Tunisia – Tunis, Dougga, Bardo Museum, Sidi Bou Said, Tozeur & the Sahara, Matmata, Chenini, Tataouine, Sfax, El Jem, Sousse, Mahdia, Monastir & Kairouan

Tunisia. What an amazing country! We spent 2 weeks doing a whirlwind trip around this petite North African nation and had an absolute blast. After arriving and exploring Tunis, we visited Dougga, an ancient Roman city which is a UNESCO world heritage site and deservedly so. Next up was the Bardo Museum, one of North Africa’s largest museums housing one of the best collections of Roman mosaics in the world. An easy (and unmissable) day trip from Tunis was Sidi Bou Said, a seaside town with a gorgeous blue and white color scheme. After a few days in Northern Tunisia, we made our way down towards Tozeur (gateway to the Sahara) for a few days in the desert. What an amazing couple of days! We got to link up with some young and fun Tunisians and a French guy…super cool that they were willing to have us crash their party as we all explored the desert region together. This section of our trip included the famous Lezard Rouge (Red Lizard, an antique train ride of the Seldja Gorge), Tamerza, Chebika, Ong Jemel, Mos Epsa (a Star Wars set from Phantom Menace), Chott el-Jerid salt lake, sand formations of Dbebcha, Ksar Ghilane, Tamezret, Matmata’s Hotel Sidi Idriss (a mecca for Star Wars fans), hillside village of Toujane, Ksar Hallouf and Ksar Hadada (Star Wars set for Phantom Menace). After our tantalizing introduction to the Sahara, we spent a few days on what proved to be the highlight of our visit to Tunisia. Wonderful Chenini…there is nothing bad we can say about you! We LOVED this Berber mountaintop village and are so glad that other travelers raved about it enough for us to take interest. The second half of our Tunisian tour included the abandoned hill top village of Douiret, the gorgeous ksars (fortified granaries) of Ksar Ouled Debbab, Ksar Ouled Soltane (the best of all of Tunisia’s ksours), Tataouine, and Ksar Megabla. After enjoying the Berber villages of Chenini and Douiret and getting our fill of the picturesque Ksours, we made our way back north towards Sfax, El Jem and the lovely resort town of Sousse. Here we spent a few days with a day trip to see nearby Mahdia and Monastir (Tunisia’s best preserved Ribat) before shooting due west to Islam’s 4th most holy city of Kairouan (don’t miss the Great Mosque). From here, we finally backtracked to Tunis to spend our last few moments in this phenomenal country. Tunisia is truly one of a kind. A welcoming country with a shocking wealth of diversity…from medinas to beach resorts, desert sand dunes to a bustling city life, Roman ruins and ancient Mosques. We thoroughly enjoyed our 2 week vacation here and wouldn’t hesitate for a return trip!

Trip Notes (14 – 28 March 2016)

14 March: Our flight from Rome to Tunis was uneventful and we landed right on time at 11 am. Since we didn’t have any check-in luggage, and getting through passport control was a breeze, we quickly exited the arrival hall to find the owner of Dar Ya (the hostel we had booked for the next 3 nights for 45 Euros a night, incl breakfast and located near the medina of Tunis) waiting for us. Khaled was welcoming, and showed us the closest ATM so we could withdraw some money. We asked about the departure stamp (which we had read about online) but were told that it had only been for 2015, and had been discontinued this year. We still need to reverify that with a second source…hopefully that is true!

10 Euros for a shuttle from the airport is good value, because there is no way in hell we would ever have found the Dar Ya on our own. Instead, we were dropped off at the Place de La Kasbah, where a Dar Ya caretaker led us through the alleyways to our home for the next few nights. After dropping off our bags, we grabbed our cameras and immediately pulled the door handle off as we were about to head out. Robby managed to wiggle the door shut, and we head out for a few hours, ready to explore Tunis’ magnificent medina. The wooden doors so typical of Tunisia are strewn through the medina, making for wonderful photographs. We loved the charm of the old city…it was a pleasure to get lost for several hours as we explored by foot. The highlight was a visit to the Zaytouna Mosque, which is smack dab in the middle of the medina. There are several entrances that are restricted to non muslims, so we made sure to enter in the non-muslim entrance. Therefore, imagine our surprise when a local came up to tell us we couldn’t visit. Just as we turned about to exit, a Tunisian who was heading inside to prayer grabbed our arms and turned us back around, telling the first guy that we were his guests. What a nice man…we appreciated the gesture because the courtyard of Zaytouna is a must see if in Tunis! After checking off a few more medina highlights, we were both ravenous so we found a traditional Tunisian restaurant in the medina and stopped for a bite of merguez (spicy lamb or goat sausages) doused with harissa (made from crushed dried chili, garlic, salt and caraway seeds mixed with olive oil)…yum and good value at 5 Dinar each. After lunch, we strolled over to the Place de la Victoire and through the Bab El Bhar which led us to the main street of Avenue Habib Bourguiba. The first building to catch our eye was the Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul, built in 1883 (Gothic, Byzantine and Moorish architecture). Next stop was the clock tower followed by the tourist information office where we picked up several medina and Tunis maps. The sun was setting when we decided to head back to the Place de Kasbah where dozens of boys were playing soccer. We took a few panoramic shots of this peaceful scene before heading back to Dar Ya to crash for the night. Becky attempted a shower but the hot water heater was either non existent or broken, because the shower was freezing! The heater in the room didn’t kick on either, so it was quite a chilly night indeed. Since we had been up since 3 am, it didn’t take either one of us long to crash for the night.

15 March: Thank goodness we set the alarm because it jolted us awake from a deep sleep at 7 am. Breakfast of pastries, boiled eggs and yogurt was already laid out and we were the first ones to self serve. Today we were taking a louage to Dougga!!

The walk from Dar Ya to the Bab Saadoun louage station was pretty straight forward and it only took us about 20 minutes to get there. A drive saw us and right away started shouting “DOUGGA, DOUGGA, DOUGGA” to get out attention. Brilliant…the shared taxi filled up in no time and we were on our way. A girl in the front seat spoke good English and she welcomed us to her country, thrilled to find out we were Americans. We knew the louage ride was supposed to be cheap but we didn’t know how much so we asked her and she thought it would be around 5 Dinar. The drive flew by and in just over an hour, we were in Teboursouk. Our louage driver gave us a round loaf of wheat bread to munch on and we were charged 12 Dinar for the ride…not bad! He also called a friend to serve as our taxi driver from Teboursouk to Dougga and return. The quoted price was 25 Dinar and we tried to bargain him down to no avail. Not wanting to hike the 7 km distance each way, we eventually agreed to the extortionate price. Needless to say, our taxi driver was pretty thrilled and he agreed to come back at whatever time we wanted to pick us back up for the return trip to Teboursouk. We felt that we could easily spend 4 hours here so we coordinated a 3 pm pick up.

