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krisek Tunis - A travel report by Krys
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Tunis,  Tunisia - flag Tunisia -  Ariana
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krisek's travel reports

Bustling Arabic/Art Nouveau/Art Deco capital.

  12 votes
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Tunisia's capital city must be architects' paradise. It looks like it had been! It is a great place combining Moorish and European experimental styles. It is safe and friendly.


Bab el Bahr
Bab el Bahr
I could not sleep the first night. Actually, I could not sleep a few nights before the holiday. I was tossing and turning. I read about Tunis a little from my guidebook - trying to fall asleep.

So, I rolled off the bed much later than I had planned. But my first day's itinerary was relatively relaxed and flexible as I waited for my friends to join me. I started with the Avenue Habib Bourguiba and Rue de France. My hotel was just 100 yards from them. They were lined with a combination of facades ranging from classic colonial to weird Art Deco and modernist. They housed hotels, shops, businesses, and places of worship. And the flamboyant theatre was a culmination of an architect's extravagant taste sporting a triple-alcove balcony.

The Place 7 November, the centre of the capital, basically a roundabout, had a strange clock tower in the middle built of metal, which looked like it had been allowed to rust. But the clock worked fine! And at night it was nicely lit.

Then, I walked into the UNESCO-inscribed medina through the Place de la Victoire. I wandered around the souks, stepped into a couple of very pleasant and traditionally decorated cafes and cozy tea houses, and exited the old town by the Kasbah. I relaxed a little at that side of town, took a few pictures, and went back in to check if there was more about the medina that I could see.

I found my way back to the Place de la Victoire and sat down at the famous Bab el Bahr, at the Cafe Dinar. Then, my friends arrived and we took off to see Carthage and Sidi Bou Saïd.

I did not plan to see all of Tunis at the beginning of the holiday, as my itinerary was going to take me back to the capital for more exploring. However, when plotting my route for Tunisia, little did I know that my plans would have to change faster than I could say: Lawrence of Arabia! But a broken arm, following a camel rage, took me back to the UK, before I could complete my route. So, I did not see everything I wanted to see in Tunis.

Favourite spots:
Place du Gouvernment
Place du Gouvernment
At the western end of the medina, there was the Place du Gouvernment, lined with carefully trimmed trees and with magnificent Moorish (?) mansions, and it was complete with cascading fountain. The white mansions housed the Ministry of Finance and offices of the Prime Minister. I liked it very much! I was sheepish with my camera at the beginning, but soon relaxed and snapped happily. There were many police officers and guards everywhere and no-one even blinked on the sight of my fat camera and me snapping like a mad camel.

Across Boulevard Bab Benat was the somewhat intimidating Place de la Kasbah with a giant, very Arabic, monument. As it was a small hill, the view of the Kasbah and its square minaret, and parts of the medina was great. The intricate minarets of Jamaa Zitouna and Youssef Dey stood out. A police guard was roaming the square, as the local government building stood at one of its ends. Still, nobody questioned me taking photos.

What's really great:
A building that inspired a sandcrawler of Star Wars?
A building that inspired a sandcrawler of Star Wars?
I think the collection of all those various, and dramatically distant from one another, architectural styles impressed me the most about Tunis. The city had it all - ancient Punic, ancient Roman, medieval Berber, medieval Islamic, a range of French colonial, Mediterranean, art nouveau, Art Deco, modern Islamic, modern 21st century glass and steel. They were all in clusters. The medina was a big group of medieval buildings and the side streets in the centre had the Art Deco, and the stretch between the centre and the airport had the modern styles.

It also felt safe to walk around alone, also at night. Although occasional advances, even from single men, were a bit annoying. I know that I have very pretty eyes, but I was not prepared to deflect flirting of this sort, when I planned my visit to Tunisia. It will however remain as a memorable experience from this trip. One of a few!

Sights:
Tunis travelogue picture
Apart from the medina and the architecture, there was also one of world's (probably) best endowed museum - The Bardo Museum. It was located out of the centre, in the Bardo district. It had a massive collection of historical items relating to life on the Tunisian soil and one would not imagine it was possible to fit everything into a single building. Its layout could be a little confusing, but everything about almost everywhere and that happened 'everywhen' with regard to Tunisia could be found at the Bardo.

There were two approaches that came recommended regarding the museum. One - visit it at the beginning of your trip to Tunisia, and then follow to some of the more interesting sights in the country. Two - go and see everything you want to see in the country, and then come to Bardo to see the rest and what has been taken off site from the places around the country. Be it statues or mosaics!

Accommodations:
Room no.9 at Hotel Salammbo
Room no.9 at Hotel Salammbo
Hotel Salammbo, right in the centre, was delightfully basic, but clean. I arrived late. About 1 a.m. The front door was locked. I pushed the ring. It was silent. Suddenly a young, good-looking guy shouts down to me from a balcony above:

- Bon soir! Oui?

- J'ai un reservation! I shouted back, rolling my 'r' like a true Parisian.

- Ah, reservation! D'accord. He said and buzzed me in.

When I climbed to the first floor, where the reception was, there he was standing behind the desk. An older Tunisian guy was sitting. He was briefly chatting to a third, older, man. I approached the desk.

