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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-11-02 12:07:42

Ethiopia

Ethiopia

The treasures of

ETHIOPIA

Norah Casey travels to the beautiful, ancient Land of
Origins, where humans first learned to walk and
where coffee was gifted to the world.

Ethiopia was historically called during their final exams). Goats, cows headquartered in its capital city,
Abyssinia and is quite possibly the and donkeys mingle with the traffic Addis Ababa.
strangest place I have ever visited. In even on the busy streets of Addis Addis is an ancient city founded in
a good way. This is home to Lucy, Ababa. This is also the country that 1886, by the emperor Menelik II.
our earliest ancestor and to one of inspired Band Aid to record, Do they Ethiopia is one of the few countries in
the oldest Christian communities. Know it’s Christmas? Perhaps not only Africa never to have been colonised,
Ethiopia also claims to be home to the because the north of the country in the apart from Italy’s short-lived
Ark of the Covenant, the biblical chest 1980s was ravaged by famine but also occupation in the 1930s. At that
carried by Moses from Mount Sinai because the communist dictatorship time, there were just a few hundred
and a portion of the cross that Jesus (the Derg regime) at the time thousand living in the hills of Addis.
was crucified on. It has nine UNESCO didn’t allow Christians to celebrate In 1974, when the last emporer Haile
World Heritage Sites. It gave the world Christmas. While political unrest over Selassie was deposed in a military
the gift of coffee. This is a country the past year has diminished tourism coup, the population was estimated to
where you will be seven years younger numbers just prior to that Ethiopia be half a million at most. Today there
on arrival and live in a different time was voted the World’s best tourism are between 3.4 and 5 million people
zone to most of the planet. The world’s destination. And it soon will be again. living here. The modernisation of the
big brands and fast food restaurants city’s central business district and the
are nowhere to be seen and the GET THERE SOON rapid pace of change is fuelled by
country’s wi-fi is sporadically turned The holy grail of travel writing is to Chinese investment and entrepreneurial
off (recently to stop children cheating find a place on the planet that really is Ethiopian ‘repats’ returning to their
worth seeing before the outside world native city after education and work
With our guide transforms it beyond recognition. experience in the US, London, Russia
Ashenafi There can be no finer example of this and various parts of Europe. There
than Ethiopia, currently one of the are half finished buildings everywhere
fastest moving economies in the world. as demand outstrips construction
Despite the recent state of emergency it capabilities and funds. The city is
is also one of the most stable countries growing upwards and outwards and
in Africa. The African Union (AU) the infrastructure struggles to keep
and the United Nations Economic pace with the population surge and
Commission for Africa (UNECA) and new consumer demands for more
several international institutions are all modern offices, banks, restaurants,

106 IRISH TATLER

shopping malls, luxury hotels, gyms, cafes and Traditional LIVING
the other trappings of contemporary society. Ethiopian
And still nestled at its heart are the ancient coffee Kuriftu Resort & Spa, wtih
cobbled streets of the old town with goats ceremony stunning views of the
grazing amid the corrugated lean-tos and sheds crater lakes of Debre Ziet
that are home to the oldest inhabitants, many The anicent
without proper sanitation, clean water, and Meskel festival IRISH TATLER 107
electricity. Taxi service is provided by fleets of
ancient blue Russian Ladas from the 1970s
while packed mini buses provide limited public
transport in the city.

SEVEN YEARS YOUNGER
Is there much of a time difference between
Ireland and Ethiopia?, I asked our companion
and guide Mr Ashenafi Kassa (Ashu for short).
Seven years, give or take, he responds. And
that’s just the headline difference. We arrived
on 21 July 2017 and at 5pm that day I asked
him what the time and date was in Addis. It
was 14 July 2009 and 11 hours after sunrise.
Ethiopia not only has a separate calendar to
the rest of the world it also operates a different
time system, which marks the day in hours after
sunrise and the night in hours after sundown,
beginning at 0 at dawn and dusk. Thus 7am
is one hour after sunrise so it is 1 o’clock in
Ethiopia and our 12 midday is 6 o’clock. It also
has 13 months, 12 months of 30 days and a
shorter month of less than a week. New Year,
known as Enkutatash, is celebrated when the
rains stop and, other than a leap year, that falls
on September 11. So, by the time you read
this it will be 2010 in Ethiopia. Christianity
came to Ethiopia seven years after the death of
Christ and the variance between the calendar
stems from a different starting point for the
Annunciation.

