Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year's Eve in Malta

Now I try not to personalize this blog too much, because I want it to be about Malta rather than, for example, my nephew's christening, which may be of less interest to the general reader.

However regarding New Year's Eve I have a problem.  Or rather two problems:

1.  I am working tonight and quite probably won't finish before midnight.

2.  I am also feeling very sick with a killer chest infection and so even if I do finish early the only place I am going is bed.

This presents a problem as to how to adequately represent the New Year's experience here in Malta.  I may have to rely on my roving reporters, if I can get any sense out of them.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Kinnie! - The (non-alcoholic) Taste of Malta

It may surprise you to discover that Malta has a soft drink all of it's own - none other than (heavily advertised) Kinnie.  According to it's website,  Kinnie is a "unique tasting, refreshing beverage... made from bitter oranges and a variety of aromatic herbs".  Now the first time I tasted Kinnie, I concluded that it's unique taste was rather reminiscent of what would happen if you took a load of bad and definitely gone-off oranges, juiced them, and then stirred in some 'aromatic herbs' to try and negate the taste somewhat.

But I must be fair here.  I've tried it again since, and it could just be a grower.  I think 'like' is still too strong a word, but it has improved on further tastings, so maybe my palate is adapting.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Valletta - Crucial Information.

The tiny capital city of Malta.  It is very very small.  Really. 

Interesting Facts about Valletta:
  •  This is Europe's smallest capital city, and only about 7,000 people live here.
  •  The chess olympics were held here in 1980.  I don't know who won.
  •  Oliver Reed died here while filming 'Gladiator'.  He had a heart attack in a pub called 'The Pub', which now attracts more customers as a result.  Circle of life.
  •  Valletta contains more monuments per square metre than any other city in the world.
  •  Valletta is the capital of Malta, but Birkirkara is the biggest city.  Although 'city' is being generous to Birkirkara and rather insulting to actual cities.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Best Full English in Malta? - Il Buco (St Julian's)

Don't look too closely.
I had an uneasy feeling about this place when I walked in the door.  Firstly I was the only patron under the age of 70.  Secondly, the three other patrons were all drinking Bavaria at 12pm on a Sunday and nobody was eating anything.  It is supposed to be a restaurant/cafe but was looking a whole lot like an old man's bar from where I was standing.  Anyway, I decided to give it a go.

The guy was very friendly, breakfast turned up without too much of a wait.  €4.50 for breakfast including coffee.  (Which was good).  Milk with the coffee was bad.  (Which was bad).  Eggs burnt, bacon an unusual colour, cheap sausages. (Which, obviously...).  Look, it is not gonna win the prize.  This place gets good reviews for it's Italian food, and they are good people, but I suggest you look elsewhere at breakfast-time.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas in Malta - Cribs!

Mdina glass Christmas tree.
The Maltese like Christmas, I think it's fair to say.  With street decorations and lights all over the place, it's not so different from Britain or Ireland, except for the rather significant fact that here blue skies in December are the norm and there is no danger of getting stuck in a snowdrift on your way to work.

A popular feature of the Maltese Christmas experience is the Cribs phenomenon.  Now calm down youngsters, I'm not talking about your MTV nonsense, but a crib  in which you might find representations of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in familiar poses.  It's quite the thing to wander round and examine different cribs in shopping centres and at roundabouts and particularly in special indoor exhibitions, although I confess to finding myself immune to the thrill.  Here's a picture of one to give you a flavour:

Now I must point out that the photo on the left shows what might be referred to as your 'common or garden' outdoor crib, known as 'il-grotta', or 'the cave'.  The full-effects, and more elaborate version is called 'il-presepju' which I guess you could translate as 'Maltese crib'.  Some of the il-presepju look a little bit like what a battle-field modeller might create if he had a lot of free time on his hands, (like this one for example).  Except here the supporting cast consists of weavers, farmers and bagpipe players, rather than, say, orcs, centaurs or Napoleonic troops from the late 18th century.

Lots of towns exhibit these complicated affairs, and although I saw one in Mdina didn't think to take a photo.  So here's another link to someone who did.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 19 December 2011

How to find Books in English - Secret Bookshop (Updated)

Agenda is the big book chain around these parts, but is kind of expensive.  And of course you can quite easily download i-books but you don't need me to tell me that.  You and your fancy i-pad.

If you want the physical manifestation of a book without paying full-whack, a better bet is to go to somewhere like one of the touristy-shops down near Sliema ferries. You can pick up second hand books for about €2 there and you can usually find something decent in amongst the garbage.

