Gozo, Malta

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Sanap Cliffs – boat for scale

Researching Malta, most of the focus centered on the summer weather, the beaches, the bath-warm seas. But since we were visiting in January, these didn’t really apply. We’d seen a few items about walking trails, and that sounded good, but didn’t pay too much attention. At just 26 square miles, we weren’t sure how much the island could cram in. The answer truly surprised us. No matter which direction we walked from our home in Marsalforn, the views stunned. Every town and corner of the island had a distinct personality and landscape.

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Blustery arrival, Ggantija Temple

Inland to the southeast of us, the small town of Xaghra held a mysterious Neolithic temple and a more modern Parish Church which stunned us with its intricate interior. Following the coastal trail rather than the road, we passed small cliffs high above the green slopes. Below us the Mediterranean wrapped itself around the island’s shore. Ending up at Ramla Beach, the temperatures were almost nice enough for sun bathing.

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Xaghra Parish Church, near the salt pans

Walking west from our apartment led to another set of views entirely. Along the low rocky coast, salt pans are still active in hotter seasons. The shallow pools reflected sea and sky, a myriad of blues. Often people fished. The only downside was passing by the shooting range; the sharp pop of guns didn’t add anything to the day.

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Salt pans

Soon the ground swelled upward. The shoreline grew steeper, finally reaching vertical around Wied Il-Mielah, a striking sea arch. The Azure Window, the more famous arch, crashed into the sea in 2017. Il-Mielah has seen an uptick in visitors but still feels underappreciated. A few climbers scaled the sides and a family took photos along the viewing ledge.  Continuing beyond this arch, the cliffs took over.

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Terraced hills and Wied Il-Mielah

The path, marked with red blazes, wandered though lunar-like landscapes of wind-smoothed stone. In other spots the ground was lush with flowers. And thistles, too. It was a ‘calm’ day my Maltese standards, the wind only picking up to 15 miles an hour or so, but coming over the top of the rock it gusted at random intervals.

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The landscape varies a lot for such a small island

Rounding the northwest corner of the island, we lost the path for a bit. But with help from Google Maps we got back on track and soon the area around Dwejra was in sight. The island drops away into the blue, a wide horizon shows off the sunset. With no more Azure Window, there are fewer tourists. And most stayed near where the tour bus dropped them off. We preferred the areas a bit further out – from Wied Il-Mielah all the way to the end of the hike, we only saw three other people.

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Cliffs around Dwejra

Starting another hike at Xlendi, we again hugged the tops of the cliffs. The Sanap and Ta’ Cenc cliffs are just as high as those near Dwejra, though they curve a bit less so there are fewer views photo opportunities.  As we neared Mgarr, where the Gozo Channel Line docks their ferries, the trail dipped to sea’s edge. We skirted under hills formed of layers of gray clay and near rocky beaches.

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Layered cliffs near Fort Chambray

Coming back from a long hike, a tasty treat was an order. We visited Ta’ Mena Estate during our first week and brought home a hefty load of wines, local cheeses, salt, and konserva (a thick tomato paste blended with salt and sugar, great on toast). Their wines were especially tempting, relatively cheap but wonderfully rich. We went back several times to restock. Beer was thinner on the ground, but the island’s single brewery, Lord Chambray, works to reverse that trend. They craft several styles and were happy to give us a tour of their space as well. My favorite proved to be their Flinders Rose, a gose beer made with local sea salt and caper flowers.

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Local eats & drinks, timed parking, wind-churned waters

Kevin made a traditional rabbit stew with fresh meat, letting it simmer on the stovetop for hours. It lasted for several days and only got better with time. If we passed through Victoria, the island’s capital, we stopped for pastizzi (a flaky pastry stuffed with cheese or peas) or qassatat (a larger, doughier cheese or spinach pastry). Both cost just a few cents and filled us up quickly.

Between long walks, beautiful scenery, tasty local dishes, and the ever-present Mediterranean, Gozo might be my favorite spot to spend a winter. With just a handful of other tourists and a relaxed pace of life, we felt like we could explore the island on our own schedule.

 

 

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Thai Orchid Cookery School

Today we spent the day learning how to make delicious Thai dishes at the Thai Orchid Cookery School in the Old Town of Chiang Mai.

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Spring roll success!

Our instructor was A, who showed our group of 8 how to make a full Thai meal from a selection of choices. For me that included fresh spring roll appetizers, chicken in coconut soup, panang curry,  pad thai with prawns,  and steamed banana cake.

We jumped right in by heating veggies and sauce for spring rolls – just ignore the messy folding technique on my part and they are perfect. A showed us how to make stock for the soups using shrimp and veggies, so all we had to do was add a few final ingredients and we were set. It goes much quicker than the heavier stews and soups I am used to that simmer all day – just a few minutes to get the flavors in (and some more potent ingredients only go in for the last 10-15 seconds) and you are done and ready to eat!

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To break up the day, we went on a tour of the local market to see what the ingredients look like whole and a lesson on how to tell the some of the similar ones apart (three types of basil, for instance, and different gingers).

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Cooking goodies!

imageA was also thoughtful enough to have samples of various fruits, so I can now cross trying durian off my list. It wasn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe, but it also isn’t a food I feel the need to try again.  To me, it tastes a bit like something molding – a sewer or rotten silage perhaps. On the other hand, rose apples (crunchy and not too sweet, often eaten with a sugar and chili powder mix) and custard apples (sweet and creamy) were delicious and I’ll be looking for those in our future shopping.

We spent the first part of the afternoon producing the two main courses for our lunch – the panang curry and quick-cooking pad thai. Honestly, I can’t believe I produced an entire meal!  Normally, Hamburger Helper is beyond my skill level, so it was a testament to the great instruction that everything was yummy and I didn’t burn or under/overseason my dishes. (Poor Kevin – the one time I cooked a meal, and he still had to make his own food!) Of course, I don’t even have an excuse not to try these at home since we received a cookbook with all the recipes and ingredient information. I guess I might need to invest in an apron in the future…

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Look, I cooked!

This class made me suspect I am even more of a spice/pepper wuss than I thought – A insists that most Thais can handle between 5 and 10 of the super-hot bird’s eye peppers in their curries… I only put one in the dishes where they were used…and I didn’t even slice it, just smashed it with the flat side of the knife to bring out a hint of flavor. I’ll have to try and up my game since I don’t want to keep embarrassing myself when we eat out!