A tale of two [unpronounceable] cities

We collectively decided to have a crazy day of cycling. We had taken a few days off in Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia, and were headed for Rijeka, a relatively large coastal city in the north of Croatia. As we intended to spend another couple of days in Rijeka visiting some old friends of mine from a previous hitchhiking trip, the number of rest days in the week was beginning to overwhelm the number of cycling days. For this reason we could justify having a crazy, full-intensity day of cycling 140 km across the mountainous mountains connecting Ljubljana and Rijeka.

We mentally prepared ourselves for a few days, and when the time came to cycle from Ljubljana to Rijeka in one day we had just about reached our limits of physical and psychological preparedness. The rain started about five minutes before we finished loading our bikes, and it continued to fall steadily for the rest of the day. As we had to arrive before 9pm, we had to average around 15 km/hr for the entire day, including breaks, so we made sure we had packed lots of snacks and we spent the entire morning on our bikes, stopping only to stretch our legs and mark our territory.

By eleven in the morning we were very wet, and so cold that we were losing feeling in our extremities (fingers, bums, ear lobes, etc.) However, we were making reasonably good time and were more or less on track to make it to Rijeka on time. To economize on precious minutes, we stopped at a Slovenian bakery for lunch and tried three kinds of burek: classic (ground beef), cheese, and “pizza”. We also had some really bad baklava and maybe even a blue Fanta before getting back on our bikes.

As we left Predjama, we were slightly warmer, less hungry, and in generally good spirits. We were especially motivated by what appeared to be a strong tail wind (a wind traveling in the same direction as us, pushing us along). However, as soon as we left town the wind became so strong that it pushed us off the road. We cycled on for a short while to see if it would subside, but it only appeared to be getting worse. While we couldn’t know it at the time, the wind was gusting at over 100 km/hr. There was an unspoken consensus: we needed to get off the road as soon as possible.

It took some time to walk our bikes to a roadside restaurant a short ways down the highway. Fortunately, the place we chose to stop, much like the rest of Slovenia, had friendly service, free wireless internet, hot soup, and affordable warm beverages with alcohol (tea with rum, to be precise). Having stopped, it quickly became clear that we were not going to make it, as we were running out of time and the weather was not about to change.

Fortunately, there was a train. Unfortunately, we had to get to the train station. Fortunately, Alex found a shortcut on Google maps. Unfortunately, that shortcut was a tractor trail leading into a farmer’s field that quickly deteriorated into a muddy, windy, puddle-filled mess. All in all, the shortcut was hilarious, albeit slightly disconcerting as we were unsure whether it would bring us to where we needed to be.

The train brought us all the way to Rijeka without any serious hiccups. However, the marriage of touring bikes and trains in Europe is generally a stressful union. Most trains will “accept” bikes, but exactly what this means is generally a mystery. This mystery inevitably leads to a surprise outcome with a variable degree of associated inconvenience. In this circumstance, the train had two sections for bikes, each with a metal bike rack elevated about a foot off the ground that covered the entire surface of the floor. Cyclists were meant to place both the front and back wheels into these “bike racks”, where I can only assume the intention was for them to balance on their own in perfect utopian stability. Of course, not only did our bike wheels not even fit in the very specifically shaped racks, but even if they had our bags would have made our bikes too heavy to stand up on their own. Instead, we spread our bikes horizontally, diagonally, upside down, and fit them together in every on conceivable angle in order to simultaneously keep them secure and appease the train conductor ticket man.

We arrived in Rijeka, cycled to my friends’ house from sea level to 120 m (basically the highest point in Rijeka), ate moussaka, and had a great first night relaxing in Croatia. We would end up staying in Croatia far longer than expected.

Travarica my pizza

Enough of our more devout readers (aka our families) have started to ask us where we are in Italy that we’ve decided to come to terms with (and address) the fact that we have been doing a terrible job of keeping you updated. The truth is that we left Italy long ago, and have since visited three new countries (five, if you count the time I accidentally crossed into Switzerland and spent the night in a weird urban forest, and count the fact that we’ll be entering Montenegro later on today).

Since leaving Italy, we’ve done a tour of Slovenia, we’ve cycled down the entire coast of Croatia, and we crossed the border with Bosnia no fewer than six times (but that story will have to wait for a future blog post). Slovenia was a real treat, and I don’t know if it was because there is something inherently special about the country, or because we had been in Italy for roughly 40 days and were in need of a change of scene. If I had to guess, I would say that it’s because Slovenia is full of friendly people, cheap booze, and mountainous landscapes that are absolutely breathtaking. It can easily be counted in my list of top 5 favourite countries (which I won’t list because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings).

After pushing our bikes for over an hour up the most ridiculous hill we had yet encountered, we crossed the border and cruised on down into a beautiful Slovenian valley filled with vineyards. As we cycled down through the valley we noticed that someone had cleared a considerable rectangular area of forest on the top of an adjacent mountain and had written, with rocks and in capital letters, ‘TITO’, which made us stop and wonder whether there was a prevailing sentiment of Yugoslavian nostalgia in Slovenia.

Our first stop in Slovenia was a grocery store, and it was here that we had our first taste of post-Italia culture shock. We had spent enough time in Italy that we had developed a fairly good understanding of the language basics – enough to at least confidently ask for directions, order food, and so on. As we approached the till and had our items scanned, we expected to at least understand how much money the woman wanted in exchange for our food and water. Instead, when she looked at us and said something completely unintelligible, I found myself stupidly muttering “sorry, how much?” It was then that I realized that not only did I not know how to count in Slovenian, but I didn’t even know how to say “thank you”, “hello”, “goodbye”, or basically anything at all. It was only after leaving the grocery store that I realized I had accidentally purchased 9 liters of lemon-flavoured water*, which fortunately turned out to be delicious.

Anyways, I’m not going to get too caught up in describing everything we did in Slovenia (mostly because I already forget everything that happened), but I will give a rundown on some highlights. After leaving the wine valley, we cycled along a bike path for dozens of kilometers up a river so beautiful it could have been from a fantasy movie. It was only after reaching our campsite along another very similar river a few days later that we learned that the area had been a major filming site for the Chronicles of Narnia.** In fact, it was so beautiful that we decided to ditch our itinerary in order to camp for free in one of the most stunning places I have ever slept, swimming all day in glacier-cold water and baking in the hot sun.

We spent the rest of our time in Slovenia experimenting with different kinds of rakje (brandy), cycling on cycling paths (you can get anywhere in Slovenia by cycling path), eating strange cakes, and drinking kava s smetano (espresso filled with whipped cream). Ljubljana was an amazing city, and Bled was one of the most picturesque places I’ve visited (google it, seriously).

 

*To our environmentalist friends: there’s no need for concern, this was an anomalous circumstance as we very rarely purchase bottled water unless forced to do so. In fact, we tend to freak people out a little by drinking the water because tap water virtually never comes recommended, even by other young progressive types (not that we’re particularly young or progressive anymore, but I digress).

**Up to this point, we have inadvertently touristed filming locations for Star Wars (Tunisia), Passion of the Christ (Matera), Chronicles of Narnia (Tolmin), and now Game of Thrones (Dubrovnik).

Bici Molto Pesante!

One of the main reasons that one’s thighs become so glorious whilst on tour is that one must bring everything that they need along for the ride. For me (yes, one bike), the fundamental necessities include, but are not limited to: clothing for all conceivable kinds of weather, a towel, clothing for cycling, three pairs of shoes, a tent, a sleeping bag, an inflatable mattress, a pillow, a stove, cookware, a fuel tank for the stove, 8m of rope for hanging clothes (etc.), supplies for doing dishes, an emergency medical kit big enough for 4 people with an incredible diversity of supplies, Steph’s computer, a spare tire, spare tubes, a spare chain, spare cables and housing, a pump (with pressure gauge), a gigantic heavy chain and lock, spare nuts and bolts, bike maintenance tools, a kindle, a DSLR camera, a phone, a portable speaker, an external hard drive, all associated chargers/adapters, food (often including a bottle of wine, a liter of olive oil, a kilo of pasta, produce, etc.), and gifts for friends along the way (which up until recently included a bottle of ice wine, a can of maple syrup, a glass jar of the same, and a jar of raspberry jam).

