My Mediterranean Living Top 5

 

It’s been nearly a year since I packed up my books and moved to a small island in the Mediterranean.

It was a goal I set 8 years before, after reading Lawrence Durrell and island hopping the Adriatic. I was attracted to something in the landscape: those dry stony islands, the wind in the olive trees, the quality of light, and the pure clarity of Poseidon’s translucent domain. It took me 8 long years to alter the course of my life enough to make that goal a reality. But I didn’t waver. And one year ago I hopped a flight to a country I’d never been to, and spent a few days searching for a rental house. Three weeks after that I left Canada for good.

It isn’t the first time I’ve changed countries or even continents on a whim. And as in any expat life, I expected to find a lot of good along with some bad.

I thought I’d take a moment to share with you the best and the worst things about this island life.

 

Five Things I Love About Living on an Island in the Mediterranean

 

1) The climate

It’s early March, and I’m reading on my roof deck in just a pair of shorts. It was like that right until mid-December. And the rainy winter only lasted a couple months. Sure, these old stone houses get cold as a crypt. But they’re made for the heat. That’s what I get most of the year. In summer it doesn’t rain at all. I look up from my courtyard to see day after day of clear blue sky. And I’ve got a permanent tan.

 

2) The sea

There’s an incredible sheltered cove just 5 minutes away; the perfect place for a swim. There are cafe’s where I can sit and drink coffee or an aperitif and watch the swell of the wine dark sea. There are the shifting winds that dictate the weather, each with its own name and story. There are yachts and sailboats passing through, freighters from far off lands, and ferries that journey to closer places.

The sea permeates every aspect of life here. Just as it always has.

 

3) History and Myth

This part of the world is the source of so many of our myths, and the site of so many historical events. Ulysses sailed here. The Phoenicians roamed the waves. Crusaders built fortifications and shaped the villages and towns. And prehistoric man even left his mark in the form of ancient temples that pre-date Stonehenge. I love reading about these times and then going out to walk through scenes where history played itself out. And I love living in a 400 year old house, surrounded by antiques, with a courtyard and roof deck and old stone walls that inspire me to write.

 

4) Location

While getting off an island means flying or taking a boat, this is an ideal location for flights throughout Europe and the Middle East. And it’s a great jumping off point for Africa. For a travel writer, it’s tough to find a better base that combines access to new experiences with the ideal climate and landscape for reading and work.

 

5) The Food

While the local cuisine leaves a lot to be desired—it’s far too sweet for my taste—the year round access to fresh food is incredible. Things are seasonal here, like they used to be when I was a kid. The vegetables are fresh, crisp and packed with flavour. They aren’t soaked in pesticides or genetically modified. It’s the opposite of the bland wax-covered veggies we got back in Canada, trucked up from the southern United States or Mexico. We buy fresh veggies in the plaza around the corner, from a vendor with a small truck. What he doesn’t grow in his own small plots is brought in from the neighbouring island. The butcher shop is right beside the vegetable vendor. The bakery is just down the street. And eggs are produced locally, right here in this village. I’ve even found some rather good local wine. And of course, bottles from Italy and France are easily available.

Okay, I admit it. That might sound like a small slice of paradise. And I stop to count my blessings every single day. But not everything about island life is idyllic. It’s crowded here, densely populated and with too many cars—though I’m lucky enough to live in a quiet, traditional village far away from the tourist resorts. People still use the streets as a garbage can. And there isn’t much choice when it comes to foreign foods. I love the Mediterranean cuisine, but I do miss Vietnamese pho, Japanese food, Thai and Indian.

No place is perfect, and honesty demands shining a light on the bad as well as the good. Here are the things I still can’t seem to adjust to…

Five Things I Hate About Living on an Island in the Mediterranean

 

1) The Drivers

This place has the worst drivers in Europe—bar none. I’ve gotten used to the complete lack of traffic rules, the free-for-all of roundabouts, and the inability of drivers to keep their car in one lane. But there’s a deeper underlying aspect that I find harder to accept, and people’s behaviour behind the wheel is just an expression of it. There’s a lack of personal responsibility in a lot of things here. If someone’s in a position to serve you—in an office, ticket booth or shop, for example—they think nothing of making you wait. They avoid eye contact and simply ignore you until they feel like doing their job. But turn the tables and make them wait, and you’ll see people lose their minds with impatience. I think that’s why they try to overtake in a bicycle lane, or shove their front bumper around other cars when the slightest gap presents itself, rather than wait their turn. Not everyone on the island acts this way. But it does seem to be a common trait throughout many of these Mediterranean countries.

