the necessary, only to be told that the rules had changed (no official notice given) and the owner had to be present. So, next morning his wife Doreen picked up Lawrence at 8:30am and drove him down to the ADT centre where Charles was already queuing. It turned out that Lawrence was not necessary for any of the procedures! Charles literally just had to point him out. He did not even have to go to the counter. Fortunately he had the company of Miguel, Charles’s delightful young son who kept him entertained. Anyway, the car was in our possession on Friday afternoon at long last.

So, off to Golden Bay that evening for supper in the Beach Cafe there. It was a glorious evening, the sunset on the still sea making us yearn to slip a canoe onto the water. The bay is bordered by high cliffs which makes it a very sheltered beach for swimming which is the weekend pastime for the Maltese in summer. Beaches to be avoided then. The cafe is right down on the beach and there was a serious game of ladies’ beach volleyball going on. It was obviously a team practising and they were very impressive!

Valetta Fireworks 2011

When we got home we sat up to watch the fireworks over Valletta from the balcony. It was the annual international fireworks competition, with entries from Italy, Austria, France, Malta all done to music. Some of the entries were very spectacular, including some that looked like gigantic palm trees. We are at quite a distance, but got the flavour of it all.

Ceiling in Carmelite Priory Church, Mdina

On Saturday, I finally got to go to the concert held twice-weekly in the Carmelite Priory in Mdina. It was a flute concert of Bach’s music which was appropriate for the baroque surroundings. The flautist was very accomplished and delivered his music to a small audience of 6 in the priory’s oratory – fortunately a small room. The concert comes free with the ticket into the priory which is €4.

Oratory where concert took place

Malta is full of contradictions. The Carmelites are a strict order where silence is enforced, monks stay much of their time in their cell, only coming out if required for duties in the monastery. The cells are spartan to say the least. Contrast that with their Carmelite Church. I have been to the main cathedrals here with their famous grandeur, but I was totally unprepared for the impact of the dark colours of the drapery and the wooden panels, the soaring ceiling with its beautifully painted dome, the seven chapels around the periphery, each with its own magnificent artwork, fiercely gilded and decorated. That so much could be contained in such a small church was almost overwhelming. It seemed not so much an uplifting place as one which exerted a historical pressure, an awareness of the depth, intensity, and relevance of its particular role in the community, both monastic and in the wider community, past and present. I certainly had an awareness of the multitude of people who had been there before me over the centuries. Any of you who come to Malta will not be disappointed if you visit it as part of your tour of Mdina.

Carmelite Chapter Hall

Up early on Sunday and down to the fish market in Marsaxlokk. We have been there many times, but not early enough to see the fishmongers with their fresh catches from the local boats. The king prawns here are gigantic langoustines, and the salmon steaks I bought were twice the size we would get at home. Octopus and squid (alive!), shellfish, ling, lampuki, mullet, skate – though may have been a small ray! – swordfish etc etc. I think this is the best market here. It is only a 20 minute drive. The Maltese come here before 10 o’clock to buy their fish and produce, then leave it to the tourists’ stalls. The serious vegetable, fish, and bakery stalls pack up then.

Fish Stall, Marsaxlokk

I have downloaded a recipe for Maltese rabbit stew, so I think I will have to find some fishy local recipes too. Wish me luck. I may yet turn into a Maltese cook!

Marsaxlokk Fisherman

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It’s Here!

After a gap of more than four weeks, we have been reunited with our little car. It was picked up form our house on Tuesday 29th March and arrived safely in Rabat, Malta on Friday 29th April. In between, it has been resting on dock-sides in Southampton and Italy or travelling on the high seas.

Car Just Arrived

Looks Odd in Maltese Plates

We don’t normally mention people by name on the blog but have to make an exception for Charles and Doreen of Oracle Services who handled the import of the car into Malta for us. They were in continuous contact with us from well before the car left England. Importing a car into Malta is a rather tedious and bureaucratic process, and can be quite difficult,  intimidating even, if you are not familiar with the procedures involved. Charles and Doreen made the whole thing completely painless and we would strongly recommend them to anyone moving significant items into or out of Malta.

We took final delivery on Friday afternoon, just as Jaqui was at last willing to be pulled away from the television and the Royal wedding! So it was off to Golden bay for a simple dinner on the beach in the little restaurant which sits right down on the sand. We were both in a Maltese mood and had rabbit pie.

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Third Week in Malta

Monday
This week begins on Monday, with a trip to Mosta market. Mosta is our neighbouring town and the main church boasts the third largest unsupported dome in the world, being larger than St Paul’s by 22ft, and only surpassed by the Aya Sophia in Istanbul, and St Peter’s in Rome! During the second world war, a bomb burst through the gilded ceiling of the dome while hundreds of people were sheltering within and failed to go off – an event now known as the miracle of Mosta. You can see a replica of the shell casing there. Good true story!

Mosta Dome

Mosta Dome

Anyway we took the scenic route lasting over an hour – the journey should only take ten minutes  – because we had got onto the wrong bus, which only went to Mosta after a substantial tour of the island. It was a lovely day so we didn’t really mind. Once in Mosta it became clear that one of the most prevalent commodities in the market was the humble brassiere. There were millions of the things – none of them tasteful – and their serried ranks were tended inevitably by men! Not a John Lewis fitting service! Clothes were also much in evidence, with a few bakery, veggie and household stalls scattered in between. Good shoes.

