Friday, April 30, 2010

Birthday Party

My Hungarian friends celebrated my birthday one day early in my favourite restaurant in the Buda hills.

The birthday cake at the end of the evening was a great surprise. It was again my favourite dessert called Somloi Galuska.

Thanks to my Hungarian family for such a wonderful time, meal and dessert.

Here are some pictures of the evening.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

South of Budapest

Yesterday, we spent some time with Peter and his father, Janos. We went for dinner in a small village about 40 kilometres south of Budapest. We visited a Serbian Church built in the 17th century. Later, we went to a new park in Budapest.

The day was great for the drive to the countryside. I had a very good meal of Babgulash with fresh bread. To top off the meal, Joe, Peter and I had a very delicious crepe called palacinta in Hungarian.

We finished the day with a draft beer at one of the micro breweries in Budapest.

Today is our last full day in Budapest and we will fly to Istanbul tomorrow.

More pictures on Picasa.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Extreme Indulgence

We strolled the large ring road in Budapest today and came across a very beautiful building. It houses one of the old established coffee houses. The building was destroyed by tanks in 1956 but has now been brought back to it's former beauty.

More pictures on Picasa.


Our vacation is slowly winding down. We have five more days in Budapest and then off to Istanbul for one night and then to Toronto.

We did lots of things and visited lots of places. It is a memorable vacation, one that I will remember for a long time. I also have all the pictures that we took over the course of our holiday.

If there is one thing to remember on this vacation, it is to keep an eye on your belongings at all times. The camera being pick-pocketed could have been avoided.

Who knows what adventure awaits us in coming months and years. But one thing is for certain, I still have the travel bug in me and plan on doing more of the same.

Monday, April 26, 2010


We have arrived in Budapest and are with our Hungarian family. We enjoyed a very good picnic dinner in the backyard.

We are off to the market today to see if I can find something of interest.

Hope to take some pictures in Budapest and will post them later.

Pictures are located here.

Friday, April 23, 2010


The train station on the Asian side of greater Istanbul (Kodikoy). This was our third visit to the Asian side. We took a very modern passenger ferry to Kadikoy. There is lots of shopping and people on that side too.

More pictures here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Some disordered comments on Turkey

Previously, I mentioned the unusual toilet in a restaurant in Istanbul that was nothing more than a hole in the floor. You have privacy since they are enclosed cubicles but they are very different from the ones back home. It turns out that they are everywhere.

On our long, overnight, bus ride from Ürgüp to Kusadasi, our modern Mercedes-Benz bus stopped several times for a washroom and quick, snack break. When the bus pulled into one of these "service centres" the bus windows were thoroughly washed while the driver and passengers took a break, smoked, ate or visited the washroom. (It seems that even ultra-modern buses don't have toilets.) These breaks usually lasted a half hour. On one break I had to use the toilet and payed the .75 Turkish Lira service charge. When I was finished I looked around and saw the women's toilet and, to my surprise, I noticed that there was a prayer room on one side. Why would there be a prayer room in the toilet area? It seemed very odd, even inappropriate, but then I guessed that since practising Muslims wash their face, feet and hands before they pray this was probably convenient.

I should mention that even though the bus stopped at service centres, drinks and snacks were offered for free on the bus. It was part of the ticket price. I got some water, cola and a cake-like snack. The bus had video monitors and food trays, very much like an air plane. I have seen nothing like it in Canada.

I had no idea where Kusadasi was and I was getting irritable since I didn't manage to sleep on the bus. When would we get there? What if I fell asleep and missed the place? And why are we going there instead of Selçuk , which is next to Ephesus?
The young man who served the drinks and snacks indicated that we would stay on the bus until we got to Kusadasi but when we got to Aydin we were asked to transfer to a local bus to finish the trip.

After a couple of hours we arrived at the Kusadasi bus station, which was much later than we expected and our driver was not there. We must have looked lost and the only bus driver there asked what we were looking for and Wayne started to tell him we were part of a tour and that someone was supposed to pick us up. The bus driver really didn't speak English and Wayne doesn't speak Turkish but the driver took our itinerary and went to the ticket office. After a couple of minutes a man from the ticket office came over and indicated that we sit and said "five minutes." Sure enough, in about five minutes a mini-truck shows up, the driver looks around and, not seeing two men "together," drives away. (Wayne took half a minute to get a snack from a nearby food stand.) In about 20 minutes the young guy in the same truck shows up again and picks us up and takes us to Ephesus and we join the tour.

