Destination: Birgu, Malta
Hello from Birgu, Malta, out in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea!
What's that? We told you after Miami we were going to London for the summer?
Okay, we did say that, but one of the hallmarks of traveling as a digital nomad is that you have to be flexible. So when the co-living facility we had planned to stay at in London closed down unexpectedly, we had to scramble to find new accommodations.
There were no other promising co-living places in London, so we looked to other countries, including Malta, Italy, and Bulgaria, all of which we'll visit in the upcoming months.
Up first is CocoHub in the city of Birgu, Malta. At 450,000 people, Malta is one of the smallest countries in Europe, but is also one of the most densely populated. It's also old. Like, super old.
It's been populated since at least 5500 BC and has been occupied at different times by almost every great European power throughout history: the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Ottoman Empire, the French, and the British. That means a lot of fighting and conquering, and also a lot of monuments to all of the fighting and conquering. Plus, there are forts all over Malta. A lot of forts.
We've been here for several weeks now and can make some observations:
- Malta is basically a big rock in the Mediterranean. The arrival of humans meant the subsequent rearrangement of that rock into the aforementioned forts, and also walled cities. Most structures are built from a beautiful yellow limestone that positively glows in the daylight. It's quite striking.
- Seriously, the whole country is basically stone fortresses, and castles, and walled cities with narrow streets, with everything running into everything else.
- We're staying in one of those castles! The building is at least four hundred years old (records only go back so far!). It's aesthetically very cool, but the plumbing is a bit dodgy, and everything smells a bit musty. Our "castle" take-away? Castles must be miserable in cold climates!
- We're exaggerating a little about Malta being all rock: there is a bit of countryside, with some charming farms, and also a bit of newer residential areas (some of which is quite ugly). But even in the "country," there are probably more cactuses than trees. Our current (urban) neighborhood has basically zero trees.
- Despite being a prosperous member of the European Union, the Maltese come across as dour and rather grim. They'll say hello if you say it first, but don't except a warm greeting. We've been joking that Maltese customer service is indifference bordering on outright hostile. They also shout at each other a lot, both early in the morning and late at night, which is ironic, because it all echoes down the narrow stone streets. Everyone must definitely know everyone else's bizness.
- The water in Malta tastes terrible. It's basically "desalinated" by the deep rock in the water table, but it's not desalinated very well. It also tastes like rock. As a result, most of the locals, including us now, drink bottled water. This sucks because it means a lot of single-use plastic (sorry, Laura!). But the tap water is basically undrinkable, even brewed with strong coffee or tea.
- American style grocery stores don't really exist. Instead, locals (like us!) do our shopping at butchers, fruit and vegetable stands and trucks, and lots and lots of little storefronts that don't always sell just what the sign says. Want deodorant? Try the hardware store. How about coffee filters? Well, you're out of luck, because they don't sell those anywhere in Malta. If and when Amazon ever comes to Malta, it will make things more efficient, but also destroy the local economy, and also a lot of the country's charm.
- There is basically no Asian food anywhere. Back in Seattle, pho had become one of our four major food groups. We're dying for a bowl!
Since Brent and I have both been busy with writing projects, we haven't had much time to check out much more than our neighborhood, but in the coming weeks we'll check out the capitol city of Valletta, the ancient capitol of Mdina (a walled city), and the natural beauty of Gozo!