We flew to Tunisia via Amman, Jordan on Royal Jordanian Airlines. We had already flown with them on four separate flights and expected to be very comfortable and nicely entertained with video screens on the seat backs. We were sadly disappointed to find we were on a much smaller commuter plane that was very basic, but relatively comfortable. The flight to Amman was less that an hour, but the Amman, Tunis flight was almost four hours and we would have liked a movie to watch. Are we getting spoiled or what?
The airport is only 8 km from the hotel so we headed to the taxi stand and caught a cab. The driver was surprised that we weren’t going to the zone touristique, but he was happy to deliver us to the hotel. We were delighted with the room. The hotel is undergoing redecoration and our non-smoking floor was only recently completed. It’s funny how nice sheets, fluffy towels, and a flat screen television can keep a pair of travellers happy. The real bonus was the view over the zoological gardens across the street from our hotel. We went out in the early evening for an exploratory walk and I was a little disappointed at the state of the city streets. We had become quite used to litter-free sidewalks in Sri Lanka and Lebanon, so it was a little bit of a downer to find that there is quite a bit of rubbish collected in the gutters, lanes, and alleyways on the streets that we toured.
We had been looking forward to warmer weather in Tunisia and were dismayed to find that the temperatures weren’t much different from Beirut and that rain was forecast for the coming weekend. The litter, the grey skies, and the coming rain all worked together to put me in a bit of a funk. It was then I remembered that it was early March; I have never liked the month of March. In past years, we have usually managed to be much further south so that we were able to enjoy warm summer weather and forget that March even exists.
The following day we set off to explore the Medina, the walled district that was once the entire city of Tunis before people migrated to the region and the population expanded. Now Tunis has a more modern district outside the walls to the east, known as Ville Nouvelle. There seems to be very little English spoken here, the main languages are Arabic and French. This is forcing me to try to speak French and surprisingly enough, it’s my Arabic from almost 40 years ago that comes to my tongue most easily.
However, as the days progress, so does my French and although I don’t speak in sentences, it’s amazing how many words pop into my brain, words that have long lain dormant. It amazes me how intimidated I was to try to speak French last year in Quebec or in France last fall. I don’t seem to mind trying to make do here; perhaps it is the friendly response that I get from the Tunisian people that encourages me to continue. I even downloaded some podcasts from ‘Coffee Break French’ on the internet. We used some similar podcasts to help us with our Spanish in South America, Mexico, and Spain. The only down side to listening to this specific series of lessons, is that the instructor has the heaviest Scottish accent I’ve ever heard; it’s amazing he sounds so authentic in Spanish/French.
After returning from wandering the narrow streets of the Medina (see my separate entry), we stayed in and snacked in our room because of the rain outdoors. We did slip down to the café to sample a half bottle of Tunisian red wine. I only hoped that it wouldn’t give me a migraine the following day. We had checked the weather forecast and knew the weekend was going to be rainy, so we wanted to spend the Friday in the picturesque coastal village of Sidi Bou Said, a place I remember visiting when I was first in Tunisia while travelling with a girlfriend in 1972. I have always wanted to return and wander the streets of whitewashed buildings with steep, stone steps and blue painted doors and window frames.
I woke up with a slight headache the next morning, but it was easily dealt with by my migraine medicine. We had a great outing to Sidi Bou Said and decided though the incredible ruins of Carthage were right near by, we would save that for another excursion from Tunis once we returned from our exploration of the east coast and the southern desert. As predicted, Saturday was rainy and I used some of the time to work on my journal. We woke to find very heavy rains on Sunday morning, and in fact it rained heavily all day long. We were happy to have a room with a view over the zoological gardens; it would have been very dreary to look out over a very wet city neighbourhood.
We managed to find a small car rental company in Ville Nouvelle and didn’t have to go all the way back to the airport to arrange for a car for the ten days we estimated we would need to tour the interesting towns and villages far to the south. We booked the car for Tuesday morning because we wanted to stay up through much of Sunday night and watch the Academy Awards show live from Los Angeles. Somehow, we’ve managed to do this during our retirement travels (last year we were in Valparaiso, Chile). I wasn’t confident it would be broadcast in Tunisia; we didn’t have very many channels on the television, and only the BBC was in English.
I stayed up late but to no avail. We had a good internet connection in our room so I was on Facebook while I waited for the Oscars to start. I noticed that my nephew Logan McColl was available on FB chat, so I wrote to him to see if he had any ideas on how to view the program on the internet. It was very late in Edmonton, but he was up studying and kindly walked me through the process of downloading a copy of the Red Carpet broadcast as soon as it was over. It seems there are always people who post television shows on the internet and it’s just a matter of having the right programs to search for them. We were in luck!
I did manage to download the Red Carpet and we watched it after breakfast here in Tunis. The actual Oscars wasn’t available until a little later and is a very large file, so it took several hours to download, and indeed, I haven’t quite got it all yet. I gave up trying to stay ignorant of the winners, but didn’t mind terribly as we haven’t seen the movies yet anyway. I was thrilled to learn that ‘The Hurt Locker’ beat out ‘Avatar’; it’s about time that a woman director won the Oscar for Best Director. We both look forward to seeing all the movies once we are back in Canada.
We were delighted to find good weather when we woke on Monday morning. I felt sorry for all the Tunisians who had to return to work on a warm sunny day, after a rainy weekend. When I mentioned this to the man at the reception desk, he told me everyone was delighted with the rain. Tunisia is a dry country, with little rainfall outside the months of December and January, and any extra rain is a blessing. We were a little disappointed not to have warmer, drier weather, but then we looked at the weather report on the BBC and learned that Europe was being hit yet again with nasty storms. The broadcast showed us heavy snowfalls in Barcelona and the French Riviera. Thank goodness we were on the African coast of the Mediterranean and not the European coast.
We took advantage of the sunny skies to walk through the streets of Tunis again and found ourselves back at the Medina. I was delighted because the first photos I took there were of poor quality. I was so sure that my camera had been damaged by the wet weather in Lebanon when we made our visit to the Chouf Mountains. I had stepped out into the rainy gardens to snap a couple of pictures of the beautiful mosaics and thought perhaps some drops had got in around the lens. To make matters worse, the camera had slipped from my wet fingers and fallen on the stone floor.
When I loaded the photos of the Medina onto my computer, they were grainy and indistinct. I was crestfallen. I did have another camera with me, the small Canon I bought in Buenos Aires when my camera ‘died’ after getting damp at the Iguaçu Falls. However, I had become very accustomed to the Nikon that my son Raj gave me last summer and was dismayed to have it damaged. Anil wasn’t convinced that there wasn’t anything wrong with the camera. He encouraged me to check all the settings and lo and behold, he was right. Instead of being set for high resolution photos, the settings had changed to ‘basic’ and ‘TV’ (whatever that means).
This must have happened when I was deleting photos on the chip in order to be able to take more, and more photos. This was the second time I had inadvertently changed some critical settings while deleting photos. The previous time I had accidently turned on the date stamp while we were hiking in the Qadisha Valley in Lebanon and all my photos of the beautiful frescoes in the ancient monastery were corrupted by that glaring orange set of numbers in the bottom right hand corner. I will definitely have to be on my guard when I delete photos again, or else I will have to invest in more camera chips to avoid messing up things again.
There are just so many things to learn on this globe-trotting, camera-toting adventure we’re on. Thanks again to Raj for the great GPS-enabled camera and to Anil for saving me from abandoning the camera when it was still in fine working order. Time to get out there and take a few thousand more photos!