On the other hand, that lack of personal responsibility can work to your advantage when dealing with officials, permits or regulations. The key is to find that one person who can solve your problem. And when you don’t want to do something, simply shrug like they do and ignore the issue completely. All you have to do is make it inconvenient or difficult or too much work to deal with you, and you’ll be left alone. You can’t get away with stuff like that in an overly regimented country. And it really can make life easier. So I ignore the irritable side as best I can and capitalize on the rest.

 

2) Petards

This may be the stupidest and most annoying “custom” I’ve ever encountered in my travels. Petards are not fireworks. There’s no beautiful display of colours or patterns. They’re simply enormous explosives that make an incredible amount of noise. They shake the house. They frighten pets. And they drive tinnitus sufferers out of the island during festival season. Enthusiasts of this idiotic, wasteful, noise-polluting “tradition” blow these things off first thing in the morning, at noon, and for several straight hours in the evening. It’s a fusillade that sounds like a second world war aerial bombardment. It hurls you out of bed in the morning, and it blots coherent thoughts from your head at night.

Each village has it’s own petard factory, and people light these dumb things off season after season, in broad daylight. I still can’t believe anyone would get excited enough about these things to set an alarm, roll out of bed early, and sit in a field waiting for the church bell to strike 8 so they can get started. Only someone with an incredible tolerance for repetitive things could possibly take any delight in it. As several of my local friends told me, “This is a hobby for the uneducated and unintelligent.” But don’t say that to a petard enthusiast! They fly into a rage when you suggest “their hobby” is an imposition on other people—much like the smoker who fights for their “right” to light up, polluting the air of everyone else in the room. Unlike the other points on my list, I can’t think of a single positive spin to put on petards. To those annoying individuals who blast these things off all summer long: I hope you go deaf, and I curse you with a lifetime of tinnitus, bad breath, pounding headaches and shingles.

 

3) The Cost of Things

Island geography inevitably means things cost more than they do in other places, simply because they must be shipped in. Rent is affordable here, at least compared to Toronto. Food is reasonably cheap, and good wine is found in plenty. But things like electronics are expensive. Clothing costs more than the same item in other parts of Europe. And I have to order all my books online. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for living in the middle of the Mediterranean.

 

You know what? I’ve been staring at this screen for nearly an hour, but I can’t come up with two more negative things. The balance is tipped firmly in the positive. And apart from those fucking petards, the other negative things really aren’t that terrible. They’re just different ways of organizing a life.

I don’t know how long I’ll end up living on the island before setting out for some new geography or culture. Five years at least, maybe a little more. And it’ll probably pass as quickly as the first year here did.

Living on a Mediterranean island may not necessarily be your cup of tea. But I bet there’s a landscape or culture or climate that speaks to you. A place where you feel most alive and in touch with your muse. I want you to know that you really can go to that place and carve out a life there. Our time is too short to do anything else.

 

Have you ever lived as an expat? Did you leave your country of origin to try life somewhere else? Do you move from country to country and use the world as your playground? Please share YOUR experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them.

Comments

  1. I’m a US expat, also with a penchant for Mediterranean islands.

    I lived in Cyprus for 3 years, until just a week ago. It shared the first four of your 5 positives; the food was even more bland than British food, however. The drivers were simply atrocious, though after my visit to Cairo I decided they were relatively Teutonic in comparison! And the cost of virtually everything but rent was dreadful.

    A week ago, I moved to “your” island. The food here is a vast improvement! I have yet to eat a bad meal, even when I pay only EUR 1.5 for a slice of pizza and a drink (the food is incredibly inexpensive, too). I am really going to have to stick to my Shapeshifter program (that’s how I found your blog) to keep in good shape. I don’t find the drivers to be so difficult here as the roads themselves–they are in terrible shape and I feel like I’m navigating a spaghetti bowl every time I venture out, though I’m gradually getting things figured out.

    Perhaps the greatest disappointment for me in becoming an expat is how difficult it is to do something “unusual.” The biggest example is that I’m a private pilot; I flew all over the USA in my small plane, where it was far more convenient, less expensive, and less humiliating than traveling commercially. In Europe, it’s prohibitively expensive; there are numerous hoops to jump through for any flight; and you still have to go through an X-ray machine and get patted down even to go in your own aircraft!

    On the other hand, when I’m enjoying the privilege of flying my own plane around the Mediterranean islands (and other locations in Europe), I doubt I’d get much sympathy for those difficulties…

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog.

