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4

t r a v e l i n g

A country where a host of angels built subterranean churches, where a whole

dynasty of emperors were immediate descendants of a one-night stand

between the Queen of Sheba and the biblical King Solomon, that –since the

discovery of Lucy– has been thought to be the cradle of mankind, and where

a Porschista skilfully manoeuvres her gorgeous Cayenne through the hectic

traffic of the capital... What more reason do you need to visit a country?

'You, you, you... Birr, birr, birr'! A cute little boy calls

out beside us. He looks at us with big, gleaming eyes

and holds up a grubby hand, palm facing up. We auto-

matically reach for our pocket. But, when we look up,

we can see other little children rushing towards us, as if

communicating with each other through sonar like little

dolphins, to get in while the getting's good. We hand the

little lad some change and continue our drive. Birr is the

first word you learn when you arrive in Ethiopia. It's the

national currency and everybody's keen to ask some of

you. For information: 1 birr is about 25 eurocents. To any

Ethiopian, tourists are walking ATMs. That's understan-

dable, in a country where poverty is still a major issue.

However, there are numerous long-term projects in full

development and the economy is on the rise, helping the

country slowly gain something of its former pride again.

Addis Ababa: capital of Africa

The capital of Ethiopia is the bustling centre of economic,

social and political activities, and the home base of key

authorities such as the Organisation of African Unity. For

that reason, Addis ─as Ethiopians usually refer to it─ is also

called the capital of Africa. It is a typical African city, brim-

ming with scents, colours and sounds. Addis is slowly bur-

sting at the seams, three million humans in an area of 530

square kilometres: it creates ample hustle and bustle! The

streets are chaotic and full of contrasting sights. Crummy

houses with a warren of overhead power lines leading

God knows where, are leaning up against modern malls

and shiny glass office buildings. Slow-paced fuelwood car-

riers are walking between hasty business men texting on

their phones, shepherds stoically herd their cattle through

the streets as the hip kids are braving the traffic on loud

scooters. Old and young, poor and rich, traditional and

modern: it all goes hand in hand in Addis.

Surrounded by all this fuss, some peace and quiet is

always welcome. The

Hilton

, arguably the best hotel in

the city, is the right place for this. From the moment we

set foot in this hotel, we feel like VIPs. The staff goes out

of their way to make our stay as pleasant as possible. On

top of that, this hotel is an icon of the city. It was officially

opened by Emperor Haile Selassie in 1969. It exudes

the allure of the glorious past, which could be reason

enough to give it a visit. What's more, time has stood still

inside. And you may take that quite literally. Compare,

for example, a recent photo of the large reception hall

with one from 1972. You'll find that everything still looks

exactly the same as 45 years ago. Just see for yourself

in the photos of this article.