Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tunisia Trip Day 1

(10/12/2014: updated with photos)

I'll update as long as I have wifi in hotel at night.

Well, I'm here. First time in Africa. There are wannabe ISIS terrorists to the west in Algeria, regular Al-Qaeda terrorists to the east in Libya, and Ebola virus outbreak from the south. During the past two weeks, Air France pilots have also been on strike so my flights from LAX to CDG to TUN did not resume until basically the day of my travel. Whew!

Tunisia and surrounding countries

It wasn't all smooth sailing though. A coworker dropped me off at a very crowded TBIT/LAX after lunch. For some reason, TSA wasn't accepting self printed boarding passes, even ones printed at airport kiosks. So, I had to stand in line for 30 minutes for a new boarding pass. The gate agent also went ahead and declared that my carry-on was too heavy, then checked it in. I only have 70 minutes scheduled for my Paris layover, a very short time if you need to transit luggage.

After clearing LAX security, I walked into a very nice shopping mall; it was my first time in TBIT since the big renovation. It took me 15 minutes of find my gate (123A); it was a double decker gate since I was flying in an Airbus A380. It then took like a hour to board the ~600 people, and we finally got underway about 15 minutes late. Since flight was still scheduled to land on time, I wasn't too worried. The cabin onboard the plane seemed small and same with the overhead bins, but I guess it's only 1/2 the total cabin size. The flight was uneventful though turbulence seems to only comes during meals. Like most reviews I've read, my experience was similar with Air France: good food, terrible seats, even in Premium Economy.

Premium Economy seats in Airbus A380 (I was in seat 85G)

Food was pretty tasty
- Smoked salmon and scallop flan
- Chicken with grain mustard, rice pilaf, vegetables
- Cheese
- Fruit compote
- Caramel custard

At arrival to Paris, the landing was on-time but we taxied around the airport for 25 minutes, and doors didn't open for another 10 minutes. By the time I deplaned, I had 20 minutes to find my connecting flight. Turns out I had to get on a tram to go to another part of Terminal 2E, then had to go through security again... crap. As I ran to my gate, I knew there was no way my checked-in carry-on will make the connecting flight to Tunis.

On arrival at Tunis, I finally met up with another person on our tour. She flew in earlier from NYC to Paris and was on the same flight to Tunis. We departed late, giving me a bit of hope for my bag, but after clearing customs in Tunis, my checked-in luggage was nowhere to be found. The lost luggage guy then confirmed that my bag was on the next flight from Paris, about 3 1/2 hours later. When I asked if they would deliver the bag to my hotel, they laughed and said I would have to come back in person. "This is Tunisia," I was told.

Arrival gate at Tunis-Carthage International Airport

Since it was too long to wait for my luggage, we exchanged some money ($200 = 355 Dinars) and our tour guide/driver took our group of 6 to our hotel. Hotel Majestic is rated 4 stars but it's probably only worth 2 in the US. After checking in, we went and walked around downtown Tunis. It was about 30°C but a bit humid and soon I was sweating profusely, with no clothes to change into. Anyway, we walked a bit in the Medina bazaar, bought some bottled water (0.580 dinars for a 1.5L bottle), and returned to our hotel for dinner (included in room rate). The main entree was either poisson (fish), poulet (chicken), or boeuf (beef). Food was decent but the serving size was huge and most of us could not finish.

Medina bazaar

Huge fried whole fish

After dinner, a friend and I took a taxi to the airport to look for my bag. Since multiple calls to the Air France (Tunisair?) baggage desk went unanswered, I was more than a bit worried. I found the same non-English speaking guy that helped me fill out the claim form earlier, and he brought out my bag from a locked storage room. There were lots of lost luggage in the room but I got my bag back. Yay!

Hotel room with found baggage

On a final note to this long day, the taxi driver taking us back to the hotel tried to rip us off. He wanted 25 dinars for the trip when we only paid 4 a few minutes ago. He then said the rates double at night (WTF?) and the meter was spinning faster than before, so I countered with 8 dinars. He still wanted 15 dinars but we settled on 10 dinars. Just to be a bigger asshole, he dropped us off a block away from the hotel. Sigh.