Given the fact that I have to somehow load all of these things onto my bike and cycle for thousands of kilometers, some people often find it strange that I travel with the following items: a heavy wooden chess set (at nearly 3000 km I had not yet used it and so sent it home), suspenders, a bright orange dress shirt, a pair of dress pants, two bowties, a plastic bottle full of soap for blowing bubbles, a green vest, and a plastic pig (named piggy) roughly the size (but not the shape) of an average-sized head of cauliflower or perhaps instead the size (and even the shape) of an abnormally large potato.

A day in the life, Parts I and II

Part I

As we had arranged to travel our separate ways for a couple of weeks, Alex, Cristina, and I, on our final night together, rented a studio apartment in Bologna and had a feast. We ate steak, pasta, salad, and far too much chocolate. We drank sparkling red wine (which was surprisingly good), Ballantine’s finest, a rather delicious Valpolicella, and a splash of Fiona’s finocchietto liquore. Needless to say, we overindulged, and I woke up the most hungover I’ve been so far on this trip.

When I’m hungover, I like to punish myself. I forced myself out of bed at 730, packed up my things, said goodbye to Alex and Cristina, and rode my bike for 180 kilometers across the plains of Northern Italy. I was embarking on a journey without iPhone, iPad, iDirections, or any other kind of device (aside from Alex’s uncharged tablet, in case of emergency), and so did what I have often done lately – I drew myself a map in my notebook (take that Apple).

Needless to say, it was a damn good map, but it only got me out of Bologna, and didn’t contribute very much to the necessary navigation of the remaining 330 km to Gemonio, where I would be staying with Verena’s parents (Verena is a good friend from McGill). I did have an All-Italia (1:800 000) road map, but it had already repeatedly proven in the most infuriating of ways to be outdated, and furthermore only contained Italy’s largest highways (upon most of which bicycles are prohibited).

I would also like to preface my next point by saying that Italian road signs, while plentiful, are effectively useless, and I spent much of my time on the road wondering how it is that those who designed them could have been so wrong, again and again, and again, and always. First off, is not uncommon for a road sign to point in completely the wrong direction. For example, I had the choice yesterday between two equally sized provincial highways to get from Luino to Laveno. One of these routes was 15 km, and the other was roughly 25 km. On my map the quicker route appeared to be a slightly larger road. However, every street sign throughout Luino pointed towards the longer route. Second, the distance markers are always, unless by accident, horrifically wrong. It is not uncommon to be riding towards a town and for the remaining number of kilometers to increase in number as you get closer for each of 3 or 4 consecutive signs.

Anyways, I went the wrong way very early on in the day, because of a mean sign that lied to me, and lost about 15 km of riding, which is the equivalent of roughly half a kilogram of hazelnut yogurt. After righting my wrong, I rode about 40-50 km before a very light breakfast (half a kilogram of yogurt). A man came up on a bike and asked me for some money to feed his kids, but I only had 12 euros to last me and I hadn’t seen a bank machine in a while, so I gave him two big apples instead. He accepted them happily, which I feel would never happen in Canada. I guess he really was hungry.

I continued to ride, and promptly experienced a sniffly allergic meltdown that lasted for the next two days. For those of you who don’t know, I’m pretty much allergic to everything external (i.e. not food). A few years ago I went to the allergy doctor for tests, and they confirmed that I was allergic to every kind of grass, every kind of flower, every kind of tree, every kind of religion, and every kind of animal, aside from hamsters, which have never really appealed to me. Sometimes I wish that I loved hamsters, so I could have a giant hamster farm of paradise. By the way, I think we should start a petition calling for a change in the spelling of “hamster” to the obviously more correct “hampster”. I digress.

I rode again and didn’t stop until lunch, which was at well over 100 km and consisted of the most delicious leftovers of steak and pasta imaginable. My Italian isn’t as good as I wanted it to have been by this point (I blame losing my phone, along with relevant language learning apps), but I have gotten particularly good at understanding directions. I suppose this isn’t really something to be proud of, as it is a skill that mostly involves the memorization of a few basic words and the order in which they come up (e.g. dritte, giro a sinistre, diestre no a primo semaforo – a secondo semaforo, giu sottopassagio, ecc. ecc.) At least I think ecc. means etc. in Italiano.

