Mediterranean Enchantment – 2009

North Africa’s Tunis & Ruins of Carthage

April 26 - May 10, 2009

 

IFlights from Memphis to Rome via Amsterdam

VISpain’s Island of Mallorca

IIRome with visits to Historic Ruins, Vatican

VIIPort of Tunis & Ancient Ruins of Carthage

IIIBoard Ship Noordam at Civitavecchia Port

VIIIPalermo, Sicily & Mondello Beach Town

IVPort of Livorno, long drive to Florence, Pisa

IXPort of Naples, Italy

VMonte Carlo & Spain’s Barcelona

XReturn to Rome, More Ruins & Home

 

Updated July 4, 2009

By LEWIS NOLAN

 

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To view photo album of 128 pictures mainly taken by Betty Nolan, go to www.ritzpix.com and sign in under Lewis’ email name of lewis_nolan@yahoo.com (password ln9876 with lower case initials). Under “My Albums,” activate “Rome and Mediterranean Enchantment” album and play as a Slideshow with longest offered delay in seconds.

 

Friday, May 5, 2009 – Tuesday – At Sea

 

As the ship sailed south on the Mediterranean toward North Africa 444 miles away, another big breakfast was delivered to our Deluxe Veranda Suite at 7:35 a.m. consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, tomato juice and ice water. After pigging out on a great meal cooked to perfection, I napped for a while then made an appointment to visit one of the ship’s Personal Trainers, Nikki Craft of New Zealand, in the luxurious spa topside. Betty and I had sat in a free class she led on the benefits of a diet and exercise program put together by the Greenhouse Spa. That spa management program operates on this and an additional Holland America ship.

 

It was no great surprise that Nikki had the beauty and height of a movie-star. Blonde and slender, she was a walking advertisement for the success of a program of vitamin-based health supplements she was selling.

 

I met with her after a great lunch hosted for me and other repeat-customers of Holland America in their Mariners Society, which gives frequent flyers some extra “perks” like the wonderful lunch Betty and I attended. We were given a ceramic tile marking our status, which was nice enough but well short of the silver and gold medallions on chains given to the “high mileage” customers.

 

The lunch included seafood salad, broiled salmon and a complimentary glass of white wine.

 

Afterwards, Betty and I repaired to our appointment with Nikki, which was supposed to last for 30 minutes but ended up taking nearly 2 hours because she was so charming and a great sales person. The bottom line was that I stalled on the purchase on her recommended dietary supplements (cost of $100 a month) pending consultation with my crackerjack of an internal medicine physician back home (he advised against it). But with the help of an electronic gadget, Nikki determined that 50 percent of my body weight is water – truly a surprising statistic.

 

Her machine-aided testing (a very low voltage electric current I couldn’t feel ran between metal clips attached to a finger and a toe) also indicated that my metabolism is fairly high because of somewhat beefy muscle mass. At my current way-excess weight, the test revealed that my daily caloric requirement to maintain current weight is 2,626 calories.

 

Not surprisingly, she recommended that I reduce my body fat to 20 percent rather than its current 38 percent. Now that’s a no-brainer. In other words, the implied message was, “Fatso, don’t eat so much and exercise more.”

 

In her opinion, my present lifestyle involving regular exercise at a gym three times a week plus walking in the neighborhood combined with a somewhat careful diet “isn’t very bad,” but I need to do more. Two of the specifics she told me on the front end were to wean myself away from an average of four diet soft drinks a day (TAB) to none and to cut out drive-in fast food in favor of natural, unsalted and unprocessed foods.

 

Another non-surprise: After teaching Culinary Arts and related cooking courses over her 30-year career as a teacher in public schools, Betty asked some good questions of Nikki. While I didn’t go forward with purchasing Nikki’s program supplements on the spot, my meeting with her did open my eyes even wider to the importance of changing my dietary patterns and turning up the frequency and intensity of my exercise program. I do want a more  healthy body and am resolved to try yet again to succeed on an oft-trod path in that direction.

 

(I shared a handout on the merits of a detoxification program advocated by Nikki when I saw my physician, Dr. Robert Kulinski, when back in Memphis. He was polite, of course, but suggested that by eating sensibly I could have the weight loss I seek and be more healthful at the same time. However, he reminded me that to walk off the equivalent of one piece of chocolate cake, I’d have to walk from his office near our home the 10 or so miles to the Pyramid structure near the Mississippi River in Downtown Memphis.)