ANCIENT CIVILISATION
Rarely have I experienced people with a
stronger sense and knowledge of history. In
Ireland, our historical reference point is often
the famine and all that’s happened since. To
put that into context, the first people arrived
in Ireland 9000 years ago, around 7000 BC.
Ethiopian history starts with Lucy, the first
human to walk upright some 3.2 million years
ago. Fact and fiction are woven together in
magical stories recounted by almost everyone
we meet, from guides to drivers to hotel staff.
These tales from Ethiopia’s ancient past are
blended into a rich and fascinating storybook
which opens with the Queen of Sheba’s visit
to King Solomon and the birth of their child
Menelik, the first emperor of Ethiopia. The

Priests celebrating the collective national pride in the triumphs,
feast of Meskel milestones and wars fought and won between
then and now is evident in everyone you meet.
Washing the teff While oppression, war and famine have also
grain for injera been visited upon Ethiopia the scars are worn
lightly and conversation rarely strays into those
Mecato: Africa’s dark periods.
largest openair
market OUR ITINERARY
We arrived in late July so the rainy season
Lucy: the world’s first meant lots of downpours, thunder storms PHOTOGRAPHS BY NORAH CASEY USING CANON POWERSHOT
humanoid to walk upright and floods, especially in the afternoons. The SX710HS; CANON POWERSHOT SX60HS; CANON EOS 100D
drenching was tough enough even for us rain
108 IRISH TATLER hardy Irish. We crammed lots into our few days,
enough to get a general sense of the uniqueness
of Ethiopia and the hook to ensure I will return
with at least three weeks clear to explore the
ancient churches and stunning mountains of the
north of the country.

We stayed at the Ramada in the up-and-
coming Bole District, close to the international
airport, and an area where most visitors stay.
It has shopping malls, cinemas, international
restaurants and is also close to the headquarters
of the African Union and the United Nations
offices. The hotel has two restaurants including
Churrascaria, the first Brazilian restaurant in
the city. The lobby bar and lounge was popular
and buzzy with live music and bar food served
in the lounge area (ramadaaddis.com).

THE OLDEST HOTEL
We landed early on Friday morning and after
a bit of recuperation we headed to Taitu, the
oldest hotel in Ethiopia, for lunch. It was
founded by Empress Taytu Betul (Taitu), the
formidable wife of Menelik II who is credited
with crushing the Italian invasion of 1896,
riding out with her own army of 5,000 soldiers.
She also founded the Ethiopian Red Cross, was
the true inspiration for the new capital Addis
Ababa and kick-started candle making, wine
production and health services. Taitu is in the
heart of the old town and more a restaurant and
garden now as the old bedrooms are no longer
in use. It is truly like stepping back in time
with a piano player soothing us as we ate. We
wandered through the deserted rooms where
the art and woodwork remain untouched.

Orthodox Christian is the predominant
religion in Ethiopia and it is a strong guiding
force for all ages. Wednesday and Friday are
fasting days so no meat or fish. Like most
restaurants Taitu offered a vegan buffet as we
were there on a Friday. Centre stage on the

