Once numerous carbohydrates had once again be procured from the breakfast buffet we set off for Annaba which lies on the coast and was the Roman town of Hippo Regius. The drive north from Guelma took us through some beautiful rolling hills reminiscent of Umbria in Italy and down to the sea. I had high hopes for Hippo. It was important to Julius Caesar as a city in the Roman North African province, was a major port, was linked to Carthage and well, let’s face it, the name Hippo just on it’s own is just superb. the thing with expectation is that it heaps pressure on the unknown to perform. Apparently that memo never reached Hippo. Underwhelming is to describe it affectionately. In comparison to the squeals of joy and childlike excitement experienced at Thibilis yesterday, the mood was distinctly sombre as we were escorted amongst the ruins.
Some of us broke free from the group but like sheep were herded back to the main flock and the guards corralled us to prevent our uncontrolled enjoyment of the site. It was raining too which didn’t help. Much of the site was a soggy marsh and was so overgrown that access to the site beyond the confines of the roads was limited. Under the roads ran huge drains which demonstrated that in antiquity the water issue had been understood and addressed. We have learnt nothing.
We saw some pretty lovely mosaics in the museum and as the guide tip-toed across the admittedly poor example they laid on the floor and forced people to walk on it he then rubbed his hands across the face of those on the displayed on the wall whilst explaining their meaning. Give and take in the world of conservation. There were some curious portraits of Emperors but none so creepily displayed as that of Vespasian that, ghost-like, seemed to be peering out of the wall.
A short drive later and we were being buffeted by gale force winds on Cap de Garde. The winds were bracing but the view and rush of fresh air was just what we needed. We trailed the cliff and found evidence of a marble quarry. I am no specialist but with winds that strong I am not convinced it was a popular place to quarry and the scant evidence really left the feeling that someone went up once, grabbed what they could in the decent marble veined rock department and never returned. But like I said, I am no expert, just practical.
A quick trip to a mosque to see some reused columns inside but I was more taken with the streets outside. With sea salt in the air, the crisp white paint of the houses and the contrasting blue shutters I was more than happy to capture those. Anyone who knows me, knows my obsession with photographing doors and windows. My photo albums are a riot.
A drive around Annaba, the modern city of Hippo and we climbed the hill to see the Cathedral that bears resemblance to the Sacra Coeur in Paris. St Augustine of Hippo is synonymous with the city and part of his arm resides as a relic inside the cathedral. Upon entering it is not unlike what I imagine it would be like to be swallowed up by the candy sweet production room of Willy Wonker’s chocolate factory. Pinks, yellows, reds, blues and shades of pastel colours usually only seen in a Dulux colour chart in order to fill the gaps between colours you might actually want to paint something. All pretty hideous. But there was St Augustine’s arm bone (if you believe in relics) so worth having your senses bombarded to the point I could taste the sweet stickiness of candy in my mouth.
The next adventure was a mission (impossible) to get coffee. Firstly, our every step was shadowed by two or three policemen which just had the effect of making Annaba feel far more dangerous than it was. This also made walking inconspicuously around a town and blending in impossible. It thus made finding a coffee very hard as our entourage was huge. Secondly, the other hardship was that the coffee stands were closed. We eventually find one open, squeeze passed our armed guards only to find the vendor really didn’t feel like dirtying his freshly cleaned coffee machine. His only job is to make and sell coffee but no, don’t be as ridiculous as to ask him to ply his trade. We get sent on a wild coffee chase as we ask directions to find coffee which only aggrevates our body guards as the scene turned into a Benny Hill-esque runaround the bustling streets. We return to the bus empty handed and resort to buying a coke in order to quench our need for caffeine. Tomorrow we lay plans to steal carbohydrates and coffee from the breakfast buffet.