Our hotel in Tunis was absolutely beautiful. This is our own little private courtyard.
Friday, August 29, 2008
We really thought it was gone forever so it was so exciting to finally see it. Also, to clarify for those of you following along (or delighting in our suffering...I'm looking at you Rob!) We had packed our carry-ons assuming our bag would get lost and we couldn't get it back til we returned to Tunis on Thursday. So, we had clothes, toiletries, books, etc. The only thing we forgot was Nicholas's swimsuit and sunscreen, which was easily bought. It actually worked out ok because we weren't lugging our heavy bag across the desert and to three different hotels in three nights at the beginning of our trip.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Before we left for our desert excursion we had a few hours in Tozeur to wonder around. We took a a carriage tour through the Palmeraie which is the second largest in the country with around 260,000 palm. In addition to date palm trees, the section we visited had bananas, fig trees, pomegranate, and orange trees.
The best part was at one point our very elderly guide suddenly started climbing one of the trees to retrieve some jasmine blossom for me. It was a little disarming but the jasmine did smell fantastic.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I took this on the way to the airport in New York City. It's the Waterfall Installation by Julienne Schaer and I had really wanted to see it. So, I took this as a good omen.
Monday, August 25, 2008
After a lazy morning and late breakfast, we went to visit the Zaytouna Mosque at the center of the medina. Non-muslims are allowed into the courtyard only at the beginning of the day. It was a really calm beautiful space in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of the medina.
We walked around a little bit more - the highlight of which was a little boy who walked up to us and exclaimed, "Bonjour! Un dinar?" Which is basically like saying, "Hello! Dollar?"
We went back and checked out of our hotel and headed to the airport. We decided to get there plenty early, since efficiency is not this country's strong suit. It took about an hour to get our boarding passes and get through customs and security.
There was a pretty interesting social experiment once we got to the gate called "How will Sarah deal with the crazy lax parenting of other cultures?" First, this fat dirty little boy sat behind me and proceeded to knock his chair into mine. When I pushed it away, he turned around and hit me exclaiming "NO POUSSEZ!" I literally didn't even know where his parents were to give them an are-you-kidding me expression.
However, that was nothing compared to another woman who proceeded to change her preschooler's very dirty diaper on a nearby table and then leave the wipes laying there!!! I was beyond horrified and had to warn another woman (who happened to be American) who sat down beside it to eat her lunch not realizing what they were.
Once we got on the flight there were no other run-ins thank goodness and we made it to London and then JFK without incident. More importantly, our bag made it too! For those with good memories, that means Tunisair couldn't deliver our bag with an almost 9 hour layover in London but Virgin Atlantic managed to do it with only an hour and a half. God save the Queen!
We stayed the night with Dan and Laura and were up late telling tales of cultural mishaps and looking at pictures.
We're going to meet my friend Dave for breakfast tomorrow morning then we take the Bolt Bus home. We will hopefully be on our own couch with our sweet dog by 4.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Today was our last full dau in Tunisia and it was great.
We hired a driver to take us to the city of El Jem to see the ancient Roman colosseum. It is a bit smaller but much better preserved than the one in Rome - as in we could walk in the corridors on the top level preserved.
If we thought the sarcophagi were difficult to take in, this was mind-blowing. It was so beautiful but also overwhelming to think of how many people flowed through the corridors or for that matter how many came in to the arena and never left.
We wondered around the colosseum for a while then walked over to the archeological museum, which had amazing mosiacs and a restored roman villa with the original mosiac floors. It was all completely amazing and a great end to what I'm deeming the ancient portion of our trip.
We had a quick lunch in El Jem where I had my last brick l'ouef and then we headed home.
Once back at our hotel, we checked out the computer and TV, which we had just discovered before we left. I was probably more excited than reasonable about email access, although my excitement was dampered a bit by the arabic keyboard.
We went out on the town for our last dinner in Tunis and had chicken couscous (of course!). We had coffee and desert on the hotel rooftop deck overlooking the city as we listened to the final call to prayer of the evening.
All in all the perfect last day.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
We took it easy this morning and didn't leave for Carthage until almost 11. We took the suburban train line out there, which was a pretty quick trip.
We hiked up Bysra hill once we got there and took in the amazing view and the musuem. Nicholas said it and I completely agree that it is really difficult to comprehend how old everything is. We were looking at these two stone syrcophagi from the 4th century BC and neither of us could wrap our brains around the objects in front of us being 2400 years old, partcularly since we've only been alive 1/100th of that time.
After leaving the museum we walked down to the Antonine Baths, which were the remains of a huge Roman bath complex. It was gorgeous set against the deep azure blue of the water.
Next, we took the train a few stops up to Sidi Bou Said, a very chic beach community. We hiked all the way to the top before realizing the only ATMs were at the bottom of the hill. We had a very frustrating 30 minutes searching out cash but Amen Bank came to our rescue - and the choir said amen!
After taking a taxi back to the top, we enjoyed some very tasty local donuts and a relaxing rest at the cafe. We attempted to eat at one of the local restaurants we'd heard a lot about but they weren't going to serve us for several hours.
So we took a VERY hot train ride back to Tunis and stopped at the local Monoprix for dinner provisions. After much needed showers, we had dinner in our room and went to bed early.
Tomorrow is our last full day here and we've hired a driver to take us to El Jem to see the Roman amphitheater.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Whoops. Pressed send instead of save.
Anyway, we arrived in Tunis around 11 and were beyond surprised when our bag showed up too!
We took a cab to the medina and checked into our hotek, the Dar El Medina. It is a converted 19th century mansion run by the family who has lived here for generations. Our room is completely lovely and we have the neighboring courtyard all to ourselves.
We set out for the mosque and surrounding markets after we had settled in to the hotel. It was like something out of a movie. We walked around and tried to take it all in - the objects, people, sights, smells. We bought some souvenirs and I think we only got ripped off once. We had the hang of bargaining. It goes something like this.
Seller: 50 dinar
Me: How bout 10 dinar?
Seller: IMPOSSIBLE! 40 dinar only. Best price all medina.
Me: 10 dinar
Seller: no no no
Me: Ok thanks!
(Walk away, get about 6 feet)
Seller: Ok! 10 dinar!
That's pretty much how's been everytime. The inefficiency of it kind of wears me out. Just tell me up front how much and save everyone the time, but I guess it's all about the experience.
We stopped for a long lunch at Dar Bel Hadj, which was wonderful. The best part was we met our first American! We overheard her speaking english and introduced ourselves. She was a Texan visiting her Tunisian boyfriend and his family and just like Americans at home she asked us how we ended up in Tunisia.
We went back to the hotel for a while then walked around the medina and ville nouveau a bit. We went to the top of a nearby hotel and took in a panoramic view of the city which was amazing.
We had dinner that night at a beautiful restaurant Essaraya, where the atmosphere was more amazing than the food. I had the kackabou, which was fish with tomatoes, capers, and olives and it was delicious. Nicholas had the Rough Guide recommended mloukhia, and - how do I say this politely? - it tasted better than it looked. It was so ridiculous we both had to fight back giggles.
We headed back to the hotel and after an exhausting day went to bed early.
Tomorrow we head out to the suburbs of Carthage and Sidi Bou Said.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Today was amazing.
I woke up and had a lovely breakfast by the pool. Then I went to the hotel spa and had a massage. It was wonderfully relaxing, although for any of you who have only had massage in the U.S. let me warn you there are differing levels of modesty. The masseuse stayed in the room while I got undressed and had me lay on my back without the sheet for much of the massage. It was very different, but I never felt uncomfortable.
After the massage, I had a thallasotherapy, which is basically sea water hydrotherapy. I got in a big tub of sea water and the attendant sprayed me down under the water with high power saltwater jets. It felt great and my skin felt fabulous afterwards.
Once I was finished, I joined Nicholas by the pool where we swam and hung out for most of the morning.
Then we had lunch...on the beach.
I took a nap...on the beach.
We read for hours...on the beach.
Noticing a patten? :)
We swam in the ocean for a while then decided to turn in because Nicholas was getting a little pink.
The day just kept getting better because we called that afternoon and our bag had arrived! Miracle of miracles! Nicholas had decided it was lost forever so we were pretty excited. It had like three rush tags on it which clearly meant nothing but oh well. The customs officer who checked us out was very excited that we were American and at one point asked for my passport so he could just check flip though and admire it.
We came back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We went out to the main town on the island (Houmt Souk) for dinner, this time armed with reservations for Restaurant Haroun. It was one of the nicest restaurants we've eaten at since being here. Clearly aimed at tourists, it had performers throughout the night. The food was really good and atmosphere fun so it was great end to a great day.
