Malta - "El Viaje de la Felicidad"

Trip Start Apr 11, 2008
Trip End Jul 03, 2008

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Monday, May 12, 2008

On May 12th and 13th, I was fortunate enough to join the Iberian division of Coke on their "El Viaje de la Felicidad", which means, "The Happiness Trip" to Malta.  They kept it a surprise until the day we left, but word leaked out a few days before.  The purpose of the trip was simply - to make the employees happy.  And I could't believe they let me go!

We were told very little about the trip in advance.  In fact, we all received embroidered duffle bags and "carry-on" mini-backpacks so that we didn't have to check our luggage.  We were told to arrive at the airport in Madrid at 7:15am and that we would be back by 10pm Tuesday night, and to bring our passports.  That was it.  Although rumors were flying around that we were headed to Malta, no one really knew the details.

When we arrived in Malta at about 12 noon (after traveling about 2 hours via 3 chartered planes - each color coded as "white", "black" or "red"), the weather was a little cooler than expected (low 60's) and very windy.  Malta is it's own little country off the coast of Italy about 200km from the northern coast of Africa.  It has a strong Italian influence, but as it was under British rule for 200 years before becoming independent, English is widely spoken.  There are many things left behind by the Brits - they drive on the left, for one.  Malta has a history of being forceably taken over by one army after another.  It seems that everyone owned Malta at some point in their history, so there is are a variety of cultures that are depicted in the lifestyle and the architecture from Arabic to Roman to British to Portugese.  Although it was a little "crumbly" (in fact, the Spaniards scoffed at the fact that so many things were in need of major renovation), I thought it was beautiful, and actually appreciated the "crumbliness" because you could really tell when something was over 1,000 years old! 

Little did we know, but there was a full day of fabulous activities planned for us.  We went by bus to the downtown section of old Malta and were led around in groups by a guide who took us on a guided tour of the history of the Spanish only.  So, needless to say I only actually caught about 40% of it, but I was enjoying it either way.  As we followed the tour, the weather started to really go downhill. The wind really started wipping and the temperature started to drop.  We then boarded boats and went on a little boat ride around the bay, again with a tour guide (in Spanish only), going by the marina and all the points of interest.  During this little tour, the weather continued to get worse.  It wasn't raining, but it got pretty cold 50's, and none of us were prepared for it as we had planned to be at the beach.  So, after lunch on the boat (most of us were hundled in a small enclosed area on the ship), we came back to the shore for our next surprise....jeeps.

We broke up into groups of 5 and drove jeeps up to the highest point on Malta.  I have to say the views were breathtaking (see pics), although by the time we got there, we were all cold and tired and no one really wanted to get out of the jeeps.  But, the comraderie was great - I met people in groups I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise, so it was a lot of fun.  We continued our jeep caravan to a section of beach not far from where we were, where, in typical Coke fashion, a beach party had been prepared for us.  It really looked like fun - there was tons of food, drinks, a volley ball net, ticki torches - all the makings of a fun pre-dinner event.  But again, most of us were cold and tired, and as soon as the buses arrived to take us back to the hotel, we left.  BUT, this was the last time the weather caused us any problems...I later learned that there were many other activities planned for that day that were cancelled because of the weather.   Although nothing could have been done about that, we still had a very nice time with what we did despite the cold.

Finally, we arrived at our hotel - the Hilton Malta.  I was so happy to be in an American hotel.  The rooms were big, the shower curtains went all the way to the end of the shower, and the views were spectacular.  While we were getting ready for the evening, mascarade masks and capes were delivered to each room.  We were told to wear them to the dinner - although little did we know, our next stop was not dinner.  We boarded buses, and arrived in the ancient city of Mdina.  Although were were outside for a few minutes, the wind had died down, we were lead through a beautiful old city with cobble stone streets and stone walls to a great cathedral.  Then, we waited a few minutes outside before about 10 little girls dressed in white choir robes came out and led a few of us into the cathedral by hand.  We walked into the main sanctuary of this beautiful place - over 800 years old - compltely lit up by canlelight.  After we were all seated in the congregation, a woman came out and sang several old hymns (in Latin), one of which was Ave Maria.  It really was enchanting.  By the time this was over, it was 10:45pm and in typical Spanish timing - we boarded the buses on our way to dinner. 

We arrived at a huge castly up on a hill to find tables elegantly decorated to see 10 or 12.  We sat down and dinner was (finally served) at around 11:30pm (yes, I was famished).  After dinner, the Spain General Manager got up and said a few words (in Spanish) thanking everyone for all their hard work meeting plan and announcing that in 2008 Q1 the Iberian division was ranked #1 in the world for profit, share and volume.  So, I suppose as long as this track record continues, no one will have any problem with the trips!

After dinner, there was a DJ, dancing and an open bar that went until 5am. Buses didn't even start to head back to the hotel until 1:30am.  Considering most of us had been up since 5 or 5:30am, even the Spaniards were a little sleepy.  But that didn't stop some of them from staying until 5am, then heading to a discoteque until 9am the next morning (they're all NUTS!).  I left, with most of my co-workers, on the 2:30am bus. 

The next day, we had to be at the pool by 11:30, but if we wanted breakfast, that was only until 10:30am, so needless to say, I didn't get enough sleep.  But, the sun was shining and it was about 80 degrees - so I wasn't complaining.  After a great breakfast, we headed over to the pool, which overlooked the Mediterranean coast and enjoyed a few hours of sunbathing, pool games, etc...  They even had tents set up with massage therapists and tarot card readers (in separate tents - but nevertheless I thought this was a strange combination!).  Eventually, we had to check out, get showered and head to our next stop - lunch.

Around 2pm, in groups of 4, we boarded antique luxury cars (with a driver).  Ours was a Rolls Royce.  We were driven about 20 minutes away to yet another castle where lunch was to be served outside.  Again, another beautiful place.  They had another open bar, and little stations set up where Maltese people were showing food and other customs unique to Malta.  We could all make our own bread or pastries, try our hand at basket weaving, etc... It was fun.  After about a 3 hour lunch, most of us were sitting at our tables completely incoherent.  Then, it was time to get back on the bus and head to the airport.  Our flight left around 8pm and we arrived (a little late) back in Madrid around midnight.  Boy, did I sleep that night!

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and yet another reason why I love the fabulous Coca-Cola Company.  It will be a trip I will never forget.
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