Dougga (entrance 7 Dinar each plus camera permit of 1 Dinar) was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997. Becky was shocked to see so many tourists, with the majority of them being Tunisian. Back when she first visited in 1995, her group of cadets were the only tourists visiting. Nevertheless, Dougga still wows. The amphitheater is magnificent, the Capitol never fails to impress, and the Roman ruins are surprisingly intact. Becky met several super friendly Tunisian girls and happily obliged their request to take photos with them. Tunisia is simply amazing!

By 3 pm, we met our anxious taxi driver in the parking lot, and he was quite happy that we didn’t keep him waiting. As requested, we were dropped off at the louage station where we were the first two passengers bound for Tunis. A relatively long wait ensued, but the driver’s patience paid off as he finally got the 8 passengers he needed for the return trip. Once we got going, our louage flew on the highway road back to Tunis and we were dropped off at 6 pm. The return ride cost the two of us 13 Dinar, so there must be some wiggle room in what the louage drivers charge since this ride was 1 Dinar more than the morning’s ride.

After withdrawing the remaining Dinar needed for the trip at an ATM, we dropped our gear off in the room and had a chance to talk to Khaled (owner of Dar Ya). He explained that he bought the building (circa 1850s) about 3 years ago. 2 years were spent on renovations, and the hostel had been in operation for a year now. We were quite impressed to hear that he put us up in his favorite of the 14 rooms (each named after a family member. We scored the honor of residing in Chamber 4, “Narjess” which was named after his wife. His two daughters also had rooms named after them, and his next favorite room was named after his beloved mother). He jokingly told us he had to name a room after his mother-in-law to keep the peace! The name of the hostel “Dar Ya” means “House of the Grandmother” and it was evident how proud Khaled is of his place. The closest competition is the youth hostel in the medina, run by a grouchy owner who locks up for the night at 9 pm (the curfew imposed on University students in Tunisia). Someone didn’t tell the tourists about that so many of them end up locked out of the hostel for the night! Yikes, with horrible customer service like that, we have no doubt Dar Ya will become super popular once the word gets out.

Dinner was in the new town (shawarma sandwiches and french fries and a drink for 8,300 Dinar for two), so we had to practically sprint through the medina since we had been advised to avoid it at night. We were thrilled to discover hot water during our shower tonight..what a difference from the icy shower last night! Tomorrow should be Bardo Museum…

16 Mar: Today we were visiting the world famous Bardo museum, known for its fantastic mosaics housed in an old palace. First, we wanted to take in some sights near the Dar Ya. Just before we were leaving, Becky found out that due to strikes, the overnight train we had planned to take from Tunis to Tozeur was not operating. Bummer! We had counted on getting some shut eye on the train ride. Ali (our guide from Tozeur who had been the bearer of the bad news) suggested that we either fly or take the bus. What to do? Rather than let this unwelcome news distract us, we figured we could deal with it later tonight and set out to explore on this fine day. The weather forecast had been all doom and gloom, predicting a 90% chance rain so we packed our rain jackets just to be on the safe side. First stop was Zaouia Sidi Brahim (free), the tomb of Sidi Brahim.The only requirement was for Becky to cover up with a head scarf. Next was the Zaouia Sidi Mahrez, which was full of locals paying their respects so we decided to move onward to the Halfaouine market which was a super colorful stop where we bought some dates (the cheapest we saw was 1 KG for 1,800 DT), cashews and almonds. From the market, we decided to hail a taxi to the Bardo Museum. The internet is rife with taxi rip offs in Tunis but the driver we had was honest and the fare was only 3 Dinar to the front gate. Ever since last year’s terrorist attack on the museum, security has been tight and we were screened at the main gate just to be allowed access to the museum grounds. Then we went through a second security check point and saw a memorial on the wall commemorating the victims killed in the March 2015 massacre. Entrance was 12 DT each, plus 1 Dinar for a camera fee. Robby had to drop off his backpack but Becky was allowed to carry her camera bag…go figure. The museum is absolutely world class….the mosaics were stunning and truly mesmerizing. The collection of mosaics found throughout Tunisia is just mind blowing in their sheer size and phenomenal condition. Before we knew it, it was almost 2 pm before we could drag ourselves away. Lunch was a picnic in the museum’s grounds before we made our way over to the Metro system to figure out how to catch line 4 back to the city center. Tickets were sold at a nearby booth for just over a Dinar each, and we joined the throng of locals waiting from the next tram. When it showed up, it was a pushing match to board. The poor folks waiting to disembark had a difficult time being allowed to get off the train! It is pure madness during non peak hours. We can’t imagine using the metro during peak times. Our next destination was the Tunis Marine TGM station. There, we bought tickets to Sidi Bou Said, a city north of Tunis that reminded Becky of Santorini. The TGM tickets were dirt cheap at a mere 1,400 DT for the both of us, and 35 minutes later we were in beautiful Sidi Bou Said. Our first stop was Dar el-Annabi, a lovely 18th century home that is open to the public. Definitely a worthwhile stop for a glimpse of yesteryear. We wandered the streets of this labyrinth like village, and of course had to buy one of their famous Italian donuts, aka a bambaloni (super yummy fried donut hole smothered in sugar), which is a local favorite. Yum! Last stop was at Cafe des Delices for its view over the bay. The sun was setting as we made our way back to Tunis and this time, we were lucky enough to score some seats. Back in Tunis, we took photos of the clock tower against a red sunset before heading back to our fast food restaurant for a dinner of rotisserie chicken. Back at the Dar Ya, we stayed up late coming up with a game plan for how to get to Tozeur on time for our desert excursion. This required making a couple of schedule adjustments and trying to figure out what time the bus would leave Tunis tomorrow morning. According to the internet (and the bus schedules are notoriously unreliable), the first bus was at 11 am. So our plan was to take that to arrive in Tozeur at a reasonable 6 pm.