 

Charged up by all the rah-rah talk with “Knockout Nikki” about eating healthy, I went for an excellent dinner that evening of Alaska King Crab claws served with a small appetizer plate of sun-dried tomatoes, fresh figs, sliced salami, mozzarella cheese and ham. Dessert for me was a bowl of fresh berries. I thought that maybe eating smart could be a delight. With us at the table at the extreme rear of the boat was a French-speaking couple from Canada. Her English was pretty good. He didn’t have much to say.

 

After dinner, I retired to bed early because of a sore back from all the deep coughing. Betty chose to stay up and read while the ship steamed towards Tunisia.

 

May 6, 2009 – Wednesday - In La Goulette (Tunis) in North Africa and Ancient Ruins of Carthage

 

We were awakened about 6:30 a.m. local time by a small band of greeters parading down the dock below our sixth-deck stateroom and beating a drum. Rising to check out the noise, I looked down and saw a young woman clad in what might be the local equivalent of a jump suit from her wrists to her ankles. She was dancing to what might be a national, modest version of an Arab belly dance.

 

The Port of Tunis appeared to be surprisingly modern. A tall minaret that evidently calls Muslims to prayer is several hundred yards away. Red flags fly from several rooftops and huge paintings of a middle aged man’s face adorn several 6-to-8 story buildings that probably house apartments or offices. He must be the ruler of Tunisia. Welcome to Arab Country.

 

We were advised by the staff of the Noordam ship that those going ashore should wear pants and long-sleeved shirts out of respect for teachings of the Islam religion in this country. We were given some visitor registration forms to complete for local officials. As Dorothy of the classic movie “Wizard of Oz” said, “This sure doesn’t feel like Kansas.”

 

I had never been in an Arab country before and was looking forward to the visit to Tunis and tour bus excursion to the ancient ruins of Carthage, the land from which the military genius Hannibal sprung to bedevil Rome and Italy with his army and war elephants that crossed the Alps more than 2,200 years ago.

 

One of Hannibal’s most famous achievements was at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, when he marched an army of 60,000 into northern Italy. Hannibal occupied much of Italy for 15 years. However a Roman counter-invasion of North Africa forced Hannibal to return to Carthage, where he was decisively defeated by Scipio Africanus, who was given the honorific name by fellow Romans in celebration of his brilliant victory over one of the great generals of history. The angry Romans razed Carthage to the ground and sowed salt into the soil to punish the Carthaginians for their invasion of Italy. The wreckage of what remains in the way of toppled buildings and Latin-inscribed monuments remains today. It makes for pretty good photography for first-time visitors like me and Betty.

A military historian once famously called Hannibal the "father of strategy",  because his greatest enemy, Rome, came to adopt elements of his military tactics in its own strategic arsenal. This praise has earned him a strong reputation in the modern world and he was regarded as a "gifted strategist" by men like Napoleon  and the Duke of Wellington. His life has been the basis for a number of films and documentaries. He has been attributed with the famous quotation, "We will either find a way, or make one

 

 

 

Before venturing out into Hannibal’s long-ago country, I passed on my usual scrambled eggs for breakfast. But I did have a small portion of ham, toast, hash browns, and tomato juice delivered to our stateroom.

 

Our bus tour took us through the bustling town of Tunis, where the modernity, size and quality of homes near the waterfront amazed me. I had somehow imagined that Arab housing would be like the television news shots of the rubble that forms the backdrop of so much coverage of the region’s conflicts. It might be the result of oil money pouring into this land benefiting its owners so handsomely. Our bus was one of 20-to-30 taking ship passengers on various excursions this day.

 

The port docks at Tunis looked to this civilian as being the result of advanced engineering and distribution experts having almost unlimited funds to build the best possible facilities. The roads were well paved, well marked and had plenty of equipment to make them well-lighted at night. In my opinion, at least the roads we were on were more car-friendly that the “roundabout” design practice for moving traffic at intersections that we’ve seen in England.

 

We were told that ancient Carthage was the “second city” of the Mediterranean world two millennia ago, following only Rome in power and wealth.  Even today, a Tunis street through a ritzy neighborhood that would do credit to Palm Springs, CA is named “Rue Hannibal.”

 

I was surprised that the rest rooms at the Carthage Visitor Center – where polite employees collected $1 camera fees from visitors like us wanting pictures to mark our tour there – were spotless and brand, spanking new. A sign in the men’s room forbade begging. I was somewhat “relieved” to see what could be an obsession with cleanliness since I had halfway dreaded the old-fashioned “Turkish toilet” monstrosities I recall encountering many years ago in Paris. Their disgusting design had been imported from nearby Algeria and other backward parts of Arab Africa years earlier. How the world changes even when monumental change are only barely noticed by what passes for the news media.

