Preparing a Foreign Holiday Apartment for Letting
Breakfast On the Terrace Between the Two Apartments
Sunday, Oct 30th, 2011 - Preparing a Tunisian Holiday Apartment For Letting. Learn How To Do It From This Personal Experience Tale!
My daughter and I accompanied by my two small grandsons aged nearly eighteen months and three are travelling to Tunisia with intention of upgrading an apartment in Hammamet to make it ready to let to holidaymakers. We'll be staying in the adjacent apartment which we put the finishing touches on last November. This year will be more labour intensive as the second one has previously been let to local workers with lower expectations from their accommodation. It's a journey into the unknown as we've never taken on such a task before. After ten days we'll need to move into the second apartment for the remainder of our stay as there'll be guests arriving at the first one on that date and further guests due at the other one on the day we head back to England! There's nothing like a bit of pressure to keep you on your toes!. Both apartments have been constructed on top of my son-in law’s family home. A deadline is always daunting but there's no better incentive to get things done.
The original apartment has been popular this season due to intensive advertising and there's been no lack of enquiries in spite of some tourists avoiding Tunisia due to January’s ‘Jasmine’ revolution. We've acquired the confidence to repeat our initial success now we've adopted a 'tried and tested' formula. The second apartment has been painted white throughout and boasts marble flooring so we have a clean slate to work with but time will be at a premium to find and order goods with two exceptionally obstinate and hard to please toddlers in tow. Thankfully there'll be willing babysitters in the shape of doting aunts and grandparents so we'll cope.
We can only do what we can in the time available and have allowed for the fact that gremlins will be more likely to cause problems than if we were refurbishing somewhere in our own country. My Tunisian counterpart – my grandchildren’s other grandma will be worth her weight in camels as she can help us to secure the best prices in the shops.
I haven’t bought any cash but plenty of plastic instead so I hope to goodness the ATMs will be kind. The Tunisian Dinar is a closed currency so hoarding a stash of cash beforehand was never an option.
Our day of departure from Manchester airport to Enfida, Tunisia is Sunday, 30th Oct. Concerns arise with the time change between British Summer Time and Greenwich Mean Time - the same as we experienced last year. It's 2 am when our taxi arrives and the clocks revert to 1 am. The flight is 6.25 am so the worst that could happen is our arrival at the gate an hour earlier. Struggles with child car seats cause a delay of thirty minutes but we always allow adequate time for this sort of hiccup and the associated hassle when travelling with minors.
Our luggage is overweight but we're happy to pay the excess as we have bits and bobs for the apartment that would be more expensive in Tunisia. I left a set of clothes there last year so I could free up suitcase space for this purpose.
The flight is uneventful until we enter Tunisian airspace. Our arrival is scheduled for 10.30am local time - an hour later than in England so we would have been back to the time before the clocks changed just to confuse things even further.
Clocks and time zones become meaningless when a storm conspires against us just as the pilot is preparing to land at the newly opened airport at Enfida. Our flight is thus diverted to the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, to escape a weather front forty miles wide. The pilot has no alternative for the safety of all on board. Our plane languishes for an hour or so on the airport tarmac to refuel then we head back to Tunisia - but not to Enfida. We fly instead to Monastir further south.
Tunisian in-laws are on their way to collect us in two cars and by now we assume our troubles are over; we'll be in Hammamet within one and a half hours of landing. Not so – the same storm that troubled us in the air is destined to repeat the process on the ground. One of the cars sent to collect us skids off the road and is severely damaged at the front - luckily the driver is unhurt and the car is still roadworthy. Thank goodness his heavily pregnant wife wasn't with him.
There's severe flooding and we can’t get through to Hammamet. The weather worsens and the situation becomes just as frightening as being on the plane, unable to land in stormy weather. The sky is darkening by the minute, there are simultaneous sheet and forked lightning and the roads are impassable.
