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in Mahdia, Tunisia

sunny 14 °C

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Walking along Mahdia's shoreline road, heading to the point called "Cap Afrique"

In this post, Jenn breaks her silence! She was finally not too busy with all the other planning details of this trip...

Jan 23- Feb 2

(Jenn)

Given the four hour train ride, we "splurged" ($8 each) on first class tickets to Mahdia. We appeared to have seats but discovered the reality was a free-for-all once on the train. The train was comfortable enough but we were all sitting separately and as the windows were extremely grubby, it wasn't the most scenic of rides.

When we got to Mahdia we were met by Fathi Turki, the manager for our rental flat. He was very nice and spoke enough English that we were able to muddle through on our broken French. He saw us settled in and pointed out the nearest minimarket. The weather was really beginning to act up so we made a quick trip and got enough food in to see us through dinner and breakfast the next morning. Once home, we were thrilled to batten down the hatches and avail ourselves of the collection of English DVDs. As the wind howled and construction materials flew around the neighbourhood, we snuggled in, hunkered down with -- much to Anica's delight -- Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire.

The next morning, we headed north to the main street where we thought we might find the Magasin General. We would have more certain if we'd actually been able to print out the map Stefan -- one of the owners -- had sent us :P

Cacthing sight of the sea in the distance, we walked to the boardwalk, marvelling at the amount of foam and sand which had made it over the barriers, the waves still crashing against the rocks in the distance. It was another stormy windy day and aside from getting more provisions in, we weren't particularly interested in doing anything except getting back to the flat and hunkering down again.

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That first windy day, in Mahdia. The weather was perfect after that!

With nary a internet cafe in sight, we walked until we found the supermarket. Once there, we despaired at finding it in the throes of an 80% sale which left the shelves mostly empty, bought what we could, for about a third of Canadian grocery prices, and started wandering back to the flat. On the way, we found another small minimarket, bought some eggs and harissa -- spicy chili garlic spread, which we had to convince the proprietor we really did want -- and capped everything off with a huge still-warm baguette purchased from a nearby bakery.

On Friday, we walked into the downtown area, prepared for market day. Or so we thought. We'd assumed that the usual market would simply be larger or fuller or more active. Not so. Market day in Mahdia means the market starts about a block from our flat and continues for a good fifteen minutes of walking, up and down every side street and way past the permanent market. From what we saw, you could easily furnish your whole home if needed.

We, on the other hand, were not looking to furnish a home. Instead, we bought popcorn, carrots, onions, potatoes and a dozen merguez (spicy) sausages. We marvelled at the cow heads set out in front of the butchers as proof of freshness. And the bunnies in their cages, the tiles behind the discreet barrier wall spattered with the blood of those already bought.

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The Silence of the Bunnies, admired by Jenn and Anica

The batches of octopuses looked interesting but I had no clue what I would do with them or indeed, most of the other seafood on offer. And I'd already informed Rob that if our chicken came with a head and feet, it was off the menu. But only if I personally had to remove those parts :P

Walking home, we found an internet cafe... finally! but alas, we were laden with groceries and decided to come back the next day...

Saturday, we walked out to the end of the Cap D'Africa and clambered among the ruins, watching the waves drown the rocks, washing ashore hundreds of jellyfish. It was amazing and the working lighthouse and huge Muslim cemetary only added to the atmosphere.

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Waves on the rocks of Cap D'Africa

Sadly, we discovered that the internet cafe was closed (despite everything else being open). Thwarted, we resigned ourselves to finding something on our day trip to Sousse on Monday.

Lo and behold though, Rob discovered it was open on Sunday. He came home from his walk to inform me that the computers were all equipped with French keyboards and indeed, that was the case. Now, if you've never used a French keyboard, you might wonder what the big deal is. Well.. we've been travelling for almost six months now and never seen anything other than QWERTY keyboards, even when they've been set to other languages. On French keyboards, each key has four functions. The first bottom left one requires you to do nothing but press the key. The top left one requires you press shift. The top right one needs the alt+grav shift pressed and the bottom right needs the right shift key. On top of that, the m is marooned by itself on the far right of the keyboard and the q is where the a usually is and everything that normally needs a shift at home doesn't and vice versa. Needless to say, this made for a very interesting and amusing time in getting even a couple of emails out.

On Monday, we decided to check out El Jem instead and leave Sousse for the following day. We followed the map Stefan gave us and wandered off in the direction indicated for the louage station. No such luck but we managed to ask a man passing by and he was extremely kind and not only showed us the station, but walked us there, got us in the right van and made sure we knew exactly how much the fare was and that the amount was for all three of us.

Louages are shared taxis. Consisting of Peugeot vans, they take eight passengers and the driver and only leave for their destination when full or when the existing passengers agree to split the full fare between them. Both times, our louages had their full number of passengers within minutes and we were off. For the three of us, we got to El Jem and back for under $10.

The louage to El Jem took 40 minutes and was quite a pleasant ride. When we got there, we were dropped off at the Louage station and made our way to the amphitheatre. The amphitheatre is the largest of its kind in Africa and third in size to the Colosseum but much better preserved. It is huge and in its heyday, seated 30000 spectators.

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El Jem's Roman amphitheatre

The accompanying museum (included on the same ticket but a good walk down the main street) was equally fascinating -- at least for us, since we have yet to weary of Roman monuments. Anica was getting a little tired of mosaics but we thought them not overwhelming in number and were thrilled to see the "reconstituted" Roman villa behind the museum, especially as most of the sites we have seen so far have been lacking in any evidence of residences.

Two hours later, we decided we'd exhausted El Jem and we grabbed another louage back home. "Sousse?" one driver asked us as we entered the station (little more than a large square parking lot full of similar-looking vans). "Non, Mahdia," we replied. "Ici!" another driver cried, waving us over to his van. One gentleman was already inside and two minutes later, another three and a woman joined us and we were off.

The day following our trip to El Jem, we made another day-trip, this one to Sousse. Sousse turned out to be a lovely town, much larger than Mahdia. We walked along the waterfront, checked out the Olive Museum, had lunch at a local cafe -- our first meal out in almost a week -- and walked through the Medina. Our "let's walk along the walls" adventurous spirit was cut short by our running into the red light district at the north-eastern corner. Prostitutes hanging out of houses with their breasts half-bared and dancing naked in their foyers hoping to entice men in? Who knew you could find all that in a Muslim country? Well, we would have if we'd /really/ looked at our Rough Guide since printed across that section of the map in bold caps was RED LIGHT. Oops :P

Our last stop was the Ribat where we climbed the walls and tower and marvelled at the views and the blueness of the water and sky. Absolutely gorgeous.

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The tower at Sousse's Ribat, which we climbed up

We headed home fairly early, made dinner and watched another one of the DVDs so thoughtfully supplied by the apartment's owners.

Wednesday saw our sunniest and warmest day in Tunisia yet with temperatures that likely hit 18C. We walked from our apartment in town out along the beach to the very end of the touristic zone, laughing as we went at the few brave souls who dared to stick themselves in the water or try and tan on the beach. Having reached the end, we wandered through one of the busiest-looking hotels hoping for a spot of lunch but none was to be had. We considered grabbing a taxi and then decided to at least walk back to the boardwalk. Good thing we did. Right at the edge, we spotted a restaurant called Romantica which proclaimed itself a pizzeria. The windows were tinted so we couldn't see in but we watched one man go in and another come out and that was enough to convince us there might be food to be had. And was there! We'd stumbled on one of the best-kept secrets in Mahdia, a hoppingly busy restaurant with cheap, amazing food and nary a tourist -- except us -- in sight. Yum!

Thursday saw another day trip, this one to Monastir by train. We walked along the beach, climbed out onto the rocks, toured the medina, took photos of the Ribat (very similar to the one in Sousse), confirmed our Monday flight at the Tunisair office, grabbed some groceries at the Monoprix, bemoaned Mahdia's lack of a Monoprix, walked around the Marina and had lunch, not at the Marina, but at the medina. Same menus, /much/ cheaper prices.

Once again, we headed home fairly early, arriving back in Mahdia at 3 pm. We walked up to our neighbourhood boulangerie and bought a baguette and some pastries, Anica did some homework, we made dinner and watched King Kong.

