June Wrap-Up

June yellow flowers

JUNE 2019

Hello July and goodbye June! June was an enriching month in so many ways. I spent half of the month in Canada and the other half in Malta and Germany. Let me share my June highlights with you and I invite you to tell me yours.

ARTS

At home, I viewed various art exhibits at the Luminato festival. Admission was free. Here’s a sample of Kristian Spreen’s Compositions exhibit with her pretty glass and underglaze art work. The vases were displayed behind enclosed glass windows with spot lighting so my photo had shadows in it.

Kristian Spreen art work

When I was in Valletta, there was a show of beautiful (and likely very expensive) cars in St. George’s Square, to mark the 90th anniversary of auto sales in the city. I enjoy examining the car designs as I think they are another form of art.

The quantity of high quality visual arts that I saw really skyrocketed in June, thanks to my trip to Malta and Germany. I’ve shared my Malta highlights here, and plan to write about my time in Germany soon.

BLOGGING

My gradual transition from Blogger to WordPress has been good so far. I wrote four posts in June, two of them were on Blogger, and two on WordPress. I’m also redirecting readers from my blog on Blogger to WordPress.

I hope my change of blogging platform gives my blog readers a ‘like or better’ experience. If you’re following my blog, thank you. If you have my blog on your blog roll, please update it with its new URL. I greatly appreciate your support and patience.

A friendly reminder that the next Wellness Wednesday link up is on July 10. The optional prompt is Family. Please feel free to join in on the fun.

BOOKS

In June, I finished two books (Persepolis, and Oversharing) before going to Malta and Germany. That brought the total number of books that I’ve enjoyed reading to thirty-two so far for this year. I’ve picked up a few more books from the library for my summer reading.

CONCERTS

I attended four terrific outdoor concerts performed by Jordan John, Sandra Bouza, Denis Keldie, and Montreal’s Les Voix Humaines viol quartet. Admissions to these events were free. Toronto has an amazing number of free concerts in the summer. I try to make time to attend at least one every week.

The concerts I go to are casual where the audience can see the musicians up close. They are not the high-end productions in big arenas that cost a lot of money. Nevertheless, the music and vocals are superb.

Sandra Bouza music

When I was in Munich, coincidentally the outdoor Stadtgründungfest was on at Marienplatz, the main square in Munich, to celebrate the city’s 861st birthday. Marienplatz was packed with people enjoying the dancing, live music, and food and drinks at the on-site beer garden.

Stadtgründungfest in Munich

FAMILY

My family clan got together at the end of June to celebrate various good news in the family (birthdays, school graduation, new home, and new summer jobs). A lot of fun conversations and good food. We’ve arranged to meet again in July.

FRIENDS

I managed to have two meet-ups with my friends in June. One of them took place in Stuttgart, Germany, and the other was in Toronto. Both are longtime friends. I’m grateful to have enduring friendships regardless of the distance or time lapse.

HEALTH

In June, I did my daily meditation and walked outdoors every day. While at home, I worked out in the gym seven times, attended five yoga classes, and got in three swimming sessions.

I brought my resistance band with me for my strengthening exercises when I was away from home. I also used local ‘fitness amenities’ in Malta and Germany. Some are man-made like the stairs in Valletta, the swimming pool in my hostel, and some are natural resources great for swimming like the Blue Lagoon in Comino, and the lakes in Bavaria region in Germany. They were good reminders for me to continue my exercises to stay fit, and that one can do exercises without a gym membership! You know the saying ‘When in Rome…’.

LEARNING

I completed my daily online French and Spanish lessons in June even when I was in Malta and Germany. I spend about 15 minutes on each language and have been consistent with my learning activities. I view them as my brain exercises and they’re fun to do.

One other obvious learning source is from my travel. A new destination awakes my senses and provides ample of practical learning opportunities. For example, I learned to book a shared shuttle service from and to Malta airport, to take public buses and ferries in Malta, to ride regional trains and intercity trains in Germany, and to learn about the history of the various sights that I visit.

