Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 30, 2012: Back in the States

Well, I arrived back in the States yesterday about 7:15 (on the ground anyway) after a long long day. I was a little apprehensive at the airport because I was unable to check in online at the American Airlines website and was afraid they had messed up my ticket. Then at the airport itself the check-in kiosk didn't work either. But when I got into the long "bag drop" line, other people said they had had the same problem. I guess AA's computer system was just on the blink. After a longish wait in line, 30 minutes or so, I had a boarding pass in my hand and went on up to security, so I could get all the icky stuff out of the way and settle in for some food and reading while I waited. My boarding time wasn't until 2:30 and I was into the longish security line by noon, probably. No removal of shoes for most of us, and nothing "on my person" set off any alarms, so it was no trouble getting through the checkpoint once I got to it.

I was disappointed, though, that the secure shopping area didn't have a Marks & Spencer Simply Foods! So I had to use one of my two remaining albacore tuna packets for my lunch, along with some chips, a croissant and some hot tea from Pret a Manger. I roamed around a bit, got a copy of the International Herald Tribune, read a while. Got another cup of tea and a chocolate chip (what else?) cookie from another eatery called Eat. I don't know how good their food offerings are, of course, but their tea isn't as good as Pret a Manger.

The International Herald Tribune, which is the "global edition" of the New York Times, is printed like a regular newspaper in the UK, which means bigger print but also more difficulty in holding it, turning the pages, and so forth. In Malta it's a tabloid-size production, so the print is a lot smaller, but the pages are easier to deal with. I enjoyed reading it the several times I got it, maybe even more than the New York Times itself. I don't know if it actually has some different stories--more world-focused than the Times--or if it's just that it has a lot fewer pages overall, and so it seems more focused and interesting. It's also a better choice for most Americans, I think, because the crossword puzzle is US-tilted. I found the puzzles in the UK newspapers (which I bought in Malta several times) to be really difficult: the clues and answers were of course UK-slanted, which means a lot of the clues were simply meaningless to me, and they don't have as many intersecting words as US puzzles usually do. There's less to fill in, but that also means you have fewer letters from intersecting clues on answers you know to help you fill out the answers you don't know. I found the UK puzzles incredibly difficult. The International Herald Tribune also features the Jumble, which is in many US newspapers, but not in the New York Times.

Anyway, about 2 pm, they opened up the gate for my flight back to the US, so even though it was earlier than our boarding time, I zoomed on over there. As some of you know, I got bumped from an AA flight last year, and I get really nervous about that. So I went through the final check-in and sat down. People just kept coming and coming and coming. As boarding time neared, they told us the flight was full--which didn't do anything to help my anxiety. Then they started boarding with people with difficulties or complications, then first class and business class, and so on. My boarding group was "group 4," which also worried me. I mean, good grief, I checked in more than 3 hours ahead of time. How could I be in such a low boarding group? By the time they boarded group 2, which also included everyone who had a flight booked via British Airways and several other airlines, the gate area was almost empty. But we all seemed to have gotten on, so I guess they filled every seat without bumping anyone.

For some reason, Heathrow was only using one of its two runways at the time, so we had to wait until about 4 pm to actually take off. And then we were finally on our way. It's nice to know that you can't be bumped once you're actually airborne!

The flight itself of course is simply interminable, not so much because 9 hours is so long a time, but because commercial jets are so incredibly cramped and inhuman and claustrophobic. I sort of drifted off quite early in the flight for just a short while, maybe not even 15 minutes, and then after that I stayed awake. I didn't really want to sleep, since it might have made it harder to sleep once I got ready to sleep last night. I kept the little television screen on the back of the seat in front of me going most of the time, watching movies mostly and reading as well. I watched most of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen but missed almost all of the last 20 minutes or so while waiting to go to the bathroom. It's an interesting film which I might have to check out on DVD at some point to watch. Then I tuned into Journey 2: Mysterious Island, a simple-minded adventure show of no particular merit or demerit. Just passing time. Then I watched a movie I'd heard of but forgotten about: This Means War or Terms of War or something like that. It starred Reese Witherspoon as a young executive being pursued by two CIA agents, not as a suspect in a crime, but as a dating prospect. The two agents were best friends, so that was the twist in the plot, as it were. It was light and entertaining.

I finished reading Clare Peake's memoir Under a Canvas Sky and started reading one of my Spanish books, Oscuro bosque oscuro, as well as finishing up with the International Herald Tribune. Except for having to be confined for so long, the flight was tolerable. And the earburds for the movies kept out most of the noise of the other passengers (and sometimes obnoxious toddlers).

We were, I suppose, about 3 hours from landing, when one of the stewardesses came over the PA, asking if there was a doctor or medical professional on board for a medical situation that had arisen. Then as we were taxiing at DFW Airport, the captain came on, asking us all to remain seated after we parked at the jetway, so that the EMTs could come on and deal with the person needing help before the rest of us disembarked. I have no idea what happened of course, but 3 EMTs came on and went toward the back of the jet, and then they came back, along with an elderly couple, but the couple were walking on their own power and weren't being assisted. Who knows?

Then we all got to get on with things. I guess it really only took me about 30 minutes to get through customs and passport control and baggage claim, mostly of course because I walk so fast I was nearer the front of the line than many at the first "stop," which put me ahead for a while anyway. After getting through the final checkpoint--customs--I stopped and got my phone out of my duffle, so I could see if Debbie had called or left a message. The phone didn't beep or anything after I turned it on, so I flipped it open to call her and let her know where I was. But when I flipped the phone open, I saw that I had a text from her. That told me where to head for, and fortunately for her, she had sent it only about 10 minutes earlier, so I knew she hadn't had to be waiting long. Within a few minutes I had found her, and we were off.

We caught up on various things, including our different trips after I got off the ship and she stayed on, on the drive back to Duncanville, and she let me run in at Tom Thumb to get a couple of food items for a light supper that evening, since I hadn't had much to eat on the flight--another tuna packet, a couple of crackers, part of a cookie.

By about nine, I was back at Mom's place. Debbie helped me bring things in, and I gave Mom her scarf and Debbie her thank-you book--a "vintage" mystery by Margery Allingham--and we all visited a bit before Debbie headed on home. Now I look forward to meeting up with her at the coffeeshop and seeing all her photos of Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Venice. Also Florence, since she made the day trip there, and I didn't.