Went to see the little Chapel of Our Lady of Good Hope that Lawrence had discovered at the end of his first walk, and the little grotto there. It is a typical Maltese shrine with figurines, candles and flowers.

Then onto the right bus back to Rabat. We had an amazingly good value sandwich lunch at a new contemporary restaurant in an old pedestrian area there which had just opened and which we will certainly inflict on any visitors. It was accompanied by hot, hand cut, just cooked potato crisps. A smoked salmon and a toasted ham and cheese sarnie with delectable salad and home made crisps for under €5 is superb value. We are going there for dinner on Saturday night!

Back home to watch the footie and do some harp practice.

Tuesday
Out early – 8am – to catch my little greengrocer barrow-boy, while L went for a run.  Wonderful fresh produce, straight from the farm. Broccoli heads as big as footballs! Rest of the day spent catching up with admin things and rearranging the kitchen. Had a nasty surprise when the central halogen light in the kitchen exploded with a huge bang and showered us with glass shards. Fortunately the bulb was not a big one, but it did give us a start! Handyman in to fix it I think.

Checked out the pool, but still a bit too cold to swim in. Saw a large locust/grasshopper insect, and lots of pipits. Made a change from the sparrows.

Getting good at the local Times crossword, even managing the cryptic one now. Newcastle/Man U a disappointment.

Wednesday
Off to Valletta for a social do with the local Masonic lodge and one of the British residents’ social clubs in Malta. Aperitifs in the bar, a talk in the lodge room about particular aspects of Freemasonry and then a hearty lunch, with fabulous herby mushroom soup (tarragon). Convivial company and found out a lot of stuff which will help us bed into Malta better e.g. easiest way to get an ID card which everyone has to have here. This was held in a very old building , the first floor of which would have been the official rooms of one of the Knights of St John. The dining room had the original iron chandeliers. I kept looking for Errol Flynn to no avail. Pity!

Back then via the bookshop where I indulged myself and bought a reference book on the prehistory of Malta. It is part of a series covering the whole time span up to the medieval period, so 3 more to go. Then I will have to find all the second world war stuff. That will keep me busy for a while.

Also Copa del Rey final between Real Madrid and Barcelona tonight. Can’t wait. It is a late game. Hope I can stay awake.

Thursday
Game won by Real last night. First trophy in years and they go and drop it off the top of the celebration bus, which promptly ran over it! Very embarrassing, but I dare say no-one will forget that victory even if they forget the details of the match.

Quiet day. Stocking up on food over the Easter break. It is a bit more difficult without a car, as everything has to be carried. My fold up Sainsburys bags are great for that. Fortunately the local shops are all close by. While in the shop I got information about the village Easter procession where the local religious dignitaries and various relics/statues/icons are carried through the town tomorrow night – Good Friday – so we will go and hopefully get some photos.

Our Apple TV arrived so Lawrence spent the morning configuring that so now we can play our music collection, and watch videos etc through it and get everything else available on iTunes. It is not a TV, but a little magic black box which wirelessly connects the TV screen to the computer. Fabulous. I now have no excuse for not doing the exercises on the video I brought with me.

Had a good music practice, but otherwise nothing to report. Even the weather is unremarkable today with a chilly wind, low visibility and much lower temperatures than in the UK just now.

Friday
Good Friday and another dull day (weather-wise). Easter confectionery here includes wonderful heart-shaped festival cakes with colourful icing and gold wrapping – very stodgy. The Maltese seem to commemorate everything with food of some sort or another. Combined with the low cost of wine, I think we are going to have to be very disciplined if we are not to expand more than our horizons!

Six o’clock and off to a church square where the procession was due to pass. There was a steady flow of people joining us from side streets as we went, so we were reassured we were going to the right place. When we got there, many folk had already put chairs out to bag a place along the procession route, and the crowd gradually got bigger and bigger until there were many hundreds watching from every available vantage point. Some lucky souls had a great view from their balconies – accompanied by tea or something stronger perhaps.

Typical Statue

The parade began with a procession of the local scout and guide groups who were slow marching to a sombre drumbeat and a plaintive tune on a xylophone. This was followed by a series of representations of Biblical scenes with very realistic costumes and artefacts. The scenes included depictions of Christ’s time from Gethsemane to the crucifixion and interment.  Huge statuary tableaux,  were carried on large, beautifully carved mahogany pallets, threaded by poles which were supported on the shoulders by typically eight men in white robes, with four additional supporters, in black suits, who assisted when the procession was stationary – which it seemed to be for more than 50% of the time. The platforms looked really heavy but it is a matter of great pride to be a bearer. Some positions on the poles have been in the same family for generations.

There were about 10 of these major tableaux and the other members of the parade were dressed as Romans, tribesmen, and other relevant protagonists. The costumes are very realistic and those of the Roman soldiers in particular can cost upwards of 1000 Euros. There was a great photo in the local paper of an elaborately dressed Roman centurion on his mobile phone – another village of course! The local brass band also made an appearance, but it too  was playing sombre – although very melodic – music.

