Tunisia: My country !!! Tunisia (Arabic: تونس Tūnis, officially the Tunisian Republic (الجمهورية التونسية), is a country situated on the Mediterenien coast of North Africa. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and Libya to the southeast. It is the northernmost African country and the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas Mountain range. Around forty percent of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, with much of the remainder consisting of particularly fertile soil, and a 1300 km coastline. Both played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Phoenicien city of Carthage, and later, as the Africa Province, which became known as the bread basket of the Roman Empire. Regions 24 governorates; Ariana (Aryanah), Beja (Bajah), Ben Arous (Bin 'Arus), Bizerte (Banzart), El Kef (Al Kaf), Gabes (Qabis), Gafsa (Qafsah), Jendouba (Jundubah), Kairouan (Al Qayrawan), Kasserine (Al Qasrayn), Kebili (Qibili), Mahdia (Al Mahdiyah),Mannouba (mannouba), Medenine (Madanin), Monastir (Al Munastir), Nabeul (Nabul), Sfax (Safaqis), Sidi Bou Zid (Sidi Bu Zayd), Siliana (Silyanah), Sousse (Susah), Tataouine (Tatawin), Tozeur (Tawzar), Tunis, Zaghouan (Zaghwan) Climate Temperate in north with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers; desert in south. Terrain Mountains in north; hot, dry central plain; semiarid south merges into the Sahara desert. Elevation extremes lowest point: Shatt al Gharsah -17 m highest point: Jebel ech Chambi 1,544 m History Independence 20 March 1956 (from France) National holiday Independence Day, 20 March (1956) Following independence from France in 1956, President Habib Bourguiba established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In recent years, Tunisia has taken a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations. Domestically, it has sought to diffuse rising pressure for a more open political society. Malta and Tunisia are discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for oil exploration. Get in No visa is required for Americans, Canadians, EU and some other European citizens. A visa on arrival is available for Australians. New Zealanders must obtain a visa prior to arrival. By plane Tunisia's main international airport for scheduled flights is Carthage International Airport (TUN) near Tunis. Its second airport is Monastir (MIR) which is served by low cost charter flights from all over Europe. Monastir is nearer to most of the holiday destinations. Inexpensive charter flights (at least from the UK) are available at sites like www.flightstunisia.com and www.lastminute.com By boat Ferry services link Tunis to Malta,Trapani (Sicily, Italy), Naples (Italy), Genoa (Italy) and Marseille (France). Get around By Car The sole modern highway that resembles US Interstate or the Highways of Europe with a dual carriageway would be the A-1 Highway, which runs from Tunis south to just West of Sousse, and which has a posted speed limit of 110 km/hour. It is possible to maintain that speed on that road very easily. This route is shown on some maps have a planned extension to Bizerte in the North and to Sfax in the South, but as of August 2007, there were no visible signs of that work being underway, except near El-Jem. The remaining highways have single carriageways, with traffic round-abouts at major intersections, which follow the European model (those in the roundabout have the right of way) Consequently, on roads other than the A-1 it can be difficult to maintain an average speed of more than 60 km/hour. Almost all road signs are in both Arabic and French, although as of August 2007, there were a very few in Arabic only, off of the main tourist routes. Driving in Tunis is very different than in the rest of the country, with traffic signals being widely ignored, and lane markings likewise treated as theoretical only. To see the Medina of Tunis, it would be best to park some distance from the Medina, and take the light rail in from say Carthage, or perhaps a taxi in from the nearer outskirts. Rental Cars are fairly easy to find, but somewhat expensive, at 80 dinars or so a day, for a medium sized car such as a four door Renault Clio. By taxi Private taxis are reasonably priced even for long-distance travel, just be sure to agree on the fare before you set off. Sample fares for a four-seater are 40 euros for Tunis-Hammamet or 50 euros for Monastir-Hammamet. By train The national train company SNCFT runs modern and comfortable trains from Tunis south to Sousse, Sfax and Monastir. There are three classes of service, namely Grand confort (deluxe 1st), 1st and 2nd, and all are quite adequate. Example fares from Tunis to Sousse are 12/10/6 dinars in Grand/1st/2nd class. A good thing to do is to buy a carte bleu (blue card). It costs around 20 dinars for a week and you can travel all around the country using the banlieu (short distance train) and grande ligne (long distance). For the long distance you will have to make a reservation and pay a small fee (1,50 dinars or so). These passes can also be bought to cover 10 or 14 days. There are rarely queues at the booking office and a little bit of French goes a long way. Trains go also to Tozeur and Gabes in the south where it is easy to access the Sahara and Ksour regions respectively. A light railway also connects Tunis northward to Carthage and Marsa. Take this light railway system to Sidi Bou Said as well. One-way light railway tickets will cost approximately 675 millimes (1 Dinar = 1,000 millimes). By louage Locals use louage or shared taxis where there is no train or bus. There are no timetables, but they wait in the louage station (which is