Towards the end of the day I stopped at a grocery store and bought a kilo and a half of apples for one euro and four euro cents (don’t get me started on the absurdity of euro pennies – they even have two cent coins – wtf?!?!? – okay not going there). A super creepy dude with sweat pants that didn’t fit (this is always an important sign) watched me as I locked up my bike and left all my bags to go inside. He followed me in a few moments later, cellphone in hand. I stood in sight of my bike through the window and made no attempt to start shopping until I got a better sense of what he was up to. He stood about five meters away, staring directly at me, clearly not there to buy anything. He was clearly waiting for me to go to the back of the store so he could tell his friend to go steal my bags. So I turned towards him and stared straight at him and scowled until he turned around and walked away. Sure enough, he left the store about 2 minutes later, without buying anything, and proceeded to sit back on the same park bench. After buying my apples and cheese, I went back outside and, sure enough, saw another guy sitting on an opposite park bench who looked equally weird and creepy (in fact they could have been brothers).

Is this post getting boring? I’ll finish now. I left the store, hit the highway, found a guy on the side of the rode with a broken bike, gave him my wrench, and held his handlebars awkwardly while he fixed his bike. Awkwardly because while he was fixing it a greasy man in a jeep pulled up and parked in the middle of the highway and started yelling at the kid as he was trying to fix the bike, not really caring that he was blocking traffic and probably risking all of our lives.

Anyways, it started to rain so I wrapped plastic bags around my feet and rode through Cremona, crossed Cremona, left Cremona, and got pretty tired. I was on the wrong road again, but I didn’t really care because I knew I was going in approximately the right direction: North. I stopped at some bar and made friends with a group of four kids sitting outside smoking. I told them my story in broken Italian and they seemed super impressed and friendly and shocked that I intended to sleep in the rain, yet none of them invited me to stay the night. I finished my beer and rode on to find a bike trail along a canal and the most perfect camping spot under a tree, with no roads around, and surrounded only with the sounds of crickets chirping and frogs burping.

 

PART II

So it turns out it wasn’t actually the best camping spot. After crawling, greasy and sweaty, into my sleeping bag and filling my tent with the crumbs from my pear and provolone sandwich, I fell fast asleep. In the early hours of the morning, the rain came in full force. It turns out I was sleeping in a depression under the tree, and it wasn’t long before I was sleeping in a puddle – everything wet.

I was pretty grumpy that day, as it continued to rain for most of it. I was sick of how ugly and flat it was in Italy’s Emilia Romagna (though by the name you’d think it would be nice). The worst part was the incredible volume of traffic everywhere – with all driving as badly as manic chimpanzees – as Italians are prone. By around 3 pm the sun had come out enough that I could take out my tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat and dry them on the side of the dirty highway. With most of my things dry, I had lost interest in cycling through the traffic wasteland, so I took a quick train ride from Bergamo to Como, which was much more beautiful. I then left town and was really enjoying my evening ride when I turned around to see the most giant awful rain cloud in the universe. The rest is kind of a blur – I accidentally entered Switzerland – A really friendly guy stopped me on the road to tell me that he was also a cyclist and he was so happy that I was out traveling and that it was so great (but despite the impending rain of doom and the fact that it was around 830pm he didn’t offer to have me stay – what is with people?) – I found a weird urban forest that had the gate left unlocked so I set up my tent under a tree and proceeded to have another allergic meltdown.

At the onset of the downpour I had just finished setting up my tent and getting all my belongings inside.

 

Cooking a feast

Cooking a feast

Camping night 1

Camping night 1

Drying my affairs

Drying my affairs

Camping night 2 (accidentally in Switzerland)

Camping night 2 (accidentally in Switzerland)

No bikes.

No bikes.