17 March: We slept in a bit since the only thing we had to do today was make our way over to Tozeur. Khaled from Dar Ya tried to call the bus station several times for us but no one answered the phone. So we packed up, made a reservation to return to Dar Ya at the end of our trip, and caught a taxi to the southern bus station at Bab Alioua. There, we found the correct line to inquire about a bus to Tozeur, but we were told the next bus would leave at 1 pm. Since we had arrived several hours early, we figured we could do better with the nearby louages so we headed there. No one had told us that the louage station is actually split up into two sections. One section for louages headed to Hammamat, and another section for those going to Sousse, Tozeur, etc. There were at least 30 people waiting in line ahead of us..well, actually not a line but a scrum. And not a Tozeur louage in sight! It didn’t take us long to realize we should head back to the bus station to try our luck with the 1300 bus. With tickets in hand, we joined an overanxious group of passengers waiting for the bus arrival. When buses for other destinations arrived, it was a wild and chaotic scene. People were literally shoving themselves to board the bus, fighting and pushing their way up the stairs. Inevitably, there were more tickets sold than there were seats available, and the conductor kicked several people off the bus (perhaps they didn’t have valid tickets?). We saw this scene repeat itself several times, so when our bus finally arrived, we were ready. Becky pushed her way up the steps, and frantically searched for open seats. Amazingly, we scored the last pair of adjoining seats together, and happily sat down until we realized that the seats were better suited for midgets. Boy it was going to be a long and uncomfortable ride! Since we originally expected to be in Tozeur at 6 pm, we had to call Ali to tell him about our later arrival and he told us that we would get picked up at the bus station. The ride was just as expected, long, uncomfortable and exhausting. But we arrived to Tozeur on schedule and were picked up by two of Ali’s friendly colleagues and whisked away to our hotel, Residence el Amen. The receptionist spoke excellent English and welcomed us to Tozeur. Cost for our hotel for 2 nights to include breakfast, hot water showers and free WiFi was $25 per night. No doubt, there are lots of cheaper options in the city but we were happy with our accommodations as they were clean, comfortable and just what we needed after a long ride.

Ali met us in the lobby at 9 pm and we settled our upcoming itinerary and paid for everything (food, lodging, tour, quad bike ride through the dunes, Red Lizard train) for $663 for the two of us for the next 4 days. Not bad value since we were joining a group of 7 Tunisian tourist who had agreed to split the costs with us. We liked Ali instantly, felt comfortable in his presence and had no problem handing over our small fortune.

18 March: Since we didn’t know if we’d have another chance to explore Tozeur, we set the alarm for 6 am and did a quick 20 minute hike into town. The old part of Tozeur (Ouled el Hadef) is easily accessible from Avenue Bourguiba. The traditional brickwork alone was worth the early morning wake up…we enjoyed having over an hour of hassle free exploring on our own. Heading back to the hotel, we made a quick detour to check out the Dar Cherait complex (exterior view only since the gates were locked), before having a dismal breakfast at the Residence el Amen (bread, butter and jam, coffee and milk). By 9 am, we were back in the lobby waiting on our driver for the next three days since Ali was in Gafsa picking up the group of five we were joining. Our driver was prompt and very business like, but the minute he found out we couldn’t speak French, all verbal communications ceased. He drove us directly to Metlaoui so we could board the Lezard Rouge (Red Lizard) antique train ride of the Seldja Gorge. The drive took about an hour and we were allowed to board the train without tickets. To our surprise, the Lezard Rouge is insanely popular with tourists, domestic and foreign alike. It was packed already even with 30 minutes to spare! We managed to get a space to stand between the carriages and soon had people squished in beside us. Somehow, Ali managed to find us and he invited us to join the group of 5 further down the train carriage. We told him that since we were into photography, we’d just stay put where we were at so he handed us our train tickets (25 Dinar each) and told us to have fun. The ride through the gorge was better than expected with fantastic scenery. The Tunisian school kids cheered happily through the tunnels and several stops were made for us to take photos. A police and military escort followed us the entire journey, which made us feel a bit more assured since the antique train is such a soft target for terrorists…we shudder to think of the carnage that would ensue if the Lezard Rouge was ever targeted! At one of the stops, Ali introduced us to the other travelers we were joining, and we were thrilled to see that they were a young, friendly group of friends (Ala, Nissaf, Aymen, Hela and Gregory – Hela’s French boyfriend).who spoke excellent English. This was shaping up to be a super fun trip, yay! From Metlaoui we drove towards Tamerza where we stopped to have lunch. Our meal of lamb was quite tasty but with way too much food. We left absolutely stuffed as we headed out to check out the old walled town of Tamerza followed by a brief stop at Tamerza’s waterfalls. Next up was a short hike through the small oasis village of Chebika, which was abandoned after the floods of 1969. Since we were running out of time, we immediately drove out to the desert as soon as our Chebika hike was over. First stop was Ong Jemel, a rock formation in the middle of the desert that looks like the neck and head of a camel. We got to play with a fennec fox which was both fun and sad because we realized the fox is a nocturnal animal and the bright sun must wreck havoc on its eyes. Finally, the moment we had been waiting for. A thrilling ride through the desert brought us to Mos Epsa, a Star Wars set from the movie The Phantom Menace. The sun was setting as we finished up at Nefta’s La Corbeille before the drive back to Tozeur. Ali gave us an hour to shower, rest and meet the group for dinner in town where we enjoyed a lovely meal of grilled meats over some fun conversation. To our surprise, we found out the group of 5 all had ties to one person, Ala, and he had arranged the weekend getaway amongst this group of strangers. The way they had been interacting, we thought they had been friends forever. Hela and Gregory both live and work in France, so they were on a 2 week holiday. Hela had grown up next door to Ala, so he was practically her brother. Nissaf, a dentist, was invited by Ala and she was keen on getting away for the weekend since she works crazy long hours at work. The funniest story was how Aymen was tricked into joining the group. When Ala asked him if he wanted to go South, he immediately refused, because he had weekend plans in Tunis. So Ala played along and told him that he could provide a ride to Tunis but to pack his bags for a bit of city and beach life. Unsuspecting Aymen was sitting on the curb when the group drove up in a 4×4 and he instantly knew something was up. Ala was filming the entire sequence of events…the look of poor Aymen’s face was truly hilarious whe he realized he had been duped. Dinner was fun and we were quite happy to have meet some fun travelers to explore Southern Tunisia with.

