I have just returned home from another memorable weekend in Bizerte. I arrived Friday evening and immediately began helping the family prepare our New Years dinner. We had roast chicken with stuffing, frites, a green salad and cheesecake for dessert. (I’m embarrassed to admit that Halima was the one teaching me how to make American cheesecake!) Tired from a full day spent on trains, taxis and luages, I stayed up just long enough to wish everyone a Bon Anée… my New Years was sweet and simple.
We woke up early the next morning and I was back in the kitchen, but this time preparing a picnic for our family trip to Tabarka. The three-hour drive to get there was stunning… we passed large lakes flecked with strips of sunlight, rolling green hills, tree-covered mountains, and occasional glimpses of the coast. We also passed some rural villages with women carrying large bundles of sticks on their backs and shepherds looking after their flocks. I love that in Tunisia I can spend one weekend in a desert palmerie and the next driving through the lovely Kroumerie mountains!
Pulling into Tabarka, the first thing to catch your eye is the enormous Genoese castle sitting on a hilltop across the waterfront. I did some research and it turns out that Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, was exiled here during French colonial rule in the 1950s. Further along the coast is a group of pointed rocks called the Aiguilles jutting up from the sea.
After a few hours of walking along the coast we had a nice picnic in the park with small quiches and pasta salad we had prepared in the morning (I think I could write a book on Tunisian picnicking!) and then it was time for some shopping. One thing I have discovered is that it is advantageous to shop with a Tunisian to avoid “tourist prices” and Halima is very strategic in befriending vendors so that they give us a special discount! I walked away with a backpack full of (cheap!) souvenirs.
We arrived back to Bizerte very late and we slept in until noon the next day. After a late breakfast, I went with Halima and Sammar to the hammam (public bath). It was similar to my experience at a Turkish hamam. The general procedure is to sit in a steam room to let your pores open, then allow a complete stranger to scrub away six layers of dead skin using an exfoliating glove, then wash your hair and body with buckets of hot water, and finally dry off with a bottle of gazeuse. All of this, of course, is done in front of a room full of naked women and children.
Experiences such as these remind me of just how far I am away from home and American comforts. I am excited to see what Tunisia has in store for me in 2011. I’m already off to a good start..