Meandering Through Mahdia…Part 10…If You Go…Tips and Links

So that’s it for my series on our trip to Mahdia. I just wanted to add this last page with some tips, advice and links to help anyone else who thinks they might want to go.

CHECK YOUR GOVERNMENT TRAVEL ADVISORY WEBSITE

The very first advice I would give is that before you book anything, check your government’s travel advisory page for Tunisia. Ever since the terrorist attack at a tourist hotel in Sousse, Tunisia in 2015 where 38 people were killed, many countries have still not lifted their travel warnings for Tunisia. Many of those travel warnings are for regions far from Mahdia, but you still want to check them out. While we were in Mahdia, it was low season so there were not many tourists…my hubby, our friend and I were the only Westerners there, the majority of tourists were from either Germany or France. We were told that people from the UK are still warned against all travel to Tunisia…you can read the latest updates on the UK Travel advisory page here.

I would be remiss to not mention the continuing terrorist threats in Tunisia…this was the primary reason I was so terrified of travelling to Tunisia in the days prior to boarding our flight. Although the fiery protests in Tunis were not terrorist-related, it seemed to me to still be a dangerous situation to be walking into. One of the things that I did not mention much in my blog was the constant visible presence of armed security police everywhere in Mahdia. Our hotel was heavily guarded, and we often saw armed guards patrolling the beaches, especially after nightfall. All vehicles entering the compound were thoroughly checked. It was something I’m not used to seeing…we don’t see machine guns where we live…and so it was an eerie and constant reminder of the dangers of being in this part of the world. And while Mahdia felt very tranquil and its people very kind, friendly and peaceful, we were constantly reminded that the threat was still real enough to warrant such vigilance. While hubby and our friend barely noticed, for me personally, it did overshadow the beauty and tranquility somewhat. I never felt 100% safe the entire time we were there.

Here is a very recent statement from the UK Travel Advisory page that is disquieting, but you should know before you go…this warning would apply to all travellers.

But terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia. Security forces remain on a high state of alert in Tunis and other places. You should be vigilant at all times, including around religious sites and festivals. Follow the advice of the Tunisian security authorities and your travel company if you have one.

If you travel to any country that your own government has advised against travelling to, you must realize that you will be travelling at your own risk and that your government may not have the ability to pull you out or respond to any disaster or problems you encounter. The best advice I could give if you do choose to travel to any place included in any travel advisories is to buy the best travel insurance possible, and book through a reputable travel agent (maybe an agent you’ve been dealing with who already knows you and has all of your personal information already) who might be better able to help you get out faster should any problems arise that necessitate quick evacuation.

RESEARCH AIRLINES – TRY TO FLY INTO ENFIDHA-HAMMAMET AIRPORT

When we booked, we did look into Air France and other airlines, and opted for Air France because it had better reviews and a better safety reputation. And the 6-hour overnight flights with Air France from Montreal to Paris (and Paris back to Montreal) WERE very comfortable and we were very well looked after, so we did not for a moment regret our decision. But Air France is only allowed to fly into Tunis, which is over 225km from Mahdia, necessitating the added expense and close to 3 hours of extra travel time….which became even more inconvenient when we had to return to Tunis to retrieve our lost luggage. (BTW, we learned that delayed luggage was actually a very common problem with Air France…something to keep in mind when you book. Leave plenty of time between connecting flights and pack a full change of clothes as well as necessities in your carry-on.)

And as we found out, it’s not that easy to pre-book a reputable comfortable taxi for that 3-hour drive…our own travel agent didn’t know how to do it, so we had to use our friend’s travel agent who had done it for him for many years. Even having “been there and done that”, I honestly don’t know how to tell you to pre-book your own cab…I know the travel agent who did that cab booking for us went through “SellOffVacations” to book with another company called “BedsOnLine” in the US. But there is no name attached to the Tunisian cab company that we used, so I cannot provide that information here. And also note that most airport transfer cabs are “shared-shuttle cab”, which is an upscale version of the Louage, which means that your pre-booked cab potentially could have several other passengers to drop off en route, adding to your travel time.

If you go through a travel agent like Thomas Cook, I believe they do include airport transportation in their packages…they also have an agent right there on site at the El Mansour, which we observed was very handy for the Thomas Cook tourists.