Where Italy meets Switzerland

Where Italy meets Switzerland

Thank you a thousand

Italians can be quite lovely when they’re not at the steering wheel. In fact, we have encountered an overwhelming amount of generosity in past weeks from not only Italians, but also Moroccans and South Africans. As Cristina mentioned in the … Continue reading

The Ups and Downs of Touring

I love hills. I love the challenge of climbing, I love looking over my shoulder to see my progress, and I love the feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment that come with arriving at the top. I love the burning in my thighs and the feeling of wind on sweat. Maybe most of all, I love the thrill of going down again, not only for the rush, but because I find a certain peace when all my hard work is undone in those few short moments. I think that peace comes from the knowledge that a new hill awaits at the bottom of each one conquered.

Some people don’t like hills. They would rather ride on flat ground, and in a straight line. For the obvious reason that hills are unavoidable when touring, these are not the types of people who tend to ride their bikes around the world. However, there is a less obvious reason as well: it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy climbing hills. They have to be adventurous, optimistic, driven, and up for a challenge. These people, whether cyclists or not, will end up traveling, exploring, meeting new people, and learning all sorts of quirky facts about the world and how it works. All of this is to say that I decided today that I really like people who love climbing hills, and I think I’m going to surround myself with more of these kinds of people from now on.

Now Cristina, Alex, and myself are by no means super-expert-bicyclists. Nevertheless, we’ve ridden our fair share of rides, and, as such, our fair share of hills. It should thus come as at least a mild surprise to learn that the three of us collectively agreed that we today conquered our “gnarliest hill ever”. What we mean by “gnarly” is that it was certainly not the longest hill we’ve climbed (I find myself thinking back to the constant 15km uphill ride along the Petit Train Du Nord in Quebec), nor was it the steepest, but it was a perverse marriage of the two.

We began at sea level, where the air was warm and the infrastructure relatively well maintained. By the time we climbed the steep 8.6 km journey into mountainous Calabria, the vegetation had changed, we could see our breath, and we were in a cloud. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure I saw a herd of wild yaks, but I may have been hallucinating due to extreme exhaustion. It took hours, and we were frozen, sweaty, and weak in the thighs.

We ate lunch at the top, and it was at this point that I realized that my cell phone was missing. While it wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t even have a smart phone, I realized then just how quickly one could become addicted to such a device. As I looked through the only pouch I had opened that day for the 17th time, my heart continued to beat faster and faster. Gone would be all my music, my notes, my poetry, my maps, my Italian learning apps, my online banking, and my ability to independently communicate with my family, friends, and girlfriend. It was then that the irony set in: the one time I misplace my phone would result in my having to ride back down, and then up again, the gnarliest hill every conquered.

So I rode back down – 20 km one way to be exact – to the the place I was sure I had left my phone. It rained the entire way, and I quickly became drenched, frozen, and on the brink of despair. I realized upon leaving that the chance my phone had been neither stolen nor ruined by the rain was roughly the same as that of a sloth with a hernia successfully outrunning an avalanche.

My lower back was in quite a lot of pain, and I soon lost feeling in my hands and feet from the cold, but I tried to stay positive. I made myself focus on the stunning natural and cultural beauty all around me. I thought of where I was, and how lucky I was to be riding my bicycle in such a place. I practiced my broken Italian, and distracted myself for a good amount of time by trying to remember how to say “ninety”. I thought of the kind cafe owner Giuseppe, who, with zero English, invited us to stay in his home when the weather turned bad. I thought of all the amazing new foods we had tried in Sicily, and of the new friends we had made.

As I neared the only place I thought my phone might be, I thought to myself: “Maybe I placed in on the concrete face down, so that the silver phone case will not only blend in with the pavement,  making it invisible to people walking by, but also protect it from the rain”. I held my breathe as I finally pulled up on my bike. I was completely and utterly exhausted, drenched, and frozen, and my phone was nowhere in sight.

Instead of cycling back, as I had intended, I took a train to Rosarno, where Alex, Cristina, and I had planned to meet. I sat alone, drinking cheap beers outside a dark cafe, put on dry socks, and slipped my feet back into my wet shoes. I was missing home and having a hard time finding the eager anticipation for the hills I would climb the following morning. I was wondering if I’d be able to find my travel companions, and if not, wondering where I was going to sleep.

Focacciawith our couchsurfing host.

