Last weekend I found myself on a tiny island visiting this adventure's twenty-second country and capital city. Malta, or at least Valletta - the only part of Malta I had an opportunity to see on this all-too-short visit - has a wonderful atmosphere. The buildings are tall and grand though their splendour is faded and dusty. Walking around its regular grid of streets at any time other than high noon provides shade and there always seems to be a cooling breeze coming from somewhere. And it feels exotic. The Maltese language is still spoken by two hundred thousand of the island's inhabitants. It's the only official EU language that's Semitic, and the only Semitic language written in the Latin script. It's stuffed full of Zs, and Js, and Qs, funky double-barred Hs and a scattering of diacritical marks on letters you wouldn't normally expect to wear them. But the exoticism is tempered with old-fashioned English shops with hairdressers' displays offering 1960s styles and underwear outlets promoting girdles. Do women still wear girdles? If Doctor Who landed here, it would take him a minute or two to work out in which decade he was.
In my short time there I went looking for something odd to eat. I was disappointed when the restaurant offering a rabbit burger on its menu outside couldn't deliver the goods. Instead I settled for a pizza with very herby Maltese sausages on it. Another Maltese possibility was Widow's Soup. Now, I've never eaten a widow and so I was tempted, but a little research told me that it was just a poor man's vegetable soup. The herby sausages had to do.
While on my quest for something out of the ordinary, I discovered a snack bar with an unusual concept. Y'know in tourist resorts when you see those photo menus? This restaurant had decided to go one better and pre-prepare their entire menu and place it behind a glass counter so that you could really see what you were getting. The only problem was that they'd obviously made most of this stuff days ago. I mean, it would be expensive to make it all every single day. The upshot of this was that the chips were wilted and the salad brown and limp , all garnished with dried up bits of cucumber. I'm not sure it's a strategy that's going to catch on.
I didn't want to leave. I'd only been there for around thirty hours. I wanted to get on my bike and cycle around the entire island, to see the villages as well as the tiny capital. But I have to keep moving if I'm going to be finished on this long year in time for exams and revision. Instead, Malta gets added to the ever-growing list of places to which I have to return and spend a serious amount of time, like Berlin, Prague, Rome and Naples.
Since then, I've been retracing my steps, back through Sicily and up the west coast of Italy's leg. Only today, a full week after Malta, did I start to head across to Italy's other coast. There's a ferry waiting for me in Bari, one that will take me to Greece and capital number twenty-three.
It's time to abandon what I've learnt of Italian and switch to my Greek audio course. I don't think many visitors to Greece bother trying to learn much of their language, and those that do sometimes get a little confused. The Greek word for 'Good day!' is 'Kalimera!'. When I was in the mountains of Greece many years ago, I walked behind a Brit who greeted each passerby with a friendly "Calamari!" He was basically yelling "Battered squid rings!" at everyone he saw. I'll try not to make the same mistake. See, the lessons of travel are always useful.