Advantages The Culture
Disadvantages Being hassled to buy and the weather
+Kairouan, The Great Mosque and a bit of Haggling+
An Anniversary TreatHaving decided to give ourselves a little anniversary treat, myself and my boyfriend, Mark, thought it would be nice to get away for a bit, and go find some warm winter sun. Flicking through the brochures we found a lovely, luxurious looking hotel……in Tunisia. Now Tunisia was not somewhere id ever thought about going. I didn’t really know much about the country, and to be honest had no real wish to go there, but the hotel looked fantastic, as did the beaches, and it was a good price. We booked for a week in mid-November and couldn’t wait.
We had a trouble free journey, with the flight departing on time and even landing a little early. We had booked into the Thalassa Hotel in Skanes, Monastir. It was just like the pictures, every bit as nice as it had looked. Our room had a lovely sea view looking out both ways along the coast, and was a reasonable size with a double bed, sofa, tv and mini fridge (good for keeping bottled water cool).
We arrived to grey skies, wind and (what we were trying to escape) COLD. Not so good. Having discovered that we were only 5 minutes from the airport (aagh!), we also found out that we were not really within walking distance to Monastir (the nearest town). We both started to panic a bit, seeing ourselves stuck inside the hotel for 7 days…..not quite what we had in mind.
Taking a bit of time-out, we decided to find our way around the hotel and its facilities, which included, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, table tennis, pool and a lovely spa treatment centre. We then prepared for dinner. Being half-board, we ate in the buffet restaurant, which served a huge variety of foods. Lots of meat dishes which proved popular with Mark, chicken and vegetarian for me, and of course lots of desserts. After filling up on food and sampling a glass (or two) of Tunisian wine, we began to feel better about our holiday and were looking forward to the next day.
Opening the curtains the following day we were greeted by bright sunshine, and blue skies. Perfect. A quick breckfast and we were off outside to soak up the sun, until about midday when the clouds rolled in and everyone disappeared from around the pool. We took this opportunity to investigate the hotel bar.The next day the clouds made way for a complete day of warm sunshine, which meant more sunbathing. As our hotel was located directly on a stretch of beach, we went off to explore. Skanes has a long stretch of white sand which we could walk along for miles in either direction. The sea was lovely and clear. We spent several sunny afternoons, hand in hand walking along the beach with the waves slowly lapping at our feet. Very romantic. The sea was so clear that at times we even spotted little fish swimming around.
The beach was very quiet (which was nice), probably because of the time of year we went. However, I can not imagine it ever gets busy as its mainly only accessed by the few hotels that line it….oh, and the occassional local walking along with his camel.
One thing about Tunisia I was looking forward to was experiencing the culture. Having felt a bit reluctant to leave our hotel – one, because we were so far from the nearest town, and two, for fear of being harassed – we decided to try one of the trips organised by the reps. We picked ‘A Tale of Three Cities’, which takes in Kairouan, El Jem and Monastir.A very early pick up and we were on our way. First stop Kairouan, the 4th holiest city in the Islamic faith and a popular place of pilgrimage for Muslims. It is also known as ‘the city of 100 mosques’, which I understand as there are an awful lot of them. We stopped off to see probably the most impressive, ‘The great Mosque’. On entering you walk into a vast open courtyard, and are immediately greeted by the towering minaret at one end, stretching up into the sky.
The architecture here is very impressive. At first glance it seems like a straightforward building, but exploring under the arches of the walls you find that there is a large amount of detail and pattern that has gone into the roof and engraving in the columns. There are some fantastic, colourful tiles on display as well. You start to understand the amount of work that has gone into it. I am not a religious person, but this was a fascinating place to visit, and really gave me an insight into the religious culture of Tunisia.Whilst in Kairouan, we took a short, but interesting walk through the walled medina (or market). Now I had heard stories about medinas, so had prepared myself, but it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. In fact it was an experience I will never forget, and a step into the Tunisian way of life.
Walking in, you are drawn straight into this bustling, noisy market place, where everyone is trying to sell you something. I was lucky, because I had my 61/2 ft boyfriend to accompany me, so felt quite safe. But the locals know who the tourists are, and will try to persuade you to buy their wares. They have learnt many phrases to say (especially for us Brits) to try to get us to stop, for example ‘cheaper than Asda price’.I found that you seemed to be ok as long as you say no and keep walking. As soon as you stop, they are on you. For instance, I had seen a scarf on the way up through the medina, so on the way back I stopped to have a look. No sooner do I stop, than the man behind the stall is draping it around my neck saying how nice it looks. We haggled for a price(something you have to do for most things), and he went to bag it up for me. Coming back out he explains how there is much more inside and grabs my hand, and starts to pull me into the shop. I was a little concerned and grabbed hold of Mark, who pulled me back. Having paid he then tried to sell me another scarf for half price, and when that failed, he tried to sell Mark a t-shirt. We found ourselves muttering the word no, over and over.
Our rep had also warned us of the fact that when it comes to haggling, they like to tell you tales about their poor families and how much they need the money. She told us to ignore this and gave us a basic guide to haggling. Whatever price they give you, you say half of that figure and go from there.Haggling is just a part of life in Tunisia. Everyone expects you to haggle for the price of something. I found it a bit daunting at first, as it not something we are used to in Britain. It is quite good fun but I have to say that it did put me off spending my money. If you are up for haggling then you can pick up some bargains. We were told that the best things to buy are leather goods, rugs and pottery. The medina in Kairouan is full of stalls selling leather shoes, handbags, belts etc. as well as lots of brightly coloured pottery. We were also taken to carpet factory to see rugs being made and had the opportunity to purchase some. They are really lovely, and although may have been extremely low in price compared to what they would have cost in the UK, to us they were still very expensive. But it is well worth taking a look at them.
Our trip took us next to El Jem, which I will discuss in part two of this review (I felt it was getting rather long already).
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