Posts Tagged ‘Malta’

Top SOTMs From The World Tour

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

934631_894563031536_987718179_nThe messages I heard from my SOTM subjects during my trip around the world fell into various categories.

Some were of hope, of ambition, of a wish for a better world. Others of advice, wisdom passed between generations. Sometimes they were a desire for loved ones not to follow the same path as the person who spoke to them.

Some were just plain sad. Others, hilarious. But they showed how much fun it is, how difficult it can be and how fragile a thing it is to be alive and around others.

I’m pleased that I got the breadth I was looking for in my subjects. I visited townships in South Africa, wealthy apartments in Dubai, a Korean school for girls, Japanese guest houses and the Australian outback, among so many other places. I found people willing to share their stories in all of them.

As difficult a task as it’s been to make such choices, here are some of my favourite SOTMs from the trip that circled the globe which I undertook from June 2013 to May 2014, across 20 countries, capturing hundreds of people’s stories along the way.

There are many more that are similarly great, and my original plan of choosing a top 10 was soon abandoned. So this isn’t a definitive list, and there are many gems from the tour not seen here but visible on the SOTM site. Just browse the map, or for World Tour in the site’s search engine, to see them all.

Click on any of the images here to see their page on the Someone Once Told Me website and, where appropriate, their translation pictures.

09022014I spotted Boy in Manila’s North Cemetery in the Philippine capital. I was taken with how he looked, just as he was, with the tomb where he lived in the background. So that’s exactly where I took his photograph.

His friend, who was ill himself, once told him: “Stop Smoking And Drinking

01052014I met Timmy in Club Charles, a hipstery bar in Baltimore, USA. Film director John Waters was also in there, as apparently it’s one of his favourite bars.

After his photo, Timmy told me a story of how he wanted to be prom king, and how his girlfriend provided a twist to his quite gripping tale.

The whole time I was wondering how come he was talking about a girlfriend, because he was clearly a gay man.

Afterwards he explained how he now had a wonderful boyfriend, and it all made sense again.

01012014I’m a big fan of proverbs. They’re very much in the same vein as Someone Once Told Me quotes, and this one is a sort of proverb, excitingly in Khmer.

Malin told me in Phnom Penh how her Cambodian father once told her: “Don’t Live Like A Snake, Don’t Die Like A Frog” What excellent advice.

01032014Lisa chose to share a fable that she heard from a Kenyan conservationist. Again, fables are just up the SOTM street, being passed on through the generations and lodging in memories along the way.

We met at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Lisa plans to do her bit for conservation, and got inspiration from this phrase which is a wonderful lesson about doing what you can, no matter how little influence it will have.

I later learned that Mandela never visited the university, even though it had been named after him – but then, many things are named after him and he probably didn’t have time to see them all.

04092013Mel’s story is one of love, coming from the mouth of her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Mel clearly didn’t like being in front of the camera, but I’m really glad she agreed to pose by the sea in Sliema, Malta.

Her grandmother once told her: “You Are Beautiful”

05092013Miu’s story, captured in Kyoto, Japan, is one of a passion for education, a parent’s desire for their children to be educated. Her mother, tight for money, would tell her: “I’ll Buy You Any Books You Want”

06042014Israel’s story is a lesson worth remembering. A financial expert, he explained to me in New Orleans, USA that a client of his taught him how whatever you save for, whatever you plan for, something will always crop up and need money to be spent on it.

So get used to it, because that’s just life.

07062014Matt once talked to a homeless guy in the States, who told him this.

I told him I agreed, how it was a great and upbeat phrase, not one you’d think someone who’s homeless would come up with.

“Thanks,” Matt said. “Can I interest you in a ‘Best Day Of My Life, No Big Deal‘ wristband?’

That was in January 2014, in Manila, Philippines. I’m still wearing it now.

08072013Aldo is a brave soul, because he’s the goalkeeper for San Marino, an international football team which doesn’t have many players to choose from, on account of the nation having some 30,000 inhabitants. He once let in eight goals against England and, famously, 13 against Germany.

However, he also once stood between the sticks against the might of the Italian national side, who peppered his goal with shots. He let in four but it should have been much more, if it weren’t for his cat-like performance that day.

After the game, a fan tweeted him a message that literally translated as: “You Played Incredible”

08102013This is a cute story, told by the adventurous and not a little handsome Cameron. But it also features a wriggling baby crocodile in Darwin, Australia, so simply had to make this list.

10022014Aruna has a beautiful tale of how her father cheered her up, by sending her this message on a postcard when she was a lonely teenager. She posed on the Thai island of Koh Lanta with a little help from her son Shaan, who’s holding the postcard in question.