generally near a train station if your destination is accessible by train) until 8 people turn up. They are nearly as cheap as the walk up train fares and operate with fixed prices so you won't get scalped. eg Douz to Gabes (120km) for 7 dinars. Be aware that while louages are very cheap, they can also be stifling hot during the summer months and tourists may be hassled. Furthermore, louages have the reputation to drive in a fast pace, and to be less safe than other transportation, so be aware of that. Louage departures are very frequent, a louage departs as soon as the seats are filled. Louages between major cities are recognizable by their red stripe and louages in rural areas are recognizable by their blue stripe. By Bus Long distance bus (called car) is also a safe and economic way to travel between major cities such as Tunis, Nabeul, Hammamet, etc. You will generally find a station in each major city offering many departures per day (every 30 minutes between Tunis and Hammamet). Some of the bus locally called "car comfort" offer higher standards (tv, air conditionner, ...) for cheap prices. Talk Arabicis the official language of Tunisia and one of the languages of commerce, the other being French— a relic of Tunisia's former status as a French colony until 1956. English is of limited use. Buy The national currency is the Tunisian dinar. US$1 = 1.288 dinar (27 April 2007). GBP£1 = 2.33 Dinar (1 May 2006) Typical banknotes are 30,20,10,5 Dinars. The Dinar is divided into 1000 Millemes, with typical coins being 5 Dinars (Silver with copper insert), 1 Dinar (large silver color), 500 Millemes (1/2 Dinar: smaller silver color), 100 and 50 Millemes, (large brass), 20 and 10 Millemes (smaller brass) and 5 Millemes (small aluminum). It is prohibited to bring dinars in and out of Tunisia, so you have to change your money locally. Prices are typically marked in Dinars and Millemes, with a decimal point like: 5.600 or 24.000 or 0.360 sometimes with TND as a label like TND85.500 . Markets typically sell items by the Kilogram. So tomatoes may have a sign "480" on them which means 480 Millemes per Kilo. Good cheese will be marked something like 12.400 or about $10 a Kilo. Most self-serve supermarkets expect you to put your purchases in supplied plastic bags and then bring them to a nearby "balance" where a worker will weigh them and apply a price sticker. Eat Tunisian cuisine is very much in the Northern African Maghreb tradition, with couscous and tajine (locally called marqa) stews forming the backbone of most meals. Distinguishing characteristics are the fiery harissa chili sauce and the heavy use of tiny olives, which are abundant in the country. Lamb forms the basis of most meat dishes. Local seafood is plentiful. * Shorba Frik - lamb soup * Coucha - shoulder of lamb ****ed with turmeric and cayenne pepper * Khobz Tabouna - (pronounce Khobz Taboona) traditional oven baked bread * Brik - very crispy thin pastry with a whole egg (Brik à l'oeuf), parsley and onions and perhaps, meat too e.g. minced lamb or tuna (Brik au thon). Very tasty as an inexpensive starter. Eat it very carefully with your fingers. * Berber Lamb - Lamb ****ed with potatos, carrots in a clay pot. * Merguez - small spicy sausages. * Salade Tunisienne - lettuce, green pepper, tomato, onions, olives, radishes mixed with tuna. * Tunisian cakes - sweets related to Baklava. * Harissa - very hot spicy chili paste (somtimes milded with carrots or yogurt), served with bread as a starter at almost any meal. * Fricasse - small fried sandwich with tuna, harissa, olives and olive oil. * Balbaloni - fried sweet donut-like cake served with sugar. Drink Being a progressive Muslim country, alcohol availability is restricted (but not greatly) to certain licensed (and invariably more expensive) restaurants, resort areas and Magasin General shops. Large department stores (Carrefour at Marsa/Carthage) and some supermarkets (e.g. Monoprix) sell beer and wine, and some local and imported hard liquors, except during Muslim holidays. Female travelers should be aware that, outside resort and areas of significant tourist concentration, they may find themselves with a beer in a smoky bar full of men drinking in a rather dedicated fashion. Some bars will refuse to admit women, others may ask for a passport to check nationality. Look around a bar before you decide to imbibe! * Beer - Celtia is the popular local brand, but some places also carry imported pilsner beers. Locally brewed LowenBrau is decent, and Heineken is planning a Tunisian Brewery in 2007. Celtia "En Pression" (On Tap) is good. * Wine - Most places that serve alcohol will have Tunisian wine, which is quite good. Tunisian wine always was produced by French oenologists. Most of it was exported to France till the 1970s. Wine cooperatives were left and produce 80% of the wine which is served mostly to tourists. Since the privatisation of some parts of these cooperatives the international taste of wine entered the market in Tunisia. The small companies like Domaine Atlas, St. Augustin, Ceptunes etc. have successfully established the new generation of Tunisian wine. Importation of wine is extremly difficult because of very high taxes. Some high-end hotel restaurants can make French or Italian wines miraculously appear at a price. * ****ha - is a Tunisian brandy made from figs. * Coffee - served strong in small cups. Tunisian cappuccino is also served strong in small cups. "Cafe Creme" is available in many tourist areas and may even appear in an "American Cup". * Tea - is generally taken after meals. * Mint Tea - very sweet peppermint tea that is taken at any time of the day. Sleep