Thursday 15 March 2018

ERITREA: Asmara Is UNESCO World Heritage Site With A Clean, Peaceful And Crime-free Environment But Prostitution Is Rife And Legal

Asmara the Eritrean capital is a vibrant mix of African culture and Italian architecture.

Founded in the twelfth century by a union of villages trying to protect themselves from bandits, Asmara has grown to become a bustling city of over half a million people.

Over its history, the city has endured the rule of various empires and countries, including the Italian Empire from the late 19th century, the British from after World War II and Ethiopia from 1950.

After a long and bloody war with Ethiopia, Asmara was finally liberated in 1991 and became the capital of a country which had not had self-rule for two centuries.

Asmara known locally as Asmera which translated in Tigirinya as - They made them unite, is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea.

Home to a population of just over 800,000 inhabitants, it sits at an elevation of 2,325 metres (7,628 ft), the sixth highest capital in the world by altitude.

The city is located at the tip of an escarpment that is both the northwestern edge of the Eritrean highlands and the Great Rift Valley in neighbouring Ethiopia.

In 2017, the city was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Asmara is situated in Eritrea's central Maekel Region. It is known for its well-preserved colonial Italian modernist architecture.

The city is divided into thirteen districts or administrative areas: Acria, Abbashaul, Edaga Hamus, Arbaete Asmara, Mai Temenai, Paradizo, Sembel, Godaif, Maekel Ketema or Downtown, Tiravolo, Gejeret, Tsetserat and Gheza Banda.

According to Eritrean Tigrinya oral traditional history, there were four clans living in the Asmara area on the Kebessa Plateau: the Gheza Gurtom, the Gheza Shelele, the Gheza Serenser and Gheza Asmae.

These towns were frequently attacked by clans from the low land and from the rulers of seger mereb melash which now is a Tigray region in Ethiopia, until the women of each clan decided that to defeat their common enemy and preserve peace the four clans must unite.

The men accepted, hence the name Arbate Asmera. Arbate Asmara in the Tigrinya language means - the four made them unite.

Eventually Arbate was dropped and it has been called Asmara which means they with reference to women made them unite.

There is still a district called Arbaete Asmara in the Administrations of Asmara. It is now called the Italianized version of the word Asmara.

The westernized version of the name is used by a majority of non-Eritreans, while the multilingual inhabitants of Eritrea and neighboring peoples remain loyal to the original pronunciation, Asmera.

Asmara started to grow quickly when it was occupied by Italy in 1889. Governor Ferdinando Martini made it the capital city of Italian Eritrea in 1897, in preference to the Red Sea port of Massawa.

In the early 20th century, the Eritrean Railway was built to the coast, passing through the town of Ghinda, under the direction of Carlo Cavanna. In both 1913 and 1915 the city suffered only slight damage in large earthquakes.

A large Italian community developed. According to the 1939 census, Asmara had a population of 98,000, of which 53,000 were Italian.

Only 75,000 lived in all of Eritrea, making the capital city by far their largest centre.

The capital acquired an Italian architectural look. Europeans used Asmara to experiment with radical new designs.

By the late 1930s, Asmara was called Piccola Roma or Little Rome. Nowadays many buildings are of Italian origin, and shops still have Italian names e.g., Bar Vittoria, Pasticceria moderna, Casa del formaggio, and Ferramenta.

The Kingdom of Italy invested in the industrial development of Asmara and surrounding areas of Eritrea,but the beginning of World War II stopped this.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation made Asmara a World Heritage Site in July 2017.

It is an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20th century and its application in an African context.

In 1952, the United Nations resolved to federate the former colony under Ethiopian rule. During the Federation, Asmara was no longer the capital city.

The capital was now Addis Ababa, over 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) to the south. The national language of the city was therefore replaced from Tigrinya language to the Ethiopian Amharic language.

In 1961, Emperor Haile Selassie I ended the federal arrangement and declared the territory to be the 14th province of the Ethiopian Empire. Ethiopia's biggest ally was the United States.

The city was home to the US Army's Kagnew Station installation from 1943 until 1977. The Eritrean War of Independence began in 1961 and ended in 1991, resulting in the independence of Eritrea.

