The Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, and My Favorite Temples in Malta

For our exploration of the southern area of Malta, we decided to go to the Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, Hagar Qim Temples, and Mnajdra Temples. Since it was late in the year, I thought it would be too chilly to enjoy a boat ride, but there were a few other boats going out for tours while we were there. I would definitely do it during the warmer months- next time! Still, it was fun to just walk around and look at the beautiful water for a bit and snap some photos. There are a few small restaurants where you can get a quick snack but it’s a pretty small undeveloped area (which is a good thing).

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The Blue Grotto

To get to Dingli Cliffs, we started in Buskett Gardens, an area with woodlands dating back to the 16th century. There are historical sites nearby such as prehistoric cart ruts and Ghar il-Kbir (a complex of caves that were inhabited up to 150 years ago). Although there are numerous trails you can hike around Buskett Gardens, we just walked straight from Buskett Gardens to Dingli Cliffs although we could have just driven straight to the cliffs. If I would have had more time, I definitely would have spent more time hiking around Buskett Gardens since it seemed very pretty in the area.

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Dingli Cliffs
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Looking down Dingli Cliffs

Hagar Qin Temples were my favorite of all of the temples we went to (and we went to a lot). I thought the preservation of the temples were some of the best in the area and the location of the temples by the Dingli Cliffs just added to the experience. Mnajdra Temples were within walking distance from Hagar Qin, just a bit closer to the water but not quite as extensive. First excavated in 1839, the remains of Hagar Qin suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC, a period known as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory.

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It was nice that the last temples we went to were my favorite ones; we saved the best for last. After all of this history, we were ready to see some other things, so we decided to see some beaches in the area. Join me for that upcoming post!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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Shaking Things Up a Bit

Last winter when I was training for a half marathon in Utah in February and I had to run my peak miles during some of the worst weather where I live in North Carolina, I was cursing my choice of a race in February and vowed to not make that mistake again. If you want to read about my race in Utah, the Dogtown Half Marathon, you can find it here. For those of you that aren’t aware, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 United States and ran my 41st state in West Virginia last November, the Marshall University Half Marathon.

I should state that my husband and daughter always go to races with me and since my daughter is in middle school now, I plan my races around her school schedule. She’s currently in a year-round school, which means she’s basically in school for nine weeks and out for three weeks throughout the year. One of her current breaks is during February, hence my decision to run a half marathon in February last year. I’ve ran all of the southern states except New Mexico, if you consider that a southern state, and I refuse to run in a state like Minnesota or Nebraska in February.  Call me crazy or call me a wimp, but I’m done running races in February and all other winter months for that matter.

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Photo taken last January. For a southern gal like me, this isn’t good running weather!

This all means I’ll go from running a race last November to my next one which isn’t until May. That’s a pretty long time to go in-between races, but that’s the way it’s going to be as long as my daughter has this school schedule. When she’s in high school, she will no longer be in year-round school, so I’ll have the option of running during the early spring again, as long as I can find a race during her spring break, which should be possible.

Sooooo, what have I been doing during this long break between training plans? Well, I’ve still been running to keep up my fitness level, but it’s been more “run for fun” kind of thing. I haven’t been doing any speed work of any real kind although I’ve done a little bit of playing around with increasing my speed on some treadmill runs and doing some sprinting here and there. I’ve also bought some new shoes in preparation when I do start my next training plan next month.

As I mentioned in a post last year, I tried some new shoes in a completely different brand and style than I had ever ran in before and that worked out well for me. They were Newtons and while I definitely like them, my next pair of new shoes aren’t Newtons. See, for years I had been running in Asics Gel Nimbus shoes and really liked them so I kept buying them for many years. However, after reading Jonathan Beverly’s book, “Runner’s World Your Best Stride: How to Optimize Your Natural Running Form to Run Easier, Farther, and Faster–With Fewer Injuries,” I began to re-think some things. My full post on Beverly’s book can be found here.

For 2018, I plan on incorporating more of the concepts from Beverly’s book such as not always wearing the same shoes, not always running on the same routes, not always doing the same stretches, etc.. In other words, shake things up a bit. I know many runners have the mentality, ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’ but for me, I think I need to mix things up. My 20-something and even 30-something body didn’t need much variety and got by just fine without switching things up, but I feel like my 40-something body needs variety if I intend on running forever (which I do).