Onlookers

It brought home to us how much Catholicism and religious practice is a part of this island’s culture. While everyone was festive in mood, the numbers (100s) participating in the parade itself, the detailed work that went into the costumes and tableaux, and the numbers watching all attested to how important these events are to the Maltese.

Penitents: Hooded and Dragging Chains

By the time the parade finished, it was 9.30 and we were very cold. The weather here has not been as good as we expected and it seems UK is having a wonderful time in the sun! So my slow-cooker soup (left on) made with delicious smoked hock – the meat here really is very good – was a very welcome supper.

Saturday
Still windy but getting sunnier. No smog here though. Learning some new tunes with Lawrence. The marble floors carry the sound fabulously, but our neighbours assure us that they cannot hear anything, so I have to hope they are telling the truth!

Off to our local restaurant for dinner to see if it is as good for dinner as lunch. Lawrence had a very good  fillet steak stuffed with rabbit liver pate, and I had langoustines in a light curry sauce. His was really good as were my prawns, but mine was a bit spoiled by a bed of very overcooked, slightly spongy vegetables. The starter and pudding were great. Negotiating the shells of the prawns in the curry sauce was messy. White trousers not a good idea, but fortunately no mishaps. House wine cheap and good. I’d give it 8/10, but next time I will skip the veggies and opt for a salad. Nice walk home to our books.

To be continued next week. Hopefully we will have our car then and have more to report.

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Technology Update

In the very first post to this blog, where we announced our plans to move abroad, I mentioned that I wanted to cut back seriously on the amount of time spent in front of the computer and in dabbling with various forms of technology. To that end I was considering, among other things, dispensing completely with an Internet connection at home and depending on public wifi here in Malta. So how have things turned out technology wise?

Internet

Well, I relented on the Internet connection. In fact, our kind apartment owner, knowing my background, ensured that fast broadband was up and running before we even set foot in Malta! Since the apartment is large (300 square meters), she actually had two separate local networks installed, with one router covering the front of the apartment and a completely independent one at the rear.

Dreambox (left) and 1st Router

I am however still trying to limit the amount of time I spend on here. Also it’s mostly entertainment items like facebook, blog-reading (RSS via Google Reader) and a little bit of blog writing. We are without a car for a couple of weeks (ours has only managed to get as far as Italy) so there is a bit more time for blog-writing at the moment!

Printer

I lasted two days before ordering a printer from Amazon UK. It arrived within a week and was up and running in almost no time. It’s not that we do a lot of printing (mainly just boarding passes) but we have got into the habit of scanning almost all documentation, storing it online and recycling the original. For example we had to keep receipts for some items we bought for the apartment. Rather than fiddling with pieces of paper we scanned them so that they could be emailed to the apartment owner.

I chose a wireless HP all-in-one that can do duplex printing if required.

Satellite TV

This was a must, in order to cater for Jaqui’s football obsession. Again, it was all installed by the time we arrived. But it’s not Sky as we know it in the UK! The satellite receiver is a Dreambox 500HD. There are 9000+ TV channels and 2000+ radio stations listed, most of which are not receivable. There is no overview of the programs available by group of channels. Also, even when reception for a particular channel is possible, it sometimes disappears unaccountably. Programming a group of favourites using the remote is a nightmare.

Finally I called up the installer and asked him for the root password for the Dreambox. After some discussion I managed to fool him into believing convince him that I knew what I was doing and he relented. So now I can operate the whole thing from my laptop, select and change channel with one click and also create groups of channels by drag and drop.(Did I say “groups”, of course I meant to say “bouquets” – they use the French terminology on Dreambox – all new to me.)

I’m using a free piece of software called iDreamX. Brilliant!

Apple TV

I’m in the dog-house with this one. We gave up our LoveFilm subscription a couple of months before leaving the UK and replaced it with an Apple TV as our source for movie-watching. It worked very well, apart from needing to wait for up to an hour while the movie downloads in the first place!

Being small and portable, the Apple TV would be perfect over here, especially since there are two flat-screen TV’s in the apartment, one of which is not connected to the outside world in any way. Jaqui is raring to go with some instructional videos she has on iTunes.

The reason I’m in the dog house is that I forgot the remote for the Apple TV. I immediately ordered another one on Amazon but it is the one thing that has so far failed to appear. :(

SatNav

Before coming out here I tried to upgrade the European map to the latest version on our Tom Tom, since it now includes Malta. However the Tom Tom refused to talk to the Mac and, when I reluctantly got the PC out of mothballs and fired it up, it refused to talk to that either. I’ve also been told by others that there have been problems with Mac and Tom Tom ever since the latest (Snow Leopard) release of the Mac software.

So we bought a Garmin. We are not pleased with it. The user interface is quite different from the Tom Tom and seems much more old-fashioned and less intuitive. For me the most irritating thing is the lack of information on the main map display. The Tom Tom can continuously display the time, estimated time of arrival, distance to destination and estimated driving time to destination all at once. I’ve become used to glancing down at the Tom Tom to get a feel for how the journey is going, even when I don’t need it for directions.

The Garmin only shows one of the above pieces of information at a time. if you want to change, say from “estimated time of arrival” to “distance to destination”, you have to navigate to another screen and choose the single piece of information required and then navigate back to the map display. Not advisable when driving either. Grrrr!