The children are fractious and we have to stop for refreshments in the small town of Bouficha. ‘We must buy the benzene’ our driver declares. He's right; the car's low on fuel and running out now wouldn't be wise. Vehicles are turning back and concern for our safety in a car with a low chassis loaded up with people and luggage soon becomes paramount in my mind. I would have been happy for us to have stayed in a hotel in Monastir for the night had I been aware of the extensive flooding.
The flood waters deepen on either side of our car, gushing across the road now in muddy torrents; we're in a critical situation. Turning back is as dangerous as going forward. People are pointing to our low suspension and stinking water is now rising up through the floor of the vehicle. An overturned minibus speaks volumes and at this point, I voice my firm objections to our driver. In a hot, dry country like Tunisia, I realise that most ordinary people will be far less aware of the imminent dangers of rapidly rising waters. I get out of the car, flag down a Thomas Cook coach and appeal to the driver to take us and our luggage on board.
He agrees and the two cars are able to turn back and make it through to Hammamet minus their heavy cargo of us and our luggage once the auto route is clear. The coach is unable to journey onwards and there is talk about a bridge that has been washed away. We feel a hundred percent safer on a much larger vehicle but the coach will still have to turn around and go back the other way too. The majority of passengers including us vote to alight from the vehicle whilst the driver does a three point turn between two deep channels of fast flowing flood water which now resemble parallel rivers with a narrow strip of road in between.
Just getting here has been a backwards and forwards affair but we finally arrive at our destination at 7 pm - nine hours later than expected but none the worse for wear. Later we discover that three people lost their lives in the same flash floods as we passed through earlier when their car was swept away by rapidly rising waters.
Sunbathe On The Balcony When the Sun's In the Right Place!
Monday, Oct 31st
Our first morning here reveals we now have a better sea view than last year. The land opposite has been cleared in preparation for building a mosque so the view will only be temporary. Keeping up with the Joneses here means building another level onto your house, so sea views can come and go. We drive to the supermarket this morning with the children’s’ Tunisian granddad to stock up on necessities such as baby wipes, milk and water plus a few items for the apartment. We'd better make a checklist. We only have nine days to complete our task. Later we visit a vast furniture store and decide to place an order only to discover that the delivery will take ten days. Driving back and forth from the apartment several times in search of suitable furniture, we visit more stores mainly on the expensive side and then we find the other extreme – furniture that's second hand and wouldn't look out of place on a rubbish tip! Tomorrow we’ll see if we can find something middle of the range.
View From the Roof Terrace Over Hammamet Towards the Mediterranean
Tuesday, Nov 1st
A trip to the lighting shop is on the agenda this morning to buy all the lights at a cost of a hundred and fifty pounds. The sales assistant frowns at my debit card – I should have remembered this from last year - so the welcome sound when the nearby cash point coughs up some readies is good enough reason to declare ‘Praise be to Allah.’
Upstairs to the Sunny Roof Terrace!
Wednesday, Nov 2nd
Sheep are being sold all over the town in preparation for the ‘Eid Al-Adha’ meaning: ‘The festival of the sacrifice’ celebration this coming Sunday. Now isn't a good time to be a sheep in a Muslim country – a similar predicament to being a turkey in England shortly before Christmas. A whole live sheep can cost up to two hundred and fifty pounds because of the high cost of barley feed. Sheep are bought and tethered in the garage or some outside space for a few days before they'll be slaughtered on Sunday morning in the traditional Muslim way. I'm told that a quick cut to the throat with a sharp knife ensures the animal is swiftly dispatched and doesn't suffer. A third of the sheep is for family use, a third is given to the poor and a third is distributed among friends. The sacrifice of the sheep is in commemoration of the trials of Abraham when he was prepared to offer his son to God. It's an interesting fact that the Muslims believe the son was Ishmael and the Jews and Christians believe it was Isaac but whichever son it was, it would have been a test of faith for Abraham nonetheless.
