Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Ethiopia

My Top 10 from 2017

Every year I try to do a post about my favourite travel destinations of the past year. So in keeping with tradition I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 travels from 2017. In many ways it feels like the past year flew by, and then at the same time there were some months that looking back at them moved by achingly slow. I fit in a lot of travel this year. I shared a lot of great memories. I nursed myself through a heartbreak. I connected with a cousin I didn’t really know I had and visited her twice this year. I almost delivered a baby on a plane. I drove a rickshaw in Ethiopia. I was flown from Georgia to Bahrain in business class on a flight were I was the only passenger. I’ve made some very dear friends this past year- that has probably been the biggest blessing for me. While the travel was great- the actual human interactions I had are the thing that stands out the most.

In 2017 I visited 18 countries not including Saudi Arabia. 12 of them new to me. I took 38 international flights, which for someone terrified of flying is no easy feat. I traveled solo, with a tinder date, with my Kiwi sidekick, to see my cousin and then home for a few weeks. I traveled by plane, bus, boat, rickshaw and car. So without further delay here’s my 2017 travel recommendations in chronological order…..

1. Croatia

Croatia is stunning. In April I spent a week in Dubrovnik with a fella I met on tinder a month before I left for Saudi Arabia. He was a great travel partner and I would happily have him be my travel side kick again- he was only mildly irritated when I asked him to take the hundreth posed picture of me in a row.  And he was pretty much down to do and eat where ever I wanted- what more can you ask for in a travel companion?! After a week in Dubrovnik he flew back to Canada and I spent a few days in Split solo exploring the city. As I previously blogged Dubrovnik is a great base to visit nearby Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina on separate day trips. We spent our time in Dubrovnik exploring the Old City, taking tons of postcard worthy pictures and sipping Croatia’s delicious wines. I would highly recommend to avoid both Dubrovnik and Split during the peak tourist season. We were there in April and it was the beginning of the cruise ships- I would have been highly irritated if we had gone when the reportedly 10,000 daily cruisers get dropped in the Old Town (although reportedly they are capping this number at 8,000 in 2018.)

My favourite thing that we did while in Croatia was explore the nearby abandoned resort Town of Kupari just south of Dubrovnik. I love abandoned places and it was super cool to be able to wander through these large empty hotels and take pictures. It had that eerie beauty to it, and it was very easy to imagine what it must’ve looked like in their prime time. We also visited the nearby town of Cavtat which has a very cute water front and some delicious restaurants. The Croatian coastline is spectacular.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Switzerland

2017 was a lot about Europe for me. Seeing as Frankfurt is a direct flight from Riyadh and has easy connections to just about every large European city it’s pretty easy to make a long weekend into a trip to Europe. My Kiwi sidekick and I opted for Switzerland seeing as neither of us had ever been and we were traveling in May which made for perfect weather there. We stayed in Geneva where we strolled the cobble stoned lanes, ate our weight in cheese fondue,  and stumbled upon Camino signs which only solidified me knowing that I want to walk the Camino de Santiago again. One of the coolest things we did though was take a day trip to nearby Mont Blanc in the Swiss Alps.

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps range and the highest in Europe. We did a bus trip to the French town of Chamonix and from there we took two gondolas to the top of the mountain. I’m scared of heights and being confined to a small car packed with people dangling from a cable from the top of a mountain was moderately terrifying. Both Kiwi and I rode most of the way with our eyes closed performing lamaze child birth breathing techniques. But once up top the views were stunning. We even concurred our fear of heights by walking out into this glass floored room that’s 1035 meters off the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan was one of the countries that surprised me the most last year. I had no idea what to expect and it actually blew me away. It had a Middle Eastern vibe, but felt very European. The buildings were very European but accented with Islamic architectural features. I felt totally comfortable traveling there solo, and it was pretty easy to get there from Riyadh as it’s a direct flight from Dubai to the capital Baku. Some of you may never have heard of this country (and I’ve yet to properly blog about) but I’ll tell you a few helpful facts. Azerbaijan borders both Europe and Asia and is a predominantly Muslim country, but it felt the least religious of all the Muslim countries I have traveled to. It is in the Caucasus region and borders the countries of Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Iran and Turkey, and Baku is on the Caspian Sea. The phrase “the old meets the new” or the “east meets the west” are very fitting in relation to Azerbaijan.

I spent two nights in Baku which was the perfect amount of time to see the city. The Old Town in Baku is really cool. The buildings are of an architectural style I had never seen before with double story homes with very ornate wooden balconies. I would later see this same style in Georgia. I wandered the Old Town and climbed the Maiden Tower which has a great panorama view of the city from the top. I strolled the walkways near Nizami square soaking in the sunshine and fresh air. I walked the corniche overlooking the Caspian Sea. One evening I walked over to Sahidler Xiyabani Park with is a really ornately decorated park that has amazing views overlooking the city, and also perfect views of the iconic Flames Towers. There is an impressive nightly light show on the Flames Towers featuring flames, and running water, and the Azerbaijani flags. If you’re looking for somewhere a little off the tourist track and an easy long weekend trip from Riyadh I would highly recommend Azerbaijan!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Georgia

The country. Not the state. Just to be clear. If I had to rank these countries in order of my favourites Georgia would’ve been at the top of my list. Georgia first landed on my radar after seeing a friend’s picture from a trip she and her boyfriend took. Or more specifically a single view from a balcony of a hotel at a range of mountains that I later researched to be the country of Georgia. I was determined to wake up to that same view one day. I spent a week solo in Georgia. A couple nights in the capital of Tbilisi before retreating for the mountain views of Kazbegi that had inspired my trip, and then a night at the end back in Tbilisi. The best decision I made while in Georgia was to hire a guide/driver from Instagram. At first it sounds a little sketchy- having some youngish guy pick you up a night from the airport in a country you’ve never been to as a solo woman traveler. But, I’m a big believer in listening to your gut. And my gut said that Zuka was legit- and in fact he was. Zuka would be my sidekick over the next week. He drove me around, told me the history of the region, and we rocked out to Enrique Inglasias’s song “Bailando” quite likely 100 times.

