In my old blog, I mentioned that travel has becoming less interesting as more countries begin to resemble versions of the western places we are so familiar with. Taxi drivers don’t rip you off at the airport, roads are less dangerous and shops and fast food places we are know are everywhere. Tunis: not so much.
We arrived just before midnight, after a long flight from Berlin via Frankfurt (flying on points), and started our stay in Tunisia by arguing with dodgy taxi drivers standing between us and the real taxi ranks, trying to pick off ‘new blood’. The guy we ended up with was decent enough, overcharged us an acceptable amount and, after chatting to our Airbnb host, got us a little too rapidly to our apartment in the La Marsa area of Tunis.
Despite the poor omen of a rather nasty stench outside the apartment block…… and inside the entrance…. our place was lovely. Basic bones but decorated by someone with a good eye, in the theme of ‘New Wave’ cinema. More of that later.
After a glass of ‘interesting’ Tunisian wine, we headed to bed and slept the sleep of the dead. The following morning I was up early to take my linen suit to be dry cleaned prior to the wedding, at a place I’d found on the net, a km or so inland from our place. As I wandered along, trying to work out how to stay alive as I crossed roads or walked along streets with no pavements, with stray cats everywhere, a fair amount of rubbish around and a slight feeling of chaos, everything felt very, very foreign.
I have traveled a fair bit, mostly independently, to every continent, and to my fair share of war zones, but for some reason this felt a bit confronting and I questioned whether I was going to enjoy the next couple of months in North Africa.
Later, we met the owner of our apartment, an exceptionally enthusiastic young guy who was a full time CEO of a waste management company and a part time investor in homes that go on Airbnb. Our place, right on the seafront, was new to his portfolio and he had ‘upgraded’ us to there as he decided that getting a good review from people with our Airbnb profile would be a good thing.
Each of his Airbnb’s is themed on a style of film, theatre or opera, and as New Wave was a 60s and 70s thing, all the furniture and pictures were from that period. He knew the history of every single piece in the place and was very proud of what he had achieved, as he should be. I love meeting people who are passionate about what they do, no matter what it is…… (except if it is murderer, racist etc……)
The reason we were in Tunis was to celebrate the lovely Bridge getting married. We have known Bridge for over 20 years, several reinventions of herself, from army officer, to barrister to…….. UN mine clearance expert. She has been based in Tunis since being evacuated from Libya and is soon off to Jerusalem as the UNMAS Head of Mission (she is a clever and determined girl, our Bridge).
There were a bunch of other people there for the same reason, some of whom we have known for ever (Liz), some we had met on our trip to Troyes at the start of this adventure (Sally, Kym and Fiona), some we had shared a drink or two with (Lisa) and many who we met for the first time.
Interesting and lively people have interesting and lively friends and we had a fantastic time meeting them, drinking with them, dancing badly with them and getting to know Tunis with them. Small world update: one of Bridge’s friends, Jason, had dropped off the boat in Lisbon that I picked in Dec 1992 as mentioned in my ‘Porto and around’ blog. It really is a very, very small world.
The wedding was a great experience. The day started with a whole bunch of us meeting at the reception venue to decorate the room and the tables. Until Bridge arrived, there was a collection of about 15 strong willed organising types, all trying to be helpful with little direction. All very amusing, if perhaps not that efficient. Whilst we were doing this it began to rain, and the rain got harder, and harder and harder….. things didn’t look good.
We left the place looking nice but undoubtedly like a place decorated by enthusiastic amateurs rather than keen eyed professionals. I figured the catering company would attack the final touches.
The world was smiling on Bridge, and shortly before the ceremony the clouds cleared and the sun came out to play.
I have always felt that being invited to someone’s wedding and to be part of a day normally overflowing with love is a huge privilege and this was no exception. What made it even more special was the coming together of two cultures. Bridge’s friends are mostly very British, many from an Army background (which is a culture all of its own) and all like a drink or 3, and Mohamed’s family and friends are Tunisian and Muslim. We are used to weddings of a very similar pattern and this did not follow that pattern so we were all a bit “what next?” The thing that united all elements was the joy of seeing Bridge and Mohamed looking so happy as they got formally hitched and I loved the way the Tunisian women showed their joy at all the right moments with the very Arabic ululating, which is wonderful.
Unfortunately, Bridge’s Mum couldn’t be there as she is tackling the big C in the UK, but I was delighted to be able to live stream via FaceTime much of the proceedings to her and a room full of champagne sipping friends back in Blighty. Isn’t technology wonderful!
At the reception we discovered a few things: the caterers didn’t do any of the finishing touches so Fiona and Jodie worked much magic in a short space of time (and Bridge lost it when she saw the champagne wasn’t good to go!), that most good Muslims will enjoy a drink in the right circumstances (I discovered in Oman, Morocco and Bosnia that nobody drinks quite like a non drinker. I also discovered on this trip that allegedly the Quran says that drinking wine is haram…… nobody mentioned vodka, gin, Bacardi Breezers……..) and that tipsy westerners cannot dance like Arabs or to reggae but will never give up trying (the video is priceless).
It was a really lovely day and one we will remember very fondly.
The rest of our time was reasonably laid back. With the exception of one trip to the Medina and the Bardot museum (the scene of a rather nasty terrorist attack in a 2012 and the location of many priceless artefacts from Catharge and Tunis from all periods in its history), we stayed local and caught up with friends. At times that involved too much wine, rather good pizza and rather bad hangovers.
We also came across lots and lots and lots of stray cats. If you are going to have a strays in a country, cats are probably the best thing to have. They poo more discreetly than dogs and I’ve never felt intimidated by three or 4 cats following me on an early morning run…..
Amongst all this we did interact with Tunis a reasonable amount, as we went from place to place, shopped, wandered, got washing done etc. We were looked after by the locals, didn’t get ripped-off by taxis, ate well, only got mildly dodgy stomachs and once, when my phone dropped out of my pocket in a taxi, witnessed instant kindness as one local driving past saw me sprinting after the cab, asked me why, and shot off after the cab, and another cab got J in and followed too (I got it back: he stopped to buy cigarettes and was mortified that I’d had to run so far to catch him) This, and the fact that we were with local experts meant that we soon learned our way around and everything began to feel much less foreign, with the happy effect that I am now very much looking forward to the next 6 weeks in Egypt and Jordan.
There is much more to Tunisia than we saw, but what we saw was good. Perhaps we will explore it more in the future.
Tomorrow we will wake up in Alexandria, Egypt.