Saturday, March 26, 2011

for dinner we

Went out for Italian food with group tonight- Jen had pasta- I had pizza- we shared a bottle of wine and of water – place ended up being quite expensive about 21 US with extravagant american tip LOL- but lots of extras in the snack/tapas department.  Olives -harissa- little quiches etc. 

Wine again was decent - a red named after the guy who wrote the book- the original wine growing book from third century BC…. Apparently a Carthage based agronomist called Magon.

Tomorrow we are up early for early start to long day- leaving at 8 AM – here is the plan from the sheet Mohamed gave us:

Carthage Ruins
American WWII cemetery
Sidi bou Said (artist village)
Lunch in last kosher restaurant in Tunisia
Jewish lecture by Jacob – owner of above
Bardo Museum (where all the mosaics are located- has fabulous reputation)
Medina of Tunis

So we will be very busy on Sunday and we are probably leaving early because the new group that arrived today will be on own same sites tomorrow as we swapped out days to get the kosher meal. And the good news for the trip leaders is that OAT has not consolidated groups but given as many guides as they could a chance to lead, even though the margins are obviously smaller on a smaller group.  Our eight – four men and four women is good.  The two single guys have bonded and the two married guys have bonded and the married women seem to get along.

Today when we were at the UNESCO site there was only one other American couple and the first thing the woman asked us was “were any of us from the south” – I tried to get away and said “no- all northerners” but Sally told her that one couple was from North Carolina.  I quickly chimed in that they were transplants from CT and NY but the woman followed us around the place asking which ones of us were the south.  This is what in the law we call a “res ipsa” situation.  Enough said. 

more photos-
top - road side fruit stand
middle - ancient sign for me
bottom - ancient sign for Phil


We are off at 8:30 for Dougga a Roman ruin – sort of – actually it was from pre-Roman times and eventually ended up a Roman colonial city over centuries. The theater is well restored and many other areas of the city are well preserved.  Again the people working at this UNESCO site thanked us for coming andsaid they had not been paid for three months and they were now hoping to be paid – seeing the return of some tourism.

Of interest in the city is the square of the winds where we not only see the third century engraving of twelve named winds (including an earlier name for Sirocco but Jennifer also found my name engraved – way cool.  We visited the baths and the Capitoline temple, as well as villas and a pagan temple and a mausoleum.  I scatted some of my mother’s ashes at the Capitoline temple.

After spending about three hours in the ruins we headed to lunch at a local hotel.  We had a barley soup and then a meal of wild boar and then oranges to finish.

On the way back in to Tunis we stopped for a short tour through the town of Testour where we saw a shop where garments where hand-made and hand-embroidered.  Mohamed modeled a number of outfits for us.

 After leaving Testour many folks slept but Jen and I soldiered on and continued with our questions.  Tonight we have dinner on our own – meeting Mohamed at 7 PM in the lobby – he will “accompany the ladies” (just to be sure we are fine) and any others who wish to go along.

we arrive

This will be notes for now- and photos to post later- need to meet group – so forgive the formatting

Took flight form ORD to CDG – eight hours flight time   Left pretty much on time
No sleep arrived CDG went to next gate – had sandwich and macarons from Laduree
Found Jennifer and hung out until flight to Tunis left   She has upgraded to business so has seat in front.

Big "to-do" on plane when some passengers do not like the pimento cheese half sandwich they are given as snack.  Fight is two hours thirty minutes and we arrive a bit late because somebags got there but not the passengers so they had to find and take the bags off.

Go through slowest line at passport control – more lines opened – guy works even slower – finally get out and bags are already waiting for us- meet guide Mohammed and one fellow traveler Max, a retired teacher from California.

Go to hotel have 30 minutes to unpack, then orientation talk ofwhat the trip will be like and much thanks for coming-  desperate for tourists to return- are very happy about coalition in Libya- hate “madman” Khadafi (Mohamed’s words) – we meet Carol and Howard from NC (originally CT and upstate NY) – now we are five

We will meet in 5 minutes for orientation of "where is grocery" for food, wine, water- and quick view of closer area around hotel with ideas for restaurants when we are on own – the boulevards is beautiful with beaux arts lighting and a broad area in the center with trees and a pedestrian walkway.  The cathedral is lit up for the evening and it is the blue hour just before night fall so my shot of the mall really shows it off to advantage.  (photos below)

We are right near the Medina (old city) but in the new – called the French Quarter because it was built by the French.

