First Full Day in Tunisia

After weeks of seemingly no sleep, a change in plans from Algeria to Tunisia and a quick stop off in London to visit my friend Mike, I arrived in Tunis, Tunisia two nights ago after a long and grueling day of flying sitting next to more screaming babies than one could possibly have nightmares about. The only good thing was I was able to watch ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ on the flight over and if you haven’t seen it-it’s a phenomenal Bollywood style film and well worthy of all the accolaids it has received. But alas, I arrived and promptly checked into the Sheraton Hotel and Towers and slept for 13.5 hours until 1pm yesterday afternoon. My friend Jake arrived at 2pm and our adventure in Tunisia was set to begin.

We spent the day yesterday eating exotic Tunisian foods, in fact literally sampling everything on the menu and then checked out the old city medina in the center of Tunis. I have been to many Arab cities and seen many medinas. This medina in Tunis was very nice and may be the cleanest one I have ever been in. It was also of the higher end variety with many fancy jewelry shops and higher end clothes stores. Many medinas have souks filled with crap as far as the ye can see, so this was a welcomed change.

The maze of the medina is always fun to wander through and get lost in. When we finally found our way out to the other side we walked around the main street in Tunis, called Mohammed V Street, I believe. We then just relaxed at a “man bar”, aka a cafe on the street where it’s seemingly all men just drinking coffee and smoking endless amounts of cigarettes with no women in sight. If you’ve been to the Middle East or North Africa you know what I mean. Women in general are nowhere to be found in everyday Arab life. They are generally in the home or doing work, certainly not interracting in a social manner. Men on the other hand drink lots of coffee, tea and smoke lots of cigarettes.

They smoke so many cigarettes in fact, I worry that in several years there will be no more men in the Middle East as they will all be dead from lung cancer. If you look at a table of four men at a cafe, there will undoubtably be at least four packs of cigarettes, if not more on the table. When they are about to finish one smoke they already start to light the next one so they don’t miss any time smoking. The key seems to be maximizing smoking time to every possible second while not taking any opportunity to breathe in fresh air. It’s a brilliant tactic that should be explored by other death seekers around the smoking world.

As the sun goes down in Tunis, the medina shuts down, the souks empty and kasbah’s are no longer rocking. So we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner and get a recommendation on a good spot for dinner. Both of us love Middle Eastern food and there is a restaurant in particular that is supposed to be one of the best in the Arab world but we couldn’t get in last night because of a private event but we do have a reservation there for tonight which I am excited about. So the hotel recommended this place called The Plaza Marso in the Northern Suburbs (not Chicago) where most of the action takes place after hours in Tunis. After hours meaning after 7pm.

We took a cab there and after a 30 minute drive we arrived to an ultra cool hotel complex with a cool cafe style outdoor eating area, a disco, another two restaurants and a hotel. We sat outside at the cafe part right next to a mssive firepit that practically burned my eyebrows off and ordered some pretty good pizzas and beef brioche. As we were finishing up, there were a couple of guys eating at the table next to us and overheard us speaking English and started to speak to us in English. They were really nice and we ended up chatting with them and joining their table, insert joke here, but in the Arab world it’s very common for men to chat up men to be friends. I think it’s a little weird too but if everywhere was the same it’d be boring…so we joined them and had some beers.

They mentioned they were headed to this really cool place to watch some live music. It didn’t take much convincing for us to join them. The place was awesome, I can’t remember the name but it had a statue of a cow drinking a martini on the roof which is what I believe the name of the place, but in French obviously. Anyway, the band did English cover songs and was actually quite good. The place broke down all misconceptions that many people have about Arab countries. The people were dancing and rocking out. The women were wearing western style clothes without any head covers and some even had tank tops on. We were kind of surprised but obviously in a good way. This was a place we never would have known about had we not met our new Tunisian friends. We owe our new friend, Hedi, a great deal of thanks for a really fun night. Certainly not bad for a Monday night in Tunis.

These people were so nice they even drove us home 30 minutes back to our hotel. We offered to take a taxi but they insisted and we honestly couldn’t have asked for more hospitable and friendly people. These are the types of things that make me love to travel. Random stuff like this and random people who leave a lasting impression on you. No matter what happens we will always have a positive impression of Tunisia and its people. I am looking forward to a great day today of touring around more of the touristy sites and of course that dinner tonight. I will be sure to give my opinion tomorrow on the restaurant and Carthage etc. Should be fun.

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  1. Great article, I loved Tunisia. My husband and I were there in 2005 and loved the food, people and as you said it is very clean. Enjoy your time there and good luck.

  2. Awesome Lee. Are you going to check out the Star Wars filming sites too?

  3. Tunisia is one of the most welcoming countries that I have visited. I’m interested in your review of Carthage — not much left, but well located on the coast.

    Depending on how much time you have, there are some interesting sites within day trip distance south of Tunis — like El Jem (a better coliseum than the larger one in Rome) and Monastir (some funny scenes in Life of Brian were filmed there).

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