Last year for our anniversary we spent the day getting vaccinated for our trip. This year we spent it in Tunis! Rather than getting jabbed by needles, we used our time preparing as best as we could for our Libyan visa application. We'd read online that we needed an official Arabic translation of our passports and though the Libyan embassy had not mentioned anything about it, we decided it would be best to have them anyway since we're planning to spend several months in northern Africa and possibly the Middle East.
We headed into Tunis this morning, hoping to find a place to translate our passports. On our way through town, Tyler suggested we stop and ask the reception desk of a fancy hotel for advice on the matter. To our amazement, they pointed us in the direction of a translation office only a block away. We'd been expecting a drawn out affair of line waiting, confusion and misdirection so we were thrilled when it appeared we'd have our goal accomplished just minutes after arriving in the city.
Sure enough, all we had to do was drop off our passports. The man working at the counter guessed we were trying to go to Libya before we even mentioned it. "We do a lot of these," he said with a smile, and informed us that our translations would be ready in an hour. SUCCESS!
We walked across the street for several rounds of terrible cappuccinos and our new favorite game to pass the time: "DOTS". Tyler used to play this in elementary school with his friends; he taught it to me on our ferry ride to Tunis. You draw a grid of dots and then take turns connecting them, one line per turn. The object is to prevent your opponent from closing any boxes. Tyler beat me for the second time!
Before we knew it an hour had passed and when we returned to the translation office, our passports were indeed ready to go. Quick, easy, and professional—for the low price of 16 TND, the office provided us with perfect Arabic inserts in our passports complete with plenty of official looking stamps!
After thanking them and leaving we stopped in at the nearest TaxiPhone for photocopies before hailing a cab to take us to the Libyan Embassy. Two dinar later, we arrived and attempted to add the copies to our file. Instead were invited to return the day after tomorrow at 9AM to hear the verdict. Satisfied we'd done all we could, we walked back towards the center of town for some site seeing in the famous "medina" of Tunis.
The Medina is the old city; all of Tunis used to be contained within its walls. Today it is an (almost) car-free, jam-packed pedestrian zone, filled with a labyrinth of dark, narrow lanes lined with shops. There are mosques and residential neighborhoods in the medina as well, but today we wandered around the shopping areas. Accosted from every side by men selling their wares, we walked by stores filled with pottery, bejeweled pointed slippers, leather goods, lanterns, hand-carved olive wood, traditional Tunisian clothing, and hundreds of other trinkets.
It was a little intimidating at first, but we soon learned to ignore the hawkers until it was time to haggle. With a little direction and encouragement from Tyler I was able to practice my bargaining skills as we bought presents for his brothers and sisters. Once each child was accounted for, we made it past the colorful touristy section and turned off onto a street specializing in jeans.
It was hard to tell the difference in the dark alleyways, between the real men and the mannequins, all sporting jeans and stylish sweaters and hats. While the whole thing was a lot of fun, I must say I wasn't inspired to undertake the already difficult task of jean shopping with the added challenges of cramped quarters, traffic jams of people coming and going, and haggling for my price.
After streets of jeans there were a few herb sellers with huge baskets of gingeroot and countless containers of unidentified medicinal plants and spices piled up around the stalls. Every now and again in a small scrap of space off of the already crowded lane, men peeled and sold fresh prickly pears from wooden carts, while others sold pastries covered in cloth to keep the bugs out.
After meandering through the wildly colored souks, we eventually made it to an uninteresting part of the medina—the everyday household goods section filled with remote controls, cushioned dolphin-print toilet seats, shower heads, and fuzzy pink slippers. It wasn't long before we decided to call it quits.
Dragging our aching feet out of Tunis with bundles of gifts for the kids in our hands, we were relieved to finally sit down on the TGM train back to La Marsa.