The phrase means: “The Good That One Does Has No Immediate Recompense: It Will Come By & Of Itself”

11092013I met two women in South Africa’s Port Elizabeth called Mama Gladys. Both looked after children, one in an orphanage, the other a creche. The latter is the Mama Gladys that you see above.

She runs a creche in Walmer township, a rather tough place. She said she was concerned about the welfare of some of the local children, so she began a place where their parents could leave them when they went to work, or were just unable to look after them.

Her quote, written in Xhosa, means: “The Creche Is The Good Idea” which one of her friends told her, when encouraging her to start the venture up.

But something remarkable happened when I was perched on a rickety chair, taking two photographs of Mama Gladys – one in Xhosa, the other in English – and her wriggling charges.

She dug a mobile out of her considerable bosom, took a call, then tucked the device away again, revealing softly that her sister in law had died.

You can see the difference in her expression in the two photos on the SOTM site.

14072013Fabio Lamborghini is the definition of charisma, as you might expect from the nephew of Ferrucio, the inventor of the supercar which still bears his surname today.

Fabio said his Italian uncle once told him: “Fabio, The First Secret For Getting Money Is To Economise. Don’t Spend Too Much. Remember!”

Fabio didn’t seem to see much irony in his millionaire uncle, who made cars that only the super-rich can afford, telling his family to watch their spending.

He also said he took one of the Lamborghinis out each weekend.

Me: “Do you drive fast?”

Fabio: “Yeeeees.”

Me: “What do the local police think about that?”

Fabio: “Nooooo, they are very happy. Sometimes I give them the keys to one of the cars and tell them to borrow it for the weekend. So they are happy.”

Everyone’s a winner here, clearly.

16082013This one gets on the list because Michele, a bar owner in the tiny town of Bagno di Romagna in Emilia Romagna, Italy, once heard soldiers from the French Foreign Legion singing it in Albania. And I love that.

It means: “Doubt Maybe… Give Up Never”

16122013Not only do I totally agree with this, it also contains Benedicta’s dazzling smile and a view of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The line at the top of the pad, above the ‘n’ in ‘things’ is a hair pin, because the page ripped. It wasn’t one of mine.

17022014I wrote about Pete soon after I’d met him in Hong Kong. He went from compering at a comedy club and rolling out the laughs for the entire audience, to weeping in my arms an hour or so later, after recounting the story of his dead mother. One of my most remarkable SOTM experiences.

20082013First time in Austra, and Vienna. There I met a rocket scientist, Ryan – another first. Turns out he was once told this, as well. Brilliant.

21082013Not only a great quote, this sums up the Google generation and yet,  according to Julika, it came from a Latin teacher who looked like Julius Caesar. I was pleased to get a slightly different view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. Her SOTM reads: “You Don’t Have To Know Everything – You Just Have To Know Where To Find The Answers!”

26112013Duncan is dsylexic and wanted his SOTM, taken at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to be written in his own way. So that’s what we did. An admirable chap. His SOTM says: “You Can’t Use Your Disability As An Excus”

28082013I took this picture of Doris at the Missionvale Care Centre, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Life there is tough, with high rates of unemployment, extreme poverty and widespread HIV infection.

So it was heartbreaking to hear Doris’ story, which clearly made a hard life even tougher. Her SOTM says: “Your Husband Went To Transkei” He left without a word and Doris doesn’t know why.

29082013Atakan was told: “Don’t Even Trust Your Father!” by his father as he was leaving home to travel to Istanbul for university.

What I like about it is that afterwards, Atakan told me fathers and sons have a close relationship in Turkey. His story demonstrated this.

10092013Another one from Missionvale Care Centre, a place I can’t get out of my head.

Linda, who helps run the place, said a handymen called Bishop was working hard one day, and when she asked him why he told her this. These pots are in the centre’s garden and commemorate people who have helped the place with their work, but who have now passed away.

Some months after this photo, Bishop, who showed me around the township on foot so I could photograph it, caught pneumonia and died. So his name will be on a pot now, I think. A really sad end to a powerful story, but I will cherish my afternoon wandering around Missionvale township, with Bishop, for the rest of my life.

31102013Sally was a shy girl, as were all her classmates. But I got a number of them to think of SOTM stories. This one was my favourite.

My love of proverbs means that I was always going to be charmed by this phrase, which is apparently such an old expression in Korea that Sally actually wrote it in Chinese characters.

It means: “After A Typhoon There Are Pears To Gather Up”

I like it so much I even use that quote myself, which is perfectly in the spirit of SOTM, of course.

It has been a blessing to have learned so much from so many fine people around the world.

