Difference between revisions of "Malta"
Revision as of 11:10, 5 June 2010
Malta  is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea that lies south of the island of Sicily, Italy. The country is an archipelago, with only the three largest islands (Malta, Għawdex or Gozo, and Kemmuna or Comino) being inhabited.
Although small, Malta has a long and rich history, with evidence for habitation going back to the Neolithic era (4th millennium B.C.). The country boasts some of the world's most ancient standing buildings (the Neolithic temples), and its strategic location and good harbors in the middle of the Mediterannean have attracted Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, the French and finally the British, with the colonial period lasting until 1964.
The Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers and Knights of Malta, took over sovereign control of Malta in 1530, and by 1533 the Order had built a hospital at Birgu (one of the Three Cities) to care for the sick. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, mounted a great siege of Malta with a fleet of 180 ships and a landing force of 30,000 men. In response the Order, with only 8,000 defenders, drove the Ottoman Turks away after a hard siege of several months. After this siege, the Order founded the city of Valletta on a peninsula, and fortified it with massive stone walls, which even withstood heavy bombing during the Second World War. By 1575 the Order had built a new large hospital known as the Grand Hospital or Sacred Infirmary in order to continue with its primary mission of caring for the sick.
In 1798, the French under Napoleon took the island on 12 June, without resistance, when the Grand Master of the Order capitulated after deciding that the island could not be defended against the opposing French naval force. French rule lasted a little over 2 years, until they surrendered to the British Royal Navy, under Admiral Nelson's command, in September 1800.
Great Britain formally acquired possession of Malta in 1814. The island staunchly supported the UK through both World Wars.
The island was awarded the George Cross for its heroic resistance during the Second World War. An image of the cross is displayed on the flag.
Malta remained in the Commonwealth of Nations when it became independent from Great Britain in 1964. It is still a member.
A decade later Malta became a republic. Since about the mid-1980s, the island has become a freight trans-shipment point, financial centre and tourist destination.
Malta gained European Union membership in May 2004.
Malta's climate is influenced by the Mediterranean Sea and is similar to other Mediterranean climates. Winters are wet and windy. Summers are virtually guaranteed to be dry and hot.
Mostly low, rocky, flat to dissected plains, with a coastline that has many coastal cliffs and numerous bays that provide good harbors.
Malta is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
Visitors from outside the EU, including Americans, must fill out a landing card, available on board some arriving flights (sometimes) or in the entrance hall of the airport from the small box between the customs agents.
Malta possesses its own national carrier, Air Malta , with regular connections to many European, North African and Middle Eastern centres.
Ryanair  flies to/from London Luton, Edinburgh, Dublin, Madrid, Trapani, Bristol, Bremen, Pisa, Stockholm (Skavsta), Valencia, Venice (Treviso), Girona, and Bari. Easyjet flies to/from Manchester, Newcastle, Rome (beginning March 12, 2010), and London Gatwick.
There are frequent fast ferries to the Sicilian port of Catania 3 hours and Pozzallo 90 min , Italy. but it can be turbulent with a heavy swell, if it's windy.usually trip takes around twice the time on large passenger ships but fares are lot cheaper and easier which make it ideal for drivers of car,trucks,campers,etc , other destination includes from ,Livorno,Salerno,Rome (civitavechia),Palermo,Genoa and Tunis but usually with airlines like ryanair,windjet and efly are cheaper and easier.
One of Malta's joys (at least in small doses) is the wonderfully antiquated public bus system, consisting of 1950s-era exports from Britain usually kitted up with more chintz than a Christmas tree plus icons of every saint in the Bible and then some (as well as new chinese buses -king long-). Fares are very cheap and even the longest ride across the island costs less than €1.30; the only catch is that almost all buses radiate out from Valletta, so you may have to detour back to the capital to reach your next destination. A short question - "To Valletta?" - to the driver when you get on will help you confirm your ending destination.
The only problem there might be is the smouldering heat during the summer but a typical bus ride is only around 20 minutes so it should be fine. A typical bus fare is €0.47 so do not expect to give €20 to change as you will probably be denied a bus fare (with good reason), so be ready with reasonable change when getting on a bus.
Also, most buses usually stop running around 21.30 - 22.00. So make sure you have an alternate means of transport for evening journeys. There is, of course, the exception of a Friday or Saturday night out in Paceville (ONLY LEAVING PACEVILLE)- there are buses leaving at 00.00, 01.30 and 03.00. Most of these are 'direct' routes so make sure you know the number for your destination.
Most buses carry a bus schedule that you can take with you. Most major bus termini will carry these as well. These will be useful in traveling as efficiently as possible using public transport.
Malta's white taxis are the ones you can pick you up off the street. They have meters that are uniformly ignored, figure on €15 for short hops and not much more than €35 for a trip across the island.
For cheaper airport transfers and local taxis try using one of the local "Black cab" taxi firms such as Malta Airport Cabs  or Malta Car Bookers . Their rates are normally lower than white taxis but their services must be prebooked (at least fifteen minutes notice).
Good advice is to book a taxi or tour in advance. In this way you will have an agreed price and can be picked up from your hotel or apartment. The tours are best kept short, around 3 to 4 hours should do it. In a Car you will be able to cover Mdina, Rabat, Mosta, Valletta and the Blue Grotto. Try Malta Taxi Online .
Renting a car in Malta is a fine way to see the country, since it's cheap and driving conditions have improved greatly in the last ten years. Having your own car allows you to make a lot more of your trip and discover the many hidden charms these small islands have to offer.
There is GPS coverage of the Island by popular brands such as and I GO Garmin, however, do check with your rental company as to whether they make this available to you or not. Popular opinion states that the GPS mapping of Malta isn't altogether that accurate, where certain routes planned on the GPS, will send you up 1 way streets without warning, best to use common sense in conjunction with this technology. Also the Maltese can be a very friendly bunch of people when giving directions are concerned.
There is the regular ferry service  between Ċirkewwa on Malta and Mġarr on Gozo, it goes every 45 minutes in the summer and almost as often in the winter. You buy a return ticket at the Malta end for about €4.70. There are also irregular services to Comino.
Regular flights between Valletta Grand Harbour and Mgarr by Harbourair  started recently. There is also a planned service to Sicily. The company also offers scenic flights for around 90EUR that take 30mins and provide beautiful views of the Maltese islands. Flights start in Valletta's grand harbor. Check-in and ticket office is at the sea passenger terminal, on the very end of the "Valletta waterfront", behind the cruise ship terminals.
Scheduled helicopter service between Malta and Gozo has been terminated.
Renting a bike in Malta is a very common and popular practice. It doesn't cost much, but offers enough flexibility to explore.
The official languages are Maltese and English. Italian is widely understood and spoken. Some people have basic French, but few people can speak fluent French in Malta. Getting around with English or Italian is very much possible
Maltese is a Semitic language, though it has borrowed a substantial amount of vocabulary from the Romance languages (particularly Italian). The closest living relative of Maltese is Arabic, a dialect particularly spoken in North Africa known as Maghreb Arabic (spoken in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) though Maltese is written in the Latin alphabet instead of the Arabic script. Maltese is also more distantly related to Hebrew and Amharic, so if you speak any of these three languages, you'll recognise some similarities. It also has substantial English elements in it. Knowing a few phrases in Maltese may be useful. See the Maltese phrasebook for details.
Note that the younger generations are less versed in Italian than past ones. The passage of time has left a contempt for English due to the colonial era imprinted in the descendants of the working class, and the Second World War broke the tradition of centuries as regards speaking Italian, when the Italians bombed the island repeatedly. The British additionally discouraged the use of Italian, favouring the populace to learn English instead. After Maltese independence, a socialist period of isolationism followed, which contributed to the disregard of English in some cases. However, in modern Malta, one is guaranteed that there will be no problems travelling in Malta if one can speak English. It would simply make most Maltese people a great deal friendlier if approached in the Maltese language.
The official currency of Malta is the euro (€).
Major currencies, even though they were widely accepted years ago and changed on the fly at restaurants and bars are no longer acceptable as an over the counter currency. So if you have dollars or pounds, it's best to change them at the plethora of exchange bureaus or banks across the island prior to going out.
Transportation costs are much cheaper by European standards. Food costs are very reasonable. Having a Maltese size pizza in a decent restaurant costs around €6.50. A set at Mc Donald's will cost you €5.70 as of May 2009.
