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Although not as picturesque as Split or Dubrovnik, Zagreb is quite a fun city with a nice stretch of area with bars and restaurants. I highly recommend the Technical Museum for a good collection of machines, engines and various ‘technical’ things. Who doesn’t love seeing a section cut through an engine?

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Split is a fantastic city that I had quite a bit of fun in. The squares are really well planned and are always brimming with life and activity. The Diocletian’s palace is very interesting, especially architecturally, as throughout the years it has been co-opted by various inhabitants who have made into their own space – imagine an existing facade and grafted on behind it were various houses and buildings with no relation to the facade.

Walking around the old city of Dubrovnik is quite an interesting dichotemy: it is unfortunately swarming with tourists and everything is very catered towards that (a bit ‘Disney-fied’), but walking away from the main strip you can find little pockets of very intimate scenes and spaces that are very charming.

A brief stop over in Rome and off to Bari for the ferry to Croatia. The first stop, Dubrovnik, is a beautiful place that is saturated with history. I was completely fascinated with the roofs, as you can really see how much the war changed things there.

On another day trip from Tunis, I explored the ancient sites of Carthage, mainly the magnificent Antoinine Thermal baths, and visited the posh neighborhood of Sid Bou Said. The thermal baths are very impressive even though the only part that still stands is a reconstructed pillar of the main space, and the supports of the cellar level. The immense size of the space is awe inspiring in its present form, but I would love to have seen it in the constructed form of its day. Sid Bou Said was unfortunately crammed with tourists but was a nice neighborhood nonetheless – the doors there are amazing. The next morning I was out and early on a flight back to Rome! This was indeed a quick tour of Tunisia, as I am sure there are many amazing things left to be seen.

After a whole day of travel, I made it back up to the north of Tunisia before my flight out to Rome. I spent a day up in the city of Bezerte which is a small fishing town with colorful boats and a walled in medina. Although I made it a point to arrive early, I still did not see any fisherman bringing in their catch, but it was still nice to wander the streets of this quiet city.

After spending the night in Matmata, I hired a guide to take me around to some of the Ksars of the region – these are typical Berber villages that are usually built on top of hills or mountains for easy defense and are made out of the local earth. However, these villages are slowly becoming abandoned in favour of newer and ‘modern’ settlements that are often built relatively close to the ‘old’ village – it was fortunate for me as I had these villages all to myself to wander and explore, but unfortunate because being abandoned, they are left alone to slowly fall into disrepair and may one day become just a pile of rocks. That being said, they are one of the most amazing things I have been fortunate enough to visit.

Heading further south still, I made it to my destination of Matmata and the scorching heat of Southern Tunisia. Matmata is quite known for its troglodyte homes that were used in the original Star Wars fims, and has thus become a tourist destination for bus loads of tourists during the day. These structures are a fantastic example of architecture in the negative: creating spaces by the process of subtraction. Not only did they make very interesting spaces and dwellings, they were surprisingly cool in the scorching heat – a perfect example of thermal mass at work. The best part of staying overnight here, besides getting to sleep in a troglodyte house, is that the tour buses leave well before sunset, leaving me and a few other travelers the serene and peaceful setting of Matmata to ourselves. The blazing orange sun setting over the lunar-like brown earth is truly a sight to behold.

Heading south I made it to the city of Sfax. It is known for its unaltered medina that isn’t catered whatsoever to tourists – nice. The medina definitely wasn’t catered to tourists as hardly any were to be seen, but also a lot of it is still filled with small textile and shoe workshops. I wish I could have taken pictures of them (they are not receptive to photos), but it is quite amazing to see the tiny, tiny shops that have enough space to basically fit a work table, a couple of workers and the merchandise. Another amazing thing is that the medina is surrounded by a massive fortress wall that is still intact after several attacks on it. Also very interesting are the interstitial spaces between the wall and buildings and what happens in them: a place for garbage, a street, or a built structure, etc.

One of the things that Tunisia is known for are the beautifully elaborate doors – a nicely colored wood door with black studs that make a nice decoration and can be found all through out Tunisia. I found the doors and the arch ways quite interesting to look at and photograph – the detail that are put into entrance ways are quite amazing and are a spectacle in themselves.