MacBook Airs: 11″ (hers) and 13″ (his)

These have been brilliant and we haven’t the slightest regret at the changeover from PC to Mac. They are simply a joy to use.

Skype

We have both invested in Skype pay-as-you-go accounts which allow us to call real phones in the UK, US and other countries for the price of a local call. This has been invaluable for the daily call to Jaqui’s mother and also to other friends who are not into Skype-proper.

If anyone would like a conducted tour of the apartment and a view over Malta from the front terrace just Skype us (preferably Jaqui on the 11″ machine) and we will give you one from the Macbook Air’s webcam.

Mobile Phones

Jaqui still has her UK Blackberry on full service from her UK number. This is a bit expensive but unfortunately she signed up for a 2-year deal on a new Torch last September, well before we had the brainstorm and decided to move abroad. (Actually, from conception-day, circa 15 November 2010, to moving-abroad-day, 1st April 2011, is pretty good going, if we say so ourselves!)

I said goodbye to my Blackberry contract with Carphone Warehouse/O2 at the beginning of March. I then discovered that I could have full Blackberry service for any calendar month in the UK on Pay-as-you-go provided I spent at least £15 on top-up in that month. A drop from £45 per month to £15 per month with zero change in service. A result! I have now packed away my BB in the UK and will reactivate it during visits home.

Over here it’s not been so good. Vodafone quoted €50+ for the cheapest phone and SIM before starting to buy PAYG. So I’ve decided to wait until our first UK trip at the end of May and pick up Jaqui’s old BB for use as a PAYG over here. Have not looked into the BB side of PAYG here but really I don’t need instantaneous email any more so I will be happy to use it as a simple mobile phone. It will be employed mainly for communications with “basecamp” during my walking trips on Malta and Gozo.

Bits and Pieces

We have our Kindles with us – indispensable when carless, as we are at the moment,  and doing lots of waiting for buses.

Also the iPod touch, which hasn’t seen much use but will doubtless eventually come into its own.

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Kingston Update

A friend has asked for an update on Kingston the cat who was planned to be with us here in Malta by now.

We got his rabies injections and other inoculations done, and applied for and obtained his “pet passport” to enable him to travel. He can come to Malta now, although he would have to complete three weeks in quarantine, or he can come after mid-July (6 months after the completion of his rabies procedure) without needing any quarantine.

Kingston

Kingston in younger days

Kingston seemed to be a bit under par at the beginning of the year and our vet, after a series of examinations, pronounced him to be suffering from heart failure with probably only a few months to live. She strongly advised against shipping him to Malta and felt that he might not survive the stress of the journey.

We decided to have a second opinion and took him to the veterinary hospital at Dursley in Gloucestershire for a (very expensive!) scan. The news here was much better and the specialist said that, with the right medication, there was plenty of life in the old boy yet. He now takes his “heart pill” every morning and complains if you are late with it!

At the same time, out of the blue, Jaqui’s mother expressed an interest in having Kingston, at least until the mid-July period when he can travel without quarantine. So that’s where he is now and he seems to have settled in well.

As it happens a close friend of Jaqui’s mum, who used to visit almost every day, died just two weeks before we left. So Kingston is doing a great job of filling the gap that has appeared in her life.

We are both missing him badly but he’s probably best where he is, at least for the time being.

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Second Week in Malta

Sunday
A day of “holiday” for the Maltese who go out to lunch, and often have their festas on that day. Today was the Festa Fawli or strawberry festa held in Mgarr, a town whose church has a silver dome. It has also the only oval dome on the island.

So, off to the park and ride at the craft village set up for the occasion. After a long queue we got onto the minibus and off to Mgarr to see the famous strawberries. The town was heaving with people, all carrying bags with strawberry produce, liqueur, cake, fruit, jam, nougat , plants etc.

The crowds were so large we could not get anywhere near the stalls, but the atmosphere was great and everyone was enjoying the sun and the live performances by local singers. There was a gigantic cake somewhere, but we did not manage to find it and I think most of the “events” were scheduled for much later.

So we learned that next time we either go very early for the produce or later for the events. We lunched on maltese date pastry and an enormous 2-flake ice cream, then back to the minibus.

Oh, and we may be on Maltese TV!

Monday
Lawrence went for his first walk in the Maltese countryside. He began from home and walked to  Chadwick Lakes, which were historically part of the water system of Malta. This series of dammed steps down a valley is home to many beautiful flowers, butterflies, birds and snakes also I expect! His photos can be seen on http://legsit.com. From there he had to fight his way through head high grass flanking the overgrown path to Mosta, where he got the bus back home.

My day was more prosaic. Got to know the butcher, the baker, (no candlestick maker), the pharmacist and the optician. People are really friendly here.

Our printer arrived in the afternoon, and we then took off in our cranky hire car to Marsaxlokk, a colourful fishing village in the south, where I bought a handbag from one of the market vendors, and strolled along the front where the fishermen were mending their nets on and off their bright boats called luzzus.

Lawrence spent the remainder of the afternoon/evening setting up our printer until the football in the evening. I am so pleased we have still got access to our Sky channels. I would have missed my football!

