It is a cold night in Tunis. We’re happily ensconced in the Hotel Lido, on the beach at La Goulette. Just down the street is our big ocean ferry, moored quietly by the pier, awaiting our morning departure.
Mr. Hachana was to arrive at ten with a truck to transport the bikes and the bags back to the port where he found us three months ago. He arrived at nine… we were not ready. In spite of his early appearance, the morning went off without a hitch. The truck was perfect. The kids loaded it and before ten we were on our way north. The landscape has changed in the last weeks. What was barren, but for the olive trees, in mid-December is now acres of green grasses dotted with lemon yellow flowers and groves of almond trees in bloom stretching away from the road in either direction. We even saw one lonely camel, as if waving good-bye to us, in his paddock. We have had a wonderful three months in Sousse, and will miss new friends and unique sights, sounds and smells as we turn our backs and head for Europe.
Did I mention that it is cold in Tunis? We left the apartment in t-shirts, over heated with the car windows rolled down. We were met in La Goulette by a stiff wind that turned the children’s ears pink before they got the luggage into the lobby of our hotel. We’ve got the biggest room in the place… we’re all in one two room suite, which would house at least another person or two. Having made our usual spectacle on the way in, we decided to head back out and explore the capital of Tunisia, in search, primarily, of the Bardo Museum; supposedly the best in the country for viewing reclaimed mosaics and sculpture from as far back as the Carthaginian Era. Ezra was excited about the trains. He’s been missing trains this winter. Daddy was excited about the price of the trains: 2,300 TN for the six of us to ride the metro all over town… about $1.75… cheaper than Rome… cleaner and better organized too!
One of the great things about traveling with kids (well, our kids anyway) is that no matter where we go they make friends. Today’s lot: three girls attending university in Tunis, English majors, who they started talking to on the train. Before long we heard them all giggling and they were kissing Ezra on the head… and Arab cultural idiosyncrasy that usually drives him CRAZY… today he didn’t mind because they plied him with bubble gum first. They had so much fun on the train with the kids that they decided to accompany us to the Bardo Museum as well. “Our teacher says that we have to practice, practice, practice our English and when we find native speakers we’re supposed to talk to them, so can we come and practice with you?!” Of course! We were happy to have them along. They taught the kids some more Arabic words and explained the Arab history exhibits to us… we helped them refine their English and explained the Christian history exhibits to them: Like the first century baptismal pool in the shape of a cross sunken into the floor of the exhibit hall, or the mosaic of Daniel in the lion’s den, which we heard them quietly trying to figure out: “I think it’s an Israeli story…” one said to another.
As wonderful as the museum was, the highlight of the day was a HOT meal afterward. As Mr. Hachana was an hour early, neither Tony nor I had breakfast. By four thirty, having walked miles in the freezing wind, there was nothing better than a classic Tunisian “plat poulet” (a quarter chicken, fries, chopped salad and olives accompanied by harissa paste and two unidentifiable, but delicious sauces for dipping and mopping up with bread.) It fortified us sufficiently to be able to make the return trip through three trains (at rush hour this time) and the biting cold to our little hotel haven.
The heathens are washed and tucked into bed. Final preparations for the boat ride tomorrow have been made. We watched our last African sunset as the train whisked us across the little spit of land to the port. This time tomorrow we’ll be in international waters about half way to Europe. We’re looking forward to pork, red wine and good cheese… but we’re going to miss the couscous and the camels.