To blog or not to blog.

So, where to begin?

I had debated whether or not even to restart this blog as my current little jaunt is more by way of a fairly standard European off-season holiday rather than some of my more exotic ramblings in Asia.  I was, however, persuaded by my own argument which I use frequently on the Virtual Tourist website which may possibly be how you have come upon this page.  The argument briefly runs thus.  Many members on that excellent site read wonderful pages by people like my mates Claus (VT name cachaseiro)DAO (real name somewhat of a mystery) and Chris (travelinxs) as well as many others who really are intrepid travellers and do things that are truly adventurous.  These members think therefore that they have nothing to contibute to the site as they do not undertake such journeys but this is frankly wrong.  I have a bit of a saying that everywhere is exotic to somebody else and so I decided to re-open the blog for my current trip to Malta.

There is also the matter of time.  For various reasons, I am only going to be here for just shy of a month rather than the usual multi-month trips I undertake in search of the sun in the Southern hemisphere at this time of year.  With any luck I shall be able to have another run somewhere before the alleged British summer fails to appear yet again but that is yet to be decided.  For better or worse, it looks like the "One middle aged man's rambles around the world before he gets too old", as I have styled this blog, is going to get another airing.  For my handful of regular readers, welcome back and for those who may have stumbled upon this page by some karmic disaster, (you must have done something really bad in a past life) welcome.  I do hope you find something to interest, inform or possibly amuse you in the following entries.  Please do feel free to contact me even if it is merely to suggest that I don't pursue travel writing as a full-time career!  Obviusly, the image is merely a "holding" one until I find something more exciting to put here.

Well, here I am, less than 24 hours after arriving on the historic island of Malta, a place I had long wanted to visit but must confess I came to at this time somewhat by default.  Planning my "winter warmer" trip n January 2013 I had already scuppered a couple of trips which I hope to undertake sometime in the future.  If you have been here before, you will know that I spent a most wonderful six months in the Philippines last year and fell completely in love with that wonderful country and it's people.  It really ranks as one of my best trips ever and I do hope to return there some day.  I had come up with a bit of a madcap plan, which I shall explain, inspired by some of the veteran travellers mentioned above and also numerous other travel writers, both amateur and professional, whose work I have enjoyed over the years. For those of you who have not read back and like to look at pictures rather than read my ravings (most of you, I suspect), here are is a lovely image of that most wonderful trip.

This one features DAO, as mentioned above, second from right.

I have become increasingly fed up of air travel in recent years with it's decreasing standards, increasing prices and ludicrous regulation and have come to the conclusion that the only saving grace it has for most people is speed.  A businessman from London isn't going to want to spend six or seven days on a cruise liner to New York, lovely as that may be, for a one day meeting and then do the same on the return.  It is simply not practical and air travel is definitely the way for them to go both literally and figuratively.  In my very fortunate position time is about the one thing I have on my side so that is not a problem.  The madcap plan I mentioned was to get back to the Philippines without using an aircraft and so I set about consulting maps, the news and the FCO (Foriegn and Commonwealth Office) website with a will. This is what I found.

The "middle East", nebulous as that concept is, is apparently constantly at war with itself and others.  Recent events in places like Syria and the Lebanon, both of which are on my travel wish list incidentally along with Jordan, Iraq, Iran et al were just ruled out on grounds of security.  I had debated a route going to Turkey and then straight into Iraq but it looked a little dicey in terms of border crossings.  Even had I managed to do that, I was still faced with traversing Pakistan and some of that would not have been entirely safe for a lone Westerner.  Travellers and geographers amongst you or even anyone with access to a world map will point out no doubt that there is a perfectly feasible route through China and down into SE Asia and this is true.  I don't want to go into the whys and wherefores but I have promised myself never to set foot in China whilst certain circumstances still obtain.  They don't look like changing any time soon, so I suppose the Great Wall and I are going to remain strangers. 

Having put the great Philippines overland trek on hold I was casting about for other things to do, again trying to avoid flying if I could.  I thought that North Africa looked good post "Arab Spring" and that things were relatively quiet there now.  I thought it would be a good time to visit as it would be off-season and still relatively untouristed so the plan was hatched to go via train South through Europe, stopping off perhaps in a few places on the way, then get to Algericas and the ferry to Tangier in Morocco.  The excellent "man in seat 61" website was of great assistance here and I really do recommend it as a web resource.  If you haven't seen it, it is a website that will tell you everything you need to know about train travel across the globe.  For the armchair traveller is is a great read and for the actual traveller wishing to ride the rails it is absolutely invaluable.

Once in the region, I had thought to roam around Morocco on the pretty comprehensive rail system including Marrakech for no better reason than it and the train features in the wonderful Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song (their first single) called Marrakesh Express.  Yes, I really do plan trips on such whims which may sound ludicrous to some but it works for me.  After that I was going to get back to the coast and travel East through Algeria, Tunisia and Libya at which point the plan became a bit nebulous.  I might have suffered a flight home or retraced my steps to get a boat, possibly from Tunis to Europe.  I had decided to stick to the coast as a) it offered better trasnsport opportunities and b) I was aware that the South of some of these huge countries was prone to attacks by Moslem funtamentalists which is not good for a British citizen.  I had read the FCO advice and judged the coastal route to be feasible even if certain visas might be a little difficult to obtain.

There was the addidional lure of some amazing ancient sites, especially Roman, and also a huge amount of history dating from much more recently in the second World War.  Previous readers may know that I am fascinated by history, especially military history, and the potential here was great.

You may wonder why I would not consider carrying on into Egypt but to be perfectly honest, it is a place I have never had the slightest inclination to visit.  Don't ask me why as I am fully aware they are one of the oldest civilisations on the planet, there is so much to see there, brilliant diving which I love doing and so on.  The thing is, it just doesn't interest me as a country and there are so many other places that do interest me that I will concentrate on them.

Events however, as events tend to do, overtook me very rapidly.  Literally as I was planning this trip, checking various websites for visa information etc., there came news that the Islamic fundamentalists mentioned above had seized a gas-plant in the area and subsequently a number of Westerners including Britons, had been killed.  Not good and so I watched the situation and the next news, a few days later, was that all British citizens in particular areas had been told to leave a.s.a.p. as there was a "credible threat" against them.  Well, that decided it.  The Philippino trip was gone and the North Africa one looked like a non-starter as well. 

I was starting to get a little depressed by all this.  British winters tend to depress me at the best of times and three funerals in a month, all of them in absolutely foul weather, were doing nothing to lighten my mood.  Something was called for, preferably South and warmer than the appallingly and unseasonably cold London I was sitting in.  Whilst the snow had afforded a brilliant days photography in Abney Park cemetery, it wasn't really what I needed at that point.  I could easily have jumped a plane to somewhere in the Southern hemisphere but I decided to try something new and for some reason the idea of Malta came back into my mind, verypossibly inspired by a recent visit to the fascinating Order of St. John Order's Museum and Church in Clerkenwell in London.  So here I am sitting in a lovely little bar in St. Julian with a beer, and "trapped in the indecision of another fine menu" as my mate Fish would have it with just under a month to get to grips with this place and see what I can find out about it.

Here are a couple of images to give you an idea of what it was I needed to leave behind in search or being on the road again.

This is my local overland mainline station wearing it's covering of snow.

This is Abney Park as I mentioned and whilst it is definitely atmospheric and beautifully desolate it is not really what I need at this time of year 

I am well aware that people like bite sized chunks of things and so I shall leave this chapter here and continue in another entry.  I promise there will be more images as I have been on a bit of a shutter frenzy already and there is undoubtedly much to see and do here.  Stay tuned.

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