SOTM World Tour – Malta Part II

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

10171692_10154119375280241_8221091916035131426_nSo the last stop on the SOTM World Tour saw me pop back to Malta, quite fittingly. And as always, it was great to be back home.

I was there through an invitation to join the Blog Island project, run by the blogger group iambassador and the Malta Tourism Authority. Personally I’ve long thought Malta would be ripe for an organised blogger campaign so was delighted to learn of this one being put together.

Kate and I stayed in the excellent Palazzo Prince D’Orange in Valletta, a beautiful and enormous building restored to a very nice standard. It captures much of the charm that traditional Maltese houses have, while being a fancy place to stay at the same time. Here’s the flag outside the building.

10314520_10154119403100241_2529624660625187409_nThe top image shows part of the view that you get from the roof of the palazzo, and this meant that we got a grandstand view for the firework show put on to mark the 10th anniversary of Malta entering the European Union.

I used my MeFoto tripod for this (I have a sponsored Backpacker model – it’s light and robust – and am genuinely very happy with it) and have never photographed fireworks before. I got some decent results but was using a 2.5 second shutter speed, but think I would have done better with 2 seconds. Still, here’s a couple of examples.

10401980_10154212613930241_3317899970187105190_nAs you can see, the Maltese do fireworks very well, often winning awards for their pyrotechnics. I must confess that during some local festas, which happen every year, the health and safety standards are sometimes lacking, but the ones shown here were fired safely from barges floating in Valletta’s Grand Harbour.

10414900_10154212615700241_5146955438409375623_nThe Maltese are very keen on their cars and often soup up older models. This one had quite eye-catching patterns.

10259862_10154129477745241_6333107387073139194_nStaying in Valletta gave us plenty of opportunity to wander its charming back streets, which are hugely photogenic. This city, a World Heritage Centre, is a capital like no other.

1549315_10154129477245241_5972706450121067518_nSpeaking of Valletta’s streets, I chose one of them as the location for my very own SOTM. I have never done one, and as SOTM will probably end in the autumn, I needed to have my image ready to use because it’s going to be the last ever new one that I post.

Thereafter, all the images, roughly all seven years’ worth, will then rotate forever, turning over every day like they currently do, just in a giant circle instead of having a new photo and story each day.

So here’s a sneak peek at mine. I had always intended upon another Maltese location for my SOTM, but the night before the picture was to be taken, I changed my mind. I chose a certain place in Valletta instead – Upper Barrakka Gardens – but when Kate and I went there it was clear that wouldn’t work either.

St Ursula’s Street  is parallel to the palazzo, and I love Valletta’s streets, so it suddenly became clear that it should be my place.

10273405_633903930012093_4464690629398676696_oAnd here I am in my happy place – a cracking little cafe in Valletta called Gambrinus. It serves super coffee and pastizzi, which are a ricotta-filled baked Maltese savoury delicacy that you simply must try if ever you go (but make sure they’re oval, like the ones you see here, as any round/triangular ones are poor imitations).

10339577_10154119374440241_3919495774707907156_nAnd here’s a great view of Valletta, from across the water in Sliema’s Tigne Point.

10258341_10154119830675241_9145648304846680904_nKate and I were on our way to the Chop House, a superb steak house which I thoroughly recommend. We were guests of the owner and the food was really delicious, including Scottona beef which I’d never heard of before but was lovely. It comes from young virgin cows and is a meat eater’s treat.

The Chop House in a glass-fronted building so you keep that same view of Valletta as you eat. Go there one evening and watch the dying light change quite dramatically on those famous, aged stones.

Speaking of food, as part of Blog Island we visited the Tal-Petut restaurant in one of the Three Cities, Birgu. When we arrived it turned out, in typical Malta-is-so-tiny-you-know-everyone fashion, that I knew the owner, Donald.

This excellent chap is hugely charismatic, idiosyncratic and unforgettable. I met him once 14 years ago and he could still remember that I’m originally from Gzira in Malta.

10271513_10154119377155241_799767897720853726_nWhen I met him Donald was head of Reuters financial services on the island, but these days he’s cooking up a storm in a building whose youngest stones are about 400 years old.

We all helped out in the kitchen, just a little bit of gentle preparation as Donald has most things stewing or marinading or whatever, and when we put it all together it looked like this. Near the middle you’ll see a basket of Maltese bread which I cut, despite Donald telling me: “Mario, you’re murdering that bread.”

10365855_10154212598715241_2939016647507528595_nHere’s a shot of Sliema as seen from St Julian’s, just because such a lovely day deserves to be photographed.

