Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Life on Planet Gozo

We just finished two weeks in Malta, the EU's tiniest country. One of those weeks was spent on the island of Gozo. Bonus points if you have any idea where that is! We didn't. While searching for airbnbs I fell in love with this unique listing: and since it was in our search for Malta, we took it. It turned out to be "in Malta" but on a smaller island and it took some extra effort to get there.

It started with a 40 minute drive from the Malta airport to the center of town where we spent one night. Then another 40 minute drive to a ferry terminal followed by a 30 minute boat crossing before arriving on Malta's shy little sister island, Gozo. This still worked, we just needed some adjusting. After all we were booked for a full week in the bustling city of St. Julian on the bigger island, so we were looking forward to this idyllic week in the countryside. And once again - seeking the elusive warmth we thought we'd find in southern Europe.

The views from the winding roads on Gozo were stunning
Our wonderful hosts picked us up at the ferry terminal and took us on a long and winding drive through green fields and gentle hills offering sweeping views of the sea and jumbled ruins around every turn. A bundle of ominous dark clouds were gathering and the wind was picking up, but stormy weather just seemed to add to the romance of it all.

Ominous clouds were forming and the wind was gusting as we arrived on Gozo
We reached our destination - the ancient village of Zebbug (pronounced Eezz-a-Booch). Let's just say Maltese is not an easy language to grasp. It is one of two Semitic languages (the other being Turkish) that use our alphabet. It sounds like a mash-up of Italian and Arabic with spelling that could only have come from Galactic occupiers. But no worries - 95 percent of Maltese speak both the native language and English because really, where else can you speak Maltese?

The passageway to our new home in a former bakery - "Il Forn"
Our hosts proudly showed us around our new home - a renovated bakery that served the village for over 200 years. I'm afraid I was so taken with the ancient stone walls, the tile floors and the restored ovens that I may have missed a couple of important details of the orientation. As in "Golly this has been an unusually cold and wet winter here on Gozo."

"You'll want to be using the wood stove on the first floor to take the chill off the place (not to be confused with heat the house). And if you use too much of the heating system - (or any electricity really), well that could be expensive extra unit costs so go easy." What? And with a wave goodbye and a the advice to "be sure and catch the vendor trucks coming by in the morning. They'll honk when they are outside". They were off. Vendor trucks sounded quaint at the time. But I realized the next day that if you miss the fruit & veg, the fish, or the bread & milk traders, you've missed the shopping experience that might be someone else's "Live Like a Peasant" fantasy. It certainly wasn't mine.

The Fruit & Veg truck with a few other goods on board. Each truck had a distinctive honk.
And let's just say that Zebbug redefines village - as it turns out - there is not a single shop. Not even a place to buy milk. You can attend church in the morning and buy a pizza after 7:30 at night and on occasion get your hair done, but that's about it. Perhaps that explained the lack of earthlings on the streets of this bucolic but nearly empty city.

Our next door neighbor. Gozo is covered in cats!
No time to worry about that now. We had to catch the only bus to dash off to the first of Michael's dental appointments to have a tooth implant done. That's practically a blog in itself, but suffice it to say we are saving a couple of thousand dollars doing this dental work in Malta and that's one of the reasons we were drawn here - it's a hotbed of medical tourism!

Bus #309. Our lifeline to the city for shopping and dentistry
So we caught the bus for the short ride into Gozo's largest city - Victoria. We both had our teeth cleaned and Michael was prepped for stage one of his procedure. By the time we were done it was 7:30 at night and it was pouring rain. We dashed to the grocery store and loaded up for the next few days and slogged back to our nest. We could see from the bus that the town was shuttered and dark. We were happy to be home in what was described as a warm and cozy refuge. Instead the house was cold, damp and dark.We had a few pellets for the fire - but it was going to take some work to get even close to warm and dry.

The sun did come out! Michael at the bus stop enjoying the view (note hoody and coat)
After that first, very cold night we had our hosts come back over to better explain what they meant about "extra expenses" around using heat and electricity. They explained that in the house rules it is stated that 15 units of electricity per day are included in our rental. After that each unit would cost 35 cents extra. We had never heard of the "unit" concept. I could see Michael was getting a bit twitchy when he asked how we could get by with just 15 per day when we had already used more than double that in just 14 hours. The answer was simple. "Live like a Gozian! No one has central heating on the island because most of the year they have wonderful weather and in summer it gets very hot! Just bundle up, don't use lights you don't need, and, we don't know... maybe stop being so Western!"

