North Africa

Tunisia

Introduction

Location of Tunisa Just in case you're not sure, Tunisia is a country in North Africa, situated between Libya and Algeria, lucky old them! They are a very moderate people (unlike their neighbours, perhaps?), with a strong French overtone to their Arabic background, due to the French occupation of their country right up to the mid 1950s.

This recounts our experiences of Christmas 2002, spent in Hammamet, Tunisia, with occasional references to our earlier visit in 1999 to Sousse about 90 minutes more southerly.



Getting There

We flew from Birmingham, UK directly to Monastir, about 90 minutes by motorway from Hammamet. Ours was a charter flight with MyTravel, which provides the travel for Panasonic (our tour operator), Airtours and many others. We had strong tailwinds so arrived in just 2 hours and 40 minutes. The baggage arrived promptly and we were soon in our coach from Saphir Voyages on our way to Hammamet.

Because our flight was at 15:30 we arrived at about 6pm, so it was already dark. We couldn't really see much on our trip although we did get to visit a lot of other hotels on our dropping off route; we were one of the last ones to be dropped off at about 10pm. Luckily the restaurant was still open with the left-overs from that night's dinner, so at least we did not go to bed hungry!

The Hotel

Our rooms were fairly basic in this 3-star hotel, the Bel Azur, part of a three-hotel complex; twin beds, TV, patio/balcony and private bathroom. Not plush at all, but then again not too primitive either. The 4-star Sol Azur and 5-star Royal Azur were on either side of us and we could use their facilities (apart from restaurant, unless you wanted to pay extra) such as swimming pool.

The rooms had the air-con switched off during this winter low-season; unfortunately this meant the fans would either blow hot air or not at all. I left my patio door open a bit most nights, but it would have been better to have a cold fan running.

The TV had about 30 channels available; before you think "Wow!" that meant about half-a-dozen French ones, 4-English (news-only) ones, another six were in German and the remaining evenly split between Italian and Arabic programs. Now I can't speak French (apart from schoolboy "Good-morning-where-is-the-road-to-the-town-centre-please?") but I ended up watching Michael J Fox in "Back to the Future, Part II" in French one night because there was NOTHING else to watch. Another night it was Conan The Barbarian, in German. You get the picture.

Still, the toilets flushed, the shower pumped out hot water and the tap water was safe to brush you teeth with (and drink). And towels were changed daily if you left them on the bathroom floor. The more environmentally conscientious could dry them and reuse them. Something to consider in the summer, maybe.

All the hotels we saw had Xmas decorations up, so we could not escape the Christmas season at all, even if we had wanted to.

Weather

Pretty good for late December, when compared against London, UK. It was officially about 17-19 degrees centigrade daily (mid 60s Fahrenheit) but felt a lot warmer because there was pretty much permanent blue sky and sunshine from 8am to 4pm. However, we all still wore a sweater or cardigan for a lot of the day, with long trousers. It just wasn't T-shirt and Shorts weather just yet, unlike when we stayed in Sousse during August; you wouldn't need a sweater then!

The interesting thing was seeing the local Tunisians dressed up like we do back home with heavy shirts, sweaters and coats. They looked like it was cold, and, as one of our guides explained, to them 15 degrees was cold. That would explain how they put up with heat up to 40 degrees in summer whilst we tourists quietly melt in the shade.

Another nice thing is that it did not rain once in the Christmas week we were there. A pleasant change to the wintry rain we returned to in the UK!

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