Today I grocery-shopped, visited with Mom, spent some time at the coffee shop--so I could feel like I was back in my "normal" kind of routine.

And of course I drove my truck. It was lonely for me. I love my truck.

The grand adventure 2012 is over, and now summer awaits me.


1. The weather in London was the very best weather of the trip. And that is an amazing thing to be able to say. It was great not to have to wear a windbreaker all the time; it was great to visit Kew Gardens in nice weather.

2. It's also nice to be in London for access to Marks & Spencer grocery food. I have to be frank: deli meat in Malta pretty much stinks. I mean it's edible and all that, but it's not in any sense gourmet. The ham is like the kind of sandwich ham we ate in the '60s: no honey-smoked or brown-sugar-baked or anything like that. Just salty sandwich ham. But M&S in the UK has a much better line of meats: chicken and turkey and ham, and even actual chicken breast already cooked and sliced and ready-to-eat. It's like being a human being again!

3. Another nice thing about London over Malta is having access to coffee shops that give you the option of getting a LARGE hot tea, instead of a paltry 8 or 10 ounce tea cup that lasts about 3 gulps. In addition to Starbucks, which I think I went to in Kew, they have Costa Coffee Shops where you can get a large tea, and even Marks & Spencer will put your tea bag in a large cup if you ask. And it's really grand that Costa and Pret a Manger (but not M&S or Eats) have good quality pyramid-bagged tea, instead of ordinary paper-bagged tea.

4. I may have done all I want to do in Malta, unless I can get someone else to go with me to share it. There are things I haven't seen still, places I wouldn't mind revisiting, but I get tired of being there on my own. London on the other hand has so much that, even on my own, I imagine being back there, as well as other places in the UK. I still haven't been to the Tower, or inside St Paul's. I still haven't wandered around Oxford or gone to York. Or Cornwall!

5. It sounds silly, probably, but I miss hearing English when I travel. Traveling alone can make one feel fairly alien anyway, and when one is not even understanding what's spoken a large part of the time that heightens the alienness. In Malta one hears German and French and other languages, but mostly it's Maltese if it's not English. In England one hears Hindi (I presume), Arabic, French, German, all sorts of things; and of course one hears English with an English accent. But one still knows that one is in England.

6. London hotels are really expensive, at least for this Cockrell Hill boy, even when one is trying to be as economical as possible. One can stay much more cheaply in Malta, but of course there is much less to do.

7. The British Museum rocks! So much history in one place. And Gudea, my old Mesopotamian friend is there. Cool. And the Rosetta Stone. And, at the moment, those Picasso etchings.

8. Big London bookstores are cool. They may not be appreciably bigger than Barnes & Noble, but they are full of different books. The English are reading some of the same books we are, but much of what they read is simply not available here. It's cool to see so many different possibilities.

9. HMV Music Store is amazing. As far as I know there are individual music stores in various places in the US that might be as big as an HMV, but I don't think we have a chain store like HMV left. Tower was probably as close as we got, and it's online only now.

Monday, May 28, 2012

May 28, 2012: A Day on My Feet

Well, the Victorians are letting me down. Or maybe it's that the 21st century Londoners don't sufficiently respect the Victorians. You remember that on Saturday I found the Dickens Museum closed, but it didn't occur to me till today that this is the bicentennial of Dickens' birth. Wouldn't you think they'd want the museum to be open during the bicentennial year, instead of undergoing upgrades for 2/3 of the year? I would. Hmmm.

And then today I decided to walk down Melcombe Place, which is a block north of Marylebone Road, so I could see one of the places Wilkie Collins lived. Unfortunately I couldn't find a marker for it. Unlike many streets in London, it's actually several blocks long, but the block that looked most likely, on Dorset Square, didn't have the right house numbers. There was one, though, that was being painted, so maybe the numbers have changed and the marker was down for the paint job. Who knows?

Anyway I had decided I would go back to the British Museum (a third time in 5 days!) to look at the Picasso etchings again, and along the way I passed the museum of the Royal Academy of Music. So I went inside there and saw an interesting display about Dickens and some of the ways music was connected with his life and career. They also have a number of old and very expensive stringed instruments, mostly violins, on display--some Stradivarius models, of course! But I had to wonder if they get played anymore. The next floor up had a group of pianos, but they were not yet uncovered while I was up there. It was in the Dickens display that I saw some map references and information about various London locales connected with him. I decided to walk down Cleveland Street where he had lived on two different occasions, as a child and teenager. (There was another building of some importance in the same block, but now I've forgotten what it was supposed to be--a newspaper office, maybe?) So I modified my route to the British Museum, so I could walk down Cleveland Street.

But you guessed it! The house isn't marked and, in fact, one of the addresses given at the museum would seem to have been on the other side of the street, where construction was going on. But I'm giving you a photo of Cleveland Street anyway, and you can just imagine it in 1820!

As I moseyed on, I came to both Rathbone Street and Rathbone Place. Two of my sisters like the old Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone, so here's a photo for them. It cracks me up that the sign notes that Rathbone Street here used to be known as Upper Rathbone Place. Basil would be so proud.

I also passed this plaque, which I guess will have to stand in for Dickens and Collins. I can't for the life of me remember which street it was one.

Finally I made it to the British Museum and the Picasso etchings. They really are quite lovely, and look--most of them anyway--like pen-and-ink drawings. Many, if not most, of the ones on display come from the early '30s when Picasso was in his late 40s and early 50s. There are several featuring the Minotaur and quite a few of a sculptor with his models and sculptures. (I think I probably mentioned that on Saturday.) After I finished looking, I went over to Mesopotamia again and sat not too far from Gudea and drew my own version of a Picasso--mingling a werewolf, in place of the Minotaur, with other elements from one of Picasso's works.

By then it was time for lunch at Marks & Spencer, and something much more agonizing: scarf shopping for my mom. I'm sure you will all get a good laugh over the idea of my agonizing over women's scarves, but I did. I looked at all of them I could find in the M&S women's wear and then finally decided to go bcd to the other M&S, nearer the hotel, and make a decision there. I was thinking there were other scarves there, though I may have been confusing it with Debenhams.

