Places to visit for FREE in Malta!

When people start thinking about going abroad on vacation, one of the first things they generally ask about, is whether the country they are interested in is ‘expensive’ or not. What they are referring to of course, is not the normal cost of living, since they will probably only be there for a week or two at the most, but whether tickets to interesting places and/or events are worth it, how much can dinner cost, and whether you have to break the bank every time you go out, if you really want to enjoy yourself.

Fortunately, many natural attractions and amazing places and events in our islands are either free of charge, or else very cheap to visit. Where you go and what you do depends, of course, on your own personal inclinations and preferences, however I feel quite safe in saying that there are places which no one can but appreciate.

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1. Go to the beach – whether it’s summer, spring, winter or fall, Maltese beaches are always there free to be enjoyed by anyone. You can swim, snorkel, jog, have a picnic (making sure to take any litter with you), or even just enjoy a quick coffee while you look at the waves and meditate. No costs involved.

2. Visit the fish market at Marsaxlokk – taking place each Sunday morning, the Marsaxlokk market, though most famous for its freshly caught fish, offers many other treasures to be found by the intrepid explorer, within its quirky traditional stalls which meander around Marsaxlokk Bay. This is an open-air market, and therefore free to visit. Beware however, although most items are quite cheap, you may find yourself buying more than you bargained for!

3. Stroll around Valletta – rich in Baroque architecture, medieval heritage and photo opportunities, Valletta is perfect for those who wish to ‘look around’ without having to buy anything. Admire the Grand Harbor from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, visit Saint John’s Co-Cathedral and gawk at its artistic masterpieces, and take a look at the newly restored Triton’s Fountain. During 2018, Valletta is hosting the Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture, which basically means that there are a myriad of free exhibitions, events, and open-air performances taking place around the city almost every week. Definitely not to be missed.

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4. Explore San Anton Gardens – if you have children, or just love animals, this is surely the place to go. San Anton Gardens are located in central Attard and form part of the Presidential Palace. This beautiful very well kept botanic garden, houses both flora and fauna, and is interspersed with fountains, walkways, ponds and cosy corners. A very pretty place to go if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city-life.

5. Trekking – instead of spending money on a gym membership, why don’t you walk or hike while exploring the beautiful Maltese countryside? Whether it be Fomm ir-Riħ on Malta’s Western Coast, Dingli Cliffs situated in the Northern region, the South-eastern Delimara Peninsula or Għasri Valley in Gozo, the islands of Malta offer a vast array of natural places where one can stop and breathe the fresh air while taking a relaxing walk, or a more energetic jog.

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6. Nightlife – During the summer, the Maltese islands flourish with the onset of weekly village festas dedicated to different patron saints and showing off the best of what traditional Malta has to offer. The fireworks, the night markets, the stalls, the entertainment, is all free, though of course once you smell a whiff of those freshly baked pastizzi, you’ll probably be tempted to open your wallet (don’t worry, this street food is quite cheap). In winter there are usually no festas, however there’s always Carnival in February and Easter in April, which always include a number of open-air evening activities. There are also a huge number of ‘Wine-fests’, and fairs focusing on particular products pertaining to specific localities throughout the year, such as the ‘Bread Festival’ in Qormi, the Pumpkin Festival in Manikata, the Chocolate Festival in Ħamrun or the Strawberry Festival in Mġarr. In case you hadn’t noticed, the Maltese do love their food!

This article was written by me and originally featured on the magazine LivingInMalta here.

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Minimalism and why it doesn’t work

I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts about ‘Minimalism’ lately, and they’ve been jarring my nerves for a while. Ever since I was a little girl, I was taught to only buy what I indeed needed, and to recycle or give away things which I did not need any more. This, after all, is mere common sense. Yet these days, plain common sense is so rare, that people seem to need to gird it in newer fancy words, and make a fuss over it, in order to distinguish themselves.

Minimalism is a trend which has been slowly infecting our Maltese shores, among others, during the last few years. The precepts of Minimalism embrace the aim of achieving freedom through the voiding of materialistic trappings which are accumulated in relation to a capitalistic-minded society. Originally, the onset of Minimalist per se originated as a term describing visual arts in the post-war Western world of the 1960s and 1070s.

