Cruise baby!

Cruising is not for me. Or so I thought. I was convinced cruise ships were the equivalent of five star resorts on land. A place you go to be served and pampered – and equipped with blinkers for what goes on in the outside world. I also had vivid images of people stuffing themselves with too much food, drinking too much wine, and generally acting as ignorant as only a certain type of tourists do.

Much to my surprise, I was invited along on a press trip by the Azamara Cruise group. And even more surprisingly, I accepted. People that know me, had a hard time believing it when I said I was going on a cruise… but after all, you don’t turn down an invitation to cruise the Med for one week, all expenses paid, right?

To my relief, Azamara believes in a casual approach to cruising. There’s no formal dress code, and the staff are as delightful as they are top notch.

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Waitress: Would you like some more wine, ma’am?

Me: No thanks (it was lunch time and I was planning a run on the treadmill in the afternoon).

Waitress: Why? Are you going to drive?

Me: Ehhm… no.

Waitress: Go on then. Enjoy yourself!

Me: Alright then! (Needless to say, I never made it to the treadmill)

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I spent seven days aboard the Azamara Quest, and I can honestly say they were the most relaxing days of my life! No exaggeration. I did my fair bit of sightseeing when we were docked, and I did stop by their fitness room almost every day. But still, it was such a smooth, relaxing way to travel that I would easily do it again. In fact, I’m off on a journey with the Norwegian Epic this May. And who knows, maybe I will just have to become a travel writer specializing in cruises from now on!

Not a bad place to wake up!

I was proven wrong on three of my biggest misconceptions:

1 – Only pensioners go on cruises

The majority of my fellow cruisers were in fact pensioners, however, some couples in their early thirties were on honeymoon and quite a few couples in their 40’s were just enjoying time off.

2 – You end up in a great big line whenever you want to eat or get off the ship.

This very much depends on the size of your ship. The Quest only has 694 passengers, and consequently, I never had to line up for anything. The only time I found limitations in the offers on board, were the day we had scheduled at sea. I would’ve wanted to indulge in a deep tissue massage that day, but of course, so did most others. I had to settle for having my massage on another day. Life sure is hard, eh…

3 – You don’t get to see anything

As a traveler being used to exploring to my heart’s content, traveling on a cruise ship can quite easily let you down. You are always on a time limit, and you will have to settle for exploring the places dictated by the itinerary. In other words, don’t expect to unleash your inner adventurer. On the other hand, you are free to explore during the hours the ship is docked, and whether you decide to follow the footsteps of the masses, or go off on a mission of your own, is totally up to you.

I saw corners of Malta that left me in awe, I discovered the sweetest little shoe shop in Sorrento where they sell handmade sandals to DIE for, and I woke up one morning to see Mount Etna covered in snow. It took my breath away…

Valletta, a Mediterranean gem.

View from my stateroom...

The cutest little, Italian shoe shop.

Here is one of the articles written about how cruising is so me now!

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Maltese sign safari

‘You want drinkie?’

A Maltese mother offers her toddler a bottle of water in the middle of Valletta’s high street. She’s communicating in fluent English, a linguistic heritage from back when Malta was British (they achieved independence in 1964).

Five minutes later I overhear a conversation between two young shop attendants at fashion shop ‘Bershka’. They are talking in a language that sounds totally alien to me. A very pretty language, but nonetheless incomprehensible – with a different ring to it than anything I’ve ever heard before. Maltese it turns out.

Valletta. Beautiful from the outside, and interesting once you start prying into her back alleys.

Valletta main street

Hearing the Maltese talk is one way of understanding that Malta is quite a different place.  Another way to approach and appreciate Malta’s multi cultural past is by taking a stroll down Valletta’s back alleys and do a sign safari.

A sign safari? I hear you say. Well, it’s one of those things you end up doing when a myriad of type faces, a wide variety of shapes and sizes and faded colors alongside vivid neon grab your attention wherever you turn your head. Most of all however,  it is the exotic names that speak to me.

To me, it looked like a film still.

Spice up your life at George Zammit's hole in the wall

Mr. Zammit’s shop facade displays spices.  When I get closer, I realise the shop is long closed, and that what I thought was a tempting assortment of cinnamon, cardamom and star aniseed, is nothing but a piece of paper full of images…

V. & F. Fortelli & Sons have been selling, well.. it’s difficult to tell what really,  from a pale blue door. I google them upon my return home, and it turns out the Fortellis are still going strong – in a modern building far away from the one I photographed.  They sell all sorts of imported goods, from Christmas trees to safes and party hats! Their company has been passed down from father to son for a whopping 104 years. And as it turns out, today they even have a place on the web: http://www.vfportelli.com

Who would have thought this company is still going strong?

This is when I realise that my improvised sign safari is more than just a stroll. By reading and admiring Valletta’s signs I learn something about a city and a culture I knew nothing about upon arrival. Once I returned home I started researching these signs, and much to my amazement, I discovered that I am not the only one who has found them interesting. Check out Matthew’s wonderful images at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brownwindsor/sets/72157594306293632/with/257447151/

Below are more signs. Mostly because I found them charming, but also because they have stories to tell. About a bakery (pastizzeria) where loose change is enough to buy you the Maltese specialty called pastizzi (small pastry parcels filled with a sweet or savoury filling) . About a barber who ran out of clients. And about a watch maker who lost his eye sight.

Valletta's old shop fronts display an insight into linguistic as well as colonial history.

If you like Valletta’s signs, maybe you’ll also like the grafitti we’ve covered here: https://photito.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/story-story-on-the-wall/