This morning was time to say goodbye to Malta.
…And hello to Tunisia via a TunisAir Express flight! Except for myself and Samin, this is everyone’s first time in Africa!
The recent travel warnings in Tunisia have been minimal at best, but due to the scores of tourists that were killed in Tunisia, both here in Tunis and at the resort in Sousse 2 years ago, it was understandable how a few of my monsooners were feeling some real anxiety the whole time leading up to Tunisia. So I give them lots of credit for going on this with me.
And I give Tunisia lots of kudos as well. Although I started getting more of the “where are you from? Korea? Japan?” for the first time on this trip, Tunisia has been one of the rare few countries that I’ve been to in North Africa and the Middle East where the locals don’t stare, let alone even bother looking at you with the “what the hell are you doing here?” face. In fact we weren’t even noticed that much, as if we had been immediately accepted as part of normal, everyday society, which I found that refreshing and pleasantly surprising.
And getting through security as a USA passport holder was pretty effortless. However, as everything was proceeding smoothly, Alfred left his Ray-Ban sunglasses on the airplane and almost caused an international incident trying to run back and find them.
About 10 minutes minutes passed before we got a little worried and decided to look outside arrivals for him; a security guard even let Samin back into baggage claims (totally illegal!) to look for Alfred. After nearly an hour later Alfred finally found us, reunited with his $200 Ray-Ban sunglasses. Worth it?
Outside the airport, the games began. Although the cabbie touts didn’t initially rush us like most other countries I’ve been to, they nevertheless started with the shakedown beginning with 40 dinars for taking us from the airport to the city. I stood my ground while the other drivers (and my fellow monsooners) watched and learned the art of the angry haggle.
The next round got the price down to 5 dinars per person (making it 30 dinars) but again, I refused, knowing that it was supposed to be no more than 5-10 dinars for a regular car to the city. I then got a police officer involved, making them agree to turning on their meter. Eventually we settled on 20 dinars total for the van for all 6 of us including luggage. Victory!
About 15 minutes of driving we first passed by the Tunis Clock Tower:
Next to the clock is the Roman Catholic church, Cathedral Of St Vincent de Paul, the see of the Archdiocese of Tunis. It unfortunately was shuttered when we tried to visit.
And then eventually we were dropped off at the Port de France, the opening and official entry into Tunis’ historic medina.
Right by Fort de France is Place de la Victoire.
And into the medina we go:
It took about a 10 minute walk through the maze-like alleyways of the medina before we arrived at our lodgings at Dar Traki Medina de Tunis, where we were welcomed with tea and pastries.
After freshening up, we headed back out to explore more of the medina, of which the entire walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site:
But since we’re here during Ramadan, almost every shop is closed during the daytime:
All the mosques also had their doors shut, so the only highlight was Zaytuna Mosque, where although there were signs indicating non-muslims were not allowed inside, it was also the only mosque which had open doors for us to peek in and see. Nobody stopped us and those who did notice didn’t care enough to shoo us away.
We then walked out west of the medina to an open plaza marked by the Monument Place de la Kasbah, a government monument that’s situated right in front of Hotel de Ville de Tunis, Tunis’ city hall. There’s tons of security here.
It took about 2 hours going up and down, left and right before we pretty much saw everything there is to see in the medina, so we wrapped up with a beautiful rooftop Iftar (the meal after sunset when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast) at El Mrabet, after listening to the adhan fill the sky around the city.
But alas, we were one of few to enjoy this dinner:
But the city comes alive after 10pm, most of whom come to El Mrabet for dessert, shisha, tea, and an outdoor concert:
The streets are no less lively late night during Ramadan, which is ironic because Tunis’ medina is usually completely dead at 9pm otherwise.
Well, except maybe this street.
and this one.
So far, we’re all safe and alive, and as one formerly nervous monsooner named Koichi had just said to me 5 minutes ago: “I love Tunisia.”
Then fireworks, where he then jumped at the sound thinking it was gunshots.
- At time of posting in Tunis, Tunisia, it was 28 °C - Humidity: 42% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy