Algeria Diary

Getting There

My friend and I decided to fly in a day early, and conscious of what can go wrong I planned to fly into London from Dublin the night before. As I was sat at the gate at Dublin airport waiting to board I got an unwelcome message from my friend “The flight has been cancelled! No joke!”. Checking the airline’s app it did seem this was that case. However within a few minutes I got a call from the travel company we were using to let me know we’d be moved onto the next flight the following day. As I was already at the gate to head to London I decided I’d still catch my filght and jsut spend an extra day wandering around London.

The next day I did indeed walk the length and breadth of London. It was glorious day so it was nice to just wander with no plan in mind. I checked out an exhibitino at the National Gallery and continued on my walk until late afternoon when I headed back to the airport hotel where I was staying.

The next day, around midday, my friend arrived and nervously headed to check-in wondering if today’s flight was also going to have problems. There had been an evacuation at the airport that morning due to a fire alarm but it was a false alert so only caused a bit of disruption. So after dropping our bags we proceeded through security and into the departure lounge.

The flight to Algeria is remarkably short – just over 2 hours – and by 7pm that evening we had arrived in the largest country in Africa. A short ride later and we were at our extremely nice hotel with stunning views out over the bay of Algiers. After a quick freshen up we headed down for a late dinner and then back to our rooms to prepare for a 7.30am start the next day.

I woke quite early and after recently buying a DJI Pocket 3 decided to test out its timelapse features on the sunrise over Algiers bay. You can see the result below.

Day 1 – Algiers to Constantine via Djémila

After checking out of our rooms we boarded our transport and headed East, initially along the coast, before heading inland a little. Our first destination was Djémila and the large Roman ruins there. The drive was long and took most of the morning so first order of business when we arrived was to grab some lunch – our first taste of local cuisine really – a delicious (lentil?) soup to start and then chicken with couscous and vegetables. Bellies full it was then time to head to the ruins.

The site of Djémila is located 50 km north-east of the town of Sétif. Known under its antique name Cuicul and was established in 96-98 CE. The town has a senate, forum and temples. As it expanded it added a market, basillica, and the Arch of Caracalla. Further development added a Christian church and baptistry. Whilst many of the grand houses are now ruins the site is remarkably complete and takes a good couple of hours to wander around.

Inside the museum at the top of the hill are a collectin of stunning mosaics recovered from the site, including large pieces showing the life of Bacchus, The kidnap and Europa by Jupiter, and various hunting scenes. The quality of the mosaics is amazing and some use the finest/smallest tiles in their design to bring out the most detail.

Constantine

The city of Constantine if known as the City of Bridges as it sits atop a pinnacle of rock connected in multiple places by bridges over the very deep gorge. Not brilliant for a person with a fear of heights, but more on that later!

Upon checking in at the hotel I headed to my room to find that there was already somebody’s things in there. Back down to reception and it turns out I wasn’t the only one who was double booked. Eventually things were sorted and I headed to my room to recover after the long drives from Algiers.

After a lovely breakfast we headed off to the nearby ruins of Tiddis. Originally built by the Romans as a defensive castle it expanded into a small town. Now mostly in ruins its much smaller than Djémila we visited the previous day and built on a hill. Towards the top of the ruins the town walls and a viewing platform still remain giving great views out over the surround landscape.

Next we headed back into Constantine and to the Mellah Slimane Bridge. This was a reasonably narrow, and quite busy, suspension bridge high above the gorge. My fear of heights took hold here and I couldn’t cross it. As lunch was on the other side of the bridge I ended up having to catch a taxi back around and over a road bridge in order to get to the restaurant!

Mellah Slimane Bridge
View from Monument aux Morts

After lunch we drove to the Monument aux Morts – a triumphant arch in memory of the war dead. From its location high on a hill you could look down over the old part of Constantine and see the road cut into the side of the rock as it wound its way to another bridge.

It turns out this other bridge is another one we had to cross! Although this was also a road bridge but on a single lane of traffic. There’s no way I could have walked on the pavement, so close to the edge, so I ended up walking down the middle of the road (with assistant from my friend) and suffling partly to the side whenever a car came towards us. Thankfully I managed to make it (just!!).

After recovering from my ordeal (!) we wandered around the old part of the city and through the market slowly making our way back to the hotel to pick up our luggage. It was then time to head to the airport for our flight back to Algiers ahead of our second flight to Timimoun the next morning.