LIVING

food laden buffet table were various little overladen donkeys do a lot of the humanoid to stand upright. Her formal
types of injera, a slightly bitter tasting hard work and virtually everything you title is AL 288-1 and she dates back to
spongy bread made from teff, a grain can imagine is sold and repaired and 3.2 million years ago. Her bones were
which is a staple of all Ethiopian meals. resold. Rolls of carpet and fabric lean discovered near Hadar, a village in the
After watching my fellow diners for a precariously against crumbling walls, Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in
while I figured out the best approach. inventive sellers display their wares 1974. I wondered at the name – why
The flat round injera is placed first on on sheets on the pavement, gold drips Lucy? Our all-knowing guide Chaney
a plate and small piles of spicy and from open huts and lines of brightly laughs and says she was only called
flavoursome vegetarian wats (stews) dressed mannequin hang from frames Lucy because the American (Donald
and vegetables are placed in a circular as the thousands of traders compete for Johanson of the Cleveland Museum
pattern. Eat with the right hand and eye line and sales. Our guide pointed of Natural History) who found her
use side dishes of injera to scoop up the out sacks of chilies, leaning towers of put on a cassette tape of Lucy in the
food. One thing I learned is that you colourful woven baskets, pyramids Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles
can never have enough injera at meal of fruit, heaps of powered henna for when he returned to camp after the
time and although it has a tanginess hair dye, mountains of recycled plastic discovery. Chaney proudly tells me
that takes a bit of getting used to it is containers and blocks of rusted steel. she is called Dinkinesh in Ethiopia,
the perfect balance to the spicy wats. I spotted an old man sitting repairing which in Amharic means ‘you are
Another common dish is a kind of marvellous’. We went to visit Lucy and
spaghetti and red sauce pie, a legacy Taitu, the oldest hotel other ancient fossils, art and treasures
of the (brief) Italian occupation in the in Addis Ababa at the National Museum. I imagined
1930s. the excitement and celebration in
umbrellas as his son sold the newly the expedition camp when the team
TRADITIONAL COFFEE fixed ones nearby. This is the world’s realised the significance of their
CEREMONY biggest recycling centre, where nothing discovery. And there she lies, several
At Taitu we were treated to the first is discarded, everything has a use and hundred pieces of bone fossils, about
of many traditional coffee making someday a buyer will want to buy it 40 per cent of the skeleton of a small
ceremonies. It was fitting that our first if you stockpile it long enough. We 12-year-old adult female laid out
experience of this ancient ritual was in went by car but I was itching to get like an incomplete work of art. Of
the country’s oldest hotel. The coffee out to walk and am so glad we did. course, these bones are replicas and
beans are roasted over charcoal and Our guide warned of pickpockets so the precious originals are housed in a
ground with a pestle and mortar before we strapped and zipped our belongings special safe somewhere in the museum.
being brewed to boiling point in a clay and wandered among the locals – an
pot. It is usually served with popcorn unlikely sight as we were the only SACRED CATHEDRAL
and sometimes butter or salt is added tourists we could see in the course of Chaney took us to the revered Holy
for taste. I don’t drink coffee normally our afternoon there. We were met with Trinity Cathedral, the second most
but was surprised at how much I liked nothing but greetings and smiles and sacred site in Ethiopia after the Church
the sweet caffeine-laden shot served salutes. It was a fantastic way to spend of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum.
with a very distinctive locally grown a few hours. We removed our shoes and as he spoke
fresh herb which you swill around in of the rich history of the cathedral he
the syrupy coffee. We drank lots of VISITING LUCY leaned on a tall stick. There were piles
coffee over the course of our visit and Ethiopia is home to the word famous of them lined up against the wall, a
I developed a slight addiction to the Lucy (Australopithecus) the first of necessary accessory while standing for
taste and the energy hit. Konjo bunna our species or, to be specific, the first the two-hour mass. Next to the altar,
(delicious coffee) were the first words I behind ornate gates, lie the massive
leaned in Amharic. Aksumite-style granite tombs of
Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife
ADDIS MERCATO Empress Menen Asfaw. The Cathedral
The highlight of our weekend in is beautiful with sparkling chandeliers,
Addis was a trip to the chaotic, vivid stained-glass windows and the
bustling Mercato, the largest open- solemn pews watched over by an
air market in Africa, with our expert arresting yellow and red mural of
guide Chanyalew Glmedhin. Over the the Holy Trinity on the ceiling. As
course of the days spent with him we we arrived a pre-wedding couple and
learned monumental amounts about their entourage were making their way
Ethiopian history and culture. The up to the cathedral steps singing and
Mercato is packed with locals; there, clapping. They were to be married the