Zuka drove me to the famous Jvari Monastery, to the wine region of Kakheti, and later into the mountain region of Kazbegi close to the Russian border where I spend 3 days taking in the most stunning mountain views and watching the changing weather. I spent time in Tbilisi and was mesmerized by the graffiti art around the city. If you are a foodie at all I would highly recommend adding Georgia to your list. Georgian food is fantastic- my favourite was the Georgian Salad made of cucumbers, tomatoes, with a walnut paste and Khinkali which are pork dumplings. And trust me- Georgian wine is amazing. If you go be sure to use Zuka– tell him I sent you, and be sure to listen to a little Enrique or whatever music is trendy when you go!

The icing on the cake of my trip to Azerbaijan and Georgia was turning up to the airport to fly back to Riyadh and getting upgraded to business class and then coming to find out that not only was I upgraded, but that I was the only passenger on the entire flight. It will be difficult to ever top that travel experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Ethiopia

Ethiopia was definitely the most exciting trip I took this year in terms of things just generally not going as plan but still working out in the end. From the get go this trip was a hot mess. Our flight was delayed in Riyadh for 8 hours. 8 hours after we had already been awake for nearly 24hours. Then there was a medical emergency where a woman was in questionable labour and didn’t speak English. We assessed her and kept her comfortable and for landing she and I were moved up to Business class. I had instructed her via a Swahili translator that if she were to feel like her water broke or that she was bleeding she was to squeeze my arm. Literally as the plane touches down she squeezes my arm. So here we are taxiing to the gate and I’m under her dress assessing her. Thankfully she was neither bleeding, nor did her water break and she could still feel the baby moving. In the midst of all this excitement my kiwi sidekick proudly told me she knew the Swahili word for Giraffe. Not super helpful!!

Three of our four flight legs were delayed that trip. Ethiopia Air is a bit of a scheduling disaster and I wouldn’t fly with them again unless there were zero other options. My Kiwi mate lost consciousness likely due to altitude in the town of Lalibela. That was medical emergency numero 2 of the trip. One minute she’s saying she doesn’t feel well, the next she’s laying on the floor. The greatest disappointment of the trip though was our Ethiopian attempt at wine tasting. We literally drove 3-4 hours each way to go wine tasting at a French winery only to be told that there was in fact no wine to taste. I nearly cried. Ok. I might’ve actually cried.

It wasn’t all bad though. Ethiopia is an intriguing country with amazing food. It’s colourful and vibrant. The rock churches of Lalibela are amazing and totally worth the effort it took to get there. We were even able to convince our tour guide in Lalibela to organize us a tour by auto rickshaw in which I was the driver and he was happy to comply. He proudly told us that I was the first westerner to driver Bajaj (rickshaw) in the history of Lalibela. We spent time exploring Addis Ababa and even got to meet up with one of the housekeepers that I work with here in Saudi.  She and her family took us out for dinner and I oogled their cute kids and we decided I would take one to Canada- but then we decided Canada was far too cold for them. Ethiopia was both extremes- frustrating beyond belief at times, and then totally rewarding and heart filling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Austria

I’d previously been to Austria twice before. Once way back in 2010 to Vienna, and then in 2016 to Salzburg with my mom. Both times I loved the food and especially the wine. In August I visited Bratislava Slovakia and then traveled by boat up the river Danube to Vienna and later onward to Slovenia. The main reason I was stopping off for a night was to meet up with a cousin I had only really learned about the month before. Her mom and my Dad were cousins so I guess we are second cousins- although after meeting her she feels very much like a first cousin to me. I stayed right near St Stephen’s Cathedral which is beautiful and my room had rooftop views over the city.

Even though I was only there one night I had really wished I had the time to stay another couple nights. My cousin and I went for a traditional Austrian meal and she toured me around the city on foot pointing out the important buildings and telling me the history of the city. We sipped delicious Austrian wine at a rooftop bar and tried to piece together our family history. And best of all we made plans to ensure our paths would cross again….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Slovenia

I’d long wanted to visit Lake Bled- it’s on many people’s favourite places they’ve traveled to list, so I had to see if it held up to the hype. I spent 8 days in Slovenia split between its capital city of Ljubljana and three nights of total relaxation at Lake Bled. Ljubljana is a great city- it’s small and easy to navigate, if felt totally safe as a female traveler and there’s enough to see to fill a few days. Oh, and of course the food and wine is really good. It’s pretty touristy and it being the summer it was pretty packed, but the temperature was perfect for evening strolling while eating gelato (a favourite past time of mine). I did a couple free walking tours while there. As I’ve previously mentioned many, many times I’m a huge fan of taking part in free walking tours. They are offered in almost every major city- they’re a great way to get your bearings by walking a city by foot, learning the history of the region, meeting other travelers and they are cheap. While not exactly free the guides work off of tips- I’m happy to give them the equivalent of $10 US for someone to walk me around for 2-3hours telling animated tales. Always money well spent. If you are only in a city for a short period of time I’d always recommend joining a walking tour. Make sure to visit the central market in Ljubljana as there’s tons of delicious food, and during the warmer months there’s an outdoor food festival on Fridays called “Open Kitchen.” They serve international food and alcohol and it’s great fun to sit outside sampling different food.