But first after leaving M&S I went right across the street to HMV (music store) and looked at CDs again. Time for more agonizing. I discovered that there were other nice little boxes of 5 CDs in mini-LP sleeves besides Warren Zevon, including Dr John, Jefferson Airplane, and even Sly and the Family Stone. And of course there were the 2 for 10 pounds CDs. I'm sure you are all thinking that I am the only person in the history of the world who will agonize and ponder for as long as 30 minutes over whether or not to spend an extra 10 pounds while on vacation to get 2 more CDs to listen to in the truck when I get home. Finally, I decided to pick up the expanded CD of Tyrannosaurus Rex's record A Beard of Stars along with a fairly recent CD by a band called the Low Anthem which has been well-reviewed. I decided I should get something new to explore, even if I end up not liking it, rather than something from the old days, like the first Love LP.

So, after purchasing those, it was off to the other M&S to find the right scarf. I also had in the back of my mind that I should swing through Waterstone's bookstore and pick up a "vintage" mystery for Debbie, who will be picking me up at the airport on Tuesday. She likes mysteries from the '20s and '30s, and I found one that I hope will be new to her! We'll find out soon enough. If she groans when she sees it, I can read it myself, I reckon.

And then Marks & Spencer. The pressure was on because I needed to find a good scarf at this store, so I wouldn't have to walk back half a mile or more to the other store! And now I can't remember if it was at this store or the first store that I talked to two different women about scarves and the material they are made of. Y'all would all have been laughing at me. Finally I found what I think will be a good choice, and the woman at the checkout (the till) agreed that it would be a good scarf to match with lots of different colored blouses. Phew!

I then went back to the hotel for a short rest, but mostly for a chance to unload the back pack! Had a bit of a snack and rearranged the backpack, then headed off again. I decided I was hungry enough to go ahead and have supper, and the nearest biggish grocery was actually  inside Paddington Train Station (where I'll head tomorrow to get to Heathrow Airport), a Sainsbury's according to a woman I asked on the street. But about the same time I saw Sainsbury's in the station, I also saw a Marks & Spencer Simply Foods, so I went there instead--I know what I will find. Can you picture me sitting on a chair in the train station having my turkey, chips and soda, while other people--presumably travelers--come and go in the adjacent seats? And can you imagine the youngish Asian woman with the continually toppling luggage who actually asks me, about the time I'm finished, if I will watch her luggage while she goes to the bathroom? I have to wonder if travelers through London are usually so trusting. She came back fairly quickly and I headed off. I wanted to visit Hyde Park one more time, enjoy the late afternoon, have my apple. I took a seat at the Italian Gardens, had some water and apple, and did a drawing, probably my last for London. Here it is: Monday in the Park with Cooper.

And then I walked around a bit, visiting Peter Pan again and walking up toward the Queen's Temple, which I couldn't quite remember. And I found a man standing perfectly still in front of it, with a book in his hands. You can see in the photo that his dark suit makes him look like a priest conducting a service. I took this photo from quite a distance off, so who knows what was really going on!

So, I've come to my last evening in London, my last evening of the grand European adventure 2012. Here are some observations about shoes:

For the 2007 trip, I took two pairs of shoes: a pair of Merrell's sandals my oldest sister bought for me and my so-called big boy shoes, Timberland's (I think) lace-up shoes with nice thick soles. I figured I would alternate the shoes and sandals, along with jeans and shorts, on the trip, but it turned out I wore the sandals and shorts almost every day. The Merrell's held up beautifully and I continued wearing them for at least a year afterward. I must have put hundreds of miles on them: maybe a thousand or more. And I kept the big boy shoes up until a few months ago. I never wore them as much, but they held up well for more than 4 years.

For the 2010 trip, I took only sandals, a pair of Timberland "fisherman" sandals and a pair of Dr Scholl's. The Dr Scholl's didn't wear well at all. The insoles were tearing before I left Malta and, after a drenching rain in London, I decided they didn't even need to make the trip back to the US with me. The Timberland's, however, held up very well and I continued to wear them for at least a year, just like the Merrell's.

This time again I've had two pairs of sandals with me. One pair is Bass, an expensive pair that I got heavily discounted at the outlet store. I consider them my "dress" pair. They have held up well and are comfortable, but I have my doubts that they will last the way the Timberland's and Merrell's did. We'll see. The other pair--the "water friendly" pair--were less expensive, but have still not done as well as I would have expected. They're from Alpine Design. The left sole has split all the way across, under the ball of my foot, and the heel is practically disintegrating. The right sole has held up much better, and the heel is still intact, but the sole is also splitting, though less drastically, under the ball of my foot. These too will not make the return trip to the US. There's no point.

So, okay. There's your shopping news for the day!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 27, 2012: A Couple of Tates and a Lot of Walking

Another beautiful day today: not quite as windy and a bit warmer than yesterday. Like a very good April day in Texas. The parks were packed, but so were the museums, like yesterday.

I began with a long walk to the Tate Britain Museum which I think I've visited on every trip. Along the way I stopped at Pret a Manger, a chain which serves sandwiches, baked goods and drinks. The name is French for "ready to eat" and is pronounced something like Pret-uh-Mahn-zhay, but I prefer to think of it as Pretty Manger. They have good tea and good croissants. After my stop I passed by Buckingham Palace. They've got big grandstands/bleachers set up around the circle and fountain in front of the palace, and some kind of big rig--apparently for shade?--is going up around the fountain itself. It sort of looks like they're converting it into a merry-go-round for the Jubilee. I'll be missing the big celebration by less than a week, and given how smashed with people London will be, it's probably a good thing I'll be gone!

I moseyed on amidst the crowds and saw tourists having themselves photographed with the uniformed guard outside the Guards' Chapel, which is next to the Guards Museum. It's a museum I've never been to. One of these days, maybe. The amiable young man on guard looked exactly like the guys at the Palace.

In between there and the museum I passed this huge sculpture--two or three floors high--in front of what seemed to be an office building. Maybe it's the headquarters for a bicycling company? I didn't see a name on the building, but it was on Horseferry Rd.

At the Tate I took a bunch of pictures of artwork, though the light's not really good enough for it and you aren't allowed to use flash. I also did a bit of drawing, like yesterday. One piece I drew is by Ian Hamilton Finlay, a Scot poet who died a few years ago. I'd almost swear he designed but didn't execute the sculpture, in bronze, because that seems to have been his common procedure. He considered himself a poet and not a sculptor. This work is a kind of stylized guillotine with a line from the Aeneid etched into it. While I was standing there starting to draw, I apparently met a Tate ghost. There was a network of lightweight aluminum railings near floor level, to keep us from getting too close to the works, and one of the railings suddenly just fell to the floor. Maybe it was someone who'd been guillotined and got swept from afterlife-Paris to afterlife-London on a spectral wind!