    • Thanks for the info on Cyprus, Eric. I was thinking of popping over there sometime this summer. What brings you to Malta? Yeah, the roads are a mess. The main roads are much smoother than a few years ago, apparently. But it takes a while to figure out how to get around. I don’t know how many times I cut through a village in the beginning and got lost in a maze of narrow one way streets. You can find this one road atlas in most of the bookstores, but it’s one of the worst maps I’ve come across (apart from a fictional road atlas I saw in Mongolia) – each page is a zoom of a village, with no overall map to orient by. And the village pages are in alphabetical order rather than making the maps continuous. On each page North is also in an entirely random direction. I suppose it’s useful if you already know these villages and are looking for a street. But otherwise, throw it away. The other thing with driving, in most areas the street names aren’t marked. And there’s often a Maltese and English name – whichever map you’re trying to use will have the opposite name from what’s written on a street sign LOL. It does start making sense eventually though, and people are really helpful if you ask for directions.

      The food’s pretty good here, especially the fresh vegetables and that sort of thing. Maltese cuisine tends to be really sweet, I think they add sugar to everything. But you can find some good Italian restaurants, great pizza, etc. And the fish markets and vegetable markets are excellent, much better than anything I found in Canada. Drop me a line if you need any info on shops, restaurants and stuff like that.

      Re: flying, I looked into taking lessons here, it’s really expensive. Canada was expensive compared to the US – that’s something I wanted to do in my twenties but could never afford it. It was within reach during my last year in Canada and there was a nearby airport, but my travel schedule didn’t leave me home long enough to make their ground school schedule. Perhaps this winter in Malta, when it’s too rainy or cold to travel the region 🙂 Good on ya for flying the Mediterranean on your own. What a kickass way to travel Europe.

  2. Hi, Ryan.

    Definitely let me know if and when you firm up your plans for Cyprus and I will send along some pointers and/or contacts. It really is a great place, with quite a bit of history and scenery, much more interesting and pleasant than any Greek islands we visited. And if you haven’t been to Turkey yet, don’t miss it! (I assume you’ll want to get up to the North, into the “occupied territory”, since you like Durrell–definitely make sure you have enough time to do so!). I went to Cyprus for my job, and it also led me here. It’s been an adventure, for sure!

    Your experience with the roads matches mine pretty well. I found that same “map” expecting something like a Key Map! Hahahahaha…. What I’ve found is that I have to be ready to make turns here much sooner than I would have elsewhere, just because it’s so compact. The benefit is that the convoluted roads help you forget you’re on a small island–it would take less than 10 minutes to cross it if there were a real highway here! I’ve also found that Google Maps is your friend (once you realize you’re probably zoomed in closer than you might think). Anyway, thanks for the pointers. I hadn’t figured out that the pages in the map book were alphabetical–they just seemed random!

    I’d love to hear about the really stand-out places you’ve visited here. What’s great about living here is that you’re really living right in the history (as you said, your “house of character” is 400 years old–cool!–ours is only 100 or so). In Cyprus the history is mostly much older, 1500-3000 years, and isn’t as ubiquitous. Also, certainly any recommendations you have for restaurants, good bookstores, etc. are welcome. We still haven’t found a shop where we can get Greek yogurt!

    Have you been to Tunisia yet? It’s so close, I think that will be one of my first flights from here. (If you have, I’d be interested in reading a blog post on it–hint, hint.)

    The flight school here actually seems quite good, compared to what I’ve seen elsewhere in Europe, though the ridiculous EU regulations are a nightmare. Really, they are an abomination!

    Well, I don’t want to end on that note–next time you’re stuck here and want to do something different, drop me a line and we can go on an aerial tour of the islands if you like. Especially in the spring, with everything so green, it’s quite beautiful from the air.

  3. Hi Ryan,
    I stumbled upon your website and have been enjoying reading your blogs. I am Maltese who moved to Ontario 13 years ago. You have hit the nail on the head when you talked about the crazy drivers in Malta.
    Like any other country, Malta has a mix of good and bad. I am blessed that I can visit the island often to feel that when I am there, I have never left! On the other hand, I also appreciate the fact that I enjoy living in Toronto which has alot to offer in my opinion.
    Hey you can’t beat the Malta weather 🙂 8 deg C in Toronto today!!! Viva Malta 🙂

    • Ryan Murdock says

      Thanks Sandra, glad you’re enjoying my stuff. The worst part about driving in Malta is that I start to drive the same way when I go to other places lol. My favourite thing here, apart from great weather year round, is still the amazing layers of the past you can find around every corner. There’s such an incredible amount to explore. It’s like an open air museum of each era in Mediterranean history. I sure don’t envy you the Toronto weather – or gridlock on the 401!

  4. This is awesome..Stumbled across your very useful blog while surfing the web. I’m based out of Toronto too and was contemplating packing my bags and temporarily relocating elsewhere for about half year and see where life takes me. (live on a budget, work, new experiences etc..) The corporate life has gotten way too mundane.

