Well, folks, I'm back in Texas and enjoying being warm again. All together I was gone 50 days: 4 to Florida; 14 on the cruise; 22 in Malta; 10 in London. What were the highlights of the trip?
1. You will probably all laugh at me, but perhaps the very finest time of all was sitting in the Palm House in Kew Gardens, drawing and listening as Chris Watson manipulated his tapes to create a new mix of his "Whispering in the Leaves" sound installation. It was great.
2. Cadiz, Spain. Cadiz is compactly situated on a peninsula, making it a great city for getting around in on foot. And we had great weather that day: sunny and warm without a roaring wind.
3. Obidos, Portugal. A lovely little walled hilltop village, and another great day for weather. This may also be the only place outside the U.S. where I saw (and bought) Lay's potato chips!
4. Listening to (and drawing) great music. Both in Malta and on the ship, I heard a great deal of classical music live. Often I sat and drew while listening and afterward gave the drawings to one or another of the musicians. That was fun.
5. Revisiting old sights. It was fun to see places (and in a few cases) people I hadn't seen since 2007.
6. Marks & Spencer cafes.
7. Meeting cruise employees from many different countries and sort of getting to know them over 2 weeks on the ship.
8. Visiting bookstores with an English slant (even in Malta).
9. The car museum in Qawra, Malta.
And what about lowlights?
1. Not getting to visit the Azores Islands because of very rough weather. On the one hand, it might have been really unpleasant trying to walk about a lovely 300 year old town in a chilly rain; on the other, it was disappointing to lose our first "land" day after a week at sea. It was raining and windy, yes, but apparently what really decided the captain against trying to dock at Punta Delgada was the size of the swells that kept lifting the ship as they tried to bring it to the dock.
2. The weather in general. It was mostly sunny (except in London), but there was so much wind so much of the time that being outside, which I love, wasn't necessarily pleasant. And the temperatures, while not truly cold, were often chilly enough to require a windbreaker (or two) and/or sweatshirt: not exactly what one wants in May after a long cold winter.
3. Some of the cruise amenities. I was disappointed that this ship focused more on in-room movie-watching than in-theatre movie-watching, which I would have preferred.
4. Listening to a squalling toddler on a multi-hour transatlantic flight.
5. Having a last-minute passport difficulty in Malta (because personnel at Fiumicino Airport in Rome never stamped my passport) and hoping I didn't miss my flight to London.
Overall, despite the fact that I never felt quite as settled and "at home" in Malta as I had hoped, it was a great trip.