Focacciawith our couchsurfing host.

I put my phone down in order to take this photo, and forgot to pick it up again.

I put my phone down in order to take this photo, and forgot to pick it up again.

Thomas' bike, waiting for the train to bring him back.

Thomas’ bike, waiting for the train to bring him back.

Tunisian Origins

I picked up Alex and Cristina from the airport on March 17th. They arrived with bright smiles and gigantic cardboard boxes filled with bicycles, tents, sleeping bags, cookware, clothes for all kinds of weather, and a bottle of bourbon for our Couchsurfing host. Having arrived two days prior, I learned the hard way that it’s best to negotiate a taxi before needing one, so this is what I did before going in to meet them. The driver, who we payed very fairly, nevertheless attempted to charge us an extra 20% upon our arrival. I handed him the 50 Dinar we had intially agreed upon, muttering “tvathem”, one of the few arabic words I’d picked up, insinuating that there was no way he was getting any more.

That taxi driver was an exception. In general the Tunisian people have been kind, welcoming, generous, and honest. However, our host Dhia was the only Tunisia we got to know really well. We mostly ended up spending time with his American and Italian friends as well as a few Canadian McGill grads. Dhia made every effort to spend as much time with us as possible, despite working nearly full-time as a doctor in the final stages of his training. Giving us a full Tunisian experience was important to him, and we were very grateful to have him as a host.

Several people had recommended a visit to the Bardo museum, and I had thought that this might be something nice to for Alex and Cristina’s first day. I wasn’t familiar with the tourist attractions in Tunis, and the museum was in Dhia’s neighbourhood, so it seemed like an obvious first thing to do. However, Laurent and Gabriel, the Canadians I had met, messaged me the night before asking if we would help them film a part of their documentary the following day seeing as the weather would be nice. We obliged of course, thinking it would be nice to spend the day in the city’s beautiful medina, and because it would be silly to spend such a beautiful day inside a museum.

The next day, following our tour of the medina, the five of us sat down at a touristy cafe for freshly squeezed orange juice and a smoke from a hookah. As we were chatting enthusiastically in the sun about the differences between Tunisia and Canada, Laurent received a phone call from Dhia, who was at work, saying that there had been gunshots fired near his home, but that he didn’t know more. Laurent hung up, only to receive calls from both Dhia, and then his landlord, saying that there had been a terrorist attack at Bardo museum and that seven people, probably Polish, were dead. The mood at our table changed quite suddenly. Dhia told us that he was leaving work early to come and pick us up and bring us home.

Not knowing what was happening in the city, we walked to the end of the street so that Dhia might pick us up. Our senses were heightened, and we noticed an increased police presence. The air was tense, and as we waited for Dhia the traffic became increasingly congested. A car rear-ended another next to where we were standing. Dhia called us again, telling us to get into taxis because he was not able to get to where we were standing. He sounded extremely worried and distressed. By the time we were able to hail taxis, it became clear that hostages had been taken, that the death toll had potentially increased to 11 tourists, and that our neighbourhood had been closed off. When we told the taxi driver we were going to Bardo, he looked at us in bewilderment for a moment, before simply saying “No”. We had to put Dhia on the phone to give directions to the nearest part of our neighbourhood where we could be picked up.

Riding in that taxi through the streets of Tunis was a surreal experience. I sat alone in the back seat, with Gabriel in the front (the others were in another cab). The Arabic news was on the radio at full volume, but it wasn’t loud enough to deafen the sounds of passing police and ambulance sirens. The city passing me by through the window became a place that was foreign, unfamiliar, and even scary. I looked around nervously, irrationally half-expecting to see a gun pointed in my direction.

The taxis left us on the side of the highway opposite Dhia’s neighbourhood. We were a group of five foreigners, and as hundreds of cars passed us on the busy road, and I felt like a sitting duck. After crossing the highway and passing into our neighbourhood, an older woman stopped her car next to us and asked us if we needed help. She had a look of complete bewilderment on her face.