Things seem to be going our way but we've already exceeded our budget which was perhaps rather unrealistic at a mere one and a half thousand pounds (largely due to cheapskate husband). I’ll have explanations to come up with upon our return but we're beating the clock and by the end of our third full day here we've purchased a cooker and a fridge/freezer in spite of the fact that several ATM’s wrongly decided there were insufficient funds in my account.
Hammamet View Towards the Mediterranean
Thursday, 3rd Nov
Whilst attempting to withdraw cash from one reluctant ATM I become curious as to the current renovations at the Bel Azur Hotel, where my daughter first met her Tunisian husband in 2006. The inside is gutted right now but things will be up and running again for the 2012 season. After over three decades of tourism, the hotel was definitely ripe for a refit. My daughter bursts into to tears when she views the empty pool and bulldozed sun terraces although the exact spot where they met is to remain unchanged. ‘Some of your memories are gone but the future will be better’ says the manager of the hotel next door when she speaks to him later.
By evening the new apartment has lost those uninviting echoes that resonate from empty marble floors. We now have the fridge and cooker in situ - as yet unconnected. The lights have been fitted save one which was faulty. The TV is secure on its wall mounting and we now have two sofas to the lounge and a full suite to the main bedroom. Today is our most productive day so far.
Friday, 4th Nov
This morning is bright and sunny and there's a clear view of the Gulf of Hammamet from the flat roof. As my eldest grandson figures out how to push the pedals around on his sit-and-ride truck, I enjoy the pleasant aroma of baking bread wafting upwards from a nearby boulangerie. My daughter and her youngest son are still asleep.
We have to change the sofas we bought yesterday - one is faulty and they are badly made. My daughter is stressed out as last night she thought we were getting ahead of schedule. No time yet for any leisure pursuits until the work is done.
I've by now discovered that the cash point God will only allow me six hundred Dinars a day so I have to pay for the TV on my credit card. At least it doesn’t charge me for overseas transactions.
The furniture for the second bedroom is delivered this morning and erected in situ. My daughter takes some photos and is pleased with our progress. A mural for the lounge wall is stuck on and looks spectacular.
Tonight we have some time to visit Sidi Bouadid café right next to the Mediterranean for a coffee and snack. We relax and watch the waves as we sit near the old Medina. It's beautiful here where ancient walls meet the sea and a view of the setting sun over the Atlas Mountains can be enjoyed from fashionable rooftop cafes. Tunisian Granddad enjoys a session with a sheesha pipe as we sip - or rather eat our coffees which are thickly topped with Chantilly cream. The pleasant apple aroma from the sheesha permeates the night air.
The Main Bedroom Awaits Our First Guests
The Completed Kitchen
Saturday, Nov 5th
More shopping for boring but necessary items such as plastic buckets, mops and bowls and this morning we're lucky to find a suitable sofa at the first shop we call at – at only two hundred Dinars more than the one we returned. We pay for it and within an hour it's in the apartment lounge. We make sure it's properly wrapped and even follow the delivery truck to make sure it gets there intact. We can wind down a bit now we're beating the clock and there's time to take a coffee at an ice cream parlour near the Bel Azur Hotel. We enjoy a leisurely evening drive into Hammamet Yassamine and stop at another supermarket. A walk around the prestigious marina is pleasant although it's largely dark and deserted at this time of year. Three pirate galleons have an eeriness about them which the whiteness of modern yachts can never possess - however dark the night.
Now We Just Need A Picture to Put on the Wall!
Sunday, Nov 6th
All shops are closed for the Eid so we can have a day off and enjoy the festival too. There are several bright red patches seeping into the ground on the empty building plot opposite and there's not a live sheep to be seen so its lamb kebabs all round for Sunday lunch, as fresh as you’ll ever get. We don’t tell my small grandson he's now eating the animal he took for a walk yesterday. There's a river of blood running down the centre of the street and crumpled fleeces adorn every doorstep. Buy a lamb chop from Tesco's and you'll never see all this but one way or another, an animal has still been killed to satisfy the elite at the top of the food chain.
