Tunis, 23-26 July 2016
Chaos is the best way to describe my entry into Tunis is chaotic, frustration and fatigue.
The 10 boat journey from Palermo to Tunis was pleasant enough. I arrived with mixed emotions of being tired, hungry and excited to be in a new place. Oh but wait! They weren’t going to let me out so soon, of course.. my passport was held for 40minutes for no reason at the port. NO
REASON. It just sat there until the bitch (excuse my French) at the port decided to stamp it. Aparently she was new.
Welcome to Tunisia.. 😐
It gets to me when the first thing I do when I sit down at a restaurant is clean the cutlery with table tissue. It leaves no hope for the meal to come. I experienced this on the beach strip by the port, La Goulette. I hadn’t eaten for 10 hours and considering that I love Lebanese, Moroccan and Egyptian food my expectations were high. After I cleaned my knife, fork and glass I ordered a vegetable couscous. It arrived swiftly in abundance and looked dull but I was hungry so I took one big spoonful then immediately spat it straight back out and beckoned the waiter to come. Prawns and other things were hiding in my vegan couscous. He objected that it wasn’t true, so I simply showed him the previous contents of my mouth. Now on heat, he confessed that it was originally a fish couscous but they removed all the fish for me. Or so they thought. That night I went hungry.
By 2am the streets were still packed full of life. The strip by the port is beautiful. It reminded me instantly of Miami beach. The cafes, bars and beach were packed full of young and old people together, enjoying themselves. This explains why it took me 40minutes to get a taxi to my hotel. Groups of 2-3 were hanging out in the road chasing after taxis.
My Luck: A stranger next to me in the taxi offered to pay for my journey to Hotel Cartlon. Thanks.
At least my hotel was nice!
Hotel Cartlon was exactly perfect. Clean, stylish with art decor and centrally located. €46 per night it was a great deal if you ask me. Plus breakfast (basic) was included.
After a good sleep I was hoping that the day would go well.. not to be followed or alarmed by police.
Fed, clean and excited about being somewhere new I stepped out the hotel and starting walking with no destination in mind. I wanted to discover things.
I took a risky stroll to the Medina…
A short while after I began walking the hairs on my neck suddenly started to pickle. I had the strong sensation that I was being followed. I touristically glanced back and saw my guy. He was a tall 40 something Tunisian with balding hair. To be sure I was being followed I abruptly changed direction a few times and without hesitation, he followed me every move. Finally I ended the chased and engaged in pointless conversation with a group of armed police. He disappeared. I will never know what he wanted but I have some ideas…
I found myself wondering into the medina. I love medinas and I love the merchants. I love the things they sell both random and rare, commercial and fake. Arab medinas feel like you’ve stepped back in time to days of trade. It is a wonderful place to be.
I discovered the Dar Lasram Museum at the end of a passage in the medina (didn’t go to museum) and decided to turn into a small dark section of the medina. A few random turns later and I was officially lost. There is no strategy to finding yourself out of a medina. It is a mixture of luck and patience. And its fun, magical and mystical.
Fun until you step out of the medina and get slapped back to reality.
Once outside the medina I strolled back along on Avenue Habib Bourguiba and became aware of just how many police were in the street. The police almost numbered the people 1:5 at least. I noticed a huge military tank next to a police van with a guy inside looking like he was ready to fire. The tank was barricaded by a low fence which had a NO PHOTOS sign. I later found out that it was the French embassy.
I don’t follow politics. I don’t follow news. The locals I met explained to me that the police appear scary in public to instil fear to the people. Reminding people who’s in charge, revolution or not.
Vegan Food In Tunisia
By now my stomach started to rumble. I decided on a restaurant called Le Grand Café Du Theatre on Avenue Habib Bourguiba and had my first wonderful meal in Tunisia. I ordered a warm aubergine, onion, tomatoes, pepper, capers + guests salad. It was nicely spiced and priced perfectly at 7TND. Check My Top Vegan Tunisian Foods List
Beware of them simply removing cheese, meats or fish from the meal to make it vegan. It happened to me twice
Hanging With The Locals
I met Hamid at The Tunis Grand Hotel. We spent the day in the centre and visited an underground spot in the centre for a coffee. Outside was covered in graffiti and young kids were hanging outside, some with afros, dreadlocks, long hair, blue hair… very alternative.
We also went for a drink in the centre which was nice. It shocked me that Tunisian wine was so tasty. I recommend you try their red selections
Top 3 Things To See In Tunis
Sidi Bou Said
Transport: Get there by train, it’s about 8 stops and takes 30min
Transport: Take train (about 20minutes or 10minutes from Sidi Bou Said) 1TND
There isn’t much to see at Carthage and there is not much historical content. I was so disappointed looking at ruins.
Transport: Take taxi, its cheap
Transport in Tunis
Taxi: Taxis run on meter. Make sure that the taxi driver turns on the meter. It starts from 0.450TND which is £0.15p or $0.20. Very cheap, you can take taxi everywhere.
Trains/Trams: This cost only 1TND and is fast. Beware that the doors may be open while you are in transit as they might be broken, or it is too hot. It does get a little busy but not too bad. Don’t accidently fall out.
Bus: The bus never came. I waited for 30minutes and decided to take a taxi
People in Tunis
People are fine. They are helpful, friendly and nice. Though they don’t share the lively Arab sense of humour which the Egyptians have. They still talk loud though.
You’ll have no problems with the locals
Why I didn’t love Tunis
I didn’t learn anything new, I wasn’t inspired and it felt like a half way city. In my case half way between Palermo and Cairo.
It’s rare that I go to a place and don’t fall in love with some aspect of the culture. But Tunis was just OK; it wasn’t anything special. It was literally just a pit stop before heading to Egypt. There are much more beautiful and better places in Tunisia and I hope to visit them because Tunis really didn’t stimulate me. Compared to my wonderful time in Sicily (Palermo, Catania and Agrigento) it was lame.