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Personally, as I said, I understand the concept in moderation, however putting an unneeded emphasis on it, not to mention trying to adhere to its more extremist tenets, only ends in showing up that the Minimalist agenda is not only unpractical, but actually going against its own targets. While, of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with owning material possessions, equating one’s own personal value with how much money is in one’s bank account, what car one drives, or what mobile phone one uses, is obviously self-deceiving. This however, is not the issue which is actually tackled by Minimalists, whose main tenet endorses having no more than 100 possessions in total. One could for example, still own and brag about only a few costly items, while having less than 100 ‘things’. So, in actuality, having a few items does not necessarily mean disassociation from the idea of material gratification. Attaching meaning solely to ‘things’ rather than people, personal experiences, or emotions, is the seeming crux of the Minimalist credo, and yet, having chucked all but a few of one’s possessions in the bin, does one really end up forsaking the company of his/her pc, or the fascination of an XBOX (if one keeps one of course), for human contact? Not likely.

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Others maintain that Minimalism targets excess, that it leads to better prioritisation, and that it ultimately leads one to spend less. It advocates discipline and de-cluttering, yet its oppressive regime and illusion of control sees one stressfully trying to get by without certain commodities, which, instead of leading to some kind of transcendental ‘freedom’, actually ends, in many cases, by causing an even bigger backlash of ‘materialism’. Minimalism is anxiety-inducing in that one ends up feeling a failure if one cannot conform to it. Optimising the use of minimal products can lead one to over-technologize one’s lifestyle in a bid to use tools or IT systems which do more with less, leading to the conclusion that Minimalism is a movement targeted towards those who are well-off, and not towards the majority, since it also actually results in more money being spent. Once you chuck something you are keeping in case you might needed it in the bin, you cannot get it back – meaning that you’d have to re-buy the item when you actually do need it. Again, this goes against the aim of ‘spending less’ targeted by Minimalism.

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Yes ultra-capitalism is a sickness. We are not our things. Yet, if the other end of the spectrum offers only extreme austerity promoting a Spartan repressive lifestyle, this is just as detrimental. In the end, human beings need to express themselves, they need to optimize their own style, and feel free to overindulge in moments of tension, in order to be fully at peace with themselves. 

Minimalistic decor can have a therapeutic effect, especially if one suffers from OCD-related problems, however there is an invigorating liberation in a spontaneous carefree use of space. Feeling comfortable and at home in one’s own personal space definitely leads not only to creativity and freedom of expression, but also to a more inspiring and eclectic outlook. Wealth is not how many things you have, or how expensive they were, it is the ability to have options and to be able to fulfill them.

If you want to give more worth to important things, try creating certain tools instead of using mass-marketed ones. Try to jazz up or individualize your space instead of latching onto an easy conformity. Re-use and re-cycle instead of chucking out ‘outdated’ stuff you haven’t looked at in a while. Don’t limit yourself or your options. Instead, embrace a more positive and DIY attitude.

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Clutter and chaos is not something to strive for. On the other hand, living in a wasteland is not conductive to an energetic outlook either. In the end, extremes are not beneficial to anyone. There is nothing as healthy as balance.

A slightly different version of my article was published in the online magazine LivingInMalta.

Mini-Break in Sicily – Day 1

We were quite lucky this December as Thursday 8th and Tuesday 13th, which are Maltese national holidays, made it possible for us to take a 6-day break from work without taking too many days off. Since people don’t work during National Holidays we just needed to take Friday 9th and Monday 12th as Vacation Leave off from work and off we went for a 4-night mini break to the nearby island of Sicily!

Thanks to Ryanair the flight was only 30euro each – yes with the return flight included! And we only needed hand luggage for those few days so we didn’t even need to pay for extra luggage.

I just love Sicily. Had already visited twice, once during the first year with my boyfriend (it was our first holiday together) and the second time was just last June! Thing is flights there are so cheap and there is so much to see and experience that I never tire of going there to relax and explore!

We usually take the flight to the Airport in Trapani and stay in the Western side of Sicily. This time we took a flight to the Airport of Catania on the Eastern part of the island instead so we visited an entirely different region.

The flight from Malta only took 35 minutes – yes we are THAT close! We arrived in the afternoon and there was enough time to visit the Christmas market in Catania itself before heading to the self catering apartment we had rented in the historical city of Noto, which is approximately an hour away by car from Catania.