Anyway, if we were to go back to Mahdia, we would look into booking with an airline that can fly us into Enfidha–Hammamet International Airport which is only about a 1.5 hour drive from Mahdia as opposed to the 3-hour drive from the airport in Tunis. We might even look into booking through an agency like Thomas Cook simply for the convenience of having that airport shuttle and an on-site agent.

MAHDIA IN JANUARY WAS COLD

Very cold. In fact, some days I resorted to wearing my long-johns! On one of our first days there, I had four layers of clothing on and was still cold. We were told that the cold and high winds were unusual for Mahdia, even at this time of year, but still, I wouldn’t take the chance…if you go, bring at least one set of warm clothing. The Mahdians were wearing heavy winter jackets. It was sometimes very cold in the hotel lobby as well. When we first got there, WiFi was only available in the lobby areas, but it was often too cold to sit there for very long. By the second week, the hotel had installed wifi in all of the rooms, and we kept our room heated, so that worked much better for us. It was too cold to spend much time on the beach, although near the end of our three weeks, it had warmed up to the point where we could take our socks and shoes off. Some hardy tourists did brave the cold sea waters, but didn’t stay in the water very long. The cold wasn’t so good for the beach, but it was perfect walking weather.

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Hubby was cold on the beach!

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I took my socks off for this photo…then quickly put them back on because the wind was chilly!

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But I do love this photo…

LEAVE SPACE IN YOUR SUITCASE

The exchange rate was definitely in our favour…essentially we received almost double the Dinar for our Canadian dollar. And I don’t know if it was just because it was low season, but prices in Mahdia were very reasonable in our opinion. There were so many beautiful things we would loved to have brought home with us, not just for ourselves but for loved ones as well, and the exchange rate so attractive that we could have snagged some great bargains…but we had overpacked and didn’t have enough space in our suitcase. If we do go back again, we’re either leaving half of each of our suitcases empty, or pre-buying an extra bag for the flight home.

BRING COMFORTABLE WALKING SHOES

Mahdia is a wonderful place to explore, but those crazy sidewalks and steps are not designed for 3-4 hours of walking in high heels or heavy boots or even flimsy sandals. I did wear my Finn-Comfort sandals when the weather permitted, but didn’t bring my walking sneakers, because we didn’t expect it to be so cold and I thought my sandals would be enough. Bring both! (And do bring the dress shoes for those evenings in the hotel.)

WHAT TO WEAR

Boy, did I stew over this issue, i.e., what kind of clothes to pack, since Tunisia is a Muslim country and I wanted to be sure not to offend anyone with my clothing choices. I did extensive research online, reading blogs and forums and anything else I could find that would help me pack my suitcase. The word I kept reading over and over was “modesty”, dress modestly. So I packed accordingly…and when I got there and was walking through Mahdia, I felt downright dowdy. The woman in Mahdia are strong, empowered, elegant and beautifully dressed. At first I felt so dowdy in my “modest” clothing, I almost didn’t want to go anywhere…then I decided it was okay, my dowdiness made the Mahdian women shine all that much more and I was okay with that. Nobody stared, and nobody’s eyes rolled (at least that I could see), and I think that’s because Mahdian women are so strong and empowered that they’re able to live and let live. Still, while I won’t pack mini-skirts, cut-off shorts and skimpy tops for our next trip, I’ll definitely spice my wardrobe up a bit.

LANGUAGE…BRING A FRENCH DICTIONARY

The official language in Tunisia is Arabic, but the second language for most Tunisians is French. My husband speaks fluent French and I speak enough to get by, so we managed very well everywhere we went. I don’t think we met anyone who didn’t speak French. I honestly don’t know how we would have fared without being able to speak French. So if you go, bring a French dictionary to help you, especially with the cab drivers…although many of the cab drivers did speak English, they were clearly more comfortable conversing in French and we learned a lot about the areas we were driving through from the cab drivers. The hotel staff, some of the shopkeepers and vendors in the Medina spoke some English. The hotel staff also speak fluent German.

