Malta after a rain shower

In Malta from times to times there is a big storm with pouring rain. It doesn’t last long, generally the sun comes back quickly.

The problem is that the drainage and rainwater storage system is not efficient. Indeed, when it rains a lot, sewers overflow and streets become rivers. Cars splash everything in their path until they’re prevented from going further by the flood.

It’s better to stay peacefully at home and wait that all the water drains away into the sea. Otherwise you might get your feet wet, as those tousists taken by surprise.

drawing of Malta flooded after a heavy rain

Another article about Malta weather on this blog::
Maltese cold

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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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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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Leaving Canada

It’s easier to leave Canada than to enter it. That’s what we told ourself this Winter while preparing our departure from Vancouver, BC. Indeed it took us more than a year to immigrate to Canada. However to fly off to new horizons, it has taken us less than a month which I tell you in a few lines.

As an opportunity to leave takes shape, we gather information about our next destination, Malta, a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. There are at least two positive aspects: English is spoken and Malta belongs to the European Union (which means we don’t need a visa). It would make our move easier.

We evaluate what we own in Canada. We have no furniture because we live in a furnished apartment nevertheless we have hoarded quite a few things over time. All that we decide not to take is put for sale on Craigslist, the local classifieds website.

For the things we want to keep, we buy cardboard boxes and packaging tape to send them in parcels. Argh! After checking the fees, it would cost us 300 € per parcel. We wish we had not bought cardboard boxes. We look for the different possible solutions and decide to take the boxes with us on the plane as extra baggage ($50 for the first extra bag).

We begin sorting out, throwing away, selling and giving but we have few answers to our ads. We visit car dealerships to sell the car but without success. Business seems slow for car dealers. We place an advertisement in Craigslist for the car but it hasn’t any effect. Eventually, my partner finds a more distant car dealer who agrees to buy the car.

selling on the internet

It’s not so easy to sell our belongings on the internet.

After the sale of the car, we terminate car insurance and credit card. We give notice to terminate Internet service. Lastly we buy our plane tickets.

Progressively we say goodbye to the people we know in Canada. A few days before leaving, we start packing. We rent a car to save time for the last things to settle such as redirecting mail, disconnecting phone or the last trip to the laundry.
We cancel our health insurance coverage. It’s easy and immediate on Internet, which is irritating given that it took us more than three months and never-ending phone calls to enroll in BC health insurance.

On the day before we leave, we give a book to the library and the things we haven’t sold (kitchenware, clothes…) to the Salvation Army. We give our last Canadian coins to an understanding cashier to buy the dinner.

The last day is scheduled down to the minute. We pack our luggage and cardboard boxes. We vacate the apartment. We give back the modem to the Internet provider and we return the rental car in a traffic jam (the traffic jam was not planned because our plane is 2 hours late.

After several weeks of rush, we wait in the large terminal and say goodbye to Canada.

Drawing of spirit of haida gwaii, a sculpture by Bill Reid at Vancouver Airport

The spirit of haida gwaii, a sculpture by Bill Reid at Vancouver Airport

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My immigration process to Québec (2/2)

I resume the story of my immigration process to Québec with our interview at Québec Government Office in Paris. The objectives of that interview were to check the information in our application, to test our knowledge of Québec and above all our motivation.

Interview at Québec Government Office
My interview at Québec Government Office

The interview went well and the agent told us we were selected. So we moved on the next stage: applying for a visa at the Canada Embassy.

Another application, another check and another waiting period while Canada checked that we were no criminals and we had no criminal record.

After 6 months, we received the instructions to take a medical examination with a designated physician. The medical examination is mandatory to get the visas. If you are HIV-positive or if you have a disabled child, you won’t be authorized to immigrate to Canada.
I find this medical condition discrimination chocking but it has occured for years in Canada and in the USA apparently without anyone objecting.

Having the good luck to be healthy, 3 weeks after the medical examination, we received the confirmation that the visa office was ready to issue our permanent resident visas.

The immigration process lasted more than a year between the application and the visas’ delivery. It costed us about 3000 CAD for 2 people at that time.

I continue with my adventures in Québec in my expat diary (read it in reverse order). Finally I take the liberty to give a piece of advice to the readers who are interested in immigrating to Québec: Prepare a backup plan in case it doesn’t work. Not everybody is made for immigrating to Québec. Give yourself a few months to test the beautiful province while keeping the possibility to go back home. Having a plan B was very helpful when we started wondering wether we were really made for living in Québec.

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My immigration process to Québec (1/2)

From time to time, someone asks me how to immigrate to Québec. So I have decided to tell the stages of my immigration to Québec. Even if things may have changed since 2007, I hope that my story can give an idea of how it works.

The story of my immigration starts in late 2006. My partner and I had had the idea to live abroad for several years but we never knew where to go nor how to proceed.
That year, my partner heard about Québec and that it was open to immigrants, offered job prospects, a quality of life and a French-speaking environment.
So we attended an information meeting organized by Québec Government Office. Such a meeting is informative but you need to take a broader view of things. Indeed the speakers were here to sell Québec. They emphasised the upsides and didn’t linger on all the downsides.

Following this meeting, we did some research on Québec (if you read French, I give some links in the French version of this post).

immigrant's daydream
Immigrant’s daydream

After weighing the pros and the cons, we decided to try our luck in Québec.