After spending a night in Ljubljana I took the bus to Lake Bled for 3 nights. This part of my trip was a bit of a splurge and I had booked myself a room with a balcony over looking the lake, facing towards the castle. I spent my time walking the 6km lake path, climbing up to the castle which had postcard worthy views of the lake and town below and taking boat tours around the lake. In the evenings I would sit on my balcony sipping wine, reading a book and  watching the magnificent sunsets. I would look up every paragraph or so to see the sky changing colours. Deepening. Each moment more beautiful than the one before. Watching as the light sparkled across the lake. The yellow brightening into orange then into pink and then into a light mauve. The sky looked like it was expanding. As the sky fell darker the last bits of light faded the castle on the opposite cliff grew brighter- its windows illuminated from within as the last bit of sun slipped away. Those sunsets were my favourite part of being in Slovenia. Lake Bled is a very romantic place and would be a great place to take a partner, but equally so if you’re looking to clear your head and relax which was exactly why I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Estonia

In October I flew into Helsinki Finland and made my way down thru Estonia, to Latvia and then Lithuania before flying to Berlin to meet up with my cousin. Estonia was a place I’d heard a lot about this past year. If you’re into travel at all then you also have probably heard a lot about Estonia, specifically about the city of Tallinn which has been an up and coming travel destination. I spend a couple nights in Helsinki and then took the ferry to Tallinn. The ferry to Tallinn is more of a booze cruise for the Finns. They go over to Estonia where the booze are cheaper and stock up. The ferry itself is only about four hours. It’s super easy to get between the two countries. I’m used to ferries in Canada or the US. They are low key, relaxing type of sailing. Often you sit and watch the view from the windows or go to the upper decks for some fresh air. Ferries in this part of the world are really more of a cruise entertainment experience. There’s singing and choreographed dance moves. There was also a stuffed mascot that was involved in the dancing. While waiting for the ferry to board I was approached by a couple. They were Finnish and very, very drunk. And/or possibly on meth- it was hard to say. He was a little overly friendly and started chatting me up. Being the polite Canadian I was I answered and the following conversation ensued……. Him “Where are you from?” Me “Canada.” Him “Hmmm never heard of it.” So I then told him that I lived in the Middle East and was here on vacation. He then started yelling “BOMB.” Quite loud while pointing at my suitcase and then he started laughing. I was mortified and thankful no one nearby was taking him serious. He then tried to hug me and he and his lady then proceeded to overshare their entire life stories. How they met, how many kids they had, how much alcohol they planned to buy. The ship literally could not board fast enough. I kept thinking that at some point I was likely going to get pick pocketed, but that didn’t happen. They were just very friendly Finns. I managed to lose them in the crowd as we boarded, but later saw them going into the Duty Free. He winked at me and waved.

So I arrived in Tallinn Estonia on a cold autumn afternoon after being mistaken for a terrorist. I had booked a cute AirBnb in the Old Town and it was perfect for my three night stay. Tallinn is a very charming city. The Old Town is cobble stoned and easily walkable and you could easily picture yourself walking there 200 years ago. Because I was there during the off season that meant less tourists, and that it was pretty easy to get a table in some of the citiy’s best restaurants. If you are a foodie then add Tallinn to your list. There are so many great restaurants there. My favourite was Restoran O (But the “O” has those two little dots above it that my keyboard won’t let me type.) They had an amazing tasting menu with a wine pairing and all the dishes are from local foods influenced by the Island of Saaremaa the largest island in Estonia.

The second day I was there I joined a walking tour that wound it’s way thru the city to some very scenic overlooks all the while learning the history of the country. Estonia most recently became independent in 1991. The language is similar to Finnish or Hungarian and they are not gender specific. Also they have no future tense so instead of saying phrases like “in the future” they say “in 5 months time.” Also a large percentage of Estonians are atheists. That’s all the fun facts I can remember right now. You’re welcome. There is also a very cool part of town that has an urban industrial feel and is full of artists, graffiti and bars and restaurants. It’s called Kalamaya and it’s an easy walk from the Old Town. It would be a shame to visit Tallinn and not leave the Old Town as the city has much more to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Latvia

After Tallin Estonia, I traveled to Riga Lativa on a one way tour bus that was really like a day tour with stop offs on the way between the two cities. This was a great way to see the countryside as it was October the leaves were changing colour and the air was crisp. Fall is my favourite season hands down. En route from Tallin to Riga we stopped off at small villages to walk around and wander thru some old castle ruins and then hiked up to some caves that were made of sandstone. Leave it to me to walk 700Km across Spain without falling only to walk like 1km on a muddy path in Latvia to make a massive spectacle of myself. As it turns out I don’t have nearly the cat like reflexes I had previously convinced myself I had. I realized this whilst laying on my back in a muddy puddle. Mud in my hair and covering most of my jeans I opted not to change into the only other clean pair of pants I had, lest I repeat the same incident.