Asmara was left relatively undamaged throughout the war, as were the majority of highland regions. After independence, Asmara again became the capital of Eritrea.

Four big landmarks of the city are the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Kidane Mehret Cathedral of the Catholic faith, the Enda Mariam Cathedral of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque of the Islamic faith.

Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully together in Asmara for centuries. The religious majority in Asmara are Orthodox Christians.

The population in the Central Region is 94 percent Christian, almost 89 percent Orthodox, 4 percent Roman Catholic, and more than 1 percent Protestant and 5 percent Muslim.

The towns and villages surrounding the city in the highlands are predominantly Christian, most places being all Christian. Further, towards the lowlands, a few Muslim towns and villages are found.

The Asmara Synagogue is the last piece of physical evidence of the Jewish community that once resided in Eritrea. Asmara also has the St George Greek Orthodox Church, Asmara on Selam St.

Today, it is difficult to walk down a street in downtown Asmara and not see an old Italian building.

In the early 1930s, Mussolini, the Italian dictator, injected huge amounts of funds into the city with the goal of making it the centre of a second Roman Empire that spanned Africa.

Architects were only limited by their imagination, and practically the entire city centre was rebuilt.

Not only were cathedrals built in ancient-Romanesque style, but also numerous offices influenced by the architectural movements of cubism and futurism.

The city lies at an elevation of 2,325 metres (7,628 feet) above sea level. It lies on north-south trending highlands known as the Eritrean Highlands, an extension of the Ethiopian Highlands.

The temperate central portion, where Asmara lies, is situated on a rocky highland plateau, which separates the western lowlands from the eastern coastal plains.

The lands that surround Asmara are very fertile, especially those to the south towards the Debub Region of Eritrea.

The highlands that Asmara is located in fall away to reveal the eastern lowlands, characterized by the searing heat and humidity of the Eritrean salt pans, lapped by the Red Sea.

To the west of the plateau stretches a vast semi-arid hilly terrain continuing all the way towards the border with Sudan through the Gash-Barka Region.

The dry season from December to April is distinguished by the terrain of red-brown, rusty, beige or black rubble surrounding the city, resembling photos from Mars.

The vegetation consists largely of shrubbery, eucalyptus, aloes, cacti and the odd explosively colorful species of bougainville, jacaranda or other ornamental plants.

The rainy season between May and September brings torrents of rain and needed nourishment to the land, which transforms itself from lunar/martian-esque to verdant and grassy in the post-rain months of August to October.

Regardless of when you go, temperatures in Asmara rarely rise above a comfortable dry 30°C in the sun. The capital is known for its lovely climate.

There is very little humidity in the air so the biggest variations in temperatures occur between night and day, or whether one is standing in the sun or in the shade, not between seasons.

Between December and February, it can get very cold at night and in the morning, it can even drop a few degrees below 0°C. Due to lack of heating and insulation in Asmara, it is important to carry proper clothes.

Rains only last a few hours at a time and it all dries up quickly enough, although the occasional flash flood is not uncommon during the rainy season.

The city is home to the Eritrean National Museum and is known for its early 20th-century buildings.

These include the Art Deco Cinema Impero which opened in 1937 and considered by the experts one of the world's finest examples of Art Deco style building, Cubist Africa Pension, eclectic Orthodox Cathedral.

Former Opera House, the futurist Fiat Tagliero Building, the neo-Romanesque Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Asmara, and the neoclassical Governor's Palace.

The city is adorned by Italian colonial villas and mansions, one prominent example being the World Bank Building.

Most of central Asmara was built between 1935 and 1941, so the Italians effectively managed to build almost an entire city in just six years.

At this time, the dictator Benito Mussolini had great plans for a second Roman Empire in Africa.

War cut this short, but his injection of funds created the Asmara of today, which supposedly was to be a symbol that Fascism worked and is an ideal system of government.

The city shows off most early 20th-century architectural styles. Some buildings are neo-Romanesque, such as the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, some villas are built in a late Victorian style.

Art Deco influences are found throughout the city; essentially Asmara was then what Dubai is now.

