This travel report begins with a confession: Tunisia was rather towards the bottom of my imaginary list of countries to visit. In my mind, I always associated it with a typical destination for people who want to lock themselves up in an all-inclusive hotel for two weeks. Then suddenly came the email that changed everything. I had previously submitted a paper to the AfricaCrypt conference with my boss, and out of nowhere, there it was: the email announcing that our paper had been accepted for the conference. I ran jubilantly through the apartment; after all, this was a crucial milestone on the path to my promotion. The location for AfricaCrypt 2023 was Sousse in Tunisia, and shortly thereafter, it was clear, after consulting with my boss, that I would fly there to present. Suddenly, curiosity got the better of me. Kevin and I had already visited two Arab countries this year, Egypt and Jordan, and I was absolutely fascinated by the culture. How would Tunisia compare? My boss allowed me to arrive a bit earlier and stay a bit longer, giving me about 6 days to explore the country on my own. Six days as a woman traveling alone through Tunisia. I can already reveal this much: This country absolutely impressed me!
Tunis-Carthage International Airport – Looking for the bus
My first contact with Tunisia occurred when I boarded the plane in Frankfurt and took my seat. An older Tunisian sat next to me, and since we were both traveling alone, we somehow started a conversation. He introduced himself as Jimmy (yes, not a very Arabic name) and had been living at Lake Constance for 50 years. His journey to his homeland had a sad reason, as his brother had passed away, and he wanted to attend the funeral. During the flight, he shared more about his life. He was married with two children when the opportunity arose for him to come to Germany as a guest worker. Upon arrival, he realized he wanted to stay in Germany. On the other hand, his wife did not want to leave Tunisia. So, they agreed to an amicable divorce, which was certainly much more complicated 50 years ago than it is today. For the sake of the children, they still maintain contact, and both managed to shape and live their lives according to their own visions. Additionally, Jimmy gave me some tips for the trip. He recommended taking the Louage, a shared taxi, from Tunis to Sousse. Besides Tunis and Sousse, he mentioned that Hammamet and Monastir are also beautiful places to visit. Sfax is very interesting too, but probably a bit too far for my tightly scheduled travel plans. As we chatted, the plane crossed Italy and the Mediterranean, eventually preparing to land at Tunis airport. I thanked Jimmy for the wonderful conversation, wished him all the best, and we bid farewell to each other.
I received the visa stamped into my passport without any issues, and my suitcase arrived shortly afterward. Now, I had to tackle the first challenge: figuring out how to get from the airport to my booked accommodation, which was located in the city center. Of course, I had done my homework: “Don’t trust any taxi drivers at the airport,” was the advice in various travel reports and guidebooks. Supposedly, there was a bus stop near the airport, and the bus would even stop almost right in front of my doorstep. So, I navigated through the horde of taxi drivers who saw a solo European woman as a potential gold mine, crossed the parking lot, and eventually found myself at a police checkpoint located at the entrance to the airport. The bus stop was still nowhere in sight. Confidently, I approached the police officers and asked where the bus stop was. Across the street and then into the opposite street, turn left, and I would find it there. All right. Fortunately, I had already been to Egypt this year; otherwise, the busy main road I had to cross would have been quite intimidating. Across the street and into the opposite street. Okay. Let’s keep going. At this point, I realized how poorly timed the conference was. It was July, and even though it was still morning, my weather app was already showing 38°C – and rising. It’s pretty hot here, and no shade in sight for miles. Well, the bus stop can’t be too far now, so I continued. The road stretched out considerably in the heat. Still no bus stop in sight. Finally, I reached the end of the road, and yes, here I turned left. The street turned into a gravel path, but there was also another main road visible in the distance. Maybe the bus stop was there?
As I dragged my suitcase over the gravel, a car drove by, which shortly thereafter stopped and reversed. Inside were two men who seemed visibly concerned and addressed me in French. The only problem was that I don’t speak French at all. I tried to respond in English, but the men’s English seemed to be on par with my French skills. Alright, maybe in Arabic? Far from it; the Arabic in Tunisia had little to do with the Modern Standard Arabic that I had learned a bit. So, it ultimately failed due to the language barrier: the men couldn’t find out from me what I was doing here and if I needed help, and I couldn’t get from them where the darn bus stop was. So, they started the engine, waved at me once more, and drove on.