TAKE THE ALL-INCLUSIVE PACKAGE AT THE HOTEL

It’s very affordable and do-able to “live off of the economy” in Mahdia. You can rent some beautiful fully-furnished tourist apartments, buy groceries in the neighbourhood markets, and get almost anywhere you want to by foot or those little yellow cabs. Our friend and his wife did that for 2-3 months every winter for many years. That might be more appealing to those of you snowbirds who are interested in immersing yourselves in the Mahdian culture. We would probably still opt for the same hotel (The Royal El Mansour), and this time, ask our travel agent to book us with the all-inclusive option which will include most beverages and other assorted amenities. We did miss our afternoon tea, though we could easily have bought a kettle at the store and made our own…and next time, we might just do that….but they do serve those neat little sandwiches and other sweet and savoury Petit Fours at the hotel-hosted afternoon tea…

WHAT I REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO HAVE TO MENTION BUT FEEL I MUST

After all of the wonderful things I’ve written about Mahdia, the hotel and the Mahdian people, I am loathe – but feel obliged – to bring up this one subject which I have been very careful not to mention throughout my blog. If I don’t, and you go, you’ll write back to me and ask me why I never mentioned – the GARBAGE on the streets. UGH! I really did want to focus on all of the good and beautiful sights that we saw in Mahdia. But the truth is that everywhere we walked, we saw garbage. Not stinky food garbage, that kind of garbage is collected regularly. But plastic bags, old construction materials and paper garbage were often painfully visible in the trees and gardens along the roadways and along many of the public sidewalks…almost everywhere except in people’s own yards and gardens…clearly the Mahdians take great care in keeping their own patches of ground and walkways very clean.  Once you step in through someone’s gate, the grounds are meticulously clean. And sometimes we could see area residents sweeping up the garbage along their laneways and even the public sidewalks close to their houses and/or shops. In fact, I would say that if we walked through a narrow lane once, and there was garbage strewn around…it was almost always cleaned up by the time we walked through that same lane again. So some people clearly cared. But for the most part, outside of those gates and walls, out in the larger common areas, there clearly is no regular clean-up of this kind of junk. It was the number 1 turn-off for all of us. You could not ignore it. The reason I gave for not taking so many pictures was that most Mahdians didn’t want to have their pictures taken, and that was very true…but there was another reason why many of my pictures could not be displayed here, and that’s because there was too much garbage in the pictures. The plastic bags hanging from beautiful bougainvillea trees were especially hard to take. And I hope that someone from Mahdia is reading this blog and will take my words to heart…all of this plastic and paper garbage needs to be cleaned up because it looks ugly and draws the tourist’s eyes away from the awesome beauty of Mahdia and its people. I worked hard to build Mahdia up in my blog…but the garbage that Mahdia leaves strewn around its city will definitely turn many people off and they won’t be so inclined to write glowing reviews.

Anyway, there now, I’ve told you. I hope that won’t keep you from choosing to travel to Mahdia, because Mahdia truly is a beautiful place worth exploring, filled with beautiful, kind, good people, well worth meeting. Go back and look through my dozens of beautiful photos with NO garbage anywhere in sight. That’s the Mahdia we grew to love.

Did I cover everything anyone would want to know? Probably not. But feel free to send any questions and I’ll try to answer.

Thank you again for following this journey with me. I’m not sure where we’re off to next. We weren’t home much between November and mid-March, so I’m ready to settle in and enjoy being home for awhile. But we’re already talking about maybe Switzerland…who wants to go climb some mountains?! (not me, that was just a rhetorical question).

Anyway, I’m glad for your company and look forward to our next jaunt together. If you ever do go to Mahdia, write and tell me about your experience there. I’d love to hear!

 

 

 

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Meandering Through Mahdia…Part 9…The Fishing Harbour

Mahdia reminded me of the scenes from Harry Potter where houses (or tents or other buildings) were bigger on the inside than the outside. It often seemed that Mahdia was much larger than we had thought it was…after three weeks of walking almost every day, there were still things we hadn’t seen.

The fishing harbour was one of those things that utterly surprised me. It seemed that we had skirted around it a few times in our travels through the Medina and the Souk, but I had never actually taken note of it, until we walked just a little farther one day and…voila…there it was! We had often seen from our balcony the little fishing boats bobbing in the water, but hadn’t yet seen where those boats disappeared to when they went home with their catches of the day…or when the sea was too rough to venture out.

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Too rough for the fishing boats today

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Those waves are bigger than they look from our balcony…and very loud too!

