La Goulette, Sidi Bou Said and Ancient Carthage
Silversea’s Silver Wind arrived in La Goulette, Tunisia this morning for a day of exploration in the northernmost country on the African continent.
Having officially traded the European Union for another continent, guests aboard the Silver Wind had to undergo customs formalities this morning. But once again, Silversea made what could have been a lengthy and frustrating process into something that was effortless. Passports could be picked up beginning at 7:30 a.m. from Reception on Deck 6, and the required pink landing cards had already been filled out for us.
Once ashore, it was just a matter of quickly stopping by a Tunisian customs official, who wordlessly stamped my landing card before handing it and my passport back.
La Goulette is the main port of call for Tunisian-bound cruise ships, and much like Morocco, French is an official second language. This works out quite well for me, as my French is substantially better than my grasp of the Arabic language.
I decided to take Silversea’s Sidi Bou Said and Carthage tour today. At four hours in duration, it is very reasonably priced at $69 per person and includes a visit to the remains of what was once one of the greatest cities in the ancient world: Carthage.
Today a suburb of Tunis, Carthage was originally founded in 800 BC and was considered to be second in size only to Alexandria. The city was eventually destroyed in 146 BC, only to be re-founded by Julius Caesar, who turned Carthage into the largest city outside of Rome.
Unfortunately, the city was destroyed once again in 698 AD during the Muslim Conquest.
What surprised me about the ruins of Carthage was that, unlike other historic sites, these ruins are clustered throughout Tunis. On our excursion, we paid visits to the Carthage Museum; the Acropolis of Byrsa; and the ancient Roman Baths complex that remains one of the most frequently-photographed sites of all the Carthaginian remnants.
Some photos from our morning ashore:
Our stop at Sidi Bou Said was a disappointment, as we were treated to the old “Recommended Shopping” spiel – or, as I like to call it, the Turkish Two-Step. I had first experienced this in Kudasai after being dragged into a Turkish carpet shop by a man, who then introduced me to his “brother”, who was built like a truck. Then, they proceed to extoll the virtues of each rug on offer, in an attempt to get you to buy something. This, from a city – which I do genuinely like – that advertises things like “Real Fake Watches.”
Typically, these shops are also interconnected to the shops next to them, meaning everyone’s on the take. I had a similar experience in Casablanca, Morocco last year, where a “Shopping Stop” turned into the old Moroccan Two-Step that ended with the shopkeeper getting annoyed that no one was buying anything, followed by an order to get the heck out of his shop.
Here in Tunisia today, carpets were replaced with tiled wares and jewelry. In an attempt to demonstrate the astonishing abilities of the jewelry, shopkeepers would fire up a plastic Bic lighter underneath each piece. Once it was determined the thing was made of something stronger than paper mache, the bidding war would begin.
I had wondered if this would take place when our guide kept mentioning the “approved shopping” on a nearly constant basis on the coach. And, because I knew what was coming, I was almost pleasantly surprised to see my assumption had been correct.
To be fair, there were some interesting pottery pieces there, but I had no interest in playing “guess the price” with a man in a Puma track suit and aviator sunglasses. It’s just too bad we passed up quality time at the ruins of Carthage to spend a whopping 60 minutes running the shopping gauntlet. I thought about offering €20 for the MAN coach that had brought us there, but decided my sense of humour would probably be lost in translation – or that we’d end up riding camels back to the ship.
Still, I did have an enjoyable time, largely thanks to the guests I had the opportunity to travel with, and because of International Hostess Maria, who accompanied our excursion. Silversea typically has one member from the ship accompany guests on their shore excursions, to ensure everyone is having a good time and that everyone is accounted for.
If you travel frequently, you’ll know that this type of thing is quite common in some countries. I don’t think it’s done to be offensive, but it’s a bit of a hard-sell, nonetheless. Still, I am glad that Silversea offers cruises that call on La Goulette, because Tunisia’s history is truly interesting, and even though it won’t go down as my favorite port of call on this voyage, I would still return.
For those who wanted to do their own thing today, Silversea had arranged for complimentary shuttle transportation from the pier into town. Once again, the differences between a true luxury product and other forms of cruising present themselves here on Silversea; you can bet the megaship operators aren’t providing the same courtesy for their guests.