Three more are arriving – we see their taxi on the street – we are just in time for dinner at 7:30.

The new people are all from CA- Sally and Jim from Tiburon and Dick from Manhattan Beach.   Everyone is very nice all extremely well traveled – Only the Friedmans of Boulder have decided not to come.

Dinner is lovely – plate of salads – Mediterranean chopped salad and some aubergine salad and a hardboiled egg and some cucumbers in a yogurt dressing and sliced tomatoes.  This was followed by a vegetable soup with pureed vegetables served nice and hot. The entrée was grey mullet from the sea nearby – a few bones but a “mild white fish” LOL – served with rice and ratatouie (LOL) and we had rose and red wines from Tunisia – drinkable for sure

Dessert was two flavors of excellent ice cream (strawberry and pistachio) and huge plates of fruit – I had an orange (local) and a tangerine and numerous dates, which were of course sourced here and were marvelous. 

We were really tired so when dinner ended I went right up to my room to check on the charging of the phone and computer and then got organized for the morning 7 AM wake up call.

Tomorrow we are switching up plans because it will be Saturday and the normal day would include lunch at the last Kosher restaurant in Tunis area so we will change that to Sunday and instead go to Dougga tomorrow so that we can experience the restaurant on our trip. 

Mohamed trained as a software engineer and when he couldn’t find work in that field went into tourism seven years ago.  OAT has been doing full tours in Tunisia since 2008.  He likes working with the small group size they offer but worries about the future as tourism is down more than 90% and it is more than 50% of the GDP here.

the blue hour on the boulevard and mall area


 the beautiful boulevard lighting

the Africa Hotel (named after orignal name of Tunisia)

the national theater

Thursday, March 24, 2011

and one more

post before I leave for the airport.  just in case- and just so I can keep myself in the 30 second rule. I got lucky in my 40s.  really lucky.  like lottery lucky in a way a lot of people never do.  first off I found a job I loved (well technically I found that in my late 30s but it really came into its own as a career when I was in my 40s) and then fate brought me Phil- my husband.

as all my friends and colleagues know, I am a very strong willed individual and not always easy going.  actually that might be a sizable understatement.  but I was blessed to meet a man who is so well suited to me and with whom I have shared the last fifteen years of my life.  we are about to celebrate our tenth anniversary and while of course not every moment of every day has been blissful LOL, we have a tremendous life together. 

so just so you know - I know I hit the lottery and I am blessed to love and be loved by this man.

a few photos of us:

on our wedding morning in Denmark - June 26, 2001 

in China in 2002 in the Forbidden City 

Thailand in 2000 at the Chang Mai Elephant Preserve 

In Israel in December 2009 

on our front porch at home - where we do actually spend SOME of our time

"The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind I was...lovers don't finally meet each other , they are in each other all along." 
-   Jalaud 'din Rumi

"Love is a symbol of eternity.  It wipes out all sense of time, destroying all memory of a beginning and all fear of an end."  
-  Madame De Stael

in the navy

you learn all kinds of things.  or at least my dad did.  the other morning Phil asked me about Able Baker Charlie Dog and I laughed and asked him if he had been reading the "bluejackets" manual?  my father used to let us read his and memorize the semaphore flags and other cool (to us) stuff.

my dad could possibly have been the best dad in the world.  he hasn't gotten much mention here in the blog because he died in September 2001.  he was a tall handsome man whose hair never went gray.  he adored his family and liked to putter around the house.  he wasn't much of one for going places.  my mom dragged him around Europe over the years but he really was a homebody who would have rather been working on his old cars (Mustangs Thunderbirds etc...) or out on the water in a boat.

my father's ashes were scattered at sea - in the Gulf of Mexico by some sailors who do this for men and women who served in the Navy. 

