The craziest weekend in my life pt 2
Carthage Travel Blog› entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
Now I expect most of you will know that I am somewhat of a globetrotter, and as the only time I had ever been to Tunisia before was to a beach resort in Monastir 19 years ago, I took this opportunity to discover as much of Tunis as I could in the time span of an afternoon. I hailed a cab to drive me to the ruins of old Carthage, which, I assumed, is one of those magical places of ancient history you must visit in your life.
Tunisia is a former colony of France so the second language in Tunisia is French - a language which I don't master particularly well.
The taxi driver spoke as much English as I spoke French, so that didn't really allow us for much small talk.
However, the taxi driver had worked for a Spanish company for a while, so he spoke Spanish really well. And my Spanish is, well, rusty but still adequate, so we were able to converse in Spanish together. Naturally we became best friends as soon as we had discovered this mutual love for the Spanish language.
Habib, as his name was, offered to drive me around the main sites of Carthage for the next three hours, and drop me back off at the city afterwards. All for the price similar to a cup of coffee with applepie in London.
Carthage, for those who don't know (and I was one of them before Saturday) was one of the most prosperous and wealthy cities in the 5th and 4th centuries BC.
So there's not much left. In fact, there is barely anything left, and even though archeologists did a lot of digging in the area, 2000 years of trampling and building new cities over old, have caused the remains of the Roman buildings to become almost indistinguishable from the Phoenecian ruins of old Carthage. Does this matter? Well, not really. Sure, the ruins I saw last year in Jordan and Syria were much more impressive, but the whole place had a feeling of magic about it. Undoubtedly aided by my own spirits, since I was thoroughly enjoying myself, having traded an otherwise dull weekend into an unexpected (and expenses paid) trip to Tunis!
After a few hours in and around Carthage Habib dropped me off at the edge of the old city center (medina) from where I wrestled my way through the crowds towards the large mosque in the center. Unfortunately prayer had just started, so I wasn't allowed in, so I strolled aimlessly through the narrow, crowded streets of the medina instead. Naturally I made many new friends, although for some reason they all wanted to sell me something. I prefer the friendship of taxi drivers over shop owners, but I must say that the little bottle of perfume I had to buy from Ali was a small price to pay for the view over the medina and the mosque I got from the roof terrace of his shop.
I ended my afternoon zipping tea and smoking a water pipe on a sidewalk café, where I made my first non-commercially motivated friends of the day. Tunisia is fairly moderate, liberal and pro-west for a Muslim country, so it makes interesting conversation talking to these people about their views on the West, the US foreign politics, the European economy and predominantly, of course, girls!
For dinner I went to the fanciest and poshest restaurant I dared to pick without feeling to be taking advantage of the situation, and in a beautifully restored mansion I gorged on a selection of local hors d'oeuvres before diving into a huge plate of couscous with lamb (did I say lamb? half a sheep is more accurate).
Completely stuffed and knackered after a lot of travelling with hardly any rest before departure I left the city nightlife for what it was and retired to my hotel. The hotel I must say was the only let-down this whole trip. My company had arranged it, and as I work for a French company, it was only natural they booked me into the Mercure hotel. Next time I will book my own hotel, I can tell you that. I mean, I had spent a full day driving around in taxis, and eating in one of the top restaurants of the city, for less than a third of what it cost to sleep in a worn bed in a charmless hotel with breakfast not even included in the price... I can sleep in a four-star hotel in Amsterdam for less...
Next morning after breakfast it was back to the airport and five hours later I was back on Dutch soil, still barely believing what I had just done. It is really weird. I am used to more or less low-budget travelling, so flying to an African country for a weekend, taking taxis everywhere, eating in a fancy restaurant and sleeping in a four-star hotel is not how I'd usually plan my trip. But I mean, it was expenses paid, and I saved my boss over 2000 euros in courier fees, so I did not have to feel guilty about it either. And with savings like these I don't mind travelling to Africa every weekend!
So... where next?