Inside The Medina
There are some lovely alleyways inside the medina, many of which have been restored.
There’s something enchanting about the narrow alleys of a windswept North African medina
. For most people, such a description evokes images of Morocco - but I can tell you that Tunisia also deserves to be visualised in the in the same way.
Hammamet, the last stop of my week long journey around the country, seemed pretty busy on arrival, not quite the relaxing, beach resort town that I was expecting. Instead it felt like somewhere a bit more...normal.
But I was overwhelmingly relieved to have made it there.
Thanks to some dodgy food eaten in Tataouine
, the all-day drive back up north was nothing short of an ordeal - I was tired thanks to a night of almost no sleep; I was stiff and sore the whole way which doesn't help when you're not able to move much in the driver's seat; I still had a fever; and I had a splitting headache for most of the journey, only alleviated by the paracetamol given to me by my host back in Tataouine. Several times on the long, straight, desert road, I could feel my eyelids getting heavy which could've been really dangerous. The fact that I recognised the extreme
Not A Bad View...
This shot was taken from the ramparts of the fort.
danger of what I was doing however - I had thought about not doing the drive at all and staying in Tataouine - made me focus even harder on the road although I did tell myself to pull over if things got really bad. In the end, with a little determination, I managed to pull through.
I definitely wasn't in the mood to eat that night so I made sure I drank loads of water and was asleep by 8pm, not waking until 9am the next day. If ever I needed that long of a rest...
I was thankfully well enough the next day to explore the city and so I started off with Hammamet's touristic highlight, which is its very pretty, compact medina - no wonder so many artists were inspired by this place - and it is so charming that there were several foreigners sketching inside it. The general light blue colour scheme within the medina reminded me of Chefchaouen
, Morocco. It is not just the colours inside the medina however that makes it so enchanting but also its beautiful Arabic-style architecture, the fact that it is mostly pedestrianised and its distinct lack of foot traffic, which
Streets Of The Medina
The alleys of Hammamet's medina inspired more than a few artists to make sketches while I was there.
gives it a wonderful sense of serenity - a quality that perhaps used to (and maybe still does in pockets) to exist in old walled cities such as Venice
The medina is protected by the walls of the fort and the views from the top of it were excellent - the seaside location of the medina also adds to its whimsical charisma.
Perhaps the only downside to the medina was that it was full of souvenir shops with hawkers seemingly desperate for you to buy something, anything. Though nowhere near as bad as their Moroccan cousins, they were still pretty persistent nonetheless.
From the medina I then made my way along the coast to the city beach. I had contemplated having a beach day in Hammamet when I did my initial trip planning - however, once I saw the littered beach, rough seas and murky water, I did decided to pass on the idea. The water was pretty cold too, so it would not have been pleasant - yet at the hotel resort I stumbled across, it didn't seem to stop the Western tourists enjoying their all-inclusive. While it is always nice to feel the soft sand
A View Out To Sea
This could be on a Greek Island.
underneath your feet, it was far from the best beach I have seen. Well, on that particular day, anyway.
I did have a slightly strange experience on the walk back to the hotel however.
A car pulled over to the footpath and a local guy yelled out to me, as if he knew me. I looked at him suspiciously.
"I'm the chef from the hotel", he tells me, "I'm not dressed up now so you probably don't recognise me."
Now I hadn't even met the cook at the hotel but out of wanting to be polite, I really did think about whether I had really in fact, met this guy; I give him the benefit of the doubt.
"I'm going to the medina now, as that is where I live - do you want to go to the medina?"
Despite having given this guy the benefit of the doubt however, that lesson you learn as a kid about never getting into a car with a stranger got the alarm bells ringing - I'm far too well travelled to have accepted a lift from this guy.
"No thanks, I'm walking back to the hotel", I tell him.
I expected him
Outside The Walls
The beige walls are the walls of the old fort, which protected the old city (the medina).
to keep chancing his arm but he surprisingly just let me go and continued on his way.
"OK then, I'll see you later", he says.
A few minutes later, on a different street, he pulls up again.
"Hey, funny to see you again!" he shouts. "Wanna lift to the medina?"
"No, I'm good", I reply.
"OK then, see you!"
