Bizerte: Tunis Medina
On Tuesday we went into the centre of Tunis by train with Paul and Lorraine, an English couple we met here.
We had already visited the train station to check the Train times, however we were unsure about our French translation as we thought the 7.30am train did not arrive in Tunis until 13:30!. So we went later in the day with Lorraine (who speaks French) and Paul to check. It turns out the 13.30 was the time a Train arrived in Bizerte from Tunis. While we were at the station we bought our tickets, paying the extortionate rate of 50p extra for air-conditioned first class.
We set off from the boats at 7am and walked to the station. The train arrived and we managed to get on board quickly so we could get seats together. It was a pleasant fairly uneventful journey and the air conditioning was brilliant. Unfortunately we hit a sheep that wouldn’t move off the track quick enough. After stopping the train the driver was happy no damage had occurred so we carried on our way to Tunis.
We had decided our first stop should be the government run shop that sold good quality Tunisian souvenirs at a fixed price. This way we would know how much we should pay in the Souk’s. After a good look around the area where the shop should be, Lorraine asked where it was. It turned out the shop closed down a year ago. After the disappointment of the shop we decided to have a coffee in the rather posh looking café that was part of the theatre. We were worried about the price of the coffee, but it turned out to be a rather reasonable 90p.
Fortified by the coffee we set off into the medina. The first street was mayhem, very narrow and everyone trying to barge through, along with the occasional delivery barrow. We were all thinking that if this was how the medina was going to be we wouldn’t be here for long. Luckily as we carried on further into the medina it started to get quieter. We wandered through the narrow streets inspecting the goods from the safety of the street; we didn’t dare go inside in case we never got out!
After a while we found a rather nice traditional looking café serving freshly squeezed orange juice. An elderly Tunisian gentleman said everyone (meaning women as well as men) was welcome in the café, so we stopped for a drink. Most cafes and bars are male only. As we set off after the drink, the Tunisian gentleman offered to show us a “panoramic view of the city”, which was “free”. We decided to play the game and were taken in through a shop and up to the roof. Sure enough we could see over the rooftops of Tunis. The view wasn’t that inspiring, concrete roofs and satellite dishes, with the occasional minaret. We wondered if we would be able to leave the shop with out buying a carpet! Surprisingly we got out of the shop easily, however we could not loose the gentleman as he was now trying to show us round the rest of the medina. Eventually we paid him a very small amount of money to go away.
Anne was looking for a cotton tunic without too much embroidery on it. She found quite a nice one, but the guy wanted 44 dinar for it (approx £20) we knew we could buy a better quality one in Bizerte for 15 dinar so we left. He started to lower the price but at that starting price we weren’t prepared to even haggle.
We then carried on exploring more Souk’s and the medina. We had hoped to go to a museum, but unfortunately it was closed. We were then “picked up” by a helpful young man who directed us (OK he herded us) to the mausoleum. He then gave us a guided tour of the mausoleum. The ceilings were very ornate. Afterwards he asked for money for the unsolicited tour. We gave him a small amount of change. He then wanted our entry tickets for the mausoleum, so he could use them again, probably to guide some more unsuspecting tourists round. We decided these “guides” were the medina’s equivalent of street entertainers and worth the small change we paid them.
It was now time to start to find our way out of the medina which we did relatively easily. On the lane out of the medina we started to go into a few of the shops. Anne found another tunic. This started at a more reasonable 15 dinar but as it didn’t fit well we decided to leave it. As we left, the man was lowering his price eventually down to 5 dinar. Even though we didn’t buy the tunic Anne decided she quite liked this haggling and started going in more shops, trying to get lower prices on anything that caught her eye – nothing we were actually going to buy of course but she just wanted to have fun negotiating!. Lorraine and Paul decided they did actually want a Couscoussiere (pot for cooking couscous) and Anne eagerly volunteered to negotiate. Anne couldn’t get the price down to their target price but she did get one guy down from 44 dinar to 10. We left before Anne was banned from the whole of the Medina!
Our guide book recommended a shop called Deyma. The sell all sort of dates (the fruit that is). We got offered a sample, and even Stephen who is not keen on dates enjoyed it.
Our return train was delayed by 45 minutes. When the train did arrive there was a massive scrabble to get on, even in 1st class! Anne & Lorraine left Paul & Stephen to it. Unfortunately the boys only managed to bag one seat. We all thought this was OK as at least we could take it in turns to sit down. Before we set off the conductor came into the carriage and made a speech in Arabic. After that people started giving up their seats for us. We can only assume the conductor asked (forced) them to show the tourists some Tunisian hospitality.
When we got back to Bizerte we stopped off at the supermarket for some food for tea and then back to our boats. We all had a really enjoyable day in Tunis.