Location: Tunis, Tunisia
It’s easy to forget this is Africa. Tunisia encompasses a lot of cultures, but the place is primarily Arab, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve landed in the Middle East. I can’t make heads or tails out of Arabic writing, so it was nice to see that most signs were also in French (since Tunisia is a former French colony). I always try to speak the local language a bit when I travel, but we were addressed in Tunisian, Italian and French at various times today, so I basically gave up.
We started our tour in the ruins of Carthage, ancient Rome’s great enemy. Carthage was utterly destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, but there are a few original structures remaining, like the Roman baths from the second century AD and the aqueducts that brought water to them. We also saw the Punic cemetery that was here before the Romans ever were — it’s the oldest part of Carthage and dates from 814 BC. Cripes. That’s. Old.
We also walked around the marketplace in the city centre, called the Medina. Medina literally means “hidden city,” so named because the Romans built it to protect against incursions from the sea. It was also supposed to protect people from the insufferable heat (summer temperatures here can get to 45 or 50 degrees), so the buildings are placed extremely close together, providing more shade from the sun. Tunisia is famous for handmade carpets, so naturally we were led into a carpet store, and despite the very pushy salespeople we managed to escape without buying anything. Pushy salespeople were endemic in the Medina — if you showed the slightest interest in anything, a merchant would appear at your elbow and offer you their best deal. Bartering is common and acceptable, but I suck at it and didn’t bother trying. Tanya got a mosaic plaque for a third of the marked price, though, so good for her.
Next was the Bardo Museum. The building was more interesting to me than the displays of Roman mosaics inside — the museum is housed in the former palace of the kings of Tunisia, and we all know how I love anything to do with royalty. It was after 1:00 by this time and we still hadn’t had lunch, so I was too tired and hungry to focus on what the guide was trying to show us, but I was still impressed by some of the rooms in the palace.
After a lunch break the tour continued to a wealthy suburb of Tunis called Sidi Bou Said, a little village full of white houses with blue roofs. We didn’t even bother following the guide and instead plunked ourselves at a little cafe to try the local beer (which apparently tasted like horse piss, but I don’t drink beer, so this is just what the others reported). Coca-Cola tastes the same all over the world, and I’m grateful for that.
I have to go dress for dinner. On to Sicily…