Arriving at the main road, I thought for a brief moment that I was in the wrong movie: In front of me was the airport. Almost 40°C, no bus stop in sight, and I even walked in circles. The online descriptions of where the bus stop should be weren’t particularly helpful, but at least there was supposed to be a bus stop if I followed the main road to the right. And indeed, a short time later, I stood in front of an abandoned bus shelter! Relieved to have finally found my destination and a shady spot, I stepped into the bus shelter and rested for a moment. After a while, I began to look around. Unfortunately, there was no timetable here (I doubt if such a thing even exists in Tunisia), and no sign indicating bus numbers that stopped here. Car after car raced past me on the main road, but there were no buses in sight. No matter how long I stood there, there was no one else around. My host, Youssef, was already worried and asked where I was. With an almost comical naivety, I didn’t initially write that I would surely be there soon; after all, I had found the bus stop after a long search. However, my optimism faded with each passing minute.
I looked out of the bus shelter. The heat made the air above the asphalt shimmer. At first, I could hardly believe my eyes and thought I might be falling for a mirage: Blurred on the horizon, a jogger appeared, casually jogging along the main road in over 40°C. The whole thing seemed absolutely surreal. But it wasn’t a mirage. The jogger approached, and I seized my chance by jumping out of the bus shelter and asking him in English when the next bus would come and why there were no people around. Indeed, his English was flawless. Passing by, he explained to me that the public transportation system in Tunis had come to a halt some time ago, and I should call a taxi. However, I should not pay more than 5 dinars for the taxi. And then, without even stopping once, he continued running and disappeared into the flickering heat of North Africa.
I pulled out my phone and messaged Youssef that I would reluctantly have to take a taxi. He was very helpful and told me to message him as soon as I was in the taxi and send him my location. He would make sure the taxi driver didn’t overcharge me. Fortunately, there were plenty of taxis, so I flagged down the nearest one and negotiated hard for my 5 dinars. Youssef called me as soon as I was in the taxi and said that if there were any problems, I should put the driver on the phone with him. Luckily, this wasn’t necessary. As confused as I was by my encounter with the jogger, the taxi driver was equally bewildered by picking up a blonde woman in the middle of the main road at an abandoned bus stop on the outskirts of Tunis. Eventually, much later than expected, I arrived at my accommodation.
Right in the center of Tunis, next to the clock tower on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, was my booked accommodation, a room in an Airbnb. Youssef himself was not present, and I never saw him in person. The accommodation was managed by his grandfather, Ahmed. Ahmed was a small, thin man with white hair and a friendly face. He only spoke French and Arabic. I, on the other hand, speak no French at all and unfortunately only very little Arabic (especially considering that Tunisian Arabic, as mentioned earlier, has little to do with the Arabic I learned). And so, we communicated in a mix of French, Arabic, and English – combined with gestures, which actually worked much better than it sounds. Ahmed showed me the apartment, gave me the keys, and then left. Although he used one of the rooms here as a kind of study, he seemed to stay elsewhere, so I had the apartment to myself most of the time. When he showed me my room, he also pointed out the large fan placed on a shelf in the closet on the right side of the room. As bulky as it was, that seemed to be the air conditioning. Without air conditioning, it was almost unbearable in Tunisia at this time of year. I rested for a while, sent a few messages to the family that I had arrived safely, and then got ready to explore the city.
My starting point was, of course, the aforementioned clock tower. From there, I followed Habib Bourguiba Avenue. This street is probably the most famous in Tunis, as it features a grand boulevard for pedestrians in the middle of the thoroughfare. Two things caught my attention: Firstly, Tunisian drivers seemed to adhere to traffic lights and other traffic rules more frequently than I was used to from Egypt. Secondly, it appeared that, similar to Egypt, the revolution had left its mark. Parts of the boulevard were blocked by the military, and large signs made it clear that photography was prohibited here. Especially statues were cordoned off by the military, which surprised me, as they are usually the main photography points. On the other hand, the soldiers with their machine guns and armored vehicles didn’t exactly inspire me to test the boundaries of the photography ban.
