Monday, 29 May 2017

A taste of Tunisia: Tunis city

El Zaytouna mosque

Our third day in Tunis we dedicated to the city itself.
I mentioned that we were living in the old town with its maze of tiny alleys, this also contains the markets of Tunis (or for those who feel souks is a special word, then souks...which translates simply to markets in Arabic).

The markets

In the middle of these markets is also Tunis' oldest mosques: El Zaytouna mosque (mosque of the olive tree), unfortunately we weren't dressed appropriately to go in, so that bit we missed. But the markets themselves are amazing, you can find pretty much everything you want here, food, clothes, spices, shoes, it, it's most probably here. The alleys are also named after the merchandise you're expected to find here: Cloth market, Spice sellers market, etc...Of course this is not strict, you will find a bit of a mix here and there, but is mostly true.

Bab el Bhar

The markets also offer shops of traditional Tunisian sweets as well as cozy restaurants and cafes. One of these called Foundok el Attarine (Spicers' hotel) was where we stopped for something to drink. As far as I understand it's not a hotel anymore, but rather a restaurant and exhibition center. My sister an I gave a couple of Tunisian sweet dishes a try, one turned out to be milk pudding with rose water, the other milk pudding with pine nuts paste 😁. It's a beautiful place, recommended if you're in Tunis.

Belvedere gardens

From there we walked through the tiny streets until we emerged at Bab el Bhar (The gate of the sea), walked from there to the Independence square with it's impressive cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul and just strolled along the Habib Bourguiba street until we reached Bourguiba himself on his horse at the end of it πŸ˜„. From there we didn't really know where to go and we had loads of time, so we looked at the maps and headed towards the Belvedere gardens, which was longer a walk than we anticipated, and upon arrival we also found out part of it is a zoo and we weren't interested, but were a bit tired so we sat for a while there and had a snack and some water then jumped in a taxi to the Punic port I mentioned in my previous post.

Habib Bourguiba street

We took the train back from there and walked back through the tiny streets that were more or less abandoned at 8 in the evening as all the shops close around 6, and headed towards a restaurant recommended to us by the guesthouse owner. El saraya. Amazingly beautiful place, and my food was really good from starter to dessert. Another one I'd recommend.

St. Vincent de Paul cathedral

The day after we had a flight at 7p.m. meaning we had like half the day to go around, we went to the Bardo museum which is the biggest in Tunis. It contains the history of Tunis through the different eras and reigns of different people. This museum is a whole different story from the Carthage one, and I would've spent more time in it if not for the bored people waiting for me by the exit. This one had interesting reads, interesting pieces exhibited and beautiful interior. Again recommended if you like museums.

El Saraya restaurant

This was the end of our time in the capital, we were now heading to the beach!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

A taste of Tunisia: Carthage

The view from Birsa hill

The second day we headed to historical Carthage. This is a city very rich in history and culture, there's debate as to when it was established, but it's around 1000 B.C by the Phoenicians. It was a thriving commercial city and the remains found there show how open to the world around them they were, how many different cultures passed through it and blended together, how their own arts been influenced by so many others they came in contact with. But the romans had different ideas some 750 years after, burnt it to the ground, killed everybody and built their own city on the rubble...

A colorful window inside the Acropolium church (next to Carthage museum)

Anyway, there are a few sites lying not too far from each other around Carthage, you can easily do them all in one day if you start a bit early as they all close at 5. You buy your ticket at one and use it to enter everything apart from the Punic port. We didn't enter all as we didn't start early enough but were happy with what we saw.

The ticket gives you access to:
- Carthage museum
- The amphitheater
- The Roman villas
- The Roman theater
- The Paleo-Christian museum
- The Tophet of Salammbo
- Antonin baths
- Magon quarter

Punic quarter on Birsa hill

If you start at the right end you can walk through them all, but we didn't. We didn't do much research beforehand and just went straight to the Carthage museum which is on top of the Birsa hill with the remains of the Punic quarter. This is where people of Carthage tried to go to escape the crazy Romans, and built themselves small temporary houses. Unfortunately, that didn't help. The remains are cool, the museum is very small, it's trying but in all honesty failing. Some pieces are lacking description, some have it only in French or only in Arabic, basically a bit disappointing.

