The Long-Ago Charms of Valletta

Starting off our island vacation with the slow, easy pace of a turtle with time, we began our first full Maltese day at noon. Leaving our accommodations, the weather was wonderful. The sun was high in the sky, warm rays of light causing us to shed off our coats. A strong wind kept things interesting. In response, our steps were steadier, filled with the determined purpose of people with places to go and things to see. We joined many others in waiting for the ferry to Valletta. Arriving every fifteen minutes, we had just enough time to spread our arms wide and engage in photosynthesis. Even in the middle of December, many people were exploring the beautiful island. I couldn’t blame them. While temperatures remained comparable to Europe, the sun and the stunning sights made it feel like summer. The ferry ride was all we could have hoped for. Short and stunning, at the low cost of 2.80€ for a return ticket, we certainly got our money’s worth simply by wandering around.

Valleta is a district to be enjoyed at all angles. From street view to sky, there is always something to captivate you. The rolling nature of Valletta’s steep streets gave us a proper workout. We were both glad to have worn shoes fit for the task. Our walk around the district comprised of many short breaks. Stopping to admire and capture the beauty of its architecture, the day was spent discussing our favourite parts of each building and imagining the charmed lives of the people who had the good fortune to call this island home.

Alongside exquisite residential architecture, Valletta is a place proudly preserving its cultural past. Of these gems, our favourite was St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Located in the city centre, the Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral was constructed in the late 16th century between 1572 and 1577. Unique to St. John’s are its inlaid marble tombstones. Covering most of the flooring, these tombstones celebrate the lives of Knights of the Order, as well as illustrious aristocratic families of Europe. Immaculately preserved, these marble slabs are cordoned off, lest the details get worn away over time.

Most impressive were the portraits detailing the ceiling. Framed in gold and with shocking detail and expressive colours noticeable even at ground level, the ceilings were a tribute to the artistic talents of the 16th century, a solemn nod to the painters and carpenters that made such awe inspiring works bring even more life and admiration into these houses of worship.

After a day of admiring the beauty that Valletta had to offer, we stepped back in time for dinner. A space enshrined in the beauty and simplicity of the 1940s, Jubilee’s Café was exactly what we needed. Reasonably priced, most of the dishes came at under 10€ each. I ordered the lampuki – a fish native to Malta’s waters , more commonly referred to as mahi-mahi – pie and an infusion of ginger, lemon, and green tea. After a long day of walking and photographing, this hearty meal hit the spot. So hungry after our wandering, we finished our meals in half an hour, heartily thanking the staff for the energising meal.

If cities that belong in fantasy novels are your cup of tea, Valletta is definitely a place to see.

Wandering Around Oxford: The City’s Best Walking Route

During my fleeting four-day stay at Oxford, every single adventure began and ended with walking. Though I was staying at a friend’s house that was almost an hour from the city centre on foot, I didn’t tire from all the traipsing around. There was too much to see, from the classic architecture to the variety of life being lived in this fine university city. Students rushing from class to class, tourists armed with expensive cameras and comically large guide maps, stall keepers selling jewellery and collectibles designed to catch the eye, and crooning buskers who gave a smile to anyone who stopped and took the time to listen to the music.

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With all this walking, naturally my mind decided upon its favourite routes taken. Funnily enough, these three routes were all taken on the same day, one leading directly into the other.

The Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum, charging a small fee to visitors and students alike, is well worth the price of admission. Glasshouses hosted flora originating from tropical climes. The gardens were coloured with a myriad of flowers and herbs. Sturdy trees, their leaves expressed in the form of either a wide umbrella or arms lazily swaying in the air, provided plenty of shade and comfort. Everyone I passed by was in good spirits, enjoying this little piece of heaven tucked away in the city corner.

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Leaving the gardens, I headed along Dead Man’s Walk. So named for its medieval history as a processional path for Jewish funerals, its sombre past did nothing to diminish the peace and tranquility of the walk. Trees lining either side of the wide path kept the afternoon glare of the sun away. What light managed to filter through the leaves created wonderful shifting patterns on the dusty path.

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Christ Church College greeted me at the end of the short walk. Perfect for lovers of history, fantasy, and beauty, Christ Church was one of the filming sites for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, its grand staircase utilised in the scene where harry met Draco Malfoy for the first time. In the College’s Great Hall, another fantasy world is brought to life. Housing the infamous Alice Window, all of Lewis Carroll’s most popular characters are immortalised in stained glass, from Alice’s signature sky-blue dress to the Dodo Bird’s brilliant plumage.

To all who have little time to enjoy the fascinating city of Oxford, I highly recommended walking along this path.

Renewed Life in Peng Chau

In the island town of Peng Chau, the entrance to an artistic secret garden lies, unassuming, between two shop buildings. Leather Factory, so named for formerly being the location of two leather factories, is a cosy world-unto-itself primarily consisting of art formed from recyclable material. From the narrow passageway leading you into the space, graffiti lines the walls. Colourful paper cups are arranged on the ceiling in circles imitating the sun. At the end of the passageway is a series of photo collages. Titled Symbiotic, this piece by Nicolas Lemal explores human perception through intimate and tasteful shots of unidentified peoples.

Once past the entrance, marvellous curiosities are aplenty. To the left sits a chair fit for a giant. Painted a royal blue and towering over visitors, this grand seat is definitely BFG approved. To the right is the self-declared Concrete Jungle. Creatively utilising the empty spray paint cans that must have coloured the walls, bicycle parts, children’s toys and so on, Concrete Jungle forces viewers to reconsider how objects take up space and how their meanings are transformed when presented in ways atypical of their function.

Behind Concrete Jungle sits a darling little garden. Bursting with carefully arranged fauna and one side providing a cool respite from the glaring sun, the garden is an ideal hangout spot. A sinewy statue of found metal objects desperately reaches out to the sky, in likeness of the Tower of Babbel. Glowing rays light up the structure, drawing the eye to its myriad of unique lines and curves.

Across from the garden is a stunning work that speaks to the desire for success that is inherent in all individuals. Starting from the ground level, a link of cycling vehicles – all coloured in the same burgundy hue – make the brave climb up the wall and towards the heavens.

With plans to renovate part of the space into a B&B, Leather Factory is a unique spot to visit on a trip to Hong Kong. Its one-of-a-kind displays are the perfect way to get out of your head, excusing your mind from self-doubt and worry and diving into the wonder and intrigue of contemporary art and how it can affect and interact with the environment. Visiting Leather Factory also kept me well-grounded. The second instalment in Kevin Kwan’s addictive trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend had me dreaming of Gastby-esque fortunes and feeling irrationally sorry for my current place in life. Beautifully expressed and demonstrating that money isn’t everything, Kwan still made the internal struggles of the rich sound like suffering in the best sense.