We ended our trip abroad by flying over the Mediterranean Sea to spend our last week in Malta and then Tunisia. Both countries were new to us, and we loved both.
1. Attending church in Malta
2. A challenging hike on Maltese beaches
3. Learning about Maltese History and Culture
4. Many Tunisian Roman Ruins
5. Google Maps
1. Mdina Experience Museum - Knights of St. John -
1. Attending church in Malta - We always love to attend church in whatever country we find ourselves and Malta was no exception. It was a truly international branch, with a handful of native Maltese, and a large number of expatriates and immigrants. The missionaries played an oversized role in the branch (there were 6 missionaries assigned) and the members were friendly and welcoming. We stayed both hours, and enjoyed the English fellowship and learning.
2. A challenging hike on the Maltese beaches - We took a beach to beach hike on the western coast, which ended up being one of our most challenging hikes, with serious rock scrambling, and steep sandy hills, a walk along the coast and a mini bamboo forest an overlook to a small nudist peninsula, and a trek up the mountain to a watchtower. It was slightly crazy, and fun and incredibly varied and rugged.
3. Learning about Maltese History and Culture - Maltese history is fascinating, with a large role being played by the Knights of St. John. The role of Malta in WWII was so important, and totally unknown to me. The Maltese culture, which was a mix of European and Muslim was a mix that I had never seen before in this way. Their language is a combination of Old Sicilian and Arabic and the mix of cultures and architecture was fascinating.
4. Many Tunisian Roman Ruins - Tunisia formed part of the North Africa Roman Empire, and the Romans ruled and influenced the region for 500 years. The expanse of the ruins, and the size of the structures, and artistry of the mosaics was outstanding. It felt so strange and unique and out of place to be standing amongst all these Roman ruins in the seeming middle of nowhere Africa. Having come from Tarragona, with the current European influence, being now in Africa and seeing the same amphitheater structures was very cool.
5. Muslim Call to Prayer on top of the Ribat Tower - We climbed to the top of the tower of the Ribat in Sousse (an ancient muslim fortress) and happened to arrive just as the call to prayer began. There were in sight at least 6 or 7 mosques, and each began their evening call to prayer at slightly different times. What started as one sing-song arabic prayer call, grew to two, then three, then four and more, until we couldn't even tell the difference. Some were next to us and loud in our ears, others were farther away. The timbre and pitch of each voice was slightly different, and it was simply loud, with no buildings sitting in the way at our height above the city. It was such a wonderful worship experience, especially as we stood above the courtyard of the Mosque and watched the men gather to the door, and remove their shoes and walk into the mosque.
6. Google Maps - I'm continually amazed at the ability to navigate my way around any country with Google Maps. It makes such an incredible difference to know that I simply need to have my phone with me, to drive anywhere in the world. There are times when Google maps gets some one-way roads wrong, but overall it is simply right and sends me in the right direction. Amazing.
1. Mdina Experience Museum - Knights of St John - We went to a 3D movie and museum explaining all about the Knights of St John and their history in Malta. It was a gory, brutal story of war after war, after battle after battle, after crusade after crusade. There was some much blood and gore in the wax museum section that it was laughable. I was ready for it to be over about 1/4 of the way through.
Sunday June 11 – We awoke in Malta and headed to church. It was a very international branch, with a dozen nationalities represented. Then we visited the walled city of Mdina, and the Mosta Church (with the miracle WWII bomb exhibit) and had a Indian to-go lunch in the air-conditioned car. We headed back to Valletta to catch a Free Walking tour of the city and then went back to the Airbnb for some Gilmore Girls watching and journaling and reading.
Monday June 12 – We started the day with a drive to the west side of the island for a beach to beach hike from Riviera beach to Gnejna beach. We swam at Riviera beach for a short time to cool down, then we drove to the Hagar Dim ancient temple complex. Afterwards, we drove to the Blue Grotto for a 30 minute boat ride in and out of the grotto and accompanying caves. Then we came home, and Jacob and I headed back up to the city on an electric scooter for a brief ride around the town.
Tuesday June 13 – We packed up and drove to the airport for our short flight to Tunisia, rented a car and drove south to Sousse (2 hr drive). We visited the Sousse Archealogical Museum, full of ancient Roman mosaics. We walked out to the beach and had some dinner on the street.
Wednesday June 14 – We drove down to El Jem (60 min) to visit the famous Roman amphitheater, which happens to be the 3rd largest Roman amphitheater in the ancient Roman world, behind the Roman Colosseum and the Capua amphitheater. We walked around and played sardines, and enjoyed the atmosphere. Then we went to the El Jem Museum, containing amazing mosaics and set on the location of one of the largest roman villas found in Africa. We returned to Sousse and walked to the grand Mosque, and the walked through the Medina and climbed the Ribat tower. We stood on top of the tower as the call to prayer sounded, and heard about 6 or 7 competing calls coming from all over the city. The cacophony of muslim chant was all-consuming and astounding and super-interesting.
Thursday June 15 – We checked out of the Airbnb and drove to Kairouan (60 min) to visit the Grand Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Depending on the online list you research, the Kairouan Mosque is the 4th holiest site behind the Mecca Mosque, Medina Mosque, Jerusalem Mosque, then the Grand Mosque of Kairouan. Some say that if you can’t get to Mecca, then 7 trips to Kairouan will meet the requirements of the Hajj. We happened to be led to our parking spot by a random scooter guy who motioned for us to follow him to a shop, and then the shopkeeper took it upon himself to be our tour guide for the day, accompanying us for the entire morning. He brought us to the Mosque, then into the Medina to the Bir Barrouta, an deep ancient cistern/well that brought water to the surface with jars on a rotating rope attached to gears attached to a camel walking in a circle. It was so surprising and out of the ordinary. Then we visited the Sidi Abid mosque, and the House of the Governor, which doubled as the carpet maker and seller. We finished walking by the Mosque of 3 doors and returned to the car, and bought a blanket from our guide. We drove north towards Tunis, (2 hrs) and stopped at the newly opened ruins of Uthina, which included another Roman ampitheather, a temple and some baths. It was a spread out, but a very cool site, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere. We finished the day at our Airbnb in Sidi Bou Said.
Friday June 16 - We checked out of the airbnb, and met Riyadh and Leila, two friends in Tunisia, who we were introduced to us by Todd and Linda Franks. We had all worked in BSP in Brunei together about 10 years ago. We ate breakfast at the Villa Didon, then they took us to walk through the North African American Military Cemetery. It was the highlight of the day, such a peaceful and impactful place of rest for those servicemen who died in WWII in the efforts to take back North Africa. WE learned about the obscure national group that manages these international military cemeteries throughout the world. Afterwards, we walked through Sidi Bou Said, and then they drove us down to the ancient Phoenician port, and took us to view Lake Tunis, and the Corniche for juice and smoothies. It was lovely morning with wonderful new friends. We then met our tour guide for the afternoon, Noor. She took us through the Roman baths archeological site, and then to the Roman Villas and the Roman theatre and finally the Roman cisterns. Such an incredible amount of ruins to be explored. We drove down to the Medina in Tunis and walked through all the city streets and shops and cafes. She took us to some hidden overlooks, and into the grand mosque (after borrowing a hijab and dress for Tera, and after my pulling down my shorts past my knees) and finally to our restaurant for the evening. We bid her farewell, and ate a hearty Tunisian dinner of couscous and lamb, and then drove to the airport for our marathon set of flights back home. Goodbye Tunisia!!! Goodbye Africa!!! Goodbye Europe!!!