Architects were restricted by nothing more than the bounds of their imaginations and were given the funds to create masterpieces which we can see today.

Essences of Cubism can be found on the Africa Pension Building, and on a small collection of buildings. The Fiat Tagliero Building shows almost the height of futurism, just as it was coming into big fashion in Italy.

In recent times, some buildings have been functionally built which sometimes can spoil the atmosphere of some cities, but they fit into Asmara as it is such a modern city.

Asmara is also the see of the archbishop of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which became autocephalous in 1993. The archbishop was elevated in 1998 to the rank of Patriarchate of Eritrea, on a par with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Asmara was known to be an exceptionally modern city, not only because of its architecture, but Asmara also had more traffic lights than Rome did when the city was being built.

The city incorporates many features of a planned city. Indeed, Asmara was an early example of an ideal modern city created by architects, an idea which was introduced into many cities across the world, such as Brasilia, but which was not altogether popular.

Features include designated city zoning and planning, wide treed boulevards, political areas and districts and space and scope for development.

Asmara was not built for the Eritreans however, the Italians built it primarily for themselves. One unfortunate aspect of the city's planning was separate areas designated for Italians and Eritreans, each disproportionately sized.

The city has more than 400 examples of Italian-style architecture, wide streets, Piazzas and coffee bars.

Boulevards are lined with palms and local shiba'kha trees, there are numerable Pizzerias and coffee bars, serving cappucinos and lattes, as well as ice cream parlours and restaurants with Italian Eritrean cuisine.

People in Asmara dress in a uniquely Eritrean style. Asmara is also highly praised for its peaceful, crime-free environment. It is one of the cleanest cities on the continent.

The city hosts the - We Are the Future center - a child care center giving children a chance to live their childhoods and develop a sense of hope.

The center is managed under the direction of the mayor’s office, and the international NGO Glocal Forum serves as the fundraiser and program planner and coordinator for the WAF child center in each city.

Each WAF city is linked to several peer cities and public and private partners to create a unique international coalition.

Asmara was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2017, becoming the first modernist city anywhere to be listed in its entirety.

The Historic Center of Asmara was placed on the World Monuments Fund's 2006 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.

The listing was designed to bring more attention to the city to save the center from decay and redevelopment and to promote restoration.

Following CARP, a World Bank initiative on Cultural Heritage, the European Union Delegation in Asmara has engaged into a Heritage Project pertaining to building's restoration and archive management.

As the capital city and largest settlement of Eritrea, most Eritrean businesses have their headquarters in Asmara. The city was once a factory town.

During the colonial period, Asmara was an administrative and commercial center of Italian East Africa. When the British entered the country in 1941, many businesses were closed down or relocated outside of the city.

This trend continued under Ethiopian occupation.

Nasair and the Eritrean Telecommunications Corporation are headquartered in the city. In addition, country's national television station Eri-TV has many studios located in various areas in the capital.

The city of Asmara is a center for agricultural products and tanning hides. The primary industrial products of Asmara are: textiles, clothing, footwear, processed meat, beer, soft drinks, and ceramics.
Taxis that run in the city of Asmara start at 07:00 and end at 21:00, and can get very crowded at peak times. The fare for a shared taxi is 5-10 Nakfa per seat.

A contracted taxi can charge between 20 and 300 Nakfa so the price should be negotiated before entering the taxi.

Contracted taxis also run outside Asmara to various other cities, towns and villages including; Massawa, Keren, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Adi Quala, Ghinda and Nefasit.

Long distance buses in Eritrea are not crowded because it is illegal for passengers to stand in the aisle.

There are organized breakfast and/or lunch stops on longer trips. When traveling to remote places, like Assab, Nakfa, Tesseney or Senafe, reservations should be made for the return trip in advance, to prevent being stranded.

There is a railway station in Asmara that connects the city with Massawa: the Eritrean Railway, built by the Italians between 1887 and 1932, has been recently restructured.

Indeed, the line has now been restored from Massawa all the way through to Asmara, but as of 2006 no scheduled services traverse the whole length of the line. The area is served by Asmara International Airport.

The Asmara International Airport is the only airport in Asmara. The airport is very limited in capacity and land extent.

The short length of the runways inhibits large aircraft from flying to the Asmara airport, and instead these planes must land at Massawa International Airport, located in the city of Massawa.

After Eritrean independence, the roads of Asmara underwent extensive construction projects. Old roads were renovated and new highways were also built.

There are only five primary roads out of Asmara, giving it its status as one of Africa’s most isolated capitals.

Asmara is home to the majority of colleges and universities. The city has always been a national centre of education, and is home to many elementary and high schools.

Until the recent opening of universities at Mai Nefhi and Sawa, it was the seat of the only university in the country, the University of Asmara.

During the period of Ethiopian Federation and annexation, the college was also linked with what was then the nation's largest tertiary institution, Addis Ababa University.

Many campuses have been opening up across the country since independence, mainly for medicine and engineering.

University coursework in Eritrea is, for the most part, four years of academic study followed by one year of university national service in a relevant Eritrean Ministry.

Once these five years are completed, students are then awarded their degree.

So far, this strategy has been rather successful in adding to the country’s human capital. Despite challenges in trying to equally balance human resources, most Eritreans want their career to help further their country’s success.

In other words, most accept their university assignment as their social obligation to serve a bigger purpose.

Asmara International Airport (ASM)Asmara currently hosts the country's only operating international airport, although there are two more international airports in Massawa and Assab.

As of 2017, the airport served Cairo thrice weekly by Egypt Air; Jeddah/Riyadh twice weekly by Saudi Arabian Airlines; thrice weekly by flyDubai from Dubaiand several times a week by Eritrean Airlines from Cairo,Khartoum,Dubai and Milan.

There is an airport departure tax of US$20 or €15, payable in foreign currency if you don't have a local resident ID.

If you are entering the country without a visa, as a holder of an Eritrean ID card in combination with a foreign passport, you are required to register with the Immigration and Nationality office in Asmara within seven business days of entry into the country.

Both Eritrea and Ethiopia maintain large military presences along the border and all border crossings into Ethiopia from Eritrea remain closed.

Asmara has 10 downtown bus-lines on distinctive Red Mercedes Benz buses, with a sign in the front saying where they're headed, often in Latin script.

The bus stops are easily identifiable, there are signs and an obvious shelter with a bench, but the buses stop running quite early in the evening, about 7PM.

They run on 15-30 minute intervals during the day every day, but there is no fixed or published schedule. The roads get pretty jammed at rush hours in the morning, midday and around 4PM in the evening.

The fare is 1 Nakfa, and the entrance is in the back where one buys the ticket. It is not necessary to have exact change, but one should try to pay in lower denominations.

Line number 1 goes between the airport, 3 km south of the city, and the zoo in Biet Ghiorghis, 2 km (1 mi) east of the city on the eastern escarpment, the windy road to the Red Sea begins after Biet Ghirogis.

Number 1 also passes through the main streets in downtown Asmara, Independence and Martyrs Avenues. All bus lines that begin with 2 e.g. 21, 22, etc., run between the marketplace downtown and the surrounding villages, but there are only a few a day.

Therefore, plan to leave early in order to be able to return the same day. Only the locals know the schedule through word of mouth.

If you're lucky one of them speaks English and will be very helpful. Some villages like Embaderho and Tselot are well worth visiting for their scenery and traditional lifestyle.

There also white minibus-lines running on the main streets of the city, which run on fixed routes but without fixed stops or signs. They usually stop at the bus stops, but you still have to hail them when you see them, just like a cab.

Before boarding, ask them where they're headed, unless the ticket-seller called fottorino doesn't beat you to it by announcing it loudly. Then, let them know when you want to get off, simply say Stop.

Finally there are the yellow taxis, most of which also run on fixed routes on the main streets like the white minivans. They have a similar system to the minivans, and the fare is 5 Nakfa.

You'll most likely be sharing the ride with 3 other people. Since some cabs do not use fixed routes, some will take you personally to where you want to go.

This is called kuntrat, and you will have to negotiate the price with the driver. These cabs usually wait outside the airport when a plane is coming in, the city's main hotels like Asmara Palace Hotel.

The road to the right of the main cathedral downtown and other obvious spots. They can also be hailed on any street, but many cabs are on a fixed route with passengers already in them.

Renting a car is too insanely expensive and fuel prices are higher than in Europe. Renting a cab to drive you around town is equally extortionate, but it could be worthwhile on a longer trip outside of town.

Be prepared to pay several thousand Nakfa or a few hundred dollars or euros for a trip. It is perhaps better to take the bus or contact one of the national tour agencies, ask at the information desk at the airport upon arrival.

Asmara's main attraction is its colonial Italian architecture. The palm-lined main street the Independence Avenue is referred to as Kombishtato, a creol of the neighbourhood's original name: Campo di Citta.

It is full of cafes, bars, shops and old cinemas, and it makes for a nice mile long stroll between the north end of this avenue where the half stadium is and the south end facing the Nyala Hotel, the city's tallest building.

Asmara's colourful and bustling marketplace lies behind the cathedral on the road to its right as seen when standing in front of the cathedral's main entrance on Independence Avenue.

It's a great place to learn how to haggle and buy some souvenirs.

From the cafe on the top floor of the Nyala Hotel, one has a great view of the city while enjoying a nice well-chilled beer.

The beer is exceptionally good in Asmara, aptly called Asmara Beer. Behind the hotel on a quieter street is the National Museum, with an impressive collection spanning the six millennia of the land's civilization.

On Massawa Road near the outskirts of the city, lies the Biet Ghiorghis Zoo and Park area, famous for its scenery of the eastern escarpment.

The Zoo itself is rather sad. Further down the road, one reaches Bar Durfo, a bar and cafe perched on a cliff overlooking the dramatic precipice of the Asmara - Massawa highway.

You will need a car or taxi to get beyond the last stop of the No. 1 bus, Biet Ghiorghis, to Bar Durfo.

Another place to see is the dramatic highland landscape on the eastern escarpment. Additionally, one can see a traditional Eritrean highland village in the village of Tselot.

Tselot means prayer and is also famous for being the President's village. Tselot lies about 20 km (12 mi) outside the city center and is served by one of the red city buses departing from a section of the marketplace called Meda Eritrea.

You should leave as early as possible because there are only a couple of buses per day so you have to make sure you have a way to get back.

The rural highland lifestyle in Tselot resembles Biblical times: stone houses, small plots, ancient temples which are both Christian and Muslim.

As well as people farming and herding with traditional means using little technology, transporting their goods as well as themselves on mule- and camelback.

Within walking distance of the village, is the Martyrs National Park, inaugurated in 2000. It is a mountainous forest and wildlife reserve at the ridge of the highland plateau.

The landscape consists of an eerily quiet semi-arid plain in a valley, an extension of the highland plateau, interrupted by the dramatic chasm of the eastern ridge which the village center straddles.

The views and scenery are spectacular. The highest viewpoint features chasms, gorges and mountaintops bathed by a sea of clouds, which gives one the impression of standing above the clouds.

If you are in Asmara for a short stay, the best thing to do after you're done sightseeing in this city is to head for the outskirts where the scenery is stunning at the very least.

Unless you come from a high altitude area yourself, you need a couple of days of strolling in Asmara to get your body used to the thin dry air at 2,600 m (8,530 ft).

Bring lots of sunscreen lotion but also a sweater as it can get really chilly not only at night but even when standing in the shade.

Temperatures can vary greatly on different sides of the same street depending on the position of the sun.

The sun shines very bright throughout the day in Africa, especially so in Asmara where clouds are rare, so unless you enjoy squinting, bring UV blocking shades.

If you like hiking, rock climbing and mountainbiking, the above mentioned areas outside of town are excellent places to do so, but bring your own gear incuding a bike as there are no rental bikes and a very limited supply of safety equipment like shoes, ropes in Asmara.

However, tents and mosquito nets are readily available at an affordable price in the marketplace downtown.

Consult the locals and bring a guide, because it is good to have someone familiar with the place who speaks the local language in case of an accident or any other eventuality like what is legal and not legal.