- Do you speak English? I asked.

- No. Responded the young guy, shaking his head.

- Monsieur Dudek? Asked the older guy, turning to me.

- Oui, c'est moi! I said, smiling like a Cheshire cat. I knew I was in the right place.

I was put to room #9. En suite, with an excellently firm double bed. Romantic colonial decor. But very simple. Small table, tiny dresser. Very cozy.

Nightlife:
Theatre; it had adjacent theatre cafe
Theatre; it had adjacent theatre cafe
Tunis's nightlife was short. The cafes shut down at about 11pm, and those at the medina soon after sunset. Anything else was so low key, that bypassers would not have a clue where to go party. The capital's nightclubs were located mainly at large hotels and had such a poor ventilation that could double for hammams. Not a good place to be if one wanted to boogie rather than swim in their own sweat. Seriously, there was nothing worth writing home about.

The cafe adjacent to the old theatre was very pleasant and seemed to be open later than many other spots on the same avenue. If one did not mind an early night, it was a good spot to sit down at one of the table on the pavement, mingle with the locals, have a few drinks and watch people disappearing from the streets into the night. The cafe also served decent food. It was very popular with well suited locals.

Hangouts:
Cafe Mesour
Cafe Mesour
Tunis did not suffer from a shortage of places to sit down, relax and catch up with friends. The plentitude of cafes, including those pavement cafes along the main avenue running from the Place 7 Novembre to Place de la Victoire, seemed all very popular with locals sipping coffees and teas, mainly the green teas with mint, and impossible quantity of sugar.

In the medina, I loved the Cafe Mesour along the main medina route from Place de Voctoire to Grand Mosque. It had superb decor and professional service. A similar but more rustic Cafe Ezzitouna right by the Grand Mosque in the souk, shisha, was male dominated.

Cafe Dinar on the Place de la Victoire had very pleasant outdoor tables overlooking the foutain and the Bab el Bahr. The exceptionally friendly and eager waiters seemed to speak every language of the world. It was a perfect place for people watching and listening to the splash of the fountain. Their mint tea was not too sticky and they served decent kebab sandwiches with chips.

Restaurants:
Au Bon Vieux Tempts restaurant in Sidi Bou Said
Au Bon Vieux Tempts restaurant in Sidi Bou Said
Restaurant du Chargui promised nice seaview terrace, but it was not so. Well, one could see the sea, but the view was not spectacular and the terrace was... hmm... not very special. It was relatively an inexpensive place, and their lemon juice was fantastic! Even the mint tea was strong and well balanced between bitter and sweet.

The restaurant Au Bon Vieux Temps (eng. Good Old Times) at the other hand, which had served celebrities and heads of state, had a nice terrace and giant windows, which offered views of the Gulf of Tunis. It was not cheap. Mains ranged from TND20 (€10) to TND38 (€19), and starters were TND10 (€5) on average. It also had Tunisian wines, which were nicely quaffable. I had prawn bisque TND8 (€4), and couscous with garoupa TND28 (€14). Both were superbly yummy! The service was very professional and friendly and had a jolly nice sense of humour.

Other recommendations:
Carthage
Carthage
Just a few miles from Tunis centre was the site of the ancient Carthage, the legendary, or rather famous, Punic capital. The Romans had done a very thorough job to level the place, and very little remains nowadays. Few sights were excavated and reconstructed. But one should not expect anything particularly spectacular. Although the theatre was pleasant, when I visited.

The Carthage International Airport (TUN) was only 5 minutes drive from the centre by night. The taxi drivers, like almost everywhere in the world, would try various tricks to at least take a gullible tourist for a ride, twice the price! At night, it should not be more than TND10 (€5), and half that during the day. Fortunately, my Hotel Salammbo had sent me an email telling me about a few tricks that the drivers would try, so I landed prepared and I could haggle confidently without actually offending anyone. The advice was also not to let the taxi driver use the meter, as the meters were very often rigged as well.

Published on Tuesday April 13th, 2010


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Sun, May 02 2010 - 11:52 AM rating by bootlegga

A great report on a fascinating place!

Fri, Apr 30 2010 - 07:06 AM rating by bineba

Years ago I visited Tunis on a day trip by train from Hammamet and I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for a very nice report and bringing back a few memories.

Sat, Apr 24 2010 - 09:56 AM rating by gloriajames

great report despite your accident ! 5*
i do hope to go there some day

Fri, Apr 23 2010 - 07:18 PM rating by eirekay

What a marvelous blend of cultures, old and new! Terrific report on a place I had never considered!

Wed, Apr 14 2010 - 10:56 AM rating by pesu

Thanks, Krys, for extending my English vocabulary by this very good, informative, entertaining report (typed with one hand)! :)

Wed, Apr 14 2010 - 09:25 AM rating by rangutan

Another excellent report, full of experiences and interesting information! If other report were just half as good... :-)

Tue, Apr 13 2010 - 06:17 PM rating by mistybleu

Very informative, thanks for sharing.

Tue, Apr 13 2010 - 11:51 AM rating by porto

C'est tres magnifique, Monsieur Dudek! :)

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