Monday, August 20

Ethiopiagain: Addis Ababa

My Ethiopia trip ended with a few days in Addis, where I met up with Caitlin. I must say, Addis compares quite favorably to Nairobi on a number of features. The weather this time of year is sunny 70s punctuated by regular torrential downpours. Which is at least as good as Nairobi's constant clouds. Addis does have a lot more beggars and petty hassling in the street. But there's not too much danger of anything more serious than pickpocketing, and it was refreshing to walk around a city at night. Public transportation - including taxis - is cheaper, and has good aesthetic value. All the taxis are old Fiats, and they're all painted the same shade of blue, as are the minibuses.

The local food is delicious, and the same dish you get in DC for $8-10 rarely costs more than $1.50. Our fancy three-course European meal set us back a little over $3. And the brief Italian occupation has left the tasty legacy of very good and readily available pizza and pasta, and great espresso and macchiato in every cafe. Pastries are pretty good - though not as good as I was led to believe - as is the juice, which is more like pureed fruit. My favorite Ethiopian dish is the vegetarian assortment, but it turns out this is only available on Wednesdays and Fridays - Orthodox Christian fasting days.

Our room the first night was pleasant enough, but the combination toilet/shower drain left a little to be desired, particular for the nose and feet. So we moved down the street to a charming place off Bole road, the main strip for good restaurants. We were joined by a jovial group of Sudanese - a couple of them living currently in Saudi Arabia - who appeared to be taking good advantage of the opportunity to drink freely. We went out one night to a restaurant/nightclub with traditional Ethiopian musicians and dancers, and again it was the Sudanese cutting loosest. Our hotel was also conveniently located just down the street from Ethiopia's first major shopping mall. I ventured in on my last day. It reminded me of Nairobi. Here's a view from the rooftop cafe:
There's a lot of development going on in town, and unlike Nairobi it appears to be more than just apartment blocks and Nakumats. There are also plenty of slums tucked away between the thoroughfares:
Most of the time was spent walking around until the rain forced us to find shelter and food and/or beer. Addis is a good town for walking. The hassling isn't nearly as bad as it's made out to be and Fascist-era Italian architecture and boulevards are actually fairly appealing. And you can't go a two blocks without coming across a good cafe, which is as it should be and which is something that is for some reason missing from Nairobi. Here's a street in the piazza area, the old commercial center of town.

Other highlights included the National Museum, which houses "Lucy", the famous 3.5 million year old skeleton, though you only get to see a replica. It also has some fossils and sweet pictures of prehistoric animals like saber toothed tigers and woolly mammoths, and some nice contemporary Ethiopian art. And pictures of St. George, who is everywhere in Ethiopia:

The market, where we spent an exhausting half a day bargaining down prices on scarves, is supposed to be the biggest in East Africa.

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