Wednesday, September 21, 2016

5 Half-Day Adventures in Malta with Kids

My family's feelings toward our trip to Malta are best summed up in a recent conversation we had with the boys about whether or not we should get a turtle. This comes up frequently in our house... Big Arrow is allergic to dogs and cats so they're angling for alternative pet options. In an effort to steer clear of the inevitable, "So can we have one?" question, I raised my own question. "If we got a turtle, what would you name it?"

There was some chatter, some silliness of wildly inappropriate names (relating to private parts and bathroom talk). And then one of the boys said, "We should name it Malta. Then we can think about that trip all the time." And we all agreed that was a perfect name. And it almost makes me want to seriously consider getting them a turtle just so we could have a pet named Malta.

That's when you know a trip has reached legendary status.

Our trip to Malta was all about combining sightseeing with relaxation. We knew it would be our last European trip for quite a while so we wanted to make the most of it, but we were also smack dab in the middle of an international move so we all desperately needed some R&R. (Little Arrow was also fresh off a bout with a terrible flu, so even if we hadn't wanted to go at a slow pace, his lessened energy required it.)

We tried to balance our days with outings that took 2-4 hours, and then relax by the pool or on the beach for the rest of the day. We also did a spectacular day trip to Gozo, an island off of Malta. I'll devote an entire post to Gozo in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned.

After a week on the island, there was still more we wanted to see, but these were our highlights:

Option 1: Rolling Geeks Tour

If you do one thing in Malta with your kids, make it this. We rented an electric golf cart that had
an iPad that was pre-programmed with a historical tour of the Three Cities in Malta. The scenery was stunning, the commentary was really helpful for folks who don't know anything about Malta's history (like us), and the ride was a total thrill, especially for the kids.

If your kids are still a bit too young for tour guides, this was an ideal way to learn all about what we were seeing, but in a way that was just right for our children. Truthfully, most of the recorded commentary on the iPad was over their heads, but they didn't mind at all because they were completely distracted by the excitement of the golf cart. Plus, we could stop whenever we wanted (like at a beach, a park, a clifftop overlook, etc.) to let them run around and take a break.

We saw some amazing areas of the country that we would have never thought to visit on our own. I can't say enough about it. At only 75 euros for all four of us for 2.5 hours, it was an exceptionally good value.

Option 2: Marsaxlokk

In the era of modern supermarkets and fast food, you must bring your kids to the Sunday market in Marsaxlokk at the southern tip of Malta. Here, the seafood is brought directly from the brightly colored wooden ships to the market vendors and the restaurants and cafes that line the main street along the marina. It's hot, stinky and crowded, but its a scene that will blow you away in appreciation that places like this still exist. Time has stood still in this place in the best possible way.

Arrive mid morning and stroll the market, then grab the first open table you see for lunch (it will be absolutely packed by 1 p.m. at all the waterside restaurants). Enjoy a leisurely lunch and then stroll the market again. By mid afternoon most of the delightful boats will be tied back up and you can get incredible photos of the bay.

Option 3: San Anton Gardens and Presidential Palace

I've never met a botanical garden I didn't like, but I'm not sure I would have carved out time for this one in Malta if it hadn't been directly across the street from our hotel. But go figure, our kids were up early our first morning and it seemed like a great place to burn off some energy and get some fresh air.

The gardens themselves are quite pleasant and well maintained. There's even a small aviary with fancy birds. Challenge your kids to count up how many cats they see wandering about. I think we spotted at least a dozen.

From there, we wandered through the Presidential Palace (you'll be stunned by how little security there seems to be). Just past the Palace is a coffee shop with incredible playgrounds and play spaces, even a small petting zoo. Just don't come here first, or you'll never drag the kids away.

Option 4: Valletta

As Malta's largest city, Valletta truly deserves a full day. But we passed through en route from changing from one hotel to another so we only had a few hours. We mostly just enjoyed wandering the streets, especially the pedestrian only Commonwealth Walkway.

We did make a stop to watch a 5D movie about Malta's history at Malta 5D (near St. John's Cathedral). Worth doing if you want a nice, kid-friendly introduction to Malta's significance in the history books (and it IS very significant, despite being a somewhat lesser known destination).

I wish we had made time to step into St. John's Cathedral. I've never seen such a large structure tucked away amid normal buildings quite like this anywhere else in Europe. It was spectacular just admiring it from the very hilly streets around it.

Option 5: Mdina

This was a spur of the moment half-day adventure for us, we were actually en route to another destination and realized the drive was going to take longer than we anticipated so we stopped here instead. With absolutely no pre-planning about one of Malta's most ancient villages, we happily accepted an offer from one of the horse carriage drivers at the ancient entrance gates.

We spent the next half hour enjoying the ride and exploring the most narrow alleys, beautiful churches, incredible views of the Malta countryside, etc. Then we had a charming lunch in a little cafe, marveled at the strange foods our experienced expat kids now happily ate (if you had told me 3 years prior we'd be ordering our kids chorizo platters that they would then devour I would have fallen over). And then we stopped at the playground near the city gates and watched our boys enjoy their final European playground.

I don't know when we'll take the kids back to Europe. Perhaps they'll be well past playground playing age. Maybe they'll be driving electric golf carts themselves. And we might even have a turtle named Malta by then. Regardless, Malta was the perfect last hurrah.

Ciao Bambino has some great articles about Malta here. This was my starting point for planning our trip.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Back in business!

It's been a little quiet around Arrows Sent Forth these past six months. I could offer you a list of excuses reasons, like the fact that I started a new career after 7 years as a mostly stay-at-home mom, executed an international relocation back to Indiana from England, and resettled two kids into new schools. Oh, yeah, and I wrote a book.

All settled back into U.S. life, like the joy of front porch swings on summer days.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Happy 7th Birthday, Big Arrow!

I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about for your 7th birthday post until just a few days ago. We were curled up on the couch, watching "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the slightly creepy Johnny Depp version. I was already feeling warm and fuzzy, listening to you and your brother compare the movie version to the play we saw in London last Christmas Eve. I was feeling thankful we had the chance to do that and provide you with such an experience (and who am I kidding... me too! I loved it as much as you did!). I was mentally reflecting on all those many memories from the past few years for which I'm grateful.

And then one of Charlie's grandmothers says to Charlie as he dreams of winning a golden ticket, "Charlie, nothing is impossible."

And that's it. That's what I want to tell you this year. Anything is possible. And it truly is. I hope your short yet amazing life has taught you this already.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Postcards from Puglia, Italy

There's a lot to say about our trip to Puglia, Italy over the Christmas holiday. Unfortunately there's not a lot of time to say it, as we move back to the U.S. in just a few weeks. I'm knee-deep in to-do lists, packing, relocation documents, blah, blah, blah. Apparently repatriating yourself is every bit as time consuming as expatriating yourself.

Nevertheless, I'm not going to let one of our last European trips of this phase of our lives tick by without being mentioned on the blog. And come to think of it, sharing a lot of photos and not a lot of time-consuming words is probably the best way to reflect on our travels to this region of Italy anyway. Puglia was jam packed with beauty. And also a fair amount of challenges. This is not an area of the world that caters to tourists or even English speakers in general. Which is refreshing in many ways, but also a little stressful and sometimes more than a little inconvenient. Like when you're desperate to feed your children at 6:30 p.m. and nothing is open until 8 p.m. What can I say, we follow a senior citizen eating schedule around here.

Anyway, let's let the beautiful photos tell the story. Because the incredibly gorgeous places, views, and buildings we saw are what I'm going to remember about Puglia anyway. Not leaving my credit card at a café two hours drive away.

First Stop: Borgo Egnazia

After flying into the Brindisi airport, we began our Puglian travels at the luxurious Borgo Egnazia resort. I wrote a full review of our experience at Ciao Bambino, head that way if you want the details. The brief summary is that we came, we pasta'd and pizza'd, we indoor pooled, we kids clubbed, and we relaxed. Bliss.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy 4th Birthday, Little Arrow!

As you may know, I like to write posts to the boys on their birthdays, and it is Little Arrow's 4th birthday (you can read his 1st2nd, and 3rd posts and Big Arrow's 2nd3rd4th, 5th, and 6th posts at the links.) Forgive this temporary transformation of this travel blog into an incomplete baby book... I'll resume my normal travel tales and tips in a few days.

Little man, I've been thinking about what I might write to you in this space, on the eve of your fourth birthday, for weeks now. I want to do justice to my feelings toward you. How complex they are, yet how pure and full of love they are, too. Your personality has truly blossomed this year. We're getting a much clearer snapshots of the boy you're becoming and man you'll be someday. And we love everything we're seeing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Saalbach's Kohlmais: Where Mountain Dreams Come True

It was hard to gauge how family friendly our summer trip to Austria was going to be. I thought my kids would be in awe of the mountain landscape, something very foreign for this Midwestern family. And they were. (Read my post about our time on Asitz Mountain in Leogang here.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Floating in the Clouds Atop Leogang's Asitz Mountain

A good friend of mine studied abroad in Austria while we were in college. When she came back to school after living there for a semester, the thing I remember most is that she said, "Wunderbar!" a lot. (She also taught us how to wear our scarves the way Europeans do, and I still think of her every time I wrap myself up that way.)

When my eyes first saw those Austrian Alps as we drove from Munich during our summer trip, I finally understood what that wunderbar! nonsense was all about. I can't think of a better way to describe those majestic mountains. They are truly full of wonder in every possible way.

The mountain view from the top of the Asitz mountain in Leogang was without a doubt the most breathtaking landscape I've ever seen. Perhaps my feelings toward it is due in part to the fact that the morning started out wet and foggy. We thought there was a good chance we'd take the gondola to the top, only to be completely surrounded by cloud cover. Maybe there's something to the "playing hard to get" philosophy because I'm fairly certain that's what the mountain was doing to us as we made our way toward the top. But Asitz did not let us down, and the skies partially cleared just as we arrived at the summit.