Malta is a great place to walk. It’s small so you can cover a fair bit in a short amount of time. The scenery is rather pleasing to the eye and there is plenty to see. If one does urban walking away from the main roads it’s pretty quiet whatever time of day. Malta is highly urbanised, but there is still a bit of countryside left to get ‘away from it all’. Despite all these conditions there is surprisingly little walking activity on the Rock. Sure, people, tourists and residents alike, stroll the waterfronts on a balmy night, but a wander through the streets is mainly done by tourists or non-Maltese residents, like me, who brought their walking habit with them and still haven’t adapted or perhaps refuse to adapt to the island’s mentally in regards to walking. Especially when one walks the streets after dark or early in the morning it feels like one is walking through a ghost town.
A warmer climate might not be a great invitation to move about on foot, but if one chooses the right time of day when the heat is on, this doesn’t have to be problem per se. The Maltese seem to have an intense love affair with their cars. At the same time one doesn’t seem to care much for exercise and perhaps not surprisingly the island has high obesity rates which is – sadly- already to be spotted in little children. On top of that it seems that the vast majority of people on this island smokes. I might have been stuck in some sort of metropolitan bubble for the last decade, where even the most unfit person would still walk at least 20 minutes a day. And before one accuses me of body or health fascism and portraying the Maltese and other residents as an unfit and unhealthy specimen, I just want to make a case for the act and art of walking.
Don’t get me wrong, the Dark Fairy herself didn’t always use to like walking. Actually, she used to hate it with a passion. The last time I visited my hometown I did a fair amount of walking by lack of bike. As my hometown doesn’t get the wave of tourists like cities on the Lowlands tourist trail, I noticed that we Dutchies don’t do a lot of walking either. When it comes to exercise we don’t really have to as we think bike and many a journey is undertaken by means of pedal power. If one cycles, one doesn’t see the need for walking and one wouldn’t be used to walking and might therefor not really appreciate this activity. That all changed when I moved to the City of Cities. In the first few years I didn’t have a bike and cycling at that time was only considered and option for the most lycra-ed up gung-ho guy and occasional woman. Unless one has six children or has some sort of trade demanding a motorised vehicle, a car is not really necessary as there is an extensive network of public transport 24/7. As London Town is a rather big place, walking 10 minutes from or to a bus stop, tube or train station is by no means unusual. Then one walks within tube stations to change lines, which can take you another 5 minutes if you’re unlucky. Then one has leisurely walks in the city’s many parks or one just walks shorter and longer distances between A to B in an attempt to avoid expensive gym membership and still get one’s exercise or to avoid ever increasing public transport fares. One walks. And that’s how the Dark Fairy was forced to appreciate the act of walking even when a two-wheeled monster came into her life.
Activities like cycling or walking are a question of habit. If enough people in the same place have the same habit it becomes culture and cultures are fluid. Therefor, residents of the Rock of all sizes, shades and creeds, enjoy the sceneries of this beautiful island on foot. Get lost, refind one’s way, talk to a stranger if only to ask the way or buy a bottle of water. Find an idyllic spot, have a drink, a bite, go for a swim, have a read, have a write. It might not be the (only) panacea to bring down obesity levels, but it sure improves the well being of mind and soul. Ready, set, go. And keep walking.