I was really impressed by the original bus driver who asked us what we were looking for and the ticket office staff who made the phone calls to straighten things up. They didn't have to do any of that. And they didn't charge any money. I remember from my first trip to Istanbul four years ago that Turks are very friendly. Now I know they are incredibly helpful, too. I don't think most Canadians would be that friendly and helpful to total strangers. There's something very special about this place!

Our trip to Cappadocia, Ephesus, Pamukkale, and the hot air balloon ride were exceptional. Wayne posted many pictures on this Blog and the links to Wikipedia can give you more information about these incredible sites if you are interested.

Turkey is a very large country and the geography, vegetation and agriculture are diverse. This time of year, in south-western Turkey, the roses are in bloom. The tall irises are almost finished and there are some really beautiful, purple, cascading ground covers and succulents with larger flowers everywhere, especially in the raised medians along the highways. The palm trees are tall.

On our way back from Pamukkale we stopped for a toilet break and to sip some çay. On my way to the toiled I stopped to look at an unusual red flower. Our tour guide was behind me and he said it was a pomegranate flower.

I have not seen any fig trees before this trip and I was surprised to see some growing by the roadside. The valley near here is very fertile and there are fig, olive and orange groves everywhere. Near Atça, there are strawberry fields forever. (Sound like a song, eh?)

In Istanbul we decided to take a tour of the places we visited rather than making the arrangements ourselves. I think it was a good decision. Along the way we met people from all over the world. We met people from Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Korea, etc.

At least twice we were asked if we were Americans. I answered, "better." Both times the persons hesitantly asked "Canadian?" So there you go... But I'm concerned that Harper will ruin these nice little vignettes that we can play in other countries.

Parts of Turkey seem like the first, second and third world at the same time. There are some very fancy, expensive cars but you can also see a few wagons pulled by horses. There are roads with huge potholes and there are controlled access expressways. In Aydin, I saw pedestrian overpasses in the heart of the city. I didn't expect to see the covered escalators that took pedestrians up and down.

My senses are overwhelmed. And that's not a complaint! The sights, sounds, tastes and smells are a feast for the soul.

More later, if I can get my act together.....


Coastlight Hotel

We are staying in a new hotel on Aegean Sea. The hotel has a very beautiful view and we are on the 5th floor. Some pictures are on my Picasa Web Site:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Pamukkale, which means "cotton castel" in Turkish is made of terraces of carbonate minerals left by flowing water. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located below the ancient city of Hierapolis. The pictures we took today are on my Picasa Web site.

Monday, April 19, 2010


After a gruelling 16 hour bus ride, we made it to the city of Kusadasi . It is a beautiful port city of 60 thousand but in the summer the numbers swell to 160 thousand. We have a beautiful room overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It is early in the season and the pool isn't open yet but the view from our room is lovely.

We arrived in the city via a village bus through the country side. Beautiful, but we picked up all the farmers going to work including some baby chicks. We eventually made it to Ephesus and it blew us away. Here are the pics.

Last day in Cappadocia

Our last day in Cappadocia took us to the Hilara Valley, Derinkuyu and Selime Monastery. All, very interesting sights. It gave us the opportunity to see the inside of the some of the cave places in Cappadocia.

More pictures are available at the Picasa sight. The latest ones are at the bottom.

My pictures are here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The wonder's of Cappadocia

Cappadocia is truly unique. Many, many years ago this area was a lake. A volcano erupted and filled the lake with lava. It formed layers of soft rock. Four thousand years ago the area became inhabited and people started to dig into the soft rock to make their homes and stables. Wind and rain further eroded the soft stone making chimney like structures.

The place is quite a site to behold, with the fairy chimneys, churches, 124 underground cities, valleys and hills. We have been here two days now and we still haven't seen all of the wonders. We took lots of photos and you can check them out at my Picassa site.

