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?

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

Different but Exciting!

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So, here I am again on the brink of another adventure. In another two hours I will be on a plane off to the Italian island of Sicily for a much needed break. Goodbye stressful everyday life, hello sunny beach, ancient ruins, beautiful nature reserves and mysterious mystic monasteries!

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This holiday will be a bit different from the ones I usually enjoy with my other half. This is because, for once, it will be a SUMMER holiday. Usually we tend to travel more during Autumn/Winter because, let’s face it, travelling and accomodation rates are cheaper at that time of the year. This will also be the first time I will be swimming abroad! Sure, it will still be the Mediterranean sea… and yet, I still feel as excited as a ten year old!

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Yes, we still plan on visiting cultural sites (I just love walking amidst hundred year old ruins) BUT the apartment I booked is located just up the road from two major beaches – so we will definitely be using that swimwear too!

That’s another first by the way – usually my bf books for everything (no need for any feminists here to get on their high horses yet – we DO split the costs ofc). However THIS time the flight to Sicily itself + the apartment we are staying in were found and booked by me, as this was a birthday gift for my bf. His bday was last May, but it was nice giving him the printed bookings in his bday card and telling him we had another travelling adventure to look forward to this year. The next one, I admit, will be bigger and better – we’ll be going for a ten-day trip to Scotland next September.

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Four holidays abroad in 1 year – not bad for someone who has just bought and re-furbished a house if I may say so! *feels proud of her monetary-management skills*

Ok, no more patting myself on the back! To be sure, my bf/bae has gifted me with a number of voyages to unknown (for me) countries too, so I just took a leaf out of his book, so to speak.

Anyways, I plan on sunbathing, swimming, taking lots of pics, sampling the local food/drinks, and generally rocking it all the way! It’s not the first time we went to Sicily, in fact our first holiday togather, 4 years ago, was in Sicily. Ahh the memories… well the only thing better than having amazing memories is making new ones! So… on we go!

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By the way – the pics I pasted on here are from our first trip to Sicily – obviously it’s Winter too haha, so I bet the next photos I take will be quite more colorful!

 

Gozo – The Good, the Bad, and the Overpriced

Last Friday was a public feast in Malta, and as we had planned some time ago, me, my friends, and of course my bf, decided to spend three nights (starting Thursday evening) relaxing togather in a rustic farmhouse on the island of Gozo.

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For those who are not aware of it, Malta is actually made up of three main islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, and most Maltese view Gozo not only as a sister-island, but also as a place for them to relax and spend their holidays. The island of Gozo itself has a specific market to cater for young people, couples and families who are looking for cheap or un-expensive accomodation and services, so it is kind of a win-win situation.

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Gozo is beautiful. The flora and fauna are exactly like those of Malta, however it is a cleaner, less traffic-polluted and greener version of Malta. It is also more sparsely populated, so even though it is much smaller than the main island, one can visit beaches which are more beautiful, more scenic picnic locations, not to mention eat fresher food.

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On the other hand, unfortunately, many natives of the island, being aware of the fact that not only people from different countries, but Maltese people themselves, love to visit Gozo for short weekend-breaks, for these reasons, tend to over-do it. The farmhouse we stayed in this weekend was very beautiful, the kitchen was very well stocked with all needed utensils and everything was very clean. The pool was a bit small, but that was ok since not all of us swam anyways as the weather is still not warm enough for everyone.

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The issues started to crop up when it came to money. First of all, when my bf booked a couple of months ago, the browser suddenly got stuck as he was clicking the booking dates section and the wrong dates were booked. He called the owner of the farmhouse immediately, since we could not make it on those dates, not to mention the fact that the price was a lot more expensive than the dates we truly wanted to go in. The owner refused to cancel the booking, even though this was a genuine mistake due to the browser not working properly. In the end and after a week of trying to come to some sort of terms, the owner let us change the dates instead of cancelling them, however we still had to go three weeks before the dates we had actually wanted, due to the rates (which is why half of the people could not use the pool). Apart from that, there was a 100-euro damage protection money charge, and that was fine. The thing is, when we arrived to the farmhouse four days ago, the owner seemed convinced that we had NOT yet paid the damage-money, which, he stated, was 300 euros. OFC we had already payed… and he had told us it was 100 euros and not 300! Thank all the gods my boyfriend had saved the email and banking proof of our payment, and since we had our laptop with us, we could show that as proof. So, not only was the owner unhelpful when it came to booking, but he also tried to rob us…

Moving on, the farmhouse was not cheap and due to the booking mistake, we also ended up paying more than we bargained for, for different dates. Moreover, when we arrived we realized that while in the living room and kitchen downstairs, electricity and water heating worked normally, in the bedrooms and corridors upstairs, apart from the main ceiling bulbs, other electricity outlets like bedside lights, electricity plug-ins, and other outlets where one could plug things like hair-dryers, etc, did not work! That is, they did not work for free. You had to put two euros in a slot for these to work, and they would only work for a limited amount of time, and not for the whole hour. Same thing with the water heaters in the showers!! Unbelievable!

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Currently there’s been an issue mentioned on the media that Gozitans were becoming irritated because tourism in Gozo was diminishing due to low cost airlines, as people from Malta were preferring to go to Italy, Spain, France, UK, or other locations, instead of going to Gozo. Well, I can well understand that!! A couple of years ago I went for a long weekend break in Sicily for just 30 euros, including the return flight!! We found a really good and non-expensive hotel and the whole thing (minus the rental car) was as expensive as four days in Gozo would have been!

So, would I prefer to spend the same amount of money to go somewhere I have already been to four or five times each year starting from my childhood, or another country where I could explore new places and where water heating was included in the accomodation price…? I don’t need to tell you my answer do I??

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New Writing Commission!! Vive la France!!

I’m back! Back from beautiful Southern France. Back from the Cathar castles, Medieval cathedrals, rich countryside, cute coffee shops and romantic evenings with my one and only.

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Back to work after a week of awesome delight.

Having begun writing in a Polish tourist website focussing on castles and historical cultural sites as of last month, I contacted my editor and asked him whether he would be interested in pieces on French castles… needless to say, he was ecstatic (and who wouldn’t be?!)

For those interested, I had already posted the itinerary we were going to follow before https://ddmoonsong.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/curious-wanna-come-too-revealing-all-about-next-week-p/

Obviously things cropped up, we missed some places and discovered others, so I’m not gonna follow that exactly HOWEVER I AM going to start by drafting something about the Chateau de Lastours, which, I think, was my favourite (the Gods know how much we walked, climbed and slithered on chilly rocks to get to the darn place lol). Though I’m not totally sure, they were all so amazingly picturesque! French history is really interesting!

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It will take some time before it’s up on the Polish website perhaps… but I can’t wait to start! Collected leaflets full of interesting facts wherever I went and I also bought a very interesting book on the Cathars, so that should help as background reading.

For those who want to take a peek at the website, where there are already some of my articles on Maltese Historical Structures, here it is http://castles.today/en/castles/castles/malta/