Roman theatre

From there we went to the Roman theatre. Now this is the same one that hosts the Carthage music festival every autumn, it's in great shape but all the modern installations take a little bit from its ancient charm.

Roman villas

From there the Roman villas were a short walk away, but guess who started walking the wrong way and then realized there's no way in from there? πŸ˜‚ So we walked back and then walked the right way and got there, this place used to be part of the city and one of the houses (the aviary house) has been restored to give an idea of how this looked. And if you walk a bit further toward the huge mosque there, you'll also see the remains of a little theater called the Odeon.

Antonin's baths

Then we asked the man at the tickets office where the closest site was: This turned out to be Antonin's baths, it's less than 10 minutes to walk there, and this was really impressive! Of all the sites we've been at this was definitely my favorite. The baths are a huge structure by the sea, and a lot of it has survived so you get the idea of how this looked and all the rooms and pools. Pretty cool! One must say that this is a Roman build though, not Phoenician.

At this point we decided to stop for a coffee and some soldiers we met on the way pointed us to the direction to go. I've had a bit of a headache all day, but the moment I sat down, it just got mega worse. So instead of heading to the Punic port after a food stop, we had to get back home.

Entrance from the sea into the Punic port

We did go to the Punic port the day after though, what remains of it today is the shape, this is a donut of water pretty much, with an entrance from the sea. Some small boats do moor here today, but back when it was build it had "rooms" around both inner and outer walls of this donut where you could get the boat in. Impressive!
The Punic port

Carthage is impressive and is absolutely worth a visit if you're in Tunisia, but plan beforehand, find out where everything is and make a route for the day. And if you don't understand Arabic or French, read up beforehand 😎

(wow! this was a very big biscuit, more like shortbread πŸ˜„)

Thursday, 25 May 2017

A taste of Tunisia: Sidi Bou Said

The most famous thing about Tunisia for me has always been those pretty white houses with blue trim...Blue doors, blue windows and sometimes some extra decoration, overlooking the sea.

The (rather loose) plan we had for Tunis definitely included those. Some googling revealed that this is the trademark of little town or suburb of Tunis: Sidi Bou Said.

This is an area of small streets and alleys where all the houses are painted in white with most of them (like 98%) having blue doors and windows. There are orange trees and loads of bougainvillea around, all this on a hill overlooking the Med. In short: picture perfect!

As you enter it there is quite a number of souvenir and traditional crafts shops that will invite you to take a look but won't cling, which is really great. One seller invited us in to look at the house he set shop in as it was historical and indeed very impressive on the inside! "Come in, you don't have to buy anything, just look at the interior"...Not something I'm used to. Tourism hasn't damaged this country yet.πŸ‘

Sidi Bou Said is exactly where we spent our whole first day in Tunis. Just walking around admiring the views, all the blue around, in breezy sunny weather, had a good dinner in one equally white and blue building there and bought some local sweets on the way back home around sunset.

I had couscous with fish for dinner and it was really good! I didn't know couscous was a Tunisian specialty as well, I thought it came from Morocco. Well, you travel you learn πŸ˜€

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A taste of Tunisia: A vacation begins

I just came back from a week's vacation in Tunisia that I really loved. It's a country I always wanted to visit and experience, and some time ago I was talking about it with my little sister and we laughed about meeting there one day (given I'm in Norway and she's in Egypt that is...).

Finally this February we decided to do it and started making a plan, got more travel companions signing on: my husband and my mom, and 12th of May we got on our planes towards this little visited pearl of North Africa.

And now that I'm back, happy, relaxed and a bit tanned, I wanted to put some short posts (or biscuits 😊) about my Tunisian experience.