 

Our first tour stop was at the ruins of a Christian church from the 6th Century. We also visited a site where fragments of dozens of marble columns were smashed by Roman soldiers as an act of retribution.

 

Our native tour guide was a polite, middle-aged Arab man who tried hard to please. He proved that he has a wealth of information but we found him to be uniformly rich only in boring detail. I was somewhat disappointed that the ability to really tell one of the most compelling stories in the West – how the Punic Wars gave Rome almost total dominance over “Lake Mediterranean” to form a foundation for the civilization that we know 2,000 years later - escaped our guide.

 

At a small collection of Arab vendor stalls overlooking the main ruins of Carthage with the blue Mediterranean in the background, we purchased a few postcards and took some photos. We then re-boarded the tour bus and drove through an area of scenic housing at the upscale Village of Sidi Bou Said, a picturesque village of large estates close to the salt water amid a paradise of blindingly white, stucco homes with black doors and acres of tall, green trees and healthy shrubs that belied the desert location.  Seeing the discreet display of wealth gave me a new appreciation of what at least some segments of the Arab world can do with great benefits of oil and sharp trading.

 

In gesture to Arab custom, Betty and I dressed in pants and long-sleeved shirts. But several of our fellow passengers seemingly ignored the request of cruise ship announcements and wore shorts and shirts without sleeves. However, there was no visible hassle by Moslem police or religious officials, so I surmise that Tunisia is probably understanding of Western habits when important commodities like tourism dollars are involved.

 

Once back in the air conditioned bus, I snoozed while Betty trudged up a hill to what the Arabs call a “Souk,” which is a shopping area with vendors Betty judged to be even more insistent and aggressive than vendors she’s dealt with on our trips to Mexico. She found a good buy on a beautiful, small jewelry box made of inlaid wood.

 

Later, the bus drove us back to the dock where the Noordam and other ships were tied up. I was interested to see that several souvenir vendors had set up shop right at the passenger ramp to the ship while three trained camels were available for photo sessions and brief rides.  Closer to the billboards posted on nearby, multi-story buildings, I noticed that the pictured, middle aged man was wearing a conservative business suit. He must be Tunisia’s president or other bigwig.

 

Against 10 days of recent news about the pirates based in the African nation of Somalia who have extorted millions of dollars from Western ships, I took a small sense of satisfaction reading that the Tunisian economy of the 16th and 17th Centuries was fueled in large part by piracy. I read in a ship’s handout that pirate bases once lined the Tunisian coast until the U.S. Navy attacked in 1815 and the country’s officials effectively halted the piracy.

 

This onetime veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1960s recalled singing – in an obligatory loud voice – the Marine hymn, “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we will fight out country’s battles over land and on the sea.” Thank God that was just a short fight that didn’t claim much life near this location long ago. But our nation’s no-nonsense message was clearly delivered by the Marines, making a proud service warrior tradition that has lasted through the generations.

 

During our stay in modern Tunisia, temperatures were close to ideal, with highs in the low 70s, loads of sunshine (I applied Coppertone sunscreen to my arms and face) and a refreshing breeze.

 

Oddly, I fielded my first question on this trip about my souvenir, green golf visor I wore during most shore side outings. I had purchased it at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, GA in early April. A fellow golfer from Southern  California and then another from New Jersey asked about the tournament; we enjoyed swapping golf stories on the bus ride back to the boat. I was surprised it took so long for fellow golf fans to surface.

 

Betty and I enjoyed a fine dinner of home-made, small pizzas plus some delicious wiener schnitzel served in the boat’s main dining room, along with a Light Beer and small glass of Chardonnay wine for me. Betty in particular enjoyed talking with two retired school teachers from Illinois who were seated at the next table. It turned out that one of them was somehow missed when the ship sent out invitations to repeat customers for the special lunch. However, the slighted educator followed up on our polite suggestions and got a complimentary box of chocolate candy plus a souvenir marking her Mariners Society status from the ever-pleasing crew a few hours later.

 

All in all, visiting an Arab country was an eye-opener for me. We thoroughly enjoyed poking around the ruins of the legendary Carthage we’d been reading about for many years. Unfortunately, my deep cough is still troublesome even though I’ve taken a lot of prescription drugs the last few days.

 

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