Tuesday
Easy day. Went to see Fort Rinella, just along the coast to the southeast of Valletta. This is a very interesting fort, as it was built into the hillside, grass encouraged to grow over the roof for camouflage from the air. It is home to the biggest cannon in the world – the Armstrong 100 ton gun which takes a charge of 2000kgs of gunpowder and a shell of 1 ton which has a range of 8 miles and accuracy of 4. It was never fired in anger, and costs so much to fire that it is only done rarely.

A bonus at this location was the underwater filming set which is one of the best in the world, with films like Troy, Raise the Titanic and others. Malta is no stranger to filming as Gladiator was also filmed there. Apart from the two very interesting locations, the  area is not very pretty and entry to the fort is expensive. so glad we did it, but will not include it in a tour for guests!

Wednesday
Took car hire back this am and the day went downhill from there. Got the bus to Sliema, hoping to get some stuff in Boots there. However, Boots sign seen, store non-existent! On the long one and a half hour journey from Golden Bay, I developed a migraine and lost a part of my visual field, which, given my recent eye problems was a bit scary! OK though.
We decided to get a cuppa and a pit stop. Jax gaily went down the stairs to the loo while waiting for the tea and soon discovered that she was locked in and could not get out. Banging on the door did not bring anyone for at least 5 minutes. The man who came to my rescue did so by kicking one of the vertical walls back into true. They move apparently and regularly lock people in! There was no loo roll either!!! Thank goodness for Kleenex!
Back to the bus, hoping for an uneventful journey home. Called into the bank to collect a security device for our Maltese bank account. This was completed easily, but on the way out I missed the small step and the tenor of the day reasserted itself as I went head over heels, ending up on my back like Kafka’s beetle! Thankfully no harm done, only to my pride.

Made it safely home tucked firmly into hubby’s arm for pills, tea and TLC. Much better. Real Madrid/Spurs match tonight. Should be good. A demain, mes chers – sorry, can’t speak Maltese yet.

Thursday
A much better day. Pottered about in the morning with some harp practice, and then agreed speedily to L’s invitation to lunch in Mdina, our neighbouring, medieval city to do a bit of tourist research for our future guests. Paid a large fee to go into the “Mdina Experience” exhibit, but not really worth it. Three elements, which were more of a refresher for those who know about the city already, rather than a truly educational experience.

Lunch was much better. We had it in a courtyard trattoria – 1530 AD – which lived up to it’s reputation as one of the best places to lunch. It is part of the famous Xara Palace hotel, one of the oldest in Malta. Surrounded by gnarled, limestone balustrades, galleries and archways, it was a delight. Maltese portions though – waddled home! More chilling, then early night.

Friday
Cold, drizzle, a day for staying in and harping. New kitchen knife arrived. Good quality kit is so expensive here that it is better to send for what you really need and have it delivered from UK.

Food is cheaper though. Am missing the car, though we can get all we need from our local shops. The people are friendly and helpful, but prefer to do business in Malti as we are not in an ex-pat area, thank goodness. We are going to learn the language and have identified a teacher though not yet made contact.

Have heard that the car will arrive in Italy on 17th, so a few days after that we should have it here. It has been a saga, costing us around €5K to get it transported and registered here. Despite that, it is cheaper than buying a car here, where prices are twice what one would pay in UK.

So tomorrow off to the Medieval Carmelite Priory in Mdina for the twice weekly classical (solo) concert, and then to Sky TV for the footie/tennis/marathon.

Saturday
Well, no concert today. While tucking enthusiastically int a piece of sesame brittle from the local confectioners, Lawrence broke a piece off his tooth. So, how to find a dentist?
Our delightful landlady turns out not only a prestigious medic, but also the owner/operator of a comprehensive medical establishment which includes dentistry! Off we go to a very impressive clinic where the offending tooth was repaired for a pittance (unlike at home!) and we promptly decided to register there for all our health needs.
The rest of the afternoon involved football, Manchester derby, followed by Real Madrid/Barcelona. Our Sky box decided to go off-piste 10mins before the end of the Spanish match, so we retired to bed at midnight, not knowing the result!!

Sunday
Well at least they drew! Ironing day today. Halfway through decided to go to the farmers market close to the craft village in Ta’Qali, so rushed to catch the bus. The driver very kindly dropped us off right at the market, but with later consequences, did not tell us where the bus stop back was! Lots of lovely vegetable stalls mixed in with the inescapable clothing (brash) and shoe (very worth investigating!) stalls. Some good things if you dug deep – eg some handmade wooden furniture. L bought a wallet and I hunted for a hat without success, and having bought some lovely bananas we headed off in the direction we thought the bus would go in. You guessed it – not a bus stop anywhere. By the time we found one, we had walked halfway home! Still it was a nice day, everyone had a happy face, and we had engaged with another local resource. If we did it again, we would not go over lunchtime as it seems that there is a morning market and an afternoon market with different traders in each, and the changeover is around then. Something to bear in mind for the future.

The day was rounded off with another success, when we finally managed to complete the (Malta) times cryptic crossword. And then, Like Zebedee, so to bed.