    Can we talk over email? I had a few questions where your expertise would really be helpful

  5. Elaine Toalston says

    I was watching a program this morning about sharks located in the Mediterranean. I’ve always been interested in living in another part of the world and became even more smitten with the area after reading your blog. I’m a single woman and cultural views vary regarding woman traveling alone. I need the security of feel safe there. What if any are the crime stats there?
    elaine

    • Ryan Murdock says

      Hi Elaine,

      Thanks for your comment, glad you’re enjoying my stuff.

      Yeah, I’ve heard about sharks in the Mediterranean but have never encountered any. It’s a wonderful region in which to live. I’m not sure of crime stats for other countries in the region, but Malta is very safe and the people are kind and helpful. Your biggest worry there would be the drivers! There’s a lot of traffic accidents. In Europe in general, it’s wise to take precautions against petty theft and pickpocketing, especially in the cities. But Malta’s quite good in that regard too.

  6. Hi there,
    I am English, but lived abroad as a child in South Africa and Houston Texas. I moved my family from the uk to Western Austraila 7 years ago. We have loved living here but things are getting very expensive. We are also finding the distance too far, only affording to visit family around every 2 years. So we are ready for the next move! We do have lots to consider though. Two daughters ages 13 and almost 15, they do not share our desire to relocate again. We also have a dog which means the world to us so she will need to come where ever we go. We have thought lots about the med but worry about all we here about the lack of jobs. Not sure if this would be the right thing to do for our daughters futures??? Any info on cost of living and jobs would be great. I am a registered nurse currently working in a clinic for detecting sleep,apnea, hubby is a trainer,assessor facilitator for training miners on how to get out of emergency situations such as sea survival, helicopter submerging and fire. Would love to hear from people!

    • Ryan Murdock says

      Hi Toni,

      I don’t know much about jobs in the region or in Malta unfortunately, I’ve got an online business and so I’m not part of the local economy in that sense. I do know that wages here are quite low even for professionals like doctors and lawyers. But the cost of living can also be low, depending on what part of the island you choose to live in. It’s possible to find rental places from €300 to well above €1000 per month. Food is very reasonable at grocery stores and markets. Electricity and water can be expensive by the standards of other countries (water comes from desalination plants in Malta). Overall I find it quite reasonable to live here. (You might also want to investigate Portugal – I’m in Lisbon right now and the costs are very low compared to other European countries).

      In terms of nursing, this is one private hospital in Malta that could be worth checking out http://www.stjameshospital.com/site1/ and there are likely others. Your husband may be able to find some leads as well. No mines in Malta, but the defence forces are always plucking people out of the sea, and it’s also a big diving destination.

      Another option you may want to look into is creating some form of online income so you wouldn’t be tied to the local economy in any of these places. Craig Ballantyne is an outstanding resource for this. Check out his Internet Independence newsletter http://www.earlytorise.com/issues/channels/internet-independence/ (download the free report in the right hand sidebar “100K in 12 Months” to get on his email list).

      Best wishes, and good luck with your search.

  7. Hi Ryan,

    Not sure if you are monitoring this blog anymore since the last entry was from 2014. I’m a Canadian as well and I was just wondering if you had to apply for a Visa with only having an online income? I see it took you 8 years to make the move and I suspect it will probably take me just as long. I have 2 kids, 15 and 12 and I know this won’t fly well with them at all. Plus I have similar concerns as a previous poster about education and opportunities for them as they get older and really, I have no idea about work opportunities even for myself!

    • Ryan Murdock says

      Hi Nicole,

      Yes, still posting. If you click on “blog” in the menu, you’ll see the most recent blog was published on April 18th, 2019. I don’t go back and update old posts, though. There’s 350 articles going back to 2009 — I can’t even remember most of them.

      Re; 8 years, that’s how long it took to build my online business to the point where I was comfortable relying solely on that income for two people to live abroad. But sorting the details of a move only took a couple months.

      It really depends on where you want to go. I have an EU passport, so I can live and work in any EU country. In theory, I have to register and show that my income is enough to live on. No one ever checked that sort of thing in Malta. I still had to register for residency anyway because my wife isn’t an EU citizen, and so her right to reside in the EU was as a dependent of an EU citizen.

      Here in Germany, it’s a bit more complicated. They love bureaucracy. In addition to registering my address and registering for residency, it was necessary to obtain a freelance tax number and to file taxes as a freelancer. That applies to my online income.

      If you want to move to Europe but are not an EU citizen, then yes, you will need a residency visa. That’s definitely the case in Germany. I don’t know the details for other countries. Start with the country you’d like to live in — or your top 3 — and visit the foreign office website for each. It shouldn’t take much digging to see what the options are.

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