As we left Nice we were sad at the limited time we had to visit with our friend Margo. We determined that we must come back to Europe and visit with her and Jeff at a future date. Cruise ships in general and the Holland America line in particular are noted for their beautiful interiors and lovely art. In fact every cruise we have taken has had an art auction at some point during the “at sea” portion of the adventure. On our first cruise to Alaska, and our first cruise ever, we were enamored with the beautiful art on display that was later to be sold at auction. Setting in on the first day of the auction we noticed that the friendly ships’ crew were not only offering us free champagne but were very quick to refill our flutes. What generosity! What an artistic spirit of benevolence! As the auction progressed…and the free champagne flowed…I could not help but notice the freedom of purchase that many in the happy audience were engaging in. We saw one of the happy art purchasers at dinner a night or two after and commented on the several pieces that they had purchased. They replied that they had better like them because they certainly cost a lot of money. The moral of this story would be that if you attend an at sea art auction…do not drink the free champagne.
Barcelona, Spain is simply a beautiful city. During our shore excursion we partook in a great guided tour that stopped in two different Tapas restaurants. Tapas are a snack or an appetizer in Barcelona that can be consumed as a main course. The idea of Tapas is that you can eat delicious food and still be able to concentrate on good fellowship of others, at your table, and engage in conversation. These are small finger foods or horderves that can be either hot or cold, spicy or mild, and composed of almost anything. We sat at table with a simply delightful couple. They were on the cruise with us and Dan was from the East coast while Michelle was from Florida. She had been a member of the Mossad in Israel. He had retired twice…the first time for a period of five years until his wife told him that there was not enough money…and thus he said,” I went back to work for ten additional years”. We not only had lunch with Dan and Michelle but later after the cruise we were united with them again on a seven hour bus tour of Italy and lunch at Assisi.
During our tour we marveled at the Sagrada Familia basilica who’s architect was the renowned Antoni Gaudi. This is a basilica like none I have ever seen.
We also saw Gaudi’s Casa Batllo which is one of his most unusual works.
There was a liveliness and excitement in Barcelona that was immediately felt. It is a very busy city with friendly people and many children…who watched us with purpose and question as we walked around their city.
The next day we docked at Tunis, Tunisia. Tunis is the capital of Tunisia and is located in north Africa. We were one of the first cruise liners to begin docking in Tunis about four months after the Arab Spring uprising had freed them from the dictatorship of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who had been removed and his government overthrown. In fact the Arab Spring began in Tunisia. Tunisia is a Muslim country with 98% being Sunni Muslims. Our tour guide was an interesting animated fellow. He began to recount his gratefulness to the United States for standing with Tunisia during its’ recent struggle for independence and his appreciation for Holland America for having the courage to be one of the first cruise lines to begin docking at Tunis. His comments were heartfelt and like nothing that I have experienced on a tour. As we drove through the city it was like being in the pages of National Geographic. The ancient buildings and the locals setting in front of them having coffee and smoking and talking was a surreal experience. We were in another culture and another world. Not a bad world…on the contrary it was fascinating and by the quizzical looks we received as we drove by I think the Tunisians were thinking the same things as we were.
We stopped at the ancient ruins of Carthage. This was something to behold. The City dates back to the first millennium BC when it was a Phoenician colony.
We visited the military cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia where thousands of fallen american veterans have their final resting place. When we saw the immaculate keeping of the grounds and heard the Battle Hymn of the Republic being played on the belles from the cemeteries chapel we could not help but tear up at the thought of all of the young men who had given their lives in Europe and many during the North African Campaigns of World War II.
One of the most colorful stops during the tour was at a rug manufacturing shop. We first were given a demonstration of how the rugs were made by hand stitching that was extremely intricate and producing a beautiful product. Then we were ushered into a long narrow room that had benches aligning the walls. A sweet Tunisian dessert was offered to each of us and some small cups of delicious tea. Now for the sales pitch. Exquisite rug after exquisite rug was brought to the middle of the room for our inspection and purchase. The beginning prices on each were exorbitant. Some of our group simply purchased their rug at the first price offered and seemed extremely proud of their consumer acumen. While others waited until the third, fourth, and even fifth price was quoted before making the contract.
As we began to board the bus after the rug show our tour guide stood in the middle of an extremely busy street and stopped the traffic as any police officer would do…however he was a tour guide..and a brave man.
I think one of the primary problems between Christians and Muslims is that they have never taken the time to get to know each other. The people we encountered in Tunis were very friendly…other than the one old man who made an obscene gesture with his hand at us…and are facing much of the same struggles that christians do on a daily basis. I must reiterate that our tour guide was touching in his sincerity of appreciation for Americans and for their support. As we were in a gift shop that was attached to the rug factory…he insisted on introducing me to his boss who seemed honored to meet me. I was honored to meet him as well.