One nice side benefit of living in Israel is that there are so many foreign countries within only 3 or 4 hours flight distance. Israelis love to travel. We often notice that in the most far-flung places we are likely to find Israelis. In fact, although there are only 7.5 million Israelis, we are far more likely to see Israelis than Americans when we travel abroad, whether it’s in Europe or Asia or South America.
Israeli travel agencies offer tour deals that are nothing short of amazing. If one wants a tour for 3 or 4 nights, one can find very inexpensive tours to a large number of European locations, frequently for under $400, many times under $300, which includes airfare, transfers, and hotels. We have traveled on these sort of deals to Crete, to Varna (Bulgaria), to Rhodes, and now, to Malta.
Malta is a very small country. Even compared to Israel, Malta is tiny. Malta occupies about 316 square kilometers or 121 square miles. Israel is over 20,000 square kilometers or over 8000 square miles! Malta is an archipelago which is located in the Mediterranean 93 kilometers south of Sicily. It is made up of three islands and several outcroppings. The largest island is named Malta and the second is Gozo. The third, Comino, is much smaller than the other two and is almost unoccupied. There are a couple of farmers who live there during the year and in the summer, there is a hotel which is open to tourists. People visit Comino to take hikes through its unspoiled countryside. The population of Malta is about 410,000.
Malta has numerous natural harbors and has many beaches. People there speak Maltese, a combination of Arabic, Italian, French, and other languages, including Hebrew. However, Malta has two official languages with the second being English. Maltese children all begin learning English as soon as they enter school. All signs are in English. The bookstores there are filled with English books. Virtually everyone on the island speaks English. That makes it a wonderful place for English speakers to visit. The British, in particular, enjoy visiting Malta for its beautiful landscapes and feel at home with the traffic following British road rules, driving on the left.
We arrived at the airport in Israel at about 3 a.m. for our flight. The airport was packed. It appeared that several groups of Israeli students had just returned from trips, probably to Poland, and they were very enthusiastic, dancing and joyful. It was a great way to begin our holiday!
When we finally arrived in Malta, we were treated to almost perfect weather which lasted during our entire visit except for one cloudburst that occurred while we were indoors for a few minutes.
Once we were settled into our hotel in a small city called Sliema, we decided to go exploring. Both of us like just walking through the streets of new places and this walk was mostly along the sea side, so it was beautiful and relaxing.
We knew that there was a small Jewish community in Malta, and so we made contact with the community leader who told me where the synagogue was located and when services were. We chose a hotel within walking distance, but we were not going to rely on fate to walk there in shabbat morning without having walked the route once with a map.
It took us about 45 minutes to find the building where the synagogue was located. The hardest part was finding the right building once we were within a block of it. There was not an address, only the name of the building. This seems to be the Maltese way since everywhere we saw signs on buildings with their names. Here are two examples of some of the nicer homes we saw. These homes had street numbers too. Unfortunately, the building that the synagogue occupied did not.
We tried asking people who lived within a block of it where the building was. No one knew. Finally, my husband said that we’d been told it was across from the old bowling alley. Someone pointed us in the right direction. Here is the building from down the block.
Yes, its only address is “Florida Mansions.”
The synagogue is in an apartment converted for use as a synagogue. It is actually very nice. Unfortunately, I have no pictures, as we were not able to go inside then and the only time we were there was shabbat. But I will describe it when I talk about our shabbat in Malta.
We walked back to the hotel where we sat and waited for our dinners to be delivered. There is a man in Malta who supplies kosher meals to travelers. They are not inexpensive, but it was very nice being able to eat real warm meals. We ordered meals for all four dinners to be delivered frozen to our hotel at the same time since there was a 5 Euro delivery charge. We put the meals in their sealed plastic containers into our thermal bag, and the hotel stored them in the freezer and then heated them for us, sealed, in their microwave, each evening.
We looked forward to the next day: a tour of the island of Malta. Join us!