Before things get too far away in my mind I thought I'd post some suggestions regarding our time in Addis.
Eating out \ Restaurants:
First off all, since we were staying at Ayat house, we ate at home much more than I expected. Packing for travel out to Ethiopia was tight, but here's what we brought that was great to have: Peanut Butter, Nuttella, Ramen Noodles, Instant Oatmeal, Crackers, Candy. Some things we did not bring that I would advise: Cans of Spaghetti sauce (can opener), Gatoraid Powder, Garlic Salt. Things we bought that were quite edible from the stores: Eggs, Cheese, Yogurt, White Bread, Popcorn, Spaghetti Noodles, Ramen Noodle equivalent, Bananas, Apples.
We usually ate breakfast at the house, and a couple times a later dinner at home. Most days we were running around at lunchtime and ate out often with the other families and in country staff. Our favorite restaurant was Blue Tops. We loved the Spring Chicken and the Fish Cutlet. Also, you can get a huge plate (a meal for a kid) of French Fries there for 10 Birr ($1). Top View was also a good place to eat, the Dragon for Chinese, and we liked Rico's for pizza. The cheese was more of a goat cheese there but it was pretty normal pizza. To give you a feel on prices, here are our bills after tip for 3 adults & 5 kids: Blue Tops 350 Birr ($35), Dragon ($25), Ricos ($25), Lime Tree ($30) Dreamland ($30), Top View ($55). Coffee is very dark - think espresso, add some sugar, then some more sugar - then it is very good.
If we have not endorsed staying at the local guest houses enough yet... let me once again plug the Ayat house. As mentioned above we often ate at the house. We could have eaten out every meal but found eating at home more relaxing, easier, & it is cheaper. It is not a hoax on the price ($40 a night). This is a VERY nice house and very clean. It's tile or carpet, and cleaned, almost to our embarrassment every day. A queen in the master with a crib, another room with a double bed and a 3rd room with 2 twins. The twin beds are a quite hard. We were offered the house at $40 USD a night. Since we had 8 people, we paid him $500, although he did not ask for extra. We also gave Zimmit, the young lady who cleaned the house every day $100 for her efforts. She is up early and works 6am-5pm, then goes to school till 9pm, then cleans up after we went to bed - amazing. She is 20'ish and I think she makes about $50 a month on standard pay. I wanted to ask her to please stop cleaning so much for us.
Some perks: I went out to ask Wagayu a question one night around 930pm, he invited Buttercup, my Mom, and Me into his room for a beer and some snacks. We spent over an hour just talking to him about his family and Ethiopia, life and so on... there was no charge on that... TV with Dish had around 10 English Channels (and camel racing) with a highlight being "Tom & Jerry" every night from 9-10pm. Our 3 bio kids loved it and we could relax. They did a coffee ceremony for us on Sunday, washed and ironed our clothes, and gave us advice on where to shop in the market. Wagayu also lent us a cell phone to make calls to in country staff with rechargeable minutes. Wagayu has one electrical adapter, I think he would like someone to bring and "donate" another one to his cause.
Oh, yeah, a downfall, I guess, but we were pretty flexible about it all, power does get shut off occasionally. At the Ayat house, one full day we did not have power, with the power returning at 8pm. It was really no big deal for us, and since we knew this happens ALL over Addis all the time, we felt we really had nothing to complain about. Just an FYI.
We got most of our souvenirs at an Evangelical Church. I think it was called the International Evangelical Church sale or something like that. This happens only the last week of the month, but if you are there, definitely go. I found the goods for sale there were awesome, better selection than the market places we went. Also it was very nice that the merchants were all in the courtyard of a nice church. It appeared that these merchants were also specifically selected by the church so I enjoyed supporting them. We entered the church with 2300 Birr ($230) and left with... 1 Birr. Many of you may be more comfortable here since there is no bartering ... the prices fixed although some of the merchants would lower prices when they saw you interested in something.
The 'Mercado' was very cool to see, but we did not walk around the big area... our driver did not say exactly why, but I think it was because we had the 5 kids with us. We did go to some smaller areas and bought some more goods there. Here the prices are negotiated, and our driver Solomon did most the work. It went something like: "Blah, Blah... Blah?... nah nah blah... Blah blah... Nah, Blah, Blah" Ok, it's 100 Birr - we start to walk away... Ok, 90 Birr. sold. I think its fun, others hate it. Get ready to see some beggars here too... you will find some more persistent than others. I was caught more than once with no small bills in hand and had nothing to give people quite a bit.
Weather \ Clothes
We are from Michigan, but I found the temperature very comfortable. I always wore short sleeve shirts and did not pull any sweatshirts out of my suitcase. Also, if you stay at Ayat house, they do your laundry so you don't need 10 pairs of t-shirts, underwear, socks etc. Make your own decisions here, but We over packed.
I spent $2500 USD for 8 days (8 people remember) as follows:
lodging - 500, + 100 tip for Zimmit
transportation - 1,000 (van, plus tip)
souvenirs - 500
* We got $100 USD converted at the airport upon our arrival. 9.5 - 1. We did use the "black market" to exchange money in Addis. Not sure exactly how risky that was, but we got 10 - 1 there. We paid Ayat and our driver in USD.
Accessing Internet was harder than expected. Lime Tree restaurant was very slow, Hilton connection was pretty good ($6 for 1/2 hour) Ayat is 30 minutes out of the city and we never tried any place close to get online. Type up any emails and compress any pictures before you get online and you should be in good shape.
We did opt to take the family swimming one day at the Hilton, although we had heard mixed reviews. Cost is about $10/person (70 bucks for our crew) but we hung out there for about 4 hours, so felt we definitely got our money's worth. All the kids loved it and since the water is hot spring fed, it was warm (think bath water) and no one got cold and stayed in it for hours. We did get sunburned, even with 30 block sunscreen, so watch out for that. Bio kids only complaint was there was no diving board. The surroundings are lovely.
Hope this helps any upcoming travelers. And our number one phrase for the trip: