Having spent much of our summer going between my parents’ apartment and ours, the residential pool at the former and occasional trips to local beaches, we were looking forward to a refreshing getaway with an old group of friends of mine, their partners and children…
There was holiday fever with the approaching feast of St Mary or ‘festa ta’Santa Maria’ as it is known here in Malta; possibly the most celebrated, religious feast held each summer, resurrecting ornate banners and statues in the midst of smoky firework displays. For this event which usually stretches out over a long weekend, the Maltese traditionally flock to the smaller island of Gozo which is only 67 square kilometres – and approximately a 20 minute ferry ride – away from Malta, in search of tranquility and escapism through hedonistic pleasures.
The last time I had ventured to Gozo with friends was around six years ago for a hen party. This was pre marriage and kids therefore the scene was one of unrivalled sisterhood before the first of our friends was to embark on her marital journey, followed by my own some months later. As the drinks flowed so did the laughter and the tears, until our meeting this year finally revealed how far we’ve come at the other end of this time tunnel.
A few hours before setting off for the Gozo ferry on a scorching, mid-August morning, bags packed, bottles of water at the ready, we had our first set back of the day with our daughter being sick all over the living room sofa. We had intended to take the easier option of bringing along one child and leaving behind the other, in this case dropping our baby daughter off at my mum and dad’s. In our world of parenting however plans often change or become abandoned and here we were again faced with a “do we stay or go” situation almost cancelling the whole trip. Fortunately, as we watched and waited a little longer our daughter exhibited no further signs of illness and taking my mum’s trusted advice we decided to go for it knowing our daughter was in expert hands.
First dilemma of the day done, our minds not fully at rest of course, we were finally on our way to enjoy a weekend of peace in remote countryside, slightly greener than the rock we currently live on. Our three year old son came with us adding to the flavour of our marital mixture a sort of innocent curiosity and enthusiasm that could only be seen through a child’s eyes. Without my daughter present it felt even more as though our son was the link between myself and my husband exerting his overriding presence and encapsulating us both in his world. This, we more or less expected and that he would most likely be sandwiched between us in every possible circumstance including sharing a bed that turned out to be a small double in the house where we stayed.
There was no denying that the holiday was going to be dominated by the little people from the get go and our conversations with our friends would be cut short by silly sounds and unharmonious voices yet it was interesting to observe the other members of our temporary household (each at different stages in their lives: dating, newly engaged, married with a new baby and another with a toddler), relate to one another. The engaged couple for instance seemed to enjoy our kids’ company perhaps satisfying their desire to have children in the foreseeable future, while another friend was unsure of committing herself to family life just yet. Whichever way we chose to look at it children were undoubtedly the main attraction never failing to entertain us with their mischievous antics and delightful free spirits.
In contrast the state of our accommodation lacked much of the character and authenticity we’d expected to find in a traditional, Gozitan farmhouse. This place was neither modern nor rustic; it had a decent sized pool but a small, unattractive kitchen, shower rooms that released a malodorous stench, worn out seating (with no backs) throughout the house and some cheap, plastic, outdoor furniture including a “Walls” beach umbrella that played on a seemingly dreary, pub like effect.
This came as a slight disappointment for myself and our friends yet somewhat of a tragedy for my “5 star” husband as he is known. This was not the place we had envisioned prior to arrival and it had certainly quashed my husband’s “great expectations” however we somehow managed to rekindle some of his enthusiasm and hold on to the idea that it was all part of the experience.
Not surprisingly the highlight for my husband and I was actually dining out of the house in local eateries and upon our friends’ recommendations. We’d visited various locations dotted around the island, most notably a quirky harbour side restaurant serving some of the most incredible seafood, modestly presented in tin foil. That afternoon at lunch time we sat outside sheltering ourselves somewhat unsuccessfully from the burning heat as we ate and drank our way through excessive noise and flowing perspiration, the latter reflected on each of our glistening foreheads. Nevertheless we had an excellent time, lost in a moment that was to determine what we wanted from the rest of the holiday: good food and relaxed conversation in the right company.
At the same time and contrary to previous holiday experiences in Gozo, it became apparent to us all that our group seemed to be split more than it was together not because we didn’t get along but because we were each riding a different tide in our lives. The great thing was however that at the start of the day and at the end we’d all come together and share common ground, reliving memories, telling our partners of the things we’d done (not everything!) on the island and bringing everyone closer together with our stories.
The realisation that this circle of friends had speared out into different directions yet we were all still bonded to some degree, sealed the friendship and opened up another chapter to the here and now. In the case of myself and my husband – and perhaps as parents you’d agree – our families have become a priority, staying in has definitely become the new going out and relaxation a rare, yet gratifying commodity.