In the middle of the boulevard, there was a photo spot with the inscription “I ♥ Tunis.” Ironically, directly opposite it was a statue guarded by the military with signs prohibiting photography. So, to take a photo, one had to squeeze between the photo spot and a few military vehicles and carefully frame the pictures so that the military presence was not visible in the end. Nevertheless, the photo spot was well-received, and I asked a group of women to take a photo of me with my phone, which they kindly did.
Continuing along the boulevard, you can discover numerous external influences reflected in the buildings around you. I passed an old theater and even a church. At the end, the Habib Bourguiba Avenue leads into Ave de France, which, in turn, ends at Bab al-Bahr, one of the old city gates. Passing through this gate felt like being teleported to a different place. While outside the gate, there was a main road and the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, once through the gate, you suddenly find yourself on a beautiful oriental square, entering the old town of Tunis. Children played by a fountain, and vendors sold drinks and snacks at mobile stands.
As soon as I crossed the square, I found myself right in the heart of the Souq, the traditional market with its narrow winding alleys where you can easily get lost after a short time. By the way, I recommend this to anyone visiting a Souq. Getting lost here is part of the experience because each turn is a new surprise, revealing something new. The goods ranged from classic souvenir shops to everyday items, clothing, and cheap Chinese merchandise. Of course, you’re constantly approached by vendors, but that’s also part of the culture in the Arab world and simply comes with the territory in a place like this. A “لا شكراً” (“La Schukran,” in English: “No, thank you”) is usually sufficient in most cases.
In the heart of the Souq lies the Ez-Zitouna Mosque, the city’s most important mosque. Some time ago, it seems it was still possible to visit, as evidenced by numerous photos online. Unfortunately, the visit is now restricted to Muslims only. Due to the cramped surroundings, non-Muslim individuals can only see the columned facade at the entrance. Resourceful businesspeople take advantage of this by operating cafes with panoramic terraces from where you can catch a glimpse of the minaret and, with a bit of luck, some of the courtyard. Of course, there’s a catch to this. Naturally, you have to order something from the corresponding cafe if you want to enjoy the rooftop terrace. According to online reviews, some have paid up to the equivalent of 14€ for a small Turkish coffee. Of course, you’re not just paying for the coffee; you’re also paying for the view. However, it was too expensive for me, and I fended off the persistent cafe owners every time, even though some were really relentless, following me through several alleys at times.
Eventually, I exited the Souq on the other side, not without getting lost a few more times, and found myself shortly thereafter at the Monument Place de la Kasbah, a beautifully adorned square with numerous Tunisian flags arranged as garlands across the square.
I walked through the city for a while without a specific destination. Instead, I turned wherever I felt like it and let the impressions wash over me. Eventually, I ended up a few blocks from Ave de France, where some kind of market was being set up. However, it wasn’t a nice traditional Souq or a market with food or the like; it seemed more like it was on the edge of legality or beyond. Numerous vendors, many visibly from Sub-Saharan Africa, spread out clothing, shoes, and other cheap goods on blankets. This is also Tunisia: one of the main crossroads for migration from Africa to Europe. The people selling the goods here had made it from their home countries to here and were now trying to raise enough money by selling the goods to pay the smuggler who would then squeeze them into far too small boats and leave their fate to the Mediterranean. I don’t even want to know how many of the people selling their goods here will die in the process, while I have the privilege of being able to board a plane at the end of my journey to safely fly to Europe.
The day was long, and exhaustion was slowly setting in. It was convenient that there was a small café at the next intersection, so I went in. The café owner and his waiter, also a young man who, judging by his appearance, seemed to be from Sub-Saharan Africa, appeared surprised to see a European woman in their establishment, and they greeted me warmly. I ordered a black coffee, which the waiter prepared with maximum dedication, and the owner took the opportunity of my visit to chat a bit (fortunately, he spoke very good English). It wasn’t so much about typical tourist topics (Where are you from? What are you doing here? How do you like it?), but as if I were a regular customer, the conversation went straight to sports. I had already learned that on that day, all of Tunisia had its eyes on London, where Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur had reached the Wimbledon final. As the café owner told me with dismay, she had unfortunately lost the final. Right after this information, he began the game analysis. Ons was too nervous and inexperienced, and this led to too many mistakes that her confident Czech opponent, Marketa Vondrousova, took advantage of. Shortly afterward, more customers entered the café, and the owner returned to work. I finished my coffee, left a tip, said goodbye, and set off again.
Slowly, the sun began to set, which in these latitudes meant that people came out of their homes. I observed a group of demonstrators in front of the old theater. I didn’t know what they were demonstrating for or against, but it seemed to be a peaceful demonstration. They stood on the steps, sang songs, and waved Tunisian flags. I went to a nearby shopping center where there was a larger supermarket to buy some food because, in fact, my last meal had been breakfast in Germany. Back at the accommodation, I failed to turn on the gas stove (as Ahmed explained to me the next day, the gas valve was turned off for safety reasons and had to be manually opened each time). As a result, my dinner consisted of a few crackers and nuts. Exhausted, I collapsed into bed and turned on the air conditioning. Wait a minute. Air conditioning? It dawned on me: the box on the shelf was just a fan. There was no air conditioning in the entire apartment. As challenging as the day was, the night became equally challenging as I kept waking up drenched in sweat, rushing to the bathroom to take a lukewarm shower to be able to fall asleep again. I was in Tunisia. It was July. And I had no air conditioning!
Carthage and Sidi Bou Saïd
Even though I suffered greatly from the lack of air conditioning in my accommodation, the location was unbeatable. Despite multiple showers, I was (still or again) completely drenched in sweat as I left the house on my way to the Tunis Marine station, the main hub of the light rail. The station was only a few minutes’ walk away. I went to the ticket counter and, in a combination of Arabic, German, non-existent French, hands, and feet (a combination I would use more frequently), made it clear that I wanted to go to Carthage. The language mix succeeded, and I was even shown the platform. A train was already there, but it was made clear to me that it was the wrong one, and I should board the next one. There were no signs, so I relied on this information (which turned out to be correct). The train departed, and shortly thereafter, the next one arrived. One of the staff members waved me into the first-class carriage. I tried to explain that I only had a second-class ticket, but he waved me in anyway and even arranged a seat for me in the crowded compartment before disappearing to kick out other train passengers who didn’t have first-class tickets. Later, I learned that theft and harassment are apparently commonplace in these trains, and the staff member was just being attentive, placing vulnerable individuals, especially a lone traveling woman like me, as a strange European, in the first class for protection. Here was something that I would experience repeatedly on my journey: People from Tunisia are incredibly kind! I was used to worse in other countries… The train passed the Lake of Tunis, a natural saltwater lagoon. Even though the industrial scenery didn’t make the view particularly picturesque, I spotted flamingos on the horizon. What a sight!
At the Carthage Hannibal station, I got off. It looked completely different from Tunis. Unlike the chaotic Tunis Marine station, there were hardly any people here. The station consisted of two tracks. At each track, there was a white waiting shelter with typical oriental windows, rounded at the top, and a canopy. The canopy and the window frames were in a blue shade, typical of Sidi Bou Saïd, where I planned to go later.
From the station, a wide quiet street led to the sea with a small beach. Thanks to the heat, plenty of people were already in the water. Clearly, more affluent individuals lived in this area. The charming houses had well-maintained gardens, and there were a few luxury cars parked along the roadside.
After taking in a few breaths of sea air, I walked past the clean streets to my first destination, the Antoninus Pius Baths. It was still early in the morning, and the site had just opened. A security guard waved me through, and at a ticket booth, I bought my entrance ticket. For a mere 12 Tunisian Dinars, I could enter all the sights of ancient Carthage with this ticket. Considering it’s impossible to see everything in one day, I had to limit my visit to a few attractions. I couldn’t help but notice that both the security guard and the ticket seller were visibly happy to have customers, and it wasn’t until I was inside that I understood why: Besides me, there was no one here; I had the entire site to myself! And what a site it was! The entrance area resembled more of a botanical garden. To my left were, among other things, tombs and the ruins of an early Christian basilica. I walked along paths that didn’t seem to have been walked on recently. In doing so, I discovered new ruins behind every tomb.
After exploring everything, I continued towards the sea, where the actual baths were once located. The ruins were truly impressive. I walked through the ruins of the former buildings, passing columns and the occasional stone with remnants of Latin inscriptions. I still had the entire area to myself. I took the opportunity to take extensive photos.
