We awoke early today and to our delight discovered lights of the northern tip of Africa in the distance. It’s an amazing day 3 in the diary of a Europe cruise virgin!
We were about to dock in Tunisia! Food scoffed, dressed swiftly, we joined the other excursion groups in the designated area on board the MSC Splendida, as outlined in last night’s information newsletter which had been hand-delivered to our room.
Founded in 814BC – Tunis, the exotic capital of Tunisia, is an interesting stop. Another first; we’ve not stepped foot in Africa so weren’t too sure what to expect. I was excited to gain just a small taste of the continent as my parents travelled extensively here a while ago, and I’ve heard stories aplenty! Tourism is important to this particular region, so the locals look forward to events such as cruise ships docking. We were greeted by traditional performances, camels and all sorts of colourful entertainment at the port. Very cool!
Tunis is a popular resort destination in summer, however it was a bit chilly during our visit (well, for Africa – a mild 20 degrees), so we settled upon wandering through the bright Medina (situated within structures hundreds of years old), shopping at traditional market stalls; witnessing the production of rugs and perfume – various trade techniques alive and well after centuries of practice. The old Medina, in fact, acted as the commercial heart of the medieval town of Tunis, until the French Protectorate (French ‘colonisation’) in 1881. History, culture and shopping delicately entwined: what more can a traveller ask for?
An intriguing, contemporary city; and with the exception of being vaguely hassled to buy goods at the market (which to be fair, I suppose is expected), it all felt safe, hospitable and pleasant enough. Additionally, our guide on this excursion was friendly, informative and funny. Away from the hectic Medina and bustling streets, the city becomes quieter, and beautifully adorned with stunning mosques, mausoleums, Koranic schools, homes and doorways intricately decorated and designed. Around every corner is something unusual and equally beautiful to photograph.
Evidently there are plenty of terrific shops, markets, restaurants and museums (like the Bardo Museum for example, which boasts the most beautiful collection of Roman mosaics in Africa) to explore in the region. Additionally there are countless other unique destinations (such as the picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said, and the beaches of Gammarth), and experiences on offer; but as we were short on time, we’d chosen an expedition that included a visit to a world heritage listed archaeological site: the ancient Roman ruins of Carthage, overlooking the ocean. Spectacular.
Carthage was the centre of the Carthaginian Empire, and existed for nearly 3,000 years, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC into the capital of an ancient empire. On this vast site palaces, amphitheatres, thermal baths, temples, water reservoirs, aqueducts and homes once existed; all belonging to one of the most powerful ancient maritime nations of the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians. The Romans all but destroyed Carthage during war in 146BC, but Carthage was eventually re-founded, and became the Roman empire’s fourth most important city of its time, remaining so until the Muslim conquest when it was destroyed again 698. Little is known of the people who lived here, but ruins remain so we may at least have the chance to explore and dream about what it might have been like to exist here in another lifetime.
Take a short tour of Tunis’ streets and Carthage with us:
Do you have a cruising story, or a tale out of Africa to share? Let us know, tweet @sarahblinco or find us on Facebook. You can also read the rest of the stories in this series (more to come in coming days) HERE.
Following a huge meal last night, the ‘welcome dinner’ of seven courses, we emerged at leisure from a peaceful night’s sleep. For me, sleeping on a ship feels a little similar to being on a water bed. I found it quite soothing, anyway.
The nicest part about the day (aside from the general opulence of this place!) had to have been stretching and Yoga on water this morning, with the class held in Club 33 at the top of the ship, featuring 240 degree views of the sprawling ocean. Following this healthy start, I began the day with a sensible breakfast of cereal and fruit, however the lure of the darn buffet (ever present, ever tempting) drew me back in mid-morning for a sweet treat. Ever since, Cooper and I have been eating like the world is running out of food and I fear the rest of the trip may be a little (or a lot) more of the same.
[more travel videos on YouTube’s TheSarahBlinco channel]
Today was an ‘at sea’ day as we cruise in the direction of the north African coast, therefore proving to be an ideal time to explore and rest. We even enjoyed a drink with some of the new American, Canadian and Puerto Rican friends we met at dinner (and subsequent Latin dancing) yesterday evening.
