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December 19th 2010
Published: December 19th 2010
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Hey guys !

Greetings from Africa !! I is made it , my third visit to this amazing continent, and no less spectacular than my first two. In fact, I’ve had a really great impression of Tunisia so far, and a great first few days. Just awaiting my train towards the south of the country now, and looking forward very much to discovering more!

Arrived safely on Friday afternoon in Tunis, the country’s capital, after an absurdly early wake up call at 2.50am, and a transfer in Rome. Beautiful city, long, tree-lined boulevards and elegant, albeit dilapidated, early 20th Century French colonial buildings, in the French ¨Nouvelle Ville¨at least, but of course just next door the chaotic, frenetic ,market-on-speed which seems apparent in every Arabic city, the ancient “medina” area. First day just spent wandering around, entranced by the sudden change in atmosphere from West London – the exotic smells coming from bazaar market stalls, the Arabic music blaring from various directions, and the intermittent muezzin’s call to prayer - and taking many photos. Checked into a lovely, colonial-era hotel in the ville nouvelle, with a splendid balcony overlooking the road, trams and people below. A great start!

And yesterday spent a bit of time further afield, taking first the tram and TGV line to outlying ancient Phoenician/Roman site of Carthage. Carthage was the main rival to the Roman empire during the 2nd and 1st Centuries BC, a time when the latter was looking to expand rapidly. Twice did Rome face Carthage on the battlefield, including the famed time of Hannibal marching his elephants over the Pyrenees to meet Rome in northern Italy, before the Romans finally achieved victory by a massive siege to the city in 146 BC, razing the place to the ground and sowing salt all around so that it may never prosper again. Indeed, there is little to see of the ruins today, apart from a few reconstructed villas, temples and the like, but it sports an amazing hill-top location overlooking the Bay of Tunis towards the Cap Bon peninsula on the other side. The city was also the location of the mythical Carthaginian queen, Dido, and her music was indeed singing in my ears throughout (!).

After this, a short hop on the TGV again, past the presidential palace, to the beautiful cliff-top village of Sidi Bou Said. What a lovely place! Again, a spectactular location overlooking the azure Mediterranean below, this time with white-washed houses with blue windows and doors – each turning was another beautiful vista of blue and white, surrounded by blooms of exotic flowers pouring over garden walls and from window boxes – check out the photos! This was really great.

Finally, in the evening of my first mega busy day here, thought I’d indulge in the local “hammam” ritual, and visit a nearby steam house. This one was made famous by a film called “Halfaouine”, which I haven’t really heard of, but was a pretty interesting cultural experience. For those not in the know, a hammam is a Turkish steam bath, where you visit a number of rooms with varying levels of heat, scrub yourself with a hand-sponge and soap, get a massage if you want one, and wash it all off with baking-hot water (or freezing cold if you prefer). I did one in Morocco last year, so felt a bit of a connoisseur this time around, although I still had to wait to see what other people would do before doing it myself – there seem to be a number of cultural taboos which must be avoided, including not washing yourself in the massage area, where to wear towels and where to wear shorts (and not to be completely naked, which I don’t tend to do often anyway…!), and where to relax, sit down etc. Seemed to figure it all out, and exited feeling rather squeaky clean and glad I did that experience already!

So, here I am on my third day here, and ready to get a-moving to more southerly destinations. As mentioned, will be taking a train shortly to Mahdia on the central coast, an hour south of Monastir, where I hope to spend a few days checking out the sights around.

Really great impressions of this country so far! Very cordial, polite and friendly people, which is a great contrast to Morocco last year. Apologies to any Moroccans reading this (doubt it…!), but Tunisia seems much less aggressive, more tourist-friendly, and certainly a cut above in terms of style and panache. Is this the French influence perhaps? Certainly does seem to be an air of French exuberance around, which isn’t one of those anti-colonial, anti-European atmospheres which are so apparent in a number of ex-colonial destinations. The Tunisians appear
Avenue Habib Bourguiba, TunisAvenue Habib Bourguiba, TunisAvenue Habib Bourguiba, Tunis

The 'Champs Elysées" of Tunis
to embrace French culture, and converse in a mix of Arabic and French.

Anyway, these are certainly just first impressions, and I may find some new things as I travel on. Of course, I shan’t be without mentioning them here.

Ok, off to upload some nice photos now – hope it works.

Au revoir, and will write again from a more southerly location!

Alex



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Bab BharBab Bhar
Bab Bhar

Entrance to the Tunis Medina


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