Near the exit, there was a small café where I got a cool drink (even though it was only morning, the thermometer was already approaching the 40°C mark). I settled into one of the shaded plastic chairs in the covered outdoor area, where I had a good overview of the site. A small group of people (perhaps a family?) had just arrived and was now strolling towards the baths with a tour guide, but otherwise, the site was still completely deserted. The number of tourists visiting Tunisia has now returned to pre-pandemic levels, yet Carthage was empty. It’s disheartening to think about the reasons. Perhaps people prefer to lock themselves in their all-inclusive bunkers and have no interest in the country beyond the fences of their fancy resorts. Tunisia has so much to offer, and I am incredibly grateful for the chance to explore this country.
I proceeded to the Carthage National Museum. Right next to the museum stands the impressive, albeit unfortunately closed, Cathedral of Carthage. Several tour buses were already blocking the way. Between the buses, two men suddenly appeared. One asked me if I needed a taxi, which I declined. However, he persisted, claiming that I was going in the wrong direction. He mentioned that the museum was closed, but I could take a break in his friend’s shop (evidently the man next to him), and then he would drive me by taxi to the next attraction. How stupid did they think I was? I declined again and continued walking. The presence of tour buses suggested that the area was open for sightseeing. The taxi driver wouldn’t give up. He walked a few steps with me, explaining that I was wasting my time. Angrily, I turned around and told him it was none of his business, that I didn’t need a taxi now or later, and I had no intention of buying souvenirs, especially not from his friend. He hesitated for a moment before making one last attempt, asking, “Okay, later?” “No, not later either. Not at all.” I left him standing and continued towards the entrance, and behold, it was open. Only the building itself was closed due to renovation, but the large and impressive outdoor area was accessible, and there were even other tourists there, thanks to the tour buses.
Alongside numerous ancient statues, ruins, and some hidden mosaics, you also had a fabulous view of present-day Carthage from there. Besides the museum kiosk, where I got a refreshing drink, a small makeshift stand caught my attention: there was a Carthage VR experience. On the counter lay two Oculus VR glasses, and for an overly expensive price, you could watch a mediocre animated film about ancient Carthage. Nevertheless, I have long believed that VR, especially in the context of museums, is a great thing, so I was excited to see such an offering here. However, the exorbitant price and the duration of the video kept me from trying it out, especially since we had our VR headset at home, and I had experienced such things often enough during my studies.
When I left the museum grounds, the two men were already waiting for me, making another attempt to lure me into the souvenir shop or their taxi. I stomped past them angrily, shouting at them to leave me alone. That seemed to have an impact because finally, they gave up and returned to the shade of the tour buses.
The midday sun was merciless by now, and I could have really used a taxi, but considering the available options, I continued my exploration on foot. This led me to an interesting discovery on a deserted road without a sidewalk. In front of me was the entrance to a once beautiful but now abandoned and neglected park—a true lost place. Since the entrance was open, my curiosity won, and I took a little detour. The park started with a dried-up alley, providing some shade. The ground was dusty and cracked. After a while, the alley opened up, and the path continued inside. There was a considerable amount of trash and lots of broken glass on both sides. It was a shame because this must have been a beautiful place once. The path so far kept me visible from the street, and I didn’t want to venture further into the interior. It seemed too risky, and besides, I would have to walk in the scorching sun. So, I turned back and was almost grateful that the taxi driver had annoyed me so much; otherwise, I might have actually taken a taxi and missed seeing this.
There’s much to see in Carthage, but since I had limited time and the long walks were more exhausting than expected, I decided to visit the amphitheater last. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown because there was barely anything left of what must have been a magnificent structure. This probably explained why there were almost no people around. Only two men were sitting in the shade at the back, chatting. I joined them to take a rest. They were around my age and were conversing in Polish. However, I didn’t indicate that I understood them, as they were enthusiastically discussing Bible verses, and there were few conversations I felt less inclined to join at that moment.