On this day, the sea was too rough and so no boats had been able to go out fishing. When we reached the fishing harbour we could see that the boats were all tied up at the wharf, and the harbour was bustling with hard-working fishermen repairing their nets and lines. Being the offspring of a Maritime family whose Newfoundland ancestral roots stretch all the way back to the early 1600’s, (and possibly even further back, going by the etchings on the tombstones in the family cemetery) the sights and smells and sounds tugged at something deep within me and I just wanted to sit there for awhile and soak it in.

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The fishing boats are all tied up in the harbour today

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So many interesting sights in the harbour

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The place was bustling, yet tranquil at the same time…I really sensed the deep attachment the fishermen had to their boats and to the sea.

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The fishermen are hard at work repairing their nets

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Back-breaking work!

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The grounds are covered with ropes and nets.

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There’s a real camaraderie amongst the fishermen there

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It was a busy place

One of the more intriguing sights was what looked like an old pirate ship…we could see it from a distance, looming high above the wharf, its masts still regal, the ship creaking under its heavy weight of old tales and echoing whispers of ghostly presence. I wanted to linger and listen…but when all I could hear was the distant clanging of swords and shouts of blood lust raging across the old wooden deck, it made me shiver, and we moved on.

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This one needs a lot of work!

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Can’t you just picture Jack Sparrow in there somewhere?!

As we left the harbour and walked back toward the centre of town, we came across a man sitting on the corner, repairing leather goods. Our friend had been searching for someone who could repair his watch band, so he asked this man on the corner. The man looked at it, whipped out an old leather purse, cut and snipped a few pieces here and there and in less than 7 minutes, our friend had a beautiful new leather watch band. But I wasn’t allowed to take a picture.

That’s Mahdia. Beautiful Mahdia full of beautiful kind people. Of all of the strange and wonderful sights that we saw throughout our three weeks here, the memory that will shine the brightest will be of the kindness of the people of Mahdia.

This will be the last “touristy” segment with pictures of Mahdia itself…I’ll be writing one more entry to this series, with advice and links for anyone who might be thinking of travelling to Mahdia. (Maybe I’ll include a few pictures from our days at the beach itself, though it was off season and actually too cold to spend much time at the beach.)

For now, I hope my blog has helped bring some of Mahdia’s beauty and kindness to life for you. I’m a rather haphazard tourist, with very little photography skills, who just enjoys sharing these glimpses of the world with you. I’ve been glad for your company, and I thank you very much for coming along for the ride.

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Meandering Through Mahdia…Part 8…Scenes From the Streets

(I do apologize in advance, because I know I’ve posted too many pictures for this one segment…I did try to come back and split it up into two segments, but honestly don’t know how to do that, so have left it as is. It’s a learning experience.)

Our daily walks quickly became our favourite activity in Mahdia. We often took different streets each day and there were always interesting things to see everywhere we went. The architecture and the flora were different from ours back home in Canada, with date trees lining the streets and lemon and/or orange trees peeking over the walls that surrounded most of the private houses.  It was difficult to narrow down what pictures to include here in this segment…here are a few snapshots of the kinds of things we saw while meandering through the streets of Mahdia.

ALONG THE SEASIDE TO THE OLD CITY AND THE MARITIME CEMETARY

One of our favourite routes to take was the sidewalk that ran beside the seashore.  For one thing, there were no stairs, so it was much easier for my poor knee. And secondly, I love water, so I never tired of seeing the sea in all of its moods and colours. I took a lot of pictures of the water, but restrained myself and only included a few here.

Following this sidewalk all along the shore, we eventually come to the Old City of Mahdia with its 16th Century fortress and the unforgettable sight of the thousands of white gravestones in the Maritime Cemetery, founded in the 10th Century and still being used today. I honestly felt like I was somehow intruding and being disrespectful taking too many pictures of the individual tombstones, so I didn’t…but if you click on the link here, you can see some wonderful close-up pictures of many of the more interesting tombstones.

THE FLORA AND THE ARCHITECTURE

Here’s a mosaic of the different buildings, trees and flowers we passed in our meanderings. The building with the fish in front of it is a brand new condo building, and became our primary point of reference, we affectionately called it “the fish corner”, because it was just steps away from both the sea and the hotel, so we knew that if we were ever lost, we only had to find the water, then our fish corner and then we would know we were almost “home”. (We also found the best little laundry service right beside this fish building.)

