Christmas in Algeria

View of Port of Oran – Fort Santa Cruz is the highest point of the city, built by the Spanish. Federica Petrelli photos.

Meeting an Algerian Instagrammer, and Paying Her a Visit

Rym, a fellow Instagrammer, introduced the author to her country, Algeria.
Rym, a fellow Instagrammer, introduced the author to her country, Algeria.

By Federica Petrilli

“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” 

Strong, deep words from “The Stranger”, probably the most famous book of the Algerian writer, Albert Camus.

My interest in Algeria started exactly from here: I read his book years ago, in French, when I was 22 sitting at an airport and just about to start my life as a stranger in some unknown parts of China.

I’ve always wanted to know more about Camus’ origins, his land and his people but never got the chance to choose Algeria as a destination until last year.

“Dad, I am planning a solo trip for Christmas, so I won’t be home. Guess where I’m going!”

“Algeria” – he replied right away.

My journey started by following the hashtag #Algeria on Instagram where I came across some beautiful pictures taken by an Algerian girl, that I decided to contact her asking for tips. Her name is Rym.

She was kind and gentle enough to help me with everything, from A to Z, with the help of her close friend living in Italy. The main issue, that actually takes quite a lot of time, is getting the visa, which is necessary.

Notre Dame d’Afrique, Algiers - The Cathedral of Algiers
Notre Dame d’Afrique, Algiers – The Cathedral of Algiers

In fact, Algeria does not provide visas on arrival yet, so it’s mandatory to get it from the related Algerian Consulate or Embassy in your own country where a lot of docs may be asked, such as proof of funds, hotel reservation, round trip ticket, and medical insurance.

Old woman in typical dress of Tizi Ouzou Province
An old woman in the typical dress of Tizi Ouzou Province

Once I got the visa, I was the happiest person ever: I landed at Oran Airport on December 20th and that’s where all the real excitement began.

Because Algerians are so welcoming people, I got picked up at the airport by Rym’s mother and sister, who helped me with the essentials: currency exchange, hotel reservation, lunch, etc.

It is very important to know that in Algeria most of the venues/hotels cannot accept credit cards, therefore it is mandatory to have cash on you.

Saying this, I would recommend everybody to pay a visit to the beautiful Oran, locally said Wahran: I was not expecting that kind of multicultural and vibrant city. There is so much to see, to know, to learn and to enjoy.

From beautiful, quiet pinkish sunsets, to the old town with a Turkish touch, to the highest point of the city which used to be a Spanish fort to the colorful street markets in downtown where you can smell spices of all kind while exchanging smiles all around!

I even got free food from street vendors! Impossible not to love these people.

The next day I went on a daily trip to the cultural town of Tlemcen, which is just about 2 hours driving by car from Oran.

How to get there?

You only need two euro (in local currency: around 450 dinar) to get a shared taxi, leaving from the taxi station.  Amazing!

Old Town Oran Algeria
Old Town Oran Algeria

Tlemcen is a city rich in history and culture. The funny thing was that I went around the city and could notice the lack of women around (very few ones). I had to ask some people why, but there are no actual reasons. Their culture or lifestyle is just staying at home; on the contrary, men are everywhere sitting at cafes drinking mint tea or coffee.

I was astonished by the architecture and the ornaments of the Mosques there.

Stunning pieces of art! Needless to say that I was welcomed by everyone and was lucky enough to get in touch with one my Rym’s friend even there so that I could immerse myself in a typical day of a local.

View - TiZi Ouzou Province, around 2 hours by bus from Algiers.
View – TiZi Ouzou Province, around 2 hours by bus from Algiers.

“ A great experience!”

Could not leave Tlemcen before hitting the highest point of the town here too, Lala Setti: a quiet, relaxing, nature-connecting place at the top of a hill.

-Back to Oran and finally met Rym on a sunny Saturday: we went around the city, walked a lot, ate a lot.

I tried almost all typical Algerian food and I loved it! I do miss Rym’s mom’s food now that I’m back in Italy, cooking for myself!

Rym’s mom was such an enchanting woman, full of happiness and joy. She completely let me feel at home, as she even invited me to sleep at their house before leaving to Algiers.

Street market - Oran - I took a picture of the vendor selling coriander at the market
Street market – Oran – I took a picture of the vendor selling coriander at the market.

Hospitality for Algerians is a must! I felt so so so happy and welcomed that I can’t thank enough these wonderful people for this.

It was a super comfortable ride the one from Oran to Algiers: got a first class train ticket with 15 euro more or less. It took 4.5 hours to arrive in the capital city. The new high-speed train is way much better than some of our Italian regional trains. Hats off Algeria!

Colorful, vibrant, full of people, messy at times as almost every capitals but overall Algiers was still a good city in my point of view. Honestly, I do prefer Oran – but that’s subject to personalities!

Even in Algiers, I got a contact from Rym, therefore I had my local guide even here. Awesome how Rym put me in touch with people all over the places.

From art and History Museums. to gardens, to the tallest tower, and upcoming biggest Mosque in Algeria Algiers was the typical North African capital city, full of life (and traffic!).

Last but not the least, I spent my Christmas on a trip from Algiers to Tizi Ouzou Province, that reminds me of my beloved Tuscany: green, hills, mountains, small villages, welcoming kids, wise old people and the simplicity of its life. So natural!

“Indeed a well spent Christmas day!”

Nowadays’ society is so full of negativity, especially in Europe, where I, as an open-minded person, have to listen to words like “Why are you going to Algeria? It is dangerous! We have many bad people from Africa being criminals”.

Yes, it’s true, as we do have many Italian criminals. But not everybody is the same!

Wake up world!

We have bad and good people all over the world, with no distinction on race, skin color, religion, or beliefs. As I live my life in freedom to do what I want, to believe in what I think it’s right and to give opportunities to everybody, the previous mentioned words asking me whys, what if and so on, do not make any sense to me.  And I’ll fight till the last day of my life to prove how wrong are some people’s misconceptions about countries and populations.

And this is my proof for Algeria… wonderful Algeria.

If you haven’t put Algeria in your bucket list yet, well… it’s time to do it now!

Safe travels!

Italian born, raised in Asia and the Middle East, Federica Petrelli is a passionate traveler and a lover of unconventional places. Her hobby is correcting misconceptions about countries and people. Currently back in Italy working in the field of Business Development for a Chinese lighting company called LUTEC. 

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