About a month ago – after a frenetic period of activity and incoming commitments, several of them originally unplanned and/or ‘imposed’ at very short notice by third parties both family and otherwise – She Who Must Be Obeyed and your author decided that we were desirous of “stepping off the mad carousel” and getting away for a quick break in the far-off sunshine in order to recuperate and recharge our batteries.
A visit to our local travel agent designed to prompt some ideas as to where and how we might do this ended with us signing up for a seven-night (all inclusive) stay at a four-star hotel in Tunisia on the north African coast, a country of which neither of us had previous experience.
The arrangements made included signing up for the airline’s ‘app’ via which tickets, boarding passes and the like could be ‘retained’ thereby removing the need for paper equivalents.
On the route to Gatwick for the outward bound flight said facility “pinged” to advise us that the flight had been delayed, thereby setting in motion a series of mini-complications.
Checking-in and “leaving our baggage” became somewhat chaotic for one. Hanging around, waiting, became an issue.
Then – having both planned to buy ourselves sunglasses in “duty free” – we were caught up in red tape as, when the time came to pay, the airport’s internet system “went down” and we were taken to the far end of the terminal where (apparently) the internet might still be working, where we were left still queuing at the tills to pay whilst the “final calls” for boarding our flight were being broadcast over the tannoy.
Rushing to the boarding gate we then had to endure a 35-minute “standing” wait for boarding to begin – the allocated seats at the Boarding gate all having being taken long before we joined the throng.
At last the boarding took place. Our tickets were in row 31 at the back of the aircraft, so we entered via the “back stairs”, where the next problem confronted us. The airline had switched our flight to a different (apparently smaller) aircraft on which there were only 30 rows of seats!
The flight attendants asked us to wait whilst everyone else boarded, after which – hopefully – they could identify where there might be any spare empty seats.
As luck would have it, there then turned out to be two free seats in – of all possibilities – row 30 at the back of the aircraft!
Our stay at our chosen hotel was basically as we had hoped – pleasant, friendly staff; a large oval pool around which (bar the inevitable daily scramble at about 5.45am to “bag” the prime sunbeds by leaving towels on them) the guests could disport themselves in the cause of getting a tan & relaxing, punctuated by strolls ever hour or so to the pool-side bar near the hotel itself where “free” drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic were available from 10.00am to 5.00pm each day; a large cafeteria-style area for meals; and as for the weather – bar two days in which the winds “got up” – the temperature rarely dipped below 39 degrees C and our main issue was that of applying enough oil (sun protection during the day & moisturiser before dinner) to keep sunburning at bay.
If we had to identify one serious bug-bear or negative on our break, it was the hotel’s set-up for meals.
The dining-room was large, well-appointed and air-conditioned and the food was laid out on a series of aisles with an open “chef’s cooking” area – dishing out cooked fish and meats of various (and unidentified) animals – at one end of the room and then the bread/toasting unit at the extreme other.
The aisles were uniformly presented with a series of plates, dishes or metal containers/dishes from which the hotel guests, armed with a plate or bowl, could choose their pick of whatever they liked from the fare on offer, ranging from the Tunisian versions of the traditional British “full cooked breakfast” to cereals, granolas, tomatoes, spam (not ham), salami, scrambled egg, yoghurts, orange and lime juices, fruits, melons, cous cous, rice, pasta (and dishes that might go with the aforementioned) … and then two coffee/tea-making machines that dispensed “small” portions of said liquids.
The above spread was laid out – between 7.00am and 10.00am each day – billed as “breakfast.
Between 12.30pm and 2.30pm it was described as “lunch”.
And between 6.30pm and 9.00pm in the evening … yes, you got it in one(!) … it was described as “dinner”.
Our most bizarre experience of our stay was on the fourth night, when we decided to give what was billed as “the international restaurant” a try.
All dolled up for the experience, we presented ourselves at said (admittedly rather upmarket-looking) unit and were taken to our table where, as the water was poured for us, I made what turned out to be a futile request to “see the menu”.
There was no menu.
Instead our meal consisted of soup to begin; moussaka as a second course; breaded turkey fillets as the main (with set vegetables); and melon, various fruits and berries as the dessert [plus vanilla ice cream which we specifically asked for and were served as “an addition”].
The fact that in advance I made known to my waiter that I would not need to be served a dessert (I personally gave the course up by choice some forty-six years ago) was of no consequence: I was served the entirety of one in any event.
In short, dear reader, our visit to the hotel’s “international restaurant” amounted to nothing more (or less) than being served the restaurant’s own selections of the food that was available in the hotel main catering area every day!
We returned to Blighty after our 7 nights in Tunisia having decided that – although we had enjoyed the weather and the hotel experience “for what they were worth”, we would not be returning to the resort – or indeed Tunisia itself – in the foreseeable future.