IRISH TATLER 109

Castelli next day but delicious Italian food and an eclectic little oasis has two restaurants; we ate
Restaurant traditionally the mix of colourful contemporary art. We breakfast lakeside and dinner high up
couple come to ate there on a quiet night and enjoyed in the international restaurant. The
Makush Restaurant be blessed the the art with some great spaghetti amiable manager, Asfaw Kitaw, gave
and art gallery day before. As bolognese and a bottle of Ethiopian me a tour of the older part of the resort
we left a huge Rift Valley Merlot. Makush, Tel: with smaller cabins nestled in among
crowd had +251 115 526 848. the trees and greenery close to the lake.
gathered for an It offers a host of activities including
open-air funeral Ashu took us to a traditional kayaking, a cinema, swimming pool,
with a line of Ethiopian dancing and singing billiards, table tennis and more. The
black suited, restaurant on our final night. While electricity is less stable here than in
white gloved men Irish dancing is all about the legs, Addis (where it is also a bit patchy)
standing guard Ethiopian dance is all about the but nobody, including us, seemed
over a floral shoulders and head swings and it is to mind the blackouts and plenty of
laden coffin. mesmerising. He also introduced us to candles added to the atmosphere.
Tej, a strong-tasting honey wine, made Our overnight stay included a
PLACES TO EAT with beer rather than vines, a bit like complimentary massage and although
mead. This is a favourite drink in Addis neither of us spoke the same language
About half a mile from the Mercato and each bar makes up its own recipe my expert masseuse eased away all the
and serves it in recycled spirit bottles. It muscle tensions of long haul travel.
is the Piazza, the city’s lively smells and tastes of hops with a herbal Kuriftu is a very special place with
flavour and won’t be replacing gin as friendly people and beautiful views and
Italian quarter, a legacy of the brief my Friday night treat any time soon. rates are exceptionally good at around
US $125 a night.
occupation. In an unlikely spot on A WEEKEND AT THE
LAKES
Mahatma Gandhi Street, we entered Like many Addis inhabitants we
left the city and stayed at the crater
a doorway into Italy of the 1940s. We lakes for the weekend. In less than
an hour we left the modern highway
weren’t the first to discover this gem and drove through country roads in Kiriftu Resort
the Oromia Region with young boys & Spa
of a restaurant. The walls of Castelli selling bananas on the roadside, our NOTABLE
car competing for lane space next SIGHTS OF
are littered with photographs of the to donkeys and carts and dozens of
little blue tuk tuks whizzing about
famous owner with Brad Pitt, Bob and weaving precariously between the ETHIOPIA
various transport vehicles, machine
Geldof, Bill Clinton and a host of other and animal. The air was clearer, the sun The beautiful
was shining and a sort of excitement
luminaries. It was opened in 1948 by evident as the tired city dwellers head northern
en masse to the crater lakes. We arrived
an Italian soldier, Francesco Castelli at the busy town of Bishoftu (also highlands of
called by its old name, Debre Zeit),
who came to Addis in the late 1930s home of the Ethiopian Air Force and Ethiopia are
at the heart of the five crater lakes;
as part of Mussolini’s occupying army, Kuriftu, Bishoftu, Cheleklaka, Hora, home to the
and Green Crater lake. Here we were
and decided to stay. His widow, Rosa, staying at Kuriftu Resort and Spa Christian Amhara and Tigrayan
nestled on a lake of the same name.
still runs it, with her brother Carlo. Our cabin rooms were perched above people and most of the country’s
the lakeside with nature’s very own
Myself, Dara and Ashu ate here on the sound system of wild birds and wildlife ancient treasures with churches carved
to soothe us to sleep. The deck offered
last day before it closed for its annual the full panorama of the lake with little from rock, a host of 16th century
boats dotted around and oxen drinking
refurbishment so it was extra special thirstily on the opposite shore. This monasteries and Lake Tana, the source

and delicious. Fresh made tagliatelle of the Blue Nile. The stunning Simien

with a rich ragu and tortellini with Mountains (4000 metres high) are

spinach and ricotta cheese married popular with hikers and climbers. The

with a bottle of robust Chianti. A huge Queen of Sheba, it’s claimed, chose

portion of homemade tiramisu with Axum as her capital so it is a must see

three spoons disappeared quickly and on any visit to Ethiopia. Axum boasts

we toasted our gregarious host Carlos some of the world’s most significant

with lemoncella before leaving what archaeological sites along with secret

was without doubt the best restaurant treasures including the Arc of the

in Addis. Covenant which is said to be hidden in

Makush Art a church. It is definitely on my to do

Gallery and list when I return to the country, along

restaurant is an with the historic Lalibela (knows as the

unlikely boho ‘New Jerusalem’). The former imperial

retreat in the capital, Gondor is also on the itinerary

Homemade trendy Bole area with its many fine and ancient palaces
honey wine of Addis selling
a combination of and castles.