Tomorrow morning we head back to Tunis.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
We woke up this morning and set out for Matmata. The trip took a little over an hour and we stopped at a berber village along the way where I encountered my first baby camel. I wonder if Maggie would get along well with a baby camel because dang that thing was cute.
We made it to Matmata around 11:30 and were welcomed into a troglodyte home. They're homes basically bulit into the walls of a pit they dig directly into the ground. It was pretty unbelievable, especially the temperatures of the room which stays in the 60's despite the heat. When we arrived the woman who lived there was preparing bread, which she cooked by pressing the mounds of the dough on to the walls of a small fire pit. Our guide had us sit in one of the rooms and she brought in the bread with honey and oil along with mint tea. It was really wonderful and reminded me of a heartier version of naan.
We left there and set out for Gabes, where we would catch a ride to Jerba. We made a quick stop along the way there where we were promptly ripped off by a local boy who shoved a baby falcon in our arms and then charged us 10 dinar A PIECE for the service. Nicholas didn't want to fight him and we decided to take a c'est la vie attitude about the whole thing.
We arrived in Gabes and were dropped by our guide at the louage station. Louages are basically shared minivans and are a pretty common form of transportation in Tunisia. We found a louage going to Jerba without incident and I read most of the way there to distract from the incredible liberties the driver was taking with our safety, especially since there were no seat belts. Needless to say, nicholas has nixed the idea of renting a car and driving ourselves after the experience.
After crossing to the island on a ferry, we headed straight for the airport where our bag was supposed to be delivered the day before. Surprise surprise - it had not arrived but the man assured me it would arrive at either 8 or 10 that night. I guess the either/or arrival time should have tipped me off.
We checked into our very plush resort hotel next. The luxury could not come soon enough after our last couple of hotels - let me tell you. I went for a dip in the pool and we went and checked out the beach. We got ready and attempted to eat out on the town but the recommended restaurant was closed and nothing else looked appealing. So we headed back to our hotel for dinner. It was actually a great meal. We theorized since primarily French stay there they couldn't get away with subpar cuisine.
After dinner, we called the airport to see if our luggage had arrived ... Yeah, that's a big no but "no worry madame. It will arrive tomorrow by 9:30 in the morning."
Yeah, I'll believe that when I see it.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Good news - Nicholas and Tunisia are now BFF!
That's the best thing about vacation I suppose, you never know when things will shift and everything will start going your way. It's just like in life only more intense.
We woke up today and set out early to check with excursion companies and see if our "friend" at the hotel was right and there were no trips to Ksar Ghilane. The first place we found said they could take us but it would be 500 dinar and wouldn't include camp or food. Despite Nicholas's extreme protest that we should take what we can get I insisted we try a few more companies. Right before I promised we'd turn around, we found Heart of the Desert excursions, who had come highly recommended. The owner spoke english and offered us 380 to get us to Gabes and then on a bus to Jerba - oh and that included food and camp. God, I love being right.
He told us to come back in a couple of hours so we went and took a tour of the palmerie in Tozeur and the medina, which was lovely. When we returned, he'd found us a guide that spoke some english, which was just icing on the cake.
We set out for Douz, considered the gateway to the sahara, and arrived around lunch. We had lunch and drove out into the desert to Ksar Ghilane where we would be staying the night. The drive itself was amazing (although I might have napped for a little bit). The landscape was beautiful and immense and we stopped several times to take pictures of rock formations, the big salt lake, and I kid you not - a camel crossing!
Once we arrived at the camp, we settled into our tent and then had drinks by the spring. At around 6:30, we set out on our sunset camel tour over the desert. The second we walked out behind the cafe the dunes took my breath away. They were different from the ones on the drive - vivid orange like something out of Lawrence of Arabia. We rode along with a very nice Italian couple and their son for about an hour and a half to the Roman ruins of Limes. We watched the sunset from there which was phenomenal. Watching the sun set over a sea of sand is truly something I will never forget.
Of course, I look over at Nicholas who is CHECKING HIS BLACKBERRY! He seemed to be more amazed by the fact that he had service then by his surroundings. :)
We rode back which was a little intense because of the increased wind and sand. Our bums were getting pretty sore by this point but even so it has to be one of the coolest things I have ever done.
We came back and had dinner at our camp and a well-deserved rest.
