Saturday, September 2, 2006

Carlos Muchos = Muchos Funos

Getting back on the road was great….
I flew out of Malta and into Milan on a Monday morning. Upon landing I felt like I had ended up in Pennsylvania as opposed to one of Europe’s fashion capitals. Either that or the rumour about the fashion industry being one Manolo short of a pair was true. As I raced into the airport centre trying to find the quickest way to Florence I was swallowed whole by an Amish convention. I could not see one other person with a hairless face or hatless head other than the child in the arms of one said hairy and hat wearing person. It was very surreal. A quick check of the signposts confirmed that I had indeed not repeated the mistake of ending up in Caen rather than Cannes and my landed had simply coincided with some strange religious convention in Milan. Sticking out like a sore thumb I was the prime suspect for a charming Italian man to approach and rescue me from my haze of confusion. Taking my bag and punctuating his instructions with words such as amore, bella, baci and bellissimo he managed to get me on the correct bus to the centre of Milan for a discount price. All went smoothly from here on in and I managed to jump on a train headed for Florence ready to meet up with my travel companions.

Something that has shocked me in each place that I have travelled to then returned to is how familiar it seems second time around. I have come to the conclusion that because in the first place you are forced to learn your way around and make so many mistakes in such a short amount of time, on the second visit all of the stress has passed and you simply remember all you need to know. With this in mind, when I arrived in Florence I knew exactly how to get to the House of Sizzle AKA The Red Garter to meet up with Matt and the other Busabout crew. I must have looked like an idiot walking through Florence as I had a massive smile on my face for no apparent reason. I just felt encompassed by everything I had experienced there a few months earlier and excited to be there again. Propping myself up at the bar for my first pint after a day of travelling Francesco the barman endeared me with stories of Florence and the travellers he has met whilst working there. I have also very quickly found out that almost everyone you meet has some connection to Malta despite not knowing where it is or how to get there, the language or whether it is a country or state of another country. Whilst Francesco kept my glass full I got chatting to the steady stream of travellers passing through and was overwhelmed with excitement when seeing Matt again. We had a fantastic night and although karaoke was on the cards the others kept me away from the microphone – I vowed not to drink with these people again, they simply missed out on the performance of the night…. as a perfect end to the night we hitched a ride back to the campsite on the Contiki coach.

Much like my first time in approaching Nice I was filled with butterflies but for an entirely different reason. The Rolling Stones.
Who knew that the location of some of my favourite memories of Europe would now provide yet another. Malta is a destination for some of Europe’s biggest DJ’s. There is a pretty big clubbing scene and dance/techno music is really popular. This has mean that I have been craving rock music and go in search (unsuccessfully I might add) for cheesy foreign bars playing a bit of Bon Jovi, ACDC or Gunners. When I heard that I a) had the opportunity to see live music of a form other than dance and b) for it to be the Rolling Stones I almost wet myself. About 15 of us went to the concert and had an amazing time. The set was incredible with a set of Jagger lips that seemed almost the size of the Harbour Bridge and a tongue that reached out to the audience. Halfway through the concert the stage started to move and slid out into the middle of the crowd. I had such a fantastic time and the whole crowd was on a high.

The Stones only served to set up the following 2 awesome days also filled with stones but the kind on the beach. Gadget, a fellow antipodean, Matt & I spent 2 days relaxing, drinking Carlos Muchos (a Spanish drink where you mix red wine and coke, it sounds gross but wait until you try it) and having an all round laugh. I went parasailing over Nice which gave an incredible and completely different view to any I have previously seen of the Cote de Azur, spent a day at Ville Franche and fell asleep on the beach as well as visited Avignon. Travelling to Avignon on the train was without a doubt one of the most beautiful stretches of scenery I have witnessed since travelling. Next time I visit the Cote de Azur I will definitely take this train trip again just to see the view. It is fairly flat but the entire 2 hr trip is spent gazing out to the clear aqua sea and clean, long beaches. Revisiting made me remember how much I loved the South of France the first time around. Despite having such a - lets put it bluntly – hatred, toward France upon my first visit I can now see myself living in the south for sometime. Investigation into employment may ensue.

A fleeting trip through Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid characterized my first 2 days in Spain followed by 2 relaxing days in San Sebastian….
Despite the brief visit, Spain was everything I had remembered from my first trip there 5 years ago. The people are very passionate, loud and nocturnal – now that I’m writing it, I realise they are quite similar to the Maltese. So many people had told me that Barcelona is stunning so I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see a great deal of scenery however I did visit a Flamenco show. Around 25 of us went to dinner off La Rambla, the main strip in Barcelona then into a bar that held only 40 or so people. The show was quite intimate and started with a drummer, guitarist and singer. About 15 minutes into the show I turned around to hear 2 men tapping their feet as they entered the room. Another 15 minutes further into the show and one of the men appears on stage and gives one of the most incredible dance performances I’ve ever seen. You could not help but to be swept up by his passion and the preciseness of his movement. For an ex-dancer it was incredibly inspirational. I left wanting to not only learn Flamenco but return to the stage.

