An unexpected twist on our romantic Valentine's getaway... to Malta. Read on in today's story column.
c’est le monde à l’envers
: the world's gone crazy (or: it's an upside-down world)
L'expression "c'est le monde à l'envers" c'est quand les choses sont dans le contraire de ce qu’on attend.
(from Wikipedia) The expression c'est le monde à l'envers means that things are different than expected.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
One of the pluses of living near Marseilles is the city's proximity to so many lively destinations. My husband is the travel bug in our family and he can't help but be tempted by the discount air carriers and their latest offres. When Jean-Marc noticed a round-trip ticket to Malta for only 70 euros--he quickly located a room at 60 euros per night and a car at 100 euros for 3 days.... and so found the perfect Valentines surprise for his chérie!
In the blink of an eye we had touched down at Malta international airport on La Fête des Amoureux. I didn't realize we would be arriving after midnight, but then there were a lot of things I was unprepared for--like the fact that the Maltese drive on the opposite side of the road!!
Jean-Marc and I were standing in the dimly lit rental car lot when this disturbing detail revealed itself to us:
"The key doesn't work!" my valentine said, trying in vain to locate the lock.
"Here. Give that to me," I said, reaching for la clé. It was four hours past my bed time and I was anxious to get out of this dark and vacant car lot and get to our hotel. Grabbing the key, I began to thumb-punch it, trying to automatically unlock the car. Meantime, Jean-Marc had walked around to the other side, looking for a keyhole.
"Ha! The driving wheel is on the right!" Jean-Marc announced, more amused than concerned.
Well that's odd, I thought. Why would they give us a car like that?
"You need to go back to the rental desk and get another version," I told my husband, trying to decide if I should go with him or wait alone in this spooky car park.
"Chérie, there won't be another 'version.' Visiblement, the Maltese drive like the English--on the left side of the road!"
Reality hit me like an arrow in the gut. Cupid's aim was waaaay off, and with it all the kissy-kissy-goo-goo feelings my husband had bargained for along with this bargain vacation! But bargaining with our lives was NOT sexy.
"We can't drive like this!" I stamped my foot.
"Well, we don't have the choice!" Jean-Marc's tone was firm. The amusement my husband experienced a moment ago had waned. Sensing I was going to dig my feet in, Jean-Marc told me to get in the car. "Everything's going to be okay. I'll drive!"
My heart seized up as Jean-Marc grinded the gears into first. He was completely disoriented and we hadn't even left the parking lot. Oh God, we were doomed! My mind began jumping to its colorful conclusions and I could queerly appreciate the romantic ending our couple had come to... as we RIP'd together on the Mediterranean island of Malta. It sure beat a collision on the 1-10 in Apache Junction or Phoenix!
"Good thing the accelerator and the brakes aren't reversed!" Jean-Marc chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. But his joke only caused me more distress. At this point that wasn't so hard to imagine!
"Stay on the left! ON THE LEFT!" I screeched as we entered the first roundabout. Just as expected, I watched my husband's reflexes kick in. He had wanted to go right! Yes, however slightly, he had edged over to right! No matter how he denied it. I saw it with my own bulging eyes!
Jean-Marc tried distraction. "Look for the signs to Mellieha," he said. But all I could see were cars racing past us in the roundabout. How strange to see cars going clockwise! The trick would be to fight our reflexes--and remember to do everything opposite! But it was so easy to get confused--especially in a foreign land, after 1 a.m. in the morning!
I couldn't help but evacuate the stress at every frightening turn--ever struggling to remember whether to first look left or right for oncoming traffic. I found it helpful to remember the giant lettering written across the streets of London. "LOOK LEFT". The avertissements are designed to prevent visitors (from countries that drive on the right) from being crushed by oncoming vehicles!
"Left! Stay left!" My orders were punctuated by a series of short breaths, the kind the nurses demanded when I went through labor for each of my children.
Worried I might hyperventilate, Jean-Marc put me to work. "Here! Read these notes!" he ordered, handing over the map to our hotel.
"Keep your eyes on the road," I scolded. "If you need to reach for a paper--ask me. I'll do it!"
"We should be there in twenty minutes. Don't worry!" Jean-Marc said, trying to calmer le jeu, or ease tensions.
Worrisome now were the directions. The names of the Maltese roads were obviously foreign--with a lot of tricks--or "Triqs" thrown in.
Triq, it seemed, was the name for street--the word being mention over and over again.
"Read me the name of the street," Jean-Marc said, swerving to avoid a car that had just entered our roundabout from the left. Whoa!
"I can't (puff! puff! puff!)." How could I read him the name of the streets, when I could hardly breathe?
What's more, the streets had funny foreign characters (an "H" was double barred through the center). It wasn't pronunciation that concerned me, it was the way all the lines began to run together: I could not keep my eyes on both the directions and the road at the same time.
