About Me

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Wife (to Shaun), Mother (to Danni), Dog walker of Archie the JRX, improving cyclist, reformed gym bunny, broken runner Collector of exercise DVDs & equipment. Cake is my weakness together with cider (Westons only thanks)and brandy. Noisy spectator of running & cycling events. Owner of Tribby the campervan

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Well that was an experience!

We're back from our holiday in Tunisia - the one we booked in February which British Airways (god bless 'em) decided to turn into the biggest farce on the planet one month to departure.   If you follow me on Twitter you will know that they decided due to operational issues to cancel our return flight meaning we would either have to come back 2 days early (which we have) or stay 2 days longer (which we couldn't because we couldn't afford to and I didn't want to use any more annual leave).   The problem was compounded by Alpha Rooms (the internet travel company we booked accommodation, flights and transfer with).  They offered to amend our booking or cancel for a full refund, unfortunately they seemed unable (or unwilling) to amend the flights their end and we had to do that through BA.  Once the flights were changed they were happy to change the accommodation (with us losing the cost of the 2 days) and the transfers.   We couldn't claim the loss on insurance because we hadn't actually left and the accommodation provider was unwilling to refund the difference!   BA refused to pay any compensation but after a "few" (lots) emails back and forth, they finally agreed to a goodwill gesture of a £50 voucher to spend on a future flight.  Shaun spent ages on the phone sorting this out and it wasn't until the Saturday before we left that our booking was actually confirmed and a refund being offered by Alpha Rooms the day before because they had changed the provider.   I took every piece of paper we had been sent, just in case!

We checked in online 24 hours before and on Thursday went through the automated check in and bag drop, sailed through border checks and security and then spent a lifetime in departures shopping and eating.  We knew there was no food on board apart from a snack so made sure we had something substantial before we left.   We kept checking the screen to see where our flight was boarding - it just kept flashing "please wait" and once we got to the time we knew we should be taking off it had become pretty obvious that we were now delayed!   We didn't have to wait too much longer before we boarded.  Shaun was sitting in the window seat and could see the cases being loaded on - jokingly he said that he hadn't seen our cases go on.   Little did we know until we got to Tunis that dozens of passengers cases hadn't actually made it on to the plane due to the pressure of the turnaround, fortunately not ours.   Anyway back to the journey.  Luckily the flight is only 2 hours 30 minutes and before we knew it we were landing at Tunis.  Oh boy what an experience that was.  Passport control was madness, and no-one had mentioned that we had to fill out entry cards - chaos ensued.  Not quite sure anyone could read the hastily completed cards but they seemed to serve their purpose and soon we were dispatched through baggage reclaim and out into the utter chaos of Arrivals - a sea of faces but not one was holding up a board with the name of our transfer company.   We stood in the hall looking a little lost with a few other people and somehow the transfer company found us!   A very uncomfortable 2 hour drive from Tunis to Sousse in a minibus with no air conditioning, in the dark!

When we finally reached our hotel, the Marhaba Royal Salem

we were greeted with a query concerning 2 bookings in Shaun's name.  It took a while to explain that Alpha Rooms should have cancelled one of them, but we only needed 1 room.  At the time we didn't realise but not only were there 2 bookings, but the departure date hadn't been changed either!   It was a shame we'd missed dinner but were told there were late night snacks available if we wanted them.  We went up to our room, the one that was ready, and dumped off our luggage, returned to the Snack Bar to find warm pizza and chips - when you're hungry anything will do, all washed down with a cold beer!

The next morning we got up and wandered down to breakfast - a wonderful array of food available.   Greek yogurt and honey and an omelette later we were ready to explore and find a spot for sunbathing near the small pool 

Small pool at 5.30am!
which we had decided would be best as all the families would be in the larger pools where the entertainment and water slides were - WRONG!  By 9.30 the "bomber boys and girls" and "butter fingers water polo brigade" had arrived.   Our first day spot would not be our second day spot!
Day 2-8 sunbathing spot!
We heard on the Friday that the day before a politician had been assassinated in Tunis and that the airport was now closed to all flights and the country was on 1 day general strike.  On the Saturday the funeral took place and there was rioting in Tunis.  Our holiday also coincided with Ramadan, some of the staff were a bit grumpy during the day, but I suppose it's not surprising.  They work long hours and have little chance to eat as it is.  Everyone outside the tourist industry feasts as soon as the sun goes down - not the hotel staff  - they're serving and running around after ungrateful tourists who enjoy gorging themselves on food and alcohol when it's freely available for 24 hours a day.   It made us appreciate them even more.