My last few years-worth of training plans have been the same, namely running three days a week, cross-training twice a week including cycling and yoga, strength training one day and core work one day. On the days where I ran, there were no easy runs but every run was either a tempo run, hill repeats, speed work, or long run. This next training plan I will start in a few weeks includes running five days a week, so I’ll have to double-up and go to yoga class for example after running earlier in the day to fit it all in. My plan is to at least try it and if it’s too much for my body (i.e. if I’m getting injuries) I’ll cut back to four days a week and try that.

Wish me luck! How often do you guys shake things up with your running?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

My First Experience with Mobile WiFi for International Travel

Based on a recent visit to Chile and going without WiFi  for a week, I started investigating mobile WiFi options for an upcoming vacation to Malta. I’m an American and my cell phone is locked and doesn’t offer me the option of putting a sim card into it from Malta, so I knew I had to find another way. In my mind I pretty much had three options- 1) buy a cheap phone in Malta for my time there and share it with my husband and daughter (not really an option), 2) rent a GPS for the car but possibly not have WiFi or have limited access (again, not really an option) or 3) rent a MiFi or mobile WiFi.

First off, what is mobile WiFi? Unlike WiFi which provides internet connectivity to wireless devices through fixed WiFi hotspots, mobile WiFi or MiFi provides connectivity when devices are on the move. The MiFi router acts as a mobile hotspot. In other words, you can have internet connectivity anywhere you are and have the MiFi  device, whether going down the road in a car, on the beach, in an apartment, etc. Anywhere you can pick up a signal, I should say. We never had problems getting a signal no matter where we tried in Malta.

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Many roads like this aren’t one-way in Malta!

There are many options for Americans who travel to Europe (which includes Malta) so I began comparing them. You can buy a device or rent one. I knew I didn’t want to buy a device at least at this point in my life so I looked at companies where I could rent one.

Skyroam seemed like a good option at $9.95 per day to rent plus $1.95 per day to upgrade to 4G LTE and includes up to five devices. You can have the device delivered to your house before you leave on vacation and return it upon arrival back to the States. Xcom Global also seemed like a good option at $7.77 per day plus an option of $1.50 per day extra for LTE upgrade for $9.27 total per day so I went with Xcom Global. I also paid $19 to have the device shipped to my home before I left for Malta and returned it at a FedEx facility upon arrival back in the US for no charge. After I returned from my vacation, I learned that Xcom Global closed their US facility mid-December of 2017. Since I was planning on using them for future international vacations, I’m sad this happened, but I’m willing to try Skyroam and see how they compare the next time.

More importantly how did the MiFi work? So well that we’ll be renting a device the next time we travel internationally and probably every time we travel internationally. We could have gotten by with just renting a GPS for the car but then we wouldn’t have had WiFi for all the times when we were in little public squares and needed to find a restaurant, cafe, pharmacy, or just where the historical site we were going to was after we found a parking spot several blocks away and getting thoroughly turned around.

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I personally wouldn’t want to drive a big car in Malta with so many narrow roads

The roads in Malta are not well-marked or in some cases aren’t marked at all. Without the verbal turn-by-turn directions from the MiFi (or a GPS), we would have gotten lost pretty much every day we drove somewhere. The one time we only had printed directions to a place with no address, we were only able to find it after stopping to ask someone for directions. The roads are fairly well-maintained in the more populated areas, but when you get out in rural areas, they pretty quickly get worse, meaning narrow, winding, completely unmarked, and sometimes downright insane. On a couple of occasions when the GPS said to go on a road, we looked at it and said no way in hell are we taking that road and circled around until the GPS found us another way.

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Road, sidewalk, or both? It’s actually both.

Beyond using the MiFi for driving and finding our way around Malta, we had the device at both the Airbnb apartment in Gozo and the hotel in Malta. Fortunately the WiFi at both places was sufficient that we didn’t need the MiFi but it was nice knowing we had it if we needed it. We’ve stayed at hotels before that advertised WiFi but it turned out it was only in the lobby, which of course isn’t ideal. I wasn’t 100% sure if this was going to be the case at our hotel in Malta and didn’t really want to take the chance.

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Look closely at this hillside- there are actually roads here. Yep, they can be like that in Malta.

After having MiFi for our vacation in Malta and being so pleased with it, we will absolutely rent another device for future international vacations. It makes the vacation so much less stressful and to me that’s worth every penny.

Have any of you used MiFi devices for international travel? Are there any ones you recommend?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Thoughts on Running a Race in all 50 States

Now that I’m up to 41 states in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I can stand back and take a look at my experience so far. When I started running half marathons, I didn’t have this goal. In fact, I didn’t have the goal of one in each state until I had already ran a half marathon in several states. One day I just said, hey that would be a fun goal to run a half marathon in every state, and I just sort of fell into it from there.

Running a race in all 50 states takes a ton of time, energy, and money. Unless you’re independently wealthy, it will most likely take you many years to accomplish your goal. Of course, the longer the distance you plan on running, the more expensive it will be, but not hugely more. Yes, marathons cost more than 5k’s to register, but the real expense is in the airfare, lodging, gas, and food. These expenses will be the same regardless of the distance you are running.

If you don’t have support from your family and boss (assuming you work and have a family) you won’t be able to accomplish this goal. I’ll re-phrase that. If you don’t have support from your family and boss you won’t be able to accomplish this goal in a timely manner. If you only get one week of vacation time off work a year, it will be much harder to travel to races. Initially it may work and you can travel during holidays that you have paid time off, but eventually it will get harder and harder to find races when you have time off work, especially if you don’t enjoy running in northern states around Thanksgiving or Christmas, for example.

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The youngest member of my support crew (photo was taken several years ago)!

This goal also takes total commitment from family members because of the time and money involved. If your spouse isn’t on-board with this goal, instead of support you’ll get resentment and eventually your goal will deteriorate. My husband and daughter are my biggest running fans and they’ve seen first-hand how they’ve also benefited from my goal, by getting to travel to new states and have a fun family vacation. We’ve been to places that we probably never would have gone to, but have almost always been pleasantly surprised by the place. There have been a couple of places we were underwhelmed by, but we still managed to have a good time and make the most of it!

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If I hadn’t ran the Madison Mini-Marathon, we probably wouldn’t have known first-hand what a fun city Madison is!

Having a goal to run a race in all 50 states also takes a huge amount of planning, especially when you get down to the final 15 or so states. Some states only have less than ten half marathons, which greatly limits when you can run them. Also, if you’re limited to a certain part of a state where you can run for whatever reason, that also limits when you can run those races. Your choices are also dictated by the distance you’re running. If you’re running 5k’s you will most likely have more options than if you’re running 10k’s simply because there are more 5k’s than 10k’s.

I’ve also found that many times the race I thought I would run (sometimes I’ll have a race in mind years in advance) just didn’t happen for various reasons and I ended up running an entirely different race. For example, I thought I would run the Tybee Island Half Marathon in Georgia and looked forward to it for years. The year I went to register for it there was some problem and the race director was thinking about canceling the race for that year. I could have waited to see what would happen but I didn’t want to take a chance and not be able to run it and have to scramble around to find another race at the last minute along with airfare, hotel, car rental, etc. so I signed up for Run the Reagan Half Marathon, a race near Atlanta. It was one of the worst half marathons I’ve ever ran and I regretted not just waiting until the next year for Tybee Island.

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Run the Reagan Half Marathon was no fun but at least we had fun at the Botanical Garden in Atlanta after the race!

Sometimes even with the best intentions of planning, things (aka races) fall through. In the case of my race in Oregon, I thought I’d be running a small race in Eugene. I had already booked our airfare, hotels, and car rental but I just hadn’t paid my registration fee for the race yet. Since it was a small race with no incentive to sign up early (prices didn’t increase over time as they sometimes do), I just wasn’t in a hurry to sign up. My daughter was interested in running the 5k so I emailed the race director with a question about that, only to be told the entire event (half marathon and 5k) had been cancelled. Fortunately there was another half marathon that she told me about also in Eugene the day after the one I thought I would be running, so I signed up for that one on the spot and breathed a sigh of relief!

Beyond races being cancelled, flights are also often changed, delayed, or cancelled. I’ve had so many flight changes for races I was flying to, I learned early on to give myself a buffer of at least one day, if not two or more, depending on where I’m flying and what the flight times are. For example, for flights to big cities where there are multiple flights a day, a buffer of one day would be fine, but for flights to smaller cities and/or places where you have to connect through other cities, I would personally give at least two buffer days before the race, just in case something happens.

Although I feel like it’s probably too late at this point, I’ve wondered if maybe I should have joined the Fifty States Half Marathon Club. I’m just not sure I can justify the one-time $79 fee on top of either a 3 or 5 year membership fee. Since I’ve already ran 41 states, I’d have to pay for a 5 year dues membership. This might be well and good if I had another 25+ states to go but since I’ll hopefully be done in another few years, I just don’t think I would get enough out of it to justify joining now.

When I mention to people that I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states, the one question I get asked by far the most is, “Have you ran a race in Hawaii yet?” I guess a lot of Americans are fascinated by Hawaii. No one has ever asked me, “Have you ran a race in Rhode Island yet?” even though that one was one of my favorites so far. Oh, and the answer is, “Yes, Hawaii was one of the first half marathons I ever ran, before I even had the goal of running one in every state.” You can read about that here if you’d like.