Or there's another option.
If you want a cheap book, if nowhere else can help, and if you can find it............ maybe you can try (what I have come to know as) The Secret Bookshop.
I swear there was a bookshop here a few days ago...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

How to get a Job in a Casino in Malta

There are four casinos in Malta that I am aware of, so your options are somewhat limited.  They are (and please excuse me if I've omitted any):

Portomaso Casino (Paceville)
Dragonara Casino (Paceville)
Oracle Casino (St Paul's Bay)
Casino Vittorioso (Birgu)

If you want to work in any of these, you should check out their websites for vacancies.  There are generally jobs available for bar and cleaning staff, but to work on the tables is a little more difficult.  If you have some experience, then no problem, send in your C.V. and you have a good chance of getting work.  Otherwise, look out for 'poker schools' advertised under the vacancies section of the casino websites.  Even if you have had no previous experience, you can sign up for one of these schools and try to master the art of dealing.  Usually the course will run for a couple of weeks in the evenings, and if you are deemed to be good enough, they will give you part-time work and you can take it from there.  Note that the Portomaso and Vittorioso casinos favour people who speak Italian as well as English, as a lot of Italians come over to Malta to gamble.  Roll the dice...

(Click here for info on work permits for non-EU citizens)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

St John's Co-Cathedral and 'The Antichrist of Painting'

St John's
Right up there among the most worthwhile buildings to visit in Malta, particularly impressive once you go inside. Among other things, it is home to what is generally regarded as one of the artist Caravaggios best paintings.  He spent a short time in Malta whilst on the run from the law after accidentally killing someone in a duel, and so a few of his paintings have ended up here as a result.  Man kills another man 400 years ago in a Roman backstreet, and beautiful paintings hang on Maltese church wall today.  That's life.

Have you ever seen the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris?  If you haven't, don't bother, it looks just like that image you have of it in your head.   And also you won't have to contend with 40 people taking terrible photos of it through a thick plexiglass screen, so they can show their unimpressed friends on facebook.  The 'Mona Lisa' may be the most famous painting in the world but it's certainly not the best.  It only acquired it's fame in the early 20th century by virtue of being stolen and so appeared in papers all over the world.  I don't even buy that stuff about 'capturing her enigmatic smile'.  I reckon that's something art critics came up with when everyone started asking them what the big deal about it was.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Best Full English in Malta? - Cafe du Brazil

Cafe du Brazil in Vittoriosa (or Birgu) enters the fray to try to become Malta's leading purveyor of the English breakfast.  Before saying anything else though, it should be noted that Cafe du Brazil features precisely Zero Brazilian foods on it's menu, (not even Brazilian coffee), and has no Brazilians working there. So go look for your feijoada and caipirinhas elsewhere.  Maybe somebody went out to Rio for a couple of weeks on the Copacabana or maybe they just like the way it sounds, I don't know.

Okay, back to the breakfast.  They weigh in at €4.90 for your 2 sausage; 2 bacon; 2 egg; beans, tomatoes & 2 toast.

A decent effort, little bit bean heavy though, which is never a great sign for the connoisseur of greasy fries.

So not quite the best of the breakfasts, and certainly not remotely Brazilian, but pretty good just the same.

How to get a job as an English Teacher in Malta

First things first - to work as a TEFL teacher in Malta you need to get a teaching permit from the Education department here in Floriana.  The requirements for this are simple enough:

- Recognised TEFL certificate (minimum 60 hour course)
- A-level qualifications (or equivalent such as Leaving Certificate from Ireland)
- Police Conduct certificate
- Passport
- Birth certificate

That's all you need.  But if you don't get the teaching permit you won't get a job, not for more than a few weeks certainly.  Once you have this (and it shouldn't take too long to sort out the provisional cert) then you can hit the streets with your C.V. and try to find a school to take you on.  From May to September is the busy period here and work is not hard to find if you have any kind of experience.  You will not be able to buy a yacht with your earnings, but it will finance your stay in the sun.

For a full list of all the English language schools in Malta, go here.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Best Full English in Malta? - Surfside (Sliema)

Heavyweight contender here.

This is called a 'Paul Gascoigne', and the chunky Geordie legend would doubtless by proud to lend his name to an early morning feast like this one.  (I can see a young Gazza getting stuck-in to one of these, sticking chips up his nose and so on... great character). The price is a little bulky too at €6.90, but for me it's worth the extra and gets a definite thumbs up.

There is still room for improvement though, so no resting on laurels is to be done at Surfside.  For example, I have yet to find a fry-up here which contains some of the crucial ingredients one might expect of a meal bearing the prefix 'Full'.  I understand that black pudding is not to everyone's taste, and that white pudding suffers from a criminal lack of appreciation outside Ireland & various Northern parts.  And hash browns don't really say 'English/Irish' breakfast to me, bit American really.  But what about the Mushrooms!  Come on Maltese cafes, there are plenty of mushrooms lying about the place, go on, stick some of them on a plate beside your sausages and eggs - they taste good.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Restaurant Review: Fontanella Tea Garden

This cafe (or 'tea garden' if you will) has become almost compulsory on your 'to do' lists of Malta.  That's assuming you're not just visiting the country for a week of getting smashed in Paceville at night and lying on the beach the next day trying to get well again.