JUST IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

We also enjoyed setting off in different directions and just walking around the neighbourhoods that we would find. We particularly enjoyed the various market scenes…I still would have liked to have taken a picture of the huge bin of fresh fish – but there weren’t any in the bin! They were all sold out by the time we got there. Oh well. Here’s what I did capture in those walks around the neighbourhood.

JUST DOORS

I was fascinated by the doors in Mahdia! Some were so elaborate for the size of the houses or buildings they were attached to. Here’s a mosaic of some of the more interesting doors that we passed in our daily walks.

 

AND THE BEST FOR LAST…BAKERIES!

Here are a few of our favourite things…my very favourites turned out to be anything with pistachios in them. The pistachio baklava was particularly memorable…

That’s it for today’s post…my next segment…a visit to the Mahdia Fishing Harbour…will be the last official chapter to this series. Part 10 will be a more informational piece with links and “before you go” advice and suggestions.

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Meandering Through Mahdia…Part 7…El Jem (El DJem)

Being in Mahdia for three weeks gave us plenty of time and opportunity to visit other parts of the region…we had been told that Sousse would be a great outing…but we were so charmed by Mahdia and never tired of our daily walks through different areas of Mahdia, so we felt no desire to go anywhere else…except El Jem (which is the tourist-friendly name – the actual name of the town is El DJem). Being a huge history buff, Andre was particularly interested in visiting El DJem, home to what was being touted in all of the brochures as the most impressive Roman ruins in Africa, rivalling even the Colosseum in Rome. We had been to the Colosseum in Rome and had thoroughly enjoyed our visit there, so El DJem appealed to both of us.

We took the Louage taxi from Mahdia to El DJem, which was a comfortable and interesting 45 minute drive through olive groves, cabbage patches and small villages all along the way. The Louage took us to the El DJem Louage station, which was only a few blocks away from the Amphitheatre. At the top of the Amphitheatre’s outer stairs leading down to the pay kiosk, I spotted my first camels of the trip, and promptly took a picture. A man came running out of nowhere, insisting I pay him a Dinar for having taken the photo, but I quickly escaped down the stairs to the Amphitheatre entrance.

Once through the turnstile, we were thrown back in time as we entered the Amphitheatre. It was still fairly early in the morning and we had the entire place to ourselves for quite awhile. It was breathtakingly beautiful! We wondered upward through all five levels of the upper ruins…well, I only managed four levels, the fifth level stairs were too precarious and steep for me, so I stayed behind and soaked it all in. (And while I was soaking it all in, I realized that the many small openings in the outer walls allowed me to easily take better, and free, photos of the camels down below in the town square.)

Once the guys had thoroughly explored the upper levels, we found stairs that took us  down into the amazing and well-preserved underground where we were able to see where the gladiators and lions (and other animals) would have been kept. It was interesting to see that most of the underground chambers were high enough to allow horses and chariots to drive through unimpeded.

All in all, it was a fascinating journey back in time to the grandeur – and brutality – of the 3rd Century Roman empire; I could envision the blood and gore of the battles that had once been fought within these walls, and could almost hear the shouts of the tens of thousands of spectators who would have sat in those very seats we were standing on.  It was both exquisite and sobering.

We enjoyed our freedom to roam pretty much everywhere and anywhere we wanted within the ruins, giving us plenty of time to absorb each new view and explore so many of the little nooks and crannies of the intricate structures. After exploring for 2-3 hours, we decided to search for a place to eat, eventually walking several blocks to one restaurant recommended by a few of the shopkeepers. We ordered the chicken special, which came with very generous portions of appetizers, including delicious mini olives, salad and the chicken itself, which was barbecued on a special grill set up outside of the restaurant. The meal was delicious, plentiful, inexpensive and filling.

We walked back by a different route, which took us around the back of the Amphitheatre (and through one particularly precariously narrow street with no sidewalk), eventually  arriving once again in front of the Amphitheatre where the camels still sat. I found the camel’s owner (or at least the guy who had asked me for a Dinar earlier) and I gave him five Dinar…he looked surprised and quizzical and asked “why?!”, and I told him it was because I had taken FIVE pictures of his camels from inside of the ruins. Well he laughed so hard, and we shook hands and he left with a big happy smile on his face. I did too.

