Favorite thing: 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
Fondest memory: Luv their varied playlist !
- Budget Travel
Favorite thing: My first hours in Tana streets during my visit in Feb-March. 2005 were a bit of a shock.
The city has changed, spruced up, cleaned. The buildings on Araben'ny Fahaleovantena (Avenue de l'Indépendance) had been restored and painted in their initial beige, crème and ochre colours. It is, undoubtedly, a third world country but Tana has recovered bit by bit its capital city status. Works on infrastructure are numerous, to ease traffic. Around the city center, new motorways were built to channel fluxes from suburbs to city center.
No doubt that locals’ and authorities’ will to improve have affected locals mentality. People pay more attention to public infrastructure. In the past, whilst phone booths were systematically destroyed for various reasons (political manifesto, robberies..), it's nice to see phonebooths functioning in their glassboxes. It's all about that: a change in mentality.
It is now possible to enjoy the several lush gardens. Salarymen, pupils, families can rely on clean gardens to enjoy their noon lunch. Gardens have keepers which sometimes have their homies in the gardens themselves. They are closed at night though, to avoid beggars sleeping there. What a change from those unkept, dirty, stinking gardens that used to serve as open-air toilets from the past.
Those are some of the many changes I noticed. No doubt that efforts are kept. Life is tough over there since we rely a lot on rice and oil and that prices of both commodities on world markets had considerably soared. Few days before I left, it was announced that rice pricing is forecast to diminish. That was a relief for the many Malagasy households. They just wait for consequences on domestic prices. Still, life is busy as hell, people have faith in the changes. They contribute in them.
Fondest memory: A nicely chaotic city.. That would sum up this city.
I noticed, though, that it is more and more crowded: more cars in the streets, more people. Where are they all heading ? rushing everywhere ?
Look at that picture: you just see the carmin roofs of the narrow traditional houses, the white concrete roofs of more modern buildings. Looking closer, you'll notice they are diversely displayed, looking East, West, North... It's the image of Tana: nicely chaotic.
Update Dec 2009: Warning... It has so much changed over here since the change of mayor in 2007. Dirtier, smellier, messier... Miss the clean city I used to love strolling in under the helm of Marc Ravalomanana and his clique. Not evrything was perfect but... Then, the city was cleaned. Regularly. And streets and pedestrian lanes belonged to, respectively, cars and pedestrians. Nowadays, it's the reign of vendors. Their stalls are everywhere.. on the streets, on the pedestrian lanes. More and more informal streetstalls, not a good sign...
- School Holidays
- Road Trip
Favorite thing: THB signs are almost ubiquitous in Madagascar, and stand for the local beer: Three Horses Brew. I would have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with the beer. It comes in 3 different forms, 2 similar regular beers and the super-refreshing cider-like "Fresh" version. Aptly named...
The Fresh has a low alcohol content for those who require it. And, the regular beers are tasty, high in content and come in a huge bottle.
Favorite thing: 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.
Favorite thing: Just to see, no visit allowed since it is the current office of the Big Man of the country: The President.
Ambohitsorohotra is a compound that used to be privately owned, confiscated then fit to house the French governor during the colonial era, Gallieni. It had also served as Presidential office untill another "presidential palace" was built in the Southern area of Tana in the 90s. Meanwhile, elegant "Ambohitsorohitra" served as office of Tana Mayor, Marc Ravalomanana (elected Mayor in december 1999) until he ran for presidency in 2001. He has kept Ambohitsorohitra as his office as Madagascar's President.
Fondest memory: Talking about men at work... It is forbidden to take pictures of Ambohitsorohitra. I was told so the first day I drove by... I asked my bro-in-law to stop and allow me to snap away. He advised not to do it. That day, I remembered I had seen somewhere on the net that it was forbidden. Still, the last Saturday before my departure, I went back to the area.