Friday was spent doing laundry (which we dried via an unusual combination of outside laundry line and inside radiators). All in all, we ate out three times during our 10 nights in Mahdia and cooked for ourselves otherwise. After /months/ of restaurants, with the exception of some time in Goa, home-cooked meals seemed like a real luxury.

Jan 22-27

(Rob)

A few days ago we took the train to Mahdia, a small; Tunisian city, where we had a flat booked for ten days. Its worked out nicely, especially since it was a bit of a gamble, being so far off the beaten path. For starters, we were met at the train station by the apartment manager, a man by the name of Fathi Turki. We had prepared for this in advance by calling him Fluffy Turkey amongst ourselves, thus getting it out of our system.

What we hadn't counted on was arriving in gale-force winds! We really battened down the hatches, and luckily they were sturdy wooden shutters with metal bars to lock them closed on the inside, because it didn't let up until the next day. Everything that could bang or rattle outside, did, for the whole night. And there's of junk to rattle. Mahdia seems like many of the places we've been in the developing world: you can't tell what's being built versus what's being torn down. Rubble and rebar. Some lots looked like they've just been bombed, and some buildings look permanently unfinished. Even our building, as nice as it is, with its cutely-named flats (Le Mimosa is ours), still has unfinished upper floors.

Mostly we have holed up in the flat, devouring the English-language DVDs and novels they have here. Weve done our own shopping and cooking; there are plenty of convenience stores, patisseries, boulangeries, etc. in the neighborhood. To add local flavour, we bought a fresh tub of harissa, baguettes every day (carried home in my bare hand of course, not in a shopping bag), and some merguez sausages that Jenn cooked up on the stove.

Our nearest living neighbours are the sheep grazing in the empty lot next door. There's a horse tethered in another empty lot down the street. Another time chickens crossed the road in front of our house. Why? A common sight are the horse-carts: flat-bedded carts with huge shock absorbers, rolling down the street on their oversize wheels.

Although the standard greeting here is is in Arabic (Salam), there is just as much French, so we are still working hard to communicate. It's either make youself understood in French, or give up, because practically no-one speaks English.

Friday was market day, and that was quite a sight. The downtown streets of Mahdia are lined with vendors, as if the town becomes a giant flea market once a week. We preferred the regular market, with its produce hall, its seafood hall (octopus seemed to feature prominently), and its butchers (who like to advertise the freshness of their beef by displaying the heads of the cows on the countertops). There was also a cage full of cute, plump bunnies hopping around. But what happened behind the brick half wall? Anyway, our supermarkets in North America like to disguise the process for the most part. It would take a lot of imagination to picture the living origin of our pre-packaged meat.

Saturday we walked out to the lighthouse point. Mahdia is on a pennisula, tapering where a lighthouse stands, surrounded by a Muslim cemetary, and the barely-detectable ruins of a Mamluk fort. It's about a three kilometre walk, and on the way we examined the hundreds of jellyfish washed up on the beach and in tide-pools.

Back in town, we passed again through the "Skifa," a long, vaulted gate that was once the only entrance into the Medina. Although its legendary defenses are long gone, its an impressively medieval and atmopheric landmark.

Jan 28

(Rob)

We set out today to find the "louage" station, and get a ride to El Jem. A "louage" is a very common way to get around in Tunisia; it's basically a mini-van operating as a shared taxi. When eight passengers seeking a common destination have gathered, off they go. Naturally, this informal arrangement made our scheduled, Canadian selves pretty nervous

It couldn't have worked out better, however. We didn't even have a map to the louage station (depot? meeting point?), but I asked the first guy we saw on the street where it was, and he took us there, found out the price, wrote it on his hand to show us, and explained what to do). All in French, but still, very clear. More random kindness, with profuse "mercis" from us.

We were waiting not even two minutes, when the minivan had filled up, and, unceremoniously, the driver hopped in, and off we went!