19 March: We slept in till 8:30 am since we didn’t have to leave until 9 am and neither one of us was keen on having breakfast at our hotel again. It took us a while to escape Tozeur as we drove round and round in circles getting all last minute items taken care of. Ala wanted to buy some dates for his family so 10 KG of dates later (the ones from Tozeur are reputedly the best, and cheap at 3 Dinar per KG), he finally had enough. We retraced our steps into the old part of Tozeur to see if the later morning sunlight made a difference, photography wise. And then we had to stock up on beer, soda and water. Lastly, Ali had to fill up on some gas, so it was 11:30 by the time we finally left Tozeur and started the 300 KM drive towards Ksar Ghilane. First stop was at Chott el-Jerid salt lake where we took a couple of photos, including a couple of optical illusions. Our second stop was to see the sand formations of Dbebcha, which was pretty cool and warranted a brief stop. Then we drove to Douz for lunch at the excellent El Bey Restaurant. The food here is prepared within clay pots, which are sealed with dough and cooked inside an oven built in the ground. Very cool! The owner is friends with Ali so we were invited to see the chef in action. Needless to say, we left feeling completely stuffed. Then we settled in for a long drive to Ksar Ghilane, arriving at 5:30 pm. With just an hour to go before sunset, we all hopped on quad bikes for a ride out in the desert to the old fort (about 3 KM away in the dunes). It was loads of fun, although quite sandy! Our accomodations tonight was our own private Berber tent with a double bed. It was a bargain staying here at the campground since dinner, tent and breakfast was only $30 for the two of us. Dinner was of course way too much food again…we are noticing this trend down here in Southern Tunisia. After dinner, Ali took us out for a nice surprise with a party ride in the desert. With our music blasting, drinks flowing and spirits soaring, it was fun to completey let loose out in the sand dunes. Back at the campsite, an entertainer was performing on a traditional musical instrument and Nissaf sang along. She has such a pretty voice. The smoke filled bar was just too much for us to handle though, and we stayed as long as we could stand it. Thankfully, both Gregory and Hela are irritated by smoke so we had an excuse to leave when all of us succumed to the smoke fumes. Ali told us to be ready to leave by 8 am since we all had a long day ahead of us tomorrow.

20 March: The alarm sounded way too early at 7 am and we wearily lugged ourselves up from our deep slumber. Apparently our friends in the adjacent tent didn’t sleep as well as we did because Ala was snoring all night long!! Poor Hela looked exhausted and she later confirmed she is an extremely light sleeper and Ala’s changing snore tones kept waking her up. After breakfast, we pulled up to the Ksar Ghilane hot springs, waited for Ala’s traditional berber bread to be prepared, and then drove out a few km to another hot spring. There, both Ala and Robby decided to change into swim trunks for a dip in the hot spring. Local teenaged boys came zooming in on their motorcycles and stared at the crazy tourists who were dunking themselves in the hot water. It definitely felt like Ala and Robby were their morning’s source of entertainment. Next stop was a brief one at Cafe Bir Soltane where a couple of folks ordered tuna-harissa sandwiches. Becky tried Tunisian green tea and enjoyed it. Definitely not the green tea we are used to drinking back at home. After this pit stop, we drove onward to Tamezret where we climbed the tower of Dar Ayed for a view of the picturesque city. Ala bought a box of Gazelle’s Horns (Meilleur Corne de Gazelle), a traditional desert made with honey and almonds stuffed inside the “horn”…quite a tasty and addictive treat. Yum! And then we were in Matmata, where our first stop was at the Hotel Sidi Idriss, which has been used in several of the Star Wars movies going back to 1976. Tacky? Definitely! But a must for any Star Wars freak. Lunch was at another hotel in Matmata and we were completely stuffed by the time we had to say goodbye to our group. It always sucks saying goodbye but we did take a couple of fun group pics on top of the landcruiser before receiving our goodbye gifts from Ali (thanks Ali…great time had by both of us!!). Ala promised to create a facebook group so we could share our photos and we told everyone it might be a while before we had reliable internet access. From Matmata, we drove to Toujane where our driver stopped so we could take a photo of the Kasbah’s old stone houses. Very picturesque! Then it was onward to our very first Ksar, Ksar el Hallouf. We kept pinching ourselves…did we really have this entire complex to ourselves? The photos do not do it justice…the ksours of Tunisia must be seen first hand to truly appreciate their beauty. To back up a little, a Ksar (plural: Ksours) is the quintessential symbol of Berber architecture. They are fortified graineries built to preserve and protect a communities’ crops. Each Ksar consists of several ghorfas, which are long narrow rooms built to resemble caves. The doorways to each ghorfa is miniscule, while the terracote storage vases (built inside the ghorfa) are quite large, hence preventing theives or enemies from carrying off the community’s food resources. An ingenious method of protecting the grain! The ghorfas can be stacked on top of each other, with most Ksars having two storeys. However, a few of them are three storeys tall and the behemonth Ksars are famous for being four and five stories in height! A narrow staircase leads to the upper stories and we did see a couple of ghorfas with a “makeshift” staircase created out of protuding stone…wicked cool. After our visit to Ksar el Hallouf, we were hooked on the Ksars. Next one was Ksar Hadada, made famous from the Star Wars movie “The Phantom Menace”. The date of shooting was in July 1997 and this put Ksar Hadada on the tourist map forever. George Lucas used Ksar Hadada as the town “Mos Espa” in Galatic Planet Tatooine and the rest is in history. We expected to have to elbow other Star Wars fans out of the way but eerily, we had the entire hotel complex to ourselves. A couple of workers were busy renovating the hotel, but other than that, we had free reign of everything. It was amazing!!!! It was getting late by the time we pulled up to Chenini. Our driver was keen to hit the road for his long return trip to Tozeur, so we quickly grabbed our gear and thanked him for his services. A young local named Ali greeted us and told us that he was the brother of our local tour guide, Ismail. He walked us up to the Residence Kenza, which was to be our home for the next two nights. Chenini is breath taking. Not only because you have to hike up several steps to get anywhere, but because it is such a well preserved Berber village. We instantly fell in love with Chenini and were wowed by the Residence Kenza. Our room, Egri 1, was a series of caves with enough beds to sleep at least 11 people (3 in the first cave, 4 in the second cave and 4 in the third and rear most cave)…truly fantastic. It was over 90 degrees outside but the instant we stepped inside our room, the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees. As Ali joked, it was natural air conditioning. We were eager to explore pretty Chenini but Ali gave us about 30 minutes to relax and fill in the hotel registration forms first. We set out at 5 pm and were given a superb tour of the village. From the solitary camel that provides olive grinding duties to the new white mosque at the hill top, we explored the entire kasbah area. Ali was fun and engaging, explaining that while all the houses in Matmata are troglodyte (built vertically underground, aka “pit dwelling”), the houses in Chenini are semi-troglodyte, as they are built horizontally into the mountain face. Since each house has to chip away massive amounts of stone, it takes over 1 year to complete a semi-troglodyte home and the village has 3 expert builders to support this village of 80 Berber families. Chenini is truly a gem, and we felt so blessed to be the only tourists in town. Simply unbelievable…where are all the tourists??? This place really should be overrun with them, its that beautiful. Since it was 6:30 pm by the time our tour was done, we decided to hang out and relax at the restaurant (located about 10 minutes downhill from our cave hotel, also part of the Kenza establishment). We easily killed 30 minutes over drinks and free wifi. The wait was worth it because dinner was really good with the best grilled chicken of our trip thus far. Our friendly waiter spoke German so we were able to communicate. On the walk back up to our hotel, we got a bit disoriented in the dark, but a security guard assured us we were headed in the right direction. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was part of a 3 man detail sent to ensure our safety for the night. Armed with rifles and flak vests, the men took their duty seriously and we were very happy to have the “Garde Nationale” watching our backs, especially after what happened in Ben Guerdane recently.