MOVIES

I saw five movies (one at home and four in-flight). In order of preference, they are Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Captain Marvel, Spider-man Into the Spider-verse, and Isn’t It Romantic.

TRAVEL

My trip to Malta and Germany went smoothly from beginning to end. It was great catching up with my cousins and longtime friend in person. The weather was sunny and warm every day that I was there. This is another enriching and fulfilling trip that I treasure very much.

OVERALL

June was a wonderful month for me. I’m grateful for all the good things that happened. I’m enjoying July and the summer fun that comes with it. July has started off with a bang, thanks to Canada Day celebrations and fireworks on July 1st.

How was your June? What good things happened? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

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Malta Highlights

When I was planning my trip to Munich, Germany, I wanted to add a second destination to optimize my trans-Atlantic voyage. Malta met my list of criteria and I was thrilled to visit this small country in the Mediterranean Sea:

  • A new-to-me country
  • Direct, two-hour flight from Munich
  • Rich in history and culture, with a few UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • English and Maltese are the official languages
  • Part of the European Union, use same currency as Germany (i.e. the euro)
  • Mediterranean climate and cuisine
  • Land and sea scenery and island lifestyle
  • A less expensive European destination

Malta is steeped in prehistoric ruins, tales of the Knights of St. John, and about 7,000 years of history. I spent six days exploring Valletta, the two harbours, the fortified Mdina, Gozo, Comino, and the Blue Lagoon. Gozo and Comino are two smaller islands that can be reached by ferry or cruise boat from Malta. Let the sightseeing fun begin!

VALLETTA

Valletta is Malta’s capital city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. To appreciate Valletta’s skyline and enjoy Malta from the water, I take the public ferry from Sliema to Valletta. Return tickets cost 2.8 euros. The comfortable ferry ride lasts about fifteen minutes. Service is frequent year-round. The city views from Marsamxett Harbour, including the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral spire, are priceless.

From the ferry terminal, I follow the signs to walk to Valletta’s city centre. I think the best way to explore Valletta is on foot, however, parts of Valletta are uphill or involve long stairs. There are tourist electric trains and horse carriages waiting outside the ferry terminal for people who prefer to take them.

Valletta Stairs

Valletta’s centre is easy to navigate with several main streets designated for pedestrians only. It is a lovely place to wander and be allured by the surrounding architectural beauty.

Clockwise Left to Right: St. John’s Co-Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Valletta’s Bay Windows and Expressive Lion Faces.
Clockwise Left to Right: Entrance to the Grandmaster’s Palace (constructed in 1574), its gardens, Manoel Theatre (1732-present), and Auberge de Castille (1744-present).

For scenic views, I visit the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens and Hastings Garden. I think the two Barrakka Gardens are better lookout points than the Hastings Garden.

The Upper Barrakka Garden offers fantastic panoramic view of Valletta’s Grand Harbour and Fort St. Angelo. The system of bastioned fortifications was built by the Order of St. John between the 16th and 18th centuries, with further alterations made by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Knights’ fortifications around the harbours of Malta are nominated for UNESCO designation.

Grand Harbour

The Lower Barrakka Garden greets its visitors with a beautiful temple, fountains, greenery, and benches. Walk through the garden to the open colonnade for a commanding view of the harbour and the Siege of Malta Memorial with the Recumbent bronze statue below.

Lower Bakkarra Garden

THE TWO HARBOURS

The two main harbours surround Valletta are the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour. I take a pleasant 90-minute cruise, departing from Sliema and cruising inside the ten creeks named Sliema, Lazzaretto, Msida, Pieta, Menoa, Marsa, French, Cospicua, Kalkara, and Rinella. Ticket price is 15 euros, or less if combined with other cruises.

The English commentary explains all the historical points of interest of the two harbours. Plus, the cruise boat gets me up close to see the Yacht Marina, the battlements and fortifications surrounding Valletta and Floriana, the Grand Harbour, the inner basin, the Malta Ship Building Yard, the Dockyard area, and the three cities (Senglea, Cospicua, and Vittoriosa).