El Jem is a small town, and to this day its "skyline" is dominated by the Roman coliseum built in the 3rd century. Anica couldn't wait to climb up her seventh Roman amphitheatre. This one was special due to its size alone: it once held 30,000 spectators. Only Rome's is bigger, and the facade at El Jem is in better condition. You walk through the vaulted corridors that were once the entrance and exitways, so much like a modern football stadium. The original seating is mostly eroded away (and/or was carried away). The unexpected treat was getting to go under the arena to the cells and corridors where the gladiators and animals were kept.

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A section of El Jem's amphitheatre, taken from the inside

Jan 29

(Rob)

Sousse today, another town on the Sahel Pennisula. We got there by commuter train, an easy process on the way down, although much busier on the way back. Sousse has a very well-preserved Medina; the wall is intact almost the whole way around. We set out, in fact, to explore simply by walking around the whole of the wall on the inside. It started out well, with the road heading steeply uphill, away from the harbour. Great views looking back. As we walked past another gateway, however, we entered what we quickly determined was the red light district. We thought we could just pass through it, but as it got more and more Amsterdam-ish, people starting motioning to us that we should turn around and go back. One "worker" started to walk alongside us, chatting me up. I didn't get to practice my bargaining skills, however. Anica had a few questions about what was going on, but took it all in stride, of course. Jenn and I were surprised, perhaps naively, that such prostituion would be so obvious in a Muslim country. But it is the oldest profession, and the Medina is very old!

We got a great view of the whole Medina, well away from the red light district, from the top of the Ribat. A ribat is a garrison, where the soldiers are scholars if peacetime allows. We peered through the slats at the gateway where boiling oil could be poured down on invaders, or metal grills dropped to trap only slightly less welcome guests. This ribat goes back to the 8th century and looks it, despite the fact it's been rebuilt so many times. The tower we climbed had a narrow, stone staircase.

Jan 30

(Rob)

We walked out the beach today to the "zone touristique." Once we entered the zone, would we be allowed to leave again and live like locals?

It was a great day for a walk along the shore. It was 16 degrees celsius and sunny, warm enough that a few of the dedicated sun-worshippers at the sparsely-populated resorts (it's about as off-season as you can get) were out. Nobody was braving the water, though.

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Best stretch of beach in Tunisia?

We ignored the resort food, and stumbled upon a local restaurant on the way back. It was packed, we had great food, and the bill only came to about ten dollars Canadian.

Jan 31

(Rob)

By commuter train again, we visisted Monastir today. We had a nice lunch, got some errands done, and otherwise it was "same same." Beautiful clear waters, a ribat, a medina, a marina, a grand mosque,etc. The highlight was climbing on the unusual rock formations that stick out from the shore. Anica's loving her camera these days, especially the video function. She made a video out on those rocks that could make anyone seasick!

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From out on the rocks, looking back to shore and Monastir's Ribat

Feb 1-3

(Rob)

Hung out in Mahdia, took train back to Tunis, went back to Sidi Bou Said for another visit. Different hotel this time in Tunis...much cheaper, but still okay.

Jan 23

(Anica)

"To Mahdia"

Today we went on a very exciting, but long train ride to Mahdia. We were in first class, one down from comfort class and one up from economy/second class. I read, and watched a movie and listened to music on the i-pod. When we got to Mahdia train staion we saw Fluffy Turkey! (His real name is Fathi Turki). When we saw our kitchen and two bedrooms and bathroom, we went out in the take-you-off-your-feet-wind! It lasted for 16 hours! Even by the next day...

Jan 24

(Anica)

"The Search for a supermarket?! And a very windy day"

...the wind was strong. Just as strong as yesterday's. But we decided we had to do/get groceries. We went on a very long (not really though) walk to that road. We even sqa waves coming over the sea gate/barrier and sea foam. We finally saw the market, got groceries, went home, had lunch, watched Stardust, had dinner, G.N.

Jan 25

(Anica)

"Market Day"

Today we went to the market. The big market was spread all over the road! We got popcorn, sausiges, and veggies. After the big, huge, humonges market, we went through the gateway to Mahdia!! Then we walked home, played Polly cars for a bit, had dinner, watched Mrs. Doubtfire, G.N.

