View from our balcony at dawn

Our first impressions of Addis were of driving through wide, empty streets in the middle of the night on our way from the airport to our hotel.  There were few street lights and fewer signs of life.  It was very dark and we could make little sense of what we were seeing.

The next day was taken up with trying to retrieve our missing bags, but we were able to get some impression of the city from the vantage point of our sixth floor balcony.  We were struck by the sight of the mountains all around and also by the altitude (Addis sits at 2300 metres above sea level, compared to London at only 20 metres!) which caused us to be breathless and light-headed from the slightest exertion.  Fortunately, this passed after acclimatising for a couple of days.

From up here we could watch Ethiopians going about their business: the children in their brightly coloured uniforms coming and going from school, the builders working so hard in the hot sun with no power tools, the women cooking in large pots over open fires, the donkeys seemingly knowing their own way home, the traffic hold ups caused by endless wedding parties.  We also had a good view of a shanty town full of lean-tos with no windows and just a curtain covering the door opening and yet every corrugated metal roof had a satellite dish attached to it!  

Satellite dishes everywhere!

Builders working hard in the sun

Gorgeous sunset

When evening came, the sunset viewed from our balcony was incredible and, as night fell, there was a full moon and implausibly twinkly stars!

When we ventured out for a walk that first day, we were surprised by the lack of contact from the locals. Nobody hassled us.  Nobody shouted. This is unheard of in our previous experiences of Africa!




A couple of days later, reunited with our bags, showered and dressed in clean clothes, we were able to get a more complete picture of the city of Addis.  We hired a guide and driver through Liyu Tours and spent the next day and a half visiting all the main sites and learning about Ethiopia’s rich history and culture. I will write separate posts about the major attractions we visited, but the real joy of the time spent with Yuhn was in getting a local insight into the city and its people.  Armed with this information, we were much better equipped to understand what we were to see over the coming weeks.

Addis Ababa is Africa’s fourth-largest city and its diplomatic capital, being home to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Unlike most other capital cities in the world, the location of Addis wasn’t chosen for its political, economic or strategic advantages, but rather for its beauty, hot springs and agreeable climate.  The reason for this was that it was a woman who chose the site.  Taitu, wife of Menelik II, disliked the unattractive and sterile surroundings of the previous state capital, Entoto, and requested that a house be built for her in the beautiful foothills below its mountainous position.  She named the new area Addis Ababa which means ‘new flower’.  Within a few years, the whole court had moved to this new site.

A new building, complete with wooden scaffolding!


Yuhn was keen to show us both the older districts of Addis and the new areas where building is underway apace, as office blocks, shopping malls, apartment buildings and hotels are being constructed.  He showed us the brand new metro rail system, but told us that locals were loathe to use it as they didn’t trust the Chinese expertise behind it.  The stations we saw certainly didn’t look very busy!




Yuhn buying a football shirt for his brother

We were also taken to the colourful clothes market and to the lively, vibrant Sunday market where the world and his dog were trying to sell their wares. Yuhn thought we’d be surprised at some of the rubbish which was for sale, but I explained to him that we see similar stuff at car boot sales all over the UK every weekend!  He introduced us to some of the ladies who make a meagre living by carrying huge bundles of eucalyptus branches on their backs for 4km to market. Whilst there, I also tried ‘chat’, the local leaf chewed as a stimulant, much to the delight of the stallholders!  I hated the bitter taste and spat it out discreetly as soon as I was able!

Lady struggling with eucalyptus branches

Locals drinking talla

A highlight of our time with Yuhn and Elias, our driver, was that we got to sample a lot of different Ethiopian food and drink.  On our first morning with them, after visiting Entoto and stopping to view Addis from the mountain top, we were taken to a traditional coffee house, indicated by an upturned plastic bottle placed on a pole by the road outside.  Not only did we witness the all-important coffee ceremony (more of which in another post!), but we also got to try talla, a local alcoholic beer-like brew made from weeds, or so we were told! After coffee, we were given home-made araki, a potent aniseed-flavoured spirit, and a local tej (honey wine), which we were to come to know very well during the rest of our trip.  All of this alcohol came before 11 o’clock in the morning!

For lunch on that first day with Yuhn, we were taken to a local restaurant frequented by Ethiopians and well off the usual tourist trail.  It introduced us to the Ethiopian tradition of eating raw meat.  There is a butcher attached to the restaurant and diners buy a kilo or half-kilo of meat, usually beef, and can choose the cut they want and the ratio of fat to lean.  Once cut up, the meat is served with the ubiquitous injera, a squeeze of fresh lime and some hot chilli in the form of a powder or a sauce.  We weren’t squeamish about it.  After all, we eat our steaks rare at home.  So, we tried the lean meat and enjoyed it. However, we both drew the line at the lumps of pure fat we were offered!  Elias assured us they would make us strong, but didn’t seem too offended when we refused!  In addition, Yuhn ordered a selection of traditional dishes for us to share – spicy stews, bean pastes, vegetable relishes, meat tibs, etc., all of which were, again, served on a bed of injera with injera to accompany them!  At this point, I think I should say that injera deserves another post all of its own!  All of this food was washed down with pints of refreshing draft St. George beer which we later found out was only 2.5% proof, but which tasted great at the time!

Cutting raw beef

Serving raw beef
Traditional Ethiopian food

















On our second day with Yuhn, he took us to one of Addis’s famous juice bars where we had a ‘special’, the closest thing to an ice cream sundae in Ethiopia!

Special juice


As we said our thankyous and goodbyes to Yuhn at the end of our time together we reflected on all we had learned from him and counted our blessings that we now had a much greater understanding of this friendly city and of Ethiopia as a whole.

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