I admit, the Christmas open market was smaller than I thought it would be, yet its charm was that everything was handmade and so very cute and original! Loved those stalls!

After a quick trip to a local supermarket for milk, cereal and other needful things, off we went to discover our new apartment which we had only seen in photos. Needless to be said we were charmed – wouldn’t you be? Look at my pics!

That night we decided on a quite eve in. We wanted to enjoy some time alone plus the excitement had tired us out. We cooked some burgers and chips and cuddled while planning what to do on day Number 2… not to mention enjoying that big TV!

More about Day 2 in a future post!

New article BY MOI – Online Shopping: Is it really Safe?

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Have you ever sold something or bought something online? I’m guessing that most people have – either because the item in question is cheaper, not found in Malta, more to our taste, or for any other reason, buying and selling things on the world wide web has become something common and for many, even a pastime.

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One must be very careful when dealing with monetary transactions online however, since obviously, there are traps and pitfalls one can encounter on the internet, which are quite different from the ones present when you buy an item from someone face to face.

Just the other day for example, I was browsing through Maltapark.com and came across something which I thought would make a good anniversary present for my other half. I contacted the seller, asking more information about the item, however the seller refused to give this information, telling me to contact him on his mobile phone instead. While I understand that it is easier to communicate on the phone than through email or chat, I decided to wait a couple of days, until I perused more websites as well as a couple of stores for the same item, in order to compare prices. I also dislike giving my mobile number to strangers, which is another deterrent when buying something from Maltapark.com (websites like ebay.co.uk or amazon.com are more comfortable in this regard, since they do not need your mobile number, just your address for shipping purposes). I sent an email thanking the seller for his help, and that was that.

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Lo and behold, as soon as I opened my email on Monday morning, I found a very abusive communication from this Maltapark seller, calling me a miser and a time-waster (as well as other unsavoury things) because I hadn’t called him after all. Needless to say I was astounded. Was this the way one treated prospective clients? Of course not. However the fact that this seller was hiding, so to speak, behind his Maltapark username, as well not having to face an actual person ‘in real life’, seemed to have developed the idea that nasty and uncalled for behavior was acceptable. In other words, he felt like he had nothing to loose, so, being anonymous behind his screen, he felt free to vent his frustration at me when he thought that I was not going to buy the item from him. Bad mistake. In fact, I had been about to contact him again, however this episode established that I wouldn’t buy anything from him in a million years for sure, which is what I told him. Thank all the gods I never gave such a person my mobile number, and that Maltapark is not a website which, as such, facilitates such monetary online transactions directly through one’s bank account.

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Even though online sellers and buyers never actually see the person they are doing their deal with, there is still normal civilized etiquette to consider. Just because you don’t meet someone face to face, does not give you the lee-way to transform into a nasty beast. Apart from the fact that a person who hasn’t bought anything from you today, may very well buy something tomorrow, or recommend you to someone else – what about normal human decency? Why do some people feel it’s ok to degenerate into squalid baboons, just because they are hidden behind a screen?

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In the case I mentioned, the transaction (thankfully) never actually took place, so certain problems were destroyed at the root. Things however, can get even worse once one actually pays online and sends the money for an item which, for example, never arrives. How does one get his/her money back? In some cases, like for example when one buys from ebay.co.uk (especially using security websites like paypal.com), there are actual contractual clauses that each seller using the site is forced to adhere to, unless they want to be penalised. However when it comes to other, perhaps less popular or well-known sites, this is not the case at all. What about those sellers or companies which sell you one item, but send you another? How can one complain and enforce their purchase after it’s done, especially if the seller in question lives in another country, and refuses to reply to any emails or calls?

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It is easier for sellers to entrap or misguide buyers, than for buyers to do the same. This is because generally, sellers only post the required item after they have received payment, thereby mitigating any chances of fake transactions or fraud. On the other hand, unless the website used contains the necessary policies and structures, buyers are very much naked amidst the fury of the storm, so to speak, in that they have to trust implicitly that the seller will post the right item at the right address, and not just take the money and run.

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What do you think about buying something online? Have you ever been cheated in an online transaction?

—- A version of this article was published on the online magazine EVE – http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/07/30/are-you-safe-when-shopping-online/