I was thankful he wasn't more persistent about me getting into his car but I supposed that if he was, that it would raise my suspicions. I did wonder however, what he would've done with me if I had accepted his offer of a lift and if he had any sinister intentions. I was also thinking if I had actually met the guy and had forgotten. I concluded I hadn't and that I may have been roped into visiting a carpet store or something or perhaps even robbed. Thankfully I never found out.
And with that, I had finished my short sightseeing tour of Hammamet. I thought about getting into the car again and going along the coast to visit some of the other beaches and the Dar Sebastian Cultural Centre but I was still feeling a bit tired from
This is the beach on the other side of the medina to Plage Hammamet. With a lot of trash and cold, rough, murky water, it isn't great but it hasn't stopped more than a few beachside resorts from springing up.
my food poisoning so I decided to chill at the hotel instead. Besides, I had just about had enough of driving, I didn't want to have to come back and have to find another parking space and I have more driving ahead of me once I get to Greece in a couple of days. I suppose if there is a good time to recover from sickness then it was in Hammamet; I saw pretty much everything I wanted to see in a couple of hours, so now I could take my time to rest and take things easy.
It is always great to have local perspective on places to visit and while she was not with me in Tunisia, it was great to have had advice from my Tunisian colleague Safa. She gave me a pretty comprehensive list of places to see and eat while I was in Tunis
and she did the same for Hammamet, which is her home town.
That night, I felt well enough to eat again and one thing I will say about Imodium is that unless you have something serious, it makes your stomach feel invincible. Therefore I thought that on my last
Hammamet's medina doesn't really have a big bazaar like Tunis and only has a couple of covered lanes like this, which are lined with shops.
night in Tunisia, I would make use of this Imodium superpower to actually enjoy my final dinner in the country.
I decided on one of the restaurants Safa recommended and when that was closed (and after a guy offering me drugs told me to eat in the medina - as if I would trust a drug dealer and what’s with all the dodgy people wanting me to go into the medina?) I decided on the seafood restaurant next door which was also recommended by Safa.
The results however were disappointing and potentially dangerous. I decided to go with the last major Tunisian dish I had yet to try, salad mechouia
, a salad of grilled vegetables that have been crushed together with olive oil, with egg and tuna added on top. I also discovered that it was really spicy - Tunisians really do like a bit of kick to their food! I also ordered the fruits de mer
, so I could sample a range of everything. I’m not sure how fresh the seafood was however - the shrimps looked like they were frozen and the mussels tasted a little off. It was difficult to finish as I thought that it would
A Cat Wanders Down The Lane..
The dense nature of a medina makes them a cat's paradise.
come with fries and/or vegetables to give it a bit more flavour and reduce the ‘ocean’ taste that comes with seafood, but it was all literally just fried up with a weak onion and garlic sauce. I knew I was taking a risk with my stomach simply to enjoy a normal meal but testing my limits with a meal of a super spicy salad and potentially shifty seafood was probably the worst possible choice I could’ve made.
Anyway, I think Tunisia has been really cool - like a much more chilled version of Morocco. The relaxed demeanour of the people can perhaps be best reflected by the fact that Tunisian drivers hardly ever used their horns!
I can’t help but think however, that if I hadn’t already done so much travel, that I would’ve been even more impressed by Tunisia.
As it is, I still think that the country has a lot to offer and is reasonably cheap to get to from Europe, but that a lack of services and information aimed at budget travellers makes Tunisia comparably expensive. Other than accommodation costs however, I have found Tunisia to be pretty cheap, as the most I had to pay
Lane To The Sea
There was a wonderfully peaceful and relaxed vibe inside the medina and I can't help but think that the seaside location plays a big part.
for a meal has been about 10€ and most meals have been less than half of that.
So for those of you thinking about coming over here, I would say that Tunisia a credible alternative to Morocco.
Now I tend to have a habit of finishing my blog entries with cliffhangers; I don't always intend to and this is definitely the case now, but what fate awaits me after my ‘last supper’?
Well, you’ll have to find out in the next blog entry...
ان شالله نشوفك عن قريب، بالسلامة ('iina shallah nushufuk ean qaribin, bialsalama),
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