March 25, 2008

The sights of Valletta, Malta’s capital city

Posted in Exploring, Travel tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:34 pm by Lauren

The bad thing about waiting half a month to write about a vacation is that you’re sure to forget half the things you did. (This is probably not bad for you, oh reader, who really don’t want to hear every last detail.) The good thing is that you get to revisit your vacation, if only mentally. So here, I go, back to March 5…

We spent the first day of our Malta trip in Valletta, the capital, which is full of historical and religious significance for the Maltese. Valletta became the mass of fortifications that it remains today in 1566, after the Great Siege by the Turks the year before. Walking among its narrow lanes, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like then.

Valetta Malta

On the other hand, maybe that internet cafe wasn’t established back in the 16th century.

Our first stop in Valletta was Saint John’s Co-Cathedral built by the Knights of the Order of Saint John. From the outside it was simple, though large.

Saint John Co-Cathedral

But once you stepped inside, every inch of every surface was gilded and marbled and painted.

Inside the Co-Cathedral

I particularly enjoyed the colored marble tombstones set into the floor. Many had the coats of arms of the knights they covered, and some scenes were quite elaborate. I was drawn to the motifs of death and time – one tombstone even portrayed the grim reaper as an entire skeleton. Here is part of a tombstone that shows an hourglass with wings. Tempus fugit.

Marble tombstone

Saint John’s Co-Cathedral had an excellent audio guide, and we spent hours inside exploring every corner. When we came back out into the sun (oh, my eyes!), we wandered down Triq Ir-Repubblika looking for a bookstore to buy a book about hiking trails in Malta. We ended up down by the water and followed some stairs outside the fortifications, right down to the water’s edge. We then climbed up to the Lower Barrakka Gardens, where every park bench held a couple or a group enjoying the sun and the view.

On our way back to the Grand Master’s Palace, we saw a restaurant that had been mentioned in our Top Ten Malta guidebook. Though it was slightly early for lunch, the servers at Ambrosia let us have a table. I no longer remember what we ordered, but we were very happy with the food. The restaurant had a great ambiance, with the menu changed daily on the chalkboards and a larger dessert menu than appetizers and entrees combined. The ceiling had several mirrors hanging from it, all facing down into the room.

After lunch, we visited the Grand Master’s Palace, which included the Armory and the State Rooms. The Armory was fascinating and had a huge collection, but if we’d listened to everything in the audio guide, we’d have been there for days. (And, as my dad said, the audio guide went something like this, “Now take a look at these curved swords. They have large curves. Next are the swords with slightly different curves. Moving on, you’ll see some curved swords, but notice that these have more rounded curves.”) I did like the intricate suits of armor (but I’m glad I’ll never have to wear one).

After the Grand Master’s Palace, we tried to get some gelatto, but all the flavors had strange names and seemed to involve coconut. We passed. The Top Ten Malta book had suggested a one-mile walk into Floriana, which started right outside the Valletta bus station, so we headed that direction. The Malta buses are very distinctive, and many of them seem like antiques.

Maltese bus

 Our walk through Floriana was nice, but the highlight was seeing 15-20 stray cats in the Botanical Gardens. They were everywhere! I took an embarrassing number of pictures of the strays. The Botanical Gardens had some interesting cacti and was nicely laid out, but we were shooed out by a couple of old men closing up the gardens for the evening. It was just as well, because we needed to meet the hotel shuttle at 5:30 for our ride back to the resort.

After a bumpy ride back, Allen and Mom broke out the puzzle, and I headed to the lobby to do some work with the free Wifi. (I promise, it was only a very small amount of work.) That was when I had the pleasure of being serenaded by an ABBA cd on a loop. I was singing it for days. That night Allen and Mom charged through the puzzle, finishing it around 3 am. What were we all thinking, staying up that late? But that’s what vacation is for.

March 23, 2008

And that is how Lauren fell off the face of the planet…

Posted in Babysitting, Daily life tagged , at 1:10 am by Lauren

Lest you think I actually have been corralled and deported – thus the reason for the radio silence on my blog – I am posting to dispel the rumors. I’m alive and well (except for the cold sores from our freakish weather) and in Paris. So why haven’t I been posting? Well, coming back from vacation completely overwhelmed me. I know. That’s silly. It’s even sillier when you’re mostly unemployed, let me tell you. But I felt like I needed to ramp up my to-do list and rediscover some sense of productivity. (I feel like this is a sign that I am truly an American – why can’t I stop working, even when I don’t have a job?) And part of that was that I needed to blog about my whole vacation in order. It’s been a little crippling. I know it’s ridiculous to talk about the pressures of blogging, but there it is.

My brother and his entourage are still here until Monday morning, but after that I plan to get back to work on my blog and the rest of my life. (I tend to sniff out the distraction. What? You’re going shopping? Oh, no, I’m not busy.) Unfortunately, I’ll have another major timesuck on my to-do list as well. One of my babysitting families just learned they’re moving to the States in three weeks. Bye, bye babysitting. So I’ll need to find something to replace that.

March 16, 2008

Take that, tax man!

Posted in Daily life at 9:34 pm by Lauren

My brother showed up with our tax documents today, and we have filed our taxes!

You know I love me some tax filing.

March 12, 2008

Malta pictures have arrived – narrative to follow!

Posted in Air Travel, Exploring tagged , , , , , at 12:17 am by Lauren

We’re back from Malta, and while I haven’t posted an account of our trip yet, I wanted to take care of a few housekeeping tasks to keep you up to date!

First of all, I’ve been cataloguing and captioning my pictures throughout the trip, so I was able to upload them all tonight. Check the Picasa link on the left, or try this one for Malta, and don’t forget Gozo. Be forewarned; there are 540 pictures between the two albums. So I’ve also posted an album of highlights from our trip.

Second, I’d like to answer some questions for you. So here are the questions I wanted to cover while on my trip. Let’s say I did some research.

Will it actually rain the whole time we’re in Malta? Actually, it hardly rained at all! We did get stuck in some miserable drizzle on Saturday, but the rain warmed the weather a little. Most of the vacation was sun, sun, and more sun. I didn’t wear my jacket one day.

What is there to do there really? What? How did I not already know how much there is to do in Malta? In fact, I’m sorry I didn’t because we missed out on the Hypogeum, a megalithic cave system, because we hadn’t reserved tickets in advance. But we could have stayed another week and stayed busy. Some of my favorites were the Azure Window on Gozo and the fishing village of Marsaxlokk.

Will we get in a car accident in the country with the highest road accident rate in Europe? We almost witnessed a few. And in the courtesy shuttle back from Valletta, we almost hit a bus. A British woman with pink hair said to the driver, “Oh, you just missed him. Don’t worry – we’ll get him next time.”

Will Allen throw up on the plane? Despite portents that made me assign a 90% probability of vomit on this vacation, there was none! Allen’s flu went away, and I survived motion sickness scares from taxis, buses, airport shuttles, airplanes, and very small boats on very big waves. Malta is full of miracles.

Will Mom and I do anything but stitch? I accomplished very little on this front.

Will we return to France totally broke? Suffice it to say, yes.

Will I be allowed back into France with my original entry visa? Another Maltese miracle. I hate to say this out loud, but no one looked at my passport when I arrived in France. I don’t mean that no one noticed my visa. I mean, no one asked to see my passport at all. Vive la France!

March 11, 2008

Happy birthday, Allen!

Posted in Air Travel tagged , , , , , at 12:20 am by Lauren

For Allen’s birthday today, we flew to Milan and booked a swanky hotel with a delicious dinner.

Oops, that’s not exactly how it happened. We did fly to Milan (leaving Malta), but Alitalia put us up in the hotel and (thankfully) provided us dinner. Oh, air travel…

Happy birthday, Allen, all the same!

March 9, 2008

How dare we sleep in on vacation!

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , , at 12:51 am by Lauren

Instead of rising early and going to Gozo today (Saturday), everyone slept in. Our vacation is ruined!

Okay, not so. We decided we didn’t have time to go to the Hypogeum to find precious “first come, first serve” tickets by noon, so we referred to our Top Ten book for other inspiration. That is how we ended up spending the day in Mosta and Naxxar.

This is the short version of the Malta trip – long version coming when I actually have time to sit and write – so here are a few tidbits.

1. I had the best lentil soup of my life today, in Naxxar. Too bad it was my parents who had ordered it.

2. I finally got to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret!

3. Mom’s luggage still hasn’t come, but she did find out today that she could submit receipts from her first four days without luggage and get reimbursed. Today’s day five. Too bad she didn’t buy anything.

4. I love how many cats Malta has. I think I am acting like a person who really really wants a baby, except with me, it’s a cat.

5. I know more about the Maltese limestone quarry industry than you. I’m just saying…

Lauren and Allen in Malta

Here Allen and I are in Marsaxlokk, which graces the cover of every guidebook on Malta.

March 7, 2008

Fittex bil-Google

Posted in Air Travel, Exploring tagged , , , , , at 12:54 am by Lauren

We took a fantastic hike today, covering much of the northern end of Malta. I suspect it was over 10 miles long, but when I went to Gmaps Pedometer to check it out, I was surprised to find that none of the roads in Malta are mapped on Google! I confirmed this on Google Maps as well. (Search for “Malta” on Google Maps. It’s kind of funny to see the unmarked form of the islands.)

So, no exact mileage for our crazy walk. But it was five hours long, involved several bays and two coasts, and even more threats to our life as we walked along the side of the Maltese roads. (Half was on rough terrain, but on the way home, we opted for road travel.)

Other updates on our trip to Malta:

Still no luggage for my Mom. Has anyone had luck having an airline reimburse them for lost luggage?

I have seen at least 50 cats, usually in very large groups. Today I saw 15 cats in a small pen with one sunning on the tin roof.

According to Google Malta, “inhossni xxurtjat” is how you say “I feel lucky.” At least, that is what is written on that search button.

Divorces are not legal in Malta. If you are married here, there is no divorce law to apply!