Domestic air travel security seemed dubious at best with only cursory looks at the scanner and half-hearted pat downs! Unfortunately our flight was delayed by over an hour. The flight to Timimoun wasn’t until the next morning so although we were delayed it wouldn’t impact the trip as we were staying in a hotel near the airport for that night. Eventually the plane arrived but there was more weirdness ahead. Our luggage was all laid out on the airport apron next to the plane and before we boarded we had to identify our own luggage and place it on a trolley and it would then be loaded onto the plane. A weird system but at least we knew our bags had made it out of the airport.

Finally we took off and just over an hour later arrived in Algiers. A short ride later we arrived at the hotel around 11.45pm to crash before a 6.30am start the next morning.

Algiers to Timimoun

Up early this morning we headed back to the domestic terminal at the airport to catch our flight to Timimoun. Thankfully there was no delay this time, but it was alos a small propeller plane and although there was a seat on the boarding pass, it turns out its free seating. The flight itself took about 2.5 hours. We were now in the “Red Oasis” as the town is called, and although we’d only travelled a short distance into the Sahara Desert the temperature had spike considerably to around 40C!

After grabbing our bags (which had all thankfully arrived with us) we drove to the hotel. It was a Government run hotel and definitely had seen better days. It was then on to a local guesthouse for some homemade lunch, which was absolutely deliciuos. As we were now heading to the hottest part of the day we had a few hours of spare time to collapse in our room or relax by the pool.

We reconvened late afternoon and climbed into the Toyota pickups that are almost required when driving arund the desert and headed out to find a vantage point to watch the sunset. After a couple of stops to view some ruins, we arrived on a small plateau overlooking the desert. As the tuareg drivers prepared a small fire to make tea on we watched the sun go down. Unfortunately because of the amount of dust in the air sunset was a bit of an anti-climax.

We climed back into the vehicles and within a minute of driving off we stopped as a Sand Viper curled across the sand infront of us and using its weird sideways motion, travelled over a nearby small dune. We kept our distance as it is extermely venomous.

Back in Timimoun we headed to the guesthouse for some more home cooked food. then finally, after a long day and a late dinner, we headed back to the hotel to our beds.

Timimoun to Taghit

Longest drive of the trip today – over 500km from Timimoun to Taghit, via Beni Abbés. It was also forecast to be the hottest day with the temperature around 43C at its maximum. Thankfully the minibus was air conditioned, however we stopped for a picnic lunch, outside, in Beni Abbés at the hottest point in the day! It also we very windy blowing sand and dust everywhere. Chicken and grit sandwich anyone?

After our hot and sticky lunch it was back on the bus for another 2+ hours to Taghit, a small town bordered on one side by massive sand dunes. The hotel was another Government one, the same group as the the Timimoun one, but it couldn’t have been more different. Although many of the decorations and fixtures were identical, everything seemed to work properly in this hotel and the service was much better.

We wandered around town before dinner, taking a few photos of the dunes and local life before heading back to eat. The meal was excellent this time! Then it was back to bed to pack ready for our flight from Bechat tomorrow.

Taghit to Bechar and Flight to Oran

After a rather disappointing breakfast (after the great dinner I had high expectations for breakfast, but there wasn’t even any fruit) we first headed down the road to see some ancient rock carving dating from 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. Sadly many of the rocks with the carvings hadn’t been protected and so were also covered in much more recent graffiti which was a little disappointing.

After picking up some sandwiches for later we headed off for Bechar, a large industrial city about 2.5 hours drive away. At the airport we checked our bags and handed our passports to a random policeman who took them away. About 30 minutes later he was back having done whatever checks he needed and they were returned to us.

Once again it was a small propellor plane with free seating, and before climbing the steps to the plane we had to identify our luggage as it sat on the tarmac. Before we knew it we were taking off and rising above the desert on our way and due to arrive in Oran in 2 hours.

After landing and claiming our luggage (and my hat – which I left on the plane!) we met the driver we’d had in Algiers to Constantine. After loading our luggage into the mini bus we headed into town and first stop was the hill overlooking the city, and just above the Church of Santa Cruz, to get some nice shots of Oran in the early evening light. Then it was back on the bus to the hotel, to decompress for a couple of hours, and then to dinner where we were served some absolutely delicious Paella. That might seem strange considering Algeria’s French history but Oran was also occupied by the Spanish (although they didn’t get much further) so there are many Spanish influences throughout the city.

In Oran

Whilst the desert had been spectacular, it was very hot and dry, so its so nice to be back by the coast where the temperature is almost 20C cooler and the humidity is back around normal. The perfect weather for a walk, which is what we did today.