THE MDINA

The 4000-year-old walls of the former capital, Mdina, stand on a mountaintop at the heart of the main island, Malta. Mdina’s imposing architecture is entirely preserved, and the city is a UNESCO-designated Urban Conservation Area today.

From Valletta or Sliema, a public bus ride costs 2 euros and takes about an hour to reach the Mdina. Entry to the Mdina is free of charge. The fortified Mdina, nicknamed the “Silent City”, is lined with stately palazzi, bastions, and a cathedral. Some 240 people still live here.

The Mdina is a pedestrian-friendly and nice place to wander, with small alleys fan out from its centre. Some of Malta’s best restaurants are tucked away inside Mdina’s ancient walls. Bastion Square provides panoramic views of Mostar and its huge dome, and Valletta with St. Paul’s iconic spire.

Clockwise Left to Right: Mdina’s Main Gate, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Views from Bastion Square.

GOZO

There are many boat cruises from Sliema to Gozo every day in the summer. The ride takes about two hours with two brief passenger pick-up or drop off stops in St. Paul’s Bay and Comino. The boat cruise arrival in Gozo’s Mgarr Harbour is timed with optional sightseeing tours of this beautiful island.

I visit the Inland Sea Cave, Fungus Rock, Gozo’s Citadel, Ta’pinu Basilica, Gozo’s market, and Mgarr Harbour. The boat ride into the Cave costs 4 euros. The water in and around the Cave is incredibly clear and its colour changes from deep sapphire blue to aquamarine to light green. The rock formations also show layers of amethyst, green, and yellow sand stone colours.

COMINO and THE BLUE LAGOON

Comino is a much smaller island than Gozo. It’s known for the Blue Lagoon and caves. You may have heard of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Well, there is a Blue Lagoon in Malta, too.

There are boat cruises from Sliema or from St. Paul’s Bay to Comino. The ride takes about an hour or half an hour respectively. The Blue Lagoon entry is busy, however, if you walk further out, there are lots of secluded spots to enjoy the sun, sand, and swim.

FOOD

There is no shortage of good food to try in Malta. The local Maltese specialty is fenek (rabbit slow-cooked in garlic and wine) although seafood is popular. Of all the good meals I had in Malta, one of them stood out. It was the dinner at Gululu in Balluta Bay with Margie who is from the Netherlands. We met, we clicked, and went for dinner on her last day in Malta. We both ordered the Maltese-style chicken pizza. I enjoyed our hearty conversation, delicious food, and the lovely view of Balluta Bay that evening.

SHOPPING

Best buys are traditional crafts including hand-blown glass and lace, ceramics, silver and gold jewelry, metalwork, pottery, and tiles. I bought a pretty silver flower-shaped pin as a birthday gift for my cousin’s wife. I forgot to take a photo of it before the saleslady wrapped it up with a bow.

Aside from the usual souvenir items, what I find interesting is the variety of door knockers or door adornment in Malta. Here’s a sample:

Overall, I had a wonderful time exploring Malta. There are still many places to visit on this small island. I’d love to return in the future.

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

What Have You Been Reading?

I just got back from a two-week trip to Malta and Germany. My trip was part new exploration, to see the sights in Malta and Germany, and part family and friends, to see my cousins near Munich, and my longtime friend near Stuttgart.

I had an amazing time in both countries. The weather was sunny and warm, some days got to 37C (or 99F). I did a lot of talking with my family and friends, a lot of walking, sightseeing, eating, drinking (mostly water to stay hydrated and a few beers), and of course taking photos. More trip details to follow once I get myself organized.

In the mean time, in the Northern hemisphere we welcomed the first day of summer on June 21. Summer brings the promise of many outdoor activities, as well as easy living and reading. This prompted me to reflect on what I’ve been reading this year.