Jan 26

(Anica)

Today we went on a walk. We saw a lighthouse, big waves (huge) ruins and humonges tide pools. We also saw lots of Jellyfish! The posainus kind. We also climbed a sea gate, walked through a Muslim cemetary, went home, had dinner, G.N.

Jan 28

(Anica)

"El Jem Day: the world's biggest amaphitre if you x out Rome's!"

Today we saw a kittcat get squashed. It was very sad. Then we saw the big louage staion. We got in a long but exciting ride to El Jem. (Gravol taken, luckily). When we got there and got out El Jem reminded me of India. No cows walking around the street or beggars or hockers, but lots of dust. We walked down to El Jems amphitheatre. History: "The extraordinary amphitheatre at El Jem, midway between Sousse and Sfax is the single most impressive Roman monument in Africa, its effect---" Sorry, my hands hurting got to stop! We walkedd up lots of steps to get to the top/ Then we went to this great arcalogical mueseam with mosiacs and its own ruins! But they were small. Took a louage back, went home, had dinner. G.N.

Jan 29

(Anica)

"Sousse"

Today we went to Sousse. I did not like Sousse that much/ The train ride there was boring. But that's all, I guss! When we where walking to the olive mueseam there was a not-used train track that you could walk on! Also a preatty local beach. When we got to the olive museam we saw diagrams and real olives and chickens (!) We also tried olive oil plain and rosemary olive oil. Then we had lunch at this art cafe. "It seemed local." Then we walked along the inside wall of the medina, till we got to a sex area and turned back. I got a fake cobra (P.S. Sherry, I am not going to scare you with it in Ireland because it moves!) Then went on a stopped train ride back, had a very yummy dinner, G.N.

Jan 30

(Anica)

"Zone Touristic"

Today we walked down to the preatty, clear-watered beach. The waves and water were preatty, very clear. The walk down to the beach was long and hot. By the time we got down to the end of the (pretty nice) zone touristic, it was almost lunch time so found this place called Romantica, and me and Dad shared a half-chicken with...fries, 3 salads, rice, and bread. Dizaster! All that food, but good food... Walked back, rested, had dinner, G.N.

Jan 31

(Anica)

Today we started out the nice day by going on a stinky train. IT was very stinky only after we stopped at a staion. When we arivved at the been-before Monastir train staion; we saw a Monoprix supermarket and got grocires to take back. Then since Dad had brought the postcards we sent them and walked down to the most clearest water beach I'd ever seen! Then walked up really neat rocks, and walked down to the big boats docked at the marina. Went to a very yummy restraunt (name not remembered), went home, played, had dinner, G.N.

Posted by jennrob 07:08 Archived in Tunisia Comments (5)

French Immersion

...Tunisian Style

sunny 15 °C

Jan 18-19

(Rob)

We landed in Tunis yesterday, and found ourselves immersed in a French-speaking culture. This was quite a shock, because we've been coasting on English, and a few simple phrases since China (where there was really no English). So how much will we remember of our high-school French? A couple of times, when people have found out we're Canadians, they've asked "why aren't you speakng French all the time?" Alas, we're not from the French-speakng part of Canada!

Tunis, and the area we've seen around it, represents quite a change from Jordan. Especially considering both Jordan and Tunisia are 99% Arab-Muslim. Tunisia, though, is far more Meditterean-looking than it is Middle-Eastern. The French influence is so obvious, not just in language, but in the look of our hotel's neighborhood. There's a grid of streets, centered on a long avenue with a ficus-lined pedestrian mall running down the middle. To our eyes, it's Paris! It's amazing how reinvigorating a change of scenery can be. We've been pretty busy on the Egypt tour and then in Jordan with Jenn's Dad, but our first impression of Tunis has us itching to explore.

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View looking the balcony of our room, Carlton Hotel, Tunis

The Carlton Hotel we were not as thrilled with initially, but we're warming to it. Breakfast helped. Again, the French influence: good pastry, good baguette, good coffee (not Nescafe!).

Today, we decided to head out to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said on the commuter train. Buying and asking for everything in French has worked out so far, but this was more ambitious. It turned out to be a great day, though the amount we walked was also ambitious.

Carthage is a beautiful, wealthy suburb of white-washed villas now, and dotted among these are the ruins. From the ruins of Roman Carthage, high on a hilltop, we could see the Punic ruins (i.e. Carthage) below. Rome had completely destroyed Carthage in 146 B.C., yet chose the same location to build an ambitious new town in during the time of Julius Caesar. The groundskeeper (since we were the only ones there) showed us how they're still discovering human bones from the Roman destruction, and - he claims - you can still smell the smoke from when the city burned. He even showed us part of a child's skull: Alas, poor Yorrick! I knew him!

Anica climbed to the top of her sixth Roman amphitheatre in Carthage, too. From the top, we got a good view of the huge new mosque, built in honour of Ben Ali, the president since 1987. It holds 12,000 people, and has a lovely minaret quite unlike what we'd seen at other mosques.

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Roman bath complex at Carthage, now a suburb of Tunis

A highlight of the Roman ruins at Carthage are the baths. It's a huge complex. Only the basement level remains, but that's enough to show how the largest bath would be bigger than an Olympic-size swimming pool. Even the basement required impressive vaulted ceilings. From these baths, you can look out over the sea and to mountains in the distance.

We hopped back on the TGM train, and got off three stops later at Sidi Bou Said. We'd already walked all over Carthage, with its hills, but Sidi Bou Said is also built on a hillside (cliff, practically), so we were just getting started! It's a beautiful, affluent community, that has strictly maintained its "blue doors and white walls" building code to give it an instantly recognizable look. Anica even noticed the exact door (out of hundreds) that is on the "Rough Guide to Tunisia" cover!

After walking along the main shopping road at the top of the hill, we took stairs down to the marina, then climbed back up again. Anica definitely keeps up the pace on these hikes, I must admit. She doesn't whine any more than we do!
'
For dinner, we had some quintessential Tunisian fare. Jenn and/ I had cous-cous; hers was with merguez (spicy sausage). Anica had "brik," which is a greasy kind of egg and pastry thing. When the waiter brought bread, I asked: "harissa?" and he seemed pleased. Harissa is a spicy red paste that we read is usually not offered to tourists, but that Tunisians spread on everything. We had it on our bread, and it is spicy, but we like spicy food, so yum! Prices for food seem pretty cheap so far in Tunisia, and they were here even in flashy Sidi Bou Said. It's a gorgeous town in a spectacular cliffside-seaside setting, and it was a great way to end our first full day in Tunisia.

Jan 20

(Rob)

After breakfast this morning we set out for the Bardo Museum by Metro Train. The Metro is like a subway system that somebody forgot to put underground. When I first saw it suddenly rocketing around corners in the downtown, I actually looked down to check that it was on tracks! We asked the ticket-seller (in French, of course) which platform was the one for the Bardo. He pointed us across the way, and we thanked him. A couple of minutes later, he came running over. "It's number four, mister," he told us. Since more than one train came by at the same platform, he left his booth and found us just to make sure we didn't get on the wrong one! It's the small kindnesses like that, far beyond what could possibly be expected, that have helped sustain our positive feelings about travelling. Something like that has happened in every country. What a wonderful world.

The Bardo has an incredible collection of Roman mosiacs as its major claim to fame. The museum includes what was once palatial quarters for the "Bey," or nominal ruler of pre-independence Tunisia. We bought a guidebook, and followed it, expecting the English labelling to be hit-and-miss.

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Inside the Bardo Museum

The mosaics, in particular, were truly impressive. It makes you realize how extensively and beautifully the Romans built in North Africa. In the "Virgil Room," part of the Bey's old apartment, there's the oldest-known artistic representation of the poet Virgil, shown in mosiac flanked by the muses of History (Clio, one of my two favourites) and Tragedy. It's almost completely intact, and showcased well in a room with a white, stucco, vaulted ceiling. Except I've never seen stucco like this! It's carved in delicate, filigree-like Islamic patterns.

Other mosiacs were impressive by their sheer size or by the surprising nature of the subject matter (like blood dripping in red tiles from a lion being gutted by a gladiator). A 5th century AD mosiac called the "Julius" depicts all sorts of aspects of his estate and the events of a typical year, a lovely primary source of history.

