wine talks and sunrise walks in malta

my last week in malta, noelle left to northern italy to meet up with vlad, and i had the penthouse all to myself. it was the first time i'd been totally alone in MONTHS. at first i twirled through those empty rooms, to soak in that rare feeling of not interfering in anyone's else's space. and then a few hours passed and i was over it. what good are large places if they aren't filled with friends?

i was soooo happy when scarlett arrived a couple days later for a vaca away from school in amsterdam.

a familiar face in a very foreign land.

one night, we sipped wine in the cobalt blue dining room and talked about everything under the sun. she told me about school and i told her about travel plans. we talked about relationships, past and present, romantic and platonic. we agreed on the curious magic of a good french man. we talked of all kinds of philosophies and had many "ah-ha!" moments and new realizations. we wondered at what exactly motivates people to not  follow their dreams.

we accidentally wondered and sipped and laughed until that odd hour of the morning so close to sunrise that you know you'd be a fool to fall asleep and miss the show.

so we walked along the silent sliema waterfront, not talking, in awe of the scene. the tide made the sweetest lapping sounds against the rocks. and the sun emerged, gentle and delicate.

it lit up the sky and we went off to sleep with dreams of whimsy.  

a(nother) sliema sunset

  journal entry from 8/06/13

sunsets from this maltese balcony are some sort of masterpiece. watching them has become a ritual, which I take sacred steps to face this time of day.

i never know it’s starting until a golden spotlight shines through the open floor-to-ceiling windows of the living room, letting me know that molten globe is low enough in the sky to start spilling colors on the horizon. 

it shines directly inward, as if to call me out from the dimly lit space I’ve been inhabiting all day---the quiet place that's diligently hidden me from the stifling afternoon heat. when the sun summons me, I come out into the elements and greet it---totally entranced.

it starts the process of sinking into the limestone of the hillside directly across from me, on the other side of this deep harbor i face. the ripples on the surface of the water shine gold below bobbing sailboats, which look like mere toys from this 9th story railing. 

i relish in the sight of the softening hues and the tickle of a gradually cooling breeze. whisping grasses beside me cast shadows on the sunset-tinted wall. and the sun paints a stream of rosy haze over the buildings below it, like a pink filter over all the spots that will soon turn very dark.

lower, it goes, and saturates as it melts onto the horizon. i scoot my chair up to the railing, for a better view of all that is quickly changing. the people in the swimming area below are getting some last splashes in before darkness consumes the water and takes away its transparency, the waters soon becoming one never-ending mass of unknown.

lower, it goes, and tiny lights begin to gleam throughout st juliens. the sky is still the bluest of blues directly above, but gradually lightens into a gradient that turns pink. the pink blends with purple and lines the horizon as far as I can see. and the purple blends into the darkening blues of the ocean. a darkness by depth, that never ends.

lower, it goes, and sets all the houses on the hillside aflame. i can't tear my third eye away. once it touches the horizon, the sinking accelerates. and then, in a moment, it’s gone. and all that’s left is its residual half hemisphere of color, to let us know it's still somewhere. the hillside is hiding it, holding it, harnessing its incredible warmth.

and then all the lights of malta turn on, like the hillside that consumed the sun disbursed its energy all over this modest little country. and the lights, they'll gleam, until the sun shows up again, on the other side of the island.

i have talented friends

this is the project cedric was taking test shots for the week we met him. he really captured the best of malta's beauty. i am so impressed. and so grateful to know such creative and talented people. :)

i must be dreaming*

when i look back on the most magical moments from all my travels (from all my LIFE, for that matter) almost all of them involve a sunset. there's something about the fast changes of all our surroundings at that time of day that feel so surreal and sacred.

we three hurried over a rocky path of limestone steps, rushing to get to the right spot while the colors were at their most vibrant. we turned the corner of a cliff to find the azure window---a space where a cave once collapsed and sank into the sea.

