Writing from Malta about the good, the bad, the quirky and the downright sublime moments of life on a small island.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Malta in a Minute: The Splendid

Malta in a Minute is a series of posts featuring a photo taken here or there, of this or that, with a short explanation about the subject matter. It’s a bit like Instagram-on-a-blog and, I promise, will not take more than a minute to read.

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This is the doorstep of the former Splendid Hotel in Valletta. Located in the notorious red light district known as ‘the gut’, The Splendid started life as a brothel and was the scene of the brutal murder of an escort that took place in one of the upstairs bathrooms. It is now said to be haunted.

The Splendid Hotel, 74 Strait Street, Valletta

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Rome: a life-long love affair

How does one even start to define a love affair? According to most dictionaries, apart from its romantic connotations, a love affair is also an intense liking for an activity or place. But intense liking does not quite encompass the myriad feelings that engulf me whenever I walk through the cobbled streets of the Eternal City – a mixture of awe, curiosity, anticipation, nostalgia, happiness, excitement – the exact emotions we feel during a love affair.

Rome, Piazza della Rotonda

After 15 years, last week I was finally back in Rome for a much belated visit. You’d think that, by now, I’d be feeling a tad jaded at seeing the same sights. But that’s the thing with Rome, in spite of the familiarity, it feels as if I am seeing everything for the first time. After all these years, I can’t quite remember when it was exactly that I fell in love with Rome, but I must have been very young; and I couldn’t tell you what it was about it that laid such a spell on me. Maybe it was the fountains or maybe it was the ruins of the temples and theatres of the Imperial era. Or it could have been the art and architecture; the churches and the palaces; Bernini;  Michelangelo; the Caesars; the history; the food; la dolce vita. Whatever it was, and after five visits, the allure has not diminished. If anything, it is stronger and more complicated. That’s love, I suppose.

Rome, Piazza Navona

And now that I am over one thousand miles away, I can’t stop thinking about it.  Rome the sublime, with its palaces and fountains. Rome the urchin, rather rough around the edges and a bit grimy when you walk away from its famous monuments – now cleaned and restored so that they resemble luminous pearls, glowing even on the greyest of days. Rome the eternal, with its breath-taking churches and awe-inspiring art and sculptures. Rome of the Caesars, with its ruins constantly reminding us that it was once the capital of a vast and mighty empire. I am under no illusions. Rome’s wealth and imposing buildings are a product of the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of thousands of slaves who were at the complete disposal of their cruel task-masters; and of its efficient, well-trained legions who mercilessly cut down anyone who got in the way of power-hungry emperors. History is what it is and ancient empires are a product of the age they existed in. Rome has seen war and destruction. It’s been pillaged, destroyed and vanquished, yet it has managed to rise from its ruins like the legendary phoenix – warts, blemishes, loveliness and all.

Rome, Piazza Navona

Rome has changed, of course. Its streets and squares are thronged with crowds and selfie sticks. You could say I was part of the crowd (sans selfie stick), just another tourist ‘seeing the sights’. But I like to believe that my visits to Rome are much more than that. That they are more of a longing of the heart that can only be assuaged by the simple act of being there. It’s love, you see; a very one-sided affair, I have to admit. But it’s definitely love.

Rome, Piazza della Rotonda

And that, my dears, was my ode to Rome. Next time I’ll write about something more useful – like what to see and where to eat but I just had to write my paean of praise first.

Photographed in Piazza della Rotonda & Piazza Navona, Rome (March 2018)

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Malta off the beaten trail: From the Congreve Memorial to the arch at tal-Hamrija

Malta Off the Beaten Trail is a series of articles about the less accessible areas of the island for which a sturdy pair of walking shoes and a degree of physical fitness is usually necessary.

It all started when the Azure Window collapsed into the sea and I realised that our son, who had seen the Grand Tetons, had never visited one of the most-photographed places on the Maltese islands. I knew then that we could not take the natural wonders around us for granted any longer and needed to get off the couch and start exploring. In the absence of the much more famous Azure Window, the arch at tal-Hamrija seemed a natural, if smaller, next-best choice.