We arrived in Riga in the rain and in the dark, but it being a weekend the city was just getting started. It was gearing up for the bachelor parties and mayhem that would later spill out of the bars onto the main street. The city felt vibrant and full of energy. The following morning I joined…. you guessed it….a walking tour of the Old Town. Riga is known to have one of the largest amounts of Art Nouveau architecture in the world. I’m a big fan of this style of architecture and I had a great time walking out of the Old Town to the nearby neighbourhoods where the vast majority of these buildings are located. The Old Town of Riga though is lovely. The alleys are cobble stoned and quaint, there are several open squares, and you can see the remnants of the old city walls. Interspersed with exploring the city on foot I took many stops for cappuccinos and of course wine. In fact one of the best places I came across that trip was a place called “Easy Wine” in the Old Town. It was a wine bar that had like 60 different kinds of wine in a vending machine. Wine. Vending Machine. Sounds like heaven to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Germany

Germany was another place I’d been to a few times. I went to Munich for Oktoberfest a few years back and visited the Christmas Market in Frankfurt two winters ago. I ended my trip to the Balkans in Berlin for two reasons. First, my cousin was living there (the one I had met in Vienna in August) and I was keen to spend more time with her. The second reason was that I wanted to get a tattoo covered and I had found an artist I really liked who was in Berlin. I spent four nights there with no real plan other than to hang out with my cousin and get my new tattoo. Other then that I just wanted to spend some time outside walking the city and eating good food. Luckily my cousin is very knowledgeable about WWII history so she walked me around the city explaining to me the history and pointing out important sites. We walked the East West gallery which has urban art painted on portions of the Berlin Wall. We visited the Mauerpark market which sells a little bit of this and a little bit of that and was insanely packed with uber trendy hipsters. My cousin introduced me to curry wurst which pairs great with beer and are basically sausages in a curry ketchup sauce. Fun fact: you can walk all over town sipping your beer. No one will say a dang thing about it.

I loved all the different neighbourhoods and how walkable the city was. I’m a big fan of big cities and I really liked Berlin. I was also lucky enough to be there during the Festival of Lights where there were different light installations spread across the city with evening shows. I’m pretty sure Berlin will be a city that I’ll return to- most likely in the spring when my cousin is back there as I’d love to explore some more and spend some time with her!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s some of what I got up to in 2017. I ended the year by ringing in my birthday in Bahrain. 2018 is starting to take shape and I’ve got some plans in the works. As always I’m still not exactly sure when my final exit from Saudi Arabia will be. Right now I’m just taking it day by day. In a couple weeks I’m going to Luxor Egypt for a long weekend which has been something I’ve wanted to do the last couple years. Hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings is on my bucket list so I’m pretty pumped. I’m looking into going to the Louvre in Abu Dhabi in early February and then flying to Djibouti with my kiwi sidekick for a few days. Many of you reading this are probably like hold up did she just make up another country again? No. Djibouti is next to Somalia and according to the Lonely Planet otherwise known as my travel bible, Djibouti is its 4th pick for up and coming country in 2018. After that I don’t have anything set in stone. I’d like to visit the “Stans” in the spring. Specifically Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan. Something really off the beaten path for a few weeks. That’s all from me. I hope 2018 is starting off as a good one for you all, and I hope this post gives you some new ideas for your upcoming adventures!

 

 

 

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

So after a super fun 24 hours in Lalibela we arrived back in Addis Ababa for the last 2 nights of our trip. I’m a huge wine fan, so when researching the trip we found Castel Winery a french winery who had imported french grapes into the Rift Valley of Ethiopia and arranged a tour. By arranged a tour I mean we booked a guide and driver for the last 2 days to take us around. They contacted the winery and arranged a tour for us. So early one morning we set off. The winery is located 3 hours to the south of Addis- it being the rainy season everything was green and lush. Our trip plans for the day were to visit the winery, do a wine tasting, and then drive back to Addis where we had arranged a tour of this world famous women’s hospital that we had to reschedule from the previous day because of our flight delay.

This particular day was a great reminder that sometimes things do not go as planned. Sometimes travel is hard and frustrating and there are communication errors and shit just goes generally opposite of how you want it to. So we drove south towards the winery. The roads reminded me of driving in India- small single or double lane roads winding thru tiny villages lined with massive potholes and any number of bikes, motorcycles, car, trucks, cows all over the road. We passed several funeral processions as we passed thru the tiny villages. We stopped off mid morning for a cup of Ethiopian coffee and Fanta for Kiwi and drove to the winery.

We arrived at Castel Winery which is a large wine exporter. We had read blog posts about the lovely tours other travelers had, and again our tour company had emailed them that we were coming. Except they had no idea we were coming. So we arrive and negotiations were made as to whether we could be given a tour. Thankfully, a random employee gave us a tour of the vineyard and told us about the agriculture in the region and what types of grapes they grow. Which was great, except I’m primarily there to taste the wine. I will totally drive 6 hours round trip on backroads just to taste some wine. So next they arrange for us a tour where the wine is actually made. Which again is cool. But I’m here for the wine people. So after that tour they’re like “would you like to buy some wine?” And I’m like “hells yes, but after we taste is so I know which ones I like.” Being a real wine nerd I had already looked up all the wine they made and knew which ones I was keen to try. And then the guy said the words that I dread….“not possible.” And I’m like “what now?” And they inform us that the person in charge of the wine tasting wasn’t working today so there was no wine tasting. We had a total first world traveler melt down. I think I stopped breathing I was so disappointed. I mean that was the entire point of us driving all that way. We could’ve literally stayed in Addis and bought every type of wine that they made there and did our own wine tasting while getting day drunk instead of driving 3 hours there and back to taste zero wine. We went wine tasting and left sober. It was actually pretty fitting seeing as how our trip to Ethiopia had gone thus far. So they told us we could still buy wine. So we bought one bottle to take back with us. Naturally, being the person who likes to get the last word in I told the tour guide and the winery employees that if they want to get tourists obviously they need to have wine to actually taste. Kiwi chimed in and was like “you need to get some table and chairs and crackers and cheese…..” and I was like “Kiwi that’s the least of their problems- there’s apparently no wine to taste.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