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Finally, I’ve learned that if you run enough races, eventually you’ll win an age-group award. I’ve always considered myself a near-the-front middle of the pack racer (if that makes sense), usually finishing in the top quarter for my age group. I never thought I’d “win” a race as my mother used to always ask me when I spoke to her afterwards (she’d ask, “Did you win?”) but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to win first, second, and third in my age group at races in Missouri New Hampshire, and Oregon, respectively.

What questions do you all have about running a half marathon or even a different distance race in all 50 states? Are any of you running a race in all 50 states or considering it?

Happy running!

Donna

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

Right beside Valletta in Malta is the Harbour Area. If you missed my post about Valletta, you can find it here. We tried to combine Valletta and the Harbour Area but it was too much for one day so we ended up splitting it into two days. I found the Harbour area to be a bit less hectic and crowded (a bit but not a ton) than Valletta and liked the Harbour area a bit more because of this. We enjoyed just walking around admiring the huge yachts and coming up with names for our future yacht after we win the lottery.

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Plan B looks pretty good to me!

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Continuing with our historical tour of Malta, we began with the Inquisitor’s Palace. This unused (at the time) palace was offered as a residence to an inquisitor in 1574 and is the only inquisitor’s place open to the public in the world so it’s a rare opportunity to be able to tour such a place. Although it’s sad to think about what went on here, especially when you see the prison and torture areas, it is a part of history that can’t be forgotten.

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A display in the Inquisitor’s Palace

It was getting late in the evening when we toured Fort St. Angelo so we got to see views of the harbour at dusk from the top of the fort, which was nice. There really isn’t much to see at the fort other than take in some stunning views of the area but the views are some of the best in the Harbour Area. While it’s not the biggest, oldest, or strongest fort in Malta, it is said that who ever controlled Fort St. Angelo controlled Malta. To me, that’s one powerful fort.

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View from Fort St. Angelo

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The Tarxien Temples turned out to be some of my favorite temples on Malta. Built between 3600 and 2500 B.C., they were re-used between 2400 and 1500 B.C. and are four megalithic structures. I really liked being able to walk around and get up close to these temples and see the prehistoric artwork unique to these temples. The temples contain highly decorated stone blocks and screens, reliefs of domestic animals and spirals, the colossal statue and a number of altars, one of which contained a flint knife and animal bones.

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Tarxien Temples
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Tarxien Temples

We tried to visit a dog rescue place, Island Sanctuary in this area but were turned away, since visitors are only admitted on Sundays from 9 to 12 and it was not a Sunday when we went. There was also a sign on the gate that said dog walks were cancelled until further notice. I had checked the website earlier and it seemed like there was a possibility we would be allowed in so I thought it was worth trying. It was a shame we weren’t allowed to go in and walk one or more of the dogs because I was looking forward to it. When we visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah and took one of the puppies on a walk with us and back to our cottage there for the night, we loved it. We were told there weren’t enough volunteers at Island Sanctuary for visitors other than the scant hours available. If you go, make sure you call in advance.

Like the rest of Malta, the harbour area did not disappoint. I loved this area for all it had to offer and couldn’t wait to see more of this beautiful island.

Happy travels!

Donna

Race Raves Review

I recently discovered a website I’d like to pass along to all of my fellow runners, Race Raves. As someone who’s got the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, a website like this is always a great find. I’m always looking for half marathons and reading other runners’ reviews of the races, so a site like this is perfect for me.

The website is completely free and you input all of your previous races (or all the ones you want to). Honestly, this is about the only downside I see, having to put in all of your own races. I know some other sites like this do it for you, but the downside to that, at least for me, is my older races aren’t included. With Race Raves, if a race you ran isn’t on their list, you can click to add a race. I requested five races be added to my “staging area” and less than 24 hours later (less than 12 hours really) I got an email saying those races had been added so I could now add them to complete my racing profile. Talk about quick turnaround!

I was able to add all 41 states I’ve ran half marathons in during a lunch break at my desk, so it’s not really as big of a deal as it may seem to input your races. You could always break it down into smaller chunks and just add a few at a time also. Having a blog definitely helped with this, though. I could easily check dates and finish times from my blog and enter those into my personal staging area.

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There are several features I really like about this site, one of which is the cool map you generate when you input your races. They’re color-coded so half marathons are orange, marathons are light blue, ultra marathons a darker blue, and other is yellow. There are even colors for states where you ran say a marathon and a half marathon. For an aspiring 50-stater like me, this is one cool feature.

