Difference between revisions of "Tunis"
Revision as of 17:16, 30 October 2012
Tunis (تونس) is the capital of Tunisia.
Located on the Mediterranean coast but lacking much in the way of beaches, Tunis has been spared the onslaught of package tourism in the resorts to the north and south. With a population of less than 700,000 (the greater metropolitan area holds some 2,412,500 inhabitants), the entire city feels small and compact. There isn't much in the way of must-see attractions, but Carthage is easily accessed from here and the souq is one of the most authentic and hassle-free in North Africa.
Tunis is divided into the old city, known as the medina, and the new city, or ville nouvelle in French. Ave Habib Bourguiba is the large avenue running through the new city from the clock tower to the Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul. It then turns into Ave de France, which runs for a few blocks until ending at the Place de la Victoire and the Port de France, a large free-standing gate that used to be the entrance to the medina. This can be a good landmark for taxi drivers, as some of the smaller streets nearby aren't sure to be known by name.
The Port de France also serves as a good entry point for exploring the medina. Rue Jemaa Zaytouna leads past lots of shops to the Zaytouna Mosque, the great mosque of Tunis and the center of the medina. Running obliquely to Rue Jemaa Zaytouna, and also with an outlet near the Port de France, is the Rue de la Kasbah. This runs all the way through the medina to the Place du Gouvernment and the Place de la Kasbah, a huge square fringed by razorwire. It is fairly easy to move between the two streets by cutting across the labrynthine medina, and it is easy to keep your bearings and find an exit. Rue Jemaa Zaytouna seemed to be a better entry point from the Port de France at night, remaining relatively well traveled. Rue de la Kasbah, on the other hand, is active after dark on the Place de la Kasbah side, but is extremely dark near the Port de France. It is recommended to get a feel for the medina during the day so that you will feel more confident if you find yourself and alone and need to find a landmark at night.
Tunis-Carthage Airport (TUN), 8 km away from the centre, is small and in reasonable shape with all standard facilities. Free wifi is available at several of the restaurants, including Caffe Lindo, but is not always working. International flights will arrive on the ground floor of the airport. Tunisian law requires all currency to be exchanged within the country. It's illegal to bring Tunisian currency with you outside the country or inside, though it can be done at most travel desks if you sign a waiver. The major western carriers who service Tunis-Carthage are Air France and Lufthansa, from Paris or Frankfurt. You can exchange money at the airport or at your hotel. There are several ATMs, but some seem to struggle with international cards. On the ground floor beneath the Banque de Tunise sign and next to the cafe L'Escale there is a reliable one. Toilets are clean but have attendants that ask for change after use. If you don't bring your own, be sure to get toilet paper from the attendant.
A taxi into the city centre — insist on the meter — should cost around 3-5 dinars during the day and around 5 dinars at night. Alternatively, buses depart fairly regularly during the day (but not at night) and charge a fraction of the price.
Beware of the taxi drivers. At night they will ask up to 40 TD depending on where you are going. In a struggling economy business has become even more competitive. An unspoken rule is the first taxi driver who grabs your luggage and places it in the trunk of his car makes the contract for your transportation. It's not uncommon to be barraged with over ten taxi drivers at once as you walk outside the terminal. They can reach for your bag aggressively--not to steal it, but to make an attempt at winning your business. Some meters can be tampered with. If you don't trust the taxi's meter, then negotiate a price to where you going before you leave the front of the terminal. It may be advisable to ask for an average taxi rate from your hotel front desk before leaving.
Some people have suggested taking the escalator up one floor and waiving down a taxi that's just dropped someone off for a departing flight at the arrivals platform. This is more difficult to accomplish at night time, but the advantages are finding a more professional driver. In the afternoon it was extremely simple to accomplish this.
Tunis Central Station is near Place de Barcelone for easy interchange onto the light metro. Trains are generally cheap and comfortable, but if you want to ride first class during peak season, do reserve your seat in advance. Trains are run by SNCFT.