We sulked back to the car, and because we were already tight for time for our hospital tour we opted to skip lunch and just try and make it back to Addis in time. Our guide and driver assured us this was possible despite our gut feeling that it was not. One lesson I’ve learned from mixing with other cultures is that often times people will just tell you what they think you want to hear instead of telling you something bad. This was that exact situation. In hindsight unless we were taking a helicopter back it was unlikely we ever could’ve made it back in time. Like hella unlikely. After 3 more hours in the car we were hungry, tired, and it was impossible to make our appointment so we had to call and cancel. Again. I was so bummed. The Hamlin Fistula Hospital was founded by an Australian couple in the 1970s. It provides free care to women who have sustained injuries related to childbirth. As someone who works in maternity and is passionate about women’s health I was really gutted that we missed this. This particular day was just not our day. We arrived back at the hotel 9 hours after we set out, starving and feeling defeated from the many obstacles of the trip. We had plans to meet up with one of the housekeepers I work with here Saudi Arabia. She was in Addis with her children to visit her family and this was one of the reasons I wanted to visit Addis. We couldn’t have felt less social after our day of irritation but we dragged ourselves to the shower and made ourselves presentable. I’m so very glad we didn’t cancel.

My work friend and her brother picked us up from our hotel and drove us to a nearby touristy restaurant that serves Ethiopian food and then also has traditional dancers. Her three children and her brother’s wife and their two young kids were waiting for us. We had such a fantastic evening. Truly. That night will always be such a special memory for me. We ate some delicious food and sat around chatting while I cuddled the brother’s 6 month old baby girl and gained the trust of his 3 year old son. They were adorable and they kept saying to the 3 year old “do you want to go to Canada?” And I was like don’t leave this kid unattended or he’s for sure coming to Canada with me. We watched the dancing and he sat on my lap (the kid not the brother just to be clear) and we took a ton of photos and got all the kids to do kissy lip selfies with us. It was the best. And then they refused to let us pay and even payed for our taxi back to the hotel which was beyond kind. I hope I can repay this kindness to them in the future. After a dark cloud of a day the storm cleared and the sun brightly shone on us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we woke up early for a tour of Addis before our flight back to Riyadh that evening. We did a little shopping. The textiles in Ethiopia are beautiful so I bought an absurd number of scarves and some jewelry. We then visited Holy Trinity Cathedral which is very much worth a visit if you are in Addis. We arrived at the tail end of a service and there were worshippers outside. The inside of the church has stunning stained glass windows, but the bit I liked was that the walls and pillars were tiled with this glazed tile which made the light reflecting through the windows bounce all over. Also the carpet was fuschia and who doesn’t love that?! From here we drove to a view point on Mt Entoto which over looks the city of Addis Ababa. Did you know that Addis is the fifth highest capital city in the world at nearly 8000 feet? Well you do now. You’re welcome. We drove down the mountain and visited the Lucy exhibit at the National Museum. While there I started to feel not so great. My stomach felt a little off and I was dizzy so I took a rest hoping things would improve. They did not so we went to a nearby restaurant and I tried some 7-up and soup which marginally helped. We visited the Ethnological museum which probably would’ve been interesting had I not been feeling so poorly. Our guide was a chatty fellow and basically read every single sign to me which was way over stimulating. After that we drove through Merkato market which is the largest market in Africa. They literally sell everything. We drove through because I wasn’t feeling great and our guide wouldn’t have let us out of the car anyways, because according to him there is a lot of theft and such there. I imagine that’s not an untrue statement from what I saw. We then went back to the hotel so I could rest before our flight as I was starting to run a fever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So later that night we headed off to the airport. The check in guy was great and gave us a row to ourselves as I clearly did not look well. This was the first time our flight was actually on time. Thank goodness. We boarded the plane and there was this creepy guy who was clearly taking photos of us. I was too ill to care but Kiwi was getting irritated. Right before take off he moved seats and sat directly across the aisle from Kiwi. I was just waiting for her to tell him off because he was hardcore staring at us. Then he tried to do his seat belt up. He grabbed part of his seat belt and part of the one from the empty seat next to him and tried two identical pieces to match. Naturally this didn’t work. Kiwi and I just sat there watching this happen. So he tied the belt in a knot and tucked it under his arm and look around to see if anyone noticed. Kiwi and I made eye contact with each other and then just about died laughing about the hilariousness of the whole trip. My medication kicked in and when I woke up the creepy guy had moved seats away from us. When we landed in Riyadh I texted my driver to have him pick me up crackers and 7-up. Sometimes having a driver is the bomb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So while a lot of crazy things happened over our 5 day trip to Ethiopia it was still overall a great trip. One for the books really. There’s no one I would’ve rather shared it with than Kiwi as we balance each other out and we laugh all the damn time which makes us great travel sidekicks. I can’t wait for our next adventure!!! Next week I’ll update ya’ll with what’s in store for me for the few months…..