Hot Air Balloon

We took a spectular balloon ride today and the pictures on my picasa web says it all.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


This morning we got up early to take a trip up the Bosphorus. This isn't the first time we took a ship, but this time we went all the way to the Black Sea.

We started out at 10:35 a.m. and the ship was full. It takes a route to six different location on the Bosphorus ending at Yoros Castle at Anadolu Kavagi.

We took 112 pictures along our trip and I posted some on my Picasa Web Page.

Some of the sites along the Bosphorus are: Galata Tower, Dalmabahce Palace, Ortakoy Mosque, The Bosphorus Bridge, Beylerbeyi Palace and Remelikavagi.

Please take a few minutes to check out the pictures.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Joe's take on Istanbul so far

We arrived in Istanbul on Monday, April 12, after an uneventful flight from Tunis. The weather was good and, for the first time ever, we were able to see what the pilot sees on our monitor because we selected "flight view." In previous flights I usually looked at the "flight map" but this was definitely a step above. I was surprised to see how black the tarmac was from all the rubber left by the plane tires when they land.

After checking in at the Alaaddin Hotel we went out for a light supper because it was getting late. We decided to try some street food and got some tasty Turkish doner and some water from a street vendor. On our way back to the hotel we stopped to sample a simple spinach gözleme, at a tiny outlet where the chair and tables were very close to the ground making it difficult to get up after we finished. At a small store near our hotel we got a couple of Efes beers which we drank in our room, while we watched BBC World News.

On Tuesday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we decided to make our way to Taksim Square in the Beyoğlu area of Istanbul. Istiklal Caddesi is the main street and it is visited by 3 million people a day! We took the Tünel up to the street because the steep hill would have been too much of a challenge for us.

Before we started our walk we stopped at a fairly nice restaurant for some Turkish tea (Çay) and some Lahmacun, which is a pizza-like snack. After our snack I had to use the washroom which was located on the third floor. I was quite surprised to see that the toiled was a hole in the floor, which was not a problem because I just had to pee. But, since there was toilet paper, I figured it was a "full service" toilet. The floor was rippled on both sides of the hole so that you wouldn't loose your footing and also, I guess, that you wouldn't get your shoes wet. I seemed rather primitive yet, outside the toilet, the soap dispenser and hand dryer were automatic. Go figure...

Istiklal Caddesi, like much of Istanbul, is fascinating. There's some beautiful architecture, busy and crowded side streets with merchants selling everything and hundreds of restaurants of all varieties. I noticed a rainbow flag down one of the side streets and decide to check out the "Sugar Café." It is a small gay-owned café that was playing disco music. We decided to go in for some tea and to take the weight off our legs.

After meandering through various side streets we arrived at Taksim Square and decided to walk back. Before we got to the Tunel we decide to go up to the Galata Tower to take some pictures. It was cool and windy but the view of Istanbul, the Golden Horn, the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara is breathtaking.

Today, Wednesday, after making plans for our tour of Cappadocia, etc. we decided to check out the Spice Bazaar, and to look into taking a boat tour up the Bosporus tomorrow. The Spice Bazaar and the area around it is an amazing shopping area. You can find everything you want and, perhaps more importantly from my perspective, everything you don't want. Of course every imaginable spice is available. There are also bedding plants, cats, dogs, birds, seeds. clothes, leeches(!!), all kinds of sweets, toys, knives, etc., etc., etc.

We got tired and wanted to sit for a while so we stopped at a tiny food outlet for some really delicious doner and a yogurt drink. This place was amazing. There were only two tiny tables with a total of eight chairs. There may have been some more tables on the second floor. What blew me away was that there were ten staff on duty! There were more staff than customers! How on earth can they make a living that way?

Other pictures from Istanbul are here.

More later....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Joe's comments on food and the Djerba Beach Hotel

Our Hotel

We arrived late at night on Tuesday, April 6, at the Djerba Beach Hotel. The staff at the reception desk greeted us warmly and served some hot, mint tea before the necessary paper work. The restaurant was closed but when we got to our room there were two plates with cakes, oranges, figs and some seedy tangerines.

The hotel used to to called the Iberostar Djerba Beach Hotel but, it appears, the hotel is now on is own, although the Iberostar name is still on everything. It's a four star hotel and the grounds are quite lovely with a beautiful pool, lots of palm trees and flower beds everywhere. The hotel is right on the Mediterranean Sea. It's quite idyllic if you're a guest. If you work there, and there are lots of staff because wages are low, you work your buns off. I'm sure they're not unionized and they have no fringe benefits. They don't even get tips since the hotel is mainly "all inclusive" and the guests don't carry money while they are there. However, they're very friendly to the guests always asking, "alles gut?” (If you’re not speaking French the staff assume you’re German.) I would reply, “Ya, alles gut,” and I wanted to add, “aber ich spreche kein Deutsch,” or something like that, but that may have encouraged them to continue speaking German to us, so I didn’t.

We did not hear any guests speak English while we were there. Most of the guests were German or French. I would guess the place was 60% German and 40% French. I saw a couple of women tourists with head scarves and, needless to say, we were the only Canadians. We were the exotic ones.

The hotel is in the Tourist Zone, which means that pretty well anything goes. Wayne saw a women with no top on and a man with no bottom on, while I only saw one woman topless. None of this is very surprising in most Mediterranean countries. The Tourist Zone is full of hotels, at least one big casino and a large golf course, none of which interested us. The shops all have “fixed prices,” which means no haggling. Along the road you could see some horses, mules and the occasional camel.


The food at the hotel was quite good and Tunisian cuisine was offered every day. Pizza, pasta, crêpes, salads, and desserts, etc. were available for the less adventurous. I was surprised how many guest ate their “comfort” food and avoided the Tunisian dishes. Muslims don’t eat pork but some form of it was available every day, probably to please the German guests. I should mention that foods from steam tables are not the way to explore a new cuisine but there were enough chefs cooking, grilling and sautéing food to order that it made dining better than I expected. It was a great way to try many Tunisian dishes. If we ate at regular restaurants we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to sample such a large variety.

Breakfasts were quite good and I had an omelet every morning, along with fresh baguette, olives, yogurt and coffee and orange juice. One morning I also has a “langos” because I wanted to know if it was the real thing. It was but it was quite greasy.

For supper I ate couscous with lamb, octopus stew, Tandoori chicken, grilled beef and turkey. I also tried the cutlet Lyonnaise, kaffta, paella, mixed salads with yogurt sauce, a variety of soups, all kinds of olives, strawberries and orange sorbet. I also tried some of the side-dishes which were very good but, unfortunately, I have no idea what they were called.

One of the more interesting foods at breakfast was called a Briq or Brik (click here for the recipe). It's a delicate deep-fried envelope of Middle Eastern origin filled with an egg and tuna. If fried properly, the egg white is cooked but the yolk should be runny. I thought it was rather bland but it sure looked impressive.

We also had a couple of bottles of Tunisian Merlot, which I really enjoyed. The wine had an “appellation contrôlée” designation. Celtia is a Tunisian beer and it's as good as any beer in Canada. One night, after several beers, we also partook in an apple flavoured hookah. All very nice.

Final Impressions

Tunisia is a very interesting place and has lots to offer. If you ever have the chance to go there, go and you won't be disappointed. Parts of Tunis could be mistaken for any major European city. During our stay I only heard emergency sirens once and only for a brief time. The traffic and driving is crazy and the centre lines on the roads are more theoretical than practical, which may explain why so many cars have lots of small dents. Tunisia is not a democracy and photos of the President are everywhere.

A few pictures of Djerba Beach Hotel and Houmt Souk.

Istanbul Day 1

We have arrived in Istanbul and are enjoying the sights, sounds and smells. Istanbul is truly a wonderful city. Lots to offer and lots and lots of people. We are staying at a lovely hotel in the Sultanahmet area, which is full of tourists and many of the historic sites.

I have replaced my camera with a similar model. It is an upgrade from my original camera with a few extra features. It's easy to operate because I have the experience from the old one. I do have to get used to some of the detail settings because I realize some of the photos are over-exposed.

We went up the Galata Tower and took some pretty spectacular photos of the city below.