Obviously, this is the first time either of us has ever been in the middle of the ocean, at present, we’re somewhere in between Spain and Africa. I never imagined that at the beginning of 2012! It’s all very cool. My only stress is that the Internet is non-existent. Usually, not a major problem, however I’m on a deadline this week. Great! Fortunately I worked ahead (there are benefits to being a total deadline nerd) so not all will be lost. I am suffering technology withdrawals though (this post is being written in ‘real time’ but to be uploaded later on … shhh don’t tell)! How can we Tweet our every gorgeous cocktail with no Internet?
Meanwhile, must be off as we’ve just discovered free champers and Martinis are being served for an hour as part of the Captain’s Ball celebrations. Would be rude to not partake…
Gentle waves are lapping against the side of the ship to my right hand side, and the landscape is illuminated by soft glowing light from the deck below, and the sparkling city of Barcelona in the distance. I’m sitting on the little balcony outside our cabin on board the MSC Splendida. It’s about 8.30pm and the ship sailed from port about an hour and a half ago.
We had an early start this morning from London − 4am for check-in at Gatwick, followed by a simple-enough coach transfer to the dock but a very long wait until cruise check-in at 1.30pm. Fortunately, the cappuccinos are strong (and good) in Europe, so that kept us motivated until we made our way with excited anticipated onto the (huge) ship which is to take us on our first cruising adventure! Admittedly, I didn’t book a cruise for the sake of experiencing such a mode of transport. London had been the aspiration for a Christmas escape this year, but we wanted to explore elsewhere during our five weeks abroad. Generally the weather is unpredictable over here in winter, and as such, a ‘Mediterranean tour’ was all I could find that was operating. Open to new experiences − and great bargains (via Archersdirect.co.uk, out of interest, but you should also check out Cruise.co.uk and MSCCruises.co.uk) − this seven-night package promised us destinations never before experienced in these little travellers’ lives.
[more travel videos on YouTube’s TheSarahBlinco channel]
Neither Cooper or I had really thought too much about what to expect. In all honesty, I’ve been so busy working (managing my own business), and organising the general travel itinerary for the past few weeks, that I didn’t even have a chance to explore the ship’s website. I assumed it would at least be generally satisfactory. Turns out, the ship is only two to three years old, absolutely HUGE, glamorous, brimming with activities and facilities and … we have been pinching ourselves all afternoon trying to figure out how we wound up here, on the most-definitely-splendid MSC Splendida.
As I type, I am caught between looks to the mirror where I’m practising my ‘glitter pout’ (that is, I’ve spent the past half hour down in the duty-free store trying on Dior perfume and Lancôme lip-gloss which I’m kind of loving right now), and recalling the afternoon’s activities. We recently returned to our cabin following the 5.30pm safety briefing (just in case we need to make a run for it like Kate and Leo did). All guests were completely in awe of the M.C who continued to amaze with his narrative in five or six languages! We explored the ship only to discover one beautiful themed lounge and bar after another; pools, spa baths, gym, casino, saunas, beauty facilities, shops, restaurants, child-friendly areas and a niteclub (where we are heading later on).
We’re completely enamoured with the staircase in the entry foyer – each step of the two flights of stairs decks 6 to 8 (I believe) appears to be illuminated, and sparkles with crystals (Swarovski, apparently). At present, pianists, singers and other performers are entertaining the masses, while each of us wanders the decks in awe of Splendida’s beautifully designed spaces. We’re about to head off to the opening dinner … we are meant to be dressed in either formal (suit and tie) or ‘informal’ (cocktail) attire, but are prepared for neither. Here’s hoping they’ll be lenient tonight, or it’s back to the buffet for us (not that it’s a horrible option − actually, secretly we love a good buffet and had to be dragged out at 5pm this afternoon, dessert in hand). Still, so far we’re having a ball; and I’m about to be late for the ball so better sign off for now. S x
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