Kairouan is famous through-out Tunisia for makhroud, a date-filled semolina cake soaked in honey. Be warned that it is very rich and even though they look small, they are very filling. You can find them to buy at Sengi, a patisserie located in the Medina and other shops and stalls nearby.
If you wander around the back streets of a Medina you'll stumble across many traditional crafts such as weaving using old human-powered looms, metalwork and guys making wooden window frames. It's an aladdin's cave of traditional crafts where human's still do the work and not machines.
I happened to be in Tunisia over the New Year period and one custom that seems to have been brought over by the French is to buy a Bonne Annee cake. There are several cake shops that were selling large gateau type cakes and it seems to be customary to buy one on New Years Eve as loads of people well carrying them in large boxes in order to transport them back home.
ladies cover your knees
i like going around grave yards and if you visit one of these ladies should cover their knees and possibly shoulders.
the taxi driver we had was telling me that women are not allowed to go to funerals, i found this a little odd.
bodies are wrapped and are placed on their side in tombs, facing mecca.Related to:
- Religious Travel
Islam is the official religion of Tunisia. However, because of the former French colonial influence and the fact that the country is far from the Islamic centers of power in the Middle East, Tunisia is a fairly liberal country. Unlike in some of its neighboring countries, other religions are tolerated, and even officially sanctioned. There are Christian churches in most of the larger cities and towns, and Jewish communities in Tunis and on the island of Djerba. Alcohol is readily available, and it is not unusual to see Muslims enjoying a beer. Most women do not wear any form of head cover, and it is rare to see anyone wearing the abaya, the full-length black covering seen in many Muslim countries. Western tourists may wear shorts, and it is not uncommon to see Western women in bikinis on the beaches. However, visitors should keep in mind that what may be acceptable on a beach or in a hotel may not necessarily be acceptable on the streets.
Despite the openness toward other beliefs, Islam is nevertheless an important aspect in the lives of the citizens of Tunisia. Mosques are to be seen everywhere, from the largest cities to the smallest towns, and the call to prayer is heard throughout the country five times per day. However, the hard-line fanatacism that is present in many Muslim countries is not tolerated in Tunisia, and it is a safe country to visit in what can be a volatile part of the world.
Historically, the camel was the most important animal in the lives of the nomadic Berbers of the northern Sahara Desert. It was the main form of transportation, it served as a general beast of burden, its meat and milk were food staples, and its hides were used for leather. (In Oman I tried camel's milk. See my "Restaurant" tip on my Oman page to see what it was like).
Nowadays, many rural people in the desert areas of Tunisia still tend herds of camels, and it is common to come across camels anywhere in the desert. Their meat and milk are still used, and they are the principal form of transportation in the desert where roads are nonexistent.
Tunisia is an Islamic country, and although it is probably one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East, people do tend to dress more conservatively than in Europe. Tunisian women all over the country don't always wear headscarves, and most dress stylishly in the latest fashions...but you rarely see a Tunisian woman revealing much flesh. Shorts and short skirts are not worn, neither are low-cut sleeveless tops. For men, again shorts are not the norm, unless you are doing sport. Tunisian men don't walk around town bare chested either. Have a look around you when you arrive, see what locals are wearing and do the same. There's no need to go over the top and cover every part of your body in multiple layers...this is not Iran! But if you dress modestly, nobody will find it offensive, and women will find the amount of hassle decreases dramatically.
Of course, the beach is different, and nobody expects you to cover up on the sands. Even some resorts are used to sunbathing foreigners walking around wearing very little...just when you go into town, put some clothes on!
Tunisia in the holiday brochures always looks sunny and hot, but don't underestimate just how cold Tunisia can get in winter and even spring. I was unprepared for snow in March in the region around Le Kef, and it was cold and wet in tunis in April...it may not be as cold as parts of Europe, but buildings often don't have adequate heating so it can be very hard to get warm! Bring some warm clothing for the colder months, and an umbrella may also be useful. Although the desert regions are still warm in winter during the day, the temperature drops quite dramatically at night.
Traditional clothing in Tunisia is still worn by many older Tunisians. Old men still like to wear their red chechia hats (similar to a fez), often with a burnoos (a sort of cloak with a hood) around their shoulders. You'll see many women around wrapped up in white shawls, sometimes held in place by their teeth. This is the sifsari, similar to Sudan's tobe and India's sari.
Alcohol in Tuinsia
Though alcohol is not forbidden in Tunisia, it can be difficult to come by, as many Tunisians choose not to drink, in keeping with Muslim tradition. In bigger cities such as Sousse or Tunis, you'll have little difficulty finding a restaurant or cafe with alcohol though these tend to be the more expensive places. In smaller towns and villages it will be very difficult to find anyplace at all serving alcohol. If you prefer eating in local restaurants, as we did for most of our trip, forget about alcohol altogether.
Watching the world go by
A very common pastime in Tunisia, especially amongst some of the local men, is to sit in a cafe all day long, and stare suspiciously at any tourist who passes by! So many times when we walked past a cafe, we could see the eyes staring us up and down. Actually, I think it was my girlfriend who was getting all the attention. It's a little disconcerting at first though you get used to it and there‘s nothing really threatening in it. I'm not sure if it's genuine curiosity, boredom or just plain rudeness.
Languages in Tunisia
Most Tunisians speak both Arabic and French and it's very useful to have at least one of these languages when travelling in Tunisia. In bigger cities such as Sousse and Tunis or tourist centres like Djerba many languages are spoken, especially by shopkeepers and hotel receptionists, but outside these areas you will struggle without one of the two main languages. More importantly, by speaking French you'll be able to interact so much better with the locals.
Speaking French also makes it much easier to haggle in the Souks, to get information from Tourist Information and to ask what a particular dish is in a restaurant. If you have even a few words of Arabic, shopkeepers will hassle you less and will assume that you're a frequent visitor to Arabic countries.
Staying Covered Up
Though Tunisia is a bit more relaxed than other Muslim countries regarding dress, visitors should nevertheless be aware of local feeling when it comes to what clothes to wear. In Sousse we saw many tourists dressed in short skirts, shorts, low-cut tops, etc and there is nothing stopping you from following this. However, none of the locals were dressed like this and you get the sense that visitors who follow the locals lead get a little more respect.
Outside of the tourist centres most travellers whom we saw were dressed fairly conservatively. The temperatures were very high during our visit, even though it was only March, and at first it was painful wearing long sleeves and trousers though we did get used to it.
"Droit de photo"
In all museums and sights you must pay the "droit the photo" if you want to take photos. The fee is 1 dinar. I advise you to pay this small amount, because if you don't - and you take photos anyway - there are heavy fines for trespassers.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
In all places of worship in Tunisia you must cover up yourself,you wont be allowed in with shorts and vest tops or sleeveless tops or dresses.In most places of worship they will give you a long dress to wear.Related to:
- Religious Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Where i come from we use fishing rods to catch fish,so i was totally amazed to see the local boys and how they catch their fish,they get into the water with a carrier bag with a chunk of bread inside and wait for the fish to swim into the bag then quickly close it and hand it to the others who are stood waiting for the catch of the day.Related to:
On arrival into tunisia you will be expected to fill in a landing card. At passport control they will take this filled in landing card off you and give you another bit of it back. YOU NEED TO KEEP THIS. You need to use this again to get back out of the country, and have to show it at passport control on exit. If you do lose it you can fill in another one at the airport, however it can be a very long queues in a warm and stuffy room so its advisable to just make it easier for yourself and keep it with you.
NB You need a landing card for every member in your party on both entry and exit including children.
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