We made our way through another narrow street, which seemed to be the jean capital of El DJem…several long stretches on both sides of the street were lined with jeans of so many different styles…bling, holes, whitewash, blue, black, blue and black, checkered, leather inserts, short, long, overalls, mens, women’s, children’s…I should have taken pictures. Next time. (though if you Google “Jeans for sale in El DJem Tunisia” (or click here), you actually can see lots of pictures of jeans from El DJem!) Anyway, we managed to make our way safely (by that I mean we didn’t buy any, though some did catch my eye) through the jeans and back to the Louage station and then back to Mahdia just in time for a late afternoon siesta before supper. It was one of the nicest days we’ve ever had.

El DJem is another “must-see” if you’re ever in the neighbourhood. Here are some pictures from our day in El DJem.  As you can see, there were much fewer people-constraints here, so I took LOTS of pictures. Click the pictures to see larger versions.

 

In the next segment, we’ll see a lot more pictures from Mahdia itself, a compilation of photos taken during our many walks through the city over the three weeks we were there.

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Meandering Through Mahdia…Part 6…The Friday Souk

One of the first things our friend mentioned to us when we first arrived in Mahdia was the Friday Market, or the Souk. Since our first full day in Mahdia was the Friday after arriving, we were too jet-lagged and tired to venture too far, so we had opted to take a walk on the beach instead and then found the grocery store so that we could stock up on bottled water and food for our lunches over the next few days. And I can’t remember why we didn’t make it to the Souk the following Friday, but we didn’t. So it wasn’t until our third and last Friday that we finally experienced Mahdia’s Friday Souk…and boy, were we regretting not having been there sooner! Our friend had told us that the Souk stretched throughout Mahdia, but still we weren’t expecting the vast extent of it. It stretched through several blocks on the main street through the centre of Mahdia, and then stretched for several more blocks outward from the city centre, and then stretched again as far as the eye could see in all directions. It seemed that every merchant and vendor from Mahdia and surrounding areas had come here to sell their wares.

Everything you can imagine was being sold at this Souk. Aside from the usual market fare of fresh produce, just-caught fish and live chickens, there were stalls displaying everything from bathroom fixtures to fine china, sterling silver cutlery to fine crystal glasses of every description…carpets, mattresses, bed linens…toys, tools, trinkets of every kind for every age…colourful knapsacks and purses of every size hanging above even more colourful clothing…bras, holey jeans, underwear, leather jackets, blinged jeans, socks, leggings, winter jackets, pashminis…and shoes! The shoes!!! There was one fairly long street which seemed to be the shoe capital of the entire world. Spiked heels, stiletto heels, wedged heels, cowboy boots, warm winter boots, ankle boots, name-brand sneakers of every colour, flimsy flip-flops, shiny blinged sandals, light-up sneakers for the children…it was impossible to take it all in, there was so much to see. And because of the crowds of people who didn’t want their pictures taken, impossible to photograph properly.

We browsed for over two hours and reluctantly came out with only a handful of treasures, because by then our suitcases were already at risk of being overweight. (Which is why we’ll be bringing half-empty suitcases next time we travel to Mahdia!) I did manage to take a few pictures, but always asked the people behind the stalls for permission…which only a few gave willingly. At one point I tried to take a picture of an interesting and colourful wallpaper display but the stall-owner’s eyes and wringing hands pleaded with me to not do so, so even though there would have been no people in the photo, I put the camera away.

As fun and interesting as our day at the Souk was, the highlight by far was when a young girl came bounding out of the crowds and gave me a huge, warm hug. We hugged each other for quite a few moments, while her Mother stood a few steps away clearly upset and apologizing for her daughter’s bold behaviour…but I smiled and hugged her daughter even closer, and the Mother relaxed and smiled and even asked us to take a picture of her daughter and herself together. I thought we had taken a picture of me with the young girl as well, but it never showed up on the camera, so I only have two, the one I took of the girl and her Mother and the other of them with Andre. To this day, that young girl’s smile and warm hug still light up my heart and make me smile to remember.

So here is the collection of photos from our day at the Souk in Mahdia. (I did not caption any of the photos in this gallery except for the picture of the young girl.) You can click on the pictures to see larger versions of them and to see more clearly the items on display. And if you ever go to Mahdia yourself, leave plenty of space in your suitcase and visit the Souk the FIRST Friday of your vacation…in case you want to go back the following Friday for more great bargains!