After taking a few photos, I returned to the entrance, where a taxi was also waiting. A group of men sat on plastic chairs in the shade. I approached them and asked about the taxi. One of the men identified himself as a taxi driver and immediately had dollar signs in his eyes. He offered me a great tour at an alleged super price. He could drive me around all day and wait in front of the sights. However, I didn’t want to visit any more sights here; I needed to go to the train station. Unfortunately, that didn’t suit him at all. He insisted on his tour before quoting me a much too high price to get to the train station. I pointed to the meter in his car and told him I would pay whatever the meter showed. He refused and explained that meters aren’t used anyway. Clearly a lie, so I remained persistent and insisted on the meter or nothing. “Then nothing,” he said, and I walked back to the train station on foot.
Instead of returning to Tunis, I continued to Sidi Bou Saïd. This is an artist village famous for its architecture. All the houses are white, while the doors and windows are painted in the same blue shade. It is even forbidden to paint one’s house in a different color scheme. The attraction is, therefore, the village itself, although there is certainly no rustic charm in the classic sense, as it is, of course, a tourist attraction with corresponding infrastructure. Not far from the train station, I got a freshly squeezed orange juice, which was the perfect refreshment in the heat. I walked around for a while before passing by a trendy café. Besides coffee and fresh juice, they also advertised with food and air conditioning. What a blessing, as it was hot, and I was hungry! So, I tried my luck, and behold, they even served me a vegan sandwich. I also had a cappuccino with oat milk and a fresh watermelon juice. The latter was so delicious that I ordered a second one.
After the well-deserved refreshment, my next stop was Dar El Annabi, a small local museum. Behind the white and blue façade, you could explore the old traditional residence of a wealthy Tunisian family. Although Sidi Bou Saïd was quite touristy compared to Carthage, this privately run museum was in no way intrusive. At the entrance, I was handed an English-language description of the exhibition and could then explore everything on my own and at my own pace, which was very pleasant. In addition to the furnishings, there were also a few scenes recreated with mannequins, such as the preparation of a bride for her wedding. In the covered area of the courtyard, there was also the typical tea for Islamic countries, so I took another small break to linger. Finally, I went up to the rooftop terrace, which offered a great view. All in all, the visit to the museum was really worthwhile.
I wandered through the white and blue streets for a while, enjoying the atmosphere before returning to the train station. This time, I took a regular second-class seat back. I noticed a group of teenagers hanging out of the door during the journey, which was truly dangerous. Sitting across from me was a man with his little son, who shook his head. “They are reckless,” he said, noticing my shocked expression as I watched the events unfold.
A culinary exploration tour
As I had already explored the main attractions, I planned to spend my last day slightly off the beaten path. Using an app that shows vegan food options in the area, I found an interesting breakfast option: a food stand offering sorghum porridge with various toppings. Sorghum is a specific type of millet, and the grains are cooked overnight to create the porridge in the morning. The stand was about a 40-minute walk from my accommodation, so I used the journey as a morning stroll.
The city had long come alive. People, cars, and trams were everywhere. I absorbed the hustle and bustle, letting all the impressions hit me as I walked by. Eventually, I found the stand near a busy intersection with a central tram stop. Commuters hurried from A to B, and numerous food stalls strategically positioned themselves nearby. Thanks to photos in the app’s reviews, I located the food stand quite quickly. The young seller seemed momentarily puzzled when a European suddenly appeared before him. Fortunately, he spoke a few words of English, and for a few dinars, I got a bowl of porridge with various types of nuts. It was a very simple yet nutritious and tasty dish. I attracted some looks. New customers, all older Tunisian men, kept coming with their bowls of porridge to the makeshift small eating area behind the counter, looking surprised to see me there. Even though I noticed the bewildered glances, no one dared to say anything, and we all quietly enjoyed our bowls. Upon leaving, I returned my bowl and gave the seller a thumbs up, indicating that I really enjoyed it. He smiled and waved as I walked away.
On the way back, I settled into a slightly larger café. I went to the counter and ordered a black coffee. Initially, I tried in English, which earned me some questioning looks. Alright, then in Arabic: قهوة ساده من فضلك Still met with questioning looks. Was Arabic really so different here? I tried again a bit differently: قهوة أسود “Americano?” the waiter asked. Alright, let it be. I nodded, and the second waiter next to me signaled to go upstairs. I was quite surprised when he came up shortly afterward and brought me a cappuccino. Before I could say anything, he was gone again. At the next opportunity, I explained to him very slowly in English and Arabic that black coffee is without milk. In response, I at least got an espresso. Well, better than nothing. I finished my drink, paid, and left.
