Tunisia – 27th August 2006 to 3rd September 2006

When: 27th Aug 2006 to 3rd Sept 2006
Where: Tunisia
Resort: Skanes (Monastir)
Hotel: Thalassa Village Hotel

Where We Went…

We recently visited Tunisia and stayed at the Thalassa Village Hotel, Skanes.

Getting There…

Despite the heightened security at Birmingham, our experience of this was not very bad at all… after all; if it helps our safety and security on flights then I welcome it. The checks were no worse than usual, just a few extra steps and obviously the restrictions on hand-baggage – which were not a problem for us anyway.

The flight time to Tunisia was very short, about 2h 50min – just long enough for the in-flight ‘meal’ and to watch the movie. Arrival at the airport was fairly smooth too (unlike departure but we’ll get to that later!), the wait for baggage at the carousel was just on the comfortable side – 20 or 30 minuets.

At Our Accommodation…

First Impressions:

We arrived around just after lunchtime (local time) on Sunday afternoon.

At the check in a blue erm … hospital band … was promptly attached to or wrists… We found ourselves wondering if we’d inadvertently signed up for some strange experimental surgery week or something… but quickly became apparent was so they could identify guests – but so much for the all over tan on the arms (had to keep waking up when sunbathing to move the thing to avoid a white band!!!).

What quickly became apparent was the number of French/German and Italian guests, we were informed by our rep that the Brits were a mere 80-odd of 1,300 guests at the hotel.

The layout of the resort was indeed that of a village… all the rooms were in pairs and had various ‘streets’ that were finally enough named after the Greek & Balearic Islands – we stayed on Mallorca (Majorca for those who don’t know where that is).

Our Accommodation:

The room we got was fairly basic and a bit tired in places, but was clean and comfortable. The maid cleaned daily, and even though it say’s twice a week on the information for the hotel, the bed linen was changed daily and so were our towels.

The bathroom was probably the bit that needed some tlc but was always clean and tidy. The shower was not the best ‘hotel shower’ we’ve ever used, but it did the job.

Every afternoon when we returned to the room it had been cleaned, beds made & turned down, bathroom cleaned

We really can’t fault the maid who sadly we never really seen.

Food:

The primary dining area was a self-service buffet, and you also got the option of 1 evening in the ‘A la Carte’ dining. The choice for that was Tunisian, Italian or Fish.

In general the food was warm and cleanly presented whilst part of the buffet. There was a wide range of food from pastas, rice, meat, Tunisian dishes, and many more. We never really struggled to find something that was to our fancy each evening. However if we had been there for 2 weeks we feel that it would have gotten very repetitive.

During our week there were 3 ‘themed’ evenings… Italian (they really did make some nicer than usual pasta dishes and so on), Tunisian (an enhanced selection of local dishes, some really very nice spicy tomato filled flat breads, couscous, and various rice dishes).

Pool/Beach:

The pool area was fairly big and kept clean and tidy… the pool was very large with a nice island in the middle.

The only thing that spoiled the pool area was the fact you needed to get up before the sun if you wanted a decent sun-bed – but we were lucky a couple of days and still fond one at 8 or 9 AM. Also while there was not an excessive presence of children the ‘Animation Team’ ensured there was sufficiently loud music to null the effects of our MP3 player, they also held aqua-aerobics in the shallower end and various other games throughout the day.

Entertainment:

There was various shows on throughout the week, these ranged from Tunisian folklore show, a very very dodgy miming act to the Moulin Rouge CD and ‘Oriental’ dancing.

A lot of the entertainment was French/German/Italian orientated, but we still enjoyed most of it if not for the odd good show. We both have a simple understanding of French so we were probably better off than some of the other English guests.

However the First Choice rep had noticed this a few weeks ago and had started to organise an evening in the lounge bar with the English guests which ranged from quizzes to bingo and karaoke, the member of the ‘Animation Team’ that hosted this was called Bob, he was a Tunisian who learnt English from an Australian, so as you can imagine it was odd listening to a Tunisian speaking English with an Australian accent.

Staff:

Staff overall were very pleasant especially if you did try to use some French/Arabic – even if it’s hello/thank you.

Lasting Impressions:

All-in-all we enjoyed our time at Thalassa Village Hotel. The first day we were unsure about it, it was our first time at an ‘all inclusive’ resort and probably just didn’t know what to expect for quality of food, service etc.

However by the end of our first full day we decided it was actually quite nice and did indeed grow on us more over our week staying there.

Tunisian People…

As mentioned with the staff, their primary language is Arabic & French, so overall were very pleasant especially if you did try to use some French/Arabic – even if it’s hello/thank you.

Even in the capital of Tunis we safe (we did remove the ‘hospital bands’ so as to not draw any more attention that we probably already were). The exception was those who worked in the ‘tourist shops’ and in the Medina, but we suppose that they need to be that way to make a living for themselves – possibly they are nice people outside of that environment.

Exploring Tunisia…

We only did one excursion as we only went to relax and get some sun.

The excursion we took was a ‘full day’, now normally a full day for an excursion means 8 or 9 AM and back late afternoon… No… our bums were on a bust at 6:30AM … and never returned till 7:30PM… OK we got good value-for-money in that respect… BUT a lot of that time was pick-ups from other hotels, which probably wasted about 3 hours of our lives between pick-ups/drop-offs. Ideally they should have split it into half coaches to make life more pleasant for their guests and cut the trip’s time by 3 hours.

The excursion was to Tunis, Carthage (the Antonine Baths – but there is much more to it), Sidi Bou Saïd, La Goulette and Bardo Museum.

The first place we went to on our trip was into Tunis after the marathon hotel pickups were completed. The road into Tunis was extremely busy and we’re glad we weren’t driving, looked a bit manic. When we go into the centre, our guide took us a walk up to the gates of the Media, and offered to escort people round it seemingly it goes in a circle up to a cathedral and back round to the gate. We decided to hold back and then go in on our own… we weren’t looking for anything anyway so we decided we’d go in for a short bit and then turn back… It was extremely narrow – around a meter and a half to two meters wide. We never felt unsafe or threatened, but you only had to glance at something to be hijacked by the seller… There was many fine looking leather goods… ceramics… bronze-ware… chi chas (Arabic pipes)… instruments… so if you are looking for a good bargain for the above types of things, then it is the place to go (there are similar Medina’s in other resorts too if Tunis seemed too far).

We walked back down to the centre and had a coffee, and then a quick browse in less hassled shopping centre. I think we had an hour and a half in Tunis, but we would have liked longer (if we go back we might stay in a resort such that a taxi would be reasonable to go to Tunis).

After we were on the coach – and the fattest family you’ll ever have seen in your life return 25 minuets late with 2 cheese pizzas to stink the bus out with – we headed to Carthage.

The part of Carthage we visited was the Antonine Baths… These were constructed somewhere between 138 and 161 AD and they were said to be the largest that had been built in the Roman Empire. However, the original Carthage was founded around 812 BC (I could go on at length about the history but won’t bore you too much!)… If we make it back to Tunisia we will definitely make an effort to view some of the older parts of it… for example the cemetery is supposed to still have the cremation remains of Hannibal and so on. Again, we could go on at length here, but I’ll keep it short and say that they are impressive ruins and if you are interested in history and culture it is worth it. Tunisia as a whole has some very impressive archaeological sites.

From Carthage we headed to Sidi Bou Saïd. The village/town of Sidi Bou Saïd is probably one of the nicest I have visited on my travels. The only colours allowed in the town are white and blue. Apparently it has been host to many writers and artists, but the names the guide were quoting never really rang a bell… or perhaps I wasn’t paying attention enough… or perhaps the majority of the names were French, Tunisia was ruled by them so their influence is vast.

The only thing that ruined Sidi Bou Saïd is the shopkeepers, even although I managed to get a good deal they can be quite intimidating. I bought a ceramic Tunisian drum, and thought afterwards I’d see if I had got a good deal from the other shop… big mistake… I left my wife with the good we purchased near to where the bus was picking us up so they didn’t know I’d bought one… but when I decided to go after they told me all I needed to know they got quite upset and 4 of them crowded me, but I just made a run for it to the safety of the bus!

Next was La Goulette which was our stop-off for lunch… which while was nice enough was nothing to rave about, as usual for an excursion lunch was in a fairly anonymous restaurant of a fairly anonymous hotel. La Goulette is the main shipping port of Tunisia if you do a Med cruise this is where you stop, and if this was my first impression of Tunisia from seeing the port I’d not fancy getting off. La Goulette is a fairly ugly town; we can see why people on a cruise often do not wish to get off. Our guide informed us that La Goulette is famous for its seafood/fish restaurants.

Lastly we made our way to the Bardo Museum which hosts a very large collection of mosaics and sculptures and other antiquities found at the various sites across Tunisia. There is not much to say except that the mosaics we seen there were exquisite and some were more than 3,000 years old, but still looked as though they could have been made yesterday – they are either well preserved or well restored, I suspect a bit of both. If you want to see more pictures, Google for them as there are thousands out there.

Sadly as we mentioned at the start the pickup/drop-off part of this excursion almost ruined it for us…

So after the Bardo Museum, we prepared ourselves for the gruelling return trip of drop-offs, which indeed turned out to be no more pleasant than the marathon of pickups.

About First Choice…

Overall, our experience with First Choice was much the same as that with every other operator we went with. The excursions that they had for Tunisia were generally good, and they were on the whole reasonably priced.

Our rep in the hotel was OK, but gave the most boring welcome meeting I’ve ever endured… we’d have preferred to poke our eyes out and shove them in our ears – 2 hours for a welcome meeting is a bit extreme. Needless to say we skipped the ‘farewell’ meeting.

Coming Home…

Coming home on Sunday was fairly smooth too… however the rep at our hotel gave us the wrong pickup-time (11:30) – an hour later than we were picked up. But thankfully we were ready and waiting anyway… but a few other guests had to be hunted down!

At Monastir Airport, check-in was actually quite quick, and we got seated together – at least we didn’t get conned for that! Queues through security were nominal. The ‘departure lounge’ should be called “hell’s waiting room”, it was hot & humid (no air-con), extremely overcrowded, and worst of all smoky (and I can take some smoke in the air but the lack of air-con probably didn’t help). And not a spare seat in sight. Duty-free shop was OK, but no much cheaper than UK or others.

In Summary…

OK, so would we go back? Yes. We would like to go back someday, especially to explore some of the many historical sites and culture that Tunisia has to offer and as we mentioned above the Tunisian people are generally very nice and welcoming.

The hotel we stayed in although was nice, we may choose a different resort next time perhaps closer to Tunis so that we can spend time there (shopping in particular looked quite good).

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