In the next segment, we’ll visit El Jem, (aka DJem) home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Roman Amphitheatre of Thysdrus, one of the most remarkably well-preserved and beautiful displays of Roman ruins we have ever seen in all of our travels.

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Meandering Through Mahdia…Part 5…The Medina

There weren’t too many corners of Mahdia that we didn’t walk through in our three weeks there. Even with the crazy sidewalks, walking through Mahdia was always an enjoyable adventure. But my favourite part of Mahdia was the Medina, just beyond the huge stone wall. In comparison to the Medinas we’ve visited in Morocco, the Medina in Mahdia is smaller in size, but very large in kindness. Gosh, even now, the memory of the kindness and genuine friendliness of people we met in the Mahdia Medina brings a warmth to my heart. And I don’t have pictures of too many people, because most of people we met throughout Mahdia didn’t want their picture taken. But I did take pictures of some of the shops, so maybe, if you’re ever in Mahdia, you can stop in and meet these wonderful people for yourselves.

You can’t miss the entrance to the Mahdia Medina. Looming tall and magnificent, the main entrance to the Medina is called Skifa Kahla, and is the last remnant of an ancient fortress built in 916 AD by the Fatimids.

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Once we travelled the long dark cobblestone passageway (about 50 meters long) through the great wall, we emerged into the first crossroads inside the Medina. Maybe it was because it was still early in the morning, but it felt tranquil and hospitable inside these old walls. Right away I was glad to be there and eager to explore. Right, left, straight ahead…we were surrounded by colour and history…colourful ceramics, handmade weavings, jewellery, silk pashminis and scarves, clothing, carpets and knick-knack souvenirs of every possible description.

We opted for the first shop on the left…and were glad we started there. Full of delightful little treasures, it was a feast for my souvenir-hunting eyes. Right away, the shop owner came running into the store, introduced himself, offered my husband a chair in the corner in the store and asked if we would like some mint tea. It didn’t take me long to decide what I wanted (two blue/white porcelain tagines – exact matches to some souvenirs we had bought in Morocco), and our shop host was quick to see that we knew how to bargain and quickly offered us a price we couldn’t refuse.

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Lots of interesting treasures to be found in the Medina…

From there we wandered through the labyrinth of narrow lanes, noting the places we wanted to come back to when we finished the rest of our tour of the Medina and the Old City. I was especially interested in the looms and weavings, and on the way back through the Medina, we stopped in one tiny shop where a woven pink pashmini had caught my eye. It was so soft, and I think I still regret not buying it, but instead, I bought a red and black one with a rose motif that would be more useful for me back home.

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The loom…

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The weaver…and the pink scarf that lured me in.

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The pashmini I chose

As we continued meandering through the Medina, we stopped and bought several more souvenirs for loved ones back home. And we stopped and chatted to people along the way as well, which was fun and interesting. At one intersection, while hubby was chatting with an elderly man, another pink concoction caught my eye and I ventured into the shop…and came out with the beautiful pink sweater in hand…one of the hotel employees told me later that I probably overpaid for it, but I didn’t care, it’s a cosy souvenir that I’ve already worn several times and am glad to have hanging in my closet.

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The pink caught my eye

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One of the few people who didn’t mind having his picture taken…can you see my pink sweater?

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So cosy! It feels wonderful!

That was the end of our first trek through the Medina, but we returned a few more times and always enjoyed our meanderings and encounters there. On one of our return visits, the gentleman from that first shop warmly greeted us and took us to some other interesting shops buried deep in the labyrinth…one in particular was one of our favourites, filled with aromatic spices of every colour. We did buy some, but ended up giving them away later because we weren’t sure about bringing loose spices back through Canadian customs…I looked it up online, but still wasn’t sure enough to risk it, so we gave the spices away before leaving Mahdia.

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We found these amazing colourful spices in a teeny tiny shop buried deep within the complex labyrinth of the Medina.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies of the Mahdia Medina and would count this as a “must-see” sight if you ever go to Mahdia yourself. The Medina and the Friday “Souk” Market, which I’ll cover in the next segment, are a big reason that if we ever go back to Madhia, we plan to go with half-empty suitcases so we can fill them with the treasures that we didn’t have space for this time.

