It’s almost exactly 24 hours to sail on a ferry boat from Marseille to Tunis, down considerably from the 18 days it took King Louis IX in 1270 when he sailed off on the ninth and final Crusade. (Entirely coincidentally, I read of his crossing “from the southern coast of France … for Tunisia” in my History of the World book while we were doing the same route.) And yet this is a very different world from the one we were in so briefly in France.The boat ride was amusing. A ferry boat, of course, is very different from a cruise; it’s about getting people and their cars and things from one place to another. The boat is nice, but we had a strange experience. When we reserved our cabin some months ago, it was so full there were no outside berths available, so we ended up in a tiny room with no windows. Yet the boat was so empty that the nice restaurants weren’t open at all and the cafeteria was only open for brief periods. There are signs pointing to the swimming pool, but there was no water in it. There had once been a hot tub, but it had been converted to a planter. Very strange.
Still, I love crossing the Mediterranean – the water is beautiful, the weather was great, and there is really nothing to do.
Then we got to Tunis, a very different world from what we left behind in France. Exotic. Incredible markets. Cats everywhere. Warmer. And so much cheaper!Our big excursion on our first day was to take a tram out to Carthage, once one of the greatest cities of antiquity. Founded by Phoenicians some 3,000 years ago, it grew to become the capital of a great empire until Rome finally got tired of them and razed the city. Of course before then there had been two wars between Rome and Carthage (the Punic Wars), Hannibal had crossed the Alps with his elephants, and the Roman Senator Cato the Elder had ended every speech he gave, irrespective of the topic, with the line “In my opinion, Carthage must be destroyed.”
Eventually he got his way, and when Rome won the third Punic War in the second century BC they obliterated the city and sowed salt over the entire area to make it uninhabitable. But, because the location is so perfect, Caesar Augustus eventually authorized resettling the city and so for a few centuries there was a great Roman city here as well. Because they really had destroyed everything Carthaginian, though, the ruins that remain are mostly Roman.
A great part of history to take in.
The other great part of our stay so far is our Airbnb “hotel.” This is the first time Mark & I have used Airbnb on our own and the experience is pretty great. We’re staying in a grand old Arab palace of sorts, owned by a gay French couple who are designers by profession. The space is really spectacular, near the medina (the major old market area of Tunis), with literally tons of tiles on the walls and beautiful soaring ceilings and lots of great art and huge lounges for sitting and reading, all for less than you pay for a tiny space in France. We may never leave!