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Winter sun in Tunisia
February 2012

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Air France flight AF1784 from Paris CDG to Tunis Bookmark and Share

Tunisia, so close and yet so far… It’s only a two hours away from Paris, but it’s a totally different world.
Tunisia is a very popular tourist destination. According to official statistics, more than a million French tourists go there for holidays every year, mainly to the resorts in Djerba and Monastir.

Flying over Tunis

It’s actually very cheap, sometimes there are deals for as little as 200€ for a holidays week, including flights and hotels, with operators like Ecotour or Go Voyages.

Somehow, I always found some other place to go for a week. But after living in France for 12 years, I thought it was finally time to visit Tunisia.

I didn’t go there for the beach, the spas or the sun. Well, February 2012 was cold in Paris so it helped me to escape the winter. But the main reason of this trip was to have a glimpse of the capital, its surroundings, and some of its cultural highlights.

Tunis Carthage International Airport

Air France released a bunch of cheap tickets to Tunis as part of their winter sale, so I seized my chance to visit this city.
We packed our bags with my girlfriend TravelBigoud, and we planned to visit the town of Sidi Bou Said, the medina of Tunis, and of course have some free time to wander the streets and souks of Tunis.

There’s an official Tourism Office at the airport so I went to ask for a map of Tunis. They only had maps in Arabic, they weren’t available in any other language. Maybe because most western tourists go to Tunisia for its resorts and the capital is easily bypassed.

El Hana International Hotel

After we passed through customs, taxi drivers came to offer a ride to the city center for a “cheap 20 dinars” (about 10€). We said "no" and went to the taxi station on the left side of the airport building, where official yellow cabs wait. The price offered was only 10 dinars!
And one has to be insistent to go by meter and… surprise, the price was only 7 dinars (by night!).

Our taxi driver was a very nice and funny guy. When I mentioned was born in Colombia, he started to talk about football!
He he admired Higuita, a Colombian goal keeper from the 90’s. It was incredible to hear someone from Tunisia talking with so much passion about Colombian football.

Hotel Salammbo in Tunis

We slept at the Hotel Salammbo, and I think we made the right choice. This 1-star Hotel was central, clean and cheap. Don't expect luxury, but a very warm welcome from the friendly staff made us feel at home.

We booked a room with private WC and shower, the most expensive ones but still very reasonably priced.
The pillow was a bit hard. That was the only little problem we encountered, but we still slept well.

Breakfast was bread with jam and butter, with coffee or tea. For a little extra, we had a delicious fresh orange juice!

The Tramway, or metro of Tunis

Our hotel was close to the Medina and the Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main commercial street of Tunis, which also leads to the Medina.
We mainly used our feet to get around.

Nevertheless the metro was also useful a couple of times? Metro? Well, officially it's a metro, everyone in Tunis call it this way.
But the Métro de Tunis is actually a Tramway!

Anyway, it's useful and the new trains are modern and comfortable. But as in every big city, they can easily get crowded during rush hours!

No Smiking in Tunis? That seems impossible

If you’re a non-smoker, you’ll have a hard time in Tunis. I had the impression that everyone smokes, and the “no smoking” signs don't help.

The trains, metro and some restaurants are the only places where no smoking signs were respected.
It seems that “drinking” and “waiting” are synonyms of “smoking” in Tunisia.

Theater of Tunis

We wanted to have a drink in the evening and the only no smoking place we found was the Café du Theatre, just beside the Theater of Tunis on Avenue Habib-Bourguiba.
It was a bit expensive for Tunis, but still good. And seating on a non-moking place in Tunis is priceless!

On the left is a picture of the Théâtre municipal de Tunis, an art-nouveau style building dating from the early 20th century.

The Greek Orthodox Church in Tunis

On the Rue de Rome (Rome Street) we found the Cathedral of Saint George, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church.

There used to be a strong Greek community in Tunisia, mainly composed of merchants and traders?
Only a handful of Greeks live nowadays in Tunis, but the embassy still mantains this Church as a cultural Heritage.
There is no crisis in Greece when it comes to religion and military!

Hug Christ at the Cathedral of Tunis

The Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul is located right in front of the embassy of France, on Avenue Habib Bourguiba.
If you look upright, you'll get a free hug!
It was built in the 19th century during the French Protectorate.

We visited the church during the mass, and noticed that a lot of people praying were of Black African origin.
Another proof that Tunis is a cosmopolitan city and Tunisia is a tolerant country.

Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul in Tunis

We visited Tunis about a year after the revolution that overthrew Ben Ali after a reign of 23 years.

Before leaving, some people advised me about not going there: instability, demonstrations, insecurity... Of course I didn’t listen to them, just like when I visited Kosovo a year after its declaration of independence.

Actually I couldn’t think of a better time to visit Tunis: A year has passed and situation was calm now. People had many expectations and ideas to rebuild their country, and mass tourists aren’t back yet.

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The pedestrian part of the Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis, Tunisia

The Tunisian Jasmine Revolution was a peaceful one: it had nothing to do with the troubles in Libya, Syria or Yemen.
At the hotel I met a Libyan guy from Benghazi, who could escape to Germany during the war. Now he was coming back to his country with the expectations of a better life.

I didn’t go to Tunis during the Ben Ali years, but even as a short term visitor I could notice that this place is going through changes.

Place du 14 Janvier 2011 in Tunis

First, there are names of the places. The Square with the big clock in Tunis has been renamed Place du 14 Janvier 2011, in memory of the day when the demonstrations started. In Sidi Bou Said the main street between the train station and the town is now called Avenue du 14 Janvier.
Second, there’s the press. My girlfriend took a local Tunisian journal called La Presse when boarding the plane back. There was an article about freedom of speech and the right of showing images, and the journalist wrote abou how happy he was about not being censored!

Rue de Marseille in Tunis

Finally, there’s what the people says. It’s easy to start a conversation in Tunisia, the people are very open.
And the revolution is still a common subject, after all there’s a democracy to build.
We sat down with a businessman at a restaurant in central Tunis. He said that we weren’t visiting Tunis but “the debris of Tunis”. For him, the city was sad, and it was the revolution who gave it this sad face. He wasn’t refusing change, but he seemed afraid of what the future could bring.

That was also the case of a young guy we met in Sidi Bou Said. He feared that the Frères Musulmans, the Islamic group that currently governs the country, could establish an extremist government. Of course, that would be nonsense and contrary to the values of the revolution. I don’t think this will happen: people fought hard for freedom, and they don’t want to lose it. We agreed on saying that any kind of extremism is bad, which is just common sense but so many people don’t seem to understand this.

At the end of the Avenue Habib Bourguiba there's the magnificent old town of Tunis.
Click here for some pictures of the Medina of Tunis.

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The Port of Tunis
Tintin with the El Djezira Street in Tunis

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