Oh well, back to work, holidays over for another year. At least I managed to morph from a sickly shade of pale to a faint shade of tan, and without catching airplane 'flu or any other weird tropical disease (at least not one that's shown up so far). In fact, it was one of the most hassle-free and relaxing holidays we've had. I even managed to forego the doubtful pleasure of email for a whole six days without caving in and searching for an Internet cafe.
Mind you, arriving home and deciding I should try to catch up with the mountain of emails that arrived while I was away was an interesting experience. It seems that my mailbox was upgraded to Exchange Server 2010 while I was away. While it doesn't affect using Outlook over HTTP, I'm battling vainly against the new version of Outlook Web Access. It seems to rummage around and collect every email it can find that vaguely corresponds to the one I'm trying to read, and then hides them all away in a tree view that you have to double-click to see the actual messages.
I suppose it's useful having all of the related messages collected together, even if it includes ones I sent, and even ones I've deleted (helpfully shown crossed out in the tree view). But I reckon it's going to take me a good while to get used to this approach. I spent the first ten minutes trying to figure out how to delete a collection of different emails - it seems like you can't just highlight them all and press delete any more.
And I can't find any options to go back to the old way either - in fact it took ages to find the option where I could turn off Out of Office Replies (which are now called "Tell people you're on vacation"). Maybe I'll just leave them turned on for good so I don't have to fight with OWA very often. Or just do what I ended up doing the evening when we got home and I was too tired to try and understand the new approach - use the cut-down "OWA Light" version instead. It's much like Hotmail (sorry, Windows Live Mail) - it just works like you'd expect.
Aha! (added later) I just found out you need click the little arrow next to "Arrange by" and uncheck "Conversation".
Anyway, getting back to last week's trip, I still haven't figured why it all went so smoothly compared to the usual hassle of traveling anywhere by plane. Yes, we did have to set off for the airport at 3:00 AM; but it's nearby, parking close to the terminal was easy, the check-in queue consisted of two people, there was time for a leisurely coffee, and then through security in less than ten minutes. Half an hour in departures chatting to people we know who happened to be on the same flight, then in the air fifteen minutes ahead (!) of schedule and arrival in Malta half an hour early.
With our taxi waiting at the airport, we were at the hotel within half an hour and ready to hit the beach! And it was just as easy coming home. Meanwhile, Malta is easy because they have real 250 volt electricity with UK-style sockets, and they drive on the proper side of the road (the left). Plus, all of the roads have meaningful road signs, even if every road you go down seems to take you back to the capital Valletta. Although the concept of giving way to others, even when they have priority, is more an option than a rule. I liked that all the roundabouts have a sign saying "Please obey the roundabout rules". I guess everyone does, in a roundabout way.
We did borrow a sat-nav with the rental car, and I'm really glad I didn't buy one like it. The helpful lady inside it had a habit of reading out the directions one turn early, then suddenly screaming "Turn left, turn left, turn left" just after you passed the junction (even when you should have turned right). I think the one word we heard most over the whole week was "Recalculating". Of course, it didn't help that the paper map of the island we were using to decide where to go contained English place names, while the sat-nav only had the Maltese equivalents. She even directed us up one street that started out about a foot wider that the car and then got even narrower, culminating in a right-angle turn. I got a lot of reversing practice during the week.
But if you are looking for somewhere relatively peaceful, pleasant, and full of history, Malta is worth a visit. Go in Spring or Autumn unless you like being burned alive, and - if you don't fancy driving - use the hop-on hop-off tour buses to see the sights. There are some lovely beaches, fabulous views, wonderful cathedrals and churches, a Roman villa, and an amazing walled city (Mdina) to see. It is a bit barren in places, and not the tidiest or best-maintained place I've ever been, but - hey - this is the Mediterranean. And everyone, everywhere, speaks good English. Here's some photos:
And, yes, I did find the house where I lived more than 40 years ago and even got to talk to the daughter of the guy who owned it back then! Meanwhile, I suspect we'll never be able to go on holiday again because it will never be this easy in future.