Perhaps the most amusing piece I saw in the museum is a very large painting, a joke on the American artist Donald Judd whose work is famously on display in Marfa, Texas at the Chinati Foundation which Judd started. The artists of the painting are a husband and wife, whose names I can't completely remember--Richards or Roberts, I think.

I had a bit of lunch at the cafe--yet another croissant and some sparkling water, along with one of the Starkist tuna packets I brought with me from the US. I figured I might have more trouble getting meat today, so I carried it with me. Then I visited the Clore Gallery, which is right next to the Tate and which houses an immense number of JMW Turner works, sketches, sketchbooks, paintings, etc. I've seen a lot of his work here, so I wasn't concerned to spend a lot of time there today. But I love looking at his sketchbooks, maybe more than the completed paintings. I also sat for a few minutes and drew a very simple pencil version of one of his paintings--one of the Roman Forum but looking very fantasized and "Romantic".

I had thought I might take the boat that leaves from the river near the Tate Britian and goes to the Tate Modern which is a couple of miles downstream. When I got to the pier, though, I saw that it would be about a twenty minute wait for the boat to return, and then an almost fifteen minute ride to the Modern, and I decided that, in that amount of time, I could walk two and a half miles. So I took off on foot. Along the way I took this photo of Victoria Tower, which is at the south end of the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben the clock is at the north end.

It was a long walk--maybe a bit longer than two and a half miles--but I made it. The river walk was quite jammed with people for most of the length of the walk, which took me past the London Aquarium, the London Eye (the frighteningly high Ferris wheel), and the National Theatre. Lou Ann will be ticked at me because I didn't stop for the 3 pm performance of Misterman, but at least I thought about it a bit.

Just before you get to the Tate Modern is the Bankside Gallery, which is the gallery of the Royal Society of Printers and Engravers (or something like that). They display a lot of prints, etchings, woodcuts, and so forth, which are by members of the society and are for sale. Some of them are quite lovely and not terribly expensive--but where does a man who lives in a Casita travel trailer display a beautiful print? I did however buy three little booklets originally published a few decades ago (I think) by English novelist J.L. Carr. The gallery has quite a number of the booklets, small enough to be mailed in a birthday card-sized envelope and very light. They include his selections of English poets of the past, little "dictionaries" of Kings and Queens, and so forth. Of course they are no longer published by Carr who is deceased, but they're still pretty cool.

The Tate Modern was more or less a disappointment, which it always seems to be to me. I like a lot of modern art, but the Tate Britain always seems to please me more. In fact today I discovered a new favorite artist I've never heard of before, which the Tate Britain has dedicated one room to at the moment: William Roberts. As well as paintings and "real art", he also designed book covers and apparently had a pretty strong sense of humor. He was already experimenting with cubism in his teens, inspired (according to the museum's explanatory cards) by another artist at the school he attended. I liked his work enough to look for a book of his work in the museum store. And yes, they had one, but 1] it was bigger than I wanted to think about carrying back in a duffle bag; and 2] it cost 40 pounds (over sixty dollars); and 3] it looked more like a "study" of his work--a lot of text--than just reproductions of his work, which is what I would like to have. Maybe there's something in print in the US. I'll check!

Well, after all this art-ing, it was time to start the long trek back to the hotel, although that trek included a muffin and tea at Costa Coffee and some browsing at Waterstone's bookstore.. I wandered a couple of streets I don't think I've been on before, including Savile Row (isn't that the tailors' street?). And on South Molton Street I saw, to my surprise, one of the bright blue historical markers telling me that William Blake lived here! You can see the plaque to the right side of this photo, but I wanted you to be able to see what Blake's old home is now so this photo isn't zoomed in.

Yes, it says "Ministry of Waxing." I'm sure Blake is pleased!

A busy, tiring day, so I should sleep well tonight!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 26, 2012: Out and About

Two weeks ago I arrived in Malta (for what was probably the best weather day there); two weeks before that, Debbie and I got onto the ship on a warm, damp Florida afternoon. Three days from now, I fly back to the States on a Tuesday that will last 30 hours!

Well, as for the Dickens Museum, here's the photo:

I spent an hour and a half getting there, about an hour walking, about thirty minutes having morning tea. And I arrived to find that it had closed 6 weeks ago for an eight month revamping. Sigh. So much for Dickens.

But since it is in the general area (actually a bit farther east) of the British Museum, I decided to swing back through there. It was busy on a Saturday morning, even though the weather was lovely outside. I got one of the portable stools they have scattered around the building and used it to sit and draw in a couple of places. The first spot I sat to draw at was in front of a case with some ancient Mesopotamian boundary markers in it, as well as a small tablet commemorating a king giving some land to a guy (with the exact same name--Nabu-apla-iddina!) It was the tablet I wanted to draw because it's sort of pretty. While I was there, an older man leading a group came by twice, the first time to point out the boundary stones (and the importance of property? I wasn't really paying attention), the second time to use the map to one side of the case. In both cases, his concern was in talking about the migrations of Abraham and Sarah, and one of the remarkable things about his discussion was that he gave an exact year--either 1511 or 1513 BC, if I remember right--for the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and then from that factored in the exact year Abraham came to Canaan or something similar. Most scholars, I'm sure, would disagree with that early date for the Exodus, but this man seemed very certain of his dating.

After finishing up my drawing of the two Nabus, I moved on to another Mesopotamian case which has the original surviving pieces of a 4500 year old harp along with a reconstruction of what the harp probably looked like, based on the pieces themselves as well as ancient depictions of harps. I sat a while and drew my version of that harp on the same page as the Nabus, so here you go:

There was also a really cool exhibit of Picasso pen-and-ink drawings (and etchings?), some featuring the Minotaur. Most of them had great simple lines, though others were much "busier", with the sensation of motion and activity. Sometimes the drawings had some of the distortion or dislocation one associates with Picasso's paintings, but most of them were fairly straightforward and very very good, often of a sculptor and his sculptures.