The next stage was to determine which visa to apply for. There are several possibilities (You can see the different visas on Immigration Québec website and if you are between 18 and 35, you can also check International Experience Canada ). We chose the permanent resident visa that would enable to stay in Canada as long as we wished. To meet the selection criteria, we needed to have enough points. The points are given by degrees, being of childbearing age (Québec needs to counter population ageing), speaking French and English… On Immigration Québec Website, you can fill out a Preliminary Evaluation for Immigration that enables you to evaluate your chances of being selected by Québec. The result of our evaluation was positive, so we started to fill out the official immigration application.

It took us a lot of time and effort to prepare the Application for a Selection Certificate. We had to get degrees, school reports since high school, work certificates, certificates of internship… To ask for those proofs, we had to call workplaces and schools we had not visited for years.

After presenting our immigration application and paying 500 CAD, we waited 6 months. Then we were invited for an interview at Québec Government Office in Paris.

The waiting period can be shorter if your occupation is listed “in demand” in Québec.
The waiting period can be longer and last several years if you live in Africa or in South America.

We took advantage of those few months to visit Québec, practice our English and to enquire about professional orders. Professional orders manage a number of occupations in Québec ( cf the list of interested occupations ). For example, an engineer who has studied somewhere other than in Québec needs to apply for membership in the order of engineers. If his application is rejected, he won’t be able to use the title “engineer”. Sometimes, a professional order requires the applicant to start again his studies from scratch in Québec in order to be recognized. Thus it is important to be informed of professional orders before immigrating to Québec.

I will publish the continuation of my immigration process including the interview at Québec Government Office in Paris in a few days.

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The best place on earth?

In Canada, your license plate shows the province you live in. Sometimes a motto of the province is also printed. Thus British Columbian plates say ‘Beautiful British Columbia’.

British Columbian license plate

I agree with this statement because there are breathtaking landscapes in this province. To give you an idea, here is a picture of a deserted beach in Vancouver Island :

deserted beach in Vancouver Island

A special license plate has been issued for the Olympic Games. It says a new motto for British Columbia: ‘The Best Place on Earth’.

British Columbian olympic plate

This other slogan is more pretentious and also more arguable. Is British Columbia the best place on earth? It depends on whom you ask. It’s true that I have met peaple saying that British Columbia is a paradise. But I have also talked to people who are eager to leave this province. I have made up my mind about this, after a few months in Vancouver: British Columbia is no El Dorado but it’s liveable (otherwise I would already have left 😉 )

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From Montreal to Vancouver

I am starting my expat diary again, since we moved to Vancouver.
When we arrived in Montreal, we had 2 suitcases. Even if we did not buy a lot of things, we had an extra suitcase when leaving Montreal. We had kept many papers that we had to sort out.

Go west!

Departure Day: My partner’s suitcase handle broke just before we left. Otherwise the journey went well. Five-and-a-half hours of flight and three hour time difference. When we arrived at Vancouver airport, we bought a bus pass. We went to the hotel by bus. We looked at detached houses with flowery gardens under the sun. We booked an up-market hotel hoping that there would be no bedbugs because there are bedbugs in some Vancouver hotels.
After leaving our suitcases in the hotel, we went to a nearby supermarket. We were surprised to notice that the packagings were in English and in French.

Second day in Vancouver: We had found it difficult to find accommodation in Montreal. So my partner had answered ads before arriving in Vancouver. On our second
day in Vancouver, we had an appointment to visit a furnished apartment. We had already filled in a form and the landlord had called our previous landlord in order to make some enquiries about us. After the visit, we decided to rent the flat and signed a tenancy agreement.

Third day in Vancouver: We completed a Condition Inspection Report of the unit and moved into the house. We began to clean the flat and later did the shopping. Finally we rested and enjoyed spaghetti with tomato sauce.

photo chooyutshing (c) Creative Commons

Fourth day in Vancouver: Once we had an address, we could deal with administrative formalities: give our new address to a dozen organizations, phone, Health Insurance, driving licence… Coming from Quebec, formalities were simpler than if we had come to Vancouver from France. We also asked for information about English lessons.

On the following days, we found our bearings in the city.


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Newcomer to Montreal

I would like to tell a slice of life of a newcomer to Montreal (and to Canada). 


This is the neighbourhood where we set up. It is very quiet.
It was difficult to find accommodation. After several visits, we have opted for a monthly furnished apartment. It is expensive but big, neat and near a metro station. 

We have to deal with some formalities: Social Insurance Number (a national identification number), Permanent Resident Card, choosing a bank, international wire transfer, health insurance… It is time-consuming.

We must learn again everything: how to use a phone box, how to use the metro, how to find our way in Montreal, how to recognize coins…

Cranberries are not as common in France as in Canada. My partner cooks for the first time a cranberry sauce, it is delicious.

Cranberry sauce

Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Saint-Siméon
Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Saint-Siméon

Visit of the Museum of Fine Arts. The collection is of works of art of all periods and origins.
I discover works of art I did not know by asome of my favourite artists. The decorative arts and Canadian art sections are particularly interesting.


We attend a Bixi demonstration. Bixi is the Montreal’s new bike-sharing program. It is similar to the parisian Velib and it will be available in spring 2009. You will have to choose between a seasonal pass, a one-month pass or a 24-hour pass. And the first half-hour of each use will be free.

In Paris, an outdoor advertising corporation manages Velib. In Montreal, Bixi will be financed by “Stationnement de Montréal” with the revenue it earns from operating public parking. So the drivers, who are responsible for urban pollution, will pay the development of cycling and therefore pollution reduction.


vélo en libre-service à Montréal

Finally, a few reflexions about fashion. I find that women dress quite casually in Montreal. They walk in flat heels the never-ending streets. They like boots and dare to wear colors unlike women in Paris who prefer black and grey these days.