Between Tábor, Lipno, and Český Krumlov, our first weekend in the Czech Republic was busy and fun. We began by heading to the nearby city of Tábor on Friday night where Nic and Mike have a flat (Nic teaches English there). After taking showers at the flat (much needed, since the pipes at the house are frozen!) we went to a restaurant called Two Cats for a proper Czech meal. Traditional garlic soup with smoked meat and cheese, Camembert spread with cherries, meat and dumplings, all washed down with good beer. Dylan thinks he’s found his soul food.
Saturday started all too early with a wake-up call from Keith, a Canadian friend of Mike and Nic. The five of us (plus Bun Bun, of course) traveled to Lipno nad Vltavou, a small town in the Šumava Range bordering Austria and the Czech Republic, for some skiing, skating, and snow play. Dylan chose downhill skiing with Keith and Mike while Jenna and Nic tried out the cross country trails. In case you are wondering, red seems to be the 2010 ‘in’ color for snowboard attire, you can get away with matching pants and jacket, and if you have a panda hat as well as the courage to sport it…you will be the talk of the mountain. After a full day on the mountain, we drove to the charming village of Český Krumlov and checked into the equally charming Hostel 99. Sunday involved exploring this UNESCO site, which looks a lot like a movie set and reminds Jenna of the winter jigsaw puzzles she did as a kid. The whole village is set around the winding river Vltava with cobblestone streets leading to tiny shops and cafes. We walked around the Český Krumlov Castle (the only thing open in the off-season) and got lost in the old-town vibe.
Three more weekends in the Czech Republic…where should we go next?
Our last day trip took us to the northern coast town of Bizerte and nearby Ichkeul National Park. We brought a friend along (or did she bring us along?) named Nihel. Her family lives in Bizerte so she was an appropriate tour guide. Upon arriving by trusty louage, we took a taxi to the park. Ichkeul is a bit of a special park: several species of plant and animal were threatened due to the creation of dams years ago. The park is a crucial habitat for several migratory bird species and has been restored over the decade. It has also been important to ensure the salt level remains in balance with nearby Lake Bizerte thereby sustaining a dynamic mix of life. When the government took over the land some years ago, they invited the current inhabitants to continue living there providing they cared for the land in a particular way as taught to them by specialists. During our visit, the park was empty (can’t imagine why considering it was a balmy 40°F and raining). We wasted a few minutes visiting a showcase of taxidermy from the 80’s that was masquerading as an “ecomuseum” and spent the rest of the late morning walking around the salty lake practicing amateur bird watching. Sulfurous hot springs bubbled up feeding decrepit hammams (Turkish baths) and wild fennel and olive trees were growing abundantly. We got up close and personal with herds of sheep and listened to squawking chickens and whining goats.
We traveled to Bizerte and visited the home of Nihel’s family. There we met her mother and younger sister and ate leblebi sandwiches and tajine (quiche, more or less). Nihel’s sister was preparing to head back to school (she is in her last year of high school and was home for lunch) but with some convincing, she was granted permission to skip her final class (ironically enough: US Geography). Soon, two other giggling seniors arrived and it seemed that the native English speakers drew a crowd (foreigners don’t often visit Bizerte). We set off on our walking tour with arm-linked girls in tow. At the beach, the waves were big and the marina was quiet. Feeling somewhat guilty for pulling the girls out of school, I assigned them some homework and wrote Hillsboro and Brookings on a scrap of paper and told them that locating these places in Oregon was their assignment, due next time we see each other. As we left Bizerte, Nihel’s mother gave us a very special gift: a homemade Tunisian spice mix called tabil. It smells delicious.
Tuna, or thon, as we say in French, is crawling (er…swimming?) all over Tunisia. It’s a huge industry here in Tunis and you can find it everywhere and on everything.
Tuna sandwich for lunch? Every other day.
Tunisian brik with tuna? A tasty snack.
Pastries and croissants filled with tuna? At every corner café.
Tuna pizza? The greatest idea ever. (Just ask for a “Neptune,” pick off the olives and give them to Dylan.)
Chuck of tuna on your salad, soup, pasta or (fill in the blank)? Yes, please.
We aren’t sick of tuna yet, but perhaps when we move on to the Czech Republic (two short weeks!) we will welcome the changing diet trend toward meat, cabbage, and dumplings.
Oh, and don’t even get us started on the obsession with the spicy and delicious harissa.
Posted in Tunisia
Tagged cuisine, tuna
Last weekend, Dylan and I traveled to the south of Tunisia for some sightseeing in Gabés and Matmâta. Gabés is known, in Tunisia, for its industrial economy and Matmâta is known, internationally, for Star Wars.
We drove to Gabés on Friday night. Gabés is in an oasis and felt a little more like the Africa one would naïvely expect before visiting. (Tunis has been like an Arabic/French-speaking Portland….rain included for no extra charge!) The oasis, basically a dried up river bed where palm trees grow with extreme density, leads right into a delta of the Mediterranean. Lunch was had at an interesting spot. We went to a fairly large restaurant with lots of outdoor seating and were quite possibly the only patrons. The decor consisted of mostly taxiderm-ified rodents (very strange) but we had the best french fries, so far, in Tunisia. That is quite the compliment, too, if for no other reason than the fact that french fries are served with everything and on everything. (Note: they in no way compare to the french fries made by Megan and DJ, which are works of delicious art.) It was here that Jenna tried her first date. The verdict? Chewy, sweet, tasty, and chewy. Courtship event or fruit? You decide.
Sunday we drove southwest out of Gabés to Matmâta and the drive was incredibly beautiful. We traveled over arid hills with intermittent olive tree patches. Each green space is tended by a local peasant and is likely their only source of income. Matmâta is still home to the Berber people, north African natives, where they live in underground dwellings. Here, we felt more like tourists than we have while in Tunis. The site was used as a film set for Star Wars (Tatooine–which happens to be another place in Tunisia, spelled Tataouine). The underground dwellings were all hand-dug and very inspiring as we are already interested in various types of earthen architecture.
We returned to Tunis by train. The scenery along the ride was beautiful, at least for the first few hours while there was still daylight. After that, it just felt like the flight from D.C. to Paris only without the in-flight entertainment, beverage cart, and pressure changes.
More stories of day trips and photos are coming up as well as a Tunisia video clip, insha’Allah (Arabic for “God willing”). Stay tuned.