About Malta
The magical Maltese archipelago, comprised of the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino, lies virtually at the center of the Mediterranean, between Sicily and the northern coast of Africa.  Centuries of rule by the Phoenicians and Greeks, the Carthaginians and Romans, by the Arabs, the Normans, the Kings of Aragon, Napoleon, and the British have left an indelible mark on the language and traditions of Malta, a rich and diverse cultural legacy. 

Its history reaches back to the dawn of civilization.  From a golden Neolithic period emerged what are now the world’s oldest surviving human structures: the megalithic temples dedicated to the goddess of fertility that dot the countryside of both Malta and Gozo.  The islands have rightly been described as an open-air museum, steeped in myth and thought to be the legendary Calypso’s isle of Homer’s Odyssey. 

The shipwreck of St. Paul that ushered in Christianity; the hundreds of years of Arab presence, still perceptible in the agricultural fields and groves and in the inflections of the local tongue; the artistic blossoming under the Knights of the Order of St. John, bringing in painters such as Caravaggio and Mattia Preti to adorn the churches and palaces that crowd narrow, meandering streets; the century and a half of British rule before independence; these multiple layers continue to permeate these unique, “honey sweet” (from the Greek melitē) islands.

Accommodations on Malta and Gozo

Malta
While on the island of Malta, we will spend our nights in Valletta.  Built by the Knights of St. John in the 16th century, who ruled the island and established the city as their new, fortified, capital, Valletta is a UNESCO world heritage site, and a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, overflowing with cathedrals and palazzos.  Situated right on the water, its Upper Barrakka gardens provide a stunning view of Malta’s Grand Harbor.

Gozo
We also will spend two nights on the “Silent Isle” of Gozo at the Villagg Ta‘ Sbejha, a cluster of small, rustic, farmhouse-styled apartments, with their stone arches and wooden beams, and views of either the peaceful Gozitan countryside or the blue sea in the near distance.  Gozo is more rural than Malta, a place of tranquility, simplicity, and solitude, of unusual geological formations, and the wild and ravishing Dwerja region on its northwest coast.

 

Arrival in Malta
Our New York Open Center group will have dinner in Ortigia, Sicily, on the evening of the 18th of June.  We will then travel by coach to Catania’s Fontanarossa Airport for a late night flight into Malta, and transfer to our hotel in Valletta.

For anyone choosing to meet us in Malta, you will want to book your flight to arrive at Malta’s Luqa International Airport (MLA) by the evening of Tuesday, the 18th of June 2013.  You will be able to take a taxi to our hotel (accommodation information will be available in our conference welcome packet) and join our group at breakfast the following morning.

Taxi service is available 24 hours a day from Luqa Airport to any destination in Malta. Fixed rates are applicable and pre-paid tickets can be purchased from the ticket booth inside the Welcome Hall in the Arrivals terminal.

Travel Agents & Online Bookings
For those of us traveling independently to Malta, nearly all cross-Atlantic flights will have a stopover en route.  Some of the best fares may be found online.  Useful websites include www.kayak.com, www.orbitz.com, www.expedia.com, www.travelocity.com, and www.cheaptickets.com

One economical option involves researching well-priced flights into Europe, and then investigating low-priced, direct, connecting flights on Air Malta (www.airmalta.com).

Return from Malta
An Open Center coach will leave from our Valletta hotel after breakfast, taking participants to Malta’s Luqa International Airport (roughly a 30 minute drive), making it possible to book afternoon return flights home.  Participants whose flights depart in the late afternoon will have the option of visiting the fluorescent caves of the Blue Grotto on our last day together.

Telephones
The country code for Malta is 356. 

The most affordable means of making international calls when in Malta is through the use of Skype (www.skype.com), which is either free when calling computer to computer, or available for a few U.S. cents-per-minute charge when dialing from computer to land line, or the reverse. 

Mobile Phones
You will need to purchase a pre-paid Maltese SIM card (or a global SIM card, if you plan on traveling anywhere in addition to Malta) for use within a purchased or rented international (unlocked, quad-band) GSM cellular phone.  A Maltese SIM card will provide you with a local mobile phone number (beginning with the “356” country code) and can be bought upon arrival in Malta.  With a Maltese SIM, you will not be charged anything for incoming calls. 

Do note, however, that cell phones are often SIM-locked, which means that you won’t be able to insert another network’s SIM card.  The three main Maltese mobile networks are Vodafone, Go, and Melita.  Vodafone SIM cards, for example, average approximately €10 in price.

The following websites may be helpful in researching mobile phone options:
http://www.cellularabroad.com/rentals-malta.php
http://www.telestial.com/sim_bridge.php?ID=MT

Internet
There are free Wi-Fi hot spots across Malta in both cafes and public spaces as well, although not all are conducive to quiet working.  Most hotel lobbies have access, but some expect you to purchase a voucher. 

Electricity
Malta operates on 230 volts / -10%, 50 Hz, and uses a three-pin rectangular plug system, as in Britain.  Any plugs that do not match these will require a plug adapter to fit into Maltese outlets; these are quite easy to find on the islands.

Laptops and digital cameras (appliances with their own power adaptors) can be plugged into either 110-120-volt or 220-240-volt sockets/points and will adapt to the voltage automatically, but still will require aplug adapter.
Information on your power adapter will indicate its voltage.  If it reads "INPUT: A.C. 100-240V", then it can operate on either 110-120 or 220-240 voltage.  If instead you find something like "INPUT: 100-125V", then it can’t run on Cyprus’ 220-240 volts and you’ll need to bring a transformer (also called a poweror voltage converter), as well as that plug adapter. 
Identification & Visas
A valid passport (with at least 3 months remaining before its expiration) is required to enter Malta.  Nationals of a number of countries, including the U.S., Japan, most European and Commonwealth countries (excluding South Africa, India and Pakistan), are welcome to stay up to 90 days in the country without a visa (sufficient funds and a return airline ticket are required, though).

Full details (and visa application forms) are on the website of Malta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.foreign.gov.mt).

Immunizations & Health
No vaccinations are required to visit Malta.  Travel in the country is quite safe as regards health, and tap water is safe to drink throughout the Maltese Islands.
Nonetheless, to maintain your well-being while traveling, it is wise to remember to eat and drink (coffee, tea, alcohol) in moderation only (as the body adapts to a new environment), to wash hands often with soap and water, and to stay fully hydrated.

The sun is quite strong in the Maltese Archipelago, as it actually lies in a more southerly position than Tunisia, and so avoiding over exposure, taking a sun hat, and using sunscreen are all advisable precautions.

Pharmacies are found throughout the Maltese Islands and are open during normal shopping hours. On Sundays, you’ll find them open from 9am until 12:30pm in Malta and from 7:30am until 11am in Gozo.  One thing to keep in mind: you’ll want to be sure to pack any essential prescription medications in your carry-on bag.

Safety
Travel in Malta is quite safe, and travelers run little risk of personal loss or harm.  However, it is still wise to be careful about pickpockets and petty thievery (taking the form of theft of unattended personal property and car stereos from vehicles), especially in large cities and highly touristed areas, and to lock hotel rooms and keep belongings secure. 

The number to phone in the event of any emergency, including reporting a fire or needing an ambulance in Malta, is 112.

Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is strongly recommended in the event of unexpectedly having to cancel or change your travel plans either before or during our conference, losing your luggage, needing medical assistance, or if the program is affected by circumstances beyond our control.  You can purchase this online or from your own travel agent.  Travel insurance options are available at www.accessamerica.com, www.myinsurance.com, www.insuremytrip.com, and www.travelguard.com.
You may also want to explore “Airline Ticket Protector” policies available through several agencies, www.orbitz.com and www.travelinsured.com among them.

Travel insurance is strongly recommended in the event of unexpectedly having to cancel or change your travel plans either before or during our conference, losing your luggage, needing medical assistance, or if the program is affected by circumstances beyond our control.  You can purchase this from your own travel agent, or from online options such as www.travelinsured.com, www.accessamerica.com, and www.travelguard.com.  Policies vary, depending upon the degree of coverage desired, and include options such as “Airline Ticket Protector” plans.  One resource for understanding the range of options available, and for comparing quotes, is www.travelinsurancereview.net.

Money
The local currency in Malta is the EURO.

Banks, exchange bureaus, and ATMs are found throughout the islands. International bankcards are accepted, foreign currency is easily exchanged, and credit cards are commonly accepted in most stores, restaurants, and supermarkets as well.  While the exchange bureau at Malta International Airport is open 24 hours a day, it is strongly suggested that you have at least some Euros in cash on hand before your arrival in the country.

Banks are normally open until early afternoon from Monday to Friday, and until midday on Saturday. Some banks/branches work longer hours. Summer and winter opening hours may differ.  They are the best place to change money and almost always offer a significantly better rate than hotels or restaurants.

ATMs provide the easiest access to cash, and tend to offer the best exchange rates.  You will need a bank card with a four-digit PIN number (check with your bank to confirm that your ATM card is equipped for international transactions).  Please remember to advise your bank that you will be making purchases abroad, since many banks will err on the side of caution and assume your ATM card has been stolen and might suspend your card temporarily.

It is important to note that many ATM keypads usually do not have alphabetical keys (ABC for 2, DEF for 3, etc). If you know your PIN in its alphabetical form only, be sure to translate this password into its numerical equivalent (in emergencies, the keypad of a pay phone or cell phone will function as a guide). 

Shops and Post Offices
Shops are normally open between 9am and 1pm, and between 4pm and 7pm.  In tourist areas, many shops remain open till 10pm.  Shops are normally closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.

Post Office hours vary.  Most are open from Monday to Saturday between 7:30am and 12:45pm; others have longer hours, between 8:30am and 2:30pm from Monday to Friday.

Food & Drink
Traditional Maltese food betrays its Mediterranean location, its proximity to Sicily and North Africa, and is a mix of the many civilizations that have occupied the islands over the centuries.  It is rustic in character and dependent upon the seasons.

A typical summer treat is hobs biz-zejt, thick slices of crusty Maltese bread, either rubbed with fresh tomatoes, warm with sunshine and topped with mint, a little onion, sheep’s cheese and anchovies, or filled with tuna, garlic, tomatoes and capers, all soaked in delicious green olive oil.  A visit to a village bar will introduce you to smooth local wines such as Ġellewza and Ghirghentina, presented along with a dish of olives, some gbejniet (local sheep’s cheeses), zalzett (coriander flavored Maltese sausage), galletti (Maltese crackers), and bigilla (thick pate of broad beans with garlic). Other favorite drinks include Kinnie, a popular non-alcoholic citrus and herb soda, and Hop Leaf and Cisk Lager, two locally-brewed beers.

The abundant waters of the Mediterranean, and the fish markets at Marsaxlokk, offer octopus and squid, dott (stone fish), sargu (white bream) and trill (red mullet), and add to Maltese menus dishes such as aljotta, a delicious garlicky fish soup, and torta tal-lampuki, a fish pie made from the cod-like lampuka, or dolphin fish.

Malta’s national dish, however, is fenek, or rabbit stew; Maltese cuisine also features ross fil-forn (baked rice), imqarrun (baked macaroni), timpana (a rich pasta baked in a pastry case) and pastizzi, which are hot, flaky, savory pastries filled with ricotta or peas.

Desserts include ħelwa tat-tork, a sugary mixture of crushed and whole almonds, and qaqa=tal-ghasel, a molasses-filled pastry, perfect with a cup of espresso, as are the Easter figolli (almond stuffed pastry figures), and Christmas qaghaq tal-ghasel (honey rings).  During summer village festivals you’ll find sweet street foods like imqaret (date pastries) and qubbajt (nougat) to enjoy along with fireworks and processions. 

Tipping
Tipping is customary in Malta whenever good service has been provided.  A gratuity of 10% to 15% is welcome in restaurants (occasionally a service charge is already included in a bill, so do check first); 10% is appropriate in taxis.  Tipping at a bar is not customary unless a hostess takes your order.

Customs & Etiquette
A firm handshake is the common greeting in Malta, when meeting or bidding farewell. And while you will find most Maltese people very welcoming, presumptions of instant familiarity should be tempered.  There is also a high regard for decorum, and for respecting and protecting individual and family honor.  Punctuality is also valued in Maltese society.

Dress
Modest dress is encouraged for visits inside of churches (skirts, long pants, covered shoulders are most appropriate). Additionally, swimwear will be welcome on beaches only, and not in public areas.

Climate
Malta’s climate is typical of the Mediterranean, with ample sunshine throughout the year. June brings cloudless skies and quite warm temperatures that are eased by refreshing sea breezes.

Time
Malta is in the Central European time zone, which is +1 hours GMT (and +2 hours GMT during summer’s Daylight Savings Time) or +6 hours from New York and Eastern Standard Time, and 9 hours ahead of Los Angeles.

Suggested Items to Pack (participants are strongly encouraged to pack lightly)
Passport
Photocopies of passport, credit cards
ATM card with 4-digit PIN number for international use (or Traveler’s Cheques)
Euros (for personal expenses and optional bar tabs)
Reading materials
Journal and pens
Camera and batteries
Electric converters and adapters, if needed
Travel alarm clock
Comfortable, sturdy, walking shoes
Cool cotton clothing
Light jacket/sweater
Bathing suit and beach towel
Sunscreen and broad-brimmed sun hat
Any prescription or over-the-counter medication (in its original, clearly labeled, containers, packed in your carry on bag)
Travel insurance
Conservative dress for visits to cathedrals (long pants and sleeves; skirts for women)

Suggested Reading 

 Malta: Prehistory and Temples
David Trump

A visual record of Malta’s Neolithic stone temples (which pre-date even the pyramids of ancient Egypt), and the social and cultural history of the period

 

The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe
Marija Gimbutas

The classic illumination of Neolithic goddess-centered cultures, in all their complexity, offering evidence of the matriarchal roots of civilization

The Great Siege: Malta 1565
Ernie Bradford

The fierce battle for control of Malta, fought between Suleiman the Magnificent’s Ottoman Empire, and the Knights of St. John, warriors of the Holy Roman Empire, a clash of two mighty civilizations struggling for domination of the known world

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto and the Contest for the Center of the World
Roger Crowley

A fast-paced account of the clash between rival empires and faiths for control of the Mediterranean and the center of the world

Knights Templar Encyclopedia
Karen Ralls

A comprehensive view of the facts, from A to Z, about this powerful medieval Order of the Crusades, and a wealth of topics (from alchemy to the Black Madonna, Freemasonry to the Jolly Roger flag) relating to it.

The Templars and the Grail: Knights of the Quest
Karen Ralls

A history of the famed monastic warriors of the Crusades that also examines their enduring mythos today

Language
Malti is the national language of Malta, and co-official language of the country, alongside English (although Italian is also widely spoken).  It developed from the dialect of Arabic spoken in Sicily between the 9th and 13th centuries, and sounds not unlike a heavily Italian-accented Arabic.

Pronunciation Guide:

A a

anġlu (angel)

similar to ‘u’ in nut

B b

ballun (ball)

As in ‘bar’, but at the end of a word it is becomes a [p]

Ċ ċ

ċavetta (key)

Church

D d

dar (home)

As in ‘day’, but at the end of a word it becomes a [t]

E e

envelopp (envelope)

End

F f

fjura (flower)

Far

Ġ ġ

ġelat
(ice cream)

As in ‘gem’, but at the end of a word it becomes a [t]

G g

gallettina (biscuit)

As in ‘game’, but at the end of a word it becomes a [k]

GĦ għ

għasfur (bird)

has the effect of lengthening associated vowels, when found at the end of a word, it has the sound of a double ‘ħ’ (see below)

H h

hu (he)

not pronounced unless it is at the end of a word, in which case it has the sound of ‘ħ’

Ħ ħ

ħanut (shop)

no English equivalent; sounds similar to ‘h’ but is articulated with a lowered larynx

I i

ikel (food)

Bit

IE ie

ieqaf (stop)

No English equivalent; sounds similar to ‘ie’ as in yield

J j

jum (day)

Yard

K k

kelb (dog)

Kettle

L l

libsa (dress)

Line

M m

mara (woman)

March

N n

nanna (granny)

Next

O o

ors (bear)

like ‘aw’ in law, but shorter

P p

paġna (page, sheet)

Part

Q q

qattus (cat)

glottal stop, found in the Cockney English pronunciation of "bottle" or the phrase "uh-oh"

R r

re (king)

Road

S s

sliem(peace)

Sand

T t

tieqa (window)

Tired

U u

uviera (egg cup)

Put

V v

vjola (violet)

‘vast’, but at the end of a word it becomes an [f]

W w

widna (ear)

West

X x

xadina (monkey)

‘sh’ as in shade, sometimes ‘zh’ as measure; when doubled the sound is elongated, as in "Cash shin" vs. "Cash in."

Z z

zalza (sauce)

Pizza

Ż ż

żraben (shoes)

maze, but at the end of a word it beomces [s]

For example:
Xaghra = SHAH-rah
Ggantija = jig-AHN-tee-ha
Mnajdra = im-NYE-drah
Hagar Qim = hah-jahr-EEM