I could take picture of buildings, cobblestoned sloppy streets. When I saw the policemen chatting with the streetvendors, I thought I could snap away. No way! watch out ! Policemen without uniform use to browse the area. I was strolling for some time, adjusting my lenses to have the perspectives of Ambohitsorohitra when a man came to see me. He was in a casual attire: white shirt and Khaki pants. He told me it was forbidden to take picture of the palace. I thought he was joking but given the firm tone he spoke with, I understood he was an official. He didn't confiscate my camera (was afraid of that :-) but he made it understood he (and probaly colleagues) is there to browse around and prevent people from taking picture. Following this encountering, I returned to my car and while passing in front of the Presidential office, I snapped this, very randomly. So this is how it comes out: the left aisle (probably guard office) and in background right: a part of the main building.
No doubt, this civil policeman was working.. really working.
Men at work. One is lost and the other would be caught and the policemen are playing cards with streetstall keepers whilst zealous civil policemen would prevent you from taking pictures... (Hehehe.. )
- Castles and Palaces
Favorite thing: It's nearly a joke:
Once again, I was waiting for my Mum in the Hotel Colbert area when I saw this man wandering in the street with his tall frangipani bouquet. I would have followed him around blindfolded: I use to love this intoxicating frangipani fragrance and it spread out in the street... So, I was contemplating his frangipani bunch when I saw him heading to the other man on the photo, asking for something to tie the bunch up. I had a smile watching the scene. And a thought: "That's men at work, a flower vendor asking to a carwash person some thin rubber band or raphia string to hold flowers together..." Even funnier, the latter was washing a car with a bucket and a spounge. He hid himself, behind a pilar but in front of the car, from the police nearby since it is now forbidden to wash cars in the streets like he was doing (they enforced the law weeks before my arrival or so I understood from what I was told). He would be caught and fined.
Fondest memory: It's nearly silly.. but this is something that amazed me !
Men at work: One is lost and the other would be caught.
More seriously, Tana is full of those: people in the streets, with small jobs, trying to make a living from the little they have...
-"Oh friend, don't you have any string for me to hold these flowers together ?"
-"Get out of here ! I am hastening washing this car. Ya know, the police is browsing around"...
The illegal carwasher could have finished it smoothly and not worrying about being caught. Well, I couldn't tell them but afterwards, I was strolling around, admiring what I consider as one of nicest buildings and compounds in Tana: Ambohitsorohitra compound. It is where our President has his office, he kept the same office of his former years as Mayor of CUA (Communauté Urbaine d’Antananarivo, basically, Tana Municipality). Not far from Ambohitsorohitra, I found the policemen chatting and playing cards with streetvendors who were selling peanuts. Not too close neither that far from our two men on the picture.. but leisurely busy.
Men at work: One is lost and the other would be caught and the policemen are playing cards with streetstall keepers.
That's Tana: very surreal sometimes.
- Work Abroad
Fondest memory: Once, Telma (ex-PTT, national telecom company) used to have the monopoly over communication in Madagascar. It only served the fix phone communication, no mobile. Then, giving phone calls to clients, friends, suppliers could be very difficult due to chronical technical problems. You could spend a whole morning trying to talk to your client, in vain. You may have lost a client, a deal… whatever... PTT had the monopoly. Then, came mobile operators: Madacom (now Celtel), (late) Telecel, Antaris (now Orange)...etc... quite expensive, in its early Malagasy years, but every man-in-the-street had tried to have his own mobile. Nowadays, the more mobile operators, the more affordable communication.
In case you cannot afford a mobile but want to give a phone call to a friend, taxiphones are solutions to your problem. With an average of 300 ariary per min (depending on whether you’re calling a mobile or a fix). Taxiphones are in every streetcorner. Whilst, in the past, one had to find a shop that could "lend" its telephone and that one'd pay for a random value, taxiphones are nowadays a solution. With the advantage of accessibility, cheaper and almost harmonized tariffs.
That's Madagascar: resourcefulness. A job for taxiphone tenders which serve as last resort for some who are in need. I think, though, that they wouldn't allow you to make internatonal calls ;-) For that, hotels are still there.. but.. whether they are the least expensive, whether there are alternatives to hotels, I'll have to investigate.
