...and off I was to East Africa for the very first time! And the adventure started already on the way there: our flight from Dublin to Istanbul was severely delayed so that our 1 hr 10 minutes stop-over there was reduced to a whole 10 minutes! Oh no, not another airport run! Yes, this has happened to me before and I had to run the length of O’Hare in Chicago. That was nothing compared to what I was about to experience at Atatürk Airport though...
We got off the plane and an airline officer awaited us and roughly told us where to go and to run! The overhead boards said it would take about 15 minutes to walk to our designated gate. By now we had about 8 minutes left. Let me say this, there is one veeery long terminal at this airport and we literally had to go from one side of it to the opposite. Before long my lungs were burning. I was extremely jealous of the people in the shuttle carts driven by airport staff. I was grateful, however, for the fact that I didn’t over pack my hand luggage this time. After an incredible sprint we made it to our gate. The funny thing is we weren’t even the last passengers to get on the plane! By now I was wheezing and coughing and gasping for air (my lungs hurt for a two full days!). It seems yoga is good for many things but it doesn’t prepare you for an airport sprint! I really need to get fit again haha!
Anyway, we made it – wohoo! Next problem: all the overhead cabins were full and I was asked to leave my carry-on backpack underneath the seat in front of me. That wouldn’t have been that bad if I hadn’t been assigned the middle seat in a Ryanair-size airplane. So there I sat uncomfortably for the next 5 hours catching my breath until we would arrive into Addis Ababa.
Other than that both flights were quite enjoyable (and I finally got to watch The Shallows – I just love Blake Lively!). Still overjoyed that we made the flight, in my head I was planning my outfits for the next two days – after all there was no chance that our checked luggage would have made it from one plane to another within 10 minutes! Luckily I had packed a couple of spare outfits into my compression sac which I had in my hand luggage. When we arrived in Ethiopia just before midnight tired, exhausted and sweaty we made our way to the immigration desks and were done in no time as we had already gotten the visas in Dublin at the embassy. Luckily the exchange office was still open so that I could get hold of some local currency. Ethiopian Birr are very hard to come by outside of Ethiopia – it’s pretty much like a closed currency. You are also technically not allowed to leave the country with more than 200 Birr which is less than $10/€9.
Then we walked over to the luggage belt, just in case...
And low and behold: there were our bags! The people from Turkish Airlines had tagged them with “tight connection” stickers and I was seriously impressed by the ground staff at Atatürk Airport! Now with everything in order and our transfer to the hotel waiting outside the arrival area I was ready to begin my African adventure!
After a short but comfortable night in the beautiful Sidra Hotel we were picked up for our day tour with Inside Ethiopia Tours the next morning. Our guide Mulugeta Ababu and our driver first took us to the National Museum which was, however, closed due to a power cut. I was really hoping to see Lucy (the skeleton of an early human found here) - Ethiopia is after all believed to be the cradle of mankind - so we decided to come back later.
In the meantime we were driven up Mount Entoto for a beautiful view over the city. Ethiopia is also called The Roof of Africa due to its elevation. Addis Ababa is at ca. 2,350 m/7,709 ft and Mt Entoto is about 3,200 m/10,498 ft high.
The city looked great from up here but you could also tell that there is a lot of pollution going on as the view was quite hazy.
It was Sunday and Sunday is church day here. The vast majority of people here is orthodox Christian and the women tend to dress in white to go to church on Sundays. Interesting fact: In front of most churches there is a veiled picture or painting of the saint after whom the church is named.
We visited the colorful St Mary’s church together with the local museum and the palace grounds where Emperor Menelik II used to reside on Mount Entoto. The palace buildings are still there but they aren’t quite what you would think a palace looks like – this is Africa after all and so the palace is a rather modest assembly of large huts with straw roofs.
Unfortunately the National Museum was still closed later in the day. So instead we checked out another museum within the university which was full of artefacts, paintings and information posters about traditional Ethiopian life. I learnt that when a man wants to marry a woman he first has to jump over several bulls to prove that he’s strong. And apparently there’s also the funny tradition of a man throwing a lemon at a girl to get her attention and show his interest. Another fascinating piece of information was that Ethiopians mostly eat with their fingers – usually using the yummy sour-doughy injera bread to pick up the food with instead of a fork. According to our guide people here believe that using cutlery is kind of backwards, like using tools in the stone age. And here we are in our flash dining rooms in Europe or North America thinking we are oh so evolved by using several different types of knives, forks and spoons for our meals. I had to laugh at myself at lunch trying not to use my fork. It was messy... :D
And speaking of Ethiopian food – during lent most orthodox Christians here refrain from eating animal products including milk and eggs. Perfect time for me to be here! :) At the oldest hotel in the city, the Taitu Hotel, we found an incredible vegan lunch buffet! I was in love! There were so many yummy vegetable dishes with chickpeas, cabbage, potatoes, even noodles and everything was accompanied by my new favorite bread: injera. It’s basically soft, spongy sourdough pancake-y bread – so tasty!
And then there is Ethiopian coffee! Our wonderful guide took us to Tomoca Coffee, a busy little place that has been in business for more than 60 years. The coffee is of course amazing and it’s a great spot for people watching. We also bought some souvenirs and bags full of coffee here to take home.
After an incredible meal & coffee our driver gave us a little tour around the city so that we could get a feeling for it. Granted, we were inside a car a lot of the time but even when we wandered around the streets I always felt safe and comfortable. Sure, it's a completely different world and even level of poverty in some areas. We drove past markets where people sat on the floor or had small stalls selling everything from fruit and spices to clothes and cooking utensils. It was quite chaotic and colorful. The streets were full of buyers and sellers so that we could only get through the crowds very slowly. When they saw us white people in the car they immediately tried to sell us their goods through the window. And that was on a Sunday when the actual market is sort of closed we were told. During the week there is no way you could drive through here as there would be way too many people.
One of our last stops was at the Holy Trinity Cathedral. This is a traditional Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church - but with a twist: in order to visit inside everybody needs to take off their shoes and women cover their hair with a scarf. Reminds you of a mosque, right? I was really fascinated by this parallel between this Christian denomination and Islam, after all in a Catholic church one would remove any hats before entering. It was a pretty cool experience!
After a short stay at the cathedral we drove on and were shown the Communist-looking Tiglachin Monument which was built in memory of Ethiopian and Cuban soldiers involved in the Ogaden War.
Our last stop on this tour was the colorful railway station which used to have trains run from here all the way to the port in Djibouti. As Ethiopia is land-locked access to the port in Djibouti was the only feasible way of importing and exporting goods for a long time.
Our tour came to an end in the afternoon and I was sad to say goodbye to our guide. We had learnt so much about this incredible country in just one day! We were even taught a few words in Amharic, the official language which has its own alphabet and sounds just so beautiful!
Later that evening and also the next morning we wandered around our neighborhood a little bit more - mainly in the search for more coffee shops. In Addis it is, however, quite hard to figure out where exactly your are! Even with google maps I always just felt a little bit lost. But that's part of the fun of traveling, right? Getting lost in random places and discovering all the hidden gems! Although it must be said we only went wandering around during daylight to be on the safe side.
And with that our super quick Ethiopia trip already came to an end. We were sad to leave as it's a really cool place and visiting Addis alone doesn't do it justice! We promised we'll be back - after all there's so much more amazing stuff to see in this country - just google the "rock hewn church of Lalibela" and you'll see what I mean. I guess I'll just add it to my bottomless travel bucket list ;)
Lots of love,