Monday, April 9, 2018


On my last full day in Zürich, I decided to go to Liechtenstein. Why? Because it is there. A friend of mine, a real opinionated smarty pants, had scoffed at my plan to go to Vaduz, Liechtenstein. He had been there, maybe 10 or 20 years prior, and said "Don't waste your time. you'll regret it. There's NOTHING there." Of course, I didn't care if there was anything there worth seeing or not; I had to go. It is a new country, a mere train ride away. I couldn't resist. 

To get from Zürich to Vaduz (capital city), Liechtenstein, you take a train and a bus. I'll explain briefly, as it wasn't totally obvious. At the man train station, on the day of (or before if you're nervous) book a roundtrip ticket from Zürich HB to Vaduz, Post. You can also buy it from an agent in the kiosk. The train will take you to Sargans, just on the Swiss side of the border, and from there you take a bus. It is about 1 hour to Sargans and the scenery is stunning. At the station in Sargans, the bus loop will be obvious. Take bus 11 to Vaduz, Post. The trip will be about 30 minutes and all of the stops are listed on a monitor on the bus. It could not be easier.
The journey was terrific. The scenery was magnificent. Past a shining lake and velvety green farms and gentle hills, tiny villages with castles or churches perched just above them on the highest hill, and, increasingly, snowy mountain ranges. I took pictures, as best I could, through the train window. 
In Vaduz, the bus stops just steps from the man drag, which is really all there is to see. It's not much, but perfectly adequate for an afternoon. There is a church, a few different museums, cafes and restaurants, and an occupied castle looming above. Liechtenstein is some kind of "democratic monarchy", which I think is another way of saying oxymoron.
I only visited one museum, the modern art museum, which i recommend, if you like that sort of thing. I took my pictures, slowly ate a raspberry tart and smoked a cigar in the warm spring sun (trying to protect my eyes from the group of men in spandex cycling attire at the table next to me. Blech.), and paid €3 to have my passport stamped at the info booth.
A few hours and I was satisfied.  I think if one was keen to experience more of Liechtenstein, it might be nice to go to some other towns that look a bit more quaint,  but my time was running short, and I had accomplished what I set out to do. It was a lovely day. (In your face, know-it-all friend.)
Back to Zürich, I walked around more, for no particular reason, except that the weather was perfect, and all of these little neighborhood joints started to open up and they all looked so appealing. I stopped and had a bowl of soup at one, and a glass of wine and a cigar at another. I finished the evening on a pedestrian street near my air bnb, outside of an Italian restaurant which was closed, but had left their outdoor tables and chairs out. I had a cigar and watched local residents go about their Sunday evening business.
It was a great end to my trip.

This morning I awoke and had breakfast with my airbnb hosts, who insisted on making me breakfast: muesli with apples and yogurt, tiny cups of strong coffee and squares of dark chocolate. 

And then I was off to the airport. 

Currently flying to Vancouver. The woman ahead of me has reclined her seat all the way and keeps stretching her fat arms over her head and reaching back and grabbing the top of the back of her chair, blocking my tv. If she keeps this up, I may lick her hand.

It has been a great trip: Tunisia, with a dash of Switzerland, and a pinch of France and Liechtenstein. Thoroughly satisfying. Not happy to be going home. Never happy to be going home, but at least I get to plan a new trip.

Forced Relaxation in Tunis & Zürich

Nothing much happens in this post, but sometimes that is how it goes.

I returned to Tunis late and awoke the next morning with the beginning of a cold. Annoying, but inevitable when traveling, I suppose. The only good things were that I really didn't have anything I needed to do in Tunis and I was staying at a fancy hotel (as has become my way; finish the trip somewhere slightly posh). I was staying at the Hotel Royal Victoria, right at the entrance to the medina, with a view of the square form my private balcony. I had a tv and my own bathroom and hot water. Luxury! 
In the morning I gorged myself on their breakfast buffet (cold be dammed, I'm not missing out on a free breakfast).

And so, it being my last day, I decided to do some shopping. I find I am less and less inclined to buy things for myself. I have nowhere to keep them and even though that [insert exotic item] might look tempting when in the souk, when I get home, the gloss is gone and I realize that the item doesn't fit with my real life. But I did haggle my way through the market and pick up a few items to be gifted. It was fun, but my cold was getting worse and my energy wasn't great.
Despite that, I was determined to get a good walk in, so I picked a destination - the belvedere park - it was quite a way out of the centre but a good walk through streets away from the tourist-geared cafes and shops. It just felt like a regular city.

Belvedere park is a lovely green area with a zoo, as it turned out. I'm opposed to zoos generally and felt a bit conflicted about whether or not to go, but ultimately I did. I can't say that part of me isn't interested in seeing the animals, but i would rather it be under different circumstances. These were animals, exotic and otherwise, in too small cages, swimming in circles, or lying listlessly. That paints maybe too bleak a picture, but it is true. I enjoyed myself anyway.
(That picture of the guy and crocodile amused me, like why would anyone need a warning not to play catch with crocodiles?)