The trip didn't start so great. I had a flight via Frankfurt that decided to stop flights because of some thunderstorms in the north of Germany that never made it to Frankfurt but that delayed our flight from Oslo enough for us to miss our connection to Tunis. Luckily Lufthansa picked up the bill and gave us a hotel room and a dinner voucher and put us on a flight early but not too early next morning, so we technically didn't lose any vacation days in Tunis.

Then we got on an overpriced taxi to out hotel when we landed that charged us more than triple the amount he should've paid. Wasn't totally unexpected but still unpleasant.

The hotel or rather the guesthouse was in the old town. Houses packed next to each other, a narrow maze of streets, loads of street cats...It wasn't even visible from the street until people pointed at a little door at the end of a tiny alley. Inside life was quite different. It was a renovated traditional family house with an inner courtyard with a little fountain, the guestrooms overlooking this courtyard from the second floor. All clean and nice, a good although small breakfast whenever you wake up and ask for it and tea/coffee/water whenever you want and as much as you want for no extra charge πŸ‘. It was cozy and quite a different experience from your usual hotels especially that we were the only guests during the days we stayed there.

Taxis were cheap enough to use them to go everywhere and we did exactly that.

The first destination after arriving at the guesthouse, getting greeted with tea, relaxing, freshening up and changing stinky travel clothes was the picturesque seaside town (or suburb of Tunis) Sidi Bou Said. But that's in the next biscuit πŸ˜‰

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The almighty Ukrainian shirt

I have finally done it! After two years of cross-stitching perseverance I've finally done it! 😁

The whole story started with me travelling to Ukraine a couple of years ago on what could be described as a nostalgic vacation. I wanted to see my childhood city Lviv again and how it looked today (well...2 years ago). Yes. I was born in Lviv, Ukraine. Because my mom is from that beautiful city. And I lived there for 5 years before moving with my mom to the Arabic world to join my Jordanian father.
The front

But long story short, I travelled to Ukraine on vacation and my mom asked me to buy her a Ukrainian shirt (locally known as a vyshyvanka: an embroidered one). Oh! And get one for Basma (my little sister). I asked: How about Lara? (the middle sister). Answer: No, she doesn't want one.

Fast forward a few months when these two shirts have been delivered to the requesters, and I get the question from Lara: How about me? Me: πŸ˜πŸ˜•πŸ˜²πŸ˜‘..............OK, I'll make you one myself.

And I started the cross-stitching journey: Went and googled and downloaded a bunch of designs, then thought and rethought until I decided on one, then decided how to use it in my work. Then googled some more and found a very basic pattern for the shirt/blouse, then started on a long journey of cross-stitching.

As in the case of my own Palestinian shirt, once the front piece was done, the enthusiasm was much reduced. So it took some time and self-pushing to get started on the sleeves, and by the time I started on the second one I was so bored I just wanted to get it over with!

But once that was done, the sewing was super fast. I started by basting the piece together to check the fit of this basic pattern of mine. That fitting session revealed the biggest neckline of all times, that I test gathered to fit, but that resulted in very tight armholes which I also modified to look and feel better.

Then I went to work. I started by properly gathering each piece on its own, the sleeves and back across the whole piece:

And on both sides of the middle embroidery on the front piece:

Then I sewed the raglan sleeves to the front, and after to the back. Then finished the neckline with a red satin bias tape.

The sleeve seam and side seam I did in one go.

Then the excitement made me forget to make more pictures of the work in progress πŸ˜„. But what happened next was to gather the sleeve hems a bit and use the same satin tape to finish those. On the sleeves however I used two layers of the tape to give it more width. And last I hemmed the shirt itself.

I tried also to make a little "rope belt" to match using cotton yarn, it didn't turn too bad but could've been a bit longer...

And here it is:

It might be a bit emptier than it should be but that's what I had patience for this time. And this also concludes my Sewing for others collection, which means: I DID IT!