To come back on board the Silver Wind was something of a true pleasure this afternoon, where I immediately made a beeline from the coach to the pool deck to become better acquainted with lunch and a refreshing cocktail from the Pool Bar.
Interestingly, it was cooler here in Tunisia than I was expecting. After a very pleasant day yesterday in Malta, the wind here for much of the day was downright cold, and on-par with what I’d expect from cities like Berlin or Prague at this time of year.
The weather also continues to be a little on the bumpy side, with Captain Michele Macarone Palmieri coming over the Public Address system just prior to our 6:00 p.m. departure to advise us that winds gusting up to 35 knots and seas 12-15 feet can be expected this evening onboard the Silver Wind. I understand that can’t be an easy thing for Captain Palmieri to do, but I appreciate that he’s updated us every step of the way about what to expect on this voyage.
I sailed with Captain Palmieri in January when I cruised to South Africa aboard this ship, and I truly admire the ease and candidness with which he runs his ship.
So, tonight I continued what I first did last night: I had a ginger ale in The Bar on Deck 5, along with some pretzels. Ginger and salty snacks go hand in hand with seasickness, which I am happy to say I am not suffering from. But there’s nothing wrong with being prepared, particularly as we come up on our first and only entire day at sea tomorrow.
As I said in January, if there’s a ship you’re going to feel under the weather on, it may as well be Silversea. You’ll find you are taken better care of here than anywhere else.
But speaking of The Bar, here’s a sneak-peek at its bold new look. We’ll have more photographs tomorrow as we explore the refit in detail with our Live Deck-by-Deck Photo Tour!
Despite the rocky seas, I made my way up to La Terrazza on Deck 7 tonight for some fine dining, Italian-style. It’s long been a favorite dining venue of mine aboard any Silversea ship, and tonight’s meal did not disappoint.
You can order your choice of appetizer; long or short pasta; and an entrée – though I cheat and just order a long or short pasta as my main course so that I can properly enjoy dessert. All four courses are just too much!
Reservations are typically required, but if there is space available the Maitre’d will always try to graciously slot you in. Best of all, no fee is charged for this delicious specialty restaurant.
Everything here is Italian in theme and taste, and the pastas are all made fresh onboard. The result is some of the best Italian food you can get on land or sea, all in an environment that embraces the ‘Slow Food’ tradition: the concept that a meal should be an event, and not something to be rushed through.
Personally, I took the time to savour and embrace this experience. It’s something I look forward to on every Silversea cruise, and not even the rhythmic swaying of the Silver Wind could prevent that.
Tomorrow, we get to spend an entire day doing nothing but cruising the Mediterranean aboard the Silver Wind, and I have to say I am greatly looking forward to it.
As we make our way from Tunisia to Spain tonight, I am struck by what a marvelous ship this is. Outside, it is cold, stormy and rocky. But inside, the Silver Wind’s lights burn brightly, and public rooms are warm and cozy. Some people are electing to retire early to their suites tonight, preferring to order room service and kick back with a movie. Others, like yours truly, are still out and about, enjoying every second of the entertaining evening prepared by the dedicated crew here onboard the Silver Wind.
Silver Wind, Rome to Malaga
|November 18, 2013||Rome, Italy||Arrival in Rome||Overnight hotel stay|
|November 19||Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy||Embark Silver Wind||6:00 PM|
|November 20||Sorrento, Italy||8:00 AM||6:00 PM|
|November 21||Trapani, Italy||8:00 AM||6:00 PM|
|November 22||Valetta, Malta||8:00 AM||4:00 PM|
|November 23||La Goulette, Tunisia||8:30 AM||6:00 PM|
|November 24||At Sea|
|November 25||Cartagena, Spain||8:00 AM||5:00 PM|
|November 26||Malaga, Spain||8:00 AM||Disembark Silver Wind; onward journey|
Our Live Voyage Report through the Mediterranean aboard Silversea’s Silver Wind continues tomorrow as we spend a day at sea and take an in-depth look at Silver Wind’s new and refurbished public spaces! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.