Tomorrow we set off back across the desert to Matmata - start humming the Imperial March now because this is where Uncle Owen's house in Star Wars was filmed. To say Nicholas is excited would be an understatement.
Monday, August 18, 2008
The day started out well. We had a nice breakfast on the balcony of the hotel. We took the metro out to the Bardo Museum, which was amazing. They had everything from prehistoric tools to greek bronzes recovered from a shipwreck. The museum is known for its roman mosiac collection and I can see why. Mosiacs two stories high with scenes across land and water - pretty impressive I have to say.
Afterwards, we came back to the hotel and checked out then had a nice lunch at a seafood restaurant named Chez Slah.
We decided to go to the airport early to sort out our luggage situation. There seemed to be no problem sending it on to Jerba where we will be for two nights, two nights from now.
So we were on to check in for our 3:30 flight to Tozeur, when they informed us it was cancelled and we'd have to wait until 7:45. We had planned to get to Tozeur early to sort out our desert excursion the next day so we tried to do some arranging through the tourist agency without much success.
We decided to just hang out at the airport for the next couple of hours which is when Nicholas and Tunisia's relationship started to go sour.
We finally got to Tozeur that night and found our hotel- which is supposed to be helpful with excursions- not helpful at all. In fact, he told us repeatedly there were no excursions. Depressed, we went to dinner at a really nice restaurant and ate our first couscous and a regional specialty called brick l'oeuf.
They were both delicious but we were pretty dispirited and went to bed hoping our luck would be better tomorrow.
Stay tuned to see if nicholas and tunisia work things out!
SPOILER ALERT - we are headed out on our desert excursion later today. Probably will not have wireless access from this afternoon through tomorrow.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
I'm counting our first two days of travel as one big day since that's sort of how it felt.
We left friday morning on a bus to new york. We got there plenty early so we had lunch with our dear friends Laura and Dan at this adorable pizza place outside.
Our flight to london was pretty uneventful once we got off the ground. Unfortunately, that took over 2 hours because of a rain delay. We were afraid we would miss the opportunity to go into London but it worked out fine. We spent the morning on a double decker bus tour and got off at big ben to have lunch with my college friend Jane Conner, who lives in London.
The craziest part was as we were walking back from lunch to finish our tour I ran into a friend from law school ON THE STREETS OF LONDON!!! Saying it's a small world seems cliche but dang it's a small world.
Our flight to Tunis was a little late taking off. We sat down next to lovely woman returning to visit her parents and not soon after take off one of the male flight attendants brought us all some candy. No one else seemed to get any so I was confused. Nicholas thought he was trying to flirt with the woman sitting next to us. Turns out he was definitely right because over the course of the flight he brought her extra desserts from first class (which she shared), champagne for all of us, a bag full of the tiny liquor bottles! When we thought he was tapped out, he moved ALL of us to first class, gave her more liquor, toilettes, and a desert rose broach!
It was totally hilarious and she took it all in stride. When I took a picture of the liqour, she said I should put her clevage in the shot since that was what got us all the stuff!
We thought we were on a roll with our free upgrade but our bag never made it (despite the 8 hour layover!) and we're going to have to figure out how to get it since we leave tomorrow before it shows up.
We'll keep you updated.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
We leave tomorrow morning for our vacation. We take a bus to NYC, where we fly to London. We have an 8 hour layover so we'll be seeing a bit of the city and meeting my friend Jane for lunch. We arrive in Tunis, Tunisia, on Saturday night at 9pm.
Hopefully, we'll post some via Nicholas's international blackberry while we're there.
Try hard not to miss us too much while we're gone!
Monday, August 11, 2008
Top 10 Albums to Take With You to a Desert Island
This was more difficult then I expected. Do you pick classics you know you won't get tired of? Or do you go with albums that have been instrumental in your own life? Do you pick a varied selection so you have something for every move? I basically went with all three strategies because I couldn't decide.1. Joni Mitchell - Blue
2. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
3. Ben Folds - Ben Folds Live
4. Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces
5. The Beatles – Revolver
6. Edith Piaf – Voice of the Sparrow
7. Trisha Yearwood – Songbook
8. Indigo Girls – Indigo Girls
9. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
10. Coldplay - Parachutes
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
I'm not a huge Olympics person but this and this really inspire me - I"m not trying to lie
It looks like people are finally starting to listen.
This a completely fascinating anthropological perspective on you tube. It's long but really well done.