Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Berber Tea in Tunisia

I'm not usually in the habit of getting up before dawn, but being on a ship with a sea view balcony beckoning seems to pull me out of bed earlier than usual. Again, I made it outside long before the ship made it into port. Glad I did. I spent about twenty minutes watching these two fishermen search for a place to drop their giant, rolled net. I think the three of us (and, presumably, the captain of the cruise ship) were the only ones awake.

Soon, we were pulling into port in Tunis. In typical Middle Eastern style, one of the first things you see (check the side of the building) is a giant picture of the country's president standing in front of the flag. When the DH and I visited Egypt a few years ago, we played a, "How Many Hosni Mubaraks Can You Count?" game as we went through downtown Cairo. I think we'd have been successful playing a similar game in Tunis.

After hopping off the ship, we boarded a bus for a guided tour. I'm generally a go-it-alone type, but figured that with the limited time we had in Tunis, and the limited research I'd managed ahead of time, a tour was in order. Our first stop was the historic Punic Ports. Today, it simply looks like a nice place to live (lots of gorgeous homes in this neighborhood), but I can imagine Hannibal leaving from here on one of his expeditions.

After walking along the waterfront, we made our way to the ruins of the ancient city of Carthage. I'd read that the ruins aren't that great; therefore, I was surprised by how much was actually still standing. You can climb down and walk through it all, then on to the waterfront to imagine how life must have been when this was a flourishing city.

I spent a good hour-plus, heat and all, exploring the ruins. Believe it or not, I actually had a picture taken at this stop!

From Carthage, we re-boarded the bus and went to explore an ancient ampitheatre, then went on to the St. Louis Cathedral to take in the view of the entire city of Tunis and its waterfront before heading to the touristy (but gorgeous) blue-and-white village of Sidi Bou Said. In Sidi, we opted to skip the shopping--which was where most tourists stopped--to wander the streets and admire the architecture. Wouldn't you love to live in a house with a front door like this one?

The entire village is filled with elaborate blue doors and windows adorned with fancy grillework. After walking through the park and peeking through alleyways at a few more buildings, we went to a Berber house that is open to visitors who want to take a tour and have some tea. While it was fairly touristy, I liked having the opportunity to see the layout and tilework of a Berber house. Despite the fact it was nearly a hundred degrees outside (it was about 2PM by this time), I couldn't resist trying the steaming hot Berber tea.

It was tasty, but given the heat, it wasn't hard to turn down the second cup! After enjoying the tea, I climbed up to the roof to take in the view across Sidi Bou Said, back toward Tunis. I stayed up there quite awhile, but only took a couple photos. I was too busy enjoying myself!

From there, we walked back to the bus. I didn't go into any of the shops, but did snap a photo of the outside of one, since I loved the colors of all the plates on display:

And I snapped a final photo of a gorgeous gate on one of the homes:

On the way back, our tour guide talked about the Tunisian system of government, the way its educational system works, and the role of women in Tunisia (more women than men in Tunisia pursue higher education...who knew?) I found it all fascinating.

My last photo of the day was taken just before sunset, looking back toward Tunis as the ship left the harbor. To the right of this island (with its phenomenal cliffs) was a huge wind farm. Our tour guide had mentioned that Tunis draws a lot of its power from the wind, so it was a nice way to finish the day to see the wind farm on departure.

If I'm fortunate enough to visit Tunisia again, I'll do it on my own. Tunis seemed pretty safe and easy to navigate, despite a lot of the overhyped warnings I'd read online before visiting. Most Tunisians speak at least some English and French, which means I'd be fine if I ever got lost--though sometimes, getting lost is when I have the most fun! If I were to go for more than a day, I'd try to arrange for one of the many tours out of town that go to the Roman ruins south of Tunis. I've heard that Dougga, in particular, is worth the drive.

Isn't it great when you leave a place with a head full of ideas for things you'll do next time you visit? In my mind, that's the mark of a successful trip!

Next stop: Italy!

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