Friday, July 30, 2010

Tunisia

The country of Tunisia in on the northern coast of the African Continent and is bordered by Libya and Algeria....other than that, I knew NOTHING when we booked this cruise. I checked out books from the library and began reading and planning. I learned that the country is predominantly Muslim, it is illegal to take photos of government buildings or to take their currency from the country...even as a souvenir and the language is a dialect of Arabic. It had a wide range of rulers over the centuries, including the Romans, Vandals and Byzantines. Under the Ottoman Turks, Tunisia gained virtual independence as as Islamic state. I was probably more wary of this port that any other...a case of the unknown, I think. I had made copies of a map of the Medina which was the ancient city center. I hoped the map would guide us through a several block area with churches, mosques, marketplaces and museums. I thought it would be a nice overview of the city for us. While the country has become more "westernized" recently, there are still places that having my head covered might be more comfortable so I had a scarf for Lollipop Pop and myself, just in case. We had breakfast on the ship and went through customs on shore. Outside of the immigration building was a plethora of taxi cabs. The sign stated a list of three destinations and costs, depending on the number of people travelling. While we were reading the signs and taking in the scene, two ladies approached us. The were also passengers on the ship and wondered if we could all share a cab to save a bit of money. We agreed, and were shown to a small taxi van. Our travel companions were a mother and daughter from Sophia, Bulgaria. As our driver made his way to the Medina, he tried to answer our questions in very broken English. It was drizzly outside as we entered the city center. The cars were everywhere and there seemed to be no uniform direction of travel. There were men in the street taking money from drivers to be shown to a spot on the side of the roads in which to park. We exited the cab and agreed to meet back in the same spot in one hour. The ladies went their way and we made our way to the Medina. Indiana Jones' Raider of the Lost Ark was filmed here (as were numerous other films). Picture the marketplace scene, add drizzle and shopkeepers lining the narrow, slick cobblestone streets trying to get you to come into their shop and you have an idea of this place. Shaggy took these photos.

The buildings were very close together, some with awnings, the sky was blocked out and I was beginning to become claustrophobic. The roads were a maze and at one point I was worried we would not find our way out in time to catch our cab. Finally, after a couple quick and smart turns made by Shaggy, we saw sunlight again and an open area. The map I had brought was useless, as the merchants and their stalls covered the buildings we would have viewed. We made it back to the taxi and agreed (along with our Bulgarian friends) that we were done with the Medina. We drove from the city along a dam that was built by the Romans. The dam is in the middle of El Bahira (a 14 square mile lake that is between Tunis and the Harbor) and in addition to being a dam, it is now the highway from Tunis to Carthage. Carthage began its existence 817BC... and there is a lot of history here. There were 3 longs wars with Rome, the final one ended in 146BC when the city burned for 17 days. It is said that a curse was placed on this land so that no houses or crops would ever reside here again. Several attempts were made to build a city over the years with no success. Julius Caesar formed a new colony that prospered after his death. The ruins we saw are from this time frame. This once was the Cathedral of Saint Louis and after having been restored, is the Cultural Center.

We passed the Presidential Palace (taxi driver telling us NOT TO TAKE PHOTOS) that had soldiers with big guns lining the street.
We were also treated to a visit to a new Mosque in Carthage. Thankfully I had our scarves as the Bulgarian ladies had to wear coats over their heads. Our taxi driver was very kind in explaining the building itself as well as the rituals of the Muslim faith. It was very interesting and very
beautiful!

From here, we drove up a hill to the village of Sidi Bou Said. We stopped at an outside cafe and had a soda and a potty break.

It is a lovely place with white buildings with brightly colored doors. The sky was a beautiful blue, there were trees and flowers and the merchants were very friendly and not over bearing at all.

Lollipop Pop even got a neat bangle bracelet with her name stamped in Arabic on it.
After being returned to the ship, we were greeted by a row of camels just waiting to take tourists on a walk next to the ship...not very authentic, but the girls had to do it. I have photos of them, but haven't found the card yet, so you will have to take my word for it. Hubby also was kicked in the ankle by said camel. Ouch!
While not my favorite port, we did enjoy Tunisia. We can say that we learned a lot and that we have been on the continent of Africa!
Up next, Naples and Pompeii.

2 comments:

Farmchick said...

I find this stop on your adventure very interesting!! Still a great learning experience, even if it was not your favorite. Can't wait for the pics of Pompeii.

Twisted Fencepost said...

Interesting place.
Isn't it funny how we feel uncomfortable in other cultures? Imagine how they feel coming to our country? Wonder if they feel uncomfortable, or they feel free? Hmmmm...something to think about.