We redeemed 120,000 miles from which we got from The Chase Sapphire card, Chase Freedom, and the Chase INK Bold cards, to book business class tickets using United Mileage PLUS miles. We took advantage of United routing rules, and had a stop-over in Istanbul on our way to Tunisia. The routing was PDX-IAD-VIE-IST-TUN-FRA-IAD-PDX.
The name of the airport is Carthage. Although, I didn’t see any chariots or Corinthian columns at the airport, I’m guessing they are all hoarded into the museum in Tunis. Home of the national carrier, TunisAir, it has flights coming/going for a lot of the major carriers, including Lufthansa, and Turkish Air, which we took from Istanbul.
Tunisia is a wonderful country. The people are hospitable, friendly, and sophisticated. It had the feel of a small French village, but with Arab charm. We stayed in a town called Hammamet, just outside the capital Tunis. A holiday favorite for the French, due to its beach proximity, coastline amenities, and great value. Hammamet felt like an Arab version of Redondo Beach, but with better parking opportunities. I met up with a friend of mine, who has started a travel company known as Trip Expert. He offers guide assistance for traveling all over Tunisia, and helps with lodging, tours, and other logistics. I had opted to stay at a small boutique hotel inside the heart of the city, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Like most Tunisians, hospitality is the order of the day, and offered us our very own loft upstairs from them. A cozy room with all the amenities I needed, including a large balcony for stargazing at night, and a Mediterranean breeze in the morning.
Tunis is famous for its alleyways of casbah’s and outdoor market stalls, but also for unique small shops selling personal and intricate items that you won’t find elsewhere. So if you go there, find something you like and have it customized, because you will find a bargain. Hike up towards the viewpoint in Sidi Bou Said, and there you will have a chance to get some amazing money shots, while enjoying a cup of coffee or mint tea. It was nice to have the shop owners not chasing you to buy something. I wasn’t chased down the road, and persuaded to buy a $700 carpet, that supposedly Aladdin himself flew on. What I noticed was streets signs, or billboards, and just about anything that had Ben Ali’s name or picture was scribbled out or erased. The sign indicating the direction to the ‘Mosque of Ben-Ali’ was changed to the ‘Mosque of the People’. Nonetheless, the mosque was amazing, and no expense was spared. I guess he felt guilty from oppressing so many people for so long.
The food was amazing! My guide was very nice enough to invite us to his house to join him and his family each and every night for dinner. Now, THAT is hospitality! We dined on soft and tender, fall off the bone, roasted lamb, various spiced rice dishes, fresh vegetables, and the after dinner faux-digestif sweet mint tea, served with an array of sweet flaky pastries, topped with pistachios and walnuts. Meals that even death row inmates would die for!
Tunisia has a lot to see, and you can see them all in a short length of time. We hired a driver to take us to ancient Roman ruins, which was about a good hour drive from Tunis. The drive was just scenic all the way, passing by small farms, villages, and landmarks. We visited the famous amphitheater of El Djem, and walked around for a good couple of hours. I believe we were one of the few people there visiting. We had the whole place to ourselves pretty much –to take pictures, discover the ruins, and have our guide explain the various nooks and crannies under the amphitheater….As you can see, it’s in great shape still, and I must admit, this park had THE CLEANEST BATHROOMS I HAD EVER SEEN!!!
No trip to Tunisia is complete without a visit to a hamam, or bath-house. The hot and steamy natural spring water offers great relaxation, and is a great ending to a day of sightseeing and walking. My guide was able to book one for us, and used his contacts to get it for us for free! He explained something to me that was intriguing. Some of the hamams are like timeshares. A number of families will buy into them and they split the time throughout the year to use them. To possess one is something of an iconic status. He arranged for us to spend an evening at the hamam. Complete with a basket of fruit, a thermos full of mint tea, and other goodies to enjoy after our soak in an adjacent room, adorned with wall carpets, that resembled a sort of Lawrence of Arabia tent theme.
I felt visiting Tunisia to experience North Africa was a better option than Morocco. The latter is so visited, that it would’ve felt like a tourist trap to me. Being the French had all this area to themselves at one point, it was easier to learn about the colonial days of France here, without being bothered to buy a carpet. I recommend a visit to Tunisia, especially now that the revolution has passed and people are more free to express themselves. You will find they are very sophisticated, and willing to share their feelings with you, over coffee and a pastry. Happy Travels!