San Sebastian is a town that has something magical about it…..
Lots of people that I had spoken to before I left Australia and then since I had been travelling, had boasted about the destination. I think I was somewhat expecting a big city on the sea, catering for tourists. It was so much more than that but somewhere I think you need to let yourself be captured by whatever the town is offering at the time. What I loved about San Sebastian was that it seemed unspoilt. Despite there being a lot of young travellers, it still felt authentically Spanish. A huge statue of Jesus overlooks the town which is a mixture of predominantly old but well maintained buildings filled with tapas and wine bars. Whilst I was there a fireworks competition was being held where each night on the waterfront a different region (of Spain) or country (of the Mediterranean) put on a performance of fireworks. It was like seeing New Years Eve fireworks 3 nights in a row. The second night was undoubtedly the best fun. Gadget, Matt & I took 3 bottles of wine, some coke and 1-litre coke cups to the beach and had the best vantage point for the show. Hundreds of people were crammed in front of us but had no idea that the best view was another 100 metres up the beach where you could lie on the sand see everything! After playing a game of “I’ve never” where I consequently divulged more information about myself than I had wanted followed by a bout of the shivers as the breeze picked up we began to walk back to the centre of town. I decided to test the theory that as long as your feet are warm the rest of you will be ok and surprisingly it is true! Gadget had to lend me his socks to stop me from shivering so as we skipped along the promenade past groups of teenagers in suits and gowns (school formals I assume) I was representing Australia in the national uniform of inebriation, thongs and socks. When we reached a carousel I demanded a ride and henceforth came my favourite memory of San Sebastian. The three of us rode this kids’ ride like we were also children and were in hysterics the entire time. Some of my best photos of the year are from this ride!

Upon returning to Malta I’ve come to the conclusion that travelling suits me. I’m happy here in Malta, learning new words each day, meeting lovely people and experiencing a different culture but what is so fantastic about travelling is sharing your new experiences with other people’s new experiences. You could drink a bottle of wine on the beach everyday of the year with a different traveller and each time, you would have a new experience because it’s their first time with you. I have a new understanding for why, despite the bad pay, lack of stability and required commitment to work, the guides and drivers for travel companies continue to do their job.

I’m trying to update my photos as we speak but it is running very slowly…. I’m missing you all and hope to hear from you soon!

Xx Loz

Friday, September 1, 2006

Only in Malta

My first week here has been very interesting to say the least. I have firstly come across and resolved many internal conflicts which I hope will provide some amusement for you all given they provided only frustration for me.

I will never complain about the heat in Australia again....
I am sure that the pain of News Years Day 2006 still resides at front of mind for many but may I say that I for one will never complain about the Aussie heat again. The heat here in Malta is unbearable. Although most places are built for the heat with concrete buildings and tiled floors, due to both the expense and the demand on resources not everywhere has air conditioning. I didn’t realize how great it was to be able to escape into a shopping centre when the heat hits in Australia, here in Malta unless you know someone with air con or you sit in the cinema from 8 in the morning until midnight you have no chance of cooling down. My apartment is fantastic except that it is on the top floor and only has fans. This means that I am basically living in an oven. It is so hot that I haven’t even turned the hot water system on. I am having hotter cold showers than some hot showers that I've had before! The other thing I will always appreciate about the Australian summer is the southerlies. Here when there is a breeze it is still hot as it is coming off the African desert and there is never a chance of a thunderstorm but I have been told that if it does actually rain the water will be really dirty given that there is so much desert sand in the air!! Mela (I am picking up Maltese) the heat will only be so excruciating for another month or so then hopefully cool down a little.

I am staying in Malta for three months for a few reasons....
Firstly, I wanted to learn Maltese so that when I return home I can speak to my grandparents in Maltese. It is also an amazing place and I really wanted to understand the people and the culture more. Actually living here is so different from visiting. The Maltese people are incredibly friendly and hospitable but also very straightforward. This is taking a lot of getting used to. Where a comment would be considered slightly or largely offensive in Australia it is simply the way people talk to each other here. For example in the last week I have been told that I look pregnant (no comments thanks Chappo), that I am stupid for not eating enough and that I have wasted my phone credit. I find myself constantly having to swallow my words and remember that I shouldn't be taking offense to anything. I've also based myself here in Malta as it is a completely different life experience to if I had have stayed in the UK. The way of life is very different (check out for a hilarious insight into the country & its people) as well as the attitudes and obviously language. I am still getting used to the more nocturnal way of living but can understand it a lot better now that I have experienced the heat.

Staying in Malta for 3 months has meant that I can get a job....
Please brace yourselves because you may laugh so hard that you will fall of your chairs, wet yourself or hyperventilate (not necessarily in that order). I am glad to say that my CV will now be enriched with the skills and responsibilities acquired through working at a hot dog shop. Yes, I am the newest employee at a 24 hour take away store in Paceville specializing in hot diggity dogs (this works best if you put on an American sideshow alley accent). Basically I work from 11pm to 6am making around 5000 hotdogs (or thereabouts) for realms of drunken people who come in and make noises and signs which indicate they need food. Given that I'm only really doing this to improve my Maltese and make a bit of extra cash while traveling I shouldn’t really care but I am finding it very difficult to be criticized for my hot dog making skills. I am also now well versed in refusing marriage proposals from inebriated Sicilians as well as explaining Australian insults such as dick-head to the fiery tempered Bulgarian that I work with – try explaining this, it is not easy…..

During my first few weeks in Malta I also managed to contract PTS – post travel stress (I'm sure there is a technical term for this or even a real founded disease similar)….
As much as I had wanted to unpack my bag and settle down, as soon as I did I wanted to be back on the road again! It was so strange not to be meeting new people everyday and having to learn a new transport system, language, customs etc for living as opposed to traveling/sightseeing. Finding a cheap flight to Florence I decided to jump on a plane and meet up with Matt for 10 days traveling from Italy through France and onto Spain…..

Love you all xxxx