Tunisia - Visit on the tip of Africa

Back home was a public holiday, so I seized this opportunity to extend the weekend and embarked on a journey to Tunisia. Despite being part of Africa, Tunisia’s proximity to Western Europe is surprisingly close, even more so than numerous Eastern European countries.

To visit the capital Tunis in summer probably wasn't the best choice, but even though with high temperatures, it was a pleasant visit for 3 days in Tunis.

July 29 - Arrival in Tunis

Arriving from Algeria, it was a swift one-hour flight.

The journey was uneventful until reaching immigration. The customs officer firmly stamped the passport in the absolute center of the untouched page 36. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a significant concern. But given that my two-year-old passport is nearing its capacity, this seemingly minor detail has now become a pressing issue. I usually request the officers to allow me to select the page and location for the stamp, but on this occasion, I was a moment too late.

Tunis Map

It was Sunday. It was hot, much hotter than in Algiers.

The journey from the airport to the city center is a brief 15-minute ride. The straightforward route leaves little room for the taxi driver to engage in any circuitous driving and scamming maneuvers.

A visit to Carthage in the North-East of Tunis

I didn't want to waste the Sunday afternoon and after check-in in the hotel, I took the train to the north of Tunis to the district called Carthage.

In this district lies the village of “Sidi Bou Said”, renowned for its white houses with blue windows and doors. This village is nicely situated next to a worth-to-visit beach and offers a fantastic view over the Mediterranean Sea. 

I spent about three hours there, and had I known how delightful it was, I would have easily spent more time. However, I also wanted to make a brief stop at another village on my return journey to the center of Tunis.

Hannibal City in the south of Tunis is nice!

However, the detour to the city known as “Hannibal” proved to be less rewarding than anticipated.

What led me there? Well, Google suggested it, highlighting some intriguing ancient ruins. I did locate the ruins, but unfortunately, they were closed to visitors that day.

The train journey between Carthage and the center of Tunis is quite sluggish. It takes about an hour on a rather uncomfortable train that lacks sufficient space for the number of passengers. The heat doesn’t help either. Being a communal train, it’s a melting pot of all strata of society, all cramped together. It’s no surprise that disputes and loud arguments break out from time to time during this hour-long ride, often requiring the intervention of the police to resolve the conflicts.

July 30 - A visit to "Hammamet"

Today, I was faced with a choice: should I explore the center of Tunis and its old town, or venture out to “Hammamet” by train? I sought advice from a lady at the train station counter, asking her about Hammamet and whether it was worth a visit. Her shocked expression was quite telling; she couldn’t fathom why I was in Tunis and yet unfamiliar with "Hammamet".

You don’t know it?! Hammamet is a gem! It’s right on the beach, boasting grand hotels, numerous restaurants, a long boulevard along the beach, and a large ancient fortress.

Her description painted a picture of a perfect tourist haven. I heard these "it's a hidden a gem"-sentences on many other occasions and in different countries - but I will give it a try.

Hammamet, about two hours from Tunis by train, turned out to be just as she described. It was indeed a tourist village with beautiful beaches, clear blue waters, and a variety of restaurants. The promised large fortress, located right on the beach, was a sight to behold. Interestingly, the fortress housed an old town, the “Medina”, within its walls.

The Tunis Tourist Factory seems to work!

Oh, the wonders of Hammamet! The place that’s been so gloriously marketed on the internet, painted as a slice of paradise. I mean, who wouldn’t be sold on the idea of azure waters, pristine weather, and charming white buildings? Not to mention the fortress, standing there like a silent sentinel of history.

The fortress, so it was there. The ancient fortress and two meters beside the cars from the 20th century simply don't fit together. The ancient fortress and the modern cars were like oil and water, refusing to blend into a harmonious picture.

I was in Hammamet for about 2 hours before I found, that I should slowly take the train back to Tunis.

As the train back is only running every three hours, it was a not the worst idea and so would be back in Tunis in the late afternoon.

July 30 - Tunis' Medina and the crowd

It was Monday but it felt like a public holiday in Medina (old town). There are so many people in the old town of Tunis it wasn't a fun experience. Bazars everywhere with narrow aisles. Because of lack of space people shout sometimes in the left, sometimes in the right ear, whereas Bazar's sellers take advantage of the situation where no tourist can move forward anymore:

Hello Sir. Welcome to Medina. Today is special price day! I have here some special towels and other special things for you, come, do you want to take a look inside the shop?

It was too crowded in this heat of a summer in Tunis and I wish I brought my earplugs with me.

Medina is a huge bazaar area. It's very narrow and all these tight aisles for many kilometers easily help to lose coordination. When being in such Bazars, I normally hate being distracted by all the sellers who want to sell me something, but this time it was mainly the huge crowd.

Within the Medina, there is a huge mosque, the Mosque "Sidi Youssef Dey".

Then there is a rooftop terrace, from where its possible to overlook the whole Medina.

What a relief to take the stairs up to the terrace, away from the narrow aisles. And what a view from up there.

Outside of Medina

Every Medina has a beginning and an end, and so does the Medina of Tunis.

On the left side of it is the Tunis City Hall. A big place with a big monument placed on it. Not sure if it has a connection to the Algiers monument, cause they both look almost the same. Except that the exemplary in Algiers is much bigger copy than this one in Tunis.

And on the right sight of the Medina is the Porte de France "Beb Bhar". It basically separates the old town (the Medina) and the modern town of Tunis.

July 31 - Too hot, time to leave

Another languid amble through the winding alleys of Tunis’ Medina. The day slipped by, not that I was engaged in any difficult tasks. The heat was simply too tyrannical for any grand escapades.

I found myself at the imposing arch, the “Bab Saadoun”. From there, it was back into the captivating chaos of the Medina, losing myself in its enchanting maze. I sought sanctuary in coffee shops and restaurants, trading the relentless sun for the blissful chill of air conditioning.

As twilight descended, it was time to bid farewell to Tunis. I boarded my flight, leaving behind the city and its sweltering heat.

In summary, it was a tolerable way to spend an extended weekend. 

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