10276991_10154119374640241_6997257470705082864_nDuring our stay it was the feast of St Publius, the saint for Floriana, a small area literally right outside of Valletta with a population of just 2,300.

Festi are always worth visiting, and this one was very charming, with St Publius’ statue begin carried slowly through this tiny town’s narrow streets.


10262003_10154212625000241_1941420696708924452_nThe lighting wasn’t great for capturing street shots, and I forgot my flash – although I don’t think I wanted to be running around throwing a flash in people’s faces. Most of those in attendance were local or certainly Maltese, and I wanted to let the magic of their festa unravel without any brash intrusion.

So I pushed up the ISO to quite dizzy levels – this one was taken at 5000 – but it still worked well enough for shots to go on a blog post.

10257233_10154212625750241_7064935386085505485_nI like the light on this one. I’m not sure this lady was in a bad mood, but the light thrown up from the bulbs make her look rather stern.

10407240_10154212624630241_489990735771083525_nThere’s always a band at a festa and while the poor light made capturing them difficult, there were a couple of good shots to be had. I managed to get this guy while he was full of puff.

10338314_10154212626030241_6198469507898538752_nI spotted this little chap with presumably his dad. He was very cute and looked dapper in his mini-suit.

10383091_10154212623230241_8095151132649527162_nI was tickled by this angle which made St Publius looks like he was checking out the local bar’s latest offer…

In Malta it’s very common to have bars, shops, businesses, cars and houses named after things you’ll find in other parts of the world. You can be sure the owner of that bar has either been to Oklahoma, has possibly lived there, or just really likes the musical.

10375106_10154212627915241_6254884868321219607_nWhile at the festa Kate and I got talking to this sweet couple, whose daughter was playing in the band. They weren’t from Floriana but said they travel around to watch their daughter play, presumably in small towns that don’t have enough of a population to have their own band.

I don’t know what their names are, but the dog was called George. He had a party trick where he licked the lady’s lips full on. It was endearing and horrifying at the same time.

10262082_10154212628345241_7315609396467083452_nAt one point we hired a car, a bright yellow Peugeot with a missing T that Kate christened as “The Buttercup”. It was certainly easy to spot in car parks, at least. We took it to Gozo one day, the second smallest island in the Maltese archipelago, and had a good old tootle around.

This shot shows Malta in the distance with the tiny Comino, which I was told now has three permanent residents, in the middle.

10277238_10154212630595241_585393757806561575_nThere are some well-known salt pans on Gozo, which you can only enter if you’re harvesting salt, despite them being right next to a coast road open to the public.


10173715_10154212633785241_3948623281138560903_nOne of Gozo’s best beaches is the lovely Ramla Bay, blessed with reddish sand. Having dug our tootsies in it, we then drove up to a lofty viewpoint to take a look around from there. The resulting vista doesn’t disappoint.

10390299_10154212632775241_6213159041685874041_n Incidentally, to whomever drew out a large penis in rocks on Ramla Bay – I salute you.

10369728_10154212633315241_3678383624214016940_nWe also had a tip off from a Gozitan, the charming TV celebrity chef and cookbook author George Borg who cooked us a tasty local meal at the palazzo one night.

He told us how there was another Azure Window-style natural site to be seen in Gozo, at Wied il-Mielah. We went to check it out and it was a quite stunning view.

It was quite difficult to photograph because of the proximity of the surrounding coastline, but by twisting and pressing myself into the adjacent rock face, I managed to capture this.

10177293_10154212634920241_1143008338798032797_nFinally, when driving through a sleepy little village in Gozo, I spotted this sign and liked it so much I stopped The Buttercup to go back and photograph it.

Must be a rather aged sign as that format of phone numbers don’t exist any more, so I wonder if the lion’s still alive. I didn’t want to find out, though.

10313737_10154144462810241_57508472525108271_nAnd that, ladies and gentlemen, was the end of the SOTM World Tour.

Thank you so much for reading my posts. I hope you enjoyed hearing of my adventures and looking at my photography as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you all.

Going around the world was a lifelong ambition for me, from the time when, as a boy growing up in Malta, I used to pin up maps on my bedroom walls and wonder what those places were really like. And almost right from the start of SOTM’s conception back in September 2006, I wanted to take it around the world at some point.

Now I’ve done both.

Much love to you all – and remember. If you have an ambition, just like I did, make it happen. It’ll be all right.  You’ll do it, and will be better for it.

What are you waiting for?

This post was brought to you by the Blog Island Malta campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Malta Tourism Authority and the support of Air Malta

SOTMario maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.

SOTM World Tour – Europe Part I

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

eiffel_towerParis was the first stop on the Someone Once Told Me World Tour, as any excuse to visit that fair city is a good one in my book.