Aside from mosiacs, there's an extensive collection of artifacts recovered from a ship that wrecked in the first century. There's statues of dancing dwarfs, candelabras, beds, and marble statues.

A couple of school groups were visiting the museum today. One time, while we were sitting on a bench, looking at our guidebook, a group of three girls, perhaps twelve years old, slowly and nervously approached Anica, with big smies on their faces. "Bonjour," they each said. One by one, they kissed her on the cheek, as if it was some kind of tweener Papal audience. "So nice...pretty" they said, and left. ,

After several hours at the museum, we enjoyed a late lunch at a street-side patio cafe. Sunday seems to be the day a lot of stores are closed in Tunis, so we took it easy, too, today.

Jan 21

The part of Tunis are hotel's in, is the "new city," laid out by the colonizing French in a simple grid, dominated by a Champs-Elysses style boulevard. At the end of that street, sitting at an odd angle, is an archway with Arab inscriptions that signals an entrance to "The Medina," the old city. No grid here, just a spiderwebbing of narrow lanes. It's like entering a dense forest. Fanghorn! So we took it in that spirit: we put the map away and just decided to wander the Medina, with its many souks and mosques, for a few hours. As we walked deeper in, I could see the stalls becoming less touristry and more devoted to the traditional trades. There were the goldsmiths, the fez-makers, the bon-bon makers, or even just a street name that was a reminder of the Medina in the past, like "rue des teincturiers." We were content to just photograph doorways. Nobody has to tell you they're famous; they draw the eye intrinsically. Anica loved choosing her favourites to photograph. There was no traffic other than pedestrian traffic. Oh, and the occasional baby-stroller, filled with candy and cigarettes. You shouldn't take candy from a baby, but here you can buy it from a man wheeling it around in a pram.

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"There must be some kinda way outta here.." Deep in the Tunis Medina

After about an hour of wandering, our aimlessness caught up with us and we were hi-jacked by an enthusiastic elderly gentleman who wanted to show us the "real, hidden, old Medina," or words to that effect in French. As he hurriedly pointed out sight after sight, all three of us started murmuring "he's going to ask for money." But it was interesting enough, and I asked him what his profession was (hint, hint) and he said "textiles." After he showed us a couple of mosques, a synagogue, a "hand of Fatima" door-knocker, and many other photo-worthy curiousities, he deftly said "as for the tip, if varies. Some give 15, some 20. It's up to you." I played dumb, citing friendliness, mentioning his job was in textiles, not tourism, and finally emptied my change pocket in order to end the charade: it amounted to less than one dinar. Well, we knew if was coming! Too bad he proved us right, because, unlike the random act of kindness yesterday, he's the kind of man who makes it difficult to trust others.

Back on our own, we bought new shoes for Anica, a process that included extensive conversation, entirely in French. It's not good French on our part, especially the verb tenses, but we're definitely getting by. One of the hardest things is the Tunisian money. It takes a thousand millimes to make a diinar, like an extra place column. I've been getting confused when I hear a price spoken (in French, mind you) like "eleven and eight hundred." Huh? Well, that would be 11.800 or eleven dinars and eight hundred millimes. Seeing it written is better, because you just drop a zero, but most of the prices aren't labelled.

A little bit about lunch: once again great shwarma sandwiches. These had all sorts of diced things, such as radishes, tomatoes and onions, mixed in, and had a complement of french fries spilling out of the bun and across the plate. Much better than the "fries hidden within the sandwich" style we've seen. Anica's a huge shwarma fan now; she wanted it again for dinner!

We also took the Metro today to Belvedere Park, which on the map looks like Tunis' answer the Hyde Park or Central Park. Tunis must be parkially-challenged, however. Belvedere Park is big, but its "lake" has dried up to what would better be described as a puddle, and they're aren't a lot of wide open spaces otherwise. We did come nose-to-nose with some reindeer, in what might have been a outside fence of the zoo. They were quite used to people, pushing their mouths through the chain links, expecting us to feed them.

What made the park special for Anica, though, was a huge banyan tree, great for climbing. Three of its thickest branches drooped way down so that couples could just walk up and sit on them, with a slight bouncing give like giant, natural rocking chairs. On the other side of the tree, its thick wooden vines converged in a tangle that you could climb up inside. Can you tell I enjoyed climbing the tree, too?