Dan eats the cake

Chocolate and Orange
The Fontanella Tea Garden is situated right on top of the bastion walls of the walled city of Mdina.  So you can sit there eating cake and looking down upon what seems like half of Malta.  And the cake is important, you have to eat the cake.  Even if you're like me and you don't particularly care for cake - Eat the Cake.  It is good cake.

In between spoonfuls of the Cake, I wondered about the people who may have stood in the same place in centuries gone by, ducking Saracen arrows.  I also wondered about the ratio of defensive usefulness compared to the enormous effort of building a walled city, and decided that the cake probably made it worthwhile.

Mdina (and that's pronounced "Im-Deenah", if you're wondering)

Narrow streets
Almost six months after arriving in Malta, myself and Dany finally got our respective asses in gear and went to visit what I remember some guidebook or other describing as the 'jewel in the crown' of Malta.  Or something like that.  Anyway it is very well worth a visit and shame on me for not doing so earlier.  You get to Mdina from St Julian's on the 202 or 203 bus which takes what feels like a ridiculously convoluted route, but that's a complaint for another day.  Mdina is the old walled city which is now effectively part of the town of Rabat, and you can while away an hour or so wandering through it's tiny streets and checking out cathedrals and museums and suchlike.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

How to Speak Maltese in Just 30 Seconds!

Maltese (or 'Malti' to be more accurate) is a language with roots in Arabic mixed with Sicilian/Italian and as such is almost completely incomprehensible to a native English speaker like myself.  Just about everybody here speaks English, so unless you feel some kind of preternatural yearning to devote years of your life to studying a difficult language known to effectively 0% of the global population, I would advise sticking to the following:

"Bongu" (pronounced bonjo)  means 'good morning;
"Allrrrright!?"  means 'hello, how are you?'; and
"Mela!" works for just about any conversational interjection you care to make.


Speak Maltese here.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Curious Neighbours

We've got these neighbours across the road from our apartment.  In the summer we called them the Curious Neighbours because every day they would stand out on their little balcony looking down onto the street.  Three women and (sometimes) a  man, middle-aged to women-of-a-certain-aged.  Every time somebody would come down the street the necks would crane, slowly tracking the unwitting pedestrian as he or she went by.  Were said pedestrian to do something such as throw a crisp packet onto the ground or leave bins out on a non-bin day, they would receive a verbal reprimand from above.  If the person was known to one or all of the Curious Neighbours then a bellowed conversation would ensue, of varying lengths depending I presume upon the closeness of the relationship.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Bar/Bistro/Restaurant(??) Review: Little Things

Okay, so now how to describe this place?  I've never actually eaten a full meal here, but I've tried beer (from a can, fine) and variations of German sausage (lets say they were of "variable" quality).  It's got a prime location in the heart of St Julian's, but it's just a little... well, here's the type of sign you will find pinned outside the door:

The response to this must be that while of course such a thing is indeed Possible, it is by no means Preferable or indeed Desirable.

I have watched enough episodes of Kitchen Nightmare's to know that cluttered menus and ill-conceived promotions are a recipe for disaster in the restaurant game.  For the Love of God: just call it a German beer-hall or eatery or something, serve good German beer and sauerkraut and stop messing about with curried bockwurst.

But hey, the owner and his wife are both lovely people: he'll come out and drink a beer with you and chat about the turning of the world and whatever else occurs.  So you should definitely go along and check it out...

... unless you see a sign like this one up on the door:

Malta Bar Review: The Dubliner

As a Dubliner myself, it's only right and proper that I start here.

Every day as you walk along the seafront between Sliema and St Julian's, you will notice a gaggle of pasty-faced citizens perched on stools outside of The Dubliner contemplating pints of beer. This is the place where a lot of ex-pats come to complain about Malta and reminisce about Ireland/England/Scotland (delete as appropriate).  Good beers, good food, good staff and good big screens for the football.


Malta. Odd.

It's a strange country.
60 seconds walk from my apartment to this... hard to complain.
There, I've said it.  A mish-mash of different cultures, lumped together on a rocky island in the middle of the Mediterranean, half-way between Europe and Africa.  Kind of like that girl that doesn't look anything special most of the time, but who surprises you with her beauty from a certain angle or in the right light.
There are no rolling green plains here, no lakes or rivers or mountains, a melange of different architectural styles marred by ugly apartment blocks and poorly thought out developments.  But occasionally beautiful just the same.  And the weather covers a lot of the cracks.. when you're looking at blue skies over blue seas you forget about that nasty hotel looming behind you and the dingy backstreets of Sliema and Gzira.

How to get an ID card in Malta - Updated

**click here for information on how to get the new e-residence card**

As bus fares are now 1.50 EUR for everybody for a full-day ticket (instead of 2.60 EUR for those without the ID card) that is one less reason to go and get a Maltese ID.  But as you will see below, it's still worth doing.  

close-ups are tricky for my camera
So this is how you go about getting your resident's card like my one here (as you can see, it's no good for travelling outside the country..).