This was a last-minute request to join the Saga Ruby on her very last cruise – to the Caribbean and back during the Christmas period. I had just 24 hours’ notice. So a mad panic of packing that afternoon after the phone call and down to Southampton to embark the following lunch-time.
The itinerary was to call in at the Azores then over to Barbados and round several islands with me being flown back from St Lucia in time for Christmas at home. Only it didn’t quite work out that way. We had to divert to the Canaries to skirt round a violent Atlantic storm.
Then the air- conditioning generator broke down so the whole programme had to be changed. The Caribbean was out. Instead it was to be a cruise round the Mediterranean. This caused much muttering amongst the passengers. Forty decided to fly home. It actually suited me.
There was a calm passage into a mill-pond Med with pleasantly warm sunshine. And some interesting new ports of call for me – Sicily in particular. While there was a chance to see Pompeii free of crowds on a glorious sunny morning before being flown home from Naples.
The Sicilian Coastline
We’d berthed in Messina for the day and I took an excursion down the west coast overlooking the narrow strait between Sicily and the heel of Italy.
Our group in the Greek-Roman amphitheatre at Taormina, Sicily
This amphitheatre was carved out of the slopes of Mount Tauro, 702 ft above the Ionean Sea in the 7th century BC. It is one of the most celebrated ruins in Sicily and the second largest, able to seat 5400 spectators. From the ruins, framed by its proscenium (here well preserved unlike most ancient theatres) you can gaze across the Bay of Naxos to the 11000 ft summit of Mt Etna – Europe’s highest active volcano.
On the day I was there, the peak was initially covered in a blanket of cloud. But this evaporated to reveal a simply stunning vista of the snow-capped peak glinting in the sun as the following picture shows.
Mt Etna from the amphitheatre
Banquet in La Valetta, Malta
As part of the compensation for not going to the Caribbean, Saga organised a banquet in La Valette Hall in Valetta - the construction of which started in 1574.
This was the ‘Great Ward’ of the Sacra Infermeria which was considered to be one of the best hospitals in Europe. The setting was spectacular, the food diabolical.
Streetwise in Pompeii
To think there was me walking along a road that got buried under mountains of ash and rock on the 24th August 79 AD. We stepped into a brothel that had some explicit couplings painted on the walls. No doubt there was coitus interruptus here when Vesuvius went bang.
Vesuvius from the Forum at Pompeii
The Forum is located at the intersection between the two main streets of the city and was an area where cart traffic was forbidden. On this morning it was beginning to heave with human traffic and I found it difficult to get a pic without a head bobbing into view.
September 6th 2013
The Blue Pool
Sulphur Fields at Namaskaro
Akureyri with Airport on the right
The West Fjords
A guest speaking engagement on the Oriana in late August, gave me the chance to see something
of Iceland. There were three ports of call. Reykjavic, Isafjordur in the West Fjords and Akureyri.
The landscape of the West Fjords was very dramatic, the area being the most sparsely populated region of Iceland.
Sailing out from them was, for me, one of the highlights of the cruise. Endless snow capped volcanic peaks, a harsh, barren panorama set against glowering skies.
Occasionally those peaks burst into gold as they were lit up by shafts of late evening sun.
The Spur I Need
August 6th 2013
I've been struggling to get to grips with writing my third novel, tentatively called Pets Aplenty. While on my last cruise speaking engagement, there was the chance to get some writing done.
It was one morning when I had started a conversation between Beryl the receptionist and Paul Mitchell the vet - it was taking place in the back garden of Prospect House which is used for
exercising dogs and can get a bit smelly - that an email arrived from a lady in New York.
Here it is:
Thank you for the wonderful hours I've spent reading PETS IN A PICKLE
and PETS ON PARADE!
I have recommended them to all of my pet-loving friends who have also found them to be bright spots in their days. Will there be additional sequels??
And, if so, how soon can we look forward to them?
Nan Seefeldt Nyack, New York."
If ever there is an incentive to complete the third book, this is it. Thank you Nan.
Then, today I see on Amazon.co.uk that the Kindle version of PETS IN A PICKLE is:
- Number One on the bestseller list for Books - Humour - Cats, Dogs & Animals
- Number One on the bestseller list for Books - Humour - Collections & Anthologies
So what am I waiting for? Get cracking Malcolm.
Malcolm Makes Waves
July 23rd 2013
A Western Mediterranean cruise on board the Ventura where I was giving six talks. There was a great holiday atmosphere throughout and the entertainments team worked their socks off to ensure everyone remained ‘buoyant’. This is a picture of the ‘Great British Sail Away’ from Cartagena, with much flag fluttering and singing of Rule Britannia.
March 1st 2013
A great ending to a whirlwind trip to Urulu (Ayers Rock) where that evening, we had a barbeque, sipping champagne. It had been overcast all day – which meant it was cooler and so enabled us to do three walks in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Then 30 minutes before we were due to park and have our picnic, the clouds cleared and we had the ever-changing pinks and greys of Uluru as the sun slipped down over the Outback behind us. Truly magical.
We had flown over to Tahiti to join the Arcadia for a guest speaking engagement through the Polynesian Islands calling at Bora Bora, Fiji and New Caledonia before sailing over to Brisbane and Sydney. On arrival in Sydney, we met up with Maxeen’s cousin and his wife for a three hour walk round the bays to Bondi beach.
The next day, we flew to Alice Springs. It was raining there when we arrived (first time in 40 days). There was time that afternoon to do a walkabout across the dried up Todd river bed in the centre of Alice and climb to the top of Anzac Hill for a superb view of the town and the West MacDonnell Ranges beyond. 6.30 am the following morning, we were on a coach for a six hour trip through the outback to Uluru, returning 12.30 am Saturday morning to fly back to Sydney and catch a plane to London the next day.
Phew, yes it was hectic. But well worth the effort.