Tunisia - Facts and Information

Planning and Travel

Background information


First thoughts
It was probably pictures of the splendid Roman remains in Tunisia that got us thinking about going there so, having been very impressed by our dealings with them, we got in touch with Audley.

We wanted to avoid the tourist resort areas on the coast, visit the main Roman sites and see some of the countryside while we were at it. The result was a four week trip home-to-home starting in Tunis then heading westish into the hills before going south to the desert then east to the coast before returning north. We aimed for March/April which we hoped would we would miss the possibly poor winter weather in the north and the summer heat of the south and keep Eleanor happy by there being plenty of flowers around.

Flights
We flew with BA from Gatwick mainly because the flight times made more sense than using Tunisair. Both flights were fine, as were Gatwick and Tunis (very fast) aiports going out. Return was a different story. Tunis was chaotic on the return. Announcements (Arabic and French same as screens) were unintelligible due to noise and quality of announcements. Boarding pass said Gate 55, screens said 58, eventually someone came round and told us 56. Very slow to load. Early into Gatwick but didn’t get belt for bags for 45 minutes so a lot of hanging around.

Getting around on tne ground
For parking at Gatwick we used Cophall Farm which went smoothly. They were able to drop us at our hotel at the airport going out but we had to walk to the bus stop on return.

In Tunisia, apart from a couple of days at the start and again at the end we had our own car and driver. Several days were 'free' with nothing in the itinerary but the driver available to us. We had a guide (Moez Sghaier) for just one day in Tunis. He was pleasant, helpful and had a very wide range of knowledge. Interestingly he refused a tip.

Lahki, our driver, was excellent. He had good command of English having spent six years in UK in the 1980s and was a safe, defensive driver (an important point given the number of suicidal psychopaths loose on Tunisian roads). He was flexible but also had his own views on what the itinerary should be on some occasions, we found that letting him do his thing paid off as we got to a number of interesting, unscheduled places. He was a little surprised at first to come across tourists who didn’t want to stop for coffee and lunch but preferred to slurp water and eat bread and bananas in the car or at a pretty spot but soon got used to us, although he perhaps never quite fathomed Eleanor’s passion and frequent stops for flowers. A non-smoking, non-drinking, devout Muslim we tried to make sure he got to a mosque around 1300 each day for prayers. We had a good time with him and made a new friend. Vehicle was a rather elderly Toyota Land Cruiser that was in acceptable condition and comfortable.

What we found
Tunisia is a very attractive country. Perhaps the biggest surprise for us was how green and fertile it was in the hills in the north and in the irrigated areas further south. Agriculture has a winter growing season and a spring harvest before everything dies down in the summer. We were amazed by the number of wild flowers in places. Lahki told us that a few weeks after we left places would be looking quite brown and dead. (One month later we were in Malta and saw what he meant).

People were always very friendly and helpful. In Tunis and Kairouan there was a little hassle from people wanting you to see their carpet shop or whatever (beware the "there's a mosque/mausoleum/palace down there" routine) but it was not troublesome and could usually be dealt with in good humour. However we understand the tourist resorts can be a bit different.

Roads were not that busy but could be a bit slow. Surfaces were generally good, although the hills had just seen a very hard winter with a lot of snow and rain and there some serious damage had been caused.

The archaeological sites were amazing. When we were there few were busy (but it was very early in the season) and most were very quiet. Several had no public facilities, although there was usually a watchman around, and you just walked into the site. We became used to seeing the remains of a triumphal arch standing on its own in a field.

Tunisia's 'Arab Spring' was relatively peaceful and after a year when nobody came the tourist industry is getting back into its stride. Governmental offices often had razor wire round them and maybe an armed guard as there are occasional protests about something or other. In some places in the country locals with a grieance would briefly block a road with burning tyres but the drivers' network and police advice kept us clear of such delays.

Travel Insurance
With Tunisia being in Africa we assumed that we would need All World cover. Too late we found that American Express, our insurers, regarded Tunisia and some other Maghreb countries as being in Europe. Had I checked earlier we could have saved money. Your insurers may be different, of course.

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