The first 4 days were pretty much the same - Shaun getting up at 5.30 for his morning swim, towel laying and early morning sunbathing ritual, returning to meet me at 7 for breakfast and then spend the rest of the day sitting by the pool, chatting to other families and couples we were sitting near, swimming, lunch at 1, return to the poolside for more of the same and then dinner between 8 and 8.30.
Pimms o'clock before dinner!
On Tuesday we'd booked a morning trip to the visit the amphitheatre at El Jem (that's the one where Gladiator was filmed) and then on to Monastir.   It was a very early start, even by Shaun's standard.  El Jem was over an hour away.   We had an early breakfast (sadly no egg station open so just yogurt and pastries that day) and went to reception to wait for our pick up.  Another family we'd made friends with were also going.   A minibus arrived and Shaun and I were ordered to take our seats on the minibus but the other family weren't - alarm bells were starting to ring!   We worked our way through Sousse, finally stopping on the seafront only to be told we were on the wrong bus.  We were told to sit on the wall and wait for our coach - yes you guessed it the other family were on that one!   Anyway, who knows what had happened - something else to have a giggle about!

El Jem is amazing - I'll let the photos do the talking!   Unfortunately we only had an hour, which really wasn't long enough!


We got back on the coach and were taken to Monastir to look at the Ribat which had been used during the filming of Life of Brian.  

It wasn't that interesting, so after a quick walk round the walls we left and went off to explore.  There was a lovely shop which had fixed price goods in and this lead into the Medina.  We didn't go in very far as we didn't want to get caught up with the traders.  We did buy some Sahara Rose/Desert Rose/Tunisian Rose and were completely fleeced by the little git who sold it to us.  We didn't pay very much but when we got back to the Hotel we found some in the local shop for a fraction of the price we'd paid.   We also visited the beautiful mausoleum where the body of Bourguiba (the President of Tunisia) is.     

We got back to the hotel just in time for lunch and then an afternoon of sunbathing.

Wednesday and Thursday were much the same and before we knew it it was Friday and time to  pack and come home.  Luckily as our hotel room was still booked until Sunday we had use of the room all day so could sunbathe and swim all morning, go to lunch and then shower and change before being picked up.   Our flight was due out at 8.15pm, the transfer was arranged for 3pm.  Even with a 2 hour drive that still meant we'd be in Tunis Airport a long time!   The journey was interesting - the driver decided to waste time by going the back roads through the villages instead of the motorway.  It was good to see the locals setting up for their evening feast and Ramadan celebrations.  Our markets are wonderfully organised, Tunisian ones are just set up on the roadside with goods displayed - the butcher had various animal heads on hooks displayed, the most interesting was the firearms stall!

We actually arrived at the airport about half an hour before check in was supposed to open but it was open already so we checked in without queuing and sent straight through border checks and security to the departure lounge.   We did some last minute duty free shopping and found a place to sit.    We were sat next to a lovely Irish lady who lived in Sousse with her Tunisian partner.   During our conversation with her we found out that there had in fact been a lot of trouble during the week, not only the assassination but also a car bomb in Tunis, an army patrol had been ambushed and beheaded and a fire had been set on the mountains to flush out terrorists causing trouble.  She was convinced that once Ramadan was over there would be major rioting and killings.  Thankfully we were soon to be on a plane heading home!   The flight was actually delayed following the thunderstorms in the UK that morning and when we finally boarded we found out our flight was practically empty - lots of room to spread ourselves out.   It wasn't a pleasant flight home - terrible turbulence over France and some dramatic lightning below us.

All in  all it was a lovely holiday and it has made me appreciate what I have - we met some lovely people and we both hope that "the troubles" are over and done with very soon.  We certainly won't return until things have settled down, not that we'll ever know - the British Foreign Office have no travel warnings for Tunisia although today we find out that US Embassies are to close indefinitely across Africa and the Middle East and the British are closing their Yemen Embassy over this weekend.    There is so much more to see there.

I did take my running kit but couldn't find a decent or safe route to run.   I could've used the hotel gym which was very well equipped but it was always very busy.   I've done a lot of swimming instead so it's back on the training plan over the next couple of days.   It's been a while since I've run so it may be a start from scratch plan!

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