Enjoying the mulit-media" Gozo Experience" with the theatre to ourselves
That's the kind of challenge that gets Mr. Campbell fired up - so we wrapped up in sweaters and woolly socks, loaded extra blankets on the bed, only had a couple of lights on in the room we were using, occasion treated ourselves to heating the water (that takes 2 hours and God knows how many dreaded "units"), and frugally added wood to the tiny stove that was no where near the kitchen or bedroom.And never mind about the hot tub in the photos. Michael kept a careful log of our usage and we were darn close to the 15 units a day goal.
On day three, the ants arrived. Michael had gone to 7:00 am mass to pray for patience. When he returned and started to add wood to the stove he was met by hundreds of tiny black ants marching in lockstep towards the stairway leading to our bedroom. I believe he choked out something like "We are leaving! Now!" I couldn't quite hear since I was burrowed deep under the pile of blankets. He came upstairs determined to remain calm while informing me we were under siege. Fortunately I had seen a can of bug spray when I was foraging for candles so we were able to beat back the enemy. The fact there was a large can of ant killer in the house spoke volumes. Again our hosts assured us that bugs were part of Gozonian life and these little cuties were nothing to worry about.

Where is everybody? A lonely statue of St. Paul on Gozo's highest hilltop
We stuck it out for two more days and that was good. The sun came out and we took the local buses all around the island and came to appreciate what a gem it is. The natural beauty is stunning.

The Azure Window on Gozo's coastline - as seen in the Game of Thrones!
If you love to trek, swim, sail, or dive (don't miss the Blue Lagoon), especially if you have a car this is a great place to be in spring and summer. But what we learned from our Gozo experience is we're city mice. So for the first time ever in 46 airbnb stays we left two days early and headed to our next stop.

In St. Julian looking towards our new townhouse just to the right of the church.
Our final week in Malta was made better by the contrast. We stayed in one of the most stylish homes we've ever rented, and it was in the perfect location.

Our townhouse in Malta made the cover and several pages of Design & Decor magazine
We could walk to the harbor, the castles, the beach. And stores galore. It had heat and lights and a killer kitchen. And it was the location for my birthday so that added to the fun. I was able to indulge my "inner Pisces" with a fish pedicure, a fish lunch and a boat tour of the three main harbors. We also saw the New York Times article while we were here - so this place will always bring back great memories.

Happiness lies just beyond the green door
Shopping deprivation in Gozo caused me to go overboard in Malta
Again - there so much natural beauty here. And the island's history is epic - actually, a good use of that word. Malta has been occupied by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Normans, the Knights of St. John, the Turks, the French, the Italians and most recently the British. They even make the Bible - the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked here in 60 A.D. and performed several miracles and caught up on his letter writing. The British occupation was the most recent and left the most influence on modern Malta. There are pubs everywhere, red phone boxes, and the Maltese drive on the left. No wonder this is such a popular destination for Brits.

Red phone booths now take phonecards and serve as wifi hot spots
The harbour cruise passed by Valletta, Malta's capital city.
Before we left, Michael had a follow-up dental appointment. We most likely be back in a few months to finish the implant process. After seeing more of Malta, and with the weather certain to be fabulous, we'll be happy to land here again. And we wouldn't even mind another orbit around Gozo.

We are currently in Greece on the island of Rhodes. Lovely weather and a very quiet, beautiful ancient city. With two weeks to go before the tourist season officially starts, people are taking it easy while getting ready. Lots of painting, planting, stocking of shelves and plenty of time to chat to us.

Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads


  1. You seem torn betwixt reliving the motion picture, "Ghostbusters" (as in Gozer the Gozerian) and retracing the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, from the shipwreck backwards.

    Seriously, enjoyed your insightful, if hard won, commentary. Island hopped a little myself years ago--Crete, Sicily, Palma--but none compare to your experience in the former bakery.

  2. Love it all! The description of the experience on Gozo, and all the Malta pictures as well. I laughed at the grocery haul. :-)

  3. After nearly 8-years non-stop living in the world we learned to create a 'check-list' so we can avoid these problems you experienced. It's better to communicate with the owner before you arrive - that's one of the reason's we don't use Airbnb.
    Michael and Virginia Z

    1. Michael, can you share your check list?

    2. No, sorry. We are in the process of writing a book to celebrate our 7th anniversary living in the world since May 28, 20008. Maybe, The Campbells have a check list that might want to share with you.
      Michael and Virginia Z
      NYC USA

  4. We loved it in Gozo and Malta! We were there for a week and met great people there. Good for you two! Debbie

  5. Have you been to Luxembourg yet?

  6. Wow! Reading your post really feels like I was being transported to the place where you are. Those are such great sights. It's even better that you managed to get some real good, cheap dental treatment on the side. That should be a really welcome help, along with the over the top dental assistance you got. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Karen Perry @ Brookside Dental Center