For example, taking pictures around any government installation or authority, police, airport, ministries etc. is strictly forbidden, and your guide can help you get out of such sticky situations.

Take time to explore some good food in Asmara. Don't drink any fresh fruit juices or eat any ice cream unless you want health issues to mess up your time. Stick to bottled drinks, unpeeled fruits and cooked food.

One thing that Asmarans have copied from their former Italian colonial masters is the nighttime stroll.

In the evening after sunset, masses of locals go down the main streets, have an ice cream or coffee and cake at the numerous Italian-style cafes or have a fruit juice at one of the fruit juice bars. It is fun to watch and to join in.

The Eritrean Festival is definitely one of, if not, the biggest event a tourist must see during their stay within the country. Better known as Festival Eritrea, it is identified as cultural festivity week within the country.

The Eritrea community in the diaspora created the even in 1884 in Bologna-Italy. The event gathered Eritrean communities from around the globe to memorialize the Struggle for Independence movement.

The first official festival started inside the now free and independent Eritrea in August 2002, which after that point its been annually celebrated as the Expo in Asmara and different major cities around the world such as London, Washington DC, and so on.

Within the festival you witness and learn about Eritrean culture. The different types of clothing between the different tribes, the different dances, and the food from all nine Eritrean ethnic groups.

As well as the development work going on in the country are just some of the things found at the Expo.

Gold and silver jewellery is cheap in Asmara and is definitely a bargain by world standards. So are frankincense and myrrh, if you have any use for them.

Otherwise most of the souvenirs bought by tourists are the local home-spun and gold-thread embroidered cotton garments, traditional goat-skin rugs, olivewood carvings, clay coffee-pots and other traditional knick-knacks.

It is definitely recommended that tourists go around the main cities and go see what they can find around the local stores. Souvenirs can be found almost anywhere amongst the several shops found with in the country.

Anywhere from jewelry like Gold and Silver, which is what you, will most commonly find in terms of jewelry.

Then you range of to other miscellaneous objects and relics such as pottery, swords, daggers, baskets, and other great souvenirs within the marketplace.

Food definitely is one-thing tourists will find themselves spending money on. With the diversity of restaurants from local traditional food, to Chinese and Indian cuisine, different options are available

Eritrea is big on Italian food, due to having been an Italian colony between 1890 and 1940.

There is a huge range of restaurants in Asmara serving Italian food with Albergo Italia being the best in quality.

More are Casa Degli Italiani, Alba Bistro opposite the post office also offers a quality, wide range, of food not forgetting Castello behind the Nyala Hotel.

The Spagetti and Pizza House on Harnet Av. offers a great choice of pizza and pasta dishes as well as its signature Chilli red snapper.

Most traditional Eritrean food is quite spicy, and consists generally of very hot meat and/or vegetable stews, eaten over the staple called injera, a kind of sour-dough pancake or flatbread.

Blue Bird and Milano are generally considered the best places for traditional food.

On the up-side, there are many restaurants which make hamburgers using quality organic beef or lamb, such as The Mask Restaurant.

For Indian and Far East cuisine you can visit the Rooftop Garden or The China Star.

For a taste of home and a fantastic steak visit the weekend only restaurant at the Asmara Palace Hotel.

Drink a lot because Asmara will dry you out. Mineral water is there in abundance and that is really the only water you can drink. Don't drink the tapwater if you value your health.

Similarly, there are also a lot of bottled fruit juices, Fresh juices are typically safe to drink in the cleaner bars and restaurants.

Eritreans, especially Asmarinos, love their coffee. Like so much else it is imbibed Italian-style and the city's favorite coffee drink is the macchiato (makyato) ie. stained.
That is coffee stained with a touch of steamed milk-froth which is definitely worth a try if you like strong, sweet coffee.

Eritrea is not a big wine country, even though it used to have a wine-making tradition during the colonial period.

On the other hand, Eritrea is a big beer-drinking country, and the Eritrean beer is definitely a good one if you like lager, pilsner or dark beer.

All three varieties are made by the country's only brewery, which is in Asmara and is aptly called Asmara Beer.

Asmara Beer is great, quenches your thirsty throat and has a good taste. Between early 2008 and May 2009 it was not available, due to a lack of hard currency for buying imported malt.

