Wandering Around Aimlessly
Without a doubt, the city itself is an attraction. Beautifully-old homes, with colors from every part of the spectrum grace the hillside. My favorite walk was the one towards the palace (more to the point, on the way DOWN from the palace), where everywhere you look are colors, people and the liveliness that is one of my fondest memories. From the homes, to their residents bustling about their daily lives, to the flower markets and pubs, its a wonderful wander...
It certainly can be a bit steep, but just take the taxi up and enjoy the walk down.
"Middletown" stairways (totoha-bato)
The three levels of the town are linked by stairways so as to enable pedestrians to reach easily upper parts from downtown (and vice-versa). If you take those staircases, you will see how traditional red-earth brick houses abund on hillsides. Also, those stairways are crowded.
They are called Totoha-bato (literally, "Stone stairways") as they are made of stone blocks. Many stairways in the city: one that departs from Analakely protestant temple and leads to Antaninarenina (financial & business district). Normally, you will end up at Antaninarenina's Kianjan' ny Fahaleovantena (Independence Place). I stood there to snap this picture. Again at the opposite end, from downtown Analakely, another staircase goes up to Ambondrona area (at midtown level).
Another one that departs from Antsahavola area to reach Antaninarenina. Many, many... in Ambanidia, Mahamasina. Well, Antananarivo hill is the central one so from many hillsides, you have those totoha-bato.
Totoha-bato use to be packed with street vendors... they sell sunglasses (many), snacks (roasted peanuts..), watches (many :), fruits, some crafted items, old books, old vinyl slates...
Basically, you have the downtown (ancient swamp), then some intermediate level (in the middle of the cliffs - it is known as "Plateau du Colbert"). Then, you have the top of the hill. This is "La Haute ville", the Old city that use(d) to be home of Palaces (Queen's palace, ancient Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony palace, ancient Justice palace), cathedrals and residential area of (mostly) ancient noblemen families. I like it there, serene.. like a little village out of the hassle of downtown. City of extrems:
Fastuous to miserable, lush and manicured gardens and slumps, flowers and bustling market places, ante-deluvian automobiles and wrecks, grid-lock traffic jams, elegant business people and street urchins. You may dislike it, you may love it but subversive Tana center won't leave you indifferent! Definitely NOT!
In fact, you would notice the hassle and the noise. The young things parading in streets of the business area (Antaninarenina, for instance) with daddy's cars. The same cars, which may be (illegally) displayed in those parking lots along Araben’ny Fahaleovantena, for sales purpose. Kept still or turned on roaring. Especially when a hot female is passing by, music is louder, voices are louder. No hooting, thank God! They guys are still polite. In the streets, though, another story. Traffic, hooting, blaring music, traffic, hooting..etc… Cars, streetsellers, beggars… sharing the same avenue, the former being constantly asked to give money in exchange of goods, of (God’s) blessing.
Then, this stark contrast displayed in the serene upper town. It is simply another atmosphere, made for reflection. Another air, purer. Another experience, viewing this red sun setting over the plains whilst standing near the grey-beige cathedral walls that are gradually acquiring this pinkish hue. Still, something is missing there: the complex that used to dominate the top of the hill. Oh well... see why in other tips.
Plateau du Colbert
This is the administrative and business area of what I would call "Middletown".
Not only you have there Lapan' Ambohitsirohitra, Presidential office (Ambohitsirohitra palace); Central Bank; many governemental buildings; banks HQ. Also, you have there many jewelry shops (mainly Indo-Pakistanese run); main hotels. In my "youth", Antaninarenina used to be our center of action where youngsters use to meet, parade (well, don't we say "cruise" nowadays ?). You know what I mean, this male parade featuring boys driving daddy's car, loud music and showing it off... hahaha..
I feel so old now... I only walked in Antananinarenina once during my last stay whilst I used to walk in there nearly everyday during my teenhood holidays. I'm even wondering whether young things of nowadays still cruise in Antananinarenina. I have a feeling Avenue de l'Indépendance is becoming hip.. don't know.
Because they have to, want to or can afford to ?
It is a disturbant view to me to see women, usually from low class, carrying those big, voluminous, probably heavy loads on their heads.
As a kid, it used to already intrigue me whether they don't have any man around to carry those baskets. For sure, that may be disturbant for Westerner eyes too. I've never seen any woman in my family carrying baskets like this and even when it's heavy, sons, nephews are there to carry those heavy loads..and whenever those gentlemen offer their help, they don't carry them on their heads, they weigh the loads with their arms, not on their head.
So, my question "why then, those women use to carry those loads on their heads ?". Was it initially some exercise to provide them with this haughty, gracious manner of holding their head ? Stil a mystery to me... Sometimes, I see chicken, goose heads pending from the baskets... in countryside, it can be hays, sand, bricks..
Antananarivo offers many terrains to hike on. Escape the hassle of the city center & head to any coutryside. My favourite & natural area is the one past Anosy Avaratra (Northwards, on the way to Ambohimanga hill). There, hills alternate with plains, that makes your trek interesting, exercise-wise. Nothing complicate: one foot before another, then walk! On your own, with friends, with your partner... on your rythm.
Even for who doesn't like endurance exercise, the trek cannot be boring. You could discover fauna elements. This yellow frog: a miracle sight as I long longed to see one on my own & in the wilds. The spiders: various colours, not dangerous, just amazing! The many bird species & their distinctive chants. The trees, apart from the usual eucalyptus & pinetree, can still be a curiosity. At the relatively new & not yet fully operational Soavinandriamanitra park, you could already bond with lemurs. Not interested in any of those ? Think pure air, think pick-nick in grass, plains that don't contain any poisonous animal. Leave the scorpions for coastal jungles. Just choose the shade of a pinetree forest to reward your hiking effort. That smell! Or, choose the top of a rock for a bonefire while enjoying some terrific views. Just be sure you could light a fire at that place with such a weather.
Plus, the many historical villages, picturesque landscapes of this Northern area ! Royal Ambohimanga hill is historical, so are Namehana, Ambohidrabiby...
The sight of peasants invectivating zebus in ploughing their ricefields. The sight of those women chatting joyously, laughing while busying themselves transplanting rice springs from a plot to another. The sight of herdsmen running after their cattle whilst the latter get crazy & run in every senses. The cultivators pampering their vegetable patches. All of that! Plus, the kindness of kids, the greetings on their smiling faces. Kids are the easiest to get in touch with. However, adults would be glad to talk to you about their activities & areas. - Walking boots. I'm in favour of this as sneakers are not comfy to walk with for hours. Plus, boots have this advantage to maintain your ankle at the right place. Sandals, forget it! The feet could simply get sunburnt without you could even notice it.
- Garnment, I'm still in favour of linen as it is the most comfy material you could get in summer. In cooler season: layered & more technical material.
- Water (1.5 l is enough for a 2-hour trek. More if it's hot & if you plan to walk longer)
- Cookies (for me, banana at 10 am if I start the trak at 7am).
- Cap (a large hat in summer and, more overall, when the sun is bright & strong)
- Sunlotion on the face & neck & its back, on your arms & hands