We arrived in Tunis-Carthage airport after a connection in Paris minus the Dr.’s backpack. We originally planned to start our drive to the north of the country without stopping in Tunis, but this setback, although minor, was still annoying. We took care of everything first: filed a claim for lost luggage, exchanged our dollars to dinars ($1 = 1.25TD), picked up our rental Fiat, bought a SIM card for our phone. We knew we had to look for a place to stay in the city for the night, but navigating the crazy streets proved difficult. The locals sweetly crossed the street without any regard for vehicular traffic. Other cars sneaked in right next to us as if in a video game docking explosions. By the time we checked out a hotel room in the city center, we were so spent. We couldn’t get our car back to the front of the hotel, so we decided to just keep driving. (Our apologies to the hotel clerk!)
The coast to Sidi Bou Said was a much prettier and less harried drive. It smelled less like Diesel and more of the Gulf of Tunis. Set on a cliff, all we can see were white buildings with blue window grills; bougainvillea spilling out of high walls and fences. The streets were narrow, so we parked at the bottom of the hill and checked in Hotel Sidi Boufares. For 75 dinars, we got a double room with our own bathroom. The ceiling was high and made of red bricks; the walls with tiles of different patterns. Our door was, of course, painted in that Sidi Bou Said blue, complete with metal studs and a heavy knocker. The owner talked to us in English, but I knew I will have to defer to the Dr. for the rest of our vacation when people outside the city will start speaking in French. (We think it’s a perfect travel arrangement: I plan, he speaks; I look pretty, he drives!)
We ate at Rais Labhar for our first experience of simple Tunisian fare. The restaurant offered pizza and spaghetti, too, but we ate the salad Tunisienne, a mix of lettuce, olives, cucumber, peppers and flaked tuna. I had the under-salted grilled fish and the Dr. opted for the overcooked beef steak. A least our hunger pangs were satiated. We later found out that 22 dinars for so little food was too expensive.
We walked around town, past all the souvenir shops and haggling Europeans, to take photos of the Andalusian architecture. The blue tint grew on me, as well as the metal details that dot the doors and the windows. The sun started to set over the white domes, and as the other visitors boarded their giant buses, the town quieted down and emptied out.
Later, a call to prayer we overheard coming through the town’s loud speakers reminded us that we were in a new place. The five calls to prayer each day will remain to be the most impressionable for the next two weeks. I was ready for the new tastes and different smells I will encounter.
We were reunited with the Dr.’s pack at night time. For dinner, we walked down the hill and stopped by a hole in the wall to eat a chawarma with beef the clerk peeled off a spit. For 2.50 dinars, it was a much more satisfying fare than lunch. We were ready to start over the next day.
Day 1 in Tunisia: Sidi Bou Said photos on Flickr