I walked back to my hotel, went into the medina for dinner and shisha, and spent the rest of the evening watching movies on tv in my room.

I woke up at 3:30am as I had an early flight, i slept for maybe an hour, owing to a fever, crushing headache, and an inability to breathe through my nose. I flew to Zurich and walked to my airbnb lodging, not far from the main train station, between there and Kreis 5. A charming apartment called home by a boyfriend-girlfriend architect couple from eastern Europe. 

I felt like garbage, but it was a gorgeous spring day, so i walked to and around Kreis 5,  a sort of former warehouse type district now populated by art galleries, eateries catering to foodies, and, on the day that I was there, an urban bicycle festival and a neighbourhood yard sale. The area is quite nice. In fact, Zurich really grew on me in my last couple of days. The historic area is beautiful and great to see, but these other neighbourhoods felt more authentic and I was charmed by them. Zurich doesn't seem to me like an exciting city, but it is very attractive and so peaceful. Everything it quiet. There are no horns honking, no radios blaring, no loud conversations, no loud transportation. It's almost eerie, but kind of nice. There is a lot of bike riding, people having wine at cafes, and picnics. It all seems like an ideal city.  It is true that i prefer my cities dirty and chaotic, but this kind of grew on me. Or maybe it was just the fever.
I didn't really do anything, but I walked, through that area and the  into the old city. I thought about hitting a cigar lounge or going for lunch somewhere quaint, but I was feeling increasingly ill so i returned to the flat in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day and night in my room, listing to podcasts and trying to sleep through what seemed to be the flu. 

Being sick at the end of vacation, which always seems to happen to me, is inconvenient but in a way it is also kind of nice to be forced to spend a day or to actually relaxing, which I would not do on my travels unless forced. And the rest was just what I needed to feel better for the next day when I would go to Liechtenstein. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Departing Djerba

Day three on Djerba. I had (have) a 5:00 flight, so I just planned to have a relaxing day. Of course I woke up early with the first call to prayer announcing morning. I just lazed about. Had a slow breakfast. Decided to go on a walk. I was delighted to find that one of the main streets, which had been empty since I arrived had been transformed into a bustling marketplace that spilled out onto the side streets. 

It wasn't a touristy market, but one for locals. Shoes, clothing, fabric, pots & pans, spices...just regular stuff but it was a lot of fun to walk through. The merchants still tried to sell me their goods, usually calling out to me in Russian to catch my attention. It was the same thing in Turkey. I really should learn Russian for how often I am mistaken for a national. (Except in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso where I was often mistaken for Japanese.) 

I talked with some locals who lamented the lack of tourists since the revolution. It is true that there are not a lot of them here, which has been lovely for me to avoid crowds, but it must be so difficult for the people who rely on tourists for income. Seriously, people should come here. It is beautiful and filled with history and culture. And it is easy to travel in. And cheap.

Back to the market. At the other end of the street was the ---- fort sitting at the edge of the sea. I walked the ramparts and looked around before heading back to the area around my hotel. I did a little shopping, had a lunch of vegetable ragout, smoked some apple shisha, and headed to the airport.

It was a good, final day in Djerba, which I have loved.  What I don't love is that my flight back to Tunis is delayed by an hour so far, with no information as to when it will depart.  This is the fifth TunisAir flight I have taken and they each have been delayed by more than one hour. Another was cancelled altogether. The airport here doesn't exactly have amusements. One cafe with a few sad looking sandwiches. No shops. No wifi. (I will post this when I am back in Tunis.) on the plus side, I have books, music, and podcasts, and have caught up on my postcard sending. I don't really mind the delay; I didn't have any plans for this evening in Tunis except for enjoying my slightly posh hotel room. I shall use this time, stranded at the airport, to do what my mother would advise, which is to relish in the opportunity to relax and do nothing, for there is noting to do.


My flight ended up bring cancelled. And so was the next one. They arranged for a new flight but not everyone could get on. Overall, I spent 8 hours at the airport. Not agony, but far from idea. I did mean a British/American woman and her Tunisian fiancé who were trying to get to Tunis for their wedding, which ensured them a spot on the plane. We also told the airport check in people that I was a bridesmaid at the wedding, which got me on the plane as well. On the plane, I learned from a Tunisian/German man that the taxis in Tunis were on strike. This would have delayed my arrival in Tunisia by hours, but the man connected me with another Tunisian man sitting in front of me, who said his wife, who was picking him up, would drive me to my hotel. And they did. Now I am in Tunis, already forgetting about the huge airport delay and looking forward to tomorrow. 

Around Tataouine

My second day in Djerba I hired a driver to take me off of the Island to the desert to go To Tataouine and the surrounding area. We drive off the island (there is a bridge / a sort of a road that the Romans built apparently) onto mainland Tunisia. The landscape grew more and more deserty, with just small, dry shrubberies and clusters of palms.