Here is a link to some of the photos from today.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Joe's Comments

Thursday, April 1, 2010

We were picked up by Airways Transit shortly after supper and had an uneventful ride to Pearson Airport, after picking up another passenger in Cambridge (Galt).

I had some apprehension about our ticket because all we had from Turkish Airlines was an “E-Ticket Itinerary.” We went up to the Turkish Airline agent and presented our passports. That’s all we needed to do. The agent put our names into the computer and our seats were assigned. I asked the agent if the plane was full and she said it wasn’t. I was hoping to be able to stretch out and sleep but the plane was quite full, although the seat beside me was empty. Unfortunately we didn’t get window seats (should have asked the agent but forgot) and didn’t see much on takeoff or landing. Our plane was scheduled to leave at 23:50 but took off shortly after midnight.

It was a long, smooth, uneventful flight to Istanbul. Wayne managed to sleep for quite a few hours but I wasn’t so lucky although I did manage to doze off for a short period.

We landed in Istanbul around 5:30 PM. The line-up at passport control was rather chaotic but we lined up and waited, only to discover that Canadians and a few other nationalities had to have visas. So we had to line up to get visas which was nothing more than dropping $60 and then we had to line up again at passport control. By the time we made it to the luggage carrousel our luggage was taken off and waiting along the side. Fortunately our entire luggage was there.

We weren’t sure if the driver from out hotel was there to pick us up but when I saw the sign for Wayne’s name I was relieved that we didn’t miss our ride. Actually, Wayne’s name was announced on the PA system and we were asked to go to the Information Desk but it wasn’t necessary once we saw our driver. We were asked to wait five minutes while the driver waited to pick up other passengers for other hotels. The wait was much longer than five minutes and I was getting irritated, mainly because I was lacking sleep.

Light rain was falling during our ride into the city. Istanbul is this year’s European Capital of Culture (along with Pecs, Hungary and Essen, Germany) and the tulips and primrose were nicely planted along the road next to the sea. There were so many ships in the Sea of Marmora that it was impossible to count. I would guess that there were at least 100. Many had their lights on since it was getting dark.

The van slowly made its way through the narrow, very busy, car-clogged, wet roads to the Alaaddin Hotel in the heart of Sultanahmet, which may as well be called “Tourist Central,” Istanbul.

We were offered complimentary tea while we checked in at the Alaaddin Hotel. The Alaaddin will be our base hotel on this vacation. We will go back there after we tour Tunisia, Turkey and our trip to Budapest.

After checking in we went to our room on the first floor, took a minute to unwind and then went out for a late supper in one of the overpriced restaurants in Sultanahmet.

Both of us had a pide (similar to a pizza) and a beer. The people at the table next to us were speaking German and one of them ordered an interesting looking dish. It came out on a flaming tray with a vase-like container with foil on one end. The server took the foil off carefully because it was very hot and steaming and poured some of the contents onto a plate. He then tapped the container on the bottom, separating it in two and pouring the rest of the contents onto the plate - all this while the tray was flaming. It looked impressive but I have no idea what the food was called or how it tasted.

We went back to the hotel and crashed.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

We got up early and had breakfast before the dining room was open. The helpful staff made a note the night before that we'd be leaving early so we were allowed to start breakfast before the other guests.

A taxi picked us up and drove us to the airport. We got our tickets from an agent who was new to the job but remembered to ask if we wanted a window seat. After clearing security we made our way to one of the far corners of the airport. One of the gates was for people going to Nice, France and the other for those going to Tunis.

We flew over southern Greece, Italy and Sicily. I was surprised to see some snow on the mountain tops in southern Italy. I didn't think they had snow that far south but obviously the mountains were high enough to have snow. I also saw a tiny island in the Mediterranean with two small clouds. It was brilliantly sunny everywhere else.

As the plane approached Tunis I could see that all the buildings were whitewashed. Tunis was also larger than I thought. The city stretched far and wide, with all-white buildings. One of the locals we met said the city had three million people.

After we landed and claimed our luggage we had to go through security again. I don't know why we had to go though the metal detector after we landed but we did and the buzzer sounded on me. The buzzers often sound on me because of the metal in my body from the car accident and heart surgery. I had to go through again and it buzzed again but the security guy was talking to someone else and didn't pay any attention to me.