The Residence Kenza had lovely hot water for our showers. What more can we say about the excellent establishment? Its just a gem…truly one of the most unique hotels we’ve ever stayed at and for such a cheap price (with breakfast and dinner included)…we LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Residence Kenza. Don’t hesitate and go, you will really enjoy your stay here.

21 March: We both awoke to the alarm sounding off at 7:30 am. What a great night’s sleep in the cave! While we were having breakfast, our local guide Ismail Degnich (isma-l113@live.com) showed up as promised. We discussed a quick itinerary (Douiret, Ksar Ouled Debbab, Ksar Ouled Soltane, Tataouine, Ksar Megabla) and he called a local driver to see how much it would cost to hire a car for the day. After back and forth negotiations, we got the price down from 120 Dinar to 80 Dinar, and Ismail said we could pay him whatever we felt comfortable with for his guiding services. By 10 am we were on our way to the first destination of the day, the abandoned hill top village of Douiret. Having Ismail as a guide was truly invaluable as he brought the now dead city to life with his vivid descriptions of daily living in this ancient Berber village. The walking tour of this village took about 90 minutes and we were both very pleased with Ishmael. Our next stop was the first Ksar of the day, and Ouled Debbab did not disappoint. Even though its been restored, its still quite picturesque and extremely photogenic. We couldn’t believe we were the only tourists in sight and had the whole place to ourselves. From Ouled Debbab, we drove onward to the granddaddy of all the Ksours, the world famous Ksar Ouled Soltane. If you can only visit one Ksar in Tunisia, make it this one because it is an unbelievable four storeys tall surrounded by two courtyards, with over 400 ghorfas (barrel vaulted grain storage rooms). Pretty awesome place which totally took our breath away…two huge thumbs up. Even our patient driver was eager to check out Ouled Soltane, and all 4 of us (driver and guide) were busy snapping away. It was getting hot by the time we left Ksar Ouled Soltane for the 22 km drive back to Tataouine but Ismail had agreed to take us for a quick walk through the market place (pretty basic, nothing to write home about) and the artisan square which was full of souvenir shops. From Tataouine, we drove to the last Ksar of the day, the nearby Ksar Megabla which dates from 1409. Since none of it has been restored, its is the perfect Ksar to imagine what all the surrounding Ksars looked like in their heyday. Its quite hard to picture what the Ksars looked like originally after undergoing heavy restoration. Our driver flew back on the return trip to Chenini, and we were back in town just after 2 pm. There we met the friendly owner of Residence Kenza, Dr. Belhedi Habib. He spoke excellent English and invited us to join him for a drink at the restaurant. Once he heard we were heading to Sfax, he immediately called up his American friend, Austin, to link us up together. Super nice guy! We were so impressed with his vision of Kenza and hearing the stories about his wife, Nedra Boulila, who is a champion for women’s rights in Tunisia (especially down in the South). Its obvious both Belhedi and Nedra deeply love Tunisia and were very pleased to have run into the good doctor.

Tataouine (called “Tatouine” by the Berbers which means “many eyes” since the town is set in the midst of a hilltop with fantastic 360 degree views in all directions…hence the village was ideally suited to forewarn its inhabitants of any impending danger on the horizon.)

In the afternoon, we briefly debated whether we should work up the effort to see the Jemaa Kedima, an underground mosque of seven sleepers. Relaxing until dinner won out, so we chilled until our excellent meal of lamb and couscous. Sadly, tomorrow we were leaving the south of Tunisia and heading back north, so we had an early night’s sleep.

22 March: After packing up our gear, we locked up our cave room and bathroom and headed down to the restaurant for breakfast. Ismail had promised to have a louage waiting for us at 8:30 am so we wanted to be at the base of Chenini by then. The weather was kicking today with winds over 30 miles an hour! Sand blew everywhere and we bundled up with our scarves and sunglasses. The louage was long gone by the time we made it downhill, and a nearby souvenir vendor told us that Ismail had been waiting as promised for us. We settled down to wait for the next louage and Robby befriended an elderly local who was also waiting near by. His ride showed up and we looked on in jealously as they turned around to drive off to Tataouine when the driver suddenly slammed on his brakes and offered to give us a ride. Awesome! We were more than happy to hitchhike. Our driver hailed from Tunis and was a University professor teaching physics. He was in Chenini because of the 2 week school break and made for great conversation for the 18 km ride. We were so grateful for our new friends’ generosity because they went out of their way to drop us off at the louage station for vehicles heading north. When we offered to compensate them for the gas, they immediately waved it off and told us it was their pleasure to help us out. Yet another example of why we love Tunisians so much. Lucky for us, a driver was standing outside the louage station yelling “SFAX, SFAX, SFAX”…we were the last 2 seats he needed to fill so we paid 15 Dinar each at the ticket counter and immediately set off for the long drive.

The weather grew worse as the day wore on with visibility severely restricted. At the town of Medenine we saw a horrible accident involving an SUV that had been crushed. Today was not the day to speed considering how horrible the wind and sand storm was. Our louage had set off at 10 am and it took a lot longer than we had anticipated to reach Sfax because of the numerous police checkpoints where everyone’s identification cards were collected by the driver and scrutinized by the police. We rolled into Sfax by 2:45 pm and were happy to finally get here. Thanks to google maps, finding our way to the medina was a breeze, and we checked into the first hotel we stumbled upon, the Hotel Medina. One of the friendly staff spoke good English and he offered to show us the rooms first before we made up our minds. At a price of 15 Dinar a night for the both of us, we quickly picked out a room and opted to pay an extra 1 Dinar each for a hot shower….17 Dinar to stay in the heart of the medina. What a bargain! The wind was blowing sand and dirt particles furiously which put a damper on our sightseeing. We did brave the elements for a few photos with our phones (no moving parts) but after being constantly pummeled by sand, we finally decided to call it quits and have an early dinner (rotisserie chicken, chips and salad for $3 each). Our hot water showers made us feel human again and we spent the rest of the night in our room enjoying the respite from the sand storm.

