After hearing about our trip to Greece & Malta, a friend asked me if I was now starting to tackle European countries since I’ve been to all US States. My friend is right 😁 I really do think that a travel bug has bit me, as my husband put it a couple of years ago. Thankfully though, I met my match. My husband was already a seasoned traveler before we met. When I started my first career after graduate school, my very first professional job required me to travel on regular basis. Being single and early in career, this was no problem at all. In fact, I embraced it and built a strategy around it.
For instance, I traveled often to Phoenix, AZ; one time, I flew to Las Vegas, and visited Utah before my business trip to Phoenix. I also made sure that I traveled with just one airline (first American, now Delta), stayed with one hotel loyalty program (first Hilton, now Marriott) and rented cars with the same company (first Avis, now Hertz). The consistency allowed me to rack up miles, hotel and car rental points that I could use for personal travels; also, status accumulation allowed me to travel comfortably, and I am forever grateful for that!
This worked out perfectly, and allowed me to visit all 50 US states and Washington D.C in about 12 years. I felt super accomplished when my husband and I visited the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Bozeman, Montana in September 2021, to mark #49 and #50 for me. I think it was the only item on my bucket list 😁
So how did I become a travel junkie? I am not entirely sure but all the credit goes to the possibilities the United States as a country has to offer. When I first arrived in the US, I had only been on a plane one other time and to two countries outside Rwanda. That was it! There were places to travel to in Africa of course, but I couldn’t afford it at the time.
So, Malta and Greece! A few people asked me why Malta? Greece is obvious I suppose, right? On the other hand, some people haven’t even heard of Malta before. I first learned about Malta from the Bible. In Acts 27, we learn about the Apostle Paul’s journey from Caesarea to Rome. When Paul and other prisoners were sent to Rome to be tried there, their ship was wrecked near the island of Malta. Paul, a warrior of the gospel of Christ, and one of the greatest apostles of all times, remained on the island of Malta for about 3 months where he continued to preach about Jesus, while in chains. Because of his ministry there, the majority of Maltese people identify themselves as Christian today.
When my husband and I decided that Malta would be included in our next destination, we also figured that Greece would be great to consider for our trip. After all, we didn’t think two weeks would be needed for a small island like Malta. Plus, any chance I get to make it to Europe, I try to visit more than one country. Because, why not? It’s easy and strategic honestly. My very first solo trip to Europe in 2012, I did just that. In about two weeks, I managed to visit Italy, France, Switzerland and Croatia. It was a lot for sure but so much fun! And another time, I visited England, Belgium and the Netherlands in 10 days!!
In May this year, we landed in Valletta, the capital of Malta, from Athens, Greece. My hubby and I figured that making Athens our European port of entry and exit would make things easier. And it did!
We only had three days planned in Malta, and oh boy did we use it to the fullest! We stayed in the beautiful town of St Julian’s, north of the Capital Valletta. On Day 1, we took the hop-on-hop-off bus that took us around the western and northern part of the island. Although it rained on and off that day, we still were able to visit a few places and sightsee, including cathedrals and historical church buildings that Malta has plenty of. Among them was St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina (stop #10 on the map below), the “Silent City” that used to be the capital of Malta during the medieval period. The town is a mix of impressive medieval European architectures. Definitely a must see!
On Day 2, we spent it at sea touring the Maltese Islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. The temperatures were in the 70s, a little chilly over the waters but sunny and great overall. We used Malta Sailing Experiences, which is a family-run business, Patrick and his teenage son who has been competing in international sailing tournaments since he was 13. His son was our skipper for the day; he took us around and the journey was about 8 hours with stops.
We toured the St Paul’s island which is located off of St Paul’s Bay; which is known to be where Paul’s shipwreck happened. It was definitely great to see and imagine Paul’s journey to Rome. We also stopped by the Blue Lagoon off of the Island of Comino, which is absolutely breathtaking. The Island of Gozo is the second biggest after Malta, about 26 square miles, but as not as populated as the rest of Malta. We ended our trip at the Grand Harbor (Port of Valletta) which lies below Valletta, and the Three Cities of Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea. Another must see in Malta!
Last day, we visited downtown Valletta, which is a very nice city. We toured the St John’s Cathedral, did a lot of walking downtown, and had lunch there and of course my favorite Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks. Yes there’s one there 😀 Navigating Malta was very easy. Uber was just starting there, while they mainly used the Bolt app. All drivers were friendly, many of them from Africa. The island of Malta is only about 50 miles south of Sicily, Italy, 170 or so miles east of Tunisia, and a little over 200 miles north of Libya. The trip to Malta was a quick one but definitely worthy it!
Heading back to Greece was eventful, unfortunately! Somewhere inside the Malta Airport, I somehow lost my husband’s passport. Luckily, we were already past security and inside the airport; so we were allowed to board our flight to Athens that was already boarding as we scrambled to find the passport. Thankfully, the Aegean crew held the plane for us. Malta and Greece being part of the EU made it possible for us to continue our journey that day. We could have stayed longer to continue our search for the passport, but the challenge was that the only direct flight available between the two countries was through Aegean and would have been 3 days later. We debated on whether we should stay or leave; we already had travels to the Greek Islands scheduled. We trusted the Lord and took off.