one night this past week I had a dream about the Enterprise and when I woke up I laughed because I had dreamed about the starship Enterprise but had been thinking about the USS Enterprise which had come up in conversation earlier (dreams are funny that way)- my dad was on the New Jersey which is currently in Camden I think.  when Phil made his first trip to Hawaii we visited the Mighty Mo and I really understood then why my dad was so in awe of the ship he served on. it was enormous!  he became a "turtle back" (I think they call it) when he crossed the equator on the NJ. 

anyway, since I hadn't yet written about my dad and since I am heading out for a while I thought this would be a good time to tell you what a first rate guy he was.  he had incredible integrity.  he was always there for me from the day I was born until the day he died.  he was a role model for me as a business person and a manager.  he loved his country and his family and they don't make many of them like that anymore.

so here are a few photos:

he is the tall one in the middle - LOL - and is obviously partly responsible for my height. 

 with us kids in 1960

in front of his parents' house

he never lost his love of being on boats and on the water

I miss him all the time although after almost ten years it doesn't burn a hole in my heart as it did when I first lost him.  and since I am off to the "danger zone" (a country next door to one we have spent the last week bombing) I have been thinking about military related things.  and I wanted to say how much I loved my dad and how much he meant to me and how so much of who I am is attributable to him and his unconditional love for me. 

as I said - I had the best dad in the whole world.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

here we come!

for those who might like to follow along with Jennifer and me (and the other six intrepid travelers we will be accompanying) as we head through Tunisia- I have appended our itinerary below:

Tunisia: From the Mediterranean to the Sahara 
3/24  Depart from the U.S. 
3/25  Arrive in Tunis, Tunisia/Welcome dinner 
3/26  Tunis city tour/Explore ancient Carthage/Visit North Africa American Cemetery/Discover Sidi Bou Said  Today we’ll explore Tunisia’s bustling capital and its surroundings on a full day tour.  Tunis was one of the greatest cities in the world during the reign of the Almohad and Hafsid dynasties from the twelfth to the 16th centuries. We’ll witness the legacy of that era in the hundreds of stunning palaces, mosques, and fountains in the city’s medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also visit the Bardo Museum, Tunisia’s national museum of archaeology. Located in an 18th-century royal palace, it displays a spectacular collection of ancient Roman mosaics along with sarcophagi and statues from the Roman and Carthaginian periods.
Then we explore the site of ancient Carthage, which evokes the romance and tragedy of the legendary era of Queen Dido and Aeneas chronicled in Virgil’s Aeneid. Scattered ruins help us envision where the mighty city of antiquity once stood, sending its fleets for trade and warfare across the Mediterranean, including Hannibal’s famous but doomed campaign against Rome in the Second Punic War. After Carthage was conquered, the Romans destroyed the old city but established a new one of their own on its site, which lasted for almost another 500 years.
Following lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll pay our respects to the American soldiers who liberated Tunisia during World War II with a visit to the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial. This 27-acre memorial is the final resting place of 2,841 American military dead and also honors 3,700 soldiers whose remains were never found.  After lunch, we'll join a discussion on Jewish culture in Tunisia throughout its history, then discover the beautiful blue and white buildings of the seaside town of Sidi Bou Said. 
