The Bardo Museum in a suburb of Tunis really requires far more time than the hour we were given to look around. A former royal palace of the Bay and added to over many centuries the building is unremarkable from the outside apart from its imposing size. However the inside is filled with mosaics, wonderfully carved and painted ceilings, statues and tablets from the ancient world. You are filled with horror as you realise that you are standing on and walking over mosaics that are equally as intricate as the ones that are roped off or hanging on the walls.
I left the Bardo feeling as though I had had a whistlestop tour of the inside without really being allowed to let the enormity of the exhibits sink in. While doing the day trips gives you a good taste of Tunisia it doesn’t really let you discover the detail behind the attractions. The Bardo is certanly one place I would revisit if I ever go back to the country.
The last stop on my one day tour of the north of Tunisia was at the medina of Tunis. Since 1979 the medina has been a UNESCO world heritage site, its origins dating back to before the 7th century. The medina consists of a maze of narrow alleyways, covered passages, mosques and monuments. The tour group entered the medina close to the prime minister’s building where a market trader showed us how to make a fez. There are many different styles of fez from the comic depictions as portrayed by Tommy Cooper to the more sombre looking hat that is almost flush with the shape of the head.
The Tunisian Fez is made from a large woollen balaclava style knitted material. The material is boiled overnight to shrink it down to the correct size. This has the added effect of solidifying the fibres together making what feels like a tough felt like material. It is dyed a dark red, almost maroon, colour before being brushed into shape on a wooden stand.
Wandering around the medina is like trying to navigate a maze. It is very easy to get yourself thoroughly lost, with the winding alleys aiding the destruction of your sense of direction. The medina of Tunis feels completely different to that of Hammamet. Hammamet’s medina is devoted almost completely to the tourist industry whereas the Tunis medina is the exact opposite. One of the alleys that I walked down was devoted solely to selling jewellery. The Tunis medina felt much more relaxed and the “come into my shop, no pressure, just look” that you were badgered with all the time in Hammamet just wasn’t present in Tunis.
Wednesday arrived. My final day in Tunisia. I always get jittery on the day I am due to fly out of anywhere. I have a big problem with getting to airports on time in that I must get there on time or the world will end and I find it very difficult to settle until I am checked in. To alleviate some of my obsessive compulsiveness I decided that it was time to go shopping for some tourist tat. Based on previous experiences the best place to do this was in Hammamet. I caught a taxi to the medina in Hammamet. You learn quickly not to expect working seatbelts when travelling around Tunisia and this taxi was no exception. The up side is that it only costs about 3TD for a ten minute taxi ride – far better value than in Bristol or any UK city.
I am generally anti-haggling. I like things to be a fixed price and I have never got the hang of asking for money off a product. In the souk this can only lead to problems and I think I might have been ripped off a little bit for the things that I bought. Ah well, it is all an experience at the end of the day. I got some tourist tat for James and Roz, Becky and Dave and Rosie as well as a replica traditional Tunisian door for myself. All in all a pretty successful trip.
My holiday was over and it was time to go home. I finally arrived back at my flat in Bristol at 3am Thursday morning, regretting not taking the morning off work and realising that in only four hours my alarm clock would be waking me up.
Simply one of the most amazing holidays I have ever had. There is so much to see and do in the country – far more than I thought there would have been. The contrast between the north and south is quite pronounced and the culture difference is something that the Tunisians will have to continue to work with to maintain harmony within the country. I would go back.
I would also like to go to some other African countries. High on my list are Morocco and Egypt.
Heh, I finished on part 7