The Mediterranean is exactly as blue as you imagine it, and unfortunately tiramisu gelato is also exactly as rich as you imagine it.

March 5, 2008

Surreal is…

Posted in Air Travel, Exploring tagged , , , at 7:57 pm by Lauren

…sitting in the lobby of one of Malta’s nicest resorts, listening to an ABBA CD.

The short update is that Alitalia lost my Mom’s luggage (yesterday, and it hasn’t arrived yet), the resort and the weather are beautiful, no one has thrown up yet (but I’d put money on that not holding – and yes, there will be an entire post about motion sickness sooner or later), no car accidents yet (though the intervention of a series of miracles – also see Motion Sickness, above), and Malta is so nice that I’m ready to make the Mediterranean my home again right now.

There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Fernando…

March 4, 2008

Malta, ho!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 1:17 am by Lauren

We’re off to Malta in the morning! We’re meeting my parents at Charles de Gaulle and flying to a fabulous-looking resort. I expect four people will be trying to read the Malta guidebooks on the plane.

I hope to answer the following questions before I return:

Will it actually rain the whole time we’re in Malta?

What is there to do there really?

Will we get in a car accident in the country with the highest road accident rate in Europe?

Will Allen throw up on the plane? (He threw up Saturday night – we think he has the flu. Hopefully not.)

Will Mom and I do anything but stitch?

Will we return to France totally broke?

Will I be allowed back into France with my original entry visa?

Stay tuned to find out!

Walking out on a Saturday

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , , , , , , , at 1:13 am by Lauren

Allen and I completed not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR City Walks on Saturday. It is March 1, we have four months left, and we’re far from completing our goal of doing all 50 City Walks.

But after completing four on the same day, we’re feeling more optimistic.

We started with Southern Marais, which we really feel is an extension of our “neighborhood” already. Still, I have insisted that we don’t check off a City Walk until we have actually walked it (even the one for Ile Saint Louis). The Southern Marais City Walk is a perfect example of why I insist this. We finally ducked into the Village Saint Paul, which had window after window for us to look in, and it was a much larger courtyard space than I would have assumed. Walking down Rue Saint Paul, you might not guess how much is inside Village Saint Paul by the view from the little archways leading in.

We then turned on rue de l’Ave Maria to see the Hotel de Sens from both sides. It’s a beautiful medieval mansion with a perfect garden:

Hotel de Sens

We passed our favorite Italian place (l’Epicerie Fuxia) on rue Francois Miron, marveled at the two remaining fachwerk (exposed-beam) houses, and continued to rue du Pont Louis Philippe, which had paper store after paper store. Allen wouldn’t let me go in them, so I’ll be back!

At Hotel de Ville, we set off on the second City Walk of the day, Beaubourg. This brought us up to Centre Georges Pompidou (which we did not visit Saturday), and up to rue Etienne Marcel. It was incredibly crowded, and we had a hard time seeing the sights on the walk for trying not to walk into people. However, we did catch this saint (probably Denis himself) on the corner of a building:

Saint on building

After that was the Tuileries, which was Allen’s top choice for the day. The City Walk was called the Louvre, though we skipped descending into the pyramid to the Carrousel du Louvre (where we did all our Christmas shopping). In the Tuileries, I had my eyes out for Maman, a giant spider:

Maman the spider

 I had read about Maman a few days earlier in The Paris Traveler blog. Anyone who knows me knows better than to think I had information like the name of a statue tucked away inside my head.

After we wandered the rest of the Tuileries and came out on Place de la Concorde, we doubled back along the fence and turned down Rue de Castiglione to the Place Vendome and then Place de l’Opera. I hadn’t been to Place de l’Opera since the three days I spent in Paris before we all went down to Montpellier for our year abroad to begin. (It’s hard to believe that was almost 8 years ago!) So of course I snapped a few pictures:

Opera Garnier

 Then I had to cross the street and retrace our path to take a picture of the coolest storefront I’ve seen in Paris. At least it was the coolest one I’ve seen that didn’t involve food. (Don’t make me choose among the ones with food! They’re all too fabulous!) But this one was amazing – beautiful ballet costumes hanging in the window.

Tutu in the window

I turned to Allen and said, “I guess I’ll never lose the little girl in me.” I wasn’t a prissy little girl, and I absolutely hated it when my dad called me his princess, but I certainly had my own share of secret dreams of being a ballerina (or a figure skater!). (And oh how far I’ve fallen.) Do you see all the little pairs of ballet shoes in the background? I’m looking forward to showing this picture to Adrienne and Natsumi, who will positively pee themselves in excitement.

The rest of City Walk number four (this one was “Place Vendome”) was nice, and I particularly enjoyed walking down Rue Saint Honore back to Hotel de Ville, rather than rejoining busy Rue de Rivoli (which is where we usually walk). On our way back home, Paris gave us one more beautiful photo opportunity as the sun was going down.

Paris sunset

 In all, we had walked 6.96 miles according to Google Pedometer (you can see our route there). Not bad for a Saturday.

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