Combing through old posts here on the EuroCheapo blog, we were surprised to notice that more than half the countries and territories in Europe have hardly had a mention. Among the lacunae are the Mediterranean outposts of Malta and Gibraltar.
Malta is of course a sovereign country. Tiny Gibraltar, by comparison, is one of those little political oddities, a relict of Britain’s colonial adventures, that has its own parliament and generally administers its own affairs. And like Malta, Gibraltar is part of the European Union.
A thin veneer of Englishness
Malta and Gibraltar both pack a few surprises. Folks jet in from other parts of Europe and expect Cockney voices or fish and chips; a dash of England with the big plus of more sunshine. And in truth, tourist-oriented businesses in both Malta and Gibraltar do pander to just such expectations.
But you only need to scrape below the surface of either to find that neither Gibraltar nor Malta have more than a thin veneer of Englishness. Both have their own distinctive languages, a reminder that British efforts to impose their own language on these communities were not entirely successful.
An intriguing ethnic mix
Many visitors to Malta who have Middle East experience comment that Maltese sounds uncannily like Arabic, and they are not far off the mark. Maltese is closely related to Arabic. Gibraltarians speak Llanito, which draws heavily on Spanish but also has words of Arabic, Hebrew, English and Genoese Ligurian origin.
Culturally, both Malta and Gibraltar are an intriguing mix, each community reflecting the respective patterns of migration that have underpinned the development of the two territories. Who ever would have guessed, for example, that Gibraltar has a thriving Jewish community? Or that the threads of Armenian life are alive and well in Malta?
Malta and Gibraltar are both incredibly interesting places to visit and linger, and more in spite of their historic links with Britain than because of those connections.
One of our favorite travel writers, Jan Morris, has written a novel called Hav about a fictitious port in the Mediterranean. Ms Morris certainly had somewhere much further east in mind when she imagined Hav (and in truth, her chimerical Hav, which has a rather Levantine demeanor, enjoyed direct trains from Russia). Yet there is just a hint of Hav as you wander the alleys of the Maltese capital Valletta or explore the backstreets that cling to the west side of the Rock of Gibraltar.