A Country With Flavor

Cross-country travel reveals different climates and sceneries


A Country With Flavor
by shahireh sharif

Tunisia (population of ten million) is a popular holiday destination in the North of Africa. Around 6 million tourists visit the country annually. The country’s main source of income comes from textile, tourism and agriculture (mostly olive and dates). The capital of Tunisia is Tunis and the official language is Arabic, although, French is widely spoken. Many Tunisians are multilingual and speak in different languages, particularly Spanish, Italian, English and German. [photo essay]

Three useful words to know if planning to travel to Tunisia:

Asslemma = Hello
Bisslemma = Goodbye
Shukran = Thank you

The national currency is the dinar, which is currently non-convertible outside Tunisia. Each dinar is equivalent to around £0.45 (2010). It is advised to change currency into dinar as and when it is needed; all exchange receipts are best to be kept as a proof of money exchanged. At the point of leaving the country all dinars should had been changed back to other forms of currency. On departure, the custom officers will confiscate all unchanged dinars.

Tunisia has mild Mediterranean climate, beautiful sandy beaches and enchanting cities where old and new live side-by-side. Unique stonework, cobbled streets, old houses and decorated doors and windows all could be part of the scenery in a journey back in time. Local art and crafts such as pottery, ceramic, jewellery and ornaments made from olive wood make unique souvenirs.

Sampling the delicacy of the local cuisine, such as mechousia (a dish of mixed roasted green peppers and onion) is a must. Local herb, spices, orange blossom and rose water flavour most dishes. But be aware, most of pickles and olives are too salty! Fresh fruit juice, including pomegranate juice is widely available. In the local teahouses, sweat mint tea is served in little glasses. Pastries and fresh cream cakes are hard to resist, but best ordered in hotels and reputable places. They would go down well particularly after a session of thalassotherapy (seawater spa treatments)

People are generally tolerant and welcoming. Shopkeepers invite shoppers to their own shop; some overenthusiastic invitation, however, can feel slightly tense and intimidating, particularly in narrow streets with shops on both sides. It tends to be harmless and easily ends by firmly rejecting the invitation and walking away. Haggle is part of the shopping experience in most places. As a rule of thumb, the cost can be pushed down to anything between third and half (sometimes even less). When moving about in taxies, it’s best not to go by taximeters for establishing the fare, have an idea of how much a taxi to your required destination would cost and agree on a fare, before getting into a taxi.

Travelling across the country will reveal different climates and a variety of sceneries. Alongside the road, there are vast amount of land dedicated to planting olive. There are 57 million olive trees in the country. Cacti are also grown on many lands for a year just to absorb salt from the earth before other products can be planted. Dates and Banana plantations are also common. Palm trees have double roots, one to fix them to the ground and one to find water, which in search of water can reach to around 120-150m deep. When dates are ready to be picked, a group of people climb the palm trees. The person on the top of the tree passes the dates down to the one below him in the chain. Dates pickers earn about 10 dinars (in 2010) for a day work. The person on top of the chain earns slightly more.

There are three types of deserts in Tunisia:

- rocky desert
- salt desert (spread over an area of 5000 km2. Sodium, iron and chlorine make the salt appear red and green in places)
- sahara

Places to visit

* The National Bardo Museum, founded in 1885, in Tunis has one of the biggest collections of mosaics

* Sidi Bou Said is a picturesque blue and white picture postcard village

* Sousse is the 3rd biggest department in the country. It is a seaside resort as well as being a historic town, and has the highest tourist areas

* Coliseum in El Jem, built in limestone in the 3rd century AD, is the third largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire

* Rocky desert of Matmata and Berber villages (abount 2% of Tunisians are Berbers) built in the mountain originally for security and climate reasons

* The Sahara desert Oasis of Tozeur

* Salt lake at Chott El Jerid which is the biggest salt lake in Northen Africa

* Douz, the desert capital of Tunisia for experiencing camel riding

[photo essay]


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