My favourite city in Madagascar, who happens to be my origin city, uses to be a ill-beloved one. Not by Malagasy but by travel agencies and TOs, so much that they’d just include one or two days for Tana. Still, Antananarivo city and its suburbs offer something to see.
Not a city for the average traveller, many of world travellers told that this poverty displayed in the capital city should not be as "repellent" as poverty in Indian cities, for instance.
Also, and most important, a lot of efforts (by municipality authorities, private associations and inhabitants) were made to secure, clean the city so that it has slightly changed (in better!!) in the latest years (from 2002).
Tana city's charm lies in its setting, the architecture. It is in a basin, surrounded by hills. 12 of them are sacred hills. OK, you may not need to know those names but I lay them here for myself: (Ambohidratrimo, Ambohimanga, Ilafy, Alasora, Antsahadinta, Ambohimanambony, Antananarivo, Ambohitrabiby, Namehana, Ambohidrapeto, Ambohijafy, Ambohimandranjaka)
Also, while wandering in Tana streets, you will notice interesting architecture of traditional Merina houses. In my opinion, only urban areas of Tana, Antsirabe and Fianarantsoa have kept traditional houses amongst more European styled ones. Traditional Merina houses I am talking about are the narrow 2-3 storey red-brick houses with wooden verandas and shutters. They are so beautiful. Those houses (some preserved in Tana urban area) are really sought for and they rank high on real estate market. It may take years and years to buy such houses in the city nowadays. *Rovan'i Manjakamiadana or Queen's Palace (or Palais de la reine) used to be a landmark of Tana city. It was arsoned in 1995 and got slowly reconstructed. At a time, works stopped but were re-launched lately.
Ethnic diversity in Tana
Wandering in streets of Tana, capital city, makes you quickly come to the point: Madagascar has a diverse youthful population. Yet, Tana area & the Higlands in general (Tana province & a big deal of Fianarantsoa's) are from Asian origins whilst the other areas are rather referred as African (w/ Arabic influences for some Western areas).
Malagasy physical appearance varies from small, Chinese-look-like persons to tall, black ones. Between those extrems, amber-coloured girls with curly hair and medium-brown eyes, medium-to-dark brown complexion with stiff-spaghetti black hair... all combinations that genetics would allow :-) Living together in a multicultural society whose members speak the same language, Malagasy.
Customs may differ from a tribe to another. Sometimes, philosophy and principle are the same (ancestor worship, for instance) but rites differ. Colours differ and vary even within a tribe.
Yet, peolpe use to live together despite attempts to ethnic war from some politicians when they feel like losing power. Well, the country has better perspectives since 2002, after some months of presidential elections disputing, strikes. That popular struggle, led by now president - and then candidate- Ravalomanana Marc, ended with the exile of former government in mid-2002.
During my stay in early 2005, I was snapping around when a streetvendor tried to sell, without any other word than "Madam", a Malagasy-French dictionary. I said then "Misaotra betsaka" ("Thank you" as to say "No, thank you"). He insisted, pushing his dictionary to me. Feeling harrassed, I repeated "Misaotra betsaka", adding "Heverinao fa tsy mahay miteny gasy angaha aho? Gasy aho anie ê!", translation "Do you think I cannot speak Gasy? I am Gasy, you know!". The guy went red and one of his mates burst out laughing and yelling "Told ya! She is Gasy". We both had a laugh.
Well, Malagasy people use to be given any origin other than his/her. Those who live outside Mada are used to that. Years ago in Brussels, during one of our usual Sunday Malagasy meetings, a Malagasy who used to live in Tahiti took me as a Tahitian. She started out speaking Tahitian to me. lol I just couldn't believe it, she was in a Malagasy community, surrounded by Malagasy people and all that I reminded her of was a Tahitian woman. She explained something about my (then) big long hair, the skin complexion and features got her fooled. haha Norali: a Malagasy trap.
But experiencing this in Tana is so unusual. The streetvendor didn't even think of speaking French to me, he thought I was from somewhere in Asia (and presumably a non-French speaker).
Outcool Web Bar, your best web experience
Simply put, web bar experience in Tana is lame. Dirty and sticky keyboards, blurry screns (dust, dust, dust). Outside the 4* hotels lobbies where you guys can enjoy a web experience in quiteness and...err... cleaned area, the only web bar I'd recommed is here, at Outcool (delivering this tip to you at this very place).
Some food (salads, sandwiches and about 10-ish basic French fare), good "rhums arrangés" and above all their playmlist and clean, non-sticky keyboards. Connection is OK, esp. compared to the many "Haut débit" cybercafés in every Tana corner.
You may pick their 10000 Ar-for-6-hours rate. Most interesting ad mine, anyway.
Lot IBK 20 Ampasamadinika (centrally located) in Tana Luv their varied playlist !
Having it mended, repaired, adapted...
In Tana, those scenes are very common: people repairing something ranging from tyres, shoes, umbrellas, copper antiques, chandeliers to upholstered items (chairs, car seats).. whatever. We are used to repairing, we don't throw things easily.
Shoes, for instance... it is so common to keep many pairs of shoes with regular cleaning and use of leather wax, visits to the shoe repairer. I've kept the same habit in Brussels and eventually noticed that my shoe repairers' regulars are very often non-Belgians or those who owns those fabulous Todd's driver shoes, items from Michel Perry, Louboutin (I saw that once on his stalls), D&G, Chloe boots.
In Tana, even far less valuable items have their visits to the shoe repairer.. and we clean and wax them very regularly. The lightest sign of worn heels is already a good excuse to have the pair of shoes "checked". Ooh! I am also glad to help small people earning their living honestly.
Umbrellas.. in Tana, there are people who have their umbrellas repaired if they can't fix problems out.
Mechanics garages, car repair services abund in Tana. Every street corner has its "garage" and "vulca" (to repair, mend tyres).
On picture, these men were repairing working, hammering on some metallic pieces. I think it was for car repairing but couldn't see precisely for having snapped while driving by.
If you wish to change money in Tana (which you will need to do!) The best place to do so is at the airport. If, for some reason this is not on option you can try the bank. You may find they 'don't have enough staff' to exchange currency in which case your 3rd option could be to use the 'black market' exchange system. This nerve racking procedure involves finding one of the cars with a covered over windscreen, getting in the back, and doing the deal. I am not recommending this..... but it is possible.