Many Shades of Malta

Valleta, Malta
Dec 30, 2018

Crisp sunshine, sparkling blue seas and brightly painted fishing boats frame the once-weekly fish market in Marsaxlokk, at the south-eastern edge of the main island of Malta. My incurable addiction to bazaars dictated a mandatory wander and off I went. Low-key albeit busy, the crowd is almost all tourists, mostly from Europe with the elderly and families forming the bulk. Requisite kitsch souvenirs make up the bulk of the stalls. Some sell spices, some cheese and olives cakes and pastries with a smattering of vegetables.

Fish come in fresh off the boats, but the stalls are few and far between. No doubt the catch is largely bought by the cafes and restaurants that line the quayside. And a booming business they do, with nary an empty seat and a wait time measured in hours.

Valleta the capital, is full of narrow streets lined with buildings in a jumble of baroque and colonial styles. The long arm of history reaches back to the Knights of Malta in the fifteen hundreds and this is justifiably a World Heritage site. Peppered with cafes and restaurants, historic buildings and glitzy shopping arcades, it is chic, clean and the well-organized buses and ferries make travel a breeze. Perhaps it is a little too organized, because, predictably, it fails to push my excited/amazed button. No surprise there.

What did surprise me is friendliness of the locals. Always happy to natter, I am taken by surprise by their openness and am bombarded with advice, solicited and otherwise. A random conversation at a bus stop leads to an impromptu dance lesson from an eighty-one year old dance master. I learned a step or two in a small shop. The bonus was an anecdotal history lesson from the owner and assorted neighbors who had dropped in to chat. To be taken with a large dose of the sea salt that is sold in the stalls, no doubt.

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