Annaba to Constantine
Trip Start Apr 23, 2009
4Trip End Apr 26, 2009
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Where I stayed
When we had finished at the ruins we headed over to the local bus station and were on our way to Constantine within minutes
expensive business hotel. That left us with the two cheap hotels, just off the centrally located Plaza des Martyrs. The first we tried was also full but luckily the (not so) Grand Hotel still had a room. After checking in, we went in search of the presumably shared bathrooms. It was easy enough to find the slightly smelly squat toilets but the showers were harder to find. There was a good reason for this – they didn’t have any. There was a sink in the room and a bidet (with no water) –we would just have to improvise as best we could
As we went out to explore, we noticed that there was more women around than in Annaba. All the cafes were still filled exclusively by men, but there were plenty of clothes shops for women and many of the younger ones went without headscarves. It may just have been us but the atmosphere seemed less edgy than Annaba and everybody seemed friendly and welcoming. We made our way up through the busy, narrow shopping streets towards the impressive Sidi M’Cid suspension bridge, overhanging the spectacular gorge. Apparently, this is a very fashionable place for young Algerians to commit suicide. If you were going to splatter your shattered body across a pile of rocks you might as well do it in style. More bored looking young men hung around, dangling their legs over the precipe. Some of the houses closest to the edge seemed to be slowly sliding into it and had clearly been abandoned. Other houses in equally precarious positions still had laundry hanging out the windows. As we walked on to the bridge itself we were slightly taken back to see our first and only other tourists. There were maybe ten of them, all seemed to have large expensive looking cameras around their necks, and none looked under fifty. We had seen advertisements for organised tours like these – they were ridiculously expensive and included armed escorts
After taking the obligatory photos from the Sidi M’Cid Bridge we crossed over to the other side of the gorge and traipsed up to the Monument of the Dead. This seemed to be a popular area for young couples to sit together, hold hands and have a cuddle. They might even have lifted back the veils for a quick snog. Leaving them to it, we wandered along the edge of the gorge towards the newly built cable car. Nong Buff was approached by three schoolgirls (two with veils and one without) who seemed particularly curious and friendly. After the usual questions in broken English and a quick photo together, they joined us in queuing for the cable car. It only cost a few pence and seemed to make sense as public transport in such a mountainous city. We joined another unveiled girl in the cable car. She looked more French than North African, had long curly blonde hair and wore tight fitting fashionable clothes. As we were pulled away and hung out over the abyss, she caught my eye.
"Do you think this is funny?" she said.
I began to worry that she might think I was laughing at them.
“No” she said, “do you think this is fun?”
Slightly relieved, I told her that Constantine had spectacular views and that the people were very friendly. This seemed to please her.
“I love England”, she continued.
“Oh” I said, surprised, “have you been there?”
“I love Princess Diana”.
“I love the Queen. She has hair like mine.”
This conversation didn’t really seem to be going anywhere but we exchanged email addresses with everybody in the cable car before departing (I have yet to receive any emails from any of our new friends but I did write down the email addresses in quite a hurry and my writing is quite bad). The fact that young women would come and talk to us was actually quite encouraging. In some Islamic countries you only ever speak to men and many of the women remain hidden away.
Later in the evening we ventured out again to find somewhere decent to eat and something to do. This wasn’t wildly successful. There seemed to be remarkably few places to eat and even less entertainment. When the trendy young things in Constantine weren’t throwing themselves off Sidi M’Cid Bridge there seemed to be very little for them to do. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to go apart from a few terrible fast food places. We eventually settled on one of these places – it looked no better or worse than the others – and ended up with greasy undercooked grilled chicken and some anaemic, greasy chips. Most of our fellow diners – all men, of course – continued to stare at the old TV in the corner (showing what looked like Series 3 of Prison Break) while we unenthusiastically picked at our 'fast food’. Other than in hotel restaurants, I have to say that most of food in Algeria was rubbish.
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