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First Week in Malta

Well, we have been here for a week now and are getting impatient to be getting on with familiarising ourselves with the island’s wonderful historical sites, but are being handicapped by having to get our infrastructure in place. Sounds very grand, but really means buying ironing boards/irons and finding supermarkets,

Food and drink cost less than at home, but any sort of gadget that has to be imported is hugely expensive – simple ironing board is €35! and bathroom scales €90!!

I am enjoying driving over here tho’ the hire car is not the sturdiest of beasts. Ours arrives around 15th and we have enlisted the help of the Malta agent of the transporting company to negotiate the nightmare of Maltese transport regulations. So that should go smoothly.

My harp arrived on Wednesday and is settling down now though she needed frequent retuning after the journey. so I can now get on with my practice. The apartment is all marble floors so the resonance is fabulous and playing and singing are a delight – for me if not my neighbours.

They seem nice and include a dentist, professor, TV producer/director and an airline pilot.

We are off tomorrow to the Strawberry Festival in Mgarr where all things strawberry happen, including a world-record sized cake – mind boggles!

No pictures as yet, but soon.

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The Journey To Malta

It was a strange feeling to be tidying the house prior to a trip but knowing that we were actually leaving for good.

I don’t suppose that many people move house or emigrate by Ryanair! Actually it turned out to be a good solution as we had determined from the start to reduce the clutter in our lives and limit the amount of our possessions to about 50 Kg in total. We paid the additional fees for two checked bags and weighed them very carefully so that each was within a few grams of the maximum allowed of 20 Kg.

This attention to detail proved to be worthwhile as several folk in the queue ahead of us at the bag-drop were sent away with little slips detailing their excess baggage payment. We would later sit on the plane next to a couple who had been charged £50 (about 80 USD) for being just 2.5 Kg over the limit. Jaqui cheerfully explained to them that they could have had an extra 15Kg and an extra bag for less than half what they had just paid.

We also packed our carry-on bags to the maximum of 10Kg and also stashed about 8Kg each in our Scottevests, making for a total capacity of 76Kg, somewhat more than our original target!

I was expecting to be hauled aside by airport security and wasn’t disappointed.

English Concertina

I took my metal-ended one. It's loud!

I had an English concertina in my carry-on bag which meant that 120 small dense pieces of metal (the reeds) would show up in the X-Ray machine, arranged in a hexagonal pattern.In addition I was carrying almost all our electronic accessories, including 12 USB/power cables, 2x500Gb hard drives and an apple TV. As a traveller who wants to remain safe myself, I would have been unhappy if someone was allowed to take this kind of package on board unchallenged.

I remembered on a previous occasion, flying into Muscat, Oman with a concertina in my bag, and being asked to play something to prove that it was really a musical instrument! I had decided that, if a similar request was made on this occasion, I would play the ‘Pershore Plum Polka”, a great Worcestershire tune composed by our friend Moira Gutteridge in 2010. I might as well have taken a harp to the party :(

In the event I was asked to unpack everything from the bag and all was gone over carefully using some kind of magic wand which I assume detects explosive material. Interestingly the gadget doesn’t seem to work in real time. It collects data and is then plugged into another machine for analysis. It was done by a lady security agent who was quite chatty and cheerful, albeit extremely thorough, and who was a breath of fresh air compared to the surly and humorless characters often encountered in these situations.

Although we normally prefer to fly Air Malta, we have become very used to the low-cost airlines and have found them to be very effective, provided you are familiar with each one’s particular methodology and stick carefully to their rules. Except when we are moving house, we fly carry-on only and usually pay the extra for speedy/priority boarding to get a seat near the front and, more importantly, guaranteed space in the overhead bin. The vid below made us chuckle though.

NB: Strong Language Warning! – at least if you are are someone who, like me, finds it difficult to accommodate to the peculiar status of the work “feck” in Ireland, being in common use there among respectable Irish grandmothers. (BTW 50p is about 80 cents US).

We arrived after 9.00pm and elected to spend the first night in the Golden Bay Radisson, mainly for the convenience of easily picking up a hire car the next morning from Rose, the Drifter hire car rep who had been so helpful to us before.

We arrived at our new premises on the Saturday morning to be greeted by a magnificent basket of fruit and food supplies for the weekend all laid on by the lovely lady owner of the apartment. We took possession of the keys, waved goodbye to her and then began to explore our new home. Luckily it was pretty much as we remembered it. Some photos below – more later. (Click to enlarge.)

Main Room 1 Main Room 2

Now we were looking forward to a week mainly of shopping and organising. More to follow!

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The Big Move: March Update

Only two weeks to go! March has been a very busy month with lots of admin jobs related to the move and the tying up of many loose ends.Mercedes A-Class

We have decided to ship our car to Malta. This involves a great deal of bureaucracy and a  lot of expense, including a massive registration fee of more than 4000 Euros. However, given the cost of cars in Malta, it’s still the better option. All our Maltese contacts advised us to import our existing car. It is being picked up to begin its long sea journey on Monday 28th March.

We sold a canoe on ebay and donated a lot of “stuff” to a local charity shop, enabling us at last to vacate our container at Ridgeway Farm. It was a bit sad saying goodbye to Malcolm, Jo and Nick who run the storage operation and have been a pleasure to deal with.  The farm, with its spectacular view of the Malvern hills, has always been a delight to visit when accessing our container.Malvern Hills

It has been a month of travel. I have been winding down and handing over my involvement in the Grand Lodge Universities Scheme, which has required recent journeys to Birmingham, Swansea, Bristol, Bath and London with a final visit to Cardiff on Friday of this week. Jaqui and I were in Manchester last weekend to bid farewell to our friends at Internet lodge.

