Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia the oldest independent country in Africa. This vibrant and fascinating city offers many cultural landmarks, culinary delights, world class coffee and exciting music experiences. Due to its high altitude location the climate in Addis Ababa is mild but walking or climbing up steps can be a strain so take it easy and enjoy this city at leisure.
What could be more romantic than drifting gracefully over the outskirts of Addis Ababa, moving where the wind will take you, and seeing the sun rise while watching the hills surrounding the city, baboons running in the green forests and villagers tending to their cattle or crops? You will have to get up early to experience the sunrise balloon flights offered by Abyssinia Ballooning but it is worth the lack of sleep. The pilot is an experienced (flying) Dutchman who has made Ethiopia his home. Pick-up in Addis Ababa, a glass of champagne, a flight certificate and full breakfast are included with the balloon trip (www.abyssiniaballooning.com)
The birthplace of coffee
After such a magnificent start with breakfast and champagne, it is time for a real coffee. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee so coffee lovers are in for a treat. Small traditional coffee places can be found on every street corner and inside restaurants, hotels and shopping malls. Coffee beans are roasted by hand over charcoal, grounded using a mortar and pestle and brewed in a traditional clay coffee pot known as a jebena. The coffee is served in a small cup. It is dense but not too bitter and has a wonderfully mild aroma. The most famous coffee place and the first commercial roaster in the country is Tomoca, a small establishment near the lively Piazza area. You can also buy beans from them to extend the experience at home.
After the coffee, take a car up to sacred Mount Entoto for another dramatic view of the expanding city. The drive involves a steep climb to over 3000 metres passing hills with many (imported) eucalyptus trees, which offer firewood for the villagers. On top of the hill, lies Saint Mary’s (Maryam) Church where Menelik II was crowned emperor of Ethiopia in 1889. He relocated the capital of the country to Addis Ababa, which means “New Flower”. The church also offers a small museum.
Once back in the city, take a moment to visit the Holy Trinity cathedral, the most sacred Orthodox church in the capital. The church was built in the 1940s by emperor Haile Selassie I and has beautiful glass stained windows. The main altar is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The two side altars to Saint John the Baptist and Our Lady of mercy. Ceiling paintings show Emperor Haile Selassie holding his speech in the League of Nations during the battle against the Italians. The tombs of emperor Haile Selassie I and his wife can be viewed in one of the back rooms. Around the church is a cemetery where many important historical figures are buried.
Hungry? At the heart of every Ethiopian meal is injera,a spongy pancake made from tef, a sour-wheat-like grain. It is used to sop up the vegetables, spicy curries and meat stews or wotthat are ladled on top. On a communal plate, you eat injerawith your right hand. There is no shortage of family-style places to have a tasty injerafor lunch, including many vegetarian options. A popular restaurant is Kategna, just off Bole Road.
With bellies filled to satisfaction, it is time to visit the National Museum. Its highlight is undoubtedly 3.2 million year old “Lucy”, the skeletal remains of an Australopithecine hominid that was discovered in eastern Ethiopia in 1974. Lucy walked upright and it is fascinating to see not only the real bones but also a skilful reconstruction of the complete skeleton. The museum offers an excellent exhibition which serves as a reminder of the rich archaeological, paleontological and cultural history of Ethiopia.
If you are ready to shop, you can start at one of the largest open air markets of Africa, Merkato, where you can buy anything from textiles to food and car parts. If the sheer size of this market seems overwhelming there are many smaller markets such as Shola market for everyday Ethiopian goods or Shiromeda market, for Ethiopian traditional clothes and scarfs and local crafts.
Trendy shoppers will head to SoleRebels (www.solerebels.com), the eco-friendly, fair trade shoe brand founded by Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alema that took the world by storm. You can find their stores in the Adams Pavillion or in the Geda Building. Beautiful premium leather goods can be purchased from locally-made and globally oriented brands like Enat or Zaaf. The Zaaf store is located in Bole behind Shalla public park.
There are many options to choose from for dinner. A popular place with tourists and locals alike is the 2000Habesha Cultural restaurant, where you can eat injerafrom a communal plate with your friends or opt for the buffet and pile up your own plate. While you are eating, enjoy the live dance performances representing all regions of the country. Make sure to taste the thick yellow honey wine, or tej, served in round glass bottles.
If you have energy left after all this food, stop by at Mama’s Kitchen for a healthy dose of Ethio-Jazz, a cross between traditional Ethiopian tribal music, R&B and jazz. This small and cosy bar on the fourth floor of Geda Tower in Bole offers live jazz on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
After such a long and action packed day, you deserve the indulgence of the luxurious Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa. Sleep well.
This article was originally published in Inzozi Magazine, Sept 2018