We started in the Place 1st November 1954 (formerly Place d’Armes). It was renamed in 1990 to celebrate the historic outbreak of the war of liberation. Its flanked on one side by the grand town hall with two lions flanking the stairs up to the entrance, and on another side by the ornate Abdelkader Alloula regional theatre. Just around the corner lies what was originally the largest Synagogue in the area, built by the French, but has now become the Abdullah bin Salem Mosque.

Further along you come to the beautiful Church of the Sacred Heart. However this is no longer a chruch and instead has been converted into a library where students can some to rea and study. A short walk along is the main post office, famous due to an attack on a safe in 1949 by “l’Organisation Secrete (OS)” in order to get funds to purchase weapons in preparation for the armed liberation. The safe can still be seen in the middle of main post office lobby.

After lunch it was time to view the more historic areas of the city. First stop was the Red Tower at Chateau Neuf, followed by the Bey Palace. Sadly both are in disrepair but you could imagine what they would have been like in their glory days.

Then it was back up the hill where we were last night but this time we took the steps further up fromt he viewpoint that led to the Fort of Santa Cruz. This imposing fort contains many levels an very thick walls to repel any invaders.

Our penultimate stop of the day was Oran train station. It was built by the French and opened in 1913. It is beautifully designed in a neo-Moorish style and the clock tower has the shape of a minaret. Inside many of the original tiling and decorations exist with colourer glass and tilework everywhere.

Finally, before heading back to the hotel, it was time to grab an ice cream by the Oran seafront. If only we’d been able to get something like this in the desert (although I suspect freezers don’t last long in 43C heat!)

Oran back to Algiers

Today we left Oran and headed back East towards Algiers. The full drive is around 4 hours but we broke the journey by visiting some more Roman ruins in Tipaza. The town of Tipaza is right on the coast so when we arrived around 1pm we went immmediately for lunch at Restaurant Le Dauphin for a selection of prawns and fish straight off the grill.

After finishing our lunch it was a 5 minute stroll down Tipaza main street to the archaeological park. The Roman ruins here are not as complete as Djémila but set in woods and running down to the bright blue sea I felt they were more picturesque. The site contains an amphitheatre (for fights) and theatre (for plays) and some houses and industrial buildings. Its even been determined that one of the buildings was used to make fermented fish paste, a forerunner to the now popular thai fish sauce I guess!

After doing a circuit of the site we headed back to the transport and on to the Royal Mausoleum of Mauritania which sits high on a high above Tipaza. Its a huge circular building in pretty good condition apart from the roof. When the French discovered it, all that was visible was the conical roof hence the damage. You can’t enter inside but apparently they never found anything in there anyway.

Finally after a few more photos it was time for our final trip back to Algiers and the fabulous Aurassi hotel. After another long drive and hot day (although the cooler coastal areas are much appreciated compared to how hot it was in the desert!) everyone was happy to get back to their rooms and crash. We ate dinner in the hotel and retired early.

Algiers – Casbah, Seafront and Martyrs Monument

We started the day walking down through the casbah towards the seafront. As it was the weekend (Friday and Saturday is the weekend here) it was very busy and there were also large numbers of kids clearly on a school trip.

There was a large amount of graffiti on the walls as we threaded our way through the narrow streets. Key figures and heros from the revolution/war for independence. Also in the middle was a palace but again, it was packed with tourists, but local and foreign. After hardly seeing any other tourists until our return to Algiers it was a little strange seeing so many again!

After lunch near the port we headed back to the bottom of the casbah and caught the metro a couple of stops to Tafourah Grande Poste to see (as the stop was named) the Grand Post Office. After a browse around the shops it was back ont he bus to travel up the Martyrs Monument which stands proud on a hill above the city. The monument was opened in 1982, on the 20th anniversary of Algeria’s independence. It is fashioned in the shape of three standing palm leaves, which shelter the “Eternal Flame” under it.

After some photos from the viewpoint and a quick visit to the museum below the monument it was back to the hotel. I opted to pop down to the Hammam in the hotel. To say it was hot is an understatement and I only managed to survive in there for about 15 minutes – even throwing liberal amounts of cold water over myself! I came out looking like a well cooked lobster!

Tonight its one final dinner and then tomorrow morning we leave for the airport for our lunchtime flights back home. Overall Algeria has been fascinating. The people are friendly and the food is delicious. The contrast between the coastal cities and the desert was interesting to see, as was the massive increase in temperature. It also shows how big the country is, as we flew 2.5 hours from Algiers to Timimoun, but that was only about a third of the way down the country, if that!