Lalibela Ethiopia

Ok, so now you know the story of how our Ethiopian adventure came about. After one extremely long and dramatic travel day we found ourselves in Addis Ababa after nearly 36+ hours of no sleep. We were beyond exhausted and literally ordered room service and fell asleep. We had an early morning flight with our favourite airline Ethiopian Air, the following morning.

Bright and early the next day we caught a shuttle to the airport only to find out…..not very shockingly....that our flight was delayed a couple hours. This was a little annoying because we only had time for an overnight in Lalibela, and were planning to pack a lot into our time there. But these things happen and we didn’t want to get into a negative mood so we grabbed some cokes and some type of cake and people watched. Much to our delight we ran into a super cute Somali/UK family that had been on our Riyadh flight the day before. The mom was very nice and she had an older teenage daughter, and a boy who I’m guessing was like 13 and a young boy who was maybe 3. The 13 year old was the most polite child I’ve ever met. The 3 year old was naturally scared of strangers and didn’t initially take a liking to me, but eventually I wore him down and he kept trying to hold my hand like we were the best of buds. Operation befriend strangers child was successful. It’s a good thing his mom was keeping an eye on him otherwise I might’ve made off with him- he was super cute. So anyways because of our delay that morning it just so happened that we crossed paths with them which was a very nice surprise.

Our flight to Lalibela which is in the northern part of Ethiopia was uneventful (thank goodness!) We stopped off in a place called Bahir Dal which is on Lake Tana and then into Lalibela. Coming into Lalibela the countryside reminded me of the Grand Canyon. It’s rugged and colourful and there are little huts dotting the horizon. We jumped in a local shuttle to go to our hotel- the actual village is about 20min away from the airport. I watched out the window wide eyed. This after all is my first trip to Africa apart from Egypt and Morocco which are very different because they are Northern Arab Africa. We passed straw roofed huts, colourfully dressed locals, and the absolute best part for me was that they had RICKSHAWS!! Ever since driving a 3 wheeled auto rickshaw across India a few years back I’m obsessed with driving them. As soon as I saw the first one I turned to Kiwi and was like “I’m driving one of those today!” And luckily Kiwi is happy to go along with my crazy ideas so she was on board. We arrived at our hotel. There are understandably no super fancy hotels in this village but we stayed at the Maribella Hotel which was perfectly adequate and the staff were lovely. We met our guide for the rock churches who would come back and get us after we had eaten some lunch. I requested that our tour be by rickshaw, “preferably a rickshaw that I am driving.” Kassaye the guide was totally unphased by this and said “no problem.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a delicious Ethiopian lunch and I had a couple local Walia beers which were very tasty and we started to climb the 3 flights of stairs to our room. Part way up Kiwi says to me “I feel dizzy.” And I’m like “well take a rest then.” And I went ahead and unlocked the door to our room. Kiwi comes in and she’s leaning over her bed and again says “I feel dizzy.” And I’m like “well sit down then.” No sooner do the words come out of my mouth then I see movement out of the corner of my eye. I turn and watch her slow motion fall between the beds. My initial thought is that she’s fake fallen, but as I come around the side of the bed she’s laying in between the 2 twin beds, eyes open, not blinking, face pale and her lips are starting to turn a little blue. My mind was racing and I’m trying to figure out whether I yell for help- if anyone would actually hear me, and if there’s even a hospital in this village. I crouched down and felt her pulse which thankful she had and start shaking her and she eventually started blinking. Now a back story is that Kiwi is allergic to a wide variety of things and one of the requirements for us to take this trip was that she get an epi pen. So I’m like “Kiwi are you having an allergic reaction?” And she’s like “why is my iPad on the floor?” And I’m “like well you’re on the floor.” And she looks around and realizes that she is and she slowly sat up and we both laughed. I laughed mostly out of relief because it really was a scary thing to witness, and having to call a travel mate’s family to say that something bad happened is something I’ve always feared while traveling. But she was ok. I think it was a combination of the elevation and exhaustion so we took it slow the rest of the trip.

Once that medical emergency was out of the way we made our way downstairs to meet Kassaye. Outside to my great delight was Kassaye and a young rickshaw driver who was totally cool with me driving his rickshaw. So Kiwi got in the back with our guide and the rickshaw boy perched on the edge of the driver’s seat as he gave me a refresher of Rickshaw Driving 101 for Dummies. I stalled it the first time and then got it going and then he jumped in the back. I was smiling from ear to ear and both the guide and rickshaw boy were impressed! They said they’d never had a tourist drive a rickshaw in Lalibela before and by the end of the day we would be the talk of the town. So off we headed to the main cluster of rock churches. We drove through the main center of Lalibela and when locals got a look at me driving they would start clapping and cheering. The kids chased after the rickshaw. But the best for me was the look of surprise on the teenage girls faces that we passed. I loved seeing the excitement in their eyes. Kiwi kept saying “I can’t believe I’m being driven to a UNESCO site by kristinewanders in a rickshaw. This is the best!” And she was exactly, right. It was the absolute best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we arrived at the complex that holds several rock churches. Lalibela is an interesting town in that it is all Orthodox Christians. There are no other churches in the area- in fact the closest mosque is like 60km away. It is also considered to be a holy city and is a site of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians. The churches in this region date from the 7th to 13th century and are often carved out of a solid piece of rock. There is a lot of links of Jerusalem and most of the churches have names like House of the Cross or House of Mary as examples. Our first stop that day was to visit the Northern grouping of churches which comprises 5 churches in the same complex. The Lalibela Rocks churches became a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1978. It costs $50 US dollars a person to get into the Northern complex. To me that is pretty steep but they are very much worth being seen. There is a tiny museum on site which houses display cases with old art work and a history of the King of Lalibela and examples of the metal crosses the region is known for.