3/27  Discover ancient Dougga  Today we'll embark on a full-day tour of ancient Dougga, the best-preserved ancient Roman city in North Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here stand the remains of a complete town that once had 5,000 residents, including villas, temples, baths, a paved street, and a forum, making it easy to imagine life in this place in the second century AD. The temple known as "the Capitol" and the Caracalla Baths are particularly well preserved. We'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant as a break from our discoveries, and return to Tunis this evening.
3/28  Cross Cap Bon/Explore Kerkouan/Travel to Hammamet  After breakfast today, we take a scenic drive along the Cap Bon Peninsula on the Mediterranean coast, stopping en route at Kerkouan. This notable archaeological site features ruins that date to the third and fourth centuries BC, when this was a Punic city in the time of ancient Carthage. While Carthage was destroyed by the Romans at the end of the Punic Wars and subsequently rebuilt in Roman fashion, Kerkouan escaped this ill fate, so the ruins that we’ll find here are an accurate representation of an ancient Punic city, and shed light on what the famed city of Dido originally looked like.   From there, we’ll continue traveling toward Hammamet, stopping along the way to enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. We’ll check into our hotel in Hammamet, a town of whitewashed houses and an old medina and kasbah near some of Tunisia’s finest beaches.
3/29 Travel to Kairouan/Introduction to Islam/Home-hosted lunch  Today we leave Tunisia's seacoast and journey inland, stopping to visit a local farm on our way to Kairouan, a city with a spiritual feel whose domed mosques and minarets we may glimpse from afar as we approach.  This holiest of Tunisian cities was founded in AD 670 by Oqba ibm Nafi who, according to legend, slipped on a golden cup that came from Mecca and was hidden in the sand at the spot where Kairouan is now located. When he picked up the cup, water burst forth from the ground. The ornate Great Mosque here dates from early in the Islamic period and is the fourth-holiest site in Islam after Mecca, Medina, and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. We'll enjoy an exclusive discussion giving us an Introduction to Islam with an Imam at this mosque.  In the 14th century, Kairouan was home to Ibn Khaldun, whose masterwork the Muqaddimah has been described by noted British historian Arnold Toynbee as "a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind." Ibn Khaldun's work reflects the level of achievement Islamic scholars attained in medieval times—and this same cultural richness shines from the historic architecture that we'll see inside Kairouan's walled medina during our two-night stay.   We enjoy a special glimpse of everyday Tunisian culture during a home-hosted lunch with a local family today, then learn about Kairouan's long history as a carpet-making center during a visit to a carpet workshop, where we'll enjoy a demonstration of this ancient craft.
3/30  El Djem & Monastir tour  Join our excursion to uncover Tunisian antiquity with a visit to El-Djem, home to the third-largest ancient Roman amphitheater in the world, which soars impressively above the low-rise buildings of the town's medina. This is the best-preserved Roman structure in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the third century AD, this still-impressive stadium could seat 30,000 spectators. After an included lunch, we’ll continue to the seaside city of Monastir, to explore its well-preserved ribat (fortress) and visit the mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president.