Learn The Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages is known throughout the Arab World for its language courses. They offer intensive summer sessions in July and August for anyone interested in learning Modern Standard Arabic or Tunisian dialect. In the 2005 summer session there were over 500 students of all ages from throughout the world. This included students from the USA, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Norway, Croatia, Turkey, Japan, China, etc. On the first day of class, there is placement exam. The levels range from absolute beginner to advanced, with 15 to 25 students per class. Only Arabic is allowed in the classroom. We used both a course book developed by Bourguiba Institute and also music videos in Arabic with the accompanying text. The courses are daily from 8:00 AM to noon. In the afternoon there are activities and tours of the medina and museums. They also offer optional weekend excursions to sites in Tunisia. At the end of the one-month course there is both a written and oral exam. Several students complained about the lack of cleanliness in the student dorms. Some students stayed in a hotel and then rented a beach-side apartment for the month. It's usually easier to negotiate rental prices once you are in Tunis. The school is located in the city of Tunis. It's about a 20 minute metro ride to the beach. If you go to the summer school, be prepared for the hot temperatures. Work Stay safe It is apparently not considered rude for a man to stare at a woman's body which should indicate that modesty will attract less attention. Travellers report problems being pestered either to buy something or for other purposes. Persistence is a major complaint. Some say that a refusal often results in a bad reaction, "being hissed at" is one example, but those who have been advised to refuse politely with a smile rarely complain. "Merci Non" is a good response, with a smile. This seems to be borne out by the reports of sole female travellers who you would expect to receive the most attention, but who often report the least problems (from an admittedly small sample), perhaps because they are more cautious than accompanied females. It certainly seems to be the case that sole female sea bathers attract a good deal of unwelcome attention (even molestation) until a male friend arrives. Theft of belongings, even from hotel rooms and room safes, is widely reported and the usual caveats apply - keep valuables in a secure place (e.g. supervised hotel safe deposit), do not flash too much cash, and keep wallets, purses and other desirable items where pick pockets cannot reach them. A good recommendation is only to carry enough cash for your immediate requirements and only one credit or bank card, provided you can be assured of the security of your reserves. Theft is also reported in the Airport. Keep your belongings under your direct supervision all the time. Stay healthy * Malaria - There is NOT much of a malaria risk in Tunisia, but pack your bug spray. * Sun Please remember that the sun is frequently your biggest enemy, we would recommend frequent application of a high (factor 30 or better) sun screen. It is usually cheaper in your local super market than at the holiday destination. * Be careful what and where you eat and drink (remember the ice cubes too); diarrhoea is frequently enjoyed by those not being careful. The tap water in the high-end Tunis-Carthage-Marsa area seems to be safe (2006). Vaccinations Always check with your doctor 8-4 weeks before traveling (The 8-4 weeks is important, as some vaccinations take weeks to become effective, and with Polio you can be contagious for a while too): * Yellow fever is required for all travelers arriving from a yellow-fever-infected area in Africa or the Americas. * Hepatitis A is usually recommended Two Havrix injections, given 6 months apart, provide 10 years of Hep A protection * Typhoid * Polio * Hepatitis B - Highly recommended if likely to have intimate contact with locals or if visiting for more than 6 months. Respect Tunisia is a Muslim country, and dress code is important, particularly for females. Whilst a lot of skin (even topless) is tolerated on beaches and within hotel complexes, a modest amount of exposed skin may be frowned upon outside these areas. Contact Telephone Public telephones are available in all towns and cities and in most villages under either the name of Publitel or Taxiphone - in cities simply look around - there is at least one on every street. International calls tend to be quite expensive (DT 1,000/minute to call anywhere in the EU). There are two mobile GSM operators, private Tunisiana and state-owned Tunisie Telecom, both offering wide mobile coverage (including some oasis in the Sahara). Rates tend to be quite low for domestic calls, but very high for international cals (around DT 1,500/minute). Ask for a carte prépayée for a prepaid SIM card. Internet Public internet access is available in many cities and towns, usually using the Publinet logo. Since home internet access is quite expensive in Tunisia, many locals will use these, so they are very widespread, especially in the non-touristic areas of cities. Look for a large purple sign with the Publinet logo. Access is very expensive - 2-3 DT/hour, and speeds tend to be quite low (128 kbps is the norm in Sousse and 256 in Tunis). Note that FTP and peer-to-peer access is not available anywhere in Tunisia, and access to certain web sites is restricted by the government. Post La Poste Tunisienne is quite efficient and fast. Post restante is offered in certain (bigger) offices. A stamp for international letters costs DT 0,500.