First trip to Africa!
What a fabulous experience for my first trip out of Europe! Staying half way between Sousse and Port El Kantaoui at the Royal Marhaba Salem hotel, I managed to pack in loads in the week I was there.
On this, our first full day, we took a walk down to the hotel beach with 3 others we'd met on the plane. I'm not one for sun-bathing as a rule, I like to be out exploring the country, but we wanted to go to the 'meet-the-rep' meeting just before lunch so made the most of a spare couple of hours by having a paddle and a walk to the rocks. It was down on the beach that we booked to take a camel ride that afternoon. I'm scared of heights, but I was determined to get on that camel. We went up into the hills and visited a small pottery place, and watched a woman making bread Tunisian-style in a wooden barrel. After giving the camel a bottle of coca-cola (?) we made our way back. It was a brilliant experience, and I finally got to ride a camel in Africa and watch the sun set on my descent back into the town.
The Friday morning market in Nabeul was our first stop on our day trip. The aromas from the spices and the vast amount of local produce was pouring out from every knuck and cranny. Being the largest market in Northern Africa, you can buy everything here, and the locals are really friendly. We stopped for a coffee in a cafe and watched as locals and tourists alike bustled around the streets. After lunch at a hotel in Hammamet, we went on for an afternoon at Friguia Safari Park. The most memorable parts of our trip to Friguia was with the Giraffes. For a small tip the Giraffe-keeper will take you into the Giraffe house and take a photo on your camera of you standing with one of the Giraffes. Now I know I'm small, but at the side of the Giraffe I felt tiny! Our trip to Friguia was only a couple of hours long, and it was at the wrong time of day. If you go before lunch or after 3pm you can go to the Aquarium and swin with the Dolphins. It's something I've always wanted to do; sadly it didn't happen on this trip.
This must have been one of our busiest days for sight-seeing. We started the day with a visit to Kairouan. Here we visited the Water Basins, the Great Mosque, the Sidi Sahib Mausoleum, and finished at the Medina. The Great Mosque is a fabulous structure, and one of Tunisia's largest Mosques. We were given information on the prayer room before being taken into a small picture house to watch a short film on the history of Tunisia. After lunch we made our way to the stunning El Jem. Walking around the outside of the Amphitheatre, the second largest built by the Romans, I had to stop myself from running down the stairs to get in quicker. It was amazing to be able to explore both the seating area and down underneath; you can even see the scratch marks from the lions if you look closely enough. Out last stop was in Monastir, where we were given a choice between looking around the Medina or exploring the town for an hour. Having done a bit of research before I went, I knew that if we crossed the road from the Medina we would find the Ribat and the Grande Mosque. The Monastir Ribat was on my 'to-do' list; manly because some of my closest friends are huge Monty Python fans, and the Monastir Ribat was used in one of the most famous scenes in 'Life of Brian'. I only saw the Grande Mosque from a distance as I'd spent a bit long grabbing some shots of me at the Ribat!
With a break from two very busy days, Sunday was a quiet one with just a bit of sun bathing and resting We did venture out at one point to do a bit of shopping in the small supermarkets, but I think my mum needed a bit of a rest. I spent the afternoon down on the beach watching the Animation Team playing football with the guests; not sure one of them meant to slip and slide straight into the sea though???
I don't think we could've picked a worse day for this, but after a short taxi-ride into Port El Kantaoui we took a trip into the Med on a Pirate Ship. Whilst the sun was shining it was extremely windy, and not at all pleasant. I'm sure this is something best suited to the summer months. However, if you do go during the winter and fancy a boat ride, then there are a whole array of different types you can book trips on. Walking around the harbour you will find everything from Submarines to glass-bottomed boats. I guess I just wanted to be a pirate for a couple of hours....and really didn't like it very much.
Our last opportunity to take a full day to indulge in my favourite past-time, sight-seeing. Today, apart from El Jem of course, was probably one of the best trips we did. We started the day at the Bardo Museum which houses an enormous collection of Roman Mosaics. They were in the middle of a restoration programme while we there, so you saw a lot of mosaics up against the wall covered in bubblewrap. From here we took a trip to the Carthage Punic Port and drove around to where we could see the palace. We then carried on and pulled up outside the ancient ruins of Carthage. The first thing you come to as you enter the site is the Stalae on the Tophet, which is basically the graves of children who were sacrificed during the Punic era. As you walk through the site you come to a viewing point, and it's from here I stood mesmorised whilst looking out across the ancient ruins of Carthage and beyond into the Med. As soon as the tour guide had finished telling us about the site I was the first to go down the stairs and make my way into the ruins. Walking around, touching the various surfaces from stone to marble, (posing for pics!!), and taking in the feeling of history; it was a surreal experience that I'm not sure I could match easily. We left Carthage and made our way to Sidi Bou Said, the clifftop village in Tunis. The steep climb up the winding streets proved a bit too much for my mum, so she sat in the shade with another elderly tourist while I made my way to the top with the rest. The views of the coast from the very top were fabulous; and you can see for miles up the mediterranean. Despite having heard the story of the Olive trees 3 times (once on every trip), I couldn't resist having my photo taken with the one at the top of the hill...!
Our week in wonderful Tunisia was to end with a coach pick-up from the hotel at 12 noon. I spent my final few hours at our hotel lazing around at the side of the pool trying to catch a least a bit of a tan – and mainly failed!
The hotel was fantastic. The staff were polite, the rooms were lovely and clean, and the entertainment was pretty good most nights. We had belly dancers, a snake charmer, a strong man, and a night of karaoke.
Would love to go back someday – but for now there's so much more I want to see in the world...