The Streets of Antwerp

Waking up in Ghent is an experience in itself. Our room at the B&B we were staying in, was only a couple of floors up, however the night before, I had purposefully left the curtains of the two large windows open, so as to be able to see the sun rising over the medieval streets. I say ‘we’, but I really mean me. The bf started grumbling as soon as the first shaft of light hit the pillow, so I had to get up and close the curtains, however (and this had been my intent all along) I took the opportunity to take a couple of photos before going back to bed.

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The cobbled streets were silent and deserted. As I watched the alley across our room, an early-bird (possibly a baker judging from his overalls) locked his house behind him, got on his bike and pedalled off to work. Cars, of course, are not permitted within the small historic streets of Ghent. Only bikes. And boats of course. Did I mention the fact that Ghent is full of canals? Like Bruges, some actually call it the Venice of Northern Europe!

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More of that later. After another short nap, I heard the landlady tapping at our bedroom door, signalling that she had left our breakfast tray outside. As I opened the door, the scent of newly-baked bread almost made me swoon (she later told me that she went expressly for it at the baker’s at around 5.30am each day – blessed lady!). There were pots of jam, some delicatessen items, hot milk, eggs (we could prepare them on our small stove in the kitchenette as we preferred), etc… I must say it was one of the best breakfasts I ever ate. Obviously compounded by the peaceful medieval view from the breakfast table! As we ate, we planned our day, which we were going to spend in Antwerp.

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Antwerp, another Flemish medieval city in Belgium, is actually a port city, and its port is one of the largest in the world, ranking second in Europe. Its origins date back even before the 14th century. It has a large number of historical landmarks, not to mention cultural ones, since the artworks created by its famous 17th century school of painting (not to mention other arts such as weaving), were sought after throughout the world. Unfortunately, we knew we would be unable to visit as many of the places we were interested in as we would have liked, since we only had one day to spend in Antwerp, however we fully intended to try our very best.

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After taking the train from Ghent to Antwerp, while leaving the train station, I was immediately enchanted by the beautiful flowering streets of this sweet city. Colorful flowers and plants flourishing in the warm spring sun, decorated every corner, as people from every imaginable country, ethnicity and nationality thronged the pavements. Shops sporting popular brands abounded, however to be honest I was more drawn to the tall medieval gothic-style buildings which majestically reared their sculptured facades right next to them! It seemed like there was so much to see! Everywhere I looked, the past sat right next to the present, and the mad cacophony of everyday life vied with the dreamy awe galloping through my senses.

Suddenly, incredibly, I heard a burst of classical music. It was a grand piano! Yes, right there in the middle of the street! A street-artist had somehow transported his enormous polished piano amidst all the flowers, gothic palaces and grand stores, and was playing a sonata as though his heart would break. Tourists, locals, and passers-by thronged around him clicking away madly at their cameras and mobile phones. Talk about live street-art!

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And we hadn’t even visited any of the places on our itinerary yet!

… more to come in a later entry!

P.S All photos are originals, taken by me on site.

 

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The World’s perception of Malta

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of posts on social media criticizing and denigrating tourists and ‘outsiders’ who comment negatively about something which they didn’t like during their visit to Malta. The comments by foreigners are actually nothing we haven’t all heard before from the Maltese themselves. However, while it seems to be okay for the natives to criticize or attack an issue within their borders, it seems to be taboo for outsiders to give their two cents.

How dare a non-Maltese person complain about congested traffic! How dare someone who doesn’t live here write about our fast diminishing countryside! How dare such people talk about the well-apparent littering present on our shores, the obnoxious parkers, or the over-priced food?

Suddenly, it’s like we’ve never heard anyone complain about these issues before. Every Maltese and Gozitan person within shouting distance of a computer rolls up his sleeves, gets out his broken English and even more hideous Maltese orthographic skills, and starts haranguing said tourist to hell and back. Because if you don’t like it here, morru lura min fejn ġejtu (go back where you came from).

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Taking the optimistic approach, it’s somewhat quaint to see how the Maltese mentality works. Jien ngħid li rrid fuq pajjiżi (I’ll say what I like about my country), but as soon as an outsider opens his mouth, we all chum up against him, because our islands are perfect, and no Brit, Italian, American, or Korean tourist has the right to state his opinion, if that opinion is expressing negativity about Malta. And God forbid if the person is of a darker complexion!

Of course, every country has its troubles and nowhere is perfect. However, that doesn’t mean that one can’t express an opinion or point any fingers towards anyone else… does it?

Curious about this state of affairs, I actually surfed the net, read blogs and reviews from tourists, students and even business people who came to Malta. There were both positive and negative comments. I was actually proud to see how many people loved our countryside, our helpful attitude, and our own individuality as a country. On the other hand, I felt kind of ashamed at other issues which came to light. After all, no one can really and truly perceive inconsistencies and flaws more than someone whose perspective isn’t coloured by their love, history, and patriotic feelings towards their country.

Here are some points I noticed which many blogs and comments about the islands had in common:

Tourists love our food – Our special combination of Italian cuisine, meaty recipes and traditional concoctions, not to mention our very fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, are a total hit.

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The sun and heat are terrible – Most people are acclimatised to colder climates than our own, which is why almost all of them feel that they can’t cope with the hot weather on a permanent basis. Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. But Ħeq… x’tagħmel, hux? (What can you do, eh?)

The littering – Most tourists, and especially students, love to enjoy our beautiful beaches. Keeping in mind that most of them live on huge (sometimes landlocked) land masses, this is not surprising. So the amount of littering and the relatively dispassionate and unappreciativelaissez-faire attitude of plenty of locals naturally astounds them. Having seen many such instances myself time and time again, this kind of attitude really gets to me. It’s all very well and good for the authorities to promote cleanliness and environment awareness, but if we, as a people, do not change our attitude, these kind of bad habits will never change either.

Smoking – Malta was the second country within the European Union to introduce the smoking ban. But is this regulation actually enforced? Now be honest, how many pubs, clubs and restaurants have you been to where many people don’t bother going out to smoke and do it right there anyways? Hmm…

Safe Streets – Compared to other countries, Malta is a very safe place. There are minimal levels of crime, and most of these tend to be petty and/or relate to personal issues. That being said, I don’t know if it’s my impression or not, but things seem to be getting pretty heated in Paceville. Previously, many tourists and students used to visit Malta for the nightlife, however in many blogs I’ve perused, these same tourists are now warning people off Paceville, saying that it’s a rowdy place where young aggressive teenagers congregate to get drunk. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of Paceville nights and there’s nothing wrong with having a drink with friends. The rub however is that certain PV-people (let’s call them that) seem to believe that every foreigner is fair game, and won’t take no for an answer, even when said foreigner is accompanied by a partner. The high rise of many Gentlemen’s Clubs isn’t helping the ambience of the place either.

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I chose to mention these five points in particular, but there are many more issues, both good and bad, highlighted in travel blogs and comments about the Maltese Islands. As already said, no country is perfect, and these issues definitely exist in other places too. However as a Maltese native, it is my country which interests me and which I want to shine, which is why I don’t like reading negative comments – both by locals and non-residents – about Malta. Most of all, I hate the fact that these comments are based on truth. So, instead of going into a tirade against these foreigners who criticize our island, wouldn’t it be better to actually do something to improve our standards instead?

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This article of mine was published on EVE.COM at http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/09/27/the-worlds-perception-of-malta/ 

Beloved Boyfriend’s Birthday Weekend

Last Saturday was my bf’s birthday. It’s the third one we’ve celebrated togather so far, and it was the big 30, so it actually made quite a visible dent (so to speak).

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I had been maneuvering and negotiating dates and places with our friends for more than a month (5 weeks to be precise), and I finally got what I set out to do. A gem-packed weekend full of diverse activities, and yet still having some ‘private time’ for ourselves.

Now there’s this one thing we and our friends do when there’s a birthday looming up. We never tell the birthday boy or girl that we are meeting or where we are going. We genuinely try to ‘surprise’ them, even though at this point, after years of asking the bday person if they want to ‘go out for a drink’ in a certain area right before, on the day of, or after their birthday, has become a sort of tradition which they can see right through. However it is kind of a long-standing joke, so we still do it.

So, on Friday evening, I asked my love if he felt like ‘going out for a drink’ somewhere in Rabat. With a glint in his eye, he said ‘sure’ and out we went. While we were trying to find parking, we ‘accidentally’ stumbled on two of our friends searching for parking in the same area as well. ‘What a coincidence!’ I exclaimed smiling, ‘Wow, I wonder what they are doing here!’ he replied. Lol.

We found parking somewhere a bit far from where our friends had left their car, so we lost them for a time. I walked towards the restaurant I had booked two weeks before, and as we arrived in front of the entrance asked him if he ‘felt like’ popping in for a drink. ‘Bit weird to pop in for a drink in a Chinese restaurant isn’t it?’, he remarked with a laugh. We went in and lo and behold, there were our friends! It’s obvious that he saw it coming, but he enjoyed it anyways. It was a very relaxing evening and at the end we even finally told our friends something which we had been hinting at, but never actually confirmed – that is, that we have bought a house togather. They were really thrilled for us 🙂

On Saturday morning, which was my bf’s actual birthday date, I took him out for a birthday brunch in a restaurant on the beach, called ‘Apple’s Eye’. I really love that place, the day was sunny, yet terribly windy. It was so windy in fact that my bf’s toast literally blew off the table! It was so funny! We took some photos and afterwards went for a stroll on the beach. There were some people sunbathing but no one was swimming. I guess the water is still too cold.