Getting to the Congreve Memorial is fairly easy, it’s a downhill walk along a paved path that is accessed by taking a left at the Hagar Qim Temple Complex carpark towards the Mnajdra temples. (Since this route by-passes both temples, there is no need to pay an entrance fee.) A few metres before the path ends at the Mnajdra temples, an unpaved path through the garigue veers left. Take this path and make your way over the rocks and patches of soil, paying attention to the vegetation as it is mostly protected, to the Congreve Memorial.

Congreve Memorial

The Congreve Memorial is dedicated to a former Governor of Malta, Sir Walter Congreve. During his life, Sir Walter developed a deep affection for Malta and its people and his wish was to be buried at sea between Malta and the tiny islet of Filfla. After his death in 1927, his request was granted and a memorial in his honour was erected in this spot.

Tal-Hamrija arch

From the Congreve Memorial the walk becomes more strenuous as you first have to climb down a steep incline to get to the ledge of land below. At this point, the arch is already visible but if you continue trekking to the left, you will come to a vantage point from where you can get some really good shots of it.

Tal-Hamrija arch

Although not level, the terrain is easy to negotiate. Looking up, you will see a sheer rock-face towering above you, with tal-Hamrija Tower peering over the cliff-edge to the sea below.

Tal-Hamrija tower

To the left of this point is a strip of land that looks like the snout of a crocodile and is known as in-Neffied (the piercer).

In-Neffied (18)In-Neffied (55)

It was windy day in early spring when we hiked to the arch at tal-Hamrija (also known as Ghar Hanex or Worm’s Cave) and the stacks that hold it up were taking quite a battering from the waves. One of them has been eroded so badly that it is a wonder that the arch hasn’t collapsed yet. Hopefully it will stay around for many years to come.

Tal-Hamrija arch

Tal-Hamrija arch

Although it’s inaccessibility makes it less famous than the world-renowned (and much missed) Azure Window, the arch at tal-Hamrija is definitely worth the rather strenuous walk to get to it. Moreover, in spring, the shallow pockets of red soil and rocky terrain that characterise the garigue, give life to a number of tiny, but very pretty, flowering plants like chamomile, Mediterranean heath, red clover and others – most of them not bigger than my smallest fingernail – that are also worth a closer look. While the arch can be enjoyed in all seasons, the garigue in spring is at its most beautiful.

Wildflowers of the garigue

Although at first the long trek to the arch at tal-Hamrija may seem rather discouraging, the natural beauty of the whole area, coupled with the megalithic temples and tal-Hamrija tower on the plateau above, make it well worth the extra effort required to get there. It is probably quite obvious that the areas of Malta that are most charming and unspoilt are found off the beaten trail. If you are interested, you can read about some other places here and here.

Tal-Hamrija arch

Location: Tal-Hamrija Arch, l/o Qrendi, March 2017

All images ©Sincerely, Loree

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Things I’m looking forward to in March

March has made its debut and it will bring with it longer daylight hours and warm breezes. For those who love summer, March is a promise that the crazy season is on its way. It is a month that fills me with bursts of unexpected energy, fuelled by the sudden fierce winds that will send clouds scudding crazily across the sky.  Truth be told, March is one of my favourite months and I always make sure that there are some things for me to look forward to:

  • Our trip to Rome.

Rome is definitely one of my favourite cities in the world and I’ve already visited 4 times, the last time being in 2003 for our honeymoon. This is the longest time between visits and I can’t believe that 15 years have passed since my feet last walked on the cobbled streets of the Eternal City. Hopefully, we will pack as much sightseeing as we can during our 5 day visit, which is why I am always on the look-out for insider’s tips and Natalie Kennedy’s blog An American in Rome is a wonderful resource for all sorts of information about the City on Seven Hills.

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  • The Malta Artisan Markets at Palazzo de Piro

This year’s spring edition of The Malta Artisan Markets, which is taking place between March 10-11, will be held at Palazzo de Piro in Mdina.

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These markets have become a fixture on the local arts and crafts scene and provide a welcome opportunity for artists, bakers and craftspeople to display and sell their products. Entrance to the markets, which are held 4-5 times annually, is free. The Malta Artisan Markets generally take place in beautiful historic settings and past editions have been held in, amongst others, Fort St Elmo and Palazzo Parisio. During the summer months open-air venues such as Birgu and Kalkara are chosen.

  • Poppies

Poppies are my favourite wildflowers. There are two kinds that grow here: the red, common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and the rarer purple poppy (Papaver somniferum or opium poppy).

Poppies (1)

Opium poppy

The term opium poppy may be a misnomer as I am not sure to what extent local poppies contain opium – if they contain any at all. Opium aside, the warmer March temperatures usually make the poppies bloom and they seem to appear as if by magic – one day there are only a few flowers here and there and another day, whole fields are swathed in red. They are truly a sight to behold and the funny thing about them is that they rarely grow in the same place in subsequent years. Every year I wait for the crimson poppy blooms with a level of impatience, although their arrival is bittersweet as it means that much warmer weather will soon be on its way and I prefer spring to summer any day.

  • Zeppoli

Zeppoli (zeppole in Italian) are balls of pastry that are deep fried in hot oil (like doughnuts) and, when cool, filled with a mixture of sweetened ricotta, orange zest, dark chocolate and nuts. They are then drizzled with honey and dusted with powdered sugar. Zeppoli are traditionally made for the feast of St Joseph, that  is celebrated here on March 19 and is a public holiday. A public holiday that comes with its own traditional dessert sounds like a match made in heaven to me and the best thing is that there are only two more weeks to go before we have a day off and get to stuff our faces nibble on some zeppoli.

And how about you, dear readers, do you have anything you’re looking forward to in March?

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Kitchen tales: Cranberry orange cookies

When it comes to desserts, my husband and I are complete opposites: he likes to have fruit in his while I am of the opinion that it’s not worth the calories unless there’s chocolate in it. So when I came across a recipe for Cranberry Orange Cookies from Fake Ginger I knew I had to make them for him.

These Cranberry Orange Cookies are so easy to put together that they are perfect for making with kids or grandkids. They are a great combination of sweetness from the cranberries with a zingy undertone from the orange peel. They were a hit the first time I made them and had to make them twice after that. The great thing about them is that they keep for up to ten days (less if the weather is hot) and are perfect for Christmas (although it’s a bit too early to start thinking about that). In reality, they can be enjoyed at any time of the year. They are a softer type of cookie but since the cookie dough is rolled in a mixture of sugar and orange zest before baking, they have a slight crunch but are definitely not a hard type of cookie. I would define them as soft and crunchy.

Orange cranberry cookies

Cranberry  Orange Cookie Recipe

Ingredients

For the cookies:

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped

1 tablespoon orange zest


For the rolling sugar:

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon orange zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Using an electric mixer, mix butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add to butter mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in cranberries and 1 tablespoon orange zest. Chill dough while you make orange sugar. I chilled it for about 2 hours as this hardens the dough sufficiently to make it more manageable to roll into balls but if you’re in a hurry, chilling it for a lesser amount of time will still work. You’ll just get more cookie dough stuck to your hands.
  4. To make the orange sugar, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon orange zest. Use your fingers to rub the 2 together until everything is combined and mixture is fragrant.
  5. Shape chilled dough into 1 inch balls and roll them in orange sugar. Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly.
  6. Bake 10 - 13 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks.

Orange cranberry cookies

If you try them, let me know how they turn out. I promise they will only take a few minutes to make – it’s the rolling in sugar that takes a bit longer but don’t skip this step because it really gives the cookies their very particular citrusy taste. If you have fruit fans in your house, these will definitely be a success and I have to admit that even this chocoholic was hooked on them after a couple of bites.

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