A September 2002 trip
to Tunisia by fizzytom
Quote: Day trip to Tunis from Hammamet by louage - the sights, sounds and smells of the city.
Somewhere close to the final destination, your fellow passengers will start paying. There are usually three rows of seats. Help out by passing money forward to the driver who will then risk life and limb getting change from his trouser pocket whilst negotiating the busy traffic.
We travelled from Hammamet to Tunis and paid around 5 Dinar for the pair of us - less than half the cost of the train (although that's pretty cheap too)There are two main louage stations depending on whether you are coming from/going to destinations north or south of Tunis, but both are pretty central.
Trains to Tunis from the coastal resorts only operate during peak commuter times so the louage has the added advantage of running all day. Bear in mind that the driver will only go when he feels he has enough passengers. If it seems to be taking a while to fill up, you and your fellow passengers may be able to negotiate with the driver to pay a little extra to compensate for empty seats if you are keen to be on your way.
The city's food market on Rue Allemagne is worth a visit, but don't leave it too late -- stallholders start packing up early afternoon. A word of advice here: don't walk through the fish market wearing open sandals!! Look out for the guy selling fresh herbs and whole spices -- he sells his own blend of harissa and it's hot!!
The New Town makes a welcome change from the hot and dingy passageways of the medina, but for shopping and bargains, it has to be the medina every time.
The cafe has two floors and is tiny; at first it seemed to be full, but then we looked up and spotted a tiny upper floor with a couple of tables so we tentatively entered the cafe. We couldn't see the stairs at first but the "waiter" beckoned us on and then pointed the way. We sat down at the front of this upper area and from there we could look down to see the cooking area, the other diners and people wandering by through the medina. There was no menu save for a small blackboard downstairs which we could not decipher. It was in Arabic, not French, leaving us with a challenge on our hands. In due course, the waiter appeared again and he started by wiping the plastic table cloth where we were sitting - it seemed to have no effect - his task completed it was as sticky as before! This young man, while friendly, spoke only minimal French, but he did his best to help us order. (In his filthy white overalls, he looked as if he might have also worked the night shift at the abattoir before coming here, but we were unperturbed.) How lucky it is that couscous is the same word the world over! That was me sorted - I had seen others eating something I fancied so no problems there! My partner, however, eats fish, but no meat. I explained this in French, but I wasn't sure how much he'd understood. I couldn't see anyone else eating fish who I could conveniently point at so we took a chance. We also ordered a bottle of water.
The waiter left a couple of pieces of paper on the table before descending with the order. He returned with an enormous bottle of water, two glasses, and a huge loaf of crusty bread from which he tore off a massive hunk and placed it on the table.
While we waited for our food, we wathed our fellow diners; it was lunch time and most diners seemed to be fairly smartly dressed so we imagined them to be local business people on a lunch break. Everyone was talking loudly and with purpose, excitedly talking with friends and colleagues. Almost directly below us we could see into the hive of activity that was the kitchen. A huge basket of eggs sat on the edge of the counter and seemingly every couple of seconds a hand reached into it and took a couple more to crack into a frying pan.
My food arrived first and, moments later, my partner was presented with a plate of chips and an egg. Thankfully there was no meat on it, but was a plate of chips really all I had managed to order after all of that hard work?
My couscous was delicious. A huge mound of grain a more than generous pile of tasty vegetables, three lamb chops and a lovely spicy sauce over the top. Usually in hot weather I struggle to eat very much but I found an unheard of appetite! The bread was great for mopping up the juices and I greedily ploughed my way through this feast while my partner ate egg and chips!
But . . . when almost all the chips were gone, the waiter re-appeared with a beautifully cooked fish! Whether this was intentionally served in this way or whether it had simply been forgotten, we don't know, but it was very good fish and had been cooked in spices like paprika and turmeric making a tasty coating.
Watching some other diners we realised what the paper we had been given was for. It was in lieu of a napkin/serviette. We followed suit, but the paper was so thin and shiny it served only to move around our faces the remains of our meal! We didn't care though - there was nothing else to use and everyone else was doing it so we followed suit.
We payed as we left at a high table, behind which a very old man was perched. Again, on the table was more paper in case you wanted to try once more to move the lamb juices around your face!
If you look around the medina you will find this place. Do eat there - I can't recommend it enough. Delicious food (less than £4 for two meals, the bread, and a huge bottle of water) and great surroundings. The best experience of my day in Tunis!
Cafes and coffee shops are very different. Cafes are essentially a male domain and in Tunis you can find cafes inside the medina and dotted around the New Town. These are easily the nearest thing you'll find to a British pub, although most we saw didn't sell alcohol. These places serve soft drinks and the ubiquitous highly sweetened (usually mint) tea. They are places for men to meet and discuss the days business. Some have TVs and often the men are watching football. The cafes are normally pretty open so you can look right in without much effort and decide whether you want to give it a go. Women are generally OK with a male escort, but I didn't see any Tunisian women in any of the cafes. If you do venture in you may or may not be approached by Tunisians wishing to chat. We found most drinkers to be fairly reserved and not particularly bothered by our presence. If invited to join in when the waiter brings down the pipe from behind the bar, give it a try. Contrary to belief, the tobacco is neither illegal nor mind-bending! Theer are various flavours of heavily scented tobacco - the most common being vanilla or fruit flavours.
Coffee shops, on the other hand, attract a mixed crowd of, mainly young, Tunisians and here the French influence really shows. These places can be found all over the New Town. A word of warning - there aren't many seats in these establishments. You stand at high counters around the outside of the room which is great to watch the world go by through the windows but not so fun if you've been plodding round the medina all day!
There are all kinds of flavoured coffees and the usual choices of espresso, latte, etc and an amazing array of pastries. These are usually laced with honey and strewn with almonds and pistachios - sadly, I'm allergic to nuts, but they looked delicious.
One or two places have outdoor tables, but the pavements are so narrow it's pretty perilous.
Whatever your tastes and depending on how adventurous you are there is something for every weary and thirsty visitor to Tunis.
Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom