Since I'm still a bit under the weather (but getting better), I thought I'd post more of our cruise. This was our second port.
Our next adventure began as we pulled into Port in Tunis, Tunisia, Africa. Africa, people! I’ve been to Africa! Okay, so just the very tip of a northern country, but still, Africa! The day was sunny and breezy and we were greeted by camels, dancers, men dressed in Roman costumes, and men in native dress playing drums. It was very festive. We passed through immigration (no one stamps passports anymore-that sucks) and were greeted by Ahmed, our tour guide for the day. He was funny and very informative. We drove from the port to the ruins of Carthage. On the way we passed a new bank that was being built called “the olive branch” in Arabic. In front of the building was an 800 year old olive tree, which Ahmed said was still young for an olive tree. I did not know.
We passed several ruins along the highway and were told that there were more than 700 Roman ruins in Tunisia. Indy was in heaven. There were columns and statues and ruins galore. Hurrah! The town itself has a really interesting history. Queen Dido (a Phoenician) came there after her husband was murdered by her brother and negotiated a deal with the ruler of the locals. She told him she would give him a large sum of money for land that could be covered by the size of a cow (or ox) hide. He of course thought she was crazy and agreed, giving her a hide. She (smart woman that she was) had the hide cut into strips the width of a cord and they stretched out to cover about 12 acres. The leader was impressed with her intelligence and agreed to give her the land. She and her people built their city on a hill overlooking the water. The views were gorgeous. I can see why she chose that spot, aside from its strategic importance in the event of an attack. This is also the city where the famous Hannibal ( the general, not Lecter) was born. Did you know his last name was Barca? The city of Barcelona was named for his family. If it ever comes up on Jeopardy, you’ll know, and you can impress your friends. You’re welcome. I'll expect a small percentage of your Jeopardy winnings. After Carthage, we hopped back on the bus and headed over to the ruins of the Antonin baths. Again, gorgeousness everywhere we looked.
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From the baths, we went over to the Medina, which is the original market place. It was….interesting. The vendors are very aggressive. When we got off the bus and made the short walk to the Medina, I have to say, I felt like I was on display. All the locals were staring at us like “oh, look at all the pale people.” It was kind of creepy.
At the Medina we learned how the little hats the men wear are made. They look like a Fez, but are called something else (can’t remember the name). The women knit them from camel or goat wool and they look like big, loose weave berets. They are soaked overnight in warm water on a mould (in varying sizes) and then dried in the sun. The wool shrinks and the hat is shaped. They are then hand dyed. Interesting. We went from accessory alley to gold alley, where my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Holy cow! Gold and jewels everywhere. I did not buy anything, no matter how tempted I might have been. Then it was off to the carpet alley where we saw how those beautiful carpets are made. By hand. Most of the patterns are inspired by the tiles and other artworks in the Mosques. The carpets come in different materials, knots per square meter and of course price. The most expensive carpets are made of pure silk and are heavenly to touch. They have 1 million knots per square meter and take almost 3 years to make (for a 6x9 ft). WHAT? They also cost a lot. A lot. The 6x9 foot were $10,000 (US)! I’d never let anyone walk on it! There was one that was so gorgeous I nearly wept over it. The price was $11K. They offered us the “special price” of $9K. I laughed. $9K indeed. The owner of the shop told James Bond he would give him the carpet and 500 camels for me. Um, what? He said he could use another wife. Again, what? Polygamy is against the law in Tunis (Ahmed had told us this earlier),but many of the men don’t care and have multiple wives like their ancestors had. I laughed heartily and told him that he’d give James Bond many, many more camels to take me back. He laughed. I was serious. So, at $100 (USD) per camel plus $11K (USD) for the carpet, that puts me worth around $61,000 in Tunisia. Good to know, I suppose.
We did buy a carpet, but not a silk one. Ours is cashmere and has 100,000 knots per square meter. It is smallish, maybe 2x4, and was priced at $600. I told them that way waaaaay too much and started to walk away. He offered it at $450. Again, I said no and took a step away. The owner (who had previously offered the carpet and camels for me) put an arm around me and asked what I wanted to pay. James Bond and I did some quick back and forth whispering and I told the owner that I didn’t want to insult him (see what I’m doing?) and he said a lady with such beautiful eyes (that’s true, BTW) could never insult him. Really? Let’s find out. I offered $150. He actually looked startled and said it was too low. I thanked him and stepped away. He tightened his arm around me and said for me and my “beee-yuu-tiful” eyes he’d “sacrifice” it for $175. Ha! We were willing to pay $200! Yay me! They packed our carpet up and off we went, back to through the market and past the cafes where we were once again stared at. We liked the area around Cathage, but the city center was a bit dodgy. Kind of exciting though. What is it about danger that makes it exciting? We rushed back to the boat to make the all aboard time, but Ahmed assured us that if we missed the boat we could all go back to his place for couscous. While that was nice of him, none of wanted to explain to Tunisian immigration why we were not leaving the country when we were supposed to. On the way, we passed stall after stall selling flowers. Ahmed said it was in preparation for the upcoming wedding season. In Tunisia, most marriages take place at the end of May or beginning of June, to beat the heat of the summer and the cold night of winter. Weddings are a weeklong event attended by 300-400 people (each night!) and the bride and groom are only allowed to be together after the 7th night. Can you imagine? Of course we all made it back to the boat and life was good. Better than good; Fantastic. Before boarding Indy and I rode a camel! A camel!!!! Indy was so excited. I asked James Bond if he wanted to, but he said after Iraq, he'd had enough camels and didn't need to ride one.
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There was a woman on our tour I must mention. You know the heavy set cheerleader in high school? She was chubby, but muscular and had loads and loads of school spirit? Yeah, that girl. You know how after high school she got chubbier, but didn’t care and still, even though she was past 30, dressed like she was in school and wore bows around her ponytail? Just making sure you know who I’m talking about. Well, she was on our tour. She was a bit snotty, but still had the super big camera smile and chose poorly when she got dressed that morning. She wore a very short sundress that had very tiny spaghetti straps almost no top and she was very well endowed. I was almost offended. James Bond and I were taking bets on whether or not we’d see nipple (that’s how small this top was). You should have seen the looks she got from the Tunisians. I swear if looks could kill, she’d have dropped dead the minute we got off the bus. They even warned us about our choice of dress the night before and it was in our tour information sheet, so it’s not like she didn’t know. This is what makes people dislike Americans (and yes, she was American). If you’re going to another country, especially a Muslim country, show some respect for their values and keep your goods under wraps..
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