As we were checking out the museum a religious ceremony was finishing up so there were priests and other worshippers dressed in traditional clothing leaving the church complex. That made for some amazing photos. Over the next couple hours we visited several of the churches. They are carved out of a single piece of rock and each one is different from the others. Some of them the insides are bare, others like St Mary’s has the remnants of fresco paintings on the arches and ceiling. They have carved windows which allows for natural light to filter in. It’s amazing to think of how something like this was built with such precision. The archways are perfect. You need to wear good walking shoes though as the floors are uneven and you are climbing up and down to get to the churches. We were in Ethiopia during the rainy season so late in the afternoon it started to rain which turned the paths into mud and made it quite slippery. Luckily, the rains were short lived and we wandered the paths outside the church complex. We then got back into the rickshaw to pick up some supplies for one of the local schools. Kiwi had been in contact with the principle of the primary school there and was told that the kids needed soccer balls. She had kindly bought some nice Adidas balls in Saudi which were taken away from us in Riyadh by airport officials who said you couldn’t fly with soccer balls, but secretly we think they just wanted them for themselves. Anyways we bought 10 new soccer balls for the kids and squeezed them into the rickshaw with us. The young rickshaw owner had an old Nokia phone that had  Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” as his ringtone. Lucky for us he was quite popular so it would ring pretty often and Kiwi and I would start singing along until he answered it and we would all laugh!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning our guide Kassaye picked us up. He had been in the market the previous night and the talk of the town was of the girl who was driving the rickshaw. So now I’m basically #EthiopiaFamous for my mad driving skillz. We set off for St George’s Church.  Naturally we had requested a rickshaw again so I drove us there. St George’s Church is the church you see when you when you google Ethiopia rock churches. It is beyond stunning. A perfect rock cross roofed church carved into the ground. When you first view it it appears small, but as you walk closer you can see that it’s not nearly as small as you had originally thought. I was actually speechless and pretty much just stood there feeling like all the drama to get to this place was so very much worth it. There’s a path that descends down to the base of the church and we walked around it and took photos from outside and then inside. After that we climbed back up and took selfies with Kassaye and the rickshaw owner. Kiwi even convinced them to make kissy lips which is her specialty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then switched vehicles and on our way to the airport we tracked down the school principle and visited the school to drop off the soccer balls. Sadly, school was out for the summer so there weren’t any kids around. Maybe this was a good thing because I likely would’ve tried to adopt/steal several of them! We toured the school- like 2000 children attend broken into morning and afternoon classes with adult education classes held in the evenings. We then drove out of town stopping on the way to visit Bet Neakutoleab a church that is built into the wall of a rock cliff. It’s a bit of a walk down a rocky path to get to it but it’s pretty cool. I got to meet one of the local priests who showed me all the treasures of the church which consisted of the typical metal crosses, incense and an old colourful handwritten bible. From here we got dropped off at the airport. The airport there is super small. Like teeny tiny. Naturally our flight was delayed almost an hour. We had each purchased a metal Lalibela cross as a souvenir and didn’t even think that they probably wouldn’t be allowed as carry on. We made sad eyes to the security guy and he said he would ask someone if an exception could be made so we could bring them on board as we didn’t want to have to check a bag. He later came back to us and said he would ask the flight attendant if she would lock them up for the flight and return them to us when we landed in Addis. Much to our delight she agreed which made me dislike Ethiopian Air a tiny bit less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you go to Lalibela the staff at the Maribella Hotel is really great. The local guide we used is Kassaye. He speaks great English and you can contact him via his Facebook page here.

Happy travels….

Ethiopian Adventures

Last month I went to Ethiopia for 5 days. You’re probably saying to yourself “hmmm Ethiopia is an interesting choice?!” My reasons for going were threefold. First, it’s an easy direct flight from Riyadh to Addis Ababa so it’s a great use of 5 days. Secondly, these UNESCO rock churches that I’ve been wanting to see are there and thirdly, one of the lovely housekeepers that I work with was taking her family home for the summer and would be in Addis during this time. So we booked a ticket. My kiwi sidekick has been to Africa a bunch and had previously flown with Ethiopian Air. Reportedly, they used to be amazing. Our choices to get there were to fly with them, or with Saudia stopping in Jeddah. The direct flight with Ethiopia Air was the logical choice.

I’m part of a Girls travel group on Facebook and in the week leading up to our trip I saw a couple different girls post about getting stuck in Addis  with Ethiopian Air, or having their luggage turn up with most of their things missing, or their luggage never turning up. I told my kiwi sidekick this but she was unphased. The day of our flight I came across another post about Ethiopia Air.  The person commented if you want some entertainment to read the reviews on Ethiopia Air’s Facebook page. In that moment for whatever reason I did want some entertainment, and so I searched them. The reviews were awful. I’m already a nervous flier so reading this was not an especially smart move. Basically, all the reviews had the same thing in common- things went from bad to worse. People said that if there was an option they would rate them zero stars instead of one. Phrases like “worst airline” “horrific experience” “total incompetence” keep repeating themselves, and my anxiety was building. This was red flag numero uno.