23 March: Since we were in the medina, the light just outside our room was never turned off, but Robby managed to hang one of the spare blankets over the window. The hotel was pretty noisy though and we were up by 6 am. One look out the window instantly brightened our spirits…it was shaping up to be another lovely day. Sand storm was finally over! We checked out of the hotel and took a couple more photos of Sfax’s Bab Diwan before heading over to the louage station. We were passengers 2 and 3 to show up to El Jem (4.6 Dinar each), and settled in for a long wait. It only took another 40 minutes before the van was full (8 passengers) and we were on our way. Seeing the Colosseum of El Jem off in the distance is enough to make anyone’s pulse quicken. We were dropped off at the louage station in El Jem by 10 am, and we made a beeline to the ticket office at the Colosseum (10 Dinar each with entrance to the nearby archaeology museum). The morning light was hitting the barren side of the Colosseum, so we decided to linger until noon when both sides were equally lit up, despite the harshness of the midday light. Amazingly, we had the entire complex to ourselves for about the first 30 minutes, and then bus loads of local tourists started appearing. El Jem was one of the few places Becky remembered visiting as a cadet, so it must have left an impression. Walking under the amphitheater to view the underground chambers that housed the gladiators and wild beasts was a bit spine tingling…perhaps we’ve watched too many episodes of Spartacus? The panoramic photos of El Jem were magnificent and we sullenly pulled ourselves away to check out the nearby museum (cool mosaics but good thing it was included in the amphitheater ticket). Catching a louage to Sousse was easier than we expected. We walked up and became passengers 6 and 7 and the last passenger hopped in just a few seconds later so we were off in an instant (9,500 Dinar for both of us). The police were being very thorough inspecting traffic into Sousse and all of our IDs were scrutinized. The louage station is several kms south of the medina, so we hopped in a taxi for the ride, which was well worth the 3 Dinar fee. Our hotel for the next 3 nights, Hotel Medina, was lovely and located right next to the Great Mosque. We had reserved the rooms in advance on booking.com but could have scored the hotel a bit cheaper in person (40 Dinar walk in rate versus 46 Dinar for the online rate). Breakfast was an additional 6 Dinar each but we decided to eat up the stockpile of dates that we’ve been lugging around from city to city. The view from the rooftop is phenomenal…definitely worth staying here for the view alone. Late afternoon saw us walking down the waterfront and wondering what had happened to the seafront hotels…why were they run down and in a state of disrepair? Had the hit on tourism really had that much of an impact? Very sad to see the once glamorous hotels all in a shoddy state today. For dinner we were craving non-Tunisian food so pizza it was. Note to self: do not order the Salami pizza in Tunisia. It is nothing like the salami you think of in the States! Robby’s shawarma chicken pizza was freaking tasty though! Back at the hotel, we hopped on free WiFi and found out that Brussels had been attacked yesterday (airport and metro station). Horrible news. Makes us wonder why we even go online anymore?

24 March: It was surprisingly chilly all night long…we were missing the southern desert temperatures already! Even though our hotel is right next to a mosque, the early morning call to prayer never sounded so we were able to sleep in until 7 am. Today we were taking a day trip to Mahdia and Monastir, two coastal cities that could easily be reached by the metro. Our plan was to check out Mahdia first, backtrack to Monastir and head back to Sousse in time for dinner. A one way ticket from Sousse to Mahdia was 2.5 Dinar and the ride took just under 2 hours. The metro was clean, comfortable and had plenty of seating, so we enjoyed this mode of transportation. Both of our guidebooks and a helpful poster on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree website advised that Mahdia is full of charm and a “must see” sight so of course we had high expectations. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered Mahdia is just OK. Nothing bad, nothing great, just mediocre. We did experience a bit more hassle walking down the main pedestrian zone of Mahdia than we had elsewhere. The Borj el-Kebir (a 16th century fortress) was noted in our guidebooks for its views, but again, we were not impressed. The views over the medina weren’t even worth mentioning. The author of the guidebook who called it “mesmerizing” is definitely mistaken! The 7 Dinar entrance fee to the fortress was vastly overpriced…we both recommend skipping Mahdia’s fortress. Neither of us complained when it was time to hop on the metro to Monastir. Since Mahdia has the reputation of being the nicer of the two coastal cities, we were dreading to find out what was in store for us at Monastir. The metro ride from Mahdia to Monastir was 1,900 Dinar each and the ride took over an hour. Monastir instantly impressed and we were quite pleased that we had included an afternoon visit in our itinerary. The Ribat (which has been used in Monty Python’s Life of Brian) dominates the coastal skyline and we definitely felt the 7 Dinar entrance fee was well worth it for the views alone! Awesome vistas of Monastir and the Ribat itself, and we thoroughly enjoyed clambering up and down in the labyrinth of this massive complex. Since the nearby mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba was only open on Thursdays from 2 – 4 pm, we had to cut our visit to the Ribat short, so we could check out the insanely popular mausoleum with the rest of the masses. If you don’t know who Habib Bourguiba is, check out his biography. He single handedly led his country to independence from France, promoted women’s rights, fought against Sharia law by putting in place major reforms, and increased literacy in Tunisia…truly a remarkable man. His mausoleum is befitting of a man who did so much for his beloved country, and we were happy that we were able to visit when it was open to visitors. It was late afternoon when we caught a metro back to Sousse (1 Dinar each), and we found dinner at a schwarma joint we had scoped out yesterday in the medina. Delicious and a bargain at only 5 Dinars for two sandwiches. Our room had been made up while we were out sightseeing…definitely a step up from what we were used to on this vacation. The Hotel Medina was the perfect base for our Sousse activities.

25 March: Today was a full day of Sousse sightseeing! We started off visiting the the Ribat (7 Dinar entrance plus 1 Dinar photo permit) and immediately climbed the tower which offered phenomenal views over the medina up to the Kasbah’s Khalef Tower looming on the hilltop above. Stunning! Plus from our vantage point, we could peek into the nearby Great Mosque’s courtyard, which looks more like a fort than a mosque due to the lack of a minaret. The Ribat was a great way to kick off our morning, and we followed that visit wandering through the medina towards Dar Essid, which was supposed to be another highlight of the city. Unfortunately, it was closed when we visited. Too bad, as the traditional home (now a museum) looked pretty amazing from the outside, and we could tell there was a lookout terrace to look out over the medina. So we pressed on and got lost in the medina, checking out the intricate doors of Sousse. While wandering the souq area, we stumbed upon a colorful cafe called “No Stress”, and the friendly owner convinced us to stop for a cup of tea and coffee. After our siesta, he led us on a walking tour of the medina, taking us to two traditional houses (also open to the public) which we would never have found on our own. After following him around for the better part of an hour, we thanked him with a 5 Dinar tip and he seemed quite happy with that and made us promise to add him as a facebook friend, ha. We strolled up the picturesque Rue Souk el Caid and passed through Bab el Gharbi before skirting the exterior of the wall looking for the entrance to Sousse’s archaeological museum in the Kasbah. The entrance fee was 9 Dinar a piece with a 1 Dinar photo permit fee. As anticipated, the mosaic museum was excellent. We had been told that after the Bardo Museum, the Sousse museum was the next best in Tunisia and found that to be the case. The Medusa and Bacchus mosaics were especially interesting, as well as the Baptismal font…just wow. Unfortunately, the Khalef tower has been taken over by the Tunisian military and today it functions as a lighthouse for Sousse so we weren’t able to climb it for views over the city. The fish market at Bab el Jedid rounded out our afternoon excursions and we were both starving so we hit our favorite shawarma stand again. The boys were happy to see us and teasingly offered to make our sandwiches extra spicy. The chapati shawarma wraps were even tastier today and incredible value at only 6,400 Dinar for two massive sandwiches. We are going to miss Sousse! Such great value. The nearby shopping center of Soula beckoned. Its a massive 4 storey building full of fixed priced souvenirs and was full of tourists (domestic and foreign). A scam artist tried to prevent us from going in, claiming to be the chef from our hotel and come see his brother’s store with cheaper prices. When we questioned him which hotel, he was taken aback…apparently he hadn’t thought that far ahead. He quickly said “your Sousse hotel” and we laughed him off. The security guard for Soula Shopping Center had been watching our interaction with him and warned us to steer clear of him as he was bad news. No advice needed, we knew to keep our distance! Soula is popular and deservedly so with lots of nice souvenirs. Back at the hotel, we hopped onto wifi to get caught up with the latest world news. Tomorrow’s adventure will be getting from Sousse to Kairouan by louage. We will certainly miss Sousse which has been a great base for us over these past few days.

26 March: After checking out of the Hotel Medina (144 Dinar for 3 nights), we caught a taxi (2.3 Dinar) to the louage station and paid 4.8 Dinar each for a ride to Kairouan. We were the last 2 passengers to load up and of course were made to sit hump in the middle and rear rows of the van. Thankfully, the ride took less than an hour and we found out the louage station is about 1.5 km away from the medina. Rather than take yet another taxi, we decided to hike the distance to our hotel, Hotel Sabra just outside Place des Martyrs. At all the other hotels, a member of the staff could speak English but we had to resort to French and Arabic to communicate at the Hotel Sabra. Since we were early (10 am), we wanted to check into our room to drop off our bags so we could sightsee all day. The quote was overpriced at 40 Dinar for a double to include private hot water shower, but we weren’t in a position to negotiate. So we agreed, dropped off our stuff and immediately hit the rooftop for a panoramic view over the medina. Off in the distance, we could see the three tiered minaret of the Great Mosque, which was to be our first destination. Wandering through the medina was a bit chaotic as it was full of motorbikes, pedestrians and vendors but we made our way over to the Great Mosque where we were able to buy the multi-entry day pass for Kairouan’s main sights for 10 Dinar (plus 1 Dinar each for photography). Becky remembered visiting the Great Mosque over 20 years ago. Robby was Mr Popular with a rambunctious group of teenaged boys who fought each other to take a photo with him…hilarious. Kairouan is considered Islam’s 4th holiest city, and the Great Mosque has the distinction of being North Africa’s holiest Islam sight. The original version was built in AD 670 but it was destroyed. What stands today dates from the 9th century, built by the Aghlabids. The prayer room is closed to non-muslims but the doors are propped open for a peek inside. After taking photos to our hearts’ content, we brainstormed our next destination. The ticket sellers advised us to see the sights in the medina first, because they would all close by 2 pm. Our next destination was the poor camel at Bir Barouta, a circa 1676 well dug by the Ottoman ruler Mohammed Bey. Locals believe that the well waters are linked to the well of Zem Zem in Mecca. The poor camel walks around in circles all day pulling up water from the well and posing with tourists. Needless to say, this place is extremely popular with local tourists. Next up was the Mosque of the Three Doors, which is one of the few structures dating from the 19th century. Then we took a hike out to visit the Zaouia of Sidi Sahab (Mosque of the Barber), an intricate tomb complex of one of the Prophet’s companions who always carried 3 hairs of Mohammed with him everywhere he went (one under his tongue, one on his arm and the other closest to his heart). This zaouia was popular with locals, and we could easily see why with its beautiful blue and green tile work. From here, we walked over towards the Aghlabid Pools, stopping enroute at a fantastic grocery store Monoprix. There we scored a half roasted chicken, delicious wheat grain bread and water for under 5 Dinar. Our picnic lunch was awesome! The Aghlabid Pools really aren’t anything special to look at, but what a feat of engineering. Water from aqueducts almost 40 km to the west brought water to these massive pools (128 meters across by 5 meters deep). From here we hiked over to the Zaouia of Sidi Amor Abbada, which is noted for its 7 white cupolas. The occupant was a blacksmith who liked to supersize everything. His zaouia has been transformed into a museum showcasing the exaggerated objects he created. Kinda of a meh moment. Next up was to be the Zaouia of Sidi Abid-el-Ghariani but it was locked up for the day. Even though we had been promised it would stay open late, that was not the case at 2:30 pm. So instead we decided to take in a tour of the Maison du Gouverneur, the 18th century residence of the former Beys (Pashas) of Kairouan. The exquisite level of detail from marble to teak, latticework to plaster moulding and tile work is breathtaking. We had been forewarned that a visit (while free) would entail a carpet demonstration and a hard sell. Since neither one of us expressed any interest whatsoever in any of the beautiful mergoums or kilims, we were let off easy without the hard sell. Such a shame since the prices truly were fantastic.