It is not highly recommended to drive in Tunisia, due to poor quality of roads, driving habits, and poor signage. It is also more dangerous to drive at night, and outside of the city and major tourist areas.
Tunisia has over 70 bus lines, with Tunis at the hub. There are two bus stations in town, with Gare Bab el Fellah serving southern destinations and Gare Bab Saadoun serving those to the north. Buses are run by SNTRI at both stations.
Ferries connect Tunis to a number of international destinations including Trapani, Palermo, Naples, Civitavecchia, Livorno,Malta Genoa and Marseille. The main ferry terminal is at La Goulette, but check your departure terminal carefully as there are also other ports. Operators include GNV, Cotunav, Grimaldi Lines, Sncm.
Free maps of Tunis and Tunisia are available at the National Tourism Office, who also speak many languages, to the north-east of the clock tower (directly east of the main Medina gate).
light metro is a convenient six line system run by Société des Transports de Tunis  (French/Arabic only). The interchange hub for all lines is in the centre of town at Place de la République/Place de Barcelone.The other station change with TGM is Tunis marine. Single trips cost 0,410 TD.
Taxis are also a good option if you need to go a bit farther than the metro, though cabs picking up in front of nice hotels will charge much higher rates. Prices are displayed as 3.700 for 3.7DT. Flagfall is .400. (.4 DT). Assuming they are honest, the meter is a good way to go. Only try to negotiate a price if you know what you are doing and are sure of the value of the trip.
The TGM light rail line, starting at Tunis Marine station on Lines 1-4, connects to La Goulette (ferries), Sidi Bou Saïd, Carthage and the beaches of Marsa. Tickets cost 680 millimes each way. At Tunis Marine, be aware that there is an extreme dearth of signage. No obvious signs even say TGM, and on the maps on the trains themselves the station is marked as Tunis Nord. If you arrive at the station on the Tunis Metro, the TGM platform will be perpendicular to the metro cars and is easily accessed across the tracks. Tickets are sold at the end farthest from the metro stop.
Signs for station names along the TGM differ slightly from those that appear on the onboard map, but if you can see the signs from the train and they are free of graffiti it is easy to tell where you are. It is not unusual for the trains to stop and wait on the tracks after leaving Tunis Nord or upon return. This usually does not last an extraordinary amount of time, and you will likely be better off not following the example of the optimistic youths that decide to leap from the car and walk along the tracks into the city.
Many stations along along the TGM don't have full-time ticket vendors, so if you are making several trips along the line while visiting Carthage or Sidi Bou Said, you might be forced to risk traveling without a ticket. The guidebooks say that officials will sometimes get on the train and check tickets, so travel without a ticket at your own risk. It might be safest to buy a return to your farthest destination. The price difference should be minimal, and that way you might plausibly just have boarded the train, and your ticket will be valid for wherever you get on. The safest option will be to check with the ticket vendors or buy a ticket if you can find them.
Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Tunisiens (SNCFT) is the domestic train company for long distance travel between Tunis and other cities. Visit http://www.sncft.com.tn for more details on schedules and fares. The Tunis train station is in Place Barcelone.
Societe Nationale de Transport Interurbain (SNTI) is the domestic bus line. Although schedules are more flexible and also reach more locations than by train, prices are usually similar. Visit http://www.sntri.com.tn for more on schedules and fares. There are two bus stations, North and South. The North is in the Bab Saadoun neighborhood; the South is located in Bab Alioua, south of Place Barcelone.
Otherwise, louages (shared taxis) are the most flexible of all options. The minivans with 8 passenger seats take off when they are full and therefore run on no particular schedule. Prices tend to be a little bit higher than buses, but the difference is usually negligible. The North louage station is in the parking lot of the North bus station. The South louage station is across the street from the South bus station.
There is an American school in Tunis, the American Cooperative School of Tunis. It is a private, non-profit day school. If you would like to study Arabic or French while in Tunis, there are a few options, including The Language Academy [], or private tutors.
There are little stores near every hotel in Tunis, where you can buy everything you need, but it's difficult to call their prices loyal. So it's better to go shopping to other parts of the city. Aproximate 90% of presented in Tunis goods are of local origin. There are networks of state supermarkets Monoprix and General in the capital.
Most hotels include breakfast, and some include dinner. There are countless coffee shops with delicious drinks and French pastries to enjoy, as well as sandwich shops. Count yourself lucky if you find a dish that does not include canned tuna!
Ladies, try to bring a man out with you, and be careful about what bars you frequent, because many are frequented only by men and prostitutes, and can get a bit rowdy. Local beers are Celtia and the elusive Stella, which was never seen but exists on RateBeer. Both are lagers. Two brewpubs at one point existed in Hammamet and Sousse, although it is unknown if they are still there. Local liqueurs include Boukha ("boo-k"), usually taken straight or with coke, and thibina, which is usually taken straight with a single ice cube.
Most tourists will be interested in accommodation in either the Medina or in Ville Nouvelle. The medina includes the youth hostel and several other budget accomdations, and the high end Dar El Jed. The Ville Nouvelle offers a large number of budget and mid-range accomodation, many grouped within a few blocks of each other north of Place Barcelone. Some places expect couples to present some sort of proof of marriage in order to rent a two person room.
Touts and unofficial "guides" hang around near tourist spots. Shoo them off if they start to launch into a spiel on the architectural wonders of this or that, or they will expect to some baksheesh for their unwanted efforts.
One thing that can get really annoying in Tunis is the number of "friends" a tourist will attract. There is a decent number of men who hang out on avenue Bourguiba, the main drag in Tunis. They work individually. They approach tourists and start talking to them. The tourist may think that this person is just being friendly but don't buy it. Also beware of teens approaching you on or around Av. Habib Bourguiba. They often "prey" on male tourists and try to talk you into joining them to the cinema. Later on your new "friend" will ask you for 10 Dinars or a pack of Marlborros or this or that. It is best to just avoid these people or to shoo them off. They also have different techniques to get your attention. They include: asking for a cigarette, asking for the time, asking for a lighter, bumping into you on the street. The most common one seems to be when they ask you for a cigarette or a lighter. It is wise to get rid of anyone who tries to just bluntly start a conversation with you on the street. Chances are that there are no good intentions involved whatsoever. Tunisian people are nice and curious towards strangers but avoid the ones who seem too friendly - a good phrase to use could be the French "Monsieur, je connais bien Tunis," (Monsieur, I know Tunis well.)
Non-French speakers might have luck with a simple "no, merci," repeated several times and without giving them any additional acknowledgment. Some, however, are persistent in spite of this and will not leave you alone. If you can manage to not bring a backpack or large back, seemed to make you less of a target and attracted fewer hangers-on.
One visitor was approached at night leaving Hotel Africa, a popular tourist hotel, and was accompanied by an unwanted visitor down the Ave Habib Bourguiba, plying him for information. Several blocks after being left alone, another person approached them on the street and "coincidentally" mentioned he used to work at Hotel Africa, and then tried to get the tourist to follow him into the Medina. The odds of this are extremely low, and it was likely a coordinated scam. Be aware of such possibilities and use your common sense.
Barbershops can be found in the medina, and there are women's hair salons throughout the city. Many of the nicer hotels also have spas.
This is the metropolitan train service, Métro Léger de Tunis. Tickets are less than one dinar and service is frequent, but busy during rush hour. The station is located a few hundred metres to the east of the clock tower and the raised Trans-African Highway No. 1 directly east from the main drag (Avenue Habib Bourgouiba; the one with the main Medina gate - just keep walking away from the Medina). The station is impossible to miss - it's a large building parallel to the road on the south side. Note that if you're heading out this way, there is also a national tourism office on the north-east side of the clock tower (that effectively demarcates the edge of Tunis' larger buildings before the highway), and they provide free maps and advice regarding Tunis and Tunisia.
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