Jean-Marc tried in vain to remind me that HE was the driver and I could keep my eyes on the directions (and off the road) but this was an impossibility. The only way to feel safe was by exercising the small amount of control still in my power: by keeping an extra set of eyes on the road we would reduce our chances of collision!
Jean-Marc gave up and reached for his Smartphone.
"You mean you had a GPS this whole time and didn't want to use it!!!" I guessed connection fees went contrary to our budget vacation!
Speaking of contrary, we were now back on track even if that track was still reversed. Now with the GPS, I could concentrate on hyperventilating and all the intermittant screeching. "I can't help it!" I said to Jean-Marc, who--guided by my OHMYGOD gurglings--managed to veer away once again from oncoming traffic. (Adding to stress were all those SPEED KILLS signs, which dotted the road before many a hairpin turn. That's when an additional threat came to mind: we were driving in party hour traffic, after midnight! Hopefully the Maltese would remember which side of the road they usually drove on!)
All the shrieks and heavy breathing didn't make my driver's job any easier, but, little did he know, Jean-Marc was quickly racking up romantic points. For as much as I fault him for his impatience, my husband can swiftly shift into calm mode when the tables (or roads) are turned and I'm the one flipping out. I deeply appreciated his soft and encouraging words during our harried drive (and the few times he snapped he was quickly forgiven!).
Jean-Marc even managed, here and there, to maintain his sense of humor. Arriving to our hotel, he pulled the keys out of the ignition and, handed them to me, he chuckled. "Demain, c'est toi qui conduis!"
une offre = special deal
chéri, chérie = darling
la fête des amoureux = Valentine's Day
la clé = key
visiblement = evidently
un avertissement = warning
calmer le jeu = calm things down
demain c'est toi qui conduit! = tomorrow you're the driver!
Paris Metro Apron - a fun and whimsical tablier to wear
In Mdina, the old capital of Malta, the English influence can be missed... In 1964 Malta achieved its independance from the UK.
My favorite visit while on the island: the Argotti Botanical Gardens. Visits are by appointment only, but we were lucky to wander in and pay for our visitor pass (3 euros per person). We spoke to the curator who told us about all the Somalian students, currently working on site. "They are all exiled." I looked at the teenage boys, many of whom had lost their families. "They have only two choices back home: go to war or be killed," the curator explained. Cheers to Argotti Botanical Garden for creating this insertion program where they are teaching refugees skills to carry with them to their next destination (Matla beind a temporary landing for many of the unfortunates).
Other gardens on Malta: the San Anton Botanical gardens, where the president lives at the palace. See the impressive kitchen garden and the exotic birds.
Malta is a plant lovers paradise! Whether tumbling from balconies or carpeting the vineyards, flowers are blooming everywhere in February! I loved the roadside fennel with its giant round pom-pom flowers (so different from our Provence fenouil), and Jean-Marc helped me collect pocketfuls of snapdragon seeds! Some say the name "Malta" comes from the Greek "meli" (honey). And some call Malta "the land of honey."
Remember those tricks or "Triqs" I talked about in today's story. Here's a road sign.
Guess who we took with us on our romantic getaway? Mr. Sacks, bien sûr! Jean-Marc's ancient sacoche sat with us at outdoor cafes, on rocky piers, and sandy beaches. Here are more things we all enjoyed:
Mellieha Bay - where we found lounge chairs to rent (3 euros for the day) and ordered a hot lunch for under 10.
Golden Bay - beautiful hike down to the water (the path is flanked by purple and yellow wildflowers this time of year). Have a coffee at the bar overlooking the Mediterranean.
St. Paul's Bay - colorful fishing boats and a stroll along the boardwalk
Spinola Bay – St. Julians. Go to Gululu's -- a restaurant for traditional Maltese food. I loved the octopus stew with capers, olives, raisin, walnuts and vegetables.
Also loved the restaurant Two and a half Lemons, in the Vittoriosa Marina--for the fresh tuna and for our wonderful waiter. Sitting outside, facing the boats, the sounds of the clanking masts is relaxing.
The island of Gozo is something we didn't get to see. It's going on our bucket list for next time! Have you ever been to Malta? Will you share some "must see" places there? Click here to comment.
Jed Christensen's article "Five Fine Days on Italy's Toe" includes an excellent and historical review of Malta.
I missed the chance to photograph all the beautiful stone walls, restanques, and cabanons on Malta. Thankfully Janet recorded some at her blog Malta Meanderings.
Googling "botanical gardens malta", I found Jess's blog--and great photos of San Anton Gardens (which I then visited).
The Kappillan of Malta - this book came highly recommended from one of our readers (Thanks, FM).
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety