Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bag Ladies Take on Malta (or at least try)

¡Hola señoras y señores!

Last time I updated this lovely little blog of mine, I was on my way to Malta with two chicas from my program.  Sorry it's taken like a week to write another post but I needed some time to recover from that viaje.

It would take much much too long to tell the whole story, but basically our trip was plagued with an impressive array of travel complications.  After the first day, I began referring to our vacation as 'a series of unfortunate events', as the events were indeed worthy of inclusion in a Lemony Snicket novel.

Don't get me wrong, Malta itself was INCREDIBLE.  It was unbelievably beautiful, relatively tourist-friendly, sunny, did I mention beautiful?  With three UNESCO World Heritage sites and 7,000 years of history, it's quite the country.

For those of you who would like to read a full run-down (and learn why we call ourselves the bag ladies) I'll include a play-by-play of the trip at the end of this post.  For those of you who would prefer not to read about my travel woes, here are all the pretty pictures (way out of order, but I don't have the time or patience to figure out how to fix it):

Day 1: Feb 11/12
  • Realized we booked the flight back for March 16 instead of Feb 16, changed it.
  • One of my travel buds lost her bus ticket to Madrid, she bought a new one online.
  • Tried to go to school to print our boarding passes, school was closed, tried to go to any copy place in town, which were also all closed for Carnaval, ended up finding out my host parents have a printer that I'm welcome to use (Thank goodness!)
  • Got on the 8-hour red-eye bus to Madrid, got to the bus station there, got on another bus--online ticket not accepted, so we figured out the metro and took that to the airport
  • (As you can see, the vacation hasn't even really begun and we've had a total of four hiccups)
  • Turbulent flight to Malta
  • Get on the bus, experience Maltese bus-driving and traffic for the first time
  • Get to the hostel, in the pouring rain, and immediately take a two hour nap because we've been traveling for like 14 hours or something
  • Take a shower, and then one of the girls finds bloodstains on her sheets--a telltale sign of bedbugs. Perfect.
  • Pack our stuff up and spend an hour deciding what to do, and talking to the hostel owner. He tells us that he's really on top of things, and they spray the mattresses and the whole room with pesticide once a month, and if we really want we can spray all our stuff with the pesticide when we leave.  
  • It's 8pm at this point, and we don't have a ton of other options, so we opt to switch rooms (psychologically it was impossible to stay in the first one) from a six-person girl room, to a 12-person guy room.
  • At this point, we also put all of our belongings in trash bags, in an effort to prevent possible bedbug contamination.  Realizing the comical aspect of the situation, we beginning referring to ourselves as the bag ladies.
  • Go to dinner, eat pasta, drink wine.  Looks like things are turning around right?
  • Hit the sack early and set our alarms for 9am, big day ahead of us!
Day 2: Feb 13
  • Well, no alarm needed!  Awakened at 7:30 to the harmonious blend of snoring and an alarm that sounds like a hazardous materials horn going off at a nuclear power plant (I don't know, that's just the image that came to mind.) Try to go back to sleep, dude's alarm keeps going off....for TWO HOURS.  He's obviously too busy snoring to turn it off.  And based on the fact that he came in (very noisily) in the middle of the night, he's completely passed out.
  • Fine, whatever, we get ready and have some of the free instant coffee downstairs.  Our breakfast buddy is a Norwegian dude who somehow steers the conversation towards the activities of Russian mob in Norway, American stereotypes, and other random things I can't remember.  Quotes include, "Yeah, you don't wanna f*** with the Russians!" "You know what we call American skiers? Lampposts. Because they're in the way!"
  • Finally we get out the door of the hostel around noon I think, then eat some delicious kebab wraps (no meat for me, since it was Ash Wednesday)
  • Caught the bus to Valletta, the ancient city, also a UNESCO world heritage site. It started to rain, then pour. Went to the giant Cathedral there, found out it was closed, took pics of the outside.
  • Wandered through the city and took a late bus back to the hostel.
  • Creepy Romanian/London dude and Norway guy try to get us to go out with the hostel.  We decline, as we're pooped, and don't really feel like partying with them.  Like, at all.
  • Tie up our bags and try to get to sleep as soon as possible so we can be out cold by the time snoring dude comes back.
  • Oh, no snoring dude? How about Norway dude who sounds like he's literally dying of TB over in the corner, hacking it up all night. Coughing and gasping for air, mixed with a myriad of choice curse words, it's 2 parts incredibly irritating and 1 part ridiculously hilarious.
Day 3: Feb 14
  • Happy Valentine's Day
  • Wake up in the middle of the night to Norwegian dude ranting about how he just brought this other guy back from the hospital and what a loyal friend he is. Even thinking about it now cracks me up. Literally, I'm in my room laughing to host parents probably think I've gone nuts.
  • Wake up in the morning (not feelin much like P-Diddy) and get ready for a day of sightseeing around Malta.
  • Get on the bus after a long wait, go to the Blue Grotto (okay, we didn't actually see the grotto itself, but we were on top of it) and take a bunch of pics
  • Accidentally miss the next stop, the megalithic temples--Unfortunate, because there were stone statues/sculptures of women there from the period when they were worshiped, and we were all looking forward to some girl-power Valentine's Day stuff.
  • Next Stop, Mdina, the ancient city/fortress. Super cool, super old, awesome views, a cathedral, topped off with Fontanella's famous cake.
  • Waited an hour for the bus back to the hostel, ate dinner, listened to Norwegian ramblings for a while, got persuaded into going out to see Maltese nightlife with around 6 other hostel-folk.
  • Went to the club in, I kid you not, yoga pants, sneakers, and a northface jacket--and fit right in. Such a strange experience.
Day 4: Feb 15
  • Got an early start, ate breakfast with the seemingly most normal dude in the hostel, a German guy "on holiday" for a week.
  • Waited around an hour for the bus to the ferry that would take us to Gozo, which is where Odysseus meets Calypso in the Odyssey.  After visiting, it's definitely an isle worth including in an epic poem (good work, Homer)
  • Despite a few bouts of rain, we stuck it out on the open-top tourist bus that took us all over the island
  • Saw the fortress at Victoria, Calypso's Cave, and the Azure Window (barely, a two-minute photo stop because we ended up on the last bus off the island, whoops), and one of the most unbelievable sunsets ever.  I was drooling, it was SO BEAUTIFUL.
  • Definitely the best day of the trip.
  • Got back, ate dinner, sang total eclipse of the heart at a very strange karaoke bar, went to bed.
Day 5: Feb 16
  • Got up and realized I locked the keys inside the padlocked drawer containing our bags. The hostel owner got a hammer and pounded off the padlock, and we noisily collected our bagged-up belongings (sorry not sorry, snorers and coughers.)
  • Sprayed all our stuff with pesticides and got the heck out of there.
  • Missed one bus, got on the next one, it stopped in the middle of the road (breakdown? Of course!) but got going again soon enough.
  • At security, my bag got pulled out of the line, the guy asked me if I had shampoo, I said no, showed them my toiletry bag and deodorant and they let me go....not before taking my peanut butter.  Okay, what the heck buddy, peanut butter is NOT a liquid.
  • At the gate, I realized it wasn't shampoo they stopped me for--there's a mini bottle of wine that I got at the Madrid duty-free store still in my backpack.  Nice job Malta security! Feeling very secure knowing I could get that through security!
  • Victoria almost didn't make it through the bag check for Ryanair (they have super-strict, ridiculous carry-on restrictions) but eventually we made it on the plane and headed back to Madrid.
  • And then we waited over an hour to get our shared checked bag in Madrid.
  • Spent a night in Madrid, but that's another story.
  • Cherry on top?  Cab driver took us foreigners to the wrong side of town that night and dropped us off wayyyy far away from our hostel.  Looks like I should have heeded my host dads warning, "No te fies en nadie, eh?!" ("Don't trust anyone okay?")

