Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tunisia 7th -- 21st October 2009

A typical Tunisian beach close to our hotel between Sousse and El Kantaoui. In general these were mostly clean and tidy the sea was warm and clean - just what we had gone to Tunisia for.

Swimming in the sea was just great.

I have reported on the hotel - separately see link to the right.

As always Suri is drawn to the shops here she is trying to choose which magnet to buy - in the end more than one was bought - just to be sure and of course when a bargain is to be had - Suri usually finds it.

Within Sousse we checked out the Medina within the old walled town and the Mosque which was having a few repairs carried out so not all was accessible. Suri got a deal on the entrance fee, which is always a good thing.

Worth a visit but not a great deal to see.

Just around the corner from the Mosque was the Rabat, which was in good condition, though again in a constant state of repair.

I headed up the tower for a view of Sousse. This was quite impressive and it was great to wander in and out of the many rooms and along the rampart, which as Suri pointed out to me had no safety rail - but that added to the excitement of it all - no doubt somebody will fall over one day and rails will be installed.

After a few days we decided to head off and do a bit of exploring - so we hired a car and driver, as this was cheaper and easier than hiring a car, we went first of all to Kairouan, about 60km from Sousse, we checked out the Great Mosque - or Mosque Okba, which we were told is the oldest in Tunisia. see for fuller details.

It was quite impressive, but again not a great deal to see as access to the inside of the Mosque was not allowed.

As you can see I was given something appropriate to wear - to cover up my legs I think - here I am trying not to be seen in my new outfit.

The driver then took us to the Bassins Aglabites, which is where good drinking water used to be available to the the local - when we visited it was a sort of a green colour. The reservoirs were situated in a park, in order to get into the park we went out of a door in the local tourist office, unfortunately it locked behind us and it took a while before we could get someones attention and they could let us out - a bit scary .... not really.

Then we checked out the mosque Sidi Sahbi - the Mosque of the Barber who we are told had a few hairs from the head of Mohamed, this building was more elaborately decorated than what we had seen so far, with many colourful Arabic mosaics around the building - here Suri was allowed inside to view the tomb, but I was not - I wonder why.

Then on to El Djem (sometimes spelt without the D) about another 60km much of it over a dirt track of a road, to see the Colosseum, which was seen from a distance as we drove towards it.

The Colosseum had been restored on one side more than the other to give a better idea of the scale and magnificence of the building. We were able to wander and clamber all over the place without much restrictions, what a spectacle it must have been when the Romans were there.

I have seen the Colosseum in Rome (from the outside many years ago) and I think this one in El Djem is much better, the restoration work is really good and a visit is certainly recommended as a not to be missed site when visiting Tunisia.

The local Museum in El Djem had the best mosaics I have ever seen - most of these had been transferred from a Roman Villa located elsewhere in Tunisia, but bringing them together at the site of the remains of another Roman Building is great for tourists.

Another must see attraction if visiting the area.

Retuning via Monastir we headed, a little late in the day, for the golden-domed Bourguiba Mausoleum, built in 1963 as the burial mosque of ex-President Habib Bourguiba and his family. The two slender minarets, 82ft high, are particularly impressive in the late afternoon sun. To the right is the little Marabout of Sidi Bou Zid.

Although we arrived after the official closing time - a few Dinar gained us access and a private showing without any other tourist.

A great trip - cheaper than the official tour and we had our very own local guide who had some great info on so many things, including stopping off at a pastry shop where we were able to buy the best tasting hot Tunisian fig pastries covered in syrup - I can taste them now and we paid the locals' price as our driver also bought some for his family - mmmmm.

More shopping; these Gucci sunglasses are such a bargain that it is impossible to resist - especially if you are a seasoned negotiator like Suri.

What a great way to spend a few hours - out on the open sea on a Catamaran - just lounging about - diving and swimming in the sea ... with enormous jelly fish, then a drink and some food - perfect - especially as the sun was shining and the wind was in the sail.

By the way - the best way is to negotiate direct; as the official tour price is a tad on the steep side - and you get just the same trip.

Another day - we headed off on an organised tour this time - first of all to the Friguia Zoo, which was much better than I was expecting the walkway around the big cats was well designed both for tourists and for the cats themselves.

Immediately after the wander around the Zoo we queued up for the Zulu experience - not exactly Tunisian - but we had been told it was a good night out - in addition to the Zulu Dancers we had Belly Dancers, Tribal Drummers and a Fire Eater.

All this whilst being served our dinner, which I have to say was not the best, it was described as a feast but it was pretty bland, though the red wine was the best I tasted in Tunisia, to be frank that does not say a great deal, anyway by the end of the evening most of us were pretty merry and some people joined in the group dance at the end - no not me this time - but yes Suri was up there practicing her Belly Dancing.

During the second week we decided to do a bit more exploring - we checked out the train times from Sousse, and set off for Tunis, the capital, the train took about 2 hours - supposedly an express, but it was a good experience and I would recommend others to do this as it was far far cheaper than any tour just 13 Dinars return.

When we got to Tunis we joined up with a couple of Russian tourists who were on the same train and doing the same as us - so we got a taxi together to see the historical Roman sites of Carthage, not far away from Tunis, all went well 'till we arrived at the first location - the remains of the Colosseum. I could not believe it the Russians decided that the taxi driver wanted too much for showing us around each of the sites, taking us between the sites which were pretty spread out, waiting and taking us back to the train station - all in all for about 5 hours, the driver wanted 20 Dinars each - a total of 80 Dinars (2 Dinars = 1£), but the Russians would not pay this - as a result we paid 30 Dinars each - a total of 60 Dinars.

On leaving the Colosseum we saw the Russians walking - the driver said they were walking in the wrong direction - into the desert - we did not see them again, until by chance we were on the same train back to Sousse in the evening - they obviously did not get lost in the desert but probably did not see as much as we saw.

The Colosseum remains at Carthage - we were told that it was bombed by the Germans during WW11 - certainly there was not much left and it was in need of a bit of restoration and a tidy up.

The Mussee de Carthege is set on the hill overlooking the bay - a wonderful setting, much restored and informative, outside are the remains of the buildings - inside are many artifacts from the time when the Romans occupied this part of North Africa.

Further along is the Theatre Romain, which has been extensively renovated and is used for plays and recitals - though when we visited it was deserted.

The Roman Baths - Thermes d'Antonin were certainly impressive, situated next to the sea with a great view and although it was in ruin the renovation works enabled us to get a better picture and understanding of what the place would have looked like. It was certainly very extensive, it is located close to the Presidents Office so there were quite a few armed guards around - later as we passed by the building our driver told us - no pictures please - I suppose Tunisia is a sort of democratic republic - with a president in situ for many years and expected to be there for another - at least 4 years - assuming he is elected next time - but of course he will be.

In one of the smaller sites - a Roman Graveyard - Tophet de Salambo we found a lovely tree full of fruit a Pomegranate tree - I do not know why they had not been picked maybe because of its location within the Graveyard, but I persuaded Suri to leave them.

Finally the driver took us to the lovely village of Sidi Bou Said, which is set upon a hill overlooking the Bay of Tunis with its cobblestone roads, white buildings and blue doors and windows it should not be missed.

At the top there are some wonderful views - I am glad we did not miss it.

We stayed on a Half Board basis in the Hotel Marhaba Salem so we met quite a few people as we scrambled for the buffet food - here we are with 2 new friends from Denmark; Finn and Bente, which we intend to keep in touch with.

Overall a really good holiday and much warmer than the UK - blue skies most days though with a few drops of rain on a couple of days, and one noisy and very wet thunderstorm - fortunately late at night - some great lightning though.

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