We had a reservation on Djerba Island and wanted to fly there since it was in the south of Tunisia. I found the SevenAir (the local airline that serves only Tunisia) ticket agent but no flights were available on the days we wanted to go so we had to make other arrangements. We got a taxi to take us to the Carleton Hotel, in the heart of Tuinis, on Avenue Habib Bourguiba. The taxi driver told it would cost 15 Tunisian dinars and we agreed only to find out later that he charged double the metered rate. So what else is new?

We arrived at our hotel and checked into a non-smoking room on the third floor. We unwound and headed out to the medina, a short ten minute walk down the beautiful Avenue Habib Bourguiba. The medina was founded by Arabs (Tunisians are Berbers) in the seventh century and is a Unesco World Heritage site today.

The medina is a different world, full of narrow, crowed streets with merchants selling everything imaginable. There are restaurants and mosques, palaces and mansions. After a while we stopped at a small, far from upscale, family run restaurant to have some water. Some of locals were eating traditional food, mainly couscous and lamb or chicken with their hands, mostly. The young man who served the food reached into two bowls with his bare hands to put some salt and spices on the food. The sanitary conditions are very different from ours. When he brought us our water he rinsed two glasses with tap water but didn't dry them as we would at home. It’s a different culture and different way of doing things.

The first evening in Tunis we had supper at the Grand Café de Theatre, a rather trendy restaurant on Avenue Habib Bourguiba. We both ordered a salad which was much larger than we expected. I also had a strip of grilled beef with mushroom sauce. The sauce was tasty, the meat chewy and the rice that came with it was firm and nutty and very delicious. Later we went into a large tavern on the main street and ordered some cold Beck beer which tasted good. Since every man in Tunisia seems to smoke we decide to have another beer outside, where it was less smoky. That's when we met our first "friend." He chatted us up and wanted some money and offered to sleep with us. (Homosexuality remains illegal under Tunisian law but men are propositioned in hammams and on beaches) We passed up the opportunity and headed back to the Carleton Hotel for the night.

It was very warm in the room and the air conditioning was not yet turned on. We left the window open but the street noise kept me from having a good sleep. It turned out there was a "gentleman bar" across the narrow street from our window and although it wasn't excessively noisy it was noisy enough.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

We had breakfast and took the TGM (light rail) to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said. It's the way the locals travel and we wanted to do the same. And it was cheap.

Carthage turned out to be very interesting. Although it was razed by the Romans enough of it remains and it's worth checking out. I couldn't figure out why there were armed soldiers around the edges. Were they expecting another invasion or were they there to feel important.

The homes around Carthage are beautiful and obviously belong to the well-to-do. They are all whitewashed with enclosed courtyards. The sweet scent of flowers filled the air. Bougainvillea, tall woody geraniums and other summer flowers were everywhere. The palm trees were in bloom. The oleanders were everywhere and often hedged.

Since our return ticket on the TGM didn't include a stop at Carthage we had to get a ticket to go to Sidi Bou Said. The police/ticket guy told us we can get a ticket on the other side of the tracks but when he saw the light train approach he told us to just get on the train. It was a nice gesture and we hurried to catch the train.

We got off the TGM at Sidi Bou Said and made our way up the hill. Huge cacti cascaded down the slopes and orange trees were everywhere. All the buildings in Sidi Bou Said are white, of course, and the doors and windows are blue - no exceptions. Sidi Bou Said is quite charming but it's way too touristy, which, I suppose, is why we were there. From the village we could look out over the Bay of Tunis and see the low mountains of Cap Bon Peninsula. Very pretty. (The picture shows me standing in Sidi Bou Said with the Cap Bon Peninsula in the distance.)

Wayne stopped to look at some decorated tiles and ended up buying two after a mild confrontation with the seller. He wanted more money and looked into Wayne's wallet and saw some Euros which he wanted. But Wayne told him a deal was a deal and we quickly left. We stopped at an outdoor cafe and had some water and crêpes for lunch. Since Tunisia was a French colony, many French dishes are available. After lunch we walked around a bit and made our way back to the TGM stop and Tunis.