We have also travelled to the Optegra Hospital in Hampshire on three occasions for what we hope was Jaqui’s last eye operation. All seems to have gone well and her sight in the right eye is improving by the day.

We have started packing in earnest and already our self-imposed limit of 50Kg in total is proving a challenge!

Packing!

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Our New Home in Malta

We have just returned from an enjoyable week house-hunting in Malta. This time we made a break with tradition and stayed at a different hotel than usual, the Radisson overlooking Golden Bay in the Northwest of the island.

Radisson Hotel, Golden Bay, Malta

The rooms were very well-appointed (I have to admit, superior to those in the Phoenicia) and, to our surprise, included a small kitchen. We took advantage of this by doing a bit of self-catering with benefit both to the wallet and the waistline! We only partook of the hotel breakfast a couple of times but I have to say it is one of the best breakfasts I’ve experienced in any hotel, anywhere in the world.

We had great weather during our stay, mostly sunny and mostly 17°C  during the day. Since we had been warned that “February is the worst month of the year” in Malta, we felt rather encouraged. If it rarely gets worse than this we will have no complaints. (Mind you, it’s looking a bit windy in the Grand Harbour today – 19th Feb 2010.)

We looked at a good number of properties, mainly villas in the area of Mellieha in the North. Most of the villas were attractive, all with swimming pools and some with sea views. All would have been acceptable but none particularly stood out for us. We looked at a couple of apartments on the seafront in Sliema (one had a jacuzzi in the living room!) but they weren’t to our taste.

One place we had considered was the ancient citadel of Mdina situated “on the top of Malta” at one of the highest inland points in the Island.

View of Mdina from near our apartment

There are magnificent town houses in Mdina, some dating back to the 15th Century, but as we have a town house here in England we were looking for something completely different in Malta. We were persuaded to look at an apartment in Rabat, the village adjoining Mdina. On entering the front door of the apartment, Jaqui and I shared a brief moment of eye contact. This was it! We cancelled all our other appointments and arranged to sign the contract the following day.

The apartment in the grandly-named Verdala Mansions is large, more than twice the floor space of our house in England. It has spectacular views extending over half the island with the sea in the distance. The decor and furniture are very much to our taste. There are communal gardens and a communal swimming pool. Although the rent is a little more than some of the villas we saw, the running costs in terms of heating, A/C, garden and pool maintenance will be less. Also it is safe and easy to lock up should we need to return to England for a time.

The pool at Verdala Mansions

The owner is a delightful lady with whom we hit it off straight away. She and her husband are both very prominent Maltese citizens and we are looking forward to getting to know them. We are very pleased to be living in Rabat. Although we are only a 10-minute stroll from the Mdina city gate (see here for some good photos), we are well away from the tourist area and very much in a local Maltese community.

We hired a car for the remainder of our week and went exploring some of the more out-of-the-way places on the island. Although the main roads are much improved in recent years the others can be very rough indeed!

Finding a place to live was great fun. But some of the other tasks involved in moving country can be quite trying. The worst so far has been the issue of the car. After much research we have decided to ship our own car to Malta. This will involve paying a yet-to-be-decided registration fee in the range of 5000 Euros, performing emission tests and the completion of much paperwork, all of which must be finished within a few days of the vehicle’s arrival.

We have booked our one-way flight for April 1st. No it’s not a joke!

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The Big Move: January Update

January has been a very busy month, making preparations for the move abroad.

We spent New Year’s Eve in Malta with an excellent, gourmet seven-course meal at the Phoenicia Hotel after which we joined the Valetta street party.

The Phoenicia Hotel, Malta

Our favourite hotel in Malta

The atmosphere was wonderful, with a fantastic Maltese band, Fakawe, so that we stayed out until after 2:00am – the first time we’ve done that in many a year!

During our visit we met up with Jenny Stevens, who is the Secretary of the local British Residents Association and got some very useful information on tax, health service and residency issues in Malta.

Once back in the UK, work on the transition began in earnest. In one week we:

  1. Downsized the car from an E-class to an A-class
  2. Changed banks
  3. Changed from PC to Mac

The car was an obvious change to make. There is no point in leaving a large, expensive vehicle depreciating on the drive at home while we are out of the country. We still haven’t ruled out driving the new car to Genoa and taking the ferry to Valetta. It would be a good size for Maltese roads and cramped city car park. However the rules on importing cars to Malta aren’t exactly straightforward and this needs further investigation.

We’ve changed banks to HSBC in order to be able to hold multiple accounts in different countries, in different currencies and still be able to manage them all from one internet banking screen. HSBCAlso there are no fees when exchanging currencies. Although we had no complaints about our existing banks, I have to say that we have been very impressed by the professionalism of the HSBC teams we’ve been dealing with, both in Worcester and in Malta. Our Maltese bank manager is a very affable fellow and was happy to spend quite a long time on the phone with us when setting up our Maltese accounts.

