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A small island nation, about 60 miles off the coast of Italy and consisting of the inhabited islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino and a number of uninhabited islands. Malta has historically been of enormous strategic significance. The Knights of St. John were resettled here after their original base of Rhodes was over-run by the Ottoman Turks.
During World War Two, Malta was a British possession (following wars with France a century earlier) and a very useful air and naval base just off the enemy (Italian) coast. The Italian and German air forces made determined attempts to do something about this, but were held off by a bare minimum of British fighters. The people of Malta were considered to have conducted themselves so bravely during the bombardment that the entire nation was collectively awarded the George Cross (Britain's highest civilian award for bravery). Which surely qualifies as a Crowning Moment of Awesome for the Maltese people. Britain later considered integrating the island into the UK, but in the end it became an independent republic.
The Maltese language sounds very odd to English-speakers, being something of a cross between Arabic and Italian. It is thought that it is descended from the form of Arabic spoken by Arab traders in Sicily during the Middle Ages. Its closest relative is Tunisian Arabic; a Tunisian who knows Italian or an Italian who speaks Tunisian Arabic should be able to get by.
When in Malta, it is worth being prepared.
Historically, Malta is known for its pre-historic temples and the ancient worship of the 'Fat Lady'. Over the ages the island exchanged hands, being ruled by Romans, Arabs, Knights of St. John, French, British and finally in modern times, the locals. Under the Knights the island held its ground against a massive armada of the Ottoman Empire, and made quite a show during the Great Siege of Malta.
- When facing the primordial terror of a local bus (usually decorated inside with religious iconography), one must be aware of the 'bus driver'. This fat man will not look you in the eyes, but will instead stick a grimy hand out to you. You will be expected to pay about 47euro cents if it is a normal bus ride. He will press a tiny button and a ticket will pop out of the machine. You must take this ticket, and find a seat.
Filth Dispensers / Old Bars
- Aside from the usual peanut bowl which contains every disease known to man, entertain a bird's eye view of what the barman does with whatever is available. Usually, flesh eating slimes crawl amidst grime and other dangers to public health.
- Every local hates the wardens. They seem to find every excuse to give you a ticket. So have your car keys on standby to make a runner if you see one charge from around the corner.
- Quite a few traditional, conservative Maltese tend to make it a personal crusade to ensure the cleanliness of their doorsteps, which they wash and hold small parties upon. Don't violate the sanctity of the Maltese doorstep, lest you invoke the wrath of the local.
- Around the capital city of Valletta, you'll find plenty of carriages, their horses and of course the guys trying to make money off of the whole thing by offering tourists a small ride around town.
Despite all of this, Malta's climate (in spring and autumn, at any rate), and the fact that most of its inhabitants speak at least some English, make it a popular holiday destination with Britons.
The 1980 live-action film version of Popeye was filmed here; the main set that portrayed the town of Sweethaven still exists as "Popeye Village", a museum and entertainment complex.
XTC's Andy Partridge was born in Mtarfa, although he and the band are more commonly associated with Swindon.