- Budget Travel
- School Holidays
Favorite thing: 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.
Fondest memory: 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.
- Road Trip
- Business Travel
Favorite thing: Now, about Tana municipality area, it was initially designed to be inhabited only on its hillsides/ cliffs.
The pic was taken from the hill on which lies the Queen palace, located South East of Tana urban area: Analamanga or Antananarivo hill. Notice the ricefields in the middle of urban areas. It's because the whole downtown used to be a swamp dedicated to only one design: rice cultivation, so to feed the whole population.
King Andrianampoinimerina (18 cent) had it fit only for our staple food cultivation. That's one reason why Tana cliffs are so packed. Initial housing areas were there. Betsimitatatra plains (300 sq. km) lie at the foot of Antananarivo hill and used to receive the eroded soil from the cliffs. They are the widest of plains in the Central Highlands.
Then the French came. They had parts of Betsimitatatra plains fit so to allow inhabitants to live in the swamps. But hey, each summer (rainy season), houses in there have used to suffer from floods. Well, not flooded but they were so badly built that inhabitants have problems with evacuating used waters... High water levels in drains don't allow correct evacuation. Of course, bad management of previous governments (the ones that replaced the French) hadn't helped in improving the situation.
Successive municipality teams (from 2001 till 2007) had begun tackling the fitting of the downtown (esp. the worst fit ones). Still, it's a tough job, and a touchy one, to tell people to get out of their houses that were wrongly built to fit in the initial plans. All of that occurs when past municipality authorities "allowed" some people to build without respecting the plans, the construction rules. Now, the authorities that have to correct everything are seen as careless. And what about those who got fat receiving bakschich money to let some build without any respect of the initial urbanistic plans?
Fondest memory: The most interesting parts of Tana lie in Middle town and Uptown (on top of the hills).
However, here and there, ricefields and cultivations areas have been kept and it leaves such sceneries in the nearby suburbs.
It's only by seeing the area from the top of a hill that I remembered the history of our urbanization... Amazing. Once again, it wouldn't mean anything to you (would it ?), as tourists, but would to me.
So, if you happen to visit my birth city, take lots of films to have the bird’s eye view from tops of hills. Also, I can say that watching sunsets from there is an experience. Still, some of my favourite eateries are in the downtown and middletown...
- Budget Travel
Favorite thing: Antananarivo doesn't have big avenues but Araben' ny Fahaleovantena is where it happens. It departs from Analakely and ends with "Gara", the Soarano train station. It follows Araben' ny 26 Jiona that runs through Analakely, starting Ambohijatovo.
Analakely is packed with permanent markets. Typical scenery of off-white parasols, perched precariously on old tyre rims. They used to shade the vendors. In the past, there used to be the big Friday market: the Zoma. Still, municipality had to tear it down since there couldn't be any safety in there anymore. This used to be #1 must-see activity in Tana and was reported to be the biggest open-air market in the world. A parking lot has replaced the Zoma, to the contentment of the drivers. Remnants of the Zoma in Analakely are permanent markets held on a much smaller surface. The Pavillons had remained and it’s still nice browsing there. Although you would find there stalls selling handicraft like wooden gameboards, statues, gem stones, leather goods, woven items, spices, vanilla... they do not display that many items nor choice. For handicraft, check it at specialized markets “Arts Malgasy” on Route digue. Any taxi driver would lead you there.
In Ambohijatovo, up the avenue, near the second-hand bookstalls (my favourite spot in Tana), lies a smaller market where men in the street (women, namely) use to shop for vegs, fruits, meat… A place where to catch a glimpse on what we use to prepare our meals, at least local produce, and on daily lives of housewives.
Along Araben’ny Fahaleovan-tena, there are shops, eateries. Mmmm... These arcades house two of the best ice-cream parlours in Tana, Blanche-Neige happens to be my favourite (right side if facing the station). Go there, you wouldn't regret it. You would find there both the young things sipping juices, having the ice-cream combinations. [See my restaurant tips]
Also, don't be surprised if you see skateboarders, rollerskaters on the avenue. Kids plays in there, not exactly on the avenue but in the parking lots edging the avenue. For it being the longest, it can hold various processions, ranging from Mini Austin collectioneurs to demonstrations through Beetle parade.