After I left the museum, I had a jacket potato (baked potato) at a little place which I think Susan and I visited in 2007. I believe it's called the Bloomsbury Deli. Then I moseyed on to Charing Cross, the famous "book" street, to browse for books. I visited a couple of used bookstore and didn't find anything I particularly had in mind, though I stumbled across a 40-plus year old copy of a paperback in the series called Penguin Modern Poets, each of which featured 30 pages or so by each of three different poets. I bought this one--at 3 pounds 50 cents--because one of the three poets is Geoffrey Hill, whose work I've been interested in in the past, and because I think some of the poems in here didn't make it into his official books. (I could be wrong…)

I also visited Blackwells, a new bookstore, and Foyle's, which is always crowing about being voted the best bookstore in the UK, and I suppose it deserves it. It is a massive store, with zillions of books. I found several interesting things in both stores, but bought only one book, from Foyle's, a 1990 edition of 4 long stories by a 19th century German writer named Adalbert Stifter whom I haven't read, but feel like I should. I hope it's good! I found out, while in Blackwells, that there is a new American (!) edition of the Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, but I didn't see the need to buy it as an American import to the UK when I can just get it at the US price when I get back. Weird, though, that this American edition is what both Blackwells and Foyle's had on the shelf.

I had an early supper at Marks & Spencer, and the young woman who rang me up there was the one who'd been there when I was in on either Thursday or yesterday, and she remembered me. And the young woman who made up my hot tea for me was another one who had been there on another visit, and she remembered me as well! Short, middle-aged Americans with ugly hats hanging around their necks are probably not all that common in the Marks & Spencer food hall cafe!

After my supper, I stopped at Lou Ann's favorite drug store Boots for some batteries for the camera and then at the other Marks & Spencer (closer to the hotel) for instant oatmeal for Sunday and Monday mornings, as well as a packet of "custard creams" for my evening tea in the room. I pondered getting the "crunchy golden creams," which seem to be more or less the "custard creams" with oats added into the batter, but I noticed in the ingredient list something called "invert sugar syrup", which is NOT in the custard creams, so I stuck with what I knew. I'm worried that "invert sugar" may be something indigestible like aspartame or one of those fake sweeteners. Not an appealing thought.

Hyde Park and the Marble Arch Park were both absolutely jammed with sun-enjoyers, and at the Marble Arch there were a handful of young men who had apparently decided to take the good weather as a chance to show off some acrobatics. The one who stood on his hands with almost absolute stillness and control was quite impressive!

And now I'm back at the hotel, cleaned up and typing. And Lord of the Rings is on television. Hmm. I may let it run for a while until 8 or 9 when it seems like something interesting may be on BBC.

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25, 2012: Kew Gardens and the Natural History Museum (and a bit of shopping)

When I was a kid, there was a house on several acres out on the far southern end of Oak Cliff, Texas, where--it was claimed--you could hear crazy men screaming in the trees at night. Well, actually, the owners had peacocks and that was what you heard. Not as good a story, to be sure. Today at Kew Gardens I heard peacocks screaming any number of times, and they do indeed sound human.

Kew Gardens is somewhere on the southwest side of the London metropolitan area, I think. At least the train seems to be going that way. I visited here in 2010, on the last Saturday in May--an ugly ugly day, wet and cold, but it was the day I had to go because Chris Watson was debuting his sound installation "Whispering in the Leaves" that day in the Tropical Palm House on the garden grounds. Watson records sound from the natural and human world and fashions 'compositions' from them. For the Palm House he created two 20-minute pieces, one of the rain forest waking up in the morning, the other for the forest settling into night. It was great to be there watching as he "played" his computer recordings to give us the performance.

But the weather was awful and not at all conducive to wandering the extensive grounds. So today I went back, in bright and warm weather, though the wind was up--reminiscent of Malta! (I just heard a few minutes ago that it was 24 C. today, about 75 degrees, not quite as warm as yesterday, but still shirt-sleeve weather.)

After I got off the train (about a 30 minute ride?) and before I went into the Gardens, I stopped off in Starbucks for tea and a snack. The plainest thing I could get was a chocolate chip shortbread cookie, but they had China green tips tea, which I don't think I've had since leaving the states. Will it surprise you that standing directly in line behind me, practically on my heels, was a clueless dad holding a sometimes-shrieking toddler boy? And then after I went to sit down, dad, mom and shrieker came and sat at a table just a few feet away from me. The parents were almost more irritating than the child, as they cooed and swooned over him. I got up and moved to another table. I don't envy his teachers in a few years...!

But then on to the Gardens.

Right now at Kew an artist named David Nash is preparing a new exhibition for the grounds which won't open for a few more weeks. But we could see the "Wood Quarry" where the work is being done. He's utilizing wood from at least one enormous dead tree in the garden to make new abstract sculptures. Meanwhile there are quite a few of his other sculptures on the grounds, mostly of bronze painted black, and suggestive of burnt tree trunks. (One of the sculptures is in fact a charred trunk.) This one is called "King and Queen 1"--the 'king' looks like a giraffe to me.

Another new feature to the Gardens is the Treetop Walkway. I'd guess it's about 40 or 50 feet high and it allows you to walk around up there in the trees and look down and out across the park below you. Here's a shot from not quite all the way down, looking up at the central 'tower'.

The weather was lovely, so the park was quite hopping, including with school field trips. I guess even in England when spring comes on strong, the teachers want to get the kids out of the building. They seemed to be well-corralled so I was pleased about that.

How about a cottage like this one? It's called Queen Charlotte's, but I'm not sure off the top of my head which king she belongs to.

At first I thought they were re-thatching the roof, but there is chicken-wire covering both thatched and unthatched sections so maybe it's just kept in that condition for the time being.

And this is the Monkey Puzzle tree. Quite a big tree. The marker says the tree is actually a Chile Pine and grows in the temperate rain forests of Chile. I can't remember now if it's the Monkey Puzzle Tree or one of the others that can live 1000 years in its natural environment.

Before leaving the Gardens, I had what I intended to be part one of my lunch, though it ended up being all of it. You'll love what I had: a nice-sized plate of mashed potatoes (they were being served with sausage, and I asked if I could have just potatoes alone), an apple, and of course a cup of tea. (It felt nourishing at the time, especially as I was planning on adding meat to it later.)

I had a day-pass for the subway, which had "OFF-PEAK" printed on it, so I was afraid that if I waited too late into the afternoon I would hit a time period when it wouldn't be any good. So I left the gardens about 2 and took the subway back to the stop near the Natural History Museum which I hadn't visited before. It's a gigantic building that looks like a massive cathedral.

Inside are fossilized bones of dinosaurs, and casts of fossilized bones, a few of which were actually found by a girl and her brother in the early 1800s in England, when no one was sure what they were. Quite a few marine dinosaurs are there--ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, etc., which look almost like a weird mix of dolphin and crocodile. It was interesting to me to see the explanatory cards for some of the skeletons saying that they were bought for the museum at various points more than 150 years ago. One, I remember, said the history of the fossil was unknown but that it had been in the museum since 1832! An astonishing idea, to think that the fossil had been there since Andrew Jackson's presidency!

I didn't wander the entire place, partly because I was getting ready for more food, and partly because some of the displays are things I just don't care as much about. Dinosaurs, however, are still interesting to me. I also looked at some of the insect displays and the mammals and reptiles. Did you know there's a frog has something on its legs that looks almost like hair? Neither did I!

After finishing up here, I headed off on a longish walk--a couple of miles, I guess--to one of the Marks & Spencer locations on Oxford Street for an early supper. I had to go north to Hyde Park, cross Hyde Park heading northeast, then go several blocks east on Oxford Street--perhaps the busiest shopping street in London--to reach the store. Since I'd had a big serving of potatoes as well as an apple at lunch, supper was brown sugar baked ham, a croissant, some potato chips, and a cup of tea. I studied my London map while eating and decided that I might want to see the Charles Dickens Museum tomorrow and maybe visit a used bookstore or two. Sunday will be a kind of catch-as-catch-can day, since so many stores will be closed. (I'll need to get some tuna tomorrow, probably, to eat on Sunday.) So Sunday might be a good day for the two Tate museums and maybe a riverboat ride on the Thames from the Tate Britain to the Tate Modern.

After supper I browsed in Marks & Spencer women's department looking at scarves (birthday gift) and getting ideas, then wandered into Selfridges (and fairly quickly wandered out again--it seemed too hectic and trendy for me), and then went to Debenhams to look for scarves again. Here I found one that I thought would be appropriate. So now I've bought birthday gifts for all three sisters from the European adventure 2012. (All my sisters have summer birthdays.)

Ta-ta for now. Oh, wait! I forgot to tell y'all about the swank hotel bathroom floor. It was warm last night, which I thought was a little odd. Then this morning it was actually hot--hotter than body temperature in one spot--and I wondered if the hotel's hot water pipes run under the floor here since I'm in the basement. As I was leaving the hotel, I saw one of the cleaning women and I asked her about it. The bathroom floor is actually heated! And if I raise the temperature of the AC, meaning I want the room warmer, the bathroom floor gets warmer too! What's a Cockrell Hill boy to think?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 24, 2012: What a Day it's been!

My day began at 4:45 a.m. in Malta. I had four wake-up "alarms", just to make sure I didn't oversleep: two alarm clocks, a television alarm, and a wake-up call from the hotel: a real person! It was easier than I might have thought to get up, perhaps because I have been going to sleep so early in Malta and perhaps because I was excited about the thought of getting to London.

I got in line to check out of the Grand Hotel Excelsior about 6:15 and before 6:30 I was in the hotel transport on the way to the airport. The check-in line there was open for multiple flights so I got in "the queue," checked my duffle and got a boarding pass. Then I went through security and upstairs to the boarding area. I wanted to talk to the immigration police as soon as possible and get my passport squared away. The two officers I found outside passport control said that yes, indeed, I'd have to go through the paperwork again, but it would need to wait until 7:30 or so when a gate was assigned to my flight. Then I could report to passport control and get things going. They said it would only take about 10 minutes to do the paperwork this time. So I went and had a croissant and cup of tea to supplement my very early oatmeal, corn flakes (without milk) and tea at the hotel. As soon as the gate was assigned I joined the short line there and handed my passport and boarding pass over as soon as my turn came. And--? And nothing happened. The officer punched some buttons on his computer and seemed to be looking at things, then stamped my passport and sent me through! So I had about an hour to take it easy, read the newspaper and wait.

We began boarding about 8:15. In Malta it's old-style. You get on a big bus which wheels you out to the plane, and then you climb the roll-up staircase onto the plane. Today's plane was specially painted with a skyline of Valletta along the sides and the caption "Candidate City--European Capital of Culture 2018." So I guess this is a title awarded (annually? biennially?) and competed for among the cities of Europe. I also noticed as we were in the boarding line a television screen that included among its rotating images the information that Malta International Airport was 2011's and 2010's "best airport in Europe" according to the Airport Councils or something like that. Kind of cool. It is a nice, compact place, but still with cafes and shops to keep you busy while you wait.

The jet was one of the smaller ones with a central aisle and three seats on each side. I had a window seat, a woman had the aisle seat, and the seat between us was empty, so that was nice. Even so we spent a good deal of the flight talking. She is of Caribbean ancestry but was born in London and now lives in Dorset. Her husband is Dutch. She obviously loves to travel. In fact, she said she would be back in Malta in a couple of weeks, then go to Vienna from there, then back to Malta and back to England. She showed me pictures of her trip to Rumania--especially Vlad the Impaler's castle and a historical village that recreates the way the people used to live, in thatched cottages built partway into the ground. The photos were on her smartphone, and the way she breezed through them, and the sharpness of the images, sort of made me want a smartphone, if only to use it as a camera and photo receptacle. She said in fact that she needed to learn how to download them to the computer because she had almost filled up her phone's memory.

After we landed, she helped me zip forward toward the passport control area, until she split off to the restrooms. I hurried on to passport control. Good thing! It jammed up really fast, especially with non-EU passengers who have to go through a different line. I was in line for 20-30 minutes, I'd guess, behind a young Amazon! She must have been 5'9" or 5'10" and I noticed that she had really long feet, of which surprisingly little were toes!

Then on to baggage claim. And believe it or not, by 11:30 (London time--an hour behind Malta) I had exchanged my remaining euros and a Gibraltar five-pound note for English pounds, and was at the train ticket counter, buying my ticket from the airport to Victoria Station and an all-day pass for the subway to use from there. But I needed food first. I went to Marks & Spencer's Simply Foods there at the terminal and got good quality sliced ham (for the first time since leaving the states!), chips, an apple and a cup of tea. Then I went off into a corner near a window and stood next to my baggage and ate. It was grand, if a little messy. Then off to find my train. Here's where my first booboo of the day occurred, and it wasn't just my goofiness, because others made the same mistake.

