Look Beyond

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On Thursday, I walked.

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I made it a point to get lost, to meander, to explore.

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The world looks different from my sneakers and getting off the main road yields happy alleyways and corners.

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I’m always thrilled to find the places where real people live and imagine what goes on inside the walls, who lives there and what the rhythm of daily life is like.

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But to find those places, you have to push past the obvious.

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You must look beyond the apparent.

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Look above the crowd.

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And in seeking the unexpected, you might rise to sun-bleached vistas.

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Or find a quiet moment on the Mediterranean Sea.

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Or maybe even commune with the souls of those long gone.

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It’s always worth it to make your own way.

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And even lovelier to return home, heart filled with the journey.

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An 8-Track Car Cake

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His love of cars has never faded.

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So when it came time for a celebration of turning 8, he asked for a race track with a car on it with a puff of whipped cream smoke coming out.

There was that, but then making the shape of the cake in an “8” seemed like a no brainer. Then we had to cover it in grass and use Oreo crumbs as a race track.

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Cake decided and designed, now it was time to throw a party.

Friends were invited, little sisters tolerated.

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We started with the classic Donut on a String, because we did it once, and our kids thought it was the greatest thing ever.

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They always ask for it. Possibly because they can imbibe so much sugar.

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I learned 8 is officially the age when everyone drops off. As in their kids. Last year several parents hung around, this year it was just us and eight hyper 7 and 8-year-olds.

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We wanted to keep them as busy as possible, so we set up an “obstacle course” in the backyard.

Step one: Dribble through the cones.

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Step two: Balance on a log.

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Step three: Crawl through the boxes and jump over the hurdle.

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Step four: Run through the “sand trap” and slide down the slide.

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Step five: Jump rope.

Step six: Run through the Orbeez pool!
Or fall, as the case may be.

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Step seven: Pull the rock up the hill in the sled.

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Step eight: Return to finish!

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They couldn’t stay away from the Orbeez pool, though, and after everyone had finished the course, a war broke out.

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Which they probably enjoyed more than any organized activity.

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After they were hot, sweaty and tired, we pulled out the sugar to revive them.

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Thankfully it was an overcast afternoon, but it got plenty sticky in our shady back yard. Everyone was glad to stop for drinks.

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After we picked up trash and corralled them again, it was time for presents.

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Post presents, we moved on to the finale: the piƱata.

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I love doing these because we always did them growing up. Of course, ours were make of terracotta pots, which made them much more fun to crack open, but the fancy paper shapes they come in nowadays is just as fun. As is being given a stick and told you can wack something.

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And finally, we sent those sugar-high kids back to their parents.

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Another birthday celebrated hard.

Doors of Sidi Bousaid

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If you’ve looked at a tourist brochure of Tunisia, you’ve likely seen this door in the background of someone’s photo. It’s right on the main drag, in front of a little park.

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But if you spend some time looking closer, you’ll find some other gems.

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Like maybe one covered in bougainvillea.

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Or a doorway that’s more ornate.

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Perhaps one with dark secrets.

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Maybe even one tucked away in an alley that didn’t quite get the shade of blue dead on.

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How about one that’s freshened up?

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Or what about a yellow door?

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Or a white one with stars?

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What about a simple rectangular one, with hardware as dark as kohl eyeliner.

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What about one with a chalky finish and a blue-painted railing to match?

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Wander off the main path a little, friends.

The Medina

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I got to spend one day wandering around by myself. I wasn’t sure how it would go as a lone Western female tourist in an Arab country, but it went just fine. I don’t think I’d have the guts to do it in Egypt, but in Tunisia, yes.

I headed straight for the souk. And when you ask strangers to take your picture by the “I Love Tunis” sign, you get backpacks in the photo. *shrug*

Inside the souk itself, it wasn’t that spectacular. Narrow, winding passages, shops stocked with the usual kitchenware, clothing, shoes and spices. It’s more like a local shopping spot than a tourist dream like Istanbul’s Grand Mosque. I was super conscious of getting pick-pocketed in the crowd, so I didn’t take many photos.

I found myself in a quieter alley, though, at one point, and some guy asked me if I wanted to see the old mosque. Answer: yes, please!

He tried to direct me, as in: turn left, go around the corner, then turn right, go up some stairs, something something something in Arabic… I headed off, but he could tell I was getting nowhere, so he came along. He proceed to speed walk into an ancient mosque (and maybe palace?) jabbing his finger toward the various rooms.

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We were talking in Spanish, the most of any language both of us spoke. My Arabic: limited to mostly the alphabet. My French: mostly cooking words and food. His English: a few phrases. Instead, his version of Frenchish Spanish would have to do. All that to say: I didn’t get a lot of the details.

I think we were in the al-Zaytuna mosque, because I do believe he mentioned something about olives. Apparently the mosque was built on the site of a Christian basilica formerly named Santa Olivia. When Islam came in and the mosque built, they converted the name to Arabic.

We zoomed up stairs past landings and carpet shops, dusty untouched wings of the building and amazing tile work. I wanted to take my time and meander up, but Mr. Volunteer Guide was in a hurry. I think he may have said the mosque was due to shut for service time in a few minutes. But we weren’t in a worship section, so who knows?

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What I do know is that I emerged into bright sunlight on a tile mosaiced floor with sweeping 360-degree views of the city. Minarets, satellite dishes and domes peeked out. It was a sort of cafe built on the terraces of the ancient buildings, with left-over tile pieces encrusting everything.

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Up at the top, there was a man behind the counter and three girls giggling around a table, but other wise it was empty. Again, I could have lingered much longer for a coffee in the sun and those views. But Mr. Volunteer Guide awaited. He said the square minarets, particularly the al-Zaytuna one, was in a native shape (square) and dated to the 700s. The distinctive octagonal minarets were built by the Turks during the Ottoman empire.

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Suuuuuper charming, right?

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I’ll probably never be able to find it again.

But it was worth it.

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The tour ended with another whirlwind stop through some of the ancient madrassas, some still in service and others converted to art studios and the like.

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When my son saw all the black and white painted arches in the madrassas, he said they looked like shark teeth.

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All I know is: marble/mosaic/basalt cobblestone 4ever.

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Tunisian Treats

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This was probably not the most authentic meal, but man, was it good. Kebabs, caraway pita bread and mint lemonade after an afternoon hiking Sidi Bou Said.

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I wandered into this place perched on the side of a hill on a small road in the neighborhood.

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It was perfect, with a view overlooking the Mediterranean and the main city of Tunis.

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And great people watching.

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The waiters zipped up and down the terraced tables bearing drinks, plates of food and hookahs.

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The locals chatted and smoked while I soaked in the view and the atmosphere of golden hour, sipping my mint lemonade.

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