Our five sayd in Tunisia
Our trip started on the seventh of April, interrupted by a journey to Malta from eleventh to thirteenth, and continued until the fifteenth of April. This “two in one” situation seemed ideal to us, since you get to experience two completely different countries while on the same journey. Take into account that flight from Tunis to Malta and back costs a lot less than the same flight from Moldova, hence why our decision was well justified. By the way, we only had carry on’s with us, which made this trip even more careless and enjoyable.
Anyway, let me start off with presenting to you Tunis in its glory. We landed at about 11:30 PM and immediately felt how different the air was on the inside of a not so notable airport. It smelt of spices, warmth and humidity. This smell followed us throughout our whole Tunisian journey – from eight in the morning sleepy streets to crowded Medina markets and beyond.
After stepping out of the airport our friendly taxi driver (costed 30 Tunisian dinars – approx. $12) took us to where we were staying and we called it a night.
FIRST day in Tunis (or, should I say, La Marsa, for that is where we stayed) started off with a freshly squeezed green juice, dates, almonds and a sun shining brightly in our drowsy eyes.
To get the place I was most excited to visit out of the list, we went to Sidi Bou Saïd, which is also known to be a Tunisian “Santorini” of a kind. On our way we noticed that every little house had a unique facade to it, which looked like no other. Most of them were surrounded by orange and lemon trees, which grow there mostly for a decorative reason. However, we could not resist and tried one orange fallen off the tree, later realizing why no one actually ate them (It tasted very bitter and sour, not suitable for eating).
This town’s buildings, mosques and even cafes were all covered in different shades of white and blue – just like in the pictures I saw on the internet. It was Sunday, thus the town was filled with people. We did manage to find a cafe with a view though. Our little table was just across the picturesque Mediterranean Sea, which gave us a possibility to enjoy it while sipping on a sweet mint tea with traditional sweets.
A little later we noticed a harbor just below our feet and went straight there with no hesitation. The wind that day was insane and the waves were acting just as crazy. It didn’t stop us from climbing to these rocks to breathe in a bit better the sea air and look at the waves relentlessly hitting the rocks.
Our first day ended with a walk to a downtown of the coastal La Marsa, where more palms, weird shaped trees and seaside hotels were situated.
SECOND day in Tunis was the cultural exploration type of a day. I think it is crucial to not only visit touristic sights, but also dive into the country’s less inhabited places where welcoming locals are glad to chat and show you around.
For this reason, our friend who has already been living in Tunisia for a while, took us on a trip to a local musical event at a restaurant in Hergla. We had an absolute blast teaching how to dance salsa, watching locals dance and joining them from time to time, whilst also trying out local seafood dishes (which were so damn spicy for my liking, but were worth tasting). I realized how badly I want to perfect my knowledge of French after chatting to locals on my broken French.
THIRD day was spent in downtown and in Medina – the heart of Tunisia, as they call it. We got lucky to catch a bus in the midst of La Marsa (which costed us 1.50 dinars – approx. 60 cents) and arrive to downtown before the midday. Why am I saying lucky? Because transportation system in Tunisia is, mhm, not quite developed. It includes only buses and trains with unknown schedule, and in addition to that it covers only several cities. This is why taxi is the only convenient way to get from A to B, although they often have strikes which makes it hard to catch one and not be stuck in traffic for an hour.
Regardless of that, our experience in downtown of Tunis was very pleasant. I have never thought a downtown can consist of buildings other than skyscrapers, and my first African country proved me wrong. I fell for those not so tall stores, mosques and museums. Shops in Medina (also known as Old Town) were full with products of all kind – leather bags, handmade accessories, rugs, spices and so many more. One of the local shop owners showed us the way to the roof where we saw the incredible mosaics and ruins (as we later found out, for a fee; tourists never learn).
After half an hour of search for a place to lunch at, we found a restaurant called “El Ali” among the Medina shops. Our order included local appetizers such as ‘brik’ (pastry shell filled with egg and tuna), couscous salad and Mechouia salad (spicy filled with tomatoes and peppers). Main dishes we opted for were rice with lamb in an apricot-cinnamon-almond sauce, and a cheesy spinach pasta (Guess which one was mine? Yes, the second one).
Our adventure in the capital finished with a ride to the lakes, where we eventually got stuck. I mean, can a trip not contain some kind of a bizarre situation? I do not think so. Considering that this day was the one where taxis had a strike, it was a struggle to catch a taxi (no number to dial a taxi is available). Finally, when the local breeze had frozen us, we caught a taxi and slept in our beds like babies.
FOURTH day was the one when ruins of Carthage were visited. What is Carthage? Well, it used to be a city of the Roman Empire a long time ago. I am not gonna bore you with history, for you can find it yourself if interested. This archaeological site is spread among the town and you definitely need at least half of the day dedicated solely to it.
You can take the TGM train to get around, although it is much easier and faster to get a taxi driver who will take you to all of them for a reasonable fee. Although the distance between them is not huge, it would still take anywhere from twenty to forty minutes to get from one place to another.
What is worth visiting is the Carthage museum, Roman Amphitheater, Roman villas, Roman Theatre, Archeological Parc, and Thermes D’Antoine. The latter impressed us the most and is probably the one I was mostly excited to see.
FIFTH, and the last day in Tunis was not full of sun as the previous ones, and we knew that the city was upset with us leaving. In any case, we decided to explore our local city La Marsa by walking all the way to the beach, meeting camel on our way.
I bought a delicious salmon sandwich and some croissants at a local pastry shop, and we sat in one of the cafes near the beach to indulge some sweet mint tea. Out of a curiosity we stepped into a local Carrefour market to compare prices and, indeed, they were comparable to ours. We came to a conclusion that traveling on a budget is very suitable for Tunisia. So, if you are still in doubts what your first African country should be – mark Tunisia as one of them.
Every vacation needs to end, right? So did this one. Although it seemed like the time passed by way too quickly, I can tell that we did manage to tick off almost everything out of our list (except for Bardo museum) of must-see’s. The nostalgia is already here and does not seem to want to go away. The next adventure is awaiting. Until next time!