the other tourists watched the sun sink from the safety of the limestone steps, some near the top of the cliff, and some even still in the parking lot. but we three wanted to be enveloped by the scene. so we swam in it---a perfect little pool with a view of the silhouetted window, the clearest horizon i've ever seen, and the little globe that was soon swallowed by the sea. 

galavanting around gozo!

when i got to malta, all of my facebook friends who knew what malta was (about .008% of them) said GO TO GOZO. so, to gozo we went.

gozo is another maltese island, just a short ferry ride away from the big island. it's almost exactly like malta except that it's... more perfect. and by that i just mean it's a lot less populated and therefore, more beautiful. cause those things tend to go hand in hand these days.

but gozo is maybe best known as the home of calypso! in homer's the odyssey , calypso keeps odysseus captive here for yeeears as her man slave until zeus reprimanded her and she reluctantly set him free.

noelle and i were planning to naively go to gozo alone, without a way to get around the island (we had no idea the public transportation isn't as fun as it sounds). but LUCKILY, that same cool videographer we met at the art festival mentioned that he needed to spend a day in gozo taking test shots for an upcoming project! so we spoiled girls got to tag along with him to the most beautiful, picturesque parts of gozo all day. 

^^^ those coastal cliff structures and salt pans were buh-reathtaking. (the salt pans collect salt water, the water is evaporated by the harsh mediterranean sun, and perfect sea salt is left behind!)

^^^ happy girls! after walking around the market and checking out the salt pans in the brutal heat of the mid-day sun, we front-flipped at the chance to cool off in this dream of a canal while cedric got the shots he needed. 

cedric treated us to seafood lunch on the water and man was it FRESH. ^^^ notice that silly boy enviously sniffing my shrimpies in the background... hah!

we enjoyed our meals over conversation about creativity and chasing dreams, while little girls splashed and giggled in the shallow waters next to our table. the happiness was contagious, and it just kept on building as the day went on. 

we explored the old, fortified citadel in the center of the island, where all the action has been happening for the past 4,000 years. 

later, we drove to another beach on the other side of the island, where we realized that either cedric's car had zero gas OR just not enough gas for the floater to register while we were parked on an incline... so we did a bit of pushing, got the car running (thank god... err, calypso!), and got to a gas station juuust in time. 

then, as the sun began to set, we rushed into the direction of the most beautiful spot on the island. it's a spot that's been filmed many times for television and movies (most recently---game of thrones!). the sunset we shared there goes down as one of the most epic moments of my life. pictures coming soon :)

beerfest and maltese blasphemy

cedric, the videographer we met at the patches art festival, invited us to join him and his friends at a beer festival to try some local brews and watch their friend's bands perform.

this was our first time feeling fully immersed into a mass of maltese culture.  cedric introduced us to all of his friends and i just thought they were all so beautiful. the girls danced confidently and sang so sweet on stage. the boys bought us beers and did flamboyant american accents to make us all laugh.

but what i loved most was hearing everyone talk to each other in their unique language. because maltese is like nothing i've ever heard before---a mix between italian and arabic! so there are a lot of arabic sounding words and crazy spellings, but with that lovely italian inflection. 

naturally, i insisted on learning every maltese curse word/phrase in existence. but holy hell, are there a LOT! maltese has some of the most elaborate, offensive, and kind of impressive cursing known to man. so cedric and his friends taught us a few of the easier ones. noelle and i repeated these fun new words throughout the night, like potty-mouthed little mocking birds, and everyone laughed at how well we pronounced them. kind of like when toddlers discover curse words for the first time and it's weirdly cute---but then you have to tell them to stop, because sometimes yelling god damnit in public just isn't appropriate. yeah, it was like that.

when i got home, i skyped with amber and taught her what i learned, since she's pretty fond of cursing too ;) cedric laughed at this, because i was "spreading maltese blasphemy far and wide!" 

valletta by day // the best day*

the second day that noelle and i went to valletta was mayyybe definitely one of the best days of my life...