My second foray into Northern Africa but to the country of Tunisia. It has very similar qualities to Morocco, but with a few different aspects to it: it is a more liberal Islamic country which you can notice quite readily (better Woman’s rights, men drinking liquor, the calls to prayer not as dominant, etc), the colors aren’t as vibrant, and tourism was not as big as in Morocco.

That being said, I had some very good and interesting experiences here starting off with the capital of Tunis. I was still enamored with the medinas of Morocco so the Tunisia one’s didn’t quite live up to them. They just seemed like a paired down version with not as much color or vibrancy. However, the covered arch ways with their ventilation and light shafts were pretty interesting and they are still very chaotic… but in a good way.

Decided to visit a small fishing village called Marsaxlokk out on the east coast of the main island and try to catch a glimpse of the fisherman in action. However, I came too late or they weren’t working that day as the village was pretty quiet, but their boats are really nice and colourful! I spent the last evening walking along the coast of Valletta and enjoying the sunset and sights – quite peaceful.

I spent the day on the Island of Comino, which is a really small island inbetween mainland Malta and Gozo, but is famous for the ‘Blue Lagoon’. And as expected, it was extremely beautiful, but packed with tourists and unfortunately, boats and yachts. I ventured off a bit deeper into the island and found a nice little cove to do absolutely nothing but lie on the beach and swim. It was a tough day.

Crystal clear

Did a really good hike today along the coast of Gozo and through some really interesting ‘fields’. Seemed like the ground had just been razed/burnt and all the look out posts were abandoned.. curious. The walk was really nice though and I got to see one of the most interesting festivities/events so far: horse drag racing!

I spent the next 3 days in Gozo, the little island across the water from Malta. It was really peaceful and easy to get around, especially on foot, so I managed to do a lot of hiking around. However, the first day was scorching hot so I didn’t cover as much as I would have liked to. But I did manage to see Calypso’s cave, apparently where Odysseus spent 7 years idling away with the nymph Calypso – a prisoner of love no less. I must admit the views are quite breath taking though.

After leaving Palermo, I made my way around to Catania and Pozzallo, a couple of port cities along the Sicilian east coast – nothing worth noting though. So I’m jumping ahead to Malta! It was a ferry ride over and I was already ecstatic about English being widely spoken!! (It’s been a long time since I saw a sign in English). The capital city of Valletta is an interesting mix between the tourist sections and the ‘residential’ ones (although much of it is still quite touristy). The whole city is quite nice, but it is really evident where the money from the tourists go towards: the central areas with the major sights and shopping streets. The fringes of the city however, are quite rundown and in need of repair. These areas are still very beautiful, and I would argue have much more character than the touristy parts, but you can see that they are quite neglected compared to the rest.

Not knowing what to expect in Palermo, I arrived to find a city that is even grittier that Napoli and I could feel the Sicilian attitude in the air – a real “Who the F are you?” approach to things. I did however have a really good lunch at a restaurant that was known to be one of the favourite places of Lucky Luciano… pretty badass. The next day I took a day trip to Cefalu which is a small town on the north of Sicily – a touristy but nice and pleasant town.

I decided to go against everybody’s advice and to skip the island of Capri and instead went to the island of Procida just off the coast of Napoli. Capri sounds beautiful with the blue and green grottoes, but the throngs of tourists was a bit of a damper on my decision. Procida, to me, was just as nice albeit quite small. The buildings there were very interesting as they climbed on top of each other while working their way up from the coast. This made for a pretty cool network of stairs, bridges and levels. It reminded me a lot of Cinque Terre, just not as crisp and clean.

Phew.. it was a tiring 2 days going to all of the 3 historic sites. It didn’t help that Q was leaving and a bit sick at the time, but we got through it, and I really enjoyed the time. Hercalaneum was the best preserved between the 2 village sites, often overlooked, and definitely well worth the time – I ended up sprinting through Pompeii as it wasn’t as interesting. Vesuvius was hot…

The grittiness and chaos of Napoli really gave the sense that this is the real heart of Italy, and not just a tourist destination much like the rest of the Italian cities we’ve been too. We both agreed that this was the most authentic by far in terms of culture, people and food! The streets are narrow, maze like, and packed with people, cars and scooters whipping by within inches of you. It was also as though somebody blew fine black dust over the whole city giving it a gritty and raw feeling. If anybody goes, I recommend the subterranean tour – very cool.