The ancient capital of Mdina, also known as the Silent City, rests at a high point in the heart of the island. Surrounded by the scenic town of Rabat, this fortress is one of Malta's finest jewels, boasting architecture, history and a quality cup of coffee with a splendid view. Valletta is similar in that it boasts a rich history, only being the modern capital, it is very much alive and much more modern, serving as both a shopping area during the day and offering an array of museums and cultural sites. Of particular note is St John's Co-Cathedral, built by one of the earlier Grandmasters of the Knights Hospitaller. It contains the various chapels of the Knights' langues, with Caravaggio paintings, tapestries and various relics of immense value to the Maltese heritage. The very floors of the Cathedral are the tombs of the most famous knights of the Order of St John, and a crypt, though off-limits to tourists, hosts the bodies of some of the most illustrious of Grandmasters, including the city's founder, Jean de Valette. In Gozo, a rural atmosphere is predominant. Billy Connolly purchased a home in Gozo several years ago, owing to the island's quiet and relaxing nature. Visitors will be interested in taking a look at the impressive geographical feature of the Inland Sea, carved out by the Mediterranean. One is also obliged to visit the Citadel, Gozo's version of Mdina.
For a look into more traditional Maltese life, the seldom seen south of Malta is a possible option for visitation. Townships like Ghaxaq often escape public notice, but some of the island's finest churches lie in the south. The many churches of Malta are testaments to the style and design of their times. Many towns in the north were stripped of their culture due to rapid urbanisation, but this has been felt less in the south of Malta. However, the south is less tourist friendly, and one is unlikely to be accomodated by tailored sites as in the north.
Finally, Malta's megalithic temples are some of the oldest in the world, and one should not forget to take walks in the countryside. The most popular tourist destinations of Sliema and St. Julians probably have the least to offer as regards a taste of Malta, though they continue to be the most frequented. They are the most modern of locations, with most old buildings having been knocked down due to the monstrous construction industry fuelling the economy.
Sample the local delicacies. In Summer, the island is perfect for water sports and beach activities. The island has been described as an open-air museum by some; one is unlikely to run out of things to see during a visit to Malta. Each township has its own unique sights to offer if one pays close enough attention. Hiking in the countryside offers a taste of rural Malta, especially if trekking along the coast of Gozo. Sailing is a wonderful option, as Malta boasts an impressive array of caves, scenic sunsets and other views.
Distinctly Maltese cuisine is hard to find but does exist. The food eaten draws its influences from Italian cuisine. Most restaurants in resort areas like Sliema cater largely to British tourists, offering pub grub like meat and three veg or bangers and mash, and you have to go a little out of the way to find 'real' Maltese food. One of the island's specialities is rabbit (fenek), and small savoury pastries known as pastizzi are also ubiquitous.
The Maltese celebratory meal is fenkata, a feast of rabbit, marinated overnight in wine and bay leaves. The first course is usually spaghetti in rabbit sauce, followed by the rabbit meat stewed or fried (with or without gravy). Look out for specialist fenkata restaurants, such as Ta L'Ingliz in Mgarr.
True Maltese food is quite humble in nature, and rather fish and vegetable based -- the kind of food that would have been available to a poor farmer, fisherman or mason. Thus one would find staples like soppa ta' l-armla (widow's soup) which is basically a coarse mash of whatever vegetables are in season, cooked in a thick tomato stock. Then there's arjoli which is a julienne of vegetables, spiced up and oiled, and to which are added butter beans, a puree made from broadbeans and herbs called bigilla, and whatever other delicacies are available, like Maltese sausage (a confection of spicy minced pork,coriander seeds and parsley, wrapped in stomach lining) or ġbejniet (simple cheeselets made from goats'or sheep milk and rennet, served either fresh, dried or peppered). Maltese sausage is incredibly versatile and delicious. It can be eaten raw (the pork is salted despite appearances), dried or roasted. A good plan is to try it as part of a Maltese platter, increasingly available in tourist restaurants. Sun dried tomatoes and bigilla with water biscuits are also excellent. Towards the end of summer one can have one's fill of fried lampuki (dolphin fish) in tomato and caper sauce. One must also try to have a bite of ħobż biż-żejt, which is leavened Maltese bread, cut into thick chunks, or else baked unleavened ftira, and served drenched in oil. The bread is then spread with a thick layer of strong tomato paste, and topped (or filled) with olives tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and the optional arjoli (which in its simpler form is called ġardiniera).
A typical soft drink that originated in Malta is Kinnie, a non-alcoholic fizzy drink made from bitter oranges and slightly reminiscent of Martini.