I got on the Victoria Express instead of the other train which makes 3 stops, the one I'd bought the ticket for. According to another man who did the same thing, the sign board was wrong when we boarded because the express was delayed and didn't leave on time. So the "local" should have been there, but wasn't. Anyway, at Victoria Station I had to pay 5 pounds 70 pence more for the error. Next I needed to find the subway line to get me to the neighborhood of my hotel. A subway official told me the line I needed wasn't working normally because of repairs or something, so he recommended an alternate route involving getting on one line for a couple of stops, then getting off and getting on another. It worked like a charm, and it helped that I didn't mind playing the hapless tourist who needed advice, and people were nice enough to help me out.

When I got to the hotel, however, I had another surprise. You can all help me remember to tell the travel agent why the rate we were getting for this hotel seemed so good--it's because they don't include the VAT (value-added tax, I think that means) to the quoted price, and that adds 20% a day to the cost. Plus, unlike most English accommodations, breakfast is not included, and that would add another 11 pounds 95 to the daily bill. So I'm paying just under 95 pounds a night and not having breakfast. Still, it's a very reasonable rate for London, as long as it's quiet. The room is much nicer than I have had before in England. I imagine this is an old building (and in fact the floor in the hallway goes up and down), but clearly there has been extensive remodeling. The television is new, but that's easy. Less easy is the new toilet and sink in the bathroom. The bathroom has two shower spigots--I can choose the big round overhead spigot that lets water just sort of drop all over you (like in the Grand in Malta) or a hand-held shower head similar to what I have in my RV. Either is good, but what sort of unnerves  me is that there is lip or rim to the shower-stall part of the bathroom floor: it's just sloped down toward the drain. And the shower curtain doesn't go all the way to floor either, so water sort of splashes out over most of the bathroom floor. I put the mat (just a heavy towel, actually) near the door so water would ease its way out into the carpet of the bedroom. It seems to me to be an example of a very "cool" looking design, that's not really practical. But apparently this is a "boutique" hotel, so they are going for cool and not functional! The room is very small, with virtually no closet space and only the very shallowest of drawers, so I guess boutiquers like to live out of their suitcases. But things are new, the AC is very good and it's brightly lit. (As for breakfast, I bought a just-add-water cup of "porridge" at Marks & Spencer, and I will just add water from the tea pot in the morning.)

So I got checked in, changed into shorts out of jeans, settled things in the room a bit, and then headed out. Guess what? It's warm! It was about 80 this afternoon, I'd guess, and I imagine that's 8 or 10 degrees warmer than Malta got today. I walked around all afternoon without my windbreaker! Can you believe it? If this is not the warmest day since I left Florida, then it's equalled only by May 11 in Pisa and maybe May 12 in Malta. I hope it lasts!

Since I had a day-pass for the subway, and since I wanted to go a few miles away, I went ahead and go on "the Tube" instead of walking all the way. Where was I headed my first afternoon in London? To the London Review Bookstore! It's near the British Museum, about 3 miles from my hotel. I only discovered in by chance in 2010 and didn't have much time to look. It's a more literary bookstore than the chains usually are, so I hoped to find some cool stuff there.

And I did. I bought two books, and could easily have bought more. I looked for quite a while getting ideas about what I might buy, and could have easily looked longer. Finally I came away with a slender book of poetry, A Sleepwalk on the Severn by Alice Oswald (on my last trip I bought her book Dart), and a memoir/biography, Under a Canvas Sky: Living Outside Gormenghast by Clare Peake. If you've been reading the blog the past several days, you will remember my mention of Mervyn Peake, Maeve Gilmore, and Titus Awakes. Clare is Mervyn and Maeve's daughter, and this book is her recounting of her parents' life together and of her own childhood. There were other very tempting books, but I decided these were two which were not going to be easily available in the US.

After shopping there I went over to Pret a Manger and had a cup of tea and another croissant, because lunch had worn off. Then I went to the British Museum (again!), just for a while, since I was in the neighborhood. Finally some photos for you.

Here are the feet of a Roman caryatid--if I keep my facts straight, a caryatid is a statue which serves as a pillar on a building. Aren't these great feet? Maybe I'll try to draw them at some point.

The statue is on the landing of one of the big staircases. And here's a photo of a case that held a poster from the 1948 Olympics in London and some medals from earlier Olympics and some other games, the names of which I can't remember. The poster is pretty cool, no?

I went to the ancient Mesopotamia section of course, and visited Gudea again, and saw the 'ram in the thicket' and Hammurabi and such things. But you probably saw too many photos of that stuff when I was here before, so I'll spare you. This is the remains of a great statue from Cyprus. It's not necessarily the best statue in the world, but it's very fine, and the light was good on it!

And I thought this was a nice little touch: a modern "head" studying the ancient heads, or maybe it's the other way around. I'm pretty sure this guy had no idea I was taking his photo. This was in the Roman section, I think.

I went to the real Marks & Spencer after the museum and got cooked, sliced chicken and a Marks & Spencer cola from the grocery section, then took them to the cafe section and got some "chunky chips"--what we would call steak fries--to go along with them. Then I sat at one of their little tables and had my supper. This is also when I picked up the porridge "tub" for tomorrow morning.

Then I spent some time in HMV music store, and was tempted by several things, but decided not to buy anything (yet?) One cool thing they have is a little collection of Warren Zevon's five records from '76 to '82, with the 5 fairly short albums each on its own CD in a little LP sleeve. Only 16 pounds, about 26 dollars, for 5 CDs. Not bad at all. They also have quite a number of old CDs on sale at 2 CDs for 10 pounds. There are several Tyrannosaurus Rex CDs on offer, as well as CDs by Love and other bands that I like. I have a lot of this music on my iPod, but it would be nice to have the CDs again to play in the truck. So I'll ponder whether I want to buy some music or not, since the price is so good.

Finally after browsing music, it was time to head "home". I walked all the way back. Here's something I passed on the way. I don't remember what was at this location in 2007--something older, I suppose. In 2010, this was an empty space where construction was beginning. Now it's this, with construction still going on. What is it? I don't know. I saw the name Park House on it. A huge hotel? Condos? I don't know. But yes, in case you're wondering, the sides are indeed curved: it's not a photo trick.

Now I've got the television on BBC1 and there's a show about Westminster Abbey and the Queen's 60th Jubilee, and I know my friend Nancy would be watching it with eyes peeled if she were here. I'm thinking and typing and not paying a great deal of attention, unfortunately. I need to get to bed soon. It's been a very long day. By now it's 10:30 in Malta, and I've been up almost 18 hours, and walked four or five miles, I suppose.

Tomorrow? Maybe Kew Gardens, if the weather is warm and bright again. I think at this very moment Debbie is still flying across the Atlantic from Madrid to DFW, after beginning her day in Venice. It will be a 31-hour day for her. Next Tuesday will be a 30-hour day for me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

May 23, 2012: Last Full Day in Malta

The signs were good this morning: light wind, bright sun, a bit of warmth in the air. But it got trickier by 10:30, when the wind was up and there was more chill around. Better than most days so far, though.

I decided to visit Sliema again. I made the harbor walk once more, going down from the hotel and around the base of the walls to the ferry landing. Along the way I passed another walker who was going almost as fast as I was. Not long after I passed him, he sped up and caught up with me. He wanted to talk. He told me he would be 80 later this year and walks a lot. He had already walked in from Hamrun, a town or so away, this morning.

Once I got to Sliema, I headed for Simply Foods at the mall. My visit was great. Again a croissant, a donut and a cup of tea--and this time I actually put some of the milk into the tea to cool it down a bit. I finished reading the DH Lawrence story "The Man who Loved Islands" while I was there, and toward the end started feeling really giddy, with a bit of a headache. It might have been sugar from the donut, but more likely those several minutes when I felt weirdest were when the weather was turning. When I entered the mall at 9:40 or so, it was quite lovely out. When I left, less than an hour later, it was chilly and very blowsy. And I was quite hungry, even though I'd already had two tea-cups-full (about 6 ounces each) of oatmeal for breakfast and my mid-morning tea. So I checked out the Chain supermarket again to see if their deli offered better meat than Tower. And it does! I got about 6 ounces of nice, oven-baked turkey, freshly sliced for me; some chips; bottled water and a single-serving container of applesauce. Real applesauce, not baby food applesauce. Amazing. They didn't, however, have V8 or a single serving container of tomato juice. Still, I think you all will definitely have to add Chain to your grocery visits when you come to Malta. And the employees are nicer than the folks at Wembley too!

I took my little picnic outside and had a 10:30 lunch in the chilly Sliema wind, on a bench overlooking the harbor. Afterward, I stopped by the bookstore, to see if my old friend the clerk was on duty (no), then returned via ferry to Valletta.

I had a bit of time before the 12:30 performance at St James Cavalier so I went over to Upper Barrakka. It was packed! Once again there were two cruise ships docked down below at the Valletta Waterfront (which is actually, I think, in Floriana) as well as a small ship in between them--perhaps one of those specialty lines with a small number of passengers. Look carefully, just to the left of the watchtower (called a vedette, apparently), and I think you can make it out in the photo.

The ship in front, the Bella, looks like a newer ship, going for the swankier, glitzier crowd, judging from the open areas on the upper decks and some of the glassed-in areas. But the MSC ship at the back looks to be a good bit larger. It is the Splendora, which I've already seen here once, so it must be making the 7-day circuit this summer.

Back at St James Cavalier, I listened to a performance by soprano (and U of Malta student) Marouska Attard (there's a town named Attard in the middle of the island) and pianist Christine Zerafa. Marouska said in her introduction that the performance was part of her requirements for her degree. This show also included a print-out with information on the vocal selections, so that may have been a requirement as well. It was very nice to receive. I drew of course, and as usual started before the performers came out. At first I thought I might just draw the piano and the music stand, but then decided to add the women in too. Because of the way I had begun, however, Marouska's head didn't get included!

I showed the drawing to the two women after the show, and we laughed about the missing head. They seemed pleased with the drawing and I let them have it. Hopefully it's not in File 13 at St James Cavalier yet!

I think I've forgotten to mention two of my other acquaintances from this trip. One is one of the drivers from the hotel here--in fact he may be the one taking me to the airport in the morning. We've talked a couple of times about the cool sites in Malta and the places I've seen in Malta, and he told me this morning that I should buy an apartment and move to Malta. He said he was speaking not from his head, but from his heart. So I guess he's enjoyed our discussions.

The other new friend is the man who operates the parking lot spread on both sides of the street that leads to Msida Bastion Historic Garden. We've said hi as I've passed him on my morning walks some days, and he told me one day that he calls the woman at the Garden Mad Mary because her license tag begins MAD and her name is Mary. One morning when I talked to him he was having a Cisk beer and I told him that, as I walked up and he was having a swig, it looked from a distance like he was holding a periscope up to his eye! He thought that was funny.

Well, I've booked and paid for my transport to the airport in the morning: 6:30, yikes! 20 euros. I've scheduled a wake-up call for 4:45, yikes! But right now it's only 2:45 in the afternoon. So--

I headed over to Hastings Garden for my last can of tuna and bottle of applesauce. It seems to me that there is a section of the garden now that wasn't open in 2010. Certainly I don't remember seeing everything I saw today. There were four young bicyclists--men in their 20s or 30s, I guess--lying out on the walls catching some sun and a nap apparently. I asked them if they weren't afraid of the wind blowing them off, but they just laughed. I took this photo of them as I was leaving. The one who is nearest the edge had been a lot nearer the edge before I got the camera ready. I would guess that it's at least a 150-foot drop from that edge! I certainly wouldn't want to have walked as close as he did.

I also took this photo which might give you an idea of the size and complexity of the walls here, how they can be almost labyrinth-like, I suppose to trap invading soldiers. The cars at the bottom should give you some sense of scale.

And what is this? I absolutely do not recall ever seeing this "hidden garden" before. Is it a private pool and club? Does it belong to the Hotel Phoenicia, which is quite a way up the hill from here? It seems to be across the street from the Grand Hotel, and hidden away from it by the walls. That's the Grand Hotel (where I'm staying) in the upper right beyond the trees.

I went by Hollywood Confectionary and said goodbye to my friend there. She said that she and her husband go to London twice a year, in January and August, but they won't go in August this year because of the Olympics. Maybe Bristol. She said they visited Bristol in January and really liked it.

And I closed out my last day in Valletta with some fries and a soft-serve ice cream at McDonalds. I've had soft-serve vanilla almost every day since getting on the ship on Florida, and it's something I normally only have when I go to Jason's Deli. But I figure it's an easy way to get a bit of dairy in my diet and, besides, with my metabolism gunning all day every day I can put the fat to use as well! Now it's time to see if the hotel internet is going to be swamped with users, or if I can get this easily posted.