Once we got back to Tunis we decided to go back to the tavern for some cold Beck beers. That's when we met our second "friend." He was quite charming and didn't ask for money or any favours, or so we thought. When we finished our beer we asked him if he'd like to have a beer with us and he said yes but Tunisians cannot drink alcohol outdoors. So we went inside and ordered some beer. He wanted a cigarette so we gave him some money so he could buy a small pack. We asked him if he could recommend a good Tunisian restaurant and he suggested a place close to our hotel that specialized in Sfax-ianne cuisine. He walked back towards to the hotel with us and showed us where the restaurant was. He then asked for 10 dinars so he could take a taxi back home. We told him we didn't have any money for his taxi and went into our hotel. When we came out we started heading to the restaurant he suggested but there he was waiting for us. We ended up giving him some money, mainly to make him leave.

In the restaurant we ordered couscous with lamb and some sweet, mint tea, which is the most common drink in Tunisia. I thought it was pretty tasty but Wayne didn't care for the couscous. He's more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

We woke early, had breakfast and hired a driver to take us to Dougga. It cost us 170 dinars which was quite a bit of money but the driver had a good, clean car and we essentially had his services for the whole day.

It was a long drive to Dougga but well worth it. It is located on a hilltop in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The countryside was quite green with lots of sheep and goats their shepherds. Along the way we saw a louage (shared taxi) overturned with the windows smashed and dazed passengers standing around. Two dead sheep lay on the road about 10 meters away. Our driver explained that the louage drivers speed all the time in order to make as much money as possible.

Dougga was a mid-sized Roman city that once had 5,000 inhabitants. An aqueduct brought in water from the mountain. The temple, gym, dormitories and theatre were still in fairly good shape, certainly in better shape than Carthage. The view from the hilltop was almost as impressive as the ruins of the city. After a good walk around the site we went back to the entrance to meet our driver. We bought some water at the small kiosk and gave the driver a bottle. When we were ready to leave the driver crushed his empty plastic bottle and just threw it on the ground. He had absolutely no consciousness that this is an historic site.

Once we were back in Tunis we took a short walk to find the train station because the following day we would be taking the train to Djerba Island. It was only five short blocks away.

We had supper in a fairly popular restaurant on Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Both of us ordered a salad and a pizza. Unfortunately the pizza was not as tasty as I would have liked. I ordered the "pizza fungi" but it was nothing more than a cheese pizza with some canned mushroom slices and a few olives thrown on top, after it came out of the oven. Wayne had a "Mexican pizza," which, while tastier than mine, was prepared with some pre-cooked ground beef that was put on top after it came out of the oven. We ended our supper with a glass of hot, sweet, mint tea.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

After breakfast we went to the train station to catch our train to Djerba. Actually, the train only went as far as Gabes and it took about six hours. We got a 1st class car and it was nice and clean, except the toilet. No surprise there! For lunch both of us got an omelet baguette. I was hesitant at first, not knowing how old it was, but it turned out to be one of the tastiest snacks I ever had on a train.

Along the way I noticed the soil was orange-red and very sandy with olive groves almost everywhere. The cacti fences, shrubs and trees, were covered with bits of plastic bags and whatnot, throughout the trip. Although plastic has some good uses it is the curse of our age. As the train went further south there were less olive groves, less shrubs and almost no palm trees. We were on the edge of the Sahara Desert!

The train stopped at small and large towns along the way. I didn't know if it would stop at El-Djem, site of the third largest colosseum in the Roman Empire, but it did and I got a good view. It was very impressive and in very good shape. I asked Wayne to take a picture but, as we discovered, his camera was pick-pocketed as we got on the train in Tunis. (Once we get back to Istanbul he'll buy a new, more powerful, camera and will be able to post photos on his Blog.)

We arrived in Gabes but Djerba was still far away and we had to figure out how to get there. I was willing to pay a taxi to take us there but at a "taxiphone," which seem to be everywhere, we were told to take a taxi to the "gare de louage" and take a louage to Houmt Souq and from there to take a taxi to the Djerba Beach Hotel, about 10km, in the "Zone Touristique." Two dead sheep, overturned louage and dazed passengers popped into my mind.