When I got there, I was nervous. I was certainly excited by the prospect of a year’s travel around the globe, no night shifts (apart from the odd overnight flight) spent in the BBC newsroom and the promise of adventure, and not least because I was travelling with my girlfriend, Adventurous Kate.

But I always feel some trepidation when embarking upon an overseas journey. I always think something’s going to prove to be a fly in the ointment, making me miss my flight in one way or another. (Incidentally, although I’ve had a few narrow squeaks in my time, I’ve never actually missed the final boarding call.)

Still, the prospect of hitching so many rides on planes, trains and automobiles, sleeping who-knows-where and worrying about whether I had enough cash for this trip was playing on my mind. So lovely Paris, to stay with my good English friend Marie Claire, was a gentle enough start to proceedings.

parisOnce there, I very quickly worked out that street photography would also be playing a part in my journey to find out what people around the world have been told.

I came out of Marie Claire’s place one day and saw these two characters skipping down the street.

Let’s assume he’s a grandfather and that this is his child’s child.

I had little time to react so I ran on ahead, pulled out my iPhone and captured them as they passed in front of a large door, the best backdrop in the street really.

I later posted the image on Instagram.

While in Paris I found my most fruitful SOTM efforts at a charming bar called Cafe Rouge (not the same as the UK chain) in the Marais where Marie Claire’s book club had kindly gathered for my purposes.

I proceeded to gather scribbled memoirs in French, English, and also Russian, reflecting the eclectic nature of the Parisian population.

Even though it’s not in French, the one you see below was a particular favourite from that happy evening, as I love the way this chap held himself.

I had wanted to use this greengrocer’s backdrop across the street from the moment I saw it. Those sort of shops in Paris always make me think of the film Amelie.

Then Kate and I headed to Geneva as I had lined up an interview on World Radio Switzerland. The journey down was fraught with problems as all the fast trains were booked, meaning we had to take one that chugged along for about 5 hours. And there was not a drop to drink or a crumb to munch on during that whole time, amazingly.

Luckily we happened to have sustenance with us and there were plugs at least, so we could use our computers the whole way. Those who like to blog and love their computers will understand how important this was…

I was interviewed the next day by the charming Jo Fahy at WRS, a chat which you can listen to here, and managed to bag her SOTM too.

Our next stop was Bologna, Italy, where Kate and I had both been invited to participate in the BlogVille project, run by the Emilia Romagna tourism board. If you haven’t been to that region of Italy then you really should go. The food, architecture, scenery and general ambiance are all very sweet indeed.

While there I was lucky enough to meet Fabio Lamborghini, whose late uncle Ferruccio had created that brand of supercars, having already put his rather gifted hand to many engineering products, including a range of tractors. Fabio is now director of the Lamborghini family’s museum.

This is a Countach, one of the gorgeous cars in that place, which looked rather like the inside of my head when I was 8.

countachFabio is a real gent, quite a character and he was kind enough to take part in SOTM, passing on a bit of advice from his uncle, who apparently told Fabio not to spend too much money if he wanted to keep being wealthy.

There was a delicious irony about Ferruccio, whose cars are affordable only by millionaires, advising members of his own family not to part with their cash, of course. You can see me below on the right, with the man himself in the middle and Melvin Boecher of Traveldudes.

lamboAnd it was while we were in Bologna that we took a journey into nearby San Marino, which claims to be the world’s oldest and smallest republic.

Our excellent BlogVille host Nicholas,  a dashing and resourceful chap, knew the goalkeeper for the San Marino football team, who are a brave bunch and no mistake. With a population of some 31,000 it’s a wonder they can put together a squad at all, and they regularly suffer some heavy defeats.

sanmarinoAldo Simoncini was in goal when Germany beat San Marino 13-0 and he was between the sticks again when England rattled 8 past them, without reply.

Despite all this he was a cheerful chap and chose a SOTM quote tweeted to him regarding his performance in a 4-0 defeat by Italy. By all accounts the score should have been much higher and Aldo was widely praised for keeping the score down on that occasion.

08072013After that, Kate and I headed deeper into mainland Europe, in search of more SOTMs. More of all this next time.

High Times

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

The Sunday Times of Malta has featured another interview with me about SOTM, which has made me rather happy as Malta is the one place where I’d like to make an impact. Apparently my aunt and uncle out there saw it too, so that’s even more of a bonus.

Malta FM

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

A happy moment for SOTM – a magazine in Malta wisely decided to run an article on the site in 2008. Thanks to the brilliant Sharon Spiteri, FM magazine, distributed once a month with The Sunday Times of Malta, ran an interview and printed several photographs.