It was now late afternoon when we walked back to the Great Mosque, detouring to check out Bab el-Khoukha, the oldest gate of the medina. We circled the Great Mosque in the afternoon sunlight, stopping to check out the Lalla Rihana Gate (dating from 1294). The cemetery adjacent to the Great Mosque was also lit up in the afternoon sun so we took a few photos before asking for permission to climb to the rooftop of a nearby carpet store which had a nice panoramic view of the Great Mosque. The shopkeeper half heartedly tried to entice us to buy some carpets but quickly saw that we weren’t shoppers. We settled for getting 11 postcards of Tunisia for 1 Dinar…yup, big spenders here! The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering back alleys of the medina. It seemed that Kairouan, unlike all the other Tunisian cities, had the most hassle. Anyone speaking to you in multiple languages always had an agenda, whether it was to serve as an impromptu tour guide, or a “come look at my carpet shop”, etc. It got old quickly even though we played it cool. There really aren’t many foreign tourists here right now so we can easily understand why we look like an enticing target but getting accosted every few minutes by another helpful fellow just wasn’t welcome at the end of a long day. Finally, we retreated to our room overlooking the bustling Place des Martyrs and settled in for the night.

27 March: As forewarned, the Hotel Sabra was quite noisy all night long. We slept as late as we possibly could but were still up for breakfast at 7 am. The kind cleaning lady asked us if we were interested in buying any postcards or carpets from her side business and we reluctantly told her no. Breakfast was typically Tunisian, a jug of hot milk, hot coffee, boiled eggs accompanied by bread and lots of butter and jam. This morning, we figured we would try to revisit the Zaouia of Sidi Abid el-Ghariani again to see if we could catch it while it was open. Sadly, even though we stopped by a few times, the doors were firmly shut. So we had one last stroll through Kairouan and both agreed that one day here is sufficient to take in all the sights. Now onward to Tunis! We checked out of the hotel and hiked across town to the louage station. There, we wandered around until we found a ticket counter and correctly guessed to queue in the longer (and slower) line. Our rides to Tunis cost 10,250 Dinar each and we were shown the correct louage to load up into. We were passengers 2 and 3 and decided to pile into the back row. Amazingly, a group of 5 teenaged boys joined us just a minute later and we were off mere seconds after they settled in. Our driver was no nonsense, taking the highway and getting us to Tunis in record time. According to our google map, it should have taken 3 hours from Kairouan to Tunis but our driver shaved 45 minutes off that estimate. A taxi driver saw us standing on the side of the road once we reached Tunis so we didn’t even have to wait for onward transportation to Place du Kasbah, our next destination. 3 Dinar later and we were in the square, which the police had completely cordorned off. We unwittingly strolled through the no-go zone and were immediately questioned by security personnel who chalked our mistake up to dumb tourists and allowed us to continue on our way. Back at the Dar Ya, the receptionist remembered us from our first visit and welcomed us back. Booking directly with the hostel instead of on the internet reduced the room price from 45 Euros to 32 Euros a night, including breakfast. Since we had a full morning of sightseeing scheduled for tomorrow, we decided to hike to the north end of Tunis and check out Belvedere Park, detouring enroute to pick up a picnic lunch at a nearby Monoprix supermarket. Since today was Sunday (and Easter to boot), thousands of other Tunisian families had the same idea of hanging out at Belvedere Park. We couldn’t believe how insanely popular it was with long lines to enter the zoo and hundreds of children running their parents ragged. After enjoying our picnic lunch here, we people watched for a while and really loved how nonrestrictive and free Tunisian society is. If women don’t want to cover up, no big deal. Boys and girls of all ages (from children to teenagers) playing sports together…again not a big deal. How refreshing to be in a country that has stood up against and resisted the super strict (and twisted) interpretation of the Koran which always ends up with men and women being completely segregated and the women being brutally suppressed? Its one of the main reasons why we really like Tunisia so much. Tunisians really know how to live and are fun, happy, loving people who are extremely welcoming to strangers. Tunisia definitely wins hands down for being the most inviting and tolerant of all North African nations…we really feel that this country is truly one of a kind and it will always have a special place in our hearts.

After Belvedere Park, we wandered passed an Arabic billboard for coca cola and just had to have one. Quite effective advertisement. 1.5 liters of an ice cold coke was 2 Dinar, well worth it after our long, hot trudge back to Dar Ya.

28 March: Our last day in Tunisia! All good things must come to an end, sadly. Our flight was scheduled for later this afternoon at 1740, so we had a full morning to explore the medina of Tunis. After packing up our gear and checking out of our room, we set out to see Tunis on the cheap. First stop was at Dar Lasram, a magnificent mansion that is open to the public (free). Next up was Palais Khereddine, a 19th century palace that today serves as a free art exhibition hall. We then explored several of the medina’s souqs in depth before heading over to Tunis’ central market. By the time we reached it, it was past noon so most of the vendors had packed up already but we still managed to get a feel for the market place. On our way back to the medina, we strolled past the Grand Hotel de France, which we originally planned to stay at but were told had no vacancy. Instead, we popped in for a quick peek and decided that we were happier to have stayed at the Dar Ya once we took a look at the competition! Back in the medina, we did a 3 km walking tour, strolling past souqs, medersas, and mosques. Dar Othman was another 17th century palace that we were able to explore for free. Its amazing how many beautiful mansions you can walk into for free in Tunis! We wanted to visit the highly recommended Dar Ben Abdallah museum (one of the medina’s finest palaces that is open to the public) but it was locked up when we visited so that was a bust. At 2 pm, we had a quick picnic lunch and then reluctantly headed back to the Dar Ya to retrieve our bags and head to the airport.

Our taxi ride was 5,500 Dinar so surprisingly cheap to get to the airport where we checked in for the Alitalia flight to Rome – Istanbul. We hadn’t been able to confirm whether the 30 Dinar solidarity stamp was indeed obsolete and waited on pins and needles at the very long passport control lines but we needn’t have worried. Khaled from Dar Ya was correct in telling us that the departure tax has met its demise in late 2015 and was no longer a requirement for departing tourists. Good thing since we had managed to spend all of our Dinars!

Visiting Tunisia first to kick off our round the world adventures was starting the long overland trip off right! What an amazing country!!! We both loved it…all of it. The wonderful people, the amazing sights, the rich and diverse history and the fantastic Spring weather. The perfect place at the perfect time. Thanks Tunisia for all the memories…we promise to return again one of these days.

1 thought on “Tunisia – Tunis, Dougga, Bardo Museum, Sidi Bou Said, Tozeur & the Sahara, Matmata, Chenini, Tataouine, Sfax, El Jem, Sousse, Mahdia, Monastir & Kairouan

  1. Looks Amazing! Star Wars definitely did not do Tunisia justice 🙂 I am so glad you made it safely through Turkey! Live Big!

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