3/31  Travel to Tozeur/Visit Sbeitla/Gafsa  After breakfast today we depart Kairouan and make a dramatic transition from green landscapes alive with olive groves to great arid expanses of desert dotted with scattered oases.  During our full day transfer we'll make our first stop at Sbeitla, where we visit the impressive ruins of an ancient Roman town.   After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll continue on through the oasis town of Gafsa, to our destination for tonight, Tozeur. This ancient city occupies a four-square-mile oasis of 250,000 date palms whose green lushness stands in stark contrast to the surrounding Sahara.
4/1  Oasis carriage ride/Visit the Eden Palm Museum/Arabian Soirée  This morning we explore the Tozeur oasis by horse-drawn carriages. For two thousand years, this city has thrived in a lush oasis on the edge of the largest salt flat in Northern Africa, and was a remote and fiercely independent enclave for much of that time. In its old section, elaborate designs in yellow brickwork decorate the walls lining narrow alleys and passageways with the same traditional patterns that are found in the local Berber handicrafts. We’ll feel the true oasis atmosphere here as we explore byways where spring-fed canals water date palms, flowers, and crops of plums, grapes, pomegranates, and bananas.  Afterwards, we head to a small private oasis to tour the Eden Palm Museum, which focuses on the role of the date palm in Tunisian society. Here we discover the many uses of this remarkable plant, one of the few that grows in the Sahara, and which is a staple of Tunisian cuisine. As we learn about the irrigation and pollination techniques necessary to sustain an oasis, keep in mind that many of these techniques date back thousands of years and yet are still in use today. We then discover another ancient trade during a visit to a small brick factory, and enjoy another look at Tunisian architecture on a walking tour of Toseur's medina, followed by a visit to a traditional music school, where we get a hands-on introduction to the music of Tunisia. We enjoy lunch at a local restaurant today.  This evening join an Arabian Soiree. We’ll travel to a peaceful private farmhouse for an evening of authentic Tunisian entertainment. We'll dine on home-cooked local specialties while enjoying a sensual Arabian dance performance accompanied by live musicians, and delight in the farmers’ vision, which—along with a lot of hard work—transformed this patch of desert into a luxuriant date palm plantation.
4/2 Mountain Oases tour  Today a full-day Mountain Oases tour to the oasis towns of Chébika, Tameghza, and Midès—set in stunning mountain gorges and boasting histories going back to ancient Roman times.  We board four-wheel-drive vehicles and head first for Chébika, a village of stone and clay houses set on a terrace overlooking an oasis, a river gorge, and a deep ravine. Then we discover the Roman and Byzantine history of Tameghza, strikingly situated on the walls of a huge canyon, where we'll have lunch. We also see Midès, a village perched above a beautiful palm grove at the site of a gushing spring, and visit the Nefta Oasis before our included lunch.
4/3  Travel to Sahara Desert Camp/Discover Bedouin wedding traditions/Bedouin Desert Life discussion  We depart Tozeur this morning, making our first stop at Douz, a town where all roads end at the edge of the Great Eastern Erg. Beyond Douz, this immense expanse of the Sahara extends hundreds of miles to the south.  Here, we’ll discover the rituals of a Tunisian wedding, from the drinking of tea to henna painting and more. We'll join a Bedouin family in their home for a fascinating demonstration and talk and volunteers from our group may model their ceremonial attire. We then share lunch with our gracious hosts.  Afterwards, we board four-wheel-drive vehicles for our journey into the Sahara. Our destination is our tented camp, set amidst gently rolling dunes. Just before sunset, we’ll take advantage of the rich evening light on an exploration of the Great Easter Erg. We’ll pause to admire the dramatic desert sunset before returning to camp by lamp-light beneath the starry sky.  After dinner at our camp, we’ll gather for an informative Bedouin Desert Life discussion with a lifelong resident of the Sahara’s sands.
4/4  Travel to Tataouine via Ksar Ghilhane  This morning, we head back into the Saharan dunes, traveling until we reach the ancient Roman Fort Ghilane, where we leave our four-wheel-drive vehicles behind in favor of the traditional all-terrain transportation of the desert—camels. (aaccckkk did someone say camels?- LOL)  This morning, we travel across the Saharan dunes to Ksar Ghilane, where we'll explore an ancient Roman fort and experience a timeless Bedouin tradition as we embark upon a short camel ride. We enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before continuing on to Tataouine, stopping en route at the Berber town of Matmata to discover its fascinating troglodyte house—manmade caves dug out of large pits in the ground. We arrive in Tataouine early this evening, and dine at our hotel.
4/5  Discover the Ksar Route/Farewell dinner  After breakfast, we head out to discover the Ksar Route, along which lie more of the castle-like fortified villages known as ksars, centuries-old redoubts whose exotic architecture was featured in the Star Wars movies.  We visit one especially fine example at Ksar Hedada. Particularly striking are the beehive-live ghorfas, vaulted granaries once used by Berber tribes for storing their grain and protecting it from their enemies. Located on easily defended hilltops or hidden away in palm-dotted oases, some ksars blend in with their surroundings to be virtually invisible to any enemy.   We visit the villages of Chenini and Tataouine, and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before continuing on to Ksar Hadada—a maze of courtyards, stairways, and doorways built atop a small hill. Tonight we'll enjoy a farewell dinner in Ksar Ouled Dabbeb.
4/6  Overland to Djerba/Fly to Tunis  We return to Tunisia’s seacoast today to explore the island of Djerba, which can be reached from to the mainland by a causeway or via ferry. Djerba is a historic city of whitewashed mosques and groves of olive and citrus trees. Upon arrival here, we'll visit a souk (market) and have lunch at a local restaurant. Later in the afternoon, we fly to Tunis, where we'll have a final dinner together in Tunisia.
4/7  Return to U.S. 

I will try to continue posting during the trip and get some photos up as well but meanwhile this should whet your appetite.