As of June 2009, nationwide distribution was back. Asmara brewers have proven they produce a good Pilsner beer. Most varieties have around 5% alcohol per volume and a nice hop flavour in the well known bottle.

Nightlife in Asmara is often considered quieter than most other country capitals, but there are a good range of local bars and also the infamous Zara Bar near the Blue Bird restaurant is a popular haunt with expats.

Asmara is an extremely safe city, safe enough for a stroll in the middle of the night.

Most people are genuinely friendly, without wanting anything in exchange, beggary and hustling is not as common as in most other third world countries and neither is tourism. Prostitution is legal and rife.

After the Zara Bar closes there are few choices of night clubs although they do exist.

Mocambo is in a basement in the downtown area and is popular with young locals. The Warsai is out of the way and a little seedy. The Asmara Palace Hotel boasts The Green Pub which has disco's on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.

In the Expo grounds there is the Benifer which is a restaurant by day but a busy club by night, and the Shamrock which used to be popular with UN staff.

Entry is normally priced at 100 Nacfa and beer is similarly priced.

Asmara Palace Hotel formally the Intercontinental Hotel out by the airport. The odd spaceship-looking hotel probably has the comfiest beds.

But why commute from so far away at such an outrageous price? One can be just as comfortable for much less in the middle of the city where there are plenty of cheap or moderately-priced hotels ranging from US$10-60.

More Hotels are:

Albergo Italia, formally the Keren Hotel, by the central post office.

Nyala Hotel, the city's highest building on Martyrs Avenue.

Embasoira Hotel, behind Independence Avenue on the east side.

Hamassien Hotel, right next door to the Embasoira. The Swiss-cottage-looking building.

Sunshine Hotel, near the Roof Garden restaurant.

Selam Hotel, a few blocks away from the Presidential Palace and the National Museum and has a nice garden.

The Buon Respiro is a very cosy Bed and Breakfast in an ornate Italian villa with a nice patio in the middle of the city just a few blocks from Cinema Odeon.

The Crystal Hotel behind Cinema Roma, similar to the Sunshine Hotel.

To leave Asmara to go anywhere else in the country you need a traveler's permit which can be obtained from the Ministry of Immigration and Nationality opposite the Cathedral Compound on Harnet Av. downtown.

If you intend to leave by Air, there are two domestic flight routes as of date and they go to the port cities of Massawa which is half an hour's flight and only 110 km northeast and Assab at the southwest tip of the country by the borders of Djibouti and Ethiopia which is an hour and half's flight and nearly 1000 km away.

There are roads heading in 4 directions from Asmara. At Asmara's city limits on each of these roads, there are also military-police roadblocks called blocco where you will be checked for your ID and traveller's permit.

Always carry these or certified copies of these with you. The blocco for the road towards the coast is placed past the village of Durfo and is called blocco Batsi, Batsi is another name for Massawa.

The blocco for the road heading west towards the country's second largest town Keren and the western lowlands bordering Sudan is called blocco Keren and the blocco for the two roads heading south is called blocco Godaeif.

Asmara's southernmost suburb which later divides at a fork with one road towards the southwestern highlands and the Mereb river border crossing to Ethiopia and the other road towards the southeastern highlands and the Zalambessa border crossing to Ethiopia.

Besides the bloccos, there are also mobile and random checkpoints on the roads and both inside and outside the limits of nearly all towns and communities in Eritrea. So you will be asked more than once for your papers.

Buses are the main means of transport in Eritrea other than camelback or your own car. Buses run to all main towns and villages from Asmara.

Some several times a day, others only once a day or a couple of times a week, requiring you to sleepover for one or more nights there or even on the way, before returning.

Buses don't run after dusk because of road safety, Eritrea is a very mountainous country. Fog and mist can severely delay traffic as well.

Renting a car or chartering a taxi is possible in Eritrea, but both cost about the same and are extremely expensive, as is the price of fuel.

There is one narrow-gauge train line, from Asmara to Massawa, but it is driven by a slow steam-engine which only runs for chartered tours.

Tourism Observer

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