The local beer is called Cisk (pronounced "Chisk") and, for a premium lager (4.2% by volume), it is very reasonably priced by UK standards. It has a uniquely sweeter taste than most European lagers and is well worth trying. Other local beers, produced by the same company which brews Cisk, are Blue Label Ale, Hopleaf, 1565, Lacto ("milk stout") and Shandy (a typical British mixture pre-mixture of equal measures of lager and 7-UP). Other beers have been produced in Malta in direct competition with Cisk such as '1565' brewed and bottled in the Lowenbrau brewery in Malta. Since late 2006 another beer produced by a different company was released in the market called "Caqnu". A lot of beers are also imported from other countries or brewed under license in Malta, such as Carlsberg, Lowenbrau, SKOL, Bavaria, Guinness, Murphy's stout and ale, Kilkenny, John Smith's, Budweiser, Becks, Heineken, Efes, and many more.
Malta has two indigenous grape varieties, Girgentina and Ġellewza, although most Maltese wine is made from various imported vines. Maltese wines directly derived from grapes are generally of a good quality, Marsovin  and Delicata  being prominent examples, and inexpensive, as little as 60-95ct per bottle. There are also many amateurs who make wine in their free time and sometimes this can be found in local shops and restaurants, especially in the Mgarr and Siġġiewi area. Premium wines such as Meridiana  are an excellent example of the dedication that can be found with local vineyards.
The main Maltese night life district is Paceville (pronounced "pach-a-vil"), just north of St. Julian's. Young Maltese (as young as high school-age) come from all over the island to let their hair down, hence it gets very busy here, especially on weekends (also somewhat on Wednesdays, for midweek drinking sessions). Almost all the bars and clubs have free entry so you can wander from venue to venue until you find something that suits you. The bustling atmosphere, cheap drinks and lack of cover charges makes Paceville well worth a visit. The nightlife crowd becomes slightly older after about midnight, when most of the youngsters catch buses back to their towns to meet curfew. Paceville is still going strong until the early hours of the morning, especially on the weekends.
Interestingly it does not rain much on Malta and almost all of the drinking water is obtained from the sea via large desalination plants on the west of the island or from the underground aquifer.
Christmas in Malta
Christmas is a largely religious affair on the Maltese islands. This is due to the fact that most Maltese people are Catholics. During the festive season, various Christmas cribs, or Presepji, as they're called in Maltese, can be seen on display in churches, shopping centres, etc.
The Maltese people have many Christmas customs that are unique to the island. A very popular traditional Christmas dessert is Qaghaq ta' l-Ghasel. These are light pastry rings filled with honey.
Malta has promoted itself successfully as an entirely bi-lingual nation for Maltese and English. It counts for many educational institutes in the rest of the world as a country where English is the first language and they therefore will often even subsidise students to go there to learn it. Admittedly their command of the language is on average better than in other European countries.
For foreigners work is unfortunately often very hard to find, the Maltese are rather insular and figures show that even in the tourist sector they are very reluctant to hire people not from the island. There is a sense that since joining the EU there is more willingness to hire professionals from abroad as the business sector diversifies.
Malta is generally safe, in fact it's considered as one of the safest in the world with little in the way of violent crime or political disturbances.
Malta is generally safe compared to its European counterparts. However, with growing illegal immigration in detention camps located in the south of the Island, locals are beginning to feel a sense of uncertainty in regards to their safety in these areas.
Regarding nightlife, the Island is very safe as long as you do not walk alone. Due to Malta being a major Mediterranean port, sailors with shore leave tend to become quite rowdy after long voyages, as well as with the advent of low cost air travel coming to Malta has brought an influx of teens from across Europe enjoying short cheap weekend breaks in the sun.
The main health risk in Malta is the fierce sun in the summer, which can scorch unsuspecting tourists. Apply sunblock liberally.
For ambulance, fire or police dial 112. The main hospitals are Mater Dei Telephone: (+356) 2545 0000 and Gozo General Hospital in Gozo, tel. 2156 1600. For a complete list of government hospital services visit .
The country has three mobile phone networks available: Vodafone, Go Mobile, and Melita Mobile; as well as with other countries, you can find white labelled cell plans such as the Bay Mobiles plan that can offer alternative rates. Due to international agreements with providers across the globe, Vodafone, GO and Melita are sure to be apart of your carriers roaming plan.
Internet cafés and wi-fi zones are quite abundant with connection rates peaking at 30mbps.