Our Trip To Carthage And Sidi Bou Said
Spurred on by various articles on the Virtual Tourist website indicating how easy it was to visit places of interest in Tunisia, without booking an official tour and feeling that after 2 years of living here, I felt very much at ease with the Tunisian transport system, I decided to spend the day, showing my children somewhere that I had last seen 20 years ago. http://www.virtualtourist.com/
In July 1987, I had visited Sidi Bou Said, Tunis and Carthage on an official tour with the holiday company I was staying with. My only hazy memories that I had, were ones of being a typical young thing who was more interested in beach life and achieving the essential 80's tan, than walking round a pile of 'old stones' amongst the historical sites of Carthage!
With this, I decided to take 5 of my children with me, using public transport, to investigate just 'how' practical this was and to revisit all of the places, that I had regretfully walked around with my eyes closed, all of those years ago!
Instead of ambling, casually down the stairs to the hotel reception, to await the tour bus, our day started with the usual mislaid handbags or shoes, resulting in us missing the first available train!
Transport fares in Tunisia, actually encourage one to make trips like this.
26 dinars and 900 millimes gave us return tickets for 6 from Nabeul to Tunis!
Reviews that I had read indicated that it was only a short distance to walk to catch the second train on the Marine Line which would take us to Sidi Bou Said or Carthage. In my opinion, this could not have been further from the truth!
I was thankful that I had chosen the month of September to go and that I had at least one little one in a pushchair! The main train station is only a short distance from the cathedral in central Tunis, but at least a 15 to 20 minute walk from that, to the Marine Line. Trains run every 15 minutes to the sites, are extremely fast and can get very crowded.
The train fares were roughly only about 1.5 dinars.
On both train journeys, children under 5 go free.
Sidi Bou Said
Our first stop was Sidi Bou Said. The main square, just up a small hill from the train station was very easy to find. If in any doubt at all, just follow the crowds or tour buses!
Sidi Bou Said is everything, anybody ever says about it! Very beautiful and very picturesque with white-washed houses, covered in flowers, traditional, blue painted shutters, studded doors and stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea from the clifftops.
There is a maze of streets and alleyways to explore winding its way up the hillside, all breathtaking, but having little feet in tow, we decided to head for the famous cafe, pictured many times on the internet, with spectacular views over the bay and the mountains beyond.
Prices surprisingly in this cafe seemed to be only slightly more than visiting a similar outlet in Nabeul. Service was a bit slow, but you had to allow for the fact that the cafe was buzzing with visitors!
Trying to combine Carthage and Sidi Bou Said on the same day, didn't allow us to linger long, but I was pleased that this short visit left all of my children with a taster of this lovely little place!
Getting to Carthage, from Sidi Bou Said, involved simply hopping back on the train and travelling a couple of stops back in the direction of Tunis. From there onwards, things did not run quite so smoothly!
We got off the train at the recommended stop of Carthage Hannibal only to find ourselves in the middle of a very exquisite residential area, with huge villas, but no signposts to the historical sites that we had come to see. Remembering that one of the sites from 20 years ago had been near to the sea, and spotting a tourist coach trip whizzing past, I decided to take the same road and head in the general direction of the seafront.
Luckily we literally fell upon one of the sites, which was the Quartier des Villas. Reports from the internet from July 2007 had suggested that you could buy a ticket for 5 dinars which would give you free admittance to every site in Carthage. However, the price, just two month's later was 7 dinars! To be able to take photographs is 1 dinar extra.
There was a long list of exemptions to this price, which included public holidays and also for Tunisian school children. Try as I might, my red hair, white skin and English voice could not convince the man in his little box that my children really 'did' go to a Tunisian school! Proof was needed in the form of a card, or maybe a school report and I could do little to convince him otherwise!
There are 11 different sites to see.
A handy little map is provided on the back of your tickets, but unfortunately they are all quite a distance away from each other, and this is where the tour bus really does come in handy and wins hands down!
Time permitted us only to see two of these sites. The Quartier des Villas had some great examples of ruins of roman roads and villas. One can clearly see how the rooms once stood. There are several underground tunnels and holes also, which caused my 9 year old son great excitement!
Les Thermes d'Antonin are also just as spectacular. These old baths are located in a park, right on the seafront, and a reconstruction can be seen painted on a board, showing just how extravagent and luxurious these once would have been. There are barriers around some of these ruins, which were crumbling slightly, but there was still quite a lot to see.
9 dinars for 6 ice lollies, shocked my daughter into realising that sometimes tourist attractions really did charge the somewhat higher prices!
Travelling back on the train to Nabeul, later in the evening, made us suddenly realise that we were carrying a copy of the train timetable from the summer months, finishing on the 31st August! The date in question was the 8th September!
Stranded at the station of Bir Bouregba, having missed the last connecting train to Nabeul, with no taxis in sight, again gave a little indication that sometimes, going on an official tour, with all the arrangements taken care of, can sometimes be a little more preferable!
If you plan properly and double-check the times of the public transport, you may find that making your own way can be a cheaper and more enjoyable experience. You will be able to spend as long as you like at each attraction, without feeling that you are being herded along as quickly as possible.
It is advisable not to try to cram too much into one day and to be willing to perhaps take a taxi to some of the sites in Carthage if running short of time.
Be prepared also to take all forms of identification with you if living in Tunisia, which may entitle you to discounts or free entrance to some of the sites!
Visit these sites for some background information and historical facts on Carthage and Hannibal.