The Burda project link will come later when I have pictures of the owner modelling it for me 😊

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Shirt in flowers

May is coming closer and closer but I'm also progressing quite well with my collection. I have finished the shirt I was planning for a friend before Easter, and boy am I happy with it!

The plan was this:

- Pattern 9/2013 #117 from Burda Style.
- Cotton poplin fabric from Minerva Crafts.
- Yellow butterfly buttons and black flat buttons from Stoff & Stil.

The fabric I got was quite a bit narrower than what was in the pattern, so there was a moment of panic when I started laying out the pattern pieces and they wouldn't fit πŸ‘»! Thankfully the moment passed and it was after all enough fabric 😁.
There were a lot of pieces to this shirt, quite the puzzle! 22 pieces!

It was indeed a project that took time and effort. I really wanted to get it right and make it look professional, so all seams are sewn on the normal machine first then finished on the overlocker and a lot of the edges and hems were basted to get the exact shapes, curves where it's curved and straight lines where it's straight lines. The result is very...very satisfying!

The process went like this: First I did the bust and waist darts on the front bodice pieces (are you counting? that's 2 πŸ˜‰).

Then I sewed the side back bodice pieces to the center ones (that's 6) and stitched the center back seam, after which I laid it on top of the front pieces and sewed the shoulder and side seams.

So far so good. Next is where it starts getting a bit complicated...Now I sewed the waist darts on the front skirts (let's call them that) after which they were sewn to the front bodice pieces (8) but only for like 20cm . The goal here is to connect them at the center to get the button and buttonhole bands done which was next step. There was a lot of folding back and forth involved to create the invisible buttonhole band, I had to take some deep calming breaths and activate the imagination, then take some more deep breaths and make the buttonholes. The ones on this shirt are my best so far! Almost sad you can't see them πŸ˜„

The hem of the front skirts came next. I sewed the facings (10) to the skirts, turned them to the wrong side and pressed the allowances under.

Next the instructions tells you to topstitch the front bands catching the insides, but that would've left the seams at the waist unfinished, so what I did instead was to topstitch below the waist seam only for now, then I top-stitched the skirts hems, all in yellow thread 😊

Now it was time to assemble the back skirt: I stitched the center seam on the two back skirt pieces (12), then created the tie bands that go on it (14) and pinned them in place, then pinned the front skirts on top of the bands and stitched close to the edge. Now the front skirts, back skirts and tie-bands were sewn together, and I completed the waist seam all the way around.

Now I could overlock that seam in one go, and top-stitch the rest of the front bands.

It was then time for the collar. The construction is pretty standard: Iron interfacing to all pieces → sew the collar pieces together (are you still counting? We're at 16 pieces now) along the outer edge then turn right side out and press → attach the collar stands (18) to the inner edges → sew the outer layer to the neckline of the shirt → press allowances of inner layer to wrong side → and finally baste them in place and top-stitch from the outside catching them.

The pattern pieces remaining now were of course the sleeves. Each sleeve consisted of 2 pattern pieces, an over piece and an "elbow" piece (and that's pieces 19 tp 22 😊). I sewed each over part to the elbow part, improvised with the placket quite a bit, but it still turned out neat. I did the hemming and the placket folding one inside the other in a way so there are no visible folds of fabric over fabric. Then top-stitched the hem and the placket, catching the inner part at the top, made buttonholes and sewed a yellow butterfly on each sleeve.

Then I thought: Since I started with the buttons, I'll just finish with them. So another butterfly went on the only exposed button position at the top closest to collar, and 7 flattish black buttons went into the invisible spots.

The only thing left at this point was to set the sleeves in.

Then try it on!

Do I like it on? Is the sun bright? I like it so much I'm so close to not giving it to my friend πŸ˜†, and I'm almost sure I'm making one for myself sometime this year.

For more pictures of the finished garment, see the project on BurdaStyle.