My heart is still in Tunis

Travel inspiration

My heart is still in Tunis

By
27 July 2018

By | 27 July 2018

An adventure through the beautiful North African country of Tunisia leads to priceless memories, many new friends and delicious food

If somebody asked me what the most important element of travel is, I would reply: “The people”. They are the soul of the place that you visit, and they enrich you with their culture by simply being themselves. So reader, as yourself, join me in this fascinating Tunisian adventure!

I arrive in Tunis in the evening and am immediately struck by the sort of scene that you’d expect in a spy movie when the undercover agent lands in a southern country: palm trees, and the Tunisian flag flapping in front of the last shades of the African sunset. Oh my God, I feel like Robert Redford or Tom Cruise!

Although Habib, the driver, does not speak English very well, we somehow manage to communicate and we leave the airport for Gammarth where I will sleep for the next three weeks. On the way to the hotel, more of Tunisia becomes clear as hundreds of palms stud the streets, which are full of crazy drivers. They overtake cars on both sides, and the rules of the road are only a book lost somewhere; however, I feel at home because I used to drive like this in my beloved Rome.

"Thousands of years ago Carthage was the second or third largest city in the Roman Empire" – Francesco Volpi My heart is still in Tunis Tunisia Group Created with Sketch. “Thousands of years ago Carthage was the second or third largest city in the Roman Empire” – Francesco Volpi

Now, it’s time to introduce other two characters, Miguel and Tereza, my colleagues. They welcome me and we go to a fantastic Italian restaurant. Yes, my first dinner in Tunis is pasta avec legumes – pasta with veggies, but Au Bon Vieux Temps is definitely worth a visit.

Miguel and Tereza are the best company I could ask for, and my first night in Tunis proceeds happily between laughs and stories about this – for me, at least – mysterious country.

We visit the medina (the old, walled part of a North African town) with Miguel and Tereza, and we want to try the famous mint tea. We ask a local for directions and he literally leaves his shop and guides us to the tea house! Yes, you heard that right. He left his shop! Tunisians are like this. If you need something, they will try to help you as much as they can. The instruction is in the Qur’an and they follow it to the letter.

Francesco enjoys a drink or two with his new friends – Francesco Volpi My heart is still in Tunis Tunisia Group Created with Sketch. Francesco enjoys a drink or two with his new friends – Francesco Volpi

In the medina you can find everything you want. Do you like perfumes? No problem. They produce hundreds! Another local takes us to a small shop where the owner crafts dozens of scents himself, and they smell so good that you want to buy them all. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he can speak English, French, Spanish and Italian. I truly believe that Tunis is the real Tower of Babel because everybody (really, everybody!) speaks multiple languages and Italian is one of the most popular ones. I walk the streets of Tunis and I can talk in my language. This is insane. I love it!

The city is surrounded by small towns and you MUST visit Sidi Bou Said and Carthage. I will talk about the latter at the end of my story, but Sidi Bou Said is just marvellous. It’s a small town which was built on the way to a hill from where you can admire the coast. At first glimpse you say to yourself: “Was I drugged and put on a plane to Greece?” Indeed, the houses of this enchanting town resemble the Greek ones, with white plaster and blue windows.

While walking towards the upper part of Sidi Bou Said I see a guy with a hawk. I approach him and ask if it is possible to take a picture with the hawk, and for 50 Tunisian dinar I have the chance to be have my arm, shoulder and head clawed by this noble bird of prey. It hurts a bit, but I am so happy! After this brand new experience, we chill out in a tea house drinking the sweet mint tea.

Francesco takes a different approach to sunbathing than most – Francesco Volpi My heart is in Tunis Tunisia Group Created with Sketch. Francesco takes a different approach to sunbathing than most – Francesco Volpi

But wait, I’ve forgotten to introduce the four new characters in my adventure: Barbara, Klara, Ana and Antonin, my other colleagues. During breaks they suggest which Tunisian dishes I must try. Indeed, one evening we arrange to go to the medina with them, and they take us to a characteristic bar at the top of an ancient building. On the way to the roof, we see the bed where the Pasha used to sleep with his spouses.

The view from the bar is just breathtaking, with buildings shining in the night and surrounded by the sea on one side and the hill on the other – a show for the eyes. We celebrate this moment by smoking shisha and listening to Ikram (a trainee) singing traditional songs, then we end this awesome night by taking selfies together.

At the weekend we’re free so we have to really discover Tunis. Nizar, our colleague and a local, is in Hammamet for two weeks and invites us there. Hammamet’s beaches are fantastic and we spend the whole day sunbathing (well, my approach is different… look at the pictures!) and eating fruit and local dishes.

Hammamet has fantastic beaches on the Mediterranean Sea – Francesco Volpi My heart is in Tunis Tunisia Group Created with Sketch. Hammamet has fantastic beaches on the Mediterranean Sea – Francesco Volpi

At 5pm we decide to go back to Tunis and try to get on a louange (private vans that connect cities). They don’t have A/C. They have almost nothing except faux leather seats, but an adventure also needs some craziness, right? The drivers of these particular vans drive very fast, but safely and I still feel at home.

On the morning of my penultimate day, Salma and Amal take us to Carthage. Thousands of years ago it was the second or third largest city in the Roman Empire. The archeological site is wonderful and the hot temperatures can’t stop us from visiting the amphitheatre and the ruins of the city.

In the afternoon, we decide to go back to the medina to buy some souvenirs, and almost all of the trainees join us. Walking on the streets of an African city along with locals wearing traditional clothes is just priceless. You just don’t want to leave. Unfortunately, it’s time to go back to headquarters and, a day later, I board the plane to Vienna. I can’t wait to return and explore the Sahara, Djerba and much more!