Since I had written and presented about symposiums about the divergence and evolution of Maltese from Arabic, I decided to spend some time on the island to get more of a personal perspective on the matter. I was pretty excited because there was some interesting history, and hopefully, culture as well. Its been at different times Roman, Arab, Norman, ruled by former crusaders/pirates, and much like the rest of the globe, the British.
In retrospect, I don’t know that it was worth it, but it was an educational experience. Just getting there was expensive and kind of a trial. There use to be a ferry from Sicily that was pretty reasonably priced, but apparently now one company has a monopoly, so it turned out to be cheaper to fly. It was still cheaper to fly to Sicily to catch a plane, so my time in Malta was bookended by stays in Catania.
My first night in Malta was expensive, ended in my room flooding and damaging some of my stuff, but the upside is that the flooding killed the scorpions that were apparently living in my room. There was only one taxi service available from the airport (which was of course expensive), and buses had stopped running when I arrived, so that also cost me some money and some frustration.
I decided to move to a cheaper hostel in Sliema, which was less eventful except for someone setting the kitchen on the top floor on fire. Unfortunately, most Maltese seemed uninterested in conversation and few people seemed to speak casually in Maltese, so listening wasn’t really an option. Signs were often in Maltese, or at least toponyms, were usually of Maltese origins, so that gave me a little of the language to check out.
I took some daytrips to various parts of the island. The trips were pretty short as its not a large island, but public transit there is routinely late. I honestly don’t know if the posted schedules were out of date, but buses never showed up closer to 15 minutes late. My other option was the crazily expensive taxis, which kind of led me to wonder if there wasn’t some degree of collusion between the two. Honestly, renting a car might have been worth the extra cost.
As I said before it was hard to get a feel for Maltese culture. Much of what I saw on the island was geared towards tourists. Most hotels offered pools, which is crazy because the beaches are beautiful. I went out to find a bar with some people from the hostel one night and we were really only able to find places with overpriced, oversweetened drinks that cater to kids on vacation from Europe. I assume hotel bars and casinos is where many adults go, but I’m honestly not sure. There was a smattering of pubs, but even those were basically just themed bars filled with European partiers. Presumably the locals go somewhere decent to drink, but I never found anything like that.
Prostitution is technically illegal, but seems to be very, very tolerated, as there were quite a few very aggressive prostitutes in the streets. A lot of this may just have been a defect of Sliema which seems very Las Vegas-esque, but even other places I stayed in the North seemed to largely be resorts. Mdina and Rabat on the main island was a change of pace, but still pretty touristy.
Mdina (from the Arabic for city) is a much older walled city and former capital that still has people living in it. Its also home to some museums, very old churches, and a bunch of gift shops. Adjacent is Rabat (the etymology of which I’ve seen variously as Arabic for troop encampment, fortified monastery, and suburb), which is a bigger more sprawling village. I checked out some of the historical stuff and managed to catch a wax museum audio tour about the Knights of Malta. It was kind of an unpleasant experience because it amounted to pro-Catholic anti-Arab propaganda complete with cartoonishly villainous music when discussing the Arab legacy of the island.
The island to the Gozo was a refreshing experience in that respect. The people there were friendly, there were less European partiers, and everything was substantially less expensive. I visited the Citadella, another walled city in the vein of Mdina, and finally managed to find some reasonably priced authentic Maltese food. It was pretty good, but outside of the inclusion of rabbit, not terribly different to Italian. The Maltese do have meat pies, so I guess they have that advantage over the Italians.
The Maltese seem to have a pretty vibrant tourism industry, but overall it was kind of disappointing given my expectations. If you have money and are looking to party in the vicinity of some beautiful beaches, its great though. There were a lot of marinas and yachts, so I assume its a pretty popular place for people with boats to stop off at.