Arriving at the Riu Marharba Palace Hammamet late at night presented like an oasis in the desert. A beautiful hotel, staffed by extremely pleasant and professional staff, we were immediately furnished with a welcome cocktail whilst the checking in formalities took place. The rooms were spacious and beautifully furnished although our balcony view of the roof mounted industrial air conditioning system detracted slightly from the rest of the initial impressions of the hotel. This minor detraction was however short lived as we were relocated the next day to a room with a beautiful view over the inland mountains.
The hotel operated on an ‘all inclusive’ basis which essentially meant that all meals, afternoon tea drinks and entertainment were included. With both of us looking to shed a few kilos in preparation for Christmas, this provided us with rather a challenge, but by sampling rather than fully partaking, we were able to keep the expansion at bay.
The whole week spent at the hotel was an absolute joy and we both agreed that this represented one of the best holiday times we have had. The food, served in a buffet style, was plentiful, varied and beautifully presented. The staff were all extremely friendly and attentive, and we met and spent time with some great people whilst we were there.
The hotel was situated half way between Hammamet town with its historic fort and medina and Hammamet Yasmine, a recently created resort with its Marina and promenade (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammamet,_Tunisia ). We visited both places although the old town provided us with the more authentic North African experience that we were looking for.
We visited the old town on a number of occasions during our stay to explore the medina and the back streets. Shopping in the medina was always going to be an experience with the age old tradition of haggling a price being, for centuries and still now, the 'modus operandi' of buying and selling. The initial asking price for any product was inevitably several times more than the article was actually worth, and the process involved offer and counter offer before a final price was agreed upon.
The key is to get a feel for the market first. Visit some of the fixed price shops in the medina first to establish what the ‘real’ price may be, and then venture off to haggle for a better price. Of course every store in the Medina is “the cheapest in Hammamet” or “cheaper than Asda” and of course we always qualified for the traditional Tunisian discount afforded to “the first customers in my shop today”, even though it may have been 2 o’clock in the afternoon!?
We bought a few things in the Medina from a few merchants who assured me that achieving such a ridiculously low price for the goods through my hard bargaining skills had rendered them bankrupt! They were still there the next day. Clearly purchasing something for 15 dinars (about $AUD 10) negotiated down from an asking price of 200 dinars, was not too big of a financial hit for them to take. Even then we probably paid too much. Anyway it was a great experience for us.
We spent several hours strolling around the old fort and the streets further way from the Medina, somewhat separated from the tourist trail and enjoyed the beautiful whitewashed buildings with their ornate doors and window grills. The colour combination of white and pale blue is characteristically Tunisian. The white washed walls, of course help keep homes cool during the extremely hot summer months and the pale blue is supposed to be the most effective colour to keep mosquitos at bay.
Part of any travel is to experience new things, and we both did that. Lilian rode a camel for the first time, and I belly danced… Whilst our camel ride through the hills was fully intended, the belly dancing was not…I’m sure you know the story. .. pulled from the audience and publically humiliated in front of all. I had seen it all before and this time it was me. Stripped from the waist up, revealing my beautifully sculptured and suntanned abdomen (!?) and forced to unashamedly wobble my middle aged spread as I have never wobbled it before…
The next morning I seemed to be decidedly more well-known amongst the hotel guests.
After seven days in Hammamet, on Wednesday 5th December, Lilian and I said our farewells with Nan as she returned to the UK. It was a sad parting. We had spent such a wonderful time together, and had laughed and joked with each other the whole time. It really was great to share such quality time.
Our travels, the very same morning, would next take us on an 80km taxi ride to the capital, Tunis, from where we would take a less than straightforward flight from Tunis to Sao Paulo, Brazil with connecting flights in Milan and Rome. We left the hotel looking forward to the next leg of our journey. However not all was destined to go to plan........