Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ethiopia trip (part 1: Addis Ababa)

We ended up spending 18 days in Ethiopia. Eleven of those days we were in Addis Ababa, sightseeing and visiting new friends while we waited for news of a court date, which for a while seemed imminent. Once we figured out the mini-buses, it was very easy to get around the city. Unless you have your newly adopted children with you or large packages to carry, I see no reason to use a taxi or a driver in Addis. The mini-buses are cheap and convenient, and unlike mini-buses in other African countries, they actually have a seating capacity. So you will never end up with someone sitting on your lap or have to sit on anyone's lap. Just listen for what the guy hanging out the window is yelling.

At the National Museum we saw Lucy, Ardi and Selam, as well as artifacts from ancient and modern Ethiopian history (take mini-bus to Arat Kilo). I loved this museum. The Ethnological Museum is in Haile Selassie's old palace and we saw his bedroom and bathroom, along with collections of musical instruments and religious paintings (mini-bus to Siddist Kilo, go into university campus). T really liked this museum. The Natural History Museum displays all the endemic animals of Ethiopia, with an impressive bird collection (mini-bus to Arat Kilo). Small, but we liked it. Finally the most recent museum is the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum. It's in Meskal Square (mini-bus to Stadium). It just opened in 2010 so it may not be in your guidebook. It was very disturbing but we thought very well done. I highly recommend it, but NOT for kids.

View of Addis from across from the Imperial Palace. Check with the soldiers before taking a photo.
Meskal Square
Sunset from the Astara Hotel
View from Bole Road rooftop
The air in Addis was pretty smoggy.
We also enjoyed visiting some churches in Addis. Our favorite was St. George's Cathedral (take mini-bus to Piazza). It was quiet and peaceful with lots of birds singing.
St. George's Cathedral
St. George's inner temple
King Solomon meeting the Queen of Sheba
For souvenir shopping, we had good luck at Shiromeda (take mini-bus to Arat Kilo, then transfer to Shiromeda). This is a little group of shops at the base of the Entoto mountains. I would not recommend going to the shops on Churchill Avenue, which are very much geared toward tourists and were the one place in Addis where we got annoyingly hassled. Unfortunately we never made it to the Merkato.

For food, there are endless restaurants to choose from. The surest bet for a vegetarian is shiro (chickpea stew) with injera. We had shiro almost every day and we could get it just about everywhere. It quickly became addictive. For a nice meal on our last night we enjoyed Makush on Bole Road, where we had decent Italian food surrounded by not great, but cheerful and colorful art (take mini-bus toward Bole, get off at Mega House).

One thing I was very glad to have with me as we wandered around Addis was a GPS. The city is not laid out in the most logical way, plus I have a bad sense of direction. It was nice to always know where we were. Also if you are looking at your GPS, people think you are just texting, which draws no attention, but if you get out your guidebook you will immediately draw a swarm of sellers. We got a good street map of Addis for our Garmin eTrex from

Our new friend S (our tutor A's brother) lives on the southwest edge of Addis. It was interesting to drive out there because it is all new construction and the area is laid out in a much more organized and "western" way.

S and his family
R (our tutor W's sister) and our intrepid interpreter M
On our fifth day we took an easy day trip to Debre Zeit (also called Bishoftu). There are a couple of pretty lakes that we walked to and lots of birds. We had lunch at the Dreamland Hotel overlooking Lake Bishoftu. To get to Debre Zeit, catch a bus from the station right across from the stadium to the west of Meskal Square. Or stand on Ras Biru Street right across from Meskal Square. You will have to make a transfer at Qaliti. To find the right bus from Qaliti to Debre Zeit, just put on your stupid ferenji face i.e. your regular face, and fifteen people will show you where to go. Total bus cost was 14 birr each (82¢).

Lake Bishoftu


  1. Your pics are gorgeous Kyra!
    Thank you so much for the detailed tips for those who may come after you. I have felt a bit hesitant of the minibuses based on other minibus experiences but the fact that they have a seating capacity makes me feel much better!
    And the birds pics are great@ I recognize several varieties from other travels, including the Hammerkop, a lucky spot!

  2. wow, great pics. so sorry court has moved forward. that is a yucky limbo to be in...sending hope.

  3. If the Hammerkop is the first one, we saw lots of them at Debre Zeit.
    Yucky is right, I feel yucky several times a day, every day. Thanks for the hope.

  4. Wow, this is a great post for those who will be traveling to Addis in the future (like me)! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and your tips. I never would have thought about bringing a GPS - great idea. I am not sure how you survived all of this trip in your incredible place of limbo. Obviously you did survive, and it looks like you had some really enjoyable times despite the yuckiness of it all.

  5. Hello,

    I wrote something about "figuring out minibuses" here:

    It is pretty recent info, specially with all the changes due to the light train system construction.