nothing very significant happened. it wasn't a particularly special day---i didn't accomplish some feat or earn a degree. i didn't win money or witness a miracle. i didn't even really fall in love. ;) but this day, as a whole, surpassed many other monumental days i've lived. because it was just really damn perfect from beginning to end. 

and it was so because of my perspective. i woke up that day and chose to feel GRATEFUL.

i was so overwhelmingly grateful to be doing every little thing that i was doing, noticing every unique and cliche detail under that ancient sun, hearing every musical maltese accent, every vibration of a busking band's guitar, every click on the steep cobblestone... all of my senses were tingling on overdrive. i was so happy it made me dizzy. 

we walked through sliema to the ferry dock to cross the harbor to valletta. i must admit that the entire time noelle was leading the way, i was constantly 10 steps behind, curiously marveling at some open balcony or detailed door knocker or effortlessly perfect flower arrangement or THAT BRILLIANT BLUE SKY. 

we had walked through our little temporary neighborhood a couple times by then, but something about the vibrancy of that day really got to me. every color demanded my attention. 

we took a small cobalt blue ferry boat across the glistening harbor and i was positively manic with joy at being on water for THE FIRST TIME since i left my sailing job in st thomas last may.

i never thought i'd be the kind of girl to ever have fluttery heart palpitations at the sight of steel cleats and neatly coiled lines... but learning to sail in the caribbean was such a growing experience---such a testament to hidden strength, such a lesson in resilience---that i will always, always be a sailor at heart. 

so the body parts of boats that i spent so many months learning and gripping and hooking and tying and polishing will ALWAYS symbolize that time in my life that i finally talked back to the condescending little voice in my head that used to say don't bother stefanie, you could never do that!

cause i proved it wrong once and now i know i can do it again. and again and again and again. ;)

we climbed the streets of the capital to the upper barakka in search of an art festival called patches. local artists set up booths of colorful goods---everything from handmade clothing to recycled jewelry to woven rugs to vintage finds.

there was a band with this angelic lead singer who we insisted on knowing. we insisted on knowing e-ver-y artist. we made friends with a brazilian jewelry maker, a maltese videographer, and a polish sociology writer. i bought a bracelet made out of cut plastic bottle covered with beautiful fabric from an artist's favorite torn dress. it is hands down my most meaningful maltese souvenir. 

the view from the upper barraka was unreal. as in it looked more like a green screen than real life. which is maybe why JMW Turner painted the grand harbor and made it look sublime.

after patches, we walked through the wine & music festival still going on in another part of valletta. we searched the streets until we found the perfect spot for dinner---an outdoor cafe in front of a massive church, with a live performer singing moby. noelle ordered rabbit ravioli and i had a pizza with olives, mushrooms, hard broiled egg, and artichoke... deeeLISH.

we two giggled in disbelief at all the joys our senses were experiencing in that moment: music, food, beauty, friendship, culture, and some really luscious warm winds.

after dinner, we started the trek back to sliema, at which time we were mildy harassed by funny young italian boys who hardly spoke a word of english. to get our attention, they spouted out the only italian words they figured americans would understand, "pizza! italia! mafia! bella!" and then we resorted to a google translate app to carry on a hilarious faux conversation, which everyone on our bus watched for entertainment. by the end of this bus ride, i was engaged to a 19-year-old sicilian who likened himself to scarface... ha! dream come true, right?

once off at the bus stop, i awkwardly bid farewell to my 10-minute-fiance. then noelle and i walked along st julien's lit up waterfront JUST as their epic religious festa was reaching its climax.  

crowds of people had flooded the space in front of the church. men in white robes held up religious figures and a full orchestra performed. fireworks erupted in the bay, casting red and purple sparks across the sky. then, just as we were weaving our way through the masses of people, they started lighting sparklers all around us. i looked over the crowd at all the anonymous hands holding up their glittering ignition, and my first thought was THAT's dangerous... but my second thought was holy god, this is SO MAGICAL. 

we hurried back to the apartment just in time to watch the very end of the firework show from our 9th floor balcony. finale.