A couple of weeks ago we spent 5 days exploring the towns of Bahir Dar, Gondar, and Lalibela located in Northern Ethiopia. Having checked several sights off my to-do list so far, it seems that each new place I visit is that much better than the last place. These three towns, however, are so unique in their own right, that it’s really comparing apples to oranges to even try. So instead, I’ll just try to explain to you the best things I enjoyed about these places.
Five Things I Love About Gondar
Restaurant and Bar Signage. Although most restaurants and bars in town had formal signage, there were many mom and pops that notified the public that injera and tej awaits, simply by hanging a mug from a long pole on the side of the road (a bar) or by hanging a nicely decorated plate at the restaurant’s entrance.
Lottery Tickets. The kids in Addis have tried to sell us a lot of stuff – sunglasses, sun visors for the car, CDs, airtime for the cell phone. But no one has ever tried to sell us lottery tickets. So when four boys came up to us in the roadside cafe offering a chance to win 20,000 birr for just 2 birr, we had to buy some. We spent 6 birr, won 4 birr, bought more lottery tickets, and lost the 4 birr we won. Lesson learned. Loosing on a scratch off sucks the same wherever you play.
Coffee & Donuts. On our 3-hour drive from Bahir Dar to Gondar we stopped in a local coffee shop where the coffee is prepared slowly by roasting fresh beans in the style of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. We learned that the reason they call it a ceremony is because coffee prepared from fresh coffee beans takes at least an hour and a half to prepare. Just as we pulled off, having finished our cups of sugar with a little bit of coffee, we spotted a donut shop a few doors down. Of course, passing by the donut guy without stopping was not an option. Now, why the coffee shop doesn’t just merge with the donut shop to make Habesha Dunkin Donuts, we will never know. Clearly our eyes were bigger than our stomachs that day. We bought 6 donuts straight out of the oil. I’m sure that 2 are still hanging out in our suitcase.
The Castles & Fasilides’ Bath. The main attraction in Gondar are the ruins of the six historical royal castles leftover from the days that Gondar was the Imperial capital of Ethiopia.Gondar was founded by Emperor Fasilides around 1635, fell to the hands of Sudanese invaders and then the Italians (for only 5 years) in 1936. As a result, much of the complex remains in ruins, awaiting a proper restoration. As we made our way through the castles (belonging to 6 kings and 1 queen), former libraries, stables, lion quarters, and banquet halls, the kids explored every hole and secret passageway left standing. After leaving the castles we were whisked away to Fasilides’ Bath, which is home to an annual ceremony where it is filled witih water about 1.5 meters, blessed and then opened for bathing during Timkat.
Tour Guide Long Lost Cousin. Our tour guide in Gondar has a degree in history and spoke perfect English. He explained the monuments and historical sites with enough detail to pique our interests, but not so much as to put us to sleep. But the real reason I loved him is that his uncanny resemblance to my husband had me thinking that we must be related way down the line. And with this, you can understand just why we love this country.