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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tunisia

I have visited Tunisia twice before. The first time over New Year when I was about eleven. The second time was a couple of years later in October. Having had nothing but good memories of both visits I was happy to return this year after finding an all inclusive deal with Thomson for just over £400 each for my girlfriend and I, particularly as the flights were from our local airport (Doncaster).

Things started well when we arrived a good hour and half before take-off to find no queue at check in. Things did get slightly worse however. At the time we thought nothing when the check in girl asked what seats we had reserved. We knew we had reserved them together but couldn’t recall whether it was for a window seat. No problem however as the check in girl said it was sorted. While having a coffee before the flight we checked the boarding cards to see we had seats C and D and guessed (correctly as it turned out) they were separated by an aisle. Now Thomson and Thomas Cook Airlines (who we were flying with) may think this is “together” but when half the flight you have your conversation interrupted by stewards/stewardess’s and trolley’s of Duty Free, food and various other things, I certainly don’t.

On arrival in Tunisia we were pleased to find it was in the mid/upper 20’s at around 9pm. There was a long queue at immigration, not helped by people who hadn’t already filled in their visas and did so at the desk (would it have been so difficult to fill them in while queuing for 30 minutes).

Transfer to the hotel came via mini bus, and much to our (and every other passengers) shock the cases were lifted and tied to the roof. I then got to listen to the World Cup final penalty shootout in Arabic, and with the lack of emotion in the commentator’s voice I had no idea who, if anyone, was scoring. Thankfully the driver told us the result at the end.

Our hotel for the week was the Riu Park El Kebir, and on arrival first impressions were that it would live up to its four star rating, and while the facilities certainly did, much of the service left a lot to be desired.

When greeted at reception the staff seemed interested in talking to anyone except us at first and then made us take our bags back to the door (no offer to do it for us). They then were quite forceful it trying to get us to have something to eat, but at after midnight all we wanted to do was go to bed. Much of the service continued at this level for the rest of the holiday. On two separate occasions we were left with a lack of towels in the bathroom. At meal times we received a lower level of service than many others. Most people would have their drinks topped up during the evening, some how the waiter always failed to stop at our table. Twice we were asked what would like to drink but never did get anything. The only time we had good service in the restaurant was on our waiters day off when a Manuel (Fawlty Towers) look alike deputised. Perhaps the worst thing though was getting a couple of cokes from the bar which we watched being poured only to find they contained vodka or a similar spirit on tasting. I wouldn’t have been too happy if those cokes had been for children, at least as adults we could knowingly leave them for another drink, a child would never have known the difference. To end on a good point, the two men looking after the loungers on the hotel beach were very friendly and helpful throughout the week; a few other staff could learn a thing or two about customer service from them. Not that anything was particularly awful, just not the four stars we had paid for.

As already mentioned, the hotel had its own private beach with a range of water sports available, though these weren’t included in the all inclusive. There was also a pool with a bar and self service for beer and soft drinks. Loungers and parasols are all provided, both very useful to keep out of the sun (it was even hot in the shade when we were there) and off the very hot sand. The hotel also has an indoor pool along with a range of health and beauty services (I recommend the Indian massage). There was also a snack area and two indoor bars open at various times throughout the day.

For the most part the weather was fantastic (though not that much hotter than the UK by the sound of things). On the first day even the water was close to 30 degrees and the heat could be felt even in the shade. Temperatures were rumoured to be in the low to mid forties while we were there. The exception was day two when the morning was breezy followed by hail and thunder in the afternoon that saw parasols in the pool and the sea go from being clear enough to sea the fish at your feet to a murky brown more akin to British shores.

While most of our time was spent in the hotel we did take a trip to the centre of Hammamet to visit the Medina and barter (successfully) for some souvenirs. We had fancied the two day Sahara experience to visit the troglodyte homes from the Star Wars films and an overnight stay in a Bedouin camp in the Sahara, sadly this was already fully booked for the week we were there. Also, for some reason no one was giving camel rides while we were there.

Overall the holiday was enjoyable though neither of us is in any real rush to go back. On the flight home we did get two seats together and a window. Due to the clear skies we had a wonderful view of Italy, the Alps, Paris, London and the route of our final descent from over Nottingham, to Sheffield, over to Ferrybridge and in to Doncaster.

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