FIVE TOP SIGHTS IN ETHIOPIA
Ethiopian Airlines debuted their direct route from Addis Ababa to Dublin today (and onward to Los Angeles). As a result, Ethiopia promises to be an exciting new destination for many visitors: here are five places that should feature on any itinerary.
The capital and Africa's fourth-largest city is noisy, busy, bustling and surprisingly balmy, at least for eight months of the year. It's a city on the rise, with a terrific restaurant scene, great nightlife and plenty of cultural highlights, from art galleries to the country's most important museums to complement the more traditional sights, such as a shepherd on his way to market, negotiating a junction with his flock.
It's known colloquially as the African Camelot, but this former royal city actually exists. The proof is contained within the walls of the Royal Enclosure, where you'll find the half-dozen old palaces, banqueting halls and the remnants of the once glorious gardens that gave splendour to Emperor Fasilidas' capital in the 17th century.
With 368 alleyways squeezed into one square kilometre, you'll find yourself sharing the tight space of this town with mosques, museums, markets and a buzz of activity reminiscent of a Moroccan medina. And then there are the hyenas, who wander about, ready to be fed. Probably Ethiopia's most intriguing city.
The monolithic rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in northern Ethiopia are not just a national highlight, but one of the wonders of the world. A World Heritage site, they're best appreciated early in the morning, when locals come for prayers and blessings – or during a night vigil, when white-robed pilgrims crowd the courtyards for an unforgettable experience.
One of the world's most spectacular landscapes, the jagged peaks and deep valleys of the Simien Mountains are a nature-lover's wonderland. The national park at the heart of them is also an important reserve for Ethiopian wildlife such as the Gelada baboon and the Walia ibex, a type of goat not found anywhere else in the world. This is popular trekking country.
A SQUASH AND A SQUEEZE
It may be time to get smaller carry-on bags. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has agreed a new standard size for carry-on luggage – 55cm tall, 35cm wide and 20cm deep (21.5in x 13.5in x 7.5in) – that will allow all passengers on an aircraft of 120 seats or more to stow their luggage in the overhead compartment. This is less than what most airlines currently allow: both Aer Lingus and Ryanair’s maximum size is 55cm x 40cm x 20cm (22in x 16in x 8in). IATA are working with luggage security and tracking company Okoban to create a new logo for manufacturers to attach to bags that meet the new standard. IATA can’t make airlines comply with it, but aircraft and luggage manufacturers have enthusiastically endorsed it, which means most airlines will eventually have to toe the line. Not Ryanair, though: they’re not members of IATA and have declared that they won’t be changing their baggage allowance.
You’d never associate the cruise industry with responsible tourism, but a new brand launched by Carnival wants to combine the traditional cruise with a spot of volunteering.
The world’s biggest cruise company has launched fathom (with the lower-case ‘f’), a cruise that will deliver hundreds of socially-conscious passengers from Miami to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic from April 2016. Once there, the passengers will teach some English and work alongside local NGOs to build filtration systems on an island where more than two million people have no running water.
Carnival are calling it ‘social impact travel,’ and the (all- inclusive) cost of this do-gooderism is €1,362 for a week (not including flights to Miami). See fathom.org
AISLE GO CHAMPING
First it was glamping. Then it was treehouse camping. The next trend is champing – bedding down in a historic church. The Churches Conservation Trust in the UK – which is responsible for 341 deconsecrated churches throughout the country – has begun offering overnight stays in three churches as a serene example of ‘slow tourism’. Visitors are invited to explore the countryside before bedding down in one of three Grade I or II listed buildings: the Church of St Cyriac and St Julita at Swaffham Prior in Cambridgeshire; the All Saints’ Church in Aldwincle, Northamptonshire; or the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, Kent. Beds are set up on the floor or in the pews.
The two-day, one-night break costs £60 per person and the trust can also provide yoga sessions, guided walks, canoeing or even storytelling. See visitchurches.org.uk
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: THE EXHIBITION
New York City’s newest attraction invites visitors to imagine themselves on the set and behind the scenes of America’s most famous comedy programme. For four decades Saturday Night Live has featured virtually every well-known American comedian, from John Belushi to Tina Fey. Now its iconic set at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (brought to comic life in Tina Fey’s 30 Rock) has been recreated for visitors to explore. They can try on Steve Martin’s costumes, be part of a simulated ‘live’ broadcast and sit on the couch from Wayne’s World. The exhibition is at 417 5th Avenue, and costs $29; see snltheexhibition.com
GET AWAY AT HOME
Fancy a gourmet getaway? The Ardtara Hotel (ardtara.com) in Co Derry has a B&B overnight package from £74.50 pps that includes dinner in the award-winning restaurant. Offer ends July 31st. Ballymaloe House (ballymaloe.ie) has a two-night B&B package from €390 per night that includes dinner and a choice of two food-related activities. Finally, The Twelve Hotel (thetwelvehotel.ie) in Galway has two nights’ B&B in a family suite and one dinner in the Pins Bistro for €499. It includes a pizza masterclass for the kids. You can stay an extra night for €140.
MICRO-GUIDE: SOFIA - YOUR 60-SECOND CITY GUIDE
Sofia Residence (ul Oborishte 63; residence-oborishte.com; rooms from €100) A luxury 1930s residence with great views.
Manastirska Magernitsa (ul Han Asparuh 67; magernitsa.com; mains €3-6) Authentic mehana (tavern) with local dishes .
Aleksander Nevski Church (pl Aleksander Nevski) The most famous building in Bulgaria, built last century to commemorate the 200,000 Russians who died for Bulgarian independence.