Cornichons and other scarce commodities

When you live abroad, you learn to do without some foodstuffs that cannot be found in shops or that are very expensive. In Malta for example, I don’t find some products that are commun in France such as “fromage blanc” (a kind of fromage frais), “boudin” (a kind of sausage) and some raw milk cheeses. One week ago, I would have added “cornichons” to this list of scarce commodities. Cornichons are vinegar pickled cucumbers but without sugar. I have just found some cornichons in Portomaso supermarket. They were hidden among sweet pickles. I have caught the jar, have readen several times the ingredients to be sure and then I have brandished the jar as if it were a football world cup.

drawing of a pickles jar

Still life with cornichons

In order to celebrate this find, I have made a mixed salad with plenty of cornichons.

mixed salad

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A space invader in Saint Paul’s Bay

Space invaders are small characters taken from a vidéo game of the same name. Paris walls have been overrun for a long time by mosaic space invaders but I didn’t expect to find them one of them in Malta.

Street Art: Drawing of a space invader in Saint Paul's Bay in Malta

This invader is in Saint Paul’s Bay, on stairs that are shaped like a bridge pillar. It remains to be seen if he came alone or if it is the beginning of an invasion of the island.

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Maltese cold


When you see average winter temperatures in Malta, you could think that Maltese winter is especially enjoyable. It’ deceptive. Indeed, when it isn’t raining, it’s mild outside but it’s very cold inside. Because of the humidity, you literally feel frozen to the bone.


Outside it is mild

Outside it is mild…


The other problem is that Maltese homes have no central heating. To warm themselves, people get by. Some use a reverse cycle air conditioner or an electric radiator but it is expensive (especially if you pay the foreigner rate). Most people have a mobile gas heater that can roll from room to room.


inside I stay close to the heater

… but inside I stay close to the heater


As for us, we have given up the gas heater since the day it started leaking. Later, the plug of our electric radiator melted. Thus I am currently blogging with two pullovers in the warm breeze of the reverse cycle air conditioning.


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Malta roofs


In Malta, houses and buidings have flat roofs. People gain access to the roof by a stairway or a ladder.
I can already hear you thinking: “How lucky these Maltese people. They can enjoy the sun lying on a deck chair on their roof terrace.” Well, not in the least. Maltese roofs are functional. People hang out the washing on the roof. There can also be a water tank, a TV antenna or a satellite dish, a solar water heater and even sometimes solar panels there.

It’s really picturesque to go up onto the roof and to look at all that stuff on the surrounding roofs.


drawing of Maltese roofs


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Looking for a place to live in Malta


This is the sequel of our move to Malta. We visit Sliema real estate agencies in order to find an accomodation. We’re looking for a clean, quiet, furnished place. We think of short term rental but real estate agents advise us to choose a longer lease, at least 6 months because it’s cheaper and we can always leave before the end of the lease.


We visit a first apartment with an agent. As we leave, he tells us that he knows the building well because the apartment we have just visited belongs to him. Then he shows us a second apartment. That one belongs to another real estate agent. To us it’s strange that he has only two apartments to show: his apartment and one of his friends’ apartment.


On the following days, we view other apartments that are not great. We revise our budget upward and start visiting again. We choose a apartment with sea view. The agent phones the owner and we learn that the rent has increased by 50 euros. It’s hard to know whether the owner has changed her mind or the agent has lied about the rent. We decide to think about it because we don’t like this way of doing things.

drawing of Sliema Waterfront

Sliema Waterfront


The next day, we select another apartment without a view but less expensive. We sign the lease with the agent. We carry our luggage to the apartment and start cleaning it. We are in a good mood. Suddenly, we look worryingly at one another when hearing a dog barking. Yet we have visited the apartment twice and there has been no sign of animals’ presence in the neighbourhood. We are rightly worried. The dog is on a balcony facing our bedroom’s window. Apparently, its master keeps it day and night alone on this surface of a few square meters. The dog barks non-stop until 3 AM.


After a sleepless night, we go directly to the real estate agency. We make an appointment at the apartment with the agent and the owner. On the spot, we learn from a neighbour that this barking has been lasting for months. That’s enough for us. My partner manages not without difficulty to negociate a lease cancellation. We give several tens euros to the landlady to pay the night we have spent in her apartment. The agency cooperates because they hope we will take a more expensive apartment.


That other apartment is some distance from the town centre but, according to the agent, very quiet. We move again our luggage and sign a new lease. The landlady insists on being paid in cash. That’s because she probably doesn’t declare rental income like many landlords in Malta. Even the agent’s commission is paid in cash. The apartment is indeed relatively quiet and we have a much-needed good night’s sleep.


Now that we have a roof over our heads, we take care of the things to do when you settle somwhere: bank, phone, internet, health insurance, change of address… Then we get back to the daily routine, adapting it to our new environment.


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Arrival in Malta


We have moved to Malta this Winter. Malta is a small island south of Italy. People speak English and Maltese and Malta joined the European Union in 2004. I resume my expat diary in Malta.


When I get off the plane, I am first amazed by the beautiful weather. We move directly from Winter to sunshine and mild temperature. But we have not time to dwell on weather. We get our luggage back, ask a map of the island to the visitor centre and get on a bus that has had its days. We begin to argue with the driver because we don’t understand the fare. The bus driver grumbles in Maltese and we tell ourselves that we’re off to a great start.
We must take another bus to go to the hotel but this time it is worse, the driver of the second bus wants us to pay a baggage supplement. We find it strange and go to the information booth of the bus company where we are told that it is normal and that if we took a taxi, it would be more expensive.
However we find beyond understanding that the price of the baggage supplement seems to be arbitrarily decided by each bus driver. We resign finally ourselves to pay the extra for our luggage. Above all we understand that Malta is going to be a new disorientation compared to France and Canda.

Old Maltese bus

Old Maltese bus


The bus goes along the sea while we snap out of it. Houses look like nothing I know. We arrive at the hotel in Sliema and set down our suitcases. We go to the mini market around the corner to get something to eat and finally we go for a stroll along the seaside.


Our second day in Malta is spent sorting out bank problems. We have not taken enough cash because we thought we could use our debit card to withdraw money but it doesn’t work. In the end the deadlock is broken and we are able to withdraw money.


That day, we find a bigger supermarket where we buy some food. It’s a small supermarked compared with French or Canadian supermarket but for Malta where everything is small, it’s a big supermarket. The aisles are narrow in the 3 storey supermarket. It is called GS but belongs to the French group Carrefour and we recognize some Carrefour products that we used to find in France. There are also some differences: there are a lot of Italian and British products, few organic products, there is a large charcuterie department, some labels in Italian are not translated…


Then we start looking for an apartment.


Read what happens next here: Looking for a place to live in Malta


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