Our first stop was at a salt lake that rivals the dead sea for its salt content. The shores were glimmering white, crusted salt flats.

From there we drove to Tataouine, after which the Star Wars Tatooine took its name. Huge chunks of the early Star Wars movies were filmed around Tataouine and on Djerba. I think one can organize a tour of just the filming sites.

One of the Star Wars sites is Ksar Ouled Soltane. (It was some slaves quarters in one of the original films - i don't know more details, but I'm sure there are a about 5000 websites with that information.) A ksar is an old fortified village. Amazingly, it was totally empty. You would think there would be an admission fee, a souvenir stand selling key ring light sabres, and a coffee shop valled 'Java the Hut'...but I had the place to myself. It was so cool to wander around and climb up the staircases, looking out over the desert. Definitely cinematic. There are many other Ksours in the area, each with their own George Lucas connection, but they all look pretty much the same, and having only one day, this was the one I picked.

After that we drove to an abandoned hilltop village with a white mosque. I don't know the name, but the steep climb afforded good views.

Next the driver (Nasr) and I had lunch at a huge, soulless restaurant that obviously catered to bus tours. The atmosphere was awful (and it is, based on my experience, the only non-smoking restaurant in the country) but the food was good. Vegetable couscous with Harissa, baguettes, and olives.  

I then connected with an English speaking young man from the ares who took me on a walk through the Berber village of Chenini. It is partly inhabited by a large Berber population, but the draw is the now abandoned villages built high into the mountain in around the 11th or 12th century. My guide, who was not at all winded by the steep climb, told me all about the history and how the structures were built to protect against invaders. 

He also knew the good spots for photos. 

The place was pretty quiet. I saw only two other tourists.

Before falling asleep in the car I saw camels and one canine (the driver said it was a jackal). I woke up in time to take in a few more views of desert and the lake before being dropped off back in Houmt Souk. It was a long day of driving and I was exhausted. I don't know how sitting in a car most of the day makes me more tired than walking all day, but it does. So I had dinner of vegetable tagine and a cigar before going to bed early.

If i had longer, or if i had decided to spend my time differently, I would have gone on a camel trek further into the desert, which would be great, though I know from experience that doing so solo with a non-English speaking guide can be a bit too quiet for my liking. I bet the stars would have been lovely though.


I flew from Montasir (the closest airport to Sousse) to Djerba, an island on the south west coast of Tunisia, between the Mediterranean and the gulf of Gabès. Djerba is known for its relaxed vibe, its beauty, its string of beach resorts on the east coast, and for having both Jewish and Berber populations. 

I caught a taxi to the capital of Djerba, Houmt Souk and to my hotel, the Hôtel Erriadh Djerba. My hotel is perfect, an old funduq located next to the souq and bordered by appealing squares. It is covered in tiles and the rooms surround a whitewashed patio with flowering vines and singing birds.

I basically just went to bed that night, but the next day, after breakfast in the patio, i went out to explore. Houmt Souk isn't full of must see attractions. The delight is in the wandering. Market stalls, sunny squares with cafes and juice stands, colorful shops, carpet vendors, and tucked away mosques, all gleaming white in contrast to the blue sky. 

There is no hustle here; it just feels chill and beachy, even though the beach is still a short drive away.

It is also small, so after a few hours I had seen all of the bits I needed to see (and would see it all more, since this is where I am staying) so I took at a taxi to the town of Erriadh. The appeal there is the synagogue and a display of street art.

There is, apparently, one of the largest or last remaining Jewish communities in North Africa on Djerba and there is the El-Ghriba synagogue, the oldest in North Africa. It is the most heavily secured site I have visited on this trip, with metal detectors and machine gun guards at the entrance. The building itself is beautiful, blue and tiled, with silver plaques (sort of like those Mexican milagro charms). 

From there I walked to the town centre. The town itself is nothing to see, but behind the main street, in the residential alleys there is a terrific display of street art. The art was created as part of a project called Djerbahood in 2014 or 2015 in which artists were given liberty to decorate the white washed streets. It was delightful. There are no signs and no map, so you basically have to wander the streets looking for paintings. It is like a treasure hunt.

Many of the paintings are worn, but are still worth seeing.

From there, it was still early enough, so I decided to catch a taxi to the Zone Touristique on the west side of the island, where all of the resort hotels line white sandy beaches. I don't care for the beach, but I thought maybe a drink on a terrace would be nice. 

It was a long drive, which I enjoyed, but once we arrived at the zone I was disappointed. Yes, there is the beach, but the resorts are these massive, gated structures - not at all welcoming to non guests - along a stretch of highway. It isn't really walkable (at least not pleasantly) and it just all felt remote and unappealing. (If you are a resort person, they look like wonderful places, but to me they seemed like giant, land locked cruise ships. Yuck.) So I had the driver turn around and take me back to Houmt Souk. I had shisha in a square and watched a cat attack my hookah each time the water bubbled.

It is so peaceful here at night after the day time tourists from the resorts have left. Quiet and almost magical.