Visiting Tunisia and Sardinia on a Mediterranean cruise

This is the second part of Janet Landfried’s series on a winter cruise in the southern Mediterranean aboard the Viking Sea.

The Viking Sea was one of the first cruise ships to return to Tunis since the massacre of 22 tourists at the Bardo Museum in March 2015. A few months later there was another attack on a beach near the city that resulted in 38 deaths. Both were the result of terrorists in Tunisia, a Muslim country, and the attacks specifically targeted tourists.

The Bardo Museum is one of the finest in the world and one of the largest in Africa. It contains treasures from the various civilizations that have occupied the country we now know as Tunisia. My friend Jeff Abuhl and I chose not to tour the museum and instead took the included tour the ship offered.

I would have loved to have visited the museum, as the collection is priceless. But we were warned to be careful there, and although we could take a taxi from the dock to the center city, about 20 minutes away, we were not encouraged to do so.

There was a little shopping area right off the ship but there were limited shops open and the wares were dusty. It will take a while for the cruise ships to return and the bustle to return to the cruise port.

Our buses were accompanied everywhere by a van and motorcycles with police. We were told it was to speed us through traffic. That did happen on occasion when the van pulled into traffic and stopped the flow so we could pass. But the policemen mingled with us at the few stops we made.

The city was clean and orderly with many people out and about. The main avenue was the jacaranda-lined Avenue Habib Bourguiba, full of hotels, shops and cafes. Mint tea is the beverage of choice here.

We stopped at the government center to admire this modern city and elicited very little interest from the people.

We visited the Roman city of Carthage on the outskirts of Tunis. Established in the first millennium of the Common Era, it is typical of Roman cities of the time. The Archeological Park here has excavations of baths, villas, residences and an amphitheater.

Much of the city was destroyed by the Vandals in the fifth century A.D. This is not the same as the Phoenician city-state of Carthage that dates to the seventh to third centuries B.C.

The area is on the sea and is now an upscale area of seaside villas.

There was time for a little shopping and then we were hustled back to the ship to sail away in the early evening.

Our port of call the next day was in Cagliari, Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Like all of these locales in the Mediterranean, the island has endured settlements from the earliest periods of pre-history to ancient civilizations to modern invaders. Historic sites dot the landscapes, from Neolithic cave dwellings to a Byzantine basilica. Today the island is a semi-autonomous region of Italy.

Agriculture is predominant in the Sardinian economy. Olives, citrus, grapes, cork and other crops are expected in this clime, but I was surprised to learn that a major export is salt.

The area around the port and city is ringed with lagoons and estuaries that are conducive to the building of salt pans and harvesting of the salt at the end of the summer months. I am familiar with salt pans, as we have such an area near where I grew up in Hawaii and my family would help friends with the harvest.

Another surprise was the abundance of resident flamingos. Who knew, in the middle of Europe! Perhaps after some climatic changes, these greater flamingos have recently stayed to nest here in Sardinia. We saw many flamingos feeding in the lagoons. I usually associate these birds with warmer areas.

Our guide told us that there had been snow flurries in Cagliari the day before our visit. On our stops to take panoramic photos, we would see the snow on the mountains to the north.

We had a walking tour of the Old Town, or Castello Quarter. Fortifications overlooked the sheltered harbor. The buildings, churches and castles were tight against each other and several gates pierced the walls built on different levels. One of the more interesting ones had a statue of a small elephant.

Two white limestone towers built by merchants from Pisa in the 13th century to defend the harbor are still standing.

At the conclusion of the walking (mostly downhill) tour, we had free time to visit the shopping district of the city. With a charm of its own, it would not compare to the metropolitan capitals of Europe. It is not visited by many cruise ships but it is a favorite place in the summer for Europeans to visit.

I like going to places in the off season, as there are no crowds and there is more opportunity to explore.

Join me next week as we visit Algeria.

Janet Landfried taught social studies at Redlands High School and Redlands East Valley High School for many years and retired in 2001.

 Redlands Daily Facts

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