Jenn spent the time talking with three young women, who heard us speaking English and wanted some practice. Their first language was Arabic, and second French, but they'd taken English at university. They were very interested in our travel, lifestyle, and options for employment. Jenn changing careers was something they envied. All three would be qualified teachers in a year, but if that didn't suit them, there was little chance of retraining.

Anica said today that her favourite "activity" on the trip has been visiting the churches, mosques, and temples. She said it's just so fascinating to see how people pray, and who they pray to, and how the places are decorated. She likes Islam the best, if she had to choose, because they don't show God, so it doesn't ruin what you imagine. She likes how they fast during Ramadan, to know how poor people feel when they're hungry. She likes the mosques because of the minarets. How do you become a Muslim, Dad? I said it's really easy, but wait until we've seen some of the great cathedrals in Europe!

Jan 22

More Medina today, including an overpriced peek at the Great Mosque (you only get to see the courtyard), and a narrow escape from being "guided." We did manage to find the Museum of Popular Tradition, housed in an old palace, at the far side of the Medina. Anica, in particular, likes seeing these kind of museums, with lots of mannequins in costumes, and decorated period rooms. This one depicted life in the Tunis Medina at the end of the 19th century.

We've enjoyed Tunis, with its wide sidealks and street cafe culture in the New Town, and its labyrinthine souks in the Old Town. We've even browsed in all the French bookstores, bibliophiles that we are, and have been tempted to get something to try reading in French. The price for books, however, is too high here. We'll be on our way by train at noon tomorrow; our ticket's already been (painstakingly) purchased using our broken French.

Jan 19

(Anica)

Today we went to Carthage. MORE ROMAN RUINS!! But it was pretty, nice, big, and tireing. We saw and climbed my sixth amphitheatre! I'm very proud. And we saw a section of baths bigger than a Olympic pool! We also saw homes! Went to Cidy Bo Said (a place/city/town with white buildings and blue doors), had dinner. rode home on a train. G.N.
P.S. We saw the same door on the front of our guide (proud)

IMG_6968.jpg
The quintessential blue-and-white doorway style of Sidi Bou Said

Jan 20

(Anica)

"Bardo's Mosiacs or Mosques?"

Today again we had a delicous, yummy breakfst. Today we also rode the Tunis metro down to Bardo Museum. When we got to Bardo, we saw many mosaics. We saw one with people doing ploughing, sowing, brinig home the livestock, olive picking and hunting. We also saw one with the gods of the week: Luna (Monday), Mar (Tuesday), Mercury (Wednesday), Jupiter (Thursday), Venus (Friday), Sol (Saturday) and Satrun (Saturday). We also saw sirens in a mosiac. Neat. Had another exicting (but busy) ride. Had dinner. G.N.

Jan 21

(Anica)

"The Madina or Mahdia Day?!"

Today we walked threw the Madina of Tunis. The gate was very pretty. This guy also kept on finding us (which wa very annoying) and saying "go to the Great Mosque." "We-are-just-looking around. O.K!?" Diden't stop then! The half bazzarish/townish-like Medina was so busy! One time this guy took us all over the plae (without permisson from Mom) and asked for 16 Canadin doller tip?! Dad ave him less than a doller! Good, old, smart Dad! We also stormed off! Yay! Thenwe had a very delicius lunch of swamrha sandwhiches and fries. We als went to Belvedere park and climbed on a big Banyon tree! Fun. Went home for a very long time, talking about the day, playing, reading, sleeping, and lots more! Such as listening to a 1000 birds outside and taking a video.

Jan 22

(Anica)

"Back in the Medina!"

Today we went back through the pretty gate to the Madina. We also went to a pretty neat, old and not ruined Mousqe. We also went to a mueseam with a boys, girls, herbs and kids sectoins with tools, jewelarry and clothes. It was so neat! They also had school diorama (with a techer with a whip). Went home, rested, had dinner. G.N.

Posted by jennrob 08:35 Archived in Tunisia Comments (7)

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