Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Our Lifestyle Adventures: We Dared Go to Tunisia!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Our Lifestyle Adventures: We Dared Go to Tunisia!

Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia
2016 starts with this series of posts about the two weeks I spent with my friend Jingjing in nine countries from Oct. 24 to Nov. 7, 2015, most of them in the list of least visited countries in the world. That’s right, nine countries in fourteen days! Another friend Ann was supposed to be with us but could not make it due to personal matters. The two were the drivers of my successful book launch in the Philippines. I arrived at 8 pm in Tunisia from London, and three hours later she did from Istanbul.

Terrorist Attacks
Tunis Carthage International Airport
Tunisia is a name derived from its capital city Tunis which was recently rocked by three terrorist attacks in just eight months. The most recent one, on Nov. 24, killed twelve presidential guards, barely a month after we left! In June, a gunman raided a beach hotel and killed thirty-eight people, thirty of them UK citizens, the worst terror attack against Britons in a decade. The first one was at the Bardo Museum in March when twenty-two were killed. All attacks have been claimed by ISIS.
part of the coastlilne of Tunis
Aside from the Greeks, the Romans, and the original Tunisians, the Arabs conquered the country in the first century of Islam. Then the Ottomans ruled for over three hundred years. The French took over in 1881 but Tunisia gained her independence in 1957. It was only in 2011 when the Tunisian Revolution resulted in the shift to a parliamentary form of government. The only democracy in the Arab World country, Tunisia is certainly still making its way to true stability.
a beautiful girl selling stuff on the highway
We were not supposed to visit Tunisia, the northernmost country in Africa with a population of about 12 million, 98% Muslim, with Arabic as official language (French is also widely used). Marisella, Jingjing’s friend and Filipina wife of the former Italian ambassador to Tunisia, warned us not to go. Alerts were up in most countries, the US included. But I had bought nonrefundable tickets so we still dared to go. I felt safe when I learned of the US STEP which takes care of US citizens in unstable lands. Marisella showed us where to stay and introduced us to Moshen, her trusted driver.

Sidi Bou Said
patio of Dar Said
The expansion of the Tunisian economy in recent decades has led to the booming development of suburbs within the outer city limits. One such suburb, considered a safe place, is the lovely hilly Sidi Bou Said. We stayed at Dar Said, the former home of the Said family converted into a 4-star hotel. I have never stayed in a lovelier place! It was authentic blue and white, traditional decor of an upper-class Muslim home. The lobby led to the terrace with a charming garden that overlooks the Gulf of Tunis and rooms were set around small courtyards. We were served bountiful continental breakfasts by the pool.
one of the small courtyards in the middle of a few rooms
Just before you get into the group of homes on the hill that included our hotel, there is an excellent view of Tunis, Carthage and the Gulf. All the houses in the enclave had the same blue and white motif, blue windows and doors and white facades. And the narrow, winding roads were all cobbled, used by pedestrians and cars alike. One night we enjoyed couscous and lamb at the elegant restaurant, just below our hotel, after a flight of stoned steps to the bottom of the hill.
a Roman mosaic in the treasured collection of Bardo
Tunis has been the capital since 1159 and is the largest city of Tunisia with a population of 2.7 million. We did not see its famous Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where 1/10 of its population resides and palaces, mosques, synagogues abound. Because of the situation and also because it was Sunday, the only thing open was the Bardo National Museum, originally a 13th-century Hafsid palace.  It is the most important archaeological museum in the Maghreb, and has one of the richest Roman mosaic collections, thanks to the many discoveries in the surrounding territory.  It also contains mosaic antiquities from various periods in Tunisia’s history. It was where the March terrorist attack was carried out.

Carthage Ruiins overlooking the city
Catedral de SAn Luis
The Catedral de San Luis, sitting atop a hill in Carthage, can be seen from the suburbs of Tunis. Although it was closed, all around it was the glory that was Rome, in expansive interior and exterior museums. Tunis had been occupied by the Berbers but in the 12th century BC Phoenicians started to migrate to the country and founded the city. It rose to rival Greece and almost destroyed Rome in the Second Punic War but was eventually defeated by the Romans in the Battle of Carthage of 149 BC. Just a few minutes away is the Thermes, ancient baths. As Mosh drove around, we also saw one of the biggest mosques at the outskirts, marveled at the Sadikas glass display, and shopped for some souvenir items.

Marisella also told us not to miss Hammamet, a resort town located in the south east of the northern peninsula  Its many beaches make it an important tourist destination for water sports. The number of inhabitants used to quadruple to 400,000 in summer but the recent terrorist attacks have scared away many tourists. As we made our way to Hammamet, Mount Bou Kornine kept us company. A 576-meter mountain in northern Tunisia overlooking the Gulf of Tunis, it consists of folded and faulted outcrops of Jurassic limestone. Its name comes from Tunisian Arabic meaning "the one with two horns." And that’s how she looks! In ancient times, the mountain was considered sacred and rituals were conducted there.
Mount Bou Kornine
We were scared at first and the November left us shaking our heads more. But we are glad we were able to visit Tunisia despite the circumstances. You can say that Jingjing and I are adventurous souls!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a Comment