Another thing I really like about Race Raves is the link to find a race. I’m always looking for and comparing half marathons in states I need to run. This allows you to look for races ranging from a 5K to 100 miler and most distances in-between, including relays, which I find most search engines like this don’t have the option for. It will search around the world, as well, not just the United States. Another option is to search by terrain/type including “OCR” and “synthetic.”

In addition to find and discover races, rate and review races, and organize your races, you can also follow other runners, which they call “Lunatics I Follow.” Nice. So far I’m only following a couple of people, but I need to work on that and follow some other runners. If any of you do end up setting up a profile on Race Raves, be sure to follow me there! I’m listed as “Donna S.”

Finally, I do realize this is pretty much in direct competition with Bib Raves, which I know many of you are avid members of the community. If you’re already active with Bib Raves, you may not care to join Race Raves, but I always like passing along info like this in case anyone is interested. I look at Race Raves like another tool in my tool belt of running information!

Happy running!

Donna

 

Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City

Many people that come to Malta do so on a cruise ship and as such may only see the Valletta area. The view of the water in Valletta is the photo that you see most often if you search for photos of Malta. Established in the 1500’s, Valletta is the capital city of Malta and has a population of around 6,000 people. It’s not the most populated city in Malta by any means but it does seem to be the most-visited city by tourists.

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Valletta, Malta

During our week-long vacation in Malta, we decided to spend a day in Valletta and take in some historical sites. We wanted to choose places we thought would interest us the most but not feel rushed and like we were trying to cram everything in, so we went to the Palace Staterooms, Palace Armory, and the National Museum of Archaeology. All of these places are part of Heritage Malta which includes 23 historical sites and museums plus the Malta National Aquarium and the Citadel Visitor Centre. My family and I bought a Multisite Family Pass that was good for everyone in my family for up to 30 days.

The Palace Armory contains arms and armour used by the Knights of St. John between 1530 -1798 and by the Ottoman Empire during the Great Siege of 1565. I especially liked seeing all of the different materials from so many different origins like Italian, German, French and Spanish. There are also a variety of Islamic and Ottoman arms and armor. Honestly, you could spend hours here if you chose to, since the collection is so extensive.

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The Palace Armory in Malta

The National Museum of Archaeology is a good base for learning Maltese history and information on other archaeological sites on the island. The building was built in 1571 and followed a plan by local architect Ġilormu Cassar. This building was house to the Knights of the Order of St John originating from Provence, France and thus has many French architectural characteristics. This museum has artifacts from Malta’s Neolithic period (5000 BC) up to the Phoenician Period (400 BC). Some of the more popular pieces include the ‘Sleeping Lady’ (from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum), the ‘Venus of Malta’ (from Ħaġar Qim), bronze daggers (recovered from the Bronze Age layers at Tarxien Temples), the Horus & Anubis pendant and the anthropomorphic sarcophagus, both belonging to the Phoenician Period.

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Some artifacts on display at the National Museum of Archaeology in Malta

Finally, we visited the Palace Staterooms. The Palace itself was one of the first buildings in the new city of Valletta founded by Grand Master Jean de Valette in 1566 a few months after the successful outcome of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The Palace was enlarged and developed by successive Grand Masters to serve as their official residence. Later, during the British period, it served as the Governor’s Palace and was the seat of Malta’s first constitutional parliament in 1921. The palace today is the seat of the Office of the President of Malta. The 18th century French Gobelins tapestries entitled, “Les Teintures des Indes” were my favorite part of the Palace Staterooms.

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Hallway in the Palace Staterooms

It’s nice to just wander around Valletta and take in the views. At one point in the day, we found a quaint little cafe where we relaxed with some delicious pastries. There are no shortage of shopping opportunities of all sorts in Valletta either. Initially we thought we could combine Valletta with the Harbour area since they’re near each other, but we found it was just too much to take in on a single day, so we decided to come back to spend some time in the Harbour area.

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Tips: Parking can be a pain in Valletta and some of the busier cities in Malta as well. I suggest finding a spot to park and leaving your car there and just walking around. We found free parking and didn’t have any problems walking to everywhere we wanted to go for the day. While there is a bus service in Malta,  I had read that the buses run infrequently so we just rented a car and had no problems driving ourselves around the islands of Gozo and Malta.

In my next post, we go to the Harbour area of Malta and explore there. Join me as I continue on my adventure of this fascinating country!

Happy travels!

Donna