Scanned postcard (photo J. Fernandes)
Fondest memory: Fondest memory ? Blanche Neige and Shalimar (Indo-Pakistanese snack).
- Road Trip
Favorite thing: 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.
Fondest memory: *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.
- Budget Travel
Favorite thing: 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 :-)
Fondest memory: 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).
- Road Trip
- Business Travel
Favorite thing: 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.
Fondest memory: 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.
- School Holidays
- Study Abroad
Favorite thing: **Update on March 31 2005: The Royal compound has just re-opened for visits early 2005."
**Update on Dec. 24:
The slow process of reconstruction is continuing. A museum nearby [set in Lapan' Andafiavaratra (Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony 's Palace)] displays the artefacts which had been rescued from the fire. Find there a number of old photos of the Malagasy royalty in western court dress. Also, exchange of letters with Queen Victoria of the British Empire. Kings of Madagascar (mostly Queens, in fact) had been maintaining close contact till the invasion and abolition of the Malagasy state by France in 1896.**
Whilst some printed guides may still talk about a must-see activity "Visit the Manjakamiadana Royal Palace", please be advised that this Palace no longer exists. Only remains of the burnt palace will be there (see my travelogue on Rovan'i Manjakamiadana - Manjakamiadana Palace). Look at my Rovan' i Manjakamiadana travelogue to see the remains of it.
The Rova was burnt in 1995, in the night of Nov 5 to Nov 6. The mystery wrapping this atrocity has never been solved. It seems that the government, the one from 1996 to 2001, led by ex- Pdt Ratsiraka, has been reluctant to make the necessary research, so has been the one who was there in 1995-96.
At meantime, a commission was in charge of the reconstruction works. Bad management, robbery slowed down the works. I don't even think they are being made now...
Fondest memory: *Update on March 31 2005: Recovering the four tours of the Queen's Palace it by bit... *
*Update on Dec. 24:
For the Palace being located on top of the Analamanga hill, it has been, for centuries, a landmark of the city. When they tore it down, one had to re-study the view again. You feel something is missing. That was for the visual effects. Fortunately, the facades having been spared (see tlog)
Historical artefacts, antiques and documents within the complex paid the toll of 1995 arson. Only 20% of them were spared.*
Besides, the Rova used to be an important element of the nation unity. Tearing it down was aiming at dividing the nation, so it was resented by the millions of Malagasy people.
For the complex containing the mortal remains of Madagascar Kings, Malagasy people, for whom ancestral worship and veneration of the remains of the dead are important, saw the destruction of the royal tombs as spiritual as well. The soul of the nation was burnt to ashes.
I was really touched when I heard about reactions of Malagasy people, their anger, sadness, pain, from all over the country. For sure, those who bore the title of Queen and King of Madagascar were always from Merina tribe, the pain was felt in all places.
In the picture, remains of Rovan'i Manjakamiadana (Manjakamiadana Fort). At background, Lapan' Andafiavaratra (Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony 's Palace) used to be the office of Queens' Prime Minister. At that time, it used to be the central point of all decisions regarding Madagascar. It's the centre of power. Coincidentally, this latter was also burnt in 1976. Again, the government, led by ex- Pdt Ratsiraka, never succeeded to find the criminals. It was reconstructed but "mystery" around this event still remains unsolved. Yet, people in Tana don't expect any explanation on it either.. as if they know the answer...
Note that those two Palaces, with the Rovan' Ambohimanga, epitomized the heights and the then power of Madagascar Kingdom.
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Favorite thing: Explore by walking around the center of town and uphill on both sides.
It's also been the the starting point to my trip described in travelogue on Madagascar page.
Fondest memory: The vistas from either side of the Marketplace up on the hill and of course the steep endless stairs leading there. It felt like a procession up and down with some intermezzo platforms where any kind of entertainment or salesactivities take place.