General itinerary: Having never been to Ethiopia before, everything was new. I very much enjoyed the itinerary our Gladney folks came up with. Some days can be busy, but we were able to opt out when needed and see some of the sights on another day. I can't think of a stop I didn't like, but here are some that stood out:
- Alert Hospital: This is the leprosy hospital with a souvenir shop. The shop is stocked only with goods made on the premises, and by premises I mean literally outside the shop's door. It was very meaningful to buy products I could see being made by hand on looms just down the hall.
- Abyssinian lions--I know this sounds like the cheesy tourist stop but I couldn't get over how magnificent these lions look, especially considering the cramped, damp, depressing concrete floor cages to which they were confined.
- Museum--When you first walk into this 1-room museum you will think, "this is the most unimpressive museum I've ever been in!" But the soft-spoken, very kind, older tour guide was the clincher. I won't forget how tender he was with another Gladney family's newly adopted son. The museum brought to life the little bit of Ethiopia history I'd read up on--a lot of stuff from Emperors Menelik II and Haile Selassie, the two big wigs of recent Ethiopian history...
Food: Honestly, I felt like we ate like royalty the whole time we were there! This is primarily because the food was tasty and wonderfully inexpensive. As Lonely Planet will tell you, Addis is the diplomatic capital of Africa, so they are used to the tender stomachs of westerners. Going over there, I was worried about what Allyson would eat because she can't eat anything remotely spicy and she's a bit finicky. So we stocked up on beef jerky, crackers, all that, and found most of it all still piled in our luggage at the end of the trip. Even Allyson found something to eat every meal (she recommends chicken kebab--she must have ordered that 5 times!). We ate Ethiopian, German, Italian, American, you name it. And here's the remarkable part: not one bout of diarrhea or vomiting. You'll hear don't eat the salads--I had salad almost every day. To be fair, some of the families with us had some difficulties with the food, so everybody's different, but we had an extremely positive experience. Some of our favorites:
- Lime Tree: They offer breakfast, light meals, desserts, and juices. Went there for a snack on the last day--perfect! We had the strawberry juice, carrot cake and chocolate cake. The chocolate cake is simple, but seriously some of the best I've had anywhere in a while.
- Makush--Italian restaurant with art gallery. "All ingredients imported from Italy" is their boast. I don't know, but it was go--od. We actually liked the spinach salad and focaccia better than our main course, so much so we went back again a few nights later to have just salad and bread. That also gave a chance to sample their desserts.
- Shameless knockoffs--we didn't eat at all of these, but people will get a kick out of seeing places like "Burger Queen;" a bag of candies with "9-up" "Cola Cola" and "Fantasy" candies inside, complete with the exact same logos of 7-up, Coca-Cola, and Fanta; and Kaldi's, a Starbucks on caffeine with the exact same everything with regard to decor--color scheme, type font, etc--but with delish additional offerings like gelato and desserts.
- Any macchiato--everyone recommends it, but maybe not for the reason I offer. If you frequent Starbucks at all, you will appreciate paying $0.50 for a coffee drink at a cafe in Addis that would cost at least $3 at Starbucks!
- Ethiopian food--the most tasty dish I thought was the duro wat, a dark brown dish distinguished by a lamb shank and boiled egg-very flavorful (I think it's that berbere), with a kick as an aftertaste. The bozena shero was also high on my list.
Stuff we wish we'd brought:
- Clothes: I and one other family both saw the same weather website that described Addis as "70 degrees, but feels like 113 degrees." So we had lots of short sleeves and shorts and few long sleeve stuff. The weather was very predictable in Addis, but decidedly not feeling like 113 degrees! The temperature was always in the mid-60s, and it rained every afternoon around 3pm for 1-2 hours. Sometimes, it would rain in the early morning, and once, it rained most of the day. I could have left shorts and most short-sleeves at home. And brought a nice rain rainproof jacket.
- Also, we stayed in an apartment and there was no heat. I'm guessing hotels would have heat, but you might want some extra clothes for sleeping as well.
- Pack-n-Play--Ally is suggesting that people adopting kids who will be mobile might consider a pack-n-play. I don't know--that sounds high mx to me--but the toughest times with Reece were at meal times because he's grabbing everything right now. With no high chairs in Ethiopia, one of us would often have to leave the table to entertain him (The Beer Garden, a German restaurant, actually had a play area for kids).
- Toys-to give out at the orphanages we visited. This would take some planning and maybe checking with staff, but Allyson said she did in Kenya when she went a while ago, and wished she would do it again.
- US candy--A slightly less satisfying (but more portable)alternative is to bring for the orphans. Also, it's something to give to the beggars who hound you every time your car comes to a stop. How you will respond to the beggars (lots of kids) might be worth giving some thought to, because you'll be faced with it every time you get in the car.