The change from PC to Mac (by far the most exciting of the three!) has been an eye-opening experience. The Mac’s seem to be superior in almost every department. We went for two MacBook Air laptops, Jaqui an 11” and me a 13” model. They are amazingly light and extremely well constructed. It requires a little bit of patience to learn the differences between Windows and OS X. I would recommend a “how to” book if you want to make quick progress with the Mac.

As an ex-IBMer I have been a “PC” since 1981. I’ve always seen Apple computers as somewhat of an irrelevance and just not for someone like me. With their reputation for ease of use, I’ve always considered them as being for non-technical types.

MacBook AIr 13"

A Thing of Beauty

As a rather geeky power user of Windows and the DOS command line, I though the Mac would be a bit soft. How wrong can you be.

It only takes a little digging to discover that OS X has much more depth and interest for nerdy users like myself. Under the covers it’s a Unix operating system (which brings back memories) and I’m having a lot of fun getting to grips with it all.

Jaqui has been working hard on finding a nice place to live. I believe she is now on first name terms with every rental Estate Agent in Malta. She has compiled a target list of properties and we will be going out in Febuary to make a final choice.

For those who asked "Where exactly is Malta?"

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The Porters are on the move!

Big time.

In 2011 Jaqui and I will both reach the milestone of 60 years of age. Recently we have had an increasing feeling that our lives are drifting along, mainly under the influence of forces outside of our immediate control. In retrospect, we feel that we have not made the best of our early retirement nine years ago. This is about to change. The Porters are going walkabout!

In 2011 we are moving to the Island of Malta. We expect to be there for at least 2 years. After that our plans are flexible. We may stay there for longer but our current thinking is to experience life in several countries before returning to the UK. Nothing is decided yet beyond 2013 but our itinerary could be something like:

  • 2011: Malta
  • 2013: Spain
  • 2015: South America
  • 2016: Antipodes
  • 2017: North America.

The essence of the decision is very simple: if we don’t do it now we’ll never do it.

Jaqui’s Mother

We moved to the Midlands in 2009 to be close to Jaqui’s mum who was not at all well. Thankfully her health has improved to the extent that we feel comfortable setting out on our new project.

We will however be keeping our Midlands house on, unoccupied, in case we need to return at short notice. The house will be available for use by friends, especially those visiting the UK from abroad.

Another piece of good news is that Jaqui’s mum has been cleared to fly, so we hope she will be joining us for some of each year.

Our Stuff

Despite two major downsizing exercises in the last five years, we still have far too much stuff. In our walkabout we will be limiting our total possessions to less than 50Kg in weight. This means that we will be renting furnished accommodation abroad. Currently we are looking for a villa with a pool and sea view which we hope will be an attractive place for our friends to come and visit!

Before we leave we will complete a further massive reduction in what we have at home. Currently, in addition to the contents of our house, we have a 21 foot container packed full of furniture and equipment. We are ceasing our two most equipment-intensive hobbies, caravaning and canoeing, with immediate effect. The caravan and canoes, and all the related materials, are being sold and the container discontinued.

This still leaves us with plenty of hobbies, including music (harp and concertina), bridge and long-distance walking (me walking, Jaqui as base camp). Jaqui’s folk harp will be shipped to Malta as soon as we have established our new residence.

Technology

Currently we run a home office with two laptops, a terabyte of network-attached storage, printer/scanner/photocopier and several filing cabinets full of paper. Additionally we both run blackberries with a full data plan and full synchronization with Google apps. We also have 2 Kindles and an iPod Touch. I spend a minimum of 30 hours a week on the computer, much of it in voluntary work supporting various websites and other admin activities.

We will be leaving nearly all of this kit behind. We will be limiting ourselves to two Pay-As-You-Go mobile phones and one lightweight Apple product such as an iPad or 11” MacBook Air. We will not have an Internet connection at home (either in the UK or in Malta) and will be dependent on occasional access to public wifi. This will enable me to make a complete break from intensive web-development work and spend more time out-of-doors.

Kingston the Cat

Kingston is an important part of our small family and will be coming with us to Malta. He has already had his rabies injections and will soon have his pet passport, enabling him to travel within the EU.

Freemasonry

Freemasonry has been a source of great pleasure and inspiration to me for many years. I have taken on many ceremonial and administrative responsibilities which, although time-consuming, I have found very rewarding. In 2008 I was greatly honoured by appointment as a Grand Officer by the Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Kent.

However it is also fair to say that my Masonic commitments have played a role in preventing us from making the best of our retirement in other areas. I will be ceasing my active involvement in UK Freemasonry as early as possible in 2011.  I will be handing over all my current roles and responsibilities, including web development and webmasterships, in a planned manner but with minimum delay. I will be retaining membership of my various Lodges and Chapters but will not be attending.

As it happens, I am a Past Master of Union of Malta Lodge No 407 and, as a result, have Masonic friends in Malta. I may therefore occasionally visit the English Lodges still working in Malta.

On our eventual return to permanent residence in the UK, I will re-engage with Freemasonry but, to be frank, probably never to the same level as before.

What Next?

We hope to be resident in Malta by April 2011. There is a lot to get done over the next couple of months in terms of logistics, finances and handovers. We are off to Malta for New Year to get the ball rolling over there.

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