Prologue

I came to Maryland the day prior to our departure for Malta. I wanted to be sure to have ample time to take care of any last minute things I might need before flying across the seas. Their really wasn't that much that I needed to do.

Ocean spanning flights are dull. Their isn't much you can really do on the plane. It's made worse when the entertainment options are limited to what the airline shows on the TVs that are sprinkled throughout the plane. W weren't flying in the lap of modern entertainment where each passenger had a his or her own LCD screen they could watch whatever they wanted given the limited selections available. This is one of those times when I can understand why people purchase portable DVD players to watch movies or TV shows. At least I had my iPod with me and so I could listen to plenty of music as I read. That made the flight much more tolerable.

We arrived at Heathrow airport (London, England) when we were supposed to and began our long slog to deal with customs and to retrieve our luggage. For whatever reason we could not check our luggage all the way through to Malta. I think it had more to do with airline-to-airline interaction than with any customs laws. It seemed to take a rather long time to get to the proper terminal for our Air Malta flight. You walk a ways, stand in line at passport control, get your stuff, walk more, take a train to proper terminal, and walk some more. I think we spent nearly an hour doing this. But all in all it actually went fairly smoothly for us. The Air Malta flight was also quite good especially since we had the slightly better seats in business class (more room and more comfortable).

When we landed in mid-afternoon we easily found our way through the small but busy airport. As far as I know this is the only airport on Malta, but that is hardly a surprise since Malta isn't that big. I'm fairly sure the airport just has to service Air Malta flights, but that seems to keep it pretty busy nonetheless. We soon found the lady who was meeting the HF arrivals and we settled in to wait ourselves for the half hour or so it would be before everyone else arrived on their flights. Once we were all here we piled into two small buses for the forty minute drive to our hotel. That was some drive. Later today we'll really meet the rest of the group.

The Republic of Malta is actually a small archipelago located in the western Mediterranean about 60 miles due south of Sicily, and within a couple hundred miles east of Tunisia and north of Libya (get a sense of the location from this Google map.) The islands are: Malta Island, Gozo, Comino (all inhabited though Comino has just one permanent family on it from what I could gather); Cominoto, Filfla, the Islands of Saint Paul are uninhabited; and Manoel island though inhabited is also connected to the town of Gzira. The bulk of the population, somewhere around 410,000 people I believe, live on the main island of Malta. Gozo accounts for a bit more than 30,000 people. By comparison Washington, D.C. has a city population of about 550,000 people living in a total area of about 177 square kilometers; Malta spreads her people over a total area of about 317 square kilometers (I think Malta Island has about 240 square kilometers). We're not going to be climbing to any great heights. I'm not sure their is a point anywhere in the island that rises to even 1,000 feet above sea level. My understanding is the high point is along the Dingli Cliffs and I believe we'll pass by it during the trip. The topography is going to be on of small hills and terraced fields; lots of limestone; and of course a lot of coastline (their are numerous bays).