As soon as we landed in Athens, we found out that our passport had been found and handled to the Malta airport police, which later delivered it to the US Consulate in Malta. While it was such a big relief, it turned out to be MUCH easier to apply for an emergency passport at the US Embassy in Athens than getting the Malta US Consulate to coordinate for a pickup with DHL International which we had prepaid for.
Long story short, my husband ended up applying for and obtaining an emergency passport the same day. I have never seen something as efficient as this otherwise cumbersome process. We had notified the Embassy in Athens as soon as we landed and they advised us to come there and apply for the emergency one rather than attempting to go through International Courier. They sure knew what they were talking about but we still went ahead and tried to arrange for pick up in Malta and delivery to our hotel in Athens. That would have been the easiest.
While the US Embassy staff in Athens had assured us a week earlier that it’d be no problem as they scheduled our appointment, we still were nervous about it. The day before our return to the US, on a Friday morning, about 24 hours prior to our takeoff, my hubby picked up his new passport 30 minutes after he applied. God is truly merciful! I was beyond impressed by the proficiency of the Athens US Embassy staff!
As soon as we arrived back into the US, my husband immediately applied for and got the new, ordinary passport. The emergency passport is only good for a year, and not all countries allow it. Obviously, applying in Athens meant that the one sitting at the Consulate in Malta was no longer valid! We also eventually received his old (annulled) passport mailed from Malta a few weeks after arriving home. We are so thankful to the person who found it in the airport and handed it to authorities 🙏🏾 Oh by the way, I’m not allowed to touch our passports unless I’m traveling alone 🤩😆
While this mishap could have made our trip miserable, it was the opposite. We of course had to adjust our travels to the Greek Islands; our hotels and Aegean Airlines were very understanding with the changes. Landing from Malta, we spent a couple days in Central Athens overlooking the Acropolis and the Syntagma Square, we visited the hillside Plaka neighborhood donned with shops and restaurants, impressive alleys, vibrant night life. We did a day tour of the Acropolis, saw the Pantheon, Mars Hill (known to be where Paul delivered his sermon in Acts 17), ate all kinds of delicious treats. It’s safe to say that I’d be fine in Greece food-wise, or anywhere they serve Mediterranean food 😀
Aegean also allowed my husband to use his US Driver’s License to board our flight to Mykonos and later to Santorini and back to Athens. We praise God for that! Mykonos turned out to be so much fun. We were initially told that it is known as a hippie place for only party goers and all kinds of other things. We were pleasantly surprised to find that families and everyone can have fun there. We stayed at one of the most beautiful resorts I’ve ever seen, the Santa Marina, a Luxury Collection Hotel, part of Marriott. The view is breathtaking, the hotel staff were friendly, and they treated us so well.
While I have the highest status with Marriott Bonvoy as an Ambassador Elite, this doesn’t always translate to a great experience. This trip turned out to be one of our most favorites of all times, and this Mykonos Hotel made it to our top three stays, along with our honeymoon at the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort, Vietnam and now the Ritz Carlton Aruba. We had a spa treatment there, good food and beautiful beach. One day we walked to the Greek restaurant called Kostantis and their food was authentic, absolutely delicious.
We also visited the Mykonos town, the famous Matoyianni Street, the Mykonos Windmills, the Little Venice, and the shopping capital of the island. Its cubic white washed houses and blue doors and windows in narrow little streets standing like a corn-maze are absolutely beautiful. We had lunch there and later retired to our hotel room since neither my hubby or I are party people 😄 we could have been happy at this hotel alone.
The last leg of our tour was Santorini before returning to Athens. It was great to see what the fuss is all about 🤩 Flying Aegean from Mykonos to Santorini meant that we’d have had to connect in Athens, which would make the trip even longer. Therefore, we opted for the island hopping vessel, a SeaJet fleet which was impressive. The trip was about 3 hours including couple of quick stops on the way. Food and Wi-Fi is provided onboard for a fee. The only hard part was disembarking as a large group; it seemed like the survival of the fittest 😂 In Santorini, we chose to stay south of the island at another Marriott hotel in Megalochori, a Luxury Collection Resort.
We made sure to spend a day touring none other than the famous town of Oia, pronounced “eea“. I had hoped for the wind to do my own flying dress but the wind didn’t come until we had left 😄 Needless to say Oia is a must see and beyond picturesque. Although I don’t know how people who need wheelchairs can ever visit Oia; going up and down steep stairs between hotels and homes was mind boggling and scary at times. The day we left it was a little cold and super windy that I were glad we visited when we did.
Back in Athens we got the new passport, we explored the seaport area of Piraeus and ate more Greek food. Greece was the best experience to-date in our travels. While I normally don’t often go back to the same place, I’m already itching for our return there. We both loved it , and enjoyed our time both in Athens and on islands 🇬🇷 May be Crete next?