110 IRISH TATLER

On board Africa’s LIVING
largest and fastest
growing airline, Travel essentials
the jewel in the
crown of Ethiopia Ethiopian Airlines (0800 635 0644;
flyethiopian.com) flies from Dublin to
The best way to start a holiday is from the impeccable and laden with everything you Addis Ababa non-stop. Irish citizens
moment you step on board and that’s could want from in-seat dining. A wide need visas. We organised ours online in
exactly what you can expect if you travel range of spirits, French and Ethiopian Rift advance for US$50 but you can also buy
with Ethiopian Airlines from Dublin. This is Valley wines (my new favourite) are all
a world class airline with accessible pricing served on board. As always, the cabin crew your visa on arrival.
and excellent on board facilities. I travelled makes all the difference when you spend
in Cloud Nine and it was everything you hours in the air and the Ethiopian team is Planning your stay
might expect. exceptional, always smiling and attentive
and beautifully dressed in traditional and Ethiopian Holidays, part of Ethiopian
Time was you had to fly to London or contemporary uniforms. Ethiopian Airlines Airlines, organised all of our activities,
Paris to travel long haul but airlines like has been a member of Star Alliance since tours and accommodation. Our guides
Ethiopian are investing in Ireland and 2011 and all on board facilities are on par and drivers were knowledgeable and
that’s great news for us. It means no with other airlines in the group, such as informative and spoke excellent English.
stopovers or long delays at other European Air Canada.
hubs with the ease of departing close to Ethiopianholidays.com
home for a non-stop journey. Ethiopian Cloud Nine Lounge
Airlines chartered its first flight from At the Dublin end our Cloud Nine ticket Security and travel advice
Ireland to Ethiopia in 2015 and since then, entitled us to use of fast track and we
has provided flights from Dublin to Addis enjoyed the facilities of the bright and airy In early August 2017, the Government of
Ababa three times a week. It also services DAA Lounge before boarding. In Addis the Ethiopia lifted the state of emergency
flights from Dublin to the United States, dedicated Cloud Nine lounge is an oasis which it imposed in October 2016
including Los Angeles and New York, and of calm and comfort in the busy airport. following an upsurge of sporadic
provide flights from Dublin to London. Plenty of armchair seating is provided violence in the Oromia and Amhara
in the open plan areas and the main region. The Department of Foreign
Operating for over 70 years, Ethiopian part consists of a rectangular room filled Affairs provides up-to-date information
Airlines is the fastest growing in Africa, with rows of armchairs with a traditional so it is advisable to check prior to
serving 113 destinations and carrying eight Ethiopian coffee station, a business centre traveldfa.ie
million passengers annually. The average and a relaxation room. A hot and cold
age of the aircraft is just five years. And buffet and separate bar area kept us going IRISH TATLER 111
they are expanding still. in between flights. Wi-fi is pretty scarce
other than in the hotel in Addis so it was
What’s it like in Cloud Nine? great to catch up on all the news and
We travelled overnight from Dublin respond to a few emails in the comfort of
to Addis Ababa on one of Ethiopian’s the lounge. ethiopianairlines.com
Dreamliners (Boeing 787) and enjoyed
all the comforts of premium travel in Ethiopian Holidays
the airline’s Cloud Nine. The cabin is Ethiopian Holidays is a sister company
bright and airy and with only 24 seats it of Ethiopian Airlines and organised all of
feels spacious even when full. We were our itinerary and guides. I would highly
welcomed in style with a chilled glass of recommend relying on its expertise
Leonie Brut Champagne and settled in in all matters to ensure you make the
to explore the brightly coloured green best of your time there. It will help you
and yellow amenity kit. I recycle airline plan all aspects of your holiday from
kits for economy journeys and the accommodation to tours. It caters for other
Ethiopian one has everything you might countries such as Spain and Japan and,
need for the flight – earplugs, eye masks, like Ethiopian Airlines, is working on future
toothbrush and toothpaste, and some planning the business through expansion.
balm to soothe stiff muscles. The seat ethiopianholidays.com
shells are comfortable with ample leg
room and space to store bags and shoes
with a privacy divider between seats. I
plugged in my iPhone for the journey
and settled in to watch a movie from the
state-of-the-art entertainment system
before settling down for a sleep before
landing. The food is great with a mix of
international and Ethiopian dishes. On
the route out I chose seared salmon
supreme with yellow rice and on the return
some Provençal chicken; the trays were


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