Valletta’s charm

After Mdina, a tiny town of 300 people that completely empties every night around 5pm, Valletta feels like a true metropolis (kinda). There are restaurants and bars, shops that stay open late, theaters, and seemingly hordes of people.  

Stomachs still full a couple days later from our Christmas dinner, early breakfast, regular breakfast and lunch, we find a small wine bar named Trabuxu serving snacks for tonight’s dinner.  The wine is great, the local cheese peppery, and the service accommodating enough for Lindsey to find things to eat that are neither alcoholic nor unpasteurized.  We sit outside on a little stoop people watching as we enjoy our light-ish meal.

Our first full day in Valletta is definitely full. We start with a hotel breakfast followed by a wonderfully orienting tour of the old city. The guide helps us continue to piece together many parts of Malta’s history through the different kingdoms that once ruled. But two of the highlights extended beyond just listening to the stories but actually touching and witnessing them. 

What better way to touch history than turn the pages of a 400 year book! Lindsey and I both look at each other a couple times before building up the courage to turn one of these ancient pages.  One of the books we flip through contains the history of Malta, another was handwritten and has interspersed little drawings. The Valetta Library holds works dating as far back as 1100, but don’t worry, that one was well protected and far out of our hands. 

We next get to witness a bit of history as we enter a 5th-generation gilder’s studio. The pride he takes in his work has likely only grown through the generations. He is in the process of making a Maltese clock for his daughter’s recent wedding gift and he explains the process of how the gold is gilded onto the frame. Each smaller-than-one-millimeter thick square of gold is several Euros, and the clock he’s in the middle of building could reach up to 10,000 Euros. He uses all traditional methods including natural glues made from animals. The only new technology that he’s incorporated into his practice is that of air conditioning – this allows him to work year around even during the humid months.

We round out our day of touring by going to an ornate theater in the middle of town where they’re currently performing a very silly rendition of the Little Mermaid. These satirical plays, full of their British humor, are an end-of-year tradition. Otherwise, the theater typically is home to a bit more serious material.  That said, it’s wonderful to see all of the locals performing and their families in the audience cheering them on. When surrounded by so many tourists around town, it was wonderful to see this strong local community as well.

Although Valletta does not charm us as much as Mdina did, it did give us an even greater appreciation for the history of the island. Every site we visit from Fort St. Angelo to St. John’s Cathedral which houses the largest Caravaggio to the Barrakka Gardens all reinforce that so much has happened on such a small piece of land.  

Leading up to and throughout our visit, I’ve been enjoying The Sword and the Scimitar, a book by David Ball that captures through a tale of historical fiction the period when the Order of the Knights of St. John ruled on the island.  Many of the names that appear in the book are also said aloud by our tour guide and in many of the museums we walk through.  Although at times a little violent, the book was a very entertaining way to learn a piece of history of this special island.  And what better way to enjoy some of this book than with a cup of joe from our favorite coffee shop Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters, which I think we averaged two visits per day.

2nd day of Christmas

Day 2 begins when two gloggy (that’s a Danish joke) travelers step out for coffee. We walk into the street and are struck by the silence. It’s 7am the day after Christmas in the rain, but still, I’ve never been able to hear the squeak of my sneakers in a city quite like I am along the water in Copenhagen. We duck into our coffee shop. I call it “ours” because even before trying the coffee, we decide to come every morning. The place is cozy. Candles are being lit and it’s empty inside. It smells of baked goods and the barista is welcoming. As we’re scanning the breakfast menu, fresh croissants are pulled out of the oven. Without consulting one another, we order two and sit while she makes our lattes. On a drizzly December day, it’s the kind of place you never want to leave.

Christianhavn Coffee Shop

We walk back to our Airbnb, shower, and slowly prepare for the day. Our first stop is  Our Savior Church. Closed for services. Our second stop is Carlsberg brewery. Closed for the second day of Christmas. (Yes, to our surprise, that’s a thing.) Our third stop is the one destination known for running 365 days a year: the Stromma canal tour. It’s heated and covered and we have extra tissues to wipe down the endlessly fogging glass. The hour long tour takes us under 14 bridges and through the canal of Copenhagen. The only time we step out into the rain is to take a picture of the much acclaimed and humorously underwhelming Little Mermaid statue. The city has few claims to fame, and Hans Christen Anderson is a hot ticket. The statue itself is tiny, perched on a rock in the shallow water, given to the city by the Carlsberg brewery, and one of the most commonly cited destinations in the city. After the tour, we head to lunch at a Cheesecake Factory style restaurant. (Mexican? Got it. Italian. Burgers. Sandwiches. Yup.) On the bright side, it opened our eyes to a new area of the city, and even though every other store in the shopping district is closed for the second day of Christmas, we enjoy the journey tucked safely underneath our umbrella and rain jacket. 

We soon find ourselves next at an incredible bar for glogg. It’s a spot our morning barista had recommended to us, open only in the winter and situated on a dock along the canal. It’s crowded, warm, and the definition of what I’d pictured as hygge (Danish cozy).

The Glogg

Exhausted from some combination of jet lag and rain, we rest at our Airbnb before dinner.  As expected of jet-lagged travelers, we sleep through our alarms and our 30-minute snooze turns into a 2-hour deep sleep.  We wouldn’t necessarily call ourselves refreshed upon waking up, but at the same time, we knew we probably needed the sleep.

At the top of many lists of why to visit Copenhagen, we find Ruby, a bar located in the center of town with a living-room-esque atmosphere and excellent bar tenders.  What better way to start our evening than at Ruby.  It lives up to expectation.  Okay, maybe not the best bar in the world as some sites suggested, but very homey, very welcoming, and with delicious cocktails.  We find ourselves comfortable seats at the bar and quickly befriend all of the bartenders.  Trying to find a dinner spot on this second day of Christmas turns out to not be trivial, but luckily, our new friends at Ruby’s are full of suggestions. We end up in a new neighborhood at a place called Falernum.  It’s probably fair to call this place a wine bar given its wine menu was the length of a small novel.  We had some perfectly prepared scallops, mushroom risotto, and a slow-cooked duck to pair with some great wines that they suggested.  On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is extremely unlikely and 10 is extremely likely, we would easily give this restaurant a 9 or 10 in terms of how likely we would be to recommend it to a friend or future traveller.  

Although the day started out a bit slow, it being the second day of Christmas and all, we didn’t let that slow us down and feel like we know Copenhagen and its Danes a lot better.