Coming up next…let’s go to the Friday Souk!

 

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Meandering Through Mahdia…Part 4…The Sidewalks, The Cats and The One That Got Away

THE SIDEWALKS

Hmmm, you might ask, why write a blog segment on sidewalks? I know I would be asking myself the same question. It’s because Mahdia has crazy sidewalks…actually, Mahdia does have sidewalks, but no two stretches of sidewalks are alike. This is because in Mahdia, every store and house owner is responsible for the sidewalks in front of his/her store and/or house. So you can be walking merrily along, and suddenly – no sidewalk – or you have to step way up or way down and/or cross bare pavement that’s often broken and/or more often than not, littered with discarded construction material just to reach the next stretch of sidewalk. Literally every second step is a new adventure!

Some sidewalks are elegant and clean, some are broken and barely passable, some are covered with a sprawling cat, some are partially covered by rotisserie ovens whose mouth-watering smells leave you drooling all over the clearly-already-drooled-upon sidewalks, and some are covered with dirty water that someone has just tossed out the door, barely missing getting a poor innocent tourist soaking wet. How we escaped three weeks of Mahdian sidewalks unscathed is beyond me!

But we did live to tell the tales, and here are some pictures of some of the Mahdian sidewalks that we encountered in our three weeks of meandering. One thing I would add is that Mahdian sidewalks are not knee-friendly…all of that constant stepping up and down and over and across left my right knee aching well into the night. By the third week, I learned that the pain was lessened if I gently side-stepped up and down instead of taking the steps straight on. That left me straggling behind at times, but it was worth it. Maybe a brace would have helped as well…if we ever go back, I’ll look into useful options. A useful tidbit for any other knee-challenged tourists out there.

So here are pictures of some of those Mahdian sidewalks. (If you want to go straight to the pictures of the Cats, feel free to do so.) I’m not captioning all of them because I can’t remember where in Mahdia each sidewalk is. But each stretch of sidewalk is only as long and/or wide as the respective storefront. And as you can see in the two pictures with the horse and wagon, the sidewalk design can change significantly in the blink of an eye, or the click of a camera. I included the last photo to show how discarded piles of construction material are often left on the sidewalks for pedestrians to have to walk around, or sometimes through and/or over….sidenote…this is a baffling phenomenon in Mahdia, how so many piles of discarded construction materials can be left anywhere and everywhere and not ever be picked up. At any given moment in our walks, even in the most elegant parts of Mahdia, we would come across piles of doors and windows, or car parts (including doors, mufflers and wheels), or enormous piles of bricks. How we wished we could have gathered many of those discards and take them to our friends in Cuba who would be happy to put these piles of stuff to good use! Sigh.

THE CATS

Okay, I know that the moment I mentioned “cats” in my first instalment of this series, many of you “purrrked” right up and have been eagerly waiting for those pictures. Unfortunately I’m sure I don’t have enough to satisfy your hunger for cute-Mahdian-cat photos, but I’ll post the seven that turned out….and the one that didn’t. Part of the problem was that hubby got a bit too close to some of the best potential photo-ops and scared the cats away before I could take the picture.

It didn’t take us long to notice the glaring absence of dogs in Mahdia…and the spectacular proliferation of cats in Mahdia. Occasionally we could hear dogs barking off in the distance at night, but rarely saw any during our daily walks. But there were cats everywhere we walked. Cats sleeping in the windows, cats napping on doorsteps, cats clearly at home inside many stores we walked into, cats perched on the high walls surrounding many of the houses, cats prowling along the shore looking for fresh treasures from the sea…I admit to not being quick with the camera at first, so missed many great shots. But here are the few that I did manage to take…

 

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

This could possibly have been the absolute best photo I’ve ever taken in all of my travels. The perfect cat sitting on the perfect doorstep. It was the most perfect cat photo of all time. The cat was stretched all along the doorstep, an absolutely gorgeous cat in the cutest position ever. I had my camera out, all set up, was ready to click the button – then hubby took one step too many and scared the cat away. Ugh. All I got was the empty doorstep. But use your imagination…imagine the most gorgeous cat you can and just see it leaning languidly against that most beautiful doorway. There. That’s the one that got away. No Nobel prize for best cat photo of 2018 for me. Drats.

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A picture of the cat that got away…

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