The temperatures were rising mercilessly again, and so I dared the adventure of taking the tram back. In hindsight, that was probably not the best decision. The trams are not labeled, and the tracks are equally unmarked. If you don’t know which tram to take, you have to ask around, which was not so easy due to my lack of French and the absence of English on the other side (I decided to skip Arabic this time, thanks to my experiences from the café). Eventually, I stood on a platform that I assumed was the right one. By now, quite a crowd had gathered here. Well, it shouldn’t take too long for the tram to arrive now. Wrong! Trams arrived at all the other platforms except mine. After a good half an hour, a tram finally came. To be sure, I asked a man if this was the right tram (he didn’t speak English, but thanks to Google Translate, we managed to communicate). He shook his head and made it clear that my tram would still come. He asked me somewhat puzzled why I would take the tram at all and not just a taxi. Public transportation in Tunis is terrible, he said. I typed “Adventure” into my phone, pressed Translate, and grinned at him. He burst into laughter, and so our ways parted again.
Still standing on the platform, trams continued to arrive on all tracks except mine. After a good hour of waiting, the relieving tram finally came. For a brief moment, I felt relief, but it didn’t last long. Far too many people crowded into this tram with me. Inside, it felt twice as hot as outside, and breathing was impossible due to the tight space. The doors closed, and I felt dizzy. At the next station, I jumped out directly and took a deep breath. After the non-existent bus on the day of my arrival and this experience, I finally crossed off the experiment of public transportation in Tunis.
Completely exhausted, I walked the remaining way to my accommodation, where a really sweet surprise awaited me. Since I left early today, Ahmed and I missed each other. He had left two plates for me in the kitchen. One had cookies, and the other had homemade pickled olives. Next to them, he had written on a note, “For you if you like it.” Even though the cookies were probably not vegan, I found the gesture so kind that I ate everything.
I rested for a bit before grabbing my things and heading out once again. I wanted to try one last time to find a way into the Grand Mosque. Unfortunately, success eluded me. I chatted with another tourist outside the mosque, a woman who had been traveling alone through North Africa for several months. We briefly exchanged our experiences, and I was relieved to hear that she was suffering from the lack of air conditioning in her room just like I was. On the way back, I refreshed myself with some fresh cactus figs from a small mobile stand at Bab al-Bhar. However, I was slowly getting hungry again, and this wasn’t going to satisfy my appetite.
In the same app where I had discovered the stand with the Sorghum porridge, there were also two interesting restaurants, one vegetarian and one vegan, marked on the map. However, they were located near the airport. This time, I wanted to take a taxi directly; I had had enough of public transportation. I positioned myself at a central intersection near the clock tower, where several people were already waiting, and tried to hail a taxi from there. There is a system in place to prevent fraud by taxi drivers: when the taxi meter is on, either a red or green light is illuminated at the front. Red indicates that the taxi is available, and green means occupied. Well-intentioned but not always well-executed, as it took an eternity for the first taxi with a red light to stop in front of me (other people on the roadside were sometimes quicker with other taxis). When the taxi driver saw me, a European, he quickly turned off the meter and quoted me an exorbitant price. I explained that I would pay him according to the meter, but he refused and drove away. This happened to me 2-3 more times, and I was slowly losing patience. I had been standing here for an hour (at 45°C!), and I was hungry. Was it so difficult to find an honest taxi driver here? I went to Plan B and left the intersection. Luckily, on a less busy side of the street, I found a taxi driver just getting into his car. I approached him, and he agreed to take me using the meter. Finally! As a thank-you for his honesty, I gave him some extra tip when we arrived before getting out and wondering where on earth I had landed.