The weather is fine so a stroll along the beach will do us all good. The Tunisian family are an easy going bunch so although we're under a lot of pressure from time, tempers haven't been frayed and all differences of opinions are settled amicably.
The Newly fitted Shower Room Just Needs a Clean
Monday, Nov 7th
Shops are still closed for the festival, so it’s an unwanted day off for us but we're winning and our forward steps now outnumber the backwards ones. The laptop won't charge so I can’t check my bank balance. We get it seen to promptly and then the internet connection fails. The more technology there is, the more gremlins there are to contend with.
Tuesday, Nov 8th
Tunisian grandma is sitting on her back door step chopping up lamb on a chopping board made from a slice of a tree trunk and is using every part of the carcas – nothing is wasted. She’s an excellent cook. Today is the third sunny day in a row; our hottest so far but locals are already wrapped up in their winter woollies. We're searching for carpets this morning; this proves to be an adventure in itself – we're taken to a partially built house used for storage where there are carpets and rugs of all sizes and colours. ‘Rayan Rayan!’ Calls a lady from the window and my grandson runs straight to her. How come she knows his name? I ask myself. It turns out her son has the same one.
With the rugs and a TV cabinet now in place, the apartment is looking quite stylish. Tonight we have to move out and clean up as our guests are arriving at noon tomorrow. All we need now are some tables and chairs and a few more items to provide some finishing nice touches but not vital for the new apartment we'll be staying in until Sunday. Hopefully, we'll have some leisure time for the remainder of our stay.
Roof Top Relaxation - Don't You Wish You Could Do This Where You live?!
Wednesday, Nov 9th
A fourth sunny day - almost enough sunshine to compensate for the bad weather of last week. Our lunch at a seafront café; ‘Le Petit Terrase’ is well-earned after a busy morning’s work. Our guests have arrived at the first apartment and they're happy. We've three days left and have done everything we intended.
Now for the photographs; tables are neatly laid with place settings, a bottle of wine and two glasses so we can update our advertising. Rooms are staged to look their best while the toddlers are both downstairs. Those gremlins are up to no good again - we have to repeat the whole process as my daughter accidentally deletes all the photos - luckily I hadn’t yet drunk all the wine!
A Few Days Left For Relaxation!
Success - but it’s been a backwards and forwards affair right from the start and even on the day of departure, we're not entirely sure if we're coming or going.
The immigration official at the airport is loath to allow us out of the country since the children’s father is Tunisian and he's not with us. ‘He’s in England working,’ I explain. It doesn’t help that my daughter is blonde and looks nothing like her own children. We have a letter of authority from her husband written in Arabic but the official insists it needs to be stamped by the Tunisian police.
‘But we already asked the police a few days ago and they said it’s nothing to do with them.’ I tell him. It’s a silly situation all round; the children both have British passports and we obviously brought them into the country with us two weeks ago. We have to phone their Tunisian Granddad to come back to departures to give his permission and show his ID before we're eventually waved through. This always happens - and yes we always allow time for this too so the plane doesn’t take off without us before we've battled with officialdom. It’s stressful, to say the least. I just say to myself that it’ll only be colder in England so why should I worry if we're forced to stay in a sunny country longer than planned? We'll still have the family to take care of us here, beds to sleep in and food in our bellies - so why worry?
We arrive back in the UK on the afternoon of Nov 13th all safe and sound and a job well-done. In spite of our gremlins, our only casualty after all our ordeals is one of the children’s car seats that fails to appear on the carousel. Our trip to Tunisia has certainly been a journey into the unknown in more ways than one.
Time For a Tasty Treat!
Hammamet is to Tunisia as St.Tropez is to France— Stella Kaye
Tourist Guide to Tunisia
Tunisia, North Africa
It Must Be Wine O'clock Now, Surely?!
Do you think it's safe to travel to Tunisia now?
Would you still travel to Tunisia in light of the recent troubles?
The Fully Furnished Lounge
© 2016 Stella Kaye