So after working a 12hour day shift we went home from work to finish packing. I grabbed an hour cat nap and we were off to the airport for our 3am flight. We arrived at the airport and it’s normal Riyadh chaos. Oddly, our flight isn’t even listed on the screen so for a second we think maybe we’re at the wrong terminal. Turns out we’re not, just for whatever reason our flight and airline aren’t on the monitor. Hmmm. Weird. Red flag numero dos. So we check in, and it’s mayhem. People have like a million bags and like 5 pieces of carry-on per person. As you can imagine getting thru security took all the remaining patience in us after working 12hours. So we wait at the boarding gate which is confusing as we aren’t sure if the flight is even on time because again it’s still not on the monitor. People are literally camped out in the walkways and it’s pretty much impossible to move around. I go find someone to get some intel on when we are actually leaving- because I’m such a stressed flier I like to take my prescription meds an hour before we leave so that as we are taking off I’m mostly asleep. So they say the flight is delayed a bit. A little while later a guy says we will be boarding soon, so I medicate. We all form a line (I’m joking of course).  There’s no single line per say, just like 10 lines that all end up in people crowding together and the people behind you pushing. Part of the plane begins to board and then there is a commotion and suddenly we are all back in the boarding area. Doors are closed and we wait. At first people are standing in place and then people just start dropping to the floor unsure whether to go take seats or if the issue will be resolved quickly.

Eventually a guy comes around and says “mechanical problem.” And I’m like what does that mean? And he just repeats the same phrase over and over which in that moment was highly irritating and I immediately decided I didn’t like this guy. Over the next 3 hours we would mill around the airport trying to get an update. There were very few westerners on the plane. As the delay went on it became apparent that Ethiopia Air well knew of the delay before we checked into the flight, hence why it never ended up on the list of departures. This of course was done on purpose so they didn’t have to put people up in hotels. Seeing as most of the flight was Africans I imagine they felt they could get away with treating people like this. This made me more angry. By 7am they had not given us much info or offered any of these people food or water. Many of the people on this flight wouldn’t have had the money to pay airport prices for things like food and drinks. Because I was already so annoyed I made a big deal about this to some of the airport staff and then they suddenly brought food and water out. We waited some more. We started to make back up plans. Where should we go instead we discussed? There was a flight to Dubai at 5pm. We could go home and repack and come back to the airport. Check into a 5 star hotel and lay by the pool and sip cocktails and get fanned by a pool boy. By 9am we were demanding to speak with the supervisor. I was told that he couldn’t come now because he was on the plane. We demanded refunds. They said that wasn’t a problem but that we had to wait for the supervisor. They then told us and a select few passengers that the flight was actually cancelled. Again they would refund us, but we needed to wait on the supervisor to officially state it was cancelled. So we waited some more- and bonded with a few other passengers over the disaster that is Ethiopian Air. So then the “supervisor” shows up and it’s this same jerk that we had to deal with earlier only now he’s saying that the flight is leaving right now. I’m all like “so the mechanical thing is fixed?” And he’s all like “inshallah” and my kiwi sidekick and I look at each other like are we actually doing this? And I swallow my anxiety medication and we board the plane. Eight hours after we were due to leave we actually left.

So we get on the plane and there are a bunch of crying kids because they are overtired and hungry and frustrated just like us. I put an eye mask on and my headphones in and I’m out. A while later I’m woken by someone shaking me. I groggily pull my headphones out and lift my eye mask and it’s a lady from South Africa whom we’d been chatting with earlier. She knew we were nurses and she’s saying to us “they need you. They’ve been paging a medical emergency for the last while, there’s a lady who might be in labour.” Kiwi and I look at each other and shrug our shoulders and try and get our shoes on and go see what the scenario is. I’ve never actually seen a birth take place. But I did recently compete a Neonatal Resuscitation course so I’m feeling mildly confident with my skills. The woman is on the floor. She does not speak English or Arabic. She looks to be having some pain but does not appear to be in active labour. She speaks Swahili. Thankfully there is one random dude who is acting as a translator. Kiwi leans over to me and says she knows the Swahili word for giraffe. Funny. But not helpful. There is also a girl there who has just completed nursing school. She has examined the woman and her water has not broken and she is not bleeding. I ask the man to translate a series of questions. When did the pain start? How many babies has she had? How far along is she? Can she still feel the baby moving? The pain started yesterday. It’s her 5th pregnancy, and she is 6-7 months along although to me she looks small. The baby is still moving.

I ask the flight attendants for the emergency kit. There’s not a ton in it that will be useful if she has this baby. We take her vital signs and give her something to drink as I’m sure she’s dehydrated given our lengthy delay at the airport. We are an hour outside of Addis at this point. A medical team will meet us when we land. The crew is helpful and professional. As we begin the decent they move the woman and I to business class. I have the man translate prior to him returning to his seat that if she feels severe pain or if her water breaks she should squeeze my arm. The plane lands and as we touch down she squeezes my forearm and her eyes go wide. So here we are taxiing down the runway and I’m under her skirt checking the situation. No bleeding. Her water did not break. Once we were stopped the medical team arrived and I reported off to them and the woman was taken away in a wheelchair. I wonder whatever happened to her.

And so that’s how we found ourselves in Addis Ababa deliriously tired. This was far from the only adventures we had on the trip, but luckily the kiwi and I travel great together so mostly we end up just laughing when things went awry. Would I fly Ethiopia Airlines again? No. Not unless it was free and it was the only option, but I’m sure there are worse airlines. More of our Ethiopian adventures to come….

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