Moments later, Dhia pulled up in his car. He was pale, and clearly the most distraught of our group. I didn’t understand at the time, but he explained to me later that what had happened was one of his biggest fears. It was something that he and his family spoke about regularly, a nightmare they prayed would never come true. Tunisia is the only country emerging relatively unscathed from the Arab Spring. It has been sitting precariously on the edge of stability, with the entire world watching on the sidelines, waiting to see if it will survive the transition to democracy. To Dhia, this event was the potential beginning of that process of destabilization. Furthermore, Tunisia’s economy relied heavily on tourism, and an attack like this could seriously if not fatally harm the industry.

By the time we returned home, only an hour or two after the attacks, Alex, Cristina, and I had already received a flurry of Facebook messages and emails from worried friends and family members. I assured everyone at home that we were safe before distracting myself with the preparation of lunch. I remember feeling the adrenaline wear off as I fried carrots on the small gas stove. As I cooked, the afternoon call to prayer sounded from a nearby mosque and floated through the kitchen window.

After lunch I fell asleep from exhaustion. I woke up three hours later to find that it was only Alex, Cristina, and myself left at home. In the end, 21 people had been killed at the museum, most of them tourists, in addition to the two gunmen.

We had planned to go that evening with the other Canadians to make poutine for some of his friends on the other side of town. We figured that things had settled down enough, and that by not going we would have been giving the attackers a small victory. It was a wonderful night filled with laughter, good food, good drinks, amazing cheesecake, and a group of people well worth taking the time to befriend. With five of us working, it took nearly 4 hours to make the poutine. At midnight, we ate what Dhia called a “Cinderella dinner.” After dinner we all walked down to the ocean and stood for some time under the stars, watching the waves crash. It was my first tangible reminder of why I travel.

The next day was also beautiful, and we walked for hours from La Marsa to Sidi Bou Said, before marching on Carthage (literally). The tension was still in the air (figuratively), and there were police everywhere (also figuratively). The historic sites in Carthage were closed as a result of the attacks, but it was still a wonderful day, walking along the Mediterranean in the sun. My mind wandered from the terrorist attacks, and I found myself wondering the sorts of things I normally wonder, such as “Why are the doorknobs here in the centre of the door?” and “Would the combined difference in energy expended on opening the cupboard and front door from the middle as opposed to the edge (as is convention in Canada) be the same as running a marathon?” I blame these thoughts for our unintentional stumbling-upon of the presidential palace. We were turned away first at the beach, and then again on the street. However, something always brought us back to thinking about the people killed at the museum, a place we could easily have been.

When we were stopped for an interview by France 2, a major French news network, I told them in broken french that the events would not affect our plans to travel in and experience Tunisia. These sorts of attacks have recently occurred in Canada, Paris, Australia, and elsewhere, and are not good enough reason to avoid visiting a place. Indeed, they are reason to make special effort to visit. Sadly, even though this is the first attack of its kind in over a decade in Tunisia, many tourists will not feel the same.

We had a wonderful dinner of fish, salad, and harissa with Dhia. Harissa is probably the most Tunisian food (fact checked by Alex), and is used in nearly everything. The second most common food is probably the french fry sandwich (with your choice of merguez, shwarma, escalope, and more). Also worth trying are couscous, makloub, mint tea, and pine nut tea.

Our last full day in Tunisia was Independence Day. We visited the city centre to witness the red flags and festivities. When Dhia was in despair, I told him that the events at Bardo museum were more likely to bring Tunisians together than to tear them apart. I wasn’t sure at the time if this were true, but I felt it to be true walking through the streets on Friday the 20th. There was a widespread feeling of Tunisian pride, solidarity against terrorism, and peaceful identity. Tunisia is a beautiful, interesting, and exciting country and I look forward to one day visiting again.

Independence Day flags.

Independence Day flags.

Our Couchsurfing host Dhia

Our Couchsurfing host Dhia

We were approached and asked by some Tunisian students to be a part of their school project.

We were approached and asked by some Tunisian students to be a part of their school project.

"Welcome to foreigners. All Tunisians stand together against terrorism. Long live Tunisia."

“Welcome to foreigners. All Tunisians stand together against terrorism. Long live Tunisia.”

Walking through the medina

Walking through the medina

Hanging out with Dhia at Villa 78

Hanging out with Dhia at Villa 78