After a brief detour in Sidi Bou Said (and head to that post if you want information on the public transportation we took to get there from Tunis), we walked 10 minutes south along Rue du Maroc towards Carthage: the historic capital city of the ancient Carthaginian empire that was founded by Queen Dido.
This very city ruled the Mediterranean during the first millennium BC before it was conquered and wiped out by the Romans in the 3rd Punic War in 146 BC. It eventually was rebuilt as Roman Carthage which became the focal point for the Roman Empire’s affairs in North Africa.
Heading along Rue du Maroc, one of the first things we passed on our left walking south were the ruins of Basilique de Saint-Cyprien.
Then getting back on Rue du Maroc, we walked by a very very long Presidential Palace complex, of which photo-taking were not allowed (thanks to multiple armed guards and policemen who took excruciating pains to remind us that along our stroll).
We then headed down further and made a left towards the entrance to the Antoine Baths.
Here for 10 dinars a person you can buy a ticket to all the ruins in Carthage, namely the Amphitheater, the Villas Romaines, the Theatre Romain, the Musée Paléochretien, the Musée de Carthage, Tophet de Salambo, the Antonin Baths, and the Quartier Magon. Just make sure you use it before 5pm as all the sights close by then.
The best one of all of them to see, if you had time to see only one, is the Antoine Baths, built by Emperor Antonine Le Pieux in the 2nd century BC where only the boilers and wooden reserves remain. It was one of the largest baths of the ancient empire (the largest being the Baths of Diocletian, which I actually visited 2 weeks ago when starting this trip in Rome) The 15m tall column otherwise gives an idea of the size of the actual baths.
Although this place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important tourist destinations in Tunisia, you’re allowed to climb down into the actual ruins and explore them up close with nary a tourist, or anyone for that matter, in sight.
Just don’t be a dick by touching or taking things with you because there’s literally no security watching you here.
After about half an hour here we headed back out and walked a few streets west to the ruins of Villas Romaines, a Roman country house:
At this point, especially after a morning at the hammam, we were getting tired of walking and decided to hire 2 cabs for 10 dinars a person to show us around the rest of Carthage’s ruins and then take us back to the Tunis medina. The cab drivers would also call the ticket offices ahead to keep the ruins open for us past the 5pm closing time. Not a bad deal!
So our next stop was up the hill to Saint-Louis Cathedral on top of the Byrsa hill. Built in 1884, it is now a cultural center for Tunisian classic music concerts.
Afterwards we were taken to the ruins of an old Roman amphitheater:
And then the old Roman aqueducts and cisterns (Quartier Magon or Cisterns of La Malga) that used to ferry and hold nearly 51 million liters of water from up to 90km away. These are the largest known surviving cisterns from the ancient world.
Then driving towards the coast we took photos of the Punic Ports of Carthage, which was once a military harbor and trade port built in the 2nd century BC and housed up to 170-180 ships.
And with that we returned home, washed up, and had one final group dinner together back at where we had our morning hammam at Palais Bayram.
It was pretty surreal to watch this group of 10 strangers come together so cohesively after a whirlwind 6 days together through 3 countries, especially when the nervous ones even admitted how wonderfully and unexpectedly surprised they were with their time in Tunisia.
It’s sad to say goodbye, but after nearly a week together on the road, it’s time to go home.
- At time of posting in Carthage, Tunisia, it was 23 °C -
Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear with periodic clouds
To further prove how safe and tourist-friendly Tunis has remained, we booked a long session at the hammam at nearby Palais Bayram this morning. For a Turkish baths, mud scrub, and 30 minute massage, we got a great deal at about 120 dinars per person!
We spent about 4-5 hours getting pampered vegging out and drinking tea, before deciding to finally go for some sightseeing up north in Carthage, but more on that later. The first task was to find a way out of the medina so we could find the main train station.
Eventually we crawled back out the medina and towards the clock tower.
Then we turned right to reach the closest train station, Gare de Tunis at Place Barcelona.
For about less than 1 dinar a person, we boarded Train #6 heading 2 stops over to the train station Tunis Marine, which took about 5 minutes. Make sure you get on the train going in the right direction! People had to help us.
Afterwards we crossed a small street to get on the TGM line heading north towards Carthage and Sidi Bou Said.
Again for less than 1 dinar per person, we quickly ran on the TGM train before it departed.
Deciding that we had more than enough time to explore the sights north of Tunis, we decided to head all the way to Sidi Bou Said, a port town known for its blue and white houses hugging the coast, reminding everyone as being the “Santorini of Tunisia.”
If you’re heading south (as there’s no more north to go unless you want to hit the sea), turn left at any street to get views of the port and Lake of Tunis. They were totally worth it for the detour:
And from here we kept walking south along Rue du Maroc into Carthage.
- At time of posting in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia, it was 23 °C -
Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear with periodic clouds
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 had just said to me 5 minutes ago: “I love Tunisia.”
- At time of posting in Tunis, Tunisia, it was 28 °C -
Humidity: 42% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy