Well, I am back from Poland, which I have been very lucky to be able to visit every summer but one since 1999. My first trip was in 1986, studying there, and between 1986 and 1999 I had visited probably 6 times. Poland has been dramatically transformed during that time, from a backwards economy to a very dynamic, growing bustling center of a newly resurgent Central Europe.
Each year we try take one side visit, which is usually to a location in Poland, for example this excellent little village with a restored Castle (yes, it is a B&B now) and some nice lakes has been a frequent stop over point. Also, on the way over I have stopped over at cities such as Helsinki, Amsterdam, London, New York and have been able to see some architecture and maybe a museum or two also. One year we went to Crete, which I would recommend to anyone for its mixture of nature, ruins, and interesting mix of Architecture. But this year we went a little off of the beaten path and visited Tunisia for a week.
Tunisia is fairly accessible for most western tourists, with large numbers of Poles, Swedes, Germans, British and especially French in evidence for much of the trip. There were rather few Americans we bumped into, both of them were in Tunis, and were there studying Arabic.
I would note that my modest knowledge of French came in quite handy, as did the (very) little bit of Ms. F’s Arabic.
In anycase, Ms. Foundry and I traveled with our children, my son who is 9 and my daughter who is 14. We rented a car for 5 days, and I drove only one day. Ms F. has some experience driving in Baghdad and Damascus, so after one day of driving, I had had enough, and was only too happy to navigate. Tunisia is a fairly westernized country, especially in and around the larger cities, however the driving style is different, with lane markings seemingly only of theoretical importance, and obeying traffic signals seemed to be optional, in Tunis at least.
We found the trip very interesting, and the achievements were, for me at least:
1. Seeing a real Souk, functioning in an authentic Medina (Islamic old walled section of town), a very different kind of urbanization than most Americans or Europeans are used to seeing.
2. Sailing, and swimming in the sea,
3. Educating our children, taking them to a land that is really different, especially with respect to seeing the souks refered to above,
4. Seeing some excellent Architecture, most of it local, vernacular, and indigenous, but also the Roman ruins at El-Jem were impressive.
The high point was certainly the observation by my son that “not everyone in Middle East wants to shoot up Americans like everyone back home thinks.” Presumably he is refering to his playmates, peer group, or media-formed perceptions?