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Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

There are a handful of countries I have visited where my experience was completely and utterly different to what I expected. Ethiopia is one of them. Before flying there for the first time many years ago, all I could picture in my head were the horrific images of famine that were beamed into our sitting rooms in 1985. These news bulletins highlighted the suffering in the southern part of Ethiopia and culminated in Bob Geldof’s Live Aid raising $100 million for the Ethiopian people. Ethiopia is still a poor country today; but it is so much more besides.


But from the moment I stepped off the plane, and took off through the busy, bustling, friendly city of Addis Ababa, with the most aesthetically beautiful people I had ever seen, I knew this country was going to challenge every wrong perception I had of it.


And that is exactly what it did from the capital of Addis Ababa to the incredible Rock churches of Lalibela and Gondar, the Camelot of Africa, the lush greenness of the Simien Mountains and the solitary beauty of the island monasteries of Lake Tana. Ethiopia is a wonderful assault on the senses.


Ethiopian Airlines fly from Dublin to Addis Ababa with a direct connection to Los Angeles. This is a major new route and has become an absolute game changer for business travelers and tourists alike. Not only is it providing an alternative carrier to the USA, but it opens up so much of Africa for Irish tourists, with Addis acting as a gateway.


So if you are passing through take the time to explore this really exciting city.
The Radisson and Sheraton hotel group are both there but for something a little cheaper, The Ghion Hotel, owned by the Government, is perfect. The interior are quite basic but it is spotless, has a big expanse of gardens and a huge pool.


Addis Ababa is the 3rd highest city in the world standing about 2500 metres above sea level. Drive up to the summit of Mount Entoto, passing lines of eucalyptus trees, to get the best panoramic view of the city. With a population of 5 million, the city is divided into three parts, the East, which is the Government and educational sector, the commercial sector in the centre, and the west, where all the trade, including Africa’s biggest open air market, the Addis Mercado, is done.


Stop into the National museum of Ethiopia, where the bones of Lucy are kept. Lucy is one of the oldest hominids known to man. Her skeleton was found in Harar in 1974 and is estimated to be 3.18 million years old.


Ethiopian cuisine is the hottest and spiciest in all of Africa and also one of my favourites. Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days when people usually don’t eat meat and no one is allowed to eat pork at all. Huge sour pancakes made from injera are served with different coloured stews and everyone tucks in, using their right hand only.


The Habasha Restaurant on Bole Road has good food, a lively atmosphere and traditional dancers.  For more Western cuisine, Mamas Kitchen had all the usual grub you would recognize. It is a cool place to hang out with great Jazz music.


For traditional azmari music, played on traditional instruments, such as the single stringed violin, try Taji Bait on Micky Leland, near the Axum Hotel end.  The area of Kasanchis has loads of azmari bait, where you can take part in an “azmari crawl”, going from one house to another.


To explore Ethiopia, check out www.ethiopianquadrants.com


For flight information, Dublin to Addis, log onto www.ethiopianairlines.com