The Gem that is El Jem

Dubai Travel Blog

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Tunis was obviously sad we were leaving and the previous evening we had experienced a mild drizzle and the morning of our departure was overcast and raining. Obviously we had a made an expression on North Africa for it to have been so upset.

On the last full day in Tunis, we caught a train from the main station to El Jem, which cost 24,950 Tunisian dinar (which equates to approximately USD$13 and for a 3 hour train ride, very good value). The journey down to El Jem was like most journeys - long and always eventful. A toilet door that I tried was stuck so I had to get some locals to help me open it (the wash basin cupboard had opened from inside and blocked entry rather than I was too silly to understand the push and pull conception of door opening.)

El Jem was something of a hidden mystery to me. I had never heard of it before, but having arrived in Tunis, saw many pictures of the Colosseum - the largest in North Africa, and thought why not have a look? I am grateful that I did. El Jem is a breathtaking site, and if you’ve been to the Colosseum in Rome, you’ll still be impressed, not only at the structure but also at the lack of tourists. The entry inside is 8 + 1 dinar (1 dinar for the use of the camera) and it also includes the entry to the museum, which is about 700 metres through the winding back streets of the township. Having been to the Bardo Museum in Tunis and seen the mosaics there, I thought this museum at El Jem was much better - hardly any visitors and everything is labeled clearly and there is a lot of space so you can stand back and just muse about an earlier time and the artisans who created them.

The Colosseum in El Jem was built some 1800 years ago and held gladiatorial fights and animal games, and now yearly there is a symphony that performs. Just think back all those years ago when there would have been people screaming and crying out for blood or fear, and now there are people screaming out in Italian for the Opera.

One thing El Jem has over Rome is that you can go exploring off the beaten track and a further ‘cool factor’ is that you can picnic inside the grounds. I felt very cool sitting in the stands eating my piece of cake and bread I had taken from the hotel at breakfast, along with a tin of sardines I purchased in the supermarket at El Jem, a bottle of water. Bliss. I spent the rest of my lunch pretending to be at an actual gladiatorial fight hoping to see Maximus perform and really not wanting to see Jocasta and her new man there. When you’re sitting in such an impressive site, and being the History buff that I am, your mind does wander.

The journey home was more eventful. There were three of us who went down to El Jem, and because the train was so full on the return, we had to sit in the corridor by the exit, but halfway through the trip there was a seat vacancy so we moved up the front where the train driver was. Of course, when there are seats that come available so easily in a group of three, you should always think ‘was that a little too easy?’ But we didn’t. The train began to pull away from the station and one of the people returned to his seat to find me sitting in it next to his girlfriend. Doh! He was very accommodating about it and said that I could continue sitting there and he would stand in front of me, which also happened to be the driver’s area. Secretly I think he must have been happy about me stealing his seat, because later the driver swapped positions with him and he got to drive the high-speed train, using the horn and all. In fact, he used the horn so much that even the locals sitting around had their hands covering their ears. I’m going to take a little credit for giving that man a chance to satisfy a childhood dream and for that he is welcome that I took his seat.

So now I am about to board my flight to Beijing, where perhaps I can give another person their dream and I will sit in their first class seat so they can seat in economy class. Honestly the things I am willing to do for people.
troysgonewalkabout says:
If only seating worked like that all the time :)
Posted on: Mar 20, 2012
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photo by: vances