As you can see, the inevitable "How was Malta?" question that I was asked by most of my friends and family was a little hard to answer.  I just ended up going with the, "Well, honestly unbelievable" answer, because there were so many time that I said to myself, "I cannot believe this is happening right now," or, "I cannot believe how freaking amazing this view is."

Needless to say, Malta was an experience that I will never forget.  The bag ladies learned more than a few lessons on that trip.

Here's to hoping I have some good travel-karma built up after that experience!


Monday, February 11, 2013

La Gente Está Muy Loca

¡Hola, amigos!

I don't have much time, but I thought a little catch-up was necessary...

The infamous Cádiz Carnaval is upon us and as Sak Noel says, la gente está muy loca.  I'm not even sure how to describe the spectacle that is's like Mardis Gras on crack.  It's ike a house party spilled into the streets and just kept raging for a week--but also throw in a dash of art and culture, a heaping spoonful of tradition, and maybe a pinch of political-incorrectness and then you've kind of got the idea.

Not a lot of pictures exist from Saturday night, which was the big kick-off, but I'll leave you with this gem:

Cleopatra (that's me) and Anisa at Pregón, the big kickoff for Carnaval. 
Thanks to Sinead for the glasses.

So here's to getting a little loca with la gente every once in a while!


PS-In about an hour I'm headed off to Malta for 4 days, where 58 degrees and thunderstorms await us!  Don't worry, I'm not skipping school, Cádiz pretty much shuts down for Carnaval.