Yes, I was in the right place, but I hadn’t expected it to look like this. I found myself in Lac 1, which consisted mostly of large concrete buildings. There were offices of numerous companies here, including Microsoft, several embassies, and a row of cool restaurants. However, what was noticeable was that the whole area seemed deserted. Occasionally, you’d see someone sweeping an empty terrace of a restaurant, and that’s about it. There were two restaurants that I wanted to try here. I decided to visit one for the main course and the other for dessert. The first one was “Oh.Em.Gee!”. The outdoor terrace was completely empty (but who wants to sit outside in this heat anyway). However, there were already customers inside, although not many. A waiter with wild dreadlocks greeted me and took my order: a smoothie and bread with vegan pesto, falafel, and hummus. After serving my lunch, he sat at a table where two other men were already waiting for him. Apparently, they were in the midst of a very intense game of chess. The food was delicious, and the prices were reasonable. After finishing my meal, I sat for a short while before paying and moving on. My next destination was “Inward,” a completely vegan restaurant (possibly the only one in all of Tunisia).
Upon entering, it almost seemed as if the restaurant was actually closed. There were no guests, and a young woman with a cap on her head sat in one corner of the kitchen. I cautiously pushed against the door, which gave way and opened. I stuck my head in and asked if they were open. The young woman immediately jumped up and confirmed that they were open. I could choose any seat. First, I went upstairs to a sort of gallery. There were cool spots with a view over the very small restaurant, but since I felt a bit isolated up there, I came back down and chose a window seat. The lady showed me the menu and asked if I was familiar with the philosophy of this restaurant. I said no and indicated that I’d like her to explain it to me. She smiled and began to explain that firstly, all products were vegan and without the addition of refined sugar. Veganism is still largely unknown in Tunisia, but some larger supermarkets are starting to include plant-based milk alternatives in their offerings. Additionally, everything offered here is raw. Many products are fermented or dried in a dehydrator. This preserves a lot of nutrients that would be lost through heating.
The owner introduced herself as Fatma. She studied in the USA and is now back in Tunisia. The restaurant is a small dream come true for her. She named it Inward because she believes that true change comes from within. Her customer base consists partly of tourists who want to eat vegan in Tunis and, due to its proximity to the airport, sometimes even come with their suitcases. The other part of her clientele is office workers from the surrounding companies who just want a good lunch. The latter are usually not vegan, but Fatma already sees it (rightly so) as progress that they still choose a vegan lunch.
After the talk, I decided to ask Fatma for a dessert recommendation. We settled on a frozen spirulina cake. I also ordered a drink based on plant-based milk, dates, and a few spices. Fatma disappeared into the kitchen and came back after some time with my order. What can I say? It was really delicious! She even sprinkled some flowers on top, making it look fantastic. While enjoying my dessert, we continued chatting. I told her how I came to veganism and how widespread it has become in Germany. We also talked about Tunisia in general, from the lack of air conditioning to the deserted Carthage and my further plans. She showed me on her phone where I could take the Louage, a Tunisian shared taxi similar to a colectivo in South America. I also asked her where I could go after the conference since I still had some time to explore. Hammamet is very beautiful if you like beaches, she said. Well, beaches alone don’t convince me. What about Kairouan? “Oh!” she said, “in Kairouan, you’ll definitely find no vegan food. And it’s way too hot there right now!” I thought again about my lack of air conditioning and the 45°C outside. Luckily, I still had some time to decide where to go.
We continued our conversation until closing time. I was a bit concerned about getting a taxi back in the middle of nowhere, especially after the challenging experience in the city center earlier. So, I asked Fatma how I could get back, and she explained that I could use Bolt. Alongside Uber and Careem, Bolt seemed to be another ride-hailing app that worked well here. It seemed that only cash payment was accepted, but it wasn’t as troublesome as in Egypt, where drivers even tried to overcharge. Fatma was right. I called a Bolt, and it took me back to my accommodation without any issues.
The remaining evening was spent packing and relaxing. I endured one last overly warm night without air conditioning. The next morning, Ahmed came to bid farewell. I thanked him for his hospitality, and we took a final photo together before my journey continued. Tunis surprised me in many ways. It’s absolutely no issue to move around alone as a woman. The people were helpful and friendly, and Tunisia is certainly more modern and westernized compared to, for example, Egypt. I found it interesting that I was sometimes the most conservatively dressed woman, even though I wore the same clothes as in Egypt, where the situation was the opposite. Only the matter of air conditioning bothered me a bit, but fortunately, that was supposed to change at my next destination.