Adam and I talked this week about how every Foreign Service Officer posted abroad is having a not normal tour and will forever look back at this time as say “Oh, that was my corona tour” as an excuse for why she didn’t see much of France/Kazakhstan/Nicaragua/Senegal, or wherever the posting is. No exception here in Algeria, only as you might gather by reading this blog, we can still get around, honestly more than most people are getting around in the U.S. Florida being the exception (oh, Florida, you’re always the exception). Over the course of the past year, sometimes restaurants have been open. Sometimes we went on walking tours in Algiers. Sometimes we went to museums, sometimes we went to beaches. But what we didn’t do – not since the epic weekend in the desert – was go to another city in the enormous country of Algeria. The airlines are sort of reopen, so we’re planning on taking advantage of our remaining year-and-a-half and seeing cities you might have heard of like Oran and Constantine, and also more of the Sahara Desert, inchallah, as they say. With the new variants of COVID-19 and still no vaccine for us, we’ll see how much travel we actually get to do.
But this blog post is to say we did get out recently for a weekend trip, to nearby Tipaza. Tipaza is the next state (called wilayas here) over from Algiers. It’s just an hour drive to reach some pretty roman ruins overlooking the Mediterranean, a mausoleum that looks like a rounded pyramid (which is reportedly the final resting place of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’s only daughter) and some nice beaches. Oh, and a little strip of rug, art, and antique shops with a few restaurants tucked in, like the excellent Romana, where we recently ordered fried calamari, thinking it was going to be the classic Italian-American version with a red sauce dipper, but instead got a sauteed, buttery, garlicky concoction that was a hundred times better. But the must-visit restaurant in Tipaza the the exemplary Le Dauphin, a grilled fish joint serving up super fresh prawns, swordfish and more. This is the place where I forsake my decades of pure vegetarianism and officially took the briny plunge into the world of pescatarianism. We had been to Tipaza a few times before, once on an embassy trip and another time with a group of friends. Here’s some pics from those 2019 and 2020 visits.
In mid-February, our Dutch friends (the fellow diplomats who are the life of the party, and the inspiration for our Sifnos vacation) planned a weekend at the Corne d’Or, a small resort in Tipaza that is rumored to have once been a Club Med, although I couldn’t find any confirmation of that. Corne d’Or’s lodgings are whitewashed concrete rounded buildings with Majorelle blue doors and lots of canary-yellow plastic furniture, courtesy of Algeria’s beloved soda pop, Hamoud.
Now, I’m not going to lie. We can’t exactly just get in our cars and cruise down the coast for a getaway. Us diplomats are required to file beaucoup paperwork to even do a little trip to the next state, and then we follow a police convoy. I’m sure some people would like flying through Algiers’ rush hour traffic tailing a police escort but I find it quite scary and was happy to have Adam drive while I mostly shut my eyes until we got on the highway a little outside of Algiers. First stop in Tipaza: the delicious Le Dauphin for a big fish dinner with lots of mostly European diplomat friends, old and new. Next up, we checked in to our room, which was basic but clean and not too tiny.
The next morning started what was really probably the nicest and most fun day I’ve had during my time in Algeria. A morning workout overlooking the Med, Adam and I renting a kayak from a little scuba/kayak/SUP shop on the hotel grounds, sitting on the beach (Adam uncharacteristically plunged in the rather freezing water. (I am still not supposed to be swimming or bathing after my surgery five weeks ago). And then a late afternoon BBQ. I had brought a couple of salads that I put out, others brought noshes and meat to grill, and our Norwegian friend went to the pier to buy loads of shrimp, sea bream, and baracuda and handed them to me to cook. I told him that, as a new fish eater, I’ve still only cooked fish maybe 10 times, but alas, I was appointed the fish grill master. As I was stuffing lemon slices and garlic into the body cavities of the fish, rubbing them down with salt and pepper, our Algerian friend told me that I’d changed his mind about Americans and food. “You’re making that like an Algerian!” he said. Previously, he had thought Americans were only interested in Big Macs and bags of chips, but I showed him Americans can cook. Lol, I’ve encountered this view a few times in Algeria, and I blame it on the proliferation of American fast food chains in many parts of the world. Although here in Algiers, the only American fast food is a newly-opened Pizza Hut. I consider it my food diplomacy mission to show the world that American food is so varied it almost defies explanation, and that it’s a wonderful cuisine, and that most of the Americans I know are interested in food. Also: What a sumptuous sensation to be sitting on the beach, peeling shrimp and washing it down with cold white wine, in the middle of February. Let us recall that a few weeks back, I was cross-country skiing in snowy Michigan.
We moved our diplomat party away from the family-friendly beach (we were getting looks, but people seemed more amused than annoyed with our loud, grilling presence) and went to a hotel room patio and someone pulled out a toddler-sized speaker and turned on the tunes. This is around the time when I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea for our multi-national group: We should all pick a song that represents our country and then sing and dance to it for everyone. Adam and I would go first. I thought it would be reeeeeal funny to select the raunchiest song of the year (decade?) and act like it was a song that truly represented America and as we started dancing to that song for a crowd of people, most of whom we didn’t really know all that well, and I regretted my decision immediately and even more so the next day when I saw video of this crime against dancing/America/diplomacy. But the game went on to include a sexy salsa number from our Colombian friends, a Latvian ballad; a Spanish song performed by a family of five; an unclassified dance-along to the Macarena, some Journey, and the night ended with the Norwegian leading a Johnny Cash singalong on his guitar.
The next day. Well, the next day I didn’t feel so great, if you can imagine that. Adam and I forced a little walk, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do much else. After a stroll through the Tipaza shops, taking note that we really need to bring enough cash (credit cardless economy that this is) to buy an oil painting, because the variety and quality is really, really good, and buying a lumbar pillow made of an Algerian kilim, eating lunch at Romana (that calamari!), we were back on the road for the relatively short and easy drive back to Algiers.
I highly recommend Tipaza as a day trip, or as an overnight trip. It was great to see something new, and to have a little too much fun.
To weekend trips,