Dubai Consumer Mirror

Friday, July 25, 2008

First Impressions: Tunisia

I was told there isn't much to do in Tunisia. To a point, that is true, sort off. But on my way out, it actually hit me. If you are looking for a place to relax, enjoy great weather, friendly people and amazing scenery, Tunisia is a winner.

The most annoying thing about a trip to Tunisia is probably the VISA procedure. It takes a minimum of 2 weeks, and the embassy keeps the passport with them through out that duration! The embassy is not that generous on granting visitng days. For example, on my passport I have all sorts of 5 years, multi entry visas (UK, USA, Schengen...etc). The Tunisian embassy gave me a visa that's valid for 3 months, a single entry that is valid for a maximum of 7 days visit only.

There are direct flight on Tunisian Air and Emirates flies to Tunis via a 1hr stop in Tripoly (Libya). Your trip might end up being a 6 to 7hrs stretch - a business class seat is highly recommended.

Carthage Airport is okay. Getting thru passport control took me about an hour - only 4 of the 20 passport control points were active. Nonetheless, staff was friendly and efficient. Customs people didn't bother me at all. I just walked out of the green (nothing to declare) gate.

I had an airport pick up waiting for me. I did notice though that no one sneaked up to me whispering the "taxi" words in my ear or tried to snatch my bag as if they want to "help me" carry it. It was a very chilled out experience.

I stayed at the Sheraton - if you are coming for business, I wouldn't recommend this hotel at all. Service wasn't that impressive; not for the amount of money I paid for at least. Internet service was abysmal and -digg this- when I wanted to book an airport drop, concierge told me that I had to book it 72hrs in advance. I was like "but I haven't been in Tunis for 72hrs yet!"

As a matter of fact, most of the people I met there gave me the lifted-eyebrow-look when I told them I am staying at the Sheraton. Turned out that there are far more better hotels like The Residence or The Abu Nawas . Maybe next time.

Taking cabs in Tunis was actually easy to do and trouble-free. Cabs charge by meters and all the cabbies I met were very friendly and nice(!). For instance, I took a cab from the hotel to our office. At first, I noticed that the cab driver didn't start the meter. Then, he started a conversation on how expensive things were becoming.

I rolled my eyes and was thinking to myself that its gonna be another one-of-those rides. I started preparing myself for a big argument over why didn't he start the meter and why should I be charged more just because I am non-Tunisian.

Half way thru the trip, the cabby realized that the meter was off and quickly started it. He looked genuinely annoyed. He turned to me and started apologizing till he dropped me off! He insisted that I pay nothing over what the meter was showing. I gave him double the amount.

I wasn’t 100% sure if where we stopped was the right place. So, I wandered around the place asking people for the location of our office. Our receptionist must’ve been doped out or something – she never picked up.

What I didn't noticed was that the cab driver stayed behind. He didn’t want to drive off before making sure I got to my destination. It turned out that he did actually drop me a far away from where I was supposed to be. He called me into the cab again and dropped me at the right place. He didn't charge me extra and repeated his apologies and gratitude. Very nice indeed.

I didn't see anything or visit anywhere in Tunisia. But I met up with many people there. They all said that I HAVE to see places like Hammamet, Sidi Bou Said and a few other sites I don't recall their exact names.

Food there was ok. I felt it was heavily influenced by the Moroccans. Try the traditional Tunisian soup – it’s like Moroccan Hrira soup, but with a spoon of Kouskous in it. Very nice. Non the less, there are plenty of Syrian and Lebanese resutrants in Tunis – so, you won’t feel far away from home.

Try the ‘Shai Bel Bondoq’. Its basically tea with a pinch of pine seeds. Its nice. Though it took me a minute to realize that Tunisian call pine seeds Bondoq. Everywhere else, its what we use to call Hazelnuts.

Another thing you should try there is Olives. At one meal, I didn’t realize that finished a whole plate of juicy green olives with fresh backed bread.

Everyone I ran into the in streets was nice. Weather was fantastic and on my way out, not a single airport staff hinted or implied that they wanted a special treat or anything of that matter.

Bottom-line is, if you want a nice place to chill out and relax in the hot summer months, somewhere not very expensive and Arabic is -comparativly to Morocco and Algeria- easy to understand, head out to Tunisia.

I know I will again.

6 Comments:

  • Wow .. this sounds very nice. I wish to be able to visit Tunis one day :-)

    Thanks for this review.

    By Anonymous za3tar, at July 25, 2008 at 12:14 PM  

  • Too much nice arouses suspicion don't you think ;)

    Am glad though you got a break from flaming rooms and bugging beggers.

    By Blogger KJ, at July 25, 2008 at 3:35 PM  

  • Not bad! The friend of mine was recently teaching there did complain about the very tight government control. Apparently big brother is ALWAYS watching its foreigners who are in the country. Even email content is monitored.

    By Blogger Abu Dhabi/UAE Daily Photo, at July 25, 2008 at 6:22 PM  

  • you'r welcome za3tar ... thanks for dropping by ;)

    thanks KJ

    AUH/DXB photo - you are 100% correct.. they are all over the place..

    By Blogger moryarti, at July 26, 2008 at 12:19 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Restless in Dubai, at July 27, 2008 at 11:05 AM  

  • I had heard so much about Tunisia that I decided to plan a trip there soon, of course, being Me... I googled every single restaurant and any worthy site to be seen. I love Tunisians, they are very laid back and friendly and for some reason, they love Syrians (Phoenician blood, anyone?)

    RnD

    By Blogger Restless in Dubai, at July 27, 2008 at 11:07 AM  

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