At the end of the 2007/08 ski season in Norway, I take a vacation to Malta with some coworkers from Kvitfjell: Ditte Krogsgaard Pedersen (DK), Tasja Nielsen (DK), Nicklas Lindqvist (SE) and myself (US) meet Clayton Borg (MT) in his homeland, where his family offers us the use of their condominium overlooking Mellieha Bay. Clayton doubles as a tour guide extraordinaire by spending the next eleven days driving us around his small three-island country, exploring sights both on and off the beaten path, introducing us to his generous family and friends, and connecting us to a culture that has been a crossroads of civilization for thousands of years.
DAY I (Saturday, April 26): I travel by train from Ringebu to Gardermoen airport in Oslo, where I meet Ditte and Tasja, who have just returned to Norway after a quick stop in Denmark. We board our plane and are soon soaring over the Alps, the Italian coast, and Sicily. When we arrive at Malta International Airport in Luqa, Clayton escorts us across the island to our condo and on to Mdina to experience the country's medieval capitol by night. We pass by the ruins of a Roman villa, where Clayton's brother, Alvin, is producing a light show. From there, we wander through illuminated orange groves and quiet cobblestone streets until arriving at "The Medina," a restaurant partly owned by Clayton's father, John Baptist Borg. After relaxing with Clayton's youngest brother, Darren, to sweet martinis on the house, we make our way back to Mellieha for the evening.
DAY II (Sunday, April 27): We stop by Malta's longest sandy beach just down from our condo on our way to Marfa Ridge. We head southwest for a stunning view of Gozo, Comino, and Malta's western cliffs from Qammieh Point. We then take a jaunt to the northeast until we are absorbing another remarkable panorama from Dahlet ix-Xilep. As the sun goes down, we await the Borg family and friends for a barbecue on the beach.
DAY III (Monday, April 28): We are on vacation, so we all take a break. Clayton enjoys a day off from babysitting, and the three of us walk to the beach to soak in the rays and test our endurance in the cool sea of the early Spring. My Sanyo Xacti "waterproof" camera succumbs to exposure, opting to take an everlasting vacation under the waves of the Mediterranean.
DAY IV (Tuesday, April 29): Clayton drives us to the modern day capitol of Valletta. I do some camera shopping while Clayton patiently follows the girls to shop for other things. Though they resist temptation, I am unwilling to let the rest of the trip go undocumented. By the time we rendezvous at Freedom Square, I am the poor new owner of a Sony DCR-SR35.
DAY V (Wednesday, April 30): I vote to return to Valletta so that we can capture the city on video and explore beyond the markets of Republic Street. Clayton likes the idea of taking another day off, and the girls are easily convinced, so we hop a bus into the city and traverse across Valletta. We peek into the Grand Master's Palace on our way to Fort St. Elmo, which greets us with a view over the Grand Harbour toward the Three Cities and invites us to follow the southern waterfront past the Siege Bell Memorial, Lower Barracca Gardens, St. Paul's Shipwreck church, and the Upper Gardens. We catch our breath while climbing Valletta's famous stone stairways back to the city center and sit down for a bite to eat in Pjazza San Gwann outside St. John's Co-Cathedral before catching the return bus to Mellieha.
DAY VI (Thursday, May 1): The girls and I are on our own again and decide to stay a little closer to home. Instead of walking to the beach, we meander up to Our Lady of Victory cathedral, stopping by the underground Shrine of Our Lady of Mellieha. After visiting the cathedral, we find a small restaurant for lunch and our first taste of rabbit, the local delicacy. A stop into a local grocer for some fresh produce marks the end of our excursion before retracing our steps home.
DAY VII (Friday, May 2): We decide to leave the island of Malta and catch a ferry with Clayton to Comino for the day. A relatively deserted island most appealing for its naturally beautiful lagoons, it's no wonder that movies like "Troy" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" have been filmed here - along with, of course, the critically acclaimed "11 Days in Malta."
DAY VIII (Saturday, May 3): We have been looking forward to the arrival of Nicklas, and finally the day has come. Before we head to the airport, we spend the morning visiting the famous Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples, peering over the Blue Grotto, and walking the streets of Vittoriosa. Nicklas receives a swift welcome as he joins us for an evening on the island of Gozo during their annual music festival. We are entertained by performances ranging from a local gypsy entourage to Alcazar, a pop group hailing from Nicklas's own Sweden. The evening is concluded by a spectacular fireworks display and a ferry ride back to Malta.
DAY IX (Sunday, May 4): Nicklas gets to pick the day's activity, so we are naturally back at the beach working on our tans and watching him catch up on his. Back home, we prepare some rooftop hors d'œuvres and wine as we say good night to the sun and enjoy having the crew back together again.
DAY X (Monday, May 5): A notable characteristic of Malta is the amount of history to be found here, including the legacy of Christianity on the island. One would be hard-pressed to find a location in Malta where a church, chapel or cathedral is not in plain view. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the Mosta Rotunda (Church of St. Mary), and today Clayton decides to show us where he was baptized. Some years before, under World War II, a bomb pierced through the dome of the cathedral while hundreds were gathered for mass. The bomb failed to detonate, and the story of the miracle is ready to be told to those who visit Europe's third largest church dome. From Mosta, we return to Mdina to see this ancient city by day, as well as Clayton's home town of Rabat and St. Paul's Catacombs. We are treated to another glorious sunset from above the Dingli Cliffs before we prepare for a dinner experience of Borg hospitality at its finest.
DAY XI (Tuesday, May 6): On account of our conflicting schedules, Clayton will continue to host Nicklas and Tasja, but Ditte and I have reached the end of our vacation and prepare for the journey back to Denmark and Norway, respectively. We spend our last morning hiking up Marfa Ridge to the Red Tower before leaving from where we arrived in Luqa only eleven days earlier.
What was an impromptu getaway to celebrate new friendships and conclude a season working together turned into a memorable experience that none of us will forget. Of course, half of that experience was seen through a viewfinder, and I am grateful to my friends for tolerating the camera and so considerately asking where Tim was whenever he stopped to capture each last lizard and butterfly. Cheers.