Sousse - World Heritage Site

Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
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6
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Trip End Mar 11, 2010


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Where I stayed

Flag of Tunisia  ,
Monday, March 1, 2010

The Hotel Carlton in Tunis had a free breakfast. This was the first morning we decided to take advantage of it. Moldy olives anyone?  We were hungry when we boarded the train in the first class section for our journey to Sousse.  The call "kaka kaka kaka" rang out.  Kelsey jumps up and purchase a bag of thin bread sticks laced with salt from a young man who runs down the train just prior to departure selling what I assume is the Tunisian version of pretzels.  I hate pretzels. 

Arid scenery screams by.  What appears to be high desert plains stretch to the west with mountain ranges looming at the horizon.  To the east, the Mediterranean coastline.  Olive trees prevail.  I am told that there are an enormous variety of olives grown in this nation.  Sousse is particularly proud of its baby olives.  Tiny, sweet and delicious.  This later turned out to be absolutely true.

With so many bags, the $3td taxi ride (no meter sir – too many bags) was well worth it.  Had the meter been in service, I am sure the ride would have been about $1td.  We check into our 6th floor, 2 bedroom apartment at the Hotel El Faracha.  I found this by luck on the internet on a European travel blog site.  Kelsey did a pre-visit checkout before our arrival, became friends with the owner.  She was sold and put a deposit down for us.  We paid $130td per night for the "3 star" Hotel Carlton in Tunis.  The El Faracha digs were divine.  2 large bedrooms, a separate living room, a kitchen with hot plate and no real cooking capability, 2 balconies – each with a view of the beach and Mediterranean sea and just a couple blocks from the beach, scores of dining and a grocery store.  $70td per night.  We soon decided to extend our stay here in Sousse.

Sousse is a world heritage site.  It is considered one of the best examples of seaward-facing fortifications built by the Arabs. Its ribat, a soaring structure that combined the purposes of a minaret and a watch tower, is in outstanding condition. The city retains a medieval heart of narrow, twisted streets, a kasbah and medina.

Sousse is an easy place to visit due to it also being a beach resort and provides a great base to see some of the other UNESCO sites such as Kairouan and the Amphitheatre at El- Jem both of which we will visit.

We walked to the old city (Medina) 9th century walls and ramparts with its various gates opening into the souks and various mosques and museums. Upon entering the old city and souk area, I am approached by a nicely dressed young man who approaches me to remind me that we met earlier at the Hotel – in the restaurant.  He immediately informs me that he is not a guide and is not trying to sell me something, but is a local who lives near by and just happened to see and recognize me.  I struggle between the feeling that somehow I missed this person when I checked in at the hotel.  I was registered by a woman and did not go to the restaurant.  He continues by informing me that I am quite lucky since this is the last day of the famous Berber Festival.  The Berber Princess is giving educational briefings on the ancient art of fine rug making and I should hurry to see it since it will be over in less than one hour – never to be seen again.  But, we are hungry and must eat first.  Perhaps later?

We find a great café and enjoy a local dish called Shwarma.  Our friends at the Doner in Leesburg, VA will recognize this as the large spool of meat that is carved, heated and served.  Call it Doner meat, gyro meat or Shwarma.  It is great.  We also had ¼ roasted chicken, and Ojja with seafood.  Kelsey likes the Ojja!  It is kind of disgusting looking – tomato sauce base, peppers, seafood and eggs.  But it tastes yummy!  A friendly well dressed young man at a nearby table strikes up a conversation with Kelsey.  Another Tunisian amazed to find an American that speaks Arabic and not just any Arabic but understands some of the Tunisian colloquial twists.  I watch as he struggles with what to say next.  Not wanting to be seen as pushy, but on a mission.  As the meal ends, he informs us that we are quite lucky since this is the last day of the famous Berber Festival.  The Berber Princess is giving educational briefings on the ancient art of fine rug making and I should hurry to see it since it will be over in less than one hour – never to be seen again.  We beg off to wonder down the “Cornish” which is the walkway along the beach soaking in views of the ocean. 

Later back in the souk, I see what appears to be a “sand person” from the original Star Wars movie.  Later, I would learn that Star Wars was filmed on location in Matmata, Tunisia and that there are many remains of the shoot that are now tourist attractions.  As I study the terrain and map of Tunisia, look at the dress of the people, it becomes clear to me that George Lucas did not need to be more creative than to just look around Tunisia and select themes and names for his movie.  The city of Tataouine and the local “sand people” garb are obvious examples.

Ignoring the very pushy vendors in the souk (does insulting your potential customers really work?), we find the food section of the market and purchase fresh Berber bread loaves, local olive oil, a variety of local olives and some fine Tunisian wine from the grocery store near our hotel.  This will be dinner.  We dine in our new living room watching an episode of Monk in French.  Thanks in part to the 3 months of French language lessons I received in the D.C. public elementary school in the 4th grade, I loosely translate.
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