In January, I started using the proposed categories from the Toronto Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge as a guide to read more widely. This has led to getting me to read a bit beyond my usual mysteries and fiction.

What I’ve Enjoyed Reading: From January to date, I’ve enjoyed reading thirty two books that I wouldn’t have read otherwise. I had fun putting the thirty two book cover images into a photo collage. The books are listed by author’s last name below:

  1. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  2. The Widow, Fiona Barton
  3. Family & Other Catastrophes, Alexandra Borowitz
  4. The Rough Guide to Croatia, Jonathan Bousfield
  5. Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton
  6. Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
  7. The Choice, Dr. Edith Eva Eger
  8. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, Nathan Englander
  9. 419, Will Ferguson
  10. Gone Girl, Gillan Flynn
  11. Panic Room, Robert Goddard
  12. Scrublands, Chris Hammer
  13. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  14. Before the Fall, Noah Hawley
  15. A Brief History of Oversharing, Shawn Hitchins
  16. Sea Prayer, Khaled Hosseini
  17. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  18. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  19. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King
  20. Defending Jacob, William Landay
  21. The Bishop’s Man, Linden MacIntyre
  22. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
  23. Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
  24. In Pursuit of Excellence, Terry Orlick
  25. Love Dishonor Marry Cherish Perish, David Rakoff
  26. Bellevue Square, Michael Redhill
  27. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland
  28. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  29. Adèle, Leila Slimani
  30. The Perfect Nanny, Leila Slimani
  31. Ru, Kim Thúy
  32. Book Love, Debbie Tung

Book Categories: The Toronto Public Library proposed fourteen categories in the Reading Challenge. I’ve read all of them, and at least one book in each category, hence the total of thirty two books. When a book qualifies for more than one category, I count it in one category only.

Reading Habits: During the day, I prefer to be out and about so I save my book reading for the evening. I read most days but not every day. I usually read one book at a time to pay my full attention to the book. I’ve also been more careful with my book selection since I want to spend my time on good quality books.

Gratitude: I’m grateful to have access to one of the best public library systems in the world. Thanks to the library’s proposed book categories, I’ve been reading many new-to-me and award-winning authors from different countries. I’ve also read more book genres and learned more about international literary awards. I love that I’ve been reading these books without accumulating them in my home.

What’s Next: I enjoy the Reading Challenge and plan to continue for the rest of this year. I may use the additional eleven categories in the Advanced Reading Challenge to make my reading even more interesting. It would be a “wide” success for me if I could finish reading sixty books in more than fourteen categories in 2019.

Your Turn: What have you been reading? What are your reading habits? I’d love to hear your book recommendations.

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

My First Blogger Date

My first date with a blogger happened in a spontaneous fashion. I read a post about ‘a blind date’ on Erica’s Behind The Scenery blog, left a comment, and saw Ann’s comment that she was going to be in Toronto the following week and would be interested in meeting a blogger.

So I contacted Ann at The Unretired.life blog and we agreed to meet for lunch at Bangkok Garden restaurant. This eatery has been around for over thirty years. They offer an all-you-can-eat Thai buffet lunch or à la carte options. I think the food and service there are pretty good and the price is reasonable.

Ann and I both chose the buffet lunch. We talked about blogging, travel, adventures at home and abroad, and so on. It was a fun conversation and the ninety minutes went by in a flash. Then we parted ways and followed up by sending each other some more blog URLs.

I think our first date went well. No nervousness or awkward moments. I informed Ann that I was planning a trip to Vancouver Island in September. I asked if she’d be available to meet me again while I’m there. She said yes!

Thank you to Erica for writing that post, and to Ann for a fun first blogger date. Talk to you again soon 🙂

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

The Transition Begins

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Thanks for joining me! I’m planning to move my blog from Blogger to WordPress. To start the transition, I’m writing a few short posts here and attaching some photos, to see how they look and for me to get used to WordPress. If you see something that doesn’t work right, please let me know via the Contact form in the Menu at the top of my blog.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.