21 March 2018

Wed., Mar. 21, 2018 - Spring in Malta

Sliema Creek
The Co-Cathedral framed by blossoming trees.

In our more than three years living on Milly in the tropics, we have not experienced spring.  I did not realize how much I missed it until seeing daffodils and crocuses pushing through the moist earth and tiny buds on the black branched trees during a too brief stay in Brooklyn last year.  Now we are out of the tropics (which has its pros and cons), and are experiencing the beauty of a Malta spring.

The prevailing NW winds are still fresh - read, chilly for this blood-thinned Canadian - but the sun is warm, the trees are green and the blossoms are bursting.  The hillsides are yellow with daisy-like flowers - not dandelions.   It is very beautiful.  We are looking forward to hikes in the countryside to get the full effect.
Everywhere you look in Malta there are ancient ramparts/walls and forts which make for lovely backdrops.

Wild snapdragons, Queen Anne's lace and yellow daisies.  Perfect!

Even the windows are dressed for spring.

I have a feeling that this is the greenest time of year here.  After a long, very hot summer the fields are dry and brown.  Grapes for wine-making are harvested in July!

The Maltese are obviously enjoying spring, too.  Potted plants are appearing at the edge of already narrow streets. 
The ducks in this duck farm, built with love and a sense of humour, are also sensing spring with some randy behaviour.
Wild and tiny sweet peas ramble all over some ruins.  Loved them!

16 March 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018 - Culture Shock

We have been exploring Malta for the past few days and can’t stop commenting on the obvious differences to our past five months stay in Monastir, Tunisia. To name a few: 

Although the first language is Maltese, everyone speaks English.  No more miming, umm-ing and ahh-ing.  There are even English book stores that we have already avidly browsed in.

Church bells mark the hour and half hour, replacing the five calls to prayer in minor key.
The vaulted nave of St John Co-Cathedral.  Every inch of that ceiling, unusually painted with oil paint, covered with the life of St John.  
Catholic art adorns the churches comprised of cherubs, angels, madonnas, saints and knights.  The forbidden animate objects of Islam are the artistic themes here in a big way.

Pristine!  No plastic bottles, wrappers or bags
Garbage pails everywhere.  Very little litter and no piles of construction rubble in sight, a feature that was so distressing in Tunisia.  Yesterday's visit to Mdina showed such immaculate care of the streets that we couldn't stop exclaiming.

Compared to the somber dark and full body clothing of Tunisians, the colour and variety of apparel is a delight.

The availability of commercial products is shockingly abundant. 
In the vicinity of Valletta there are at least 12 marinas.
Pleasure yachts abound and the dinghy club is active on a daily basis - more signs of abundant cash.  At least a dozen well-stocked chandleries and dealers of all boat parts.  
Those little specks out there is a fleet of lasers.  We are particularly partial to sailing schools of kids.

Very wide variety of fresh produce both imported and home grown.  Pork products including the best of the best hams from Italy.  

Even though it's still low season, the tourists sites of which there are many are still busy and thriving.  Poor Tunisia!  A handful of tourists were just arriving as we left.
Valletta is tourist central for good reason.  All very tasteful and European.

At least 19 cranes are visible on the skyline from Milly's deck.   We take this as a sign of solid economy.  Sadly, some of the buildings are much higher than the older five or six floor buildings that line the harbour but in a country that boasts the second highest population density in the world after Bangladesh (according to our land guide), I guess the small footprint here requires it.
View from the walls of Mdina, the highest point of the island and an immaculate walled city.

Green fields, parks with green grass, and trees in spring blossom.  Little dust and no blowing Sahara sand which rested on our boat especially after rainfall.

Unfortunately, chain stores and restaurants are also prevalent - Burger King, MacDonald's, even Cinnabon.  
Deliberating over the lunch menu with friends who we wintered with in Tunisia.  Prices are hurtful but the food is of a welcome variety.
All these luxuries, in our eyes, are accompanied by a price tag that we are also not used to. A street food lunch in Monastir set us back about $3 for both of us. Here, we pay about $25. Ouch!  Oh, well. The price to pay for Western sophistication!  For now we are welcoming all of it.
Just a cool building.

12 March 2018

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sliema Creek

Our home for the winter.  It had been a very good education but we were ready to head back across the Med.
After almost five months in Monastir, we left with a fair weather window and are now moored, bow and stern, in a busy harbour near Valletta.  Very happy to be back in the EU.

We sailed 182 NM in 26 hours at a close reach the whole way.  No motoring!  It was so great to be back on the water.  Peter was supremely happy, even when the depth sounder refused to work.

Although an easy and pretty effortless sail, there were two events that we had not experienced before.  First, when I woke up Peter for his second watch of the night, I heard an unfamiliar and strange hum which could only audible in the aft berths, louder on port.  It was still pitch dark but as it became light and Peter gazed about him about 500 m behind us was a white ploughing wave which looked like a submarine.  It was on our path and moving at exactly our rate of speed.  When Peter slowed us down - which woke me up - it slowed down and no longer looked submarine-ish.  It was a fishing buoy.  I glimpsed the line and thought it was caught around the rudder.  While Peter kept Milly motionless, with a boat hook, I was able to reach and pull up the line to cut it with a rigging knife.  Poof!  Away it went, luckily.  Friends have had lines wrapped around props - we were lucky.
Valletta in sight.

After clearing in at Valletta, we saw our friends from Tunisia on their boat in a nearby harbour.  We had been told by a Maltese sailor who we'd met in Tunisia, that we could grab two mooring balls in this harbour that belonged to a friend of his.  There are hundreds of balls, making it impossible to anchor.  I really don't like mooring, and this field required a stern and bow buoy to keep all boats aligned and allow more to moor in the small space, making it all a bit more awkward.  We estimated which balls were the ones we could take and then worked out a strategy to grab them in a pretty fair wind.  Both balls had one very long, thick, mossy line attached but with no eye at the end.  On a catamaran we need two lines and an eye on the end makes it simple to just plop over the cleat.  Long and short of it - I had to get in the dinghy while Peter kept Milly on the spot.  A few expletives later from me.  And then a major one from Peter which is extremely rare.  He had run over one of the long, ugly and useless mooring lines, it had wound around the prop and stalled the engine.  I volunteered to jump in the 18 degree water with shorty wet suit.  After a little bit of hyper ventilating from the cold and several trips under the hull, I was able to unwind and then cut the line and unwind it some more.  A bit more finagling with lines and we were done.  All lined up and ready for a beer with our friends and then a long, post passage sleep.
Milly safely moored with Valletta in the background.

9 March 2018

Friends and Family in Mallorca

We loved Mallorca.  Peter and I always wonder where we will settle when time aboard becomes time as land lubbers.  Although we love all we see, rarely, I might say never, have we actually agreed that "This is a place we could live."  But Mallorca passed the grade - yes, we could live there.  Beautiful cruising, sensational topography, amazing and valued recreational infrastructure of established hiking trails and motor vehicle drivers who respect cyclists, lovely mountain villages, easy going lifestyle,  and much, much more.  BUT the most expensive island in the Med.  We do know how to pick them!

Great times with friends and family may have biased our perspective!  First, dear friends from Toronto came for a short but very sweet visit.  R & R at a secluded anchorage, a tramp around and about Palma and some fine food and cooking were enjoyed.  Then Peter's clan did an incredible thing They coordinated themselves to come from Norway, Toronto and Waterloo to visit and meet Milly for the first time.  A couple of family members were missing and missed but otherwise, it was fantastic!

And here it is in pictures:

The impetus for our first destination in Mallorca was an attempt to find a protected anchorage to pick up our dear friends. We had made it from Ibiza only the day before their arrival, cutting it close due to every sailor's boss, the wind.  The bay  within the bay of Bahia de Palma met the bill and the beach was attractive.  But the town!  Sleazy bars, tattoo parlours, strip joints, this high ropes course among other fair parephenalia and tourists only - not the place to pick up these friends.  Luckily, the wind changed during the night making this anchorage not so protected after all.  We had to move across the bay and around the point to anchor outside "the most expensive marina in the Med".  This was the place to pick up our friends!

No room in the marina for this strange but interesting, James Bondesque motor trimaran.  Otherwise our neighbours anchored outside the Puerto Portals were plain old cruisers like us, trying to beat the expense while enjoying the ambiance of a beautiful neighbourhood.  More like the Mallorca we had anticipated.

The lovely old city of Palma is dominated by the Cathedral.

The notes rang through the nave, one of the highest Gothic structures in Europe, and it's narrow pillars.

Another serendipitous find - A concert with an enormous choir and full symphony met our ears during our visit to this elegant cathedral.  As far as we could understand, the theme of the concert and accompanying slide show was anti violence  in politics while outside in the main square of the city was a huge demonstration against the separation of Catalunya.

In the city centre,  the demonstration was peaceful and colourful.

Colourful food displays were extra enticing.

As we left Bahia de Palma the cliffs became higher and more dramatic.  Crocodiles lurked.

Milly at anchor from the highest point in Puerto de Santa Ponsa.

One of the Isla Dragonera lighthouses.  There is one on each end of this rugged, spectacular island and nothing else - just hiking trails.  A must for our next visit. 

Traditional fishing boats, now doubling as tourist attractions, lined the docks in Puerto de Soller where we stayed for three weeks with a visit from the Ramshaws.  In Mallorca the ports were not inhabited but purely working posts.  The towns of the same names were nestled out of sight in the hills so that roving pirates looking for a quick treasure or two were not tempted.  Soller, the town is a couple of miles inland although the puerto is now a lovely tourist town surrounding a circular protected harbour.

Still very much a fishing port but also a very swish yachting centre and tourist haven.  Absolutely beautiful.  If it didn't have such a tumultuous winter, we would have been tempted to stay put.

We introduced the family to Milly on a daysail.  Eleven of us!  So wonderful for Peter and I to share our lifestyle and home.

Not a bad life, eh Em?  Come join us anytime!

Cala De La Calobra.  A slit in the rocks where the Torrente de Pareis - definitely no torrent - through spectacular cliffs.  A must see.  There's a loop hike from the highway.  Another reason to return.

Another view including Milly.

Bus back to land for those landlubbers in an almost submerged TomTom.  Great day!

Refreshment of freshly squeezed orange juice on a hike along the coast to meet the others for lunch seaside.

Such a great time!  Companionship couldn't be beat.

Lunch destination from on high.

A day being chauffeured by Tom took us through the mountains to Pollenca, an ancient town of twisting lanes.

The Via Cructis, a long, steep and beautiful lined by boutiques and cypress trees leads to a small chapel at the top and a sensational view.

And another daysail with Liz on the bow.

Peninsula de la Foradada.  Tom and I headed to the tippy top while the others enjoyed time on Milly.

This was no easy hike!  Very steep climb up cliffs with scant foot and hand holds. 

Only a couple of intrepid hikers up on top.  We all took photos for each other.

 I felt that we could have jumped on top of Milly and although we hooted and hollered the crew did not wave.  Too busy partying!

Going up was challenging but going down a whole lot worse.  It was a long way down.  We had to hug the wall to manage the footholds.  Tom went first and then directed his poor mother's feet to the correct spot.


Liz and Raymond heading home.  Adieu to the Ramshaws.  Same time next year, we hope.

Peter and I took a few more days to hike this beautiful coastline.  If only we could stay!

The Soller market.  Olives!


gorgeous views on vigorous hikes...

made us sad to leave Puerto Soller

And even sadder to leave Mallorca!  Sensational place.  Loved it!