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In the afternoon, we took a nap and had some time for ourselves. Then in the evening, we started getting ready for an Industrial/Gothic Heavy Metal Party in Paceville, which a friend of ours was hosting and Dj-ing, in honor of those born under the star of Taurus (it was his bday too). My bf’s photo was on the poster ^^ The party was great. We drank, we danced, we freaked out to the beat, we met up with friends, had a laugh, and many cuddles and kisses on the dance-floor too. Afterwards (at around 3am) we took some take-away food. It was glorious. I love eating after booze and excitement.

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We went to sleep at around 4.30, cuddling in the ever enroaching heat. Semi-drunk, full of food and happiness. On Sunday, we woke up late. We played some ps4 (both of us are gamers), cuddled some more, and then in the afternoon I again asked him if he wanted to go out ‘for another drink’. Needless to say, we met some more friends. We went to a restaurant in Mellieha which my bf had been angling at and mentioning for ages. It was a meat-eatery (he loves meat) where we had some really delicious chicken, beef and pork.

What can I say, I am honestly unsure who enjoyed this weekend more, my bf or myself.

Finally – Imbolc is Coming!!

Pronounced: EE-Molc
Incense: Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Decorations: Corn Dolly, Besom, Spring Flowers
Colours: White, Orange, Red

While for many people, next weekend is a normal weekend like any other, for Pagans and Wiccans the world over the 1st and 2nd of February are very important, as the Wheel of the Year turns once again, and the festival of Imbolc is celebrated and enjoyed.

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Imbolc, found between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, marks the beginning of Spring, and is also called Brigid’s Day. Historically it was mostly observed in Wales, Ireland and Scotland and the Isle of Man, where this aspect of the Goddess was most predominant, and it is one of the four Celtic fire festivals.

This is yet another Pagan tradition which the Romans, and through them the Christian sect, warped and appropriated, turning Brigid, Goddess of the Spring and New Life, into their Christianised representation – Saint Brigid – lol surprise, surprise. When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was hard to convince people to get rid of their old gods, so the church allowed them to worship the Goddess Brigid as a saint — thus the creation of St. Brigid’s Day. Today, there are many churches around the world which bear her name. The Christian version of Imbolc is also called Candlemas.

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This is a festival of hearth and home, involving hearthfires, divination through fire, as well as the joyous celebration of the coming Spring. It commemorates the changing aspect of the Goddess from Crone to Maiden, the successful passing of Winter, and the emergence of new leaves and greenery.

It is Feile Brighde, the ‘quickening of the year’. The original word Imbolg means ‘in the belly’, and therein you have the underlying energy. All is pregnant and expectant – and only just visible if at all, like the gentle curve of a ‘just-showing’ pregnancy. It is the promise of renewal, of hidden potential, of earth awakening and life-force stirring.

Like Persephone coming out of the Underworld, Brigid represents the light and bright half of the year.

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Celebrants prepare a special meal on this day, as well as weave rushes or stalks of wheat or barley, into what is known as a Brigid’s Cross, symbolising not just the human figure, but also the seasons and the elements. Brigid’s symbol is often hung on doors and windows, in order to symbolise the household’s welcoming of Brigid into their home.

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It is traditional upon Imbolc, at sunset or just after ritual, to light every lamp in the house – if only for a few moments, or light candles in each room in honor of the Sun’s rebirth.

Traditionally, some covens also have their ritual Maiden wear a ‘Brigid’s Crown’, a wreath made of fresh flowers and green grass, and sporting 12 small candles around, as representation of the fiery Goddess.

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Foods appropriate to eat on this day include those from the dairy, since Imbolc marks the festival of calving. Sour cream dishes are fine. Spicy and full-bodied foods in honour of the Sun are equally attuned. Curries and all dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic or chives are appropriate. Spiced wines and dishes containing raisins – all foods symbolic of the Sun – are also traditional.

MERRY IMBOLC!! 😀

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Lohri – Another aspect of Yule

I did not write about Yule last December, basically because everyone else did. We all know what Yule is – it is a celebration of life which takes place during the longest night of the year. When the year is at its coldest and the earth is the furthest away from the sun, which physically takes place on the 21st of December – the Winter Solstice, when the Goddess brings forth the God in darkness, as a sign that from now on, all will be life again.

It is a festival of the sun, which is present in its absence. It is a time of joy amid the terror. A time to remember what we have, when it all seems so distant and far away.

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I did not write about Yule, but now I wish to at least mention the Festival of Lohri, which takes place in India today, on the 13th of January. Lohri is another manifestation of Yule, celebrated in a Northern region of India. People come out of their homes to celebrate their winter crops, of which the main one is wheat. They celebrate the promise of what is to come. Renewed life.

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In the evening, with the setting of the sun, huge bonfires are lit and the people dance and sing around them, praying for abundance and prosperity. Lohri celebrates fertility and the joy of life.

As we move closer to the feast of the Goddess Eostre, who with her eggs and hares, symbols of fertility, leads us to the Spring Equinox, we sing in joy and are grateful for the life, the love, and the beauty which surrounds us. We let go of the ugliness and minutiae which clog us down everyday, and bask in the light of those who came before.

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