The taxi took us to the gare de louage and we were instantly shown the louage that was going to Djerba. The louage holds eight passengers, plus the driver, so we had to wait about 20 minutes until all the seats were sold. It turned out to be a very affordable way to travel. Most Tunisians travel by louage since they go more often than trains and buses and they go everywhere in Tunisia. Luckily for us the driver didn't kill any sheep along the way!

The louage had to take a ferry to Djerba Island but the wait wasn't long, but it was dark and getting late. Some of the young, local passengers had to show ID but security didn't seem interested in tourists. Tourism is big money in Tunisia and they don't want to alienate the tourists. And they can tell who the tourists are just by looking at us. Our pasty-white European faces told them who we were.

Once we were on Djerba Island the louage made it to the Houmt Souq gare de louage in about fifteen minutes. From there it was a ten minute taxi ride to the Djerba Beach Hotel.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Visit the market

We spent several hours at the market at Houmt Souk. This market is full of locals and tourists. It is a very interesting place with lots to see with vendors selling their wares. They sell just about anything imaginable from bulk clothing to trinkets and textiles and carpets. The people are dressed in a variety of clothes both local and exotic.

I have tried to upload pictures from my Blackberry without success. I'll have to wait until we get to Istanbul to get a new camera.

Joe and I are enjoying the hotel with its many choices of food and drinks. I may have gained a pound or two over the last couple of days and we still have three days to enjoy here.

After Djerba Island we go back to Tunis for one more day and then onto Istanbul for 5 days.

Till next time...

My Picasaweb has pictures of Houmt Souk and Djerba Beach Hotel.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Trip to Djerba

Yesterday was a very interesting day.

We started the day in Tunis after a good breakfast and headed to the train. The train took us 6 hours to Gabes where we transfered by taxi to a louage. The louage is similar to a taxi but shared by 8 people making it inexpensive to travel. The trip to the island of Djerba took another 2 hours and then a taxi ride to the hotel located on the sand beaches of the Mediterranean. There was a period of anxiety because we thought we would have to take a taxi that last 2 hours from Gabes.

The hotel is very attractive with many pools and a message centre. It is mainly for tourists from France, Germany and Italy. They speek english, but very poorly. Enough to can get by though.

I may not be able to post any pictures for the next few days because my camera has disappeared and I may have to buy another.

The temperature is a bit cool today but I plan on taking in the sun and then having a massage later.

Pictures taken with my Blackberry are located here.

Till next time...

Monday, April 05, 2010


We enjoyed our trip across the southwest of Tunisia and went to a place that was settled by the Romans called Dougga. We hired a car and driver and it cost a bit of money but was worth it.

The place was very strategically located on the foothills of the Atlas mountains. The view from the advantage point was beautiful.

My pictures from Picasa are located here.
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Carthage and Sidi Bou Said

Today we visited two very interesting sights. We took in the Punic ruins of Carthage that were inhabited more than 2200 years ago. They were invaded and destroyed by the Romans.

Later in the day we visited the village of Sidi Bou Said, a suburb of Tunis, that is perched high above the Mediterranean. It is an artisans village and lots of art is displayed and for sale.

In the evening we had a typical Tunisian meal of Couscous at an authentic Sfaxienne cuisine restaurant known as Restaurant Pastacaza.

Pictures of Carthage.

Pictures of Sidi Bou Said.
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Saturday, April 03, 2010


After a very long delay at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, because of the grab of money known as a visa, we finally made it to our hotel room in the heart of Sultanhamet. The ride was long but exciting because of the narrow cobblestone streets where the bus barely made it by other vehicles and obstacles.

Later that evening we had a very light dinner at a over priced restaurant around the corner from our hotel. The pide was very good however.

The next morning we went to the airport again to take a plane to Tunisia. The weather was pleasant and the city streets were bustling. We took in the madina and I have uploaded a video to the picasa site so that you hear the sounds and see the sights.

The picture is of Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main upscale street in Tunis. It was full of people night and day enjoying the many cafes.

To see more pictures of this very busy city, please go to my picasa web site.
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