Outside the Keren Hotel just after 6am on the morning of day 2.
And enjoying an early morning run to work off all the tasty food from the day before.
Looking across Keren from the hotel. Keren was important to both the Italian and the British forces during World War II as the road and railway through the city were the main route to the capital Asmara and to the Red Sea port of Massawa. Keren is also surrounded by steep granite mountains and sharp ridges which also enhanced its defensive strategic importance.
After a quick shower back at the hotel, I met up with Mehritab at 7:30am and we went to a local café for a traditional Eritrean breakfast of fuul (sauteed and mashed fava beans) served with onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, cumin, bread and olive oil. Quite tasty and was a good start to the day.
After the filling breakfast we went for a walk through the local markets.
Traditional/ceremonial Eritrean canes for sale.
Monday is the main market day and the best time to witness the visit the bustling markets, but today (Saturday) was a little quieter.
We then walked to the Italian War cemetery. From February 5th to April 1st, 1941, both Italian and British forces fought during the Battle of Keren.
A gravestone of an Italian soldier on the left side of the cemetery. The Italians were supported by the Eritrean Ascari, the indigenous soldiers from Eritrea.
On the right side of the cemetery were the graves of Eritrean soldiers who fought with the Italians. During the Battle of Keren an estimated 3,000 Italian soldiers and 9,000 Eritrean Ascari were killed. The Eritrean soldiers were not issued with identification however and were buried in graves all eerily marked 'Ignato' (unknown).
We then walked back into town. Another mural for the War of Independence.
A former colonial Italian school and now an Eritrean Education Ministry building.
The former 1930's Keren Railway Station. The train tracks had long gone and the building now functions as the main bus station. Mehritab had said that Italian tourists he had taken to Keren previously had noted that the train station was identical in design to small town train stations back in Italy.
Cheren, the Italian name for Keren as there is no 'K' in the Italian language.
We then went for a 2 kilometre drive out of the city to the Shrine of St. Mariam Dearit, a statue of the Virgin Mary that resides inside a trunk of a 500 year old baobab tree. On May 29th of every year tens of thousands of Eritreans make a pilgrimage to the Shrine.
We then drove to the British War Cemetery, where Commonwealth soldiers killed during the Battle of Keren are buried.
The gravestone of an Army Officer from New Zealand. The British and their supporting forces lost 536 soldiers during the battle.
Back in Keren again, an Italian villa formerly owned by the Italian businessman, Ditta G De Ponti.
After the interesting morning in Keren, we headed back to the hotel at about 11am, packed my bags and then began the journey back to Asmara.
Kids playing on another Ethiopian tank left over from the Independence War in a village on the road to Asmara.
Stopping again to take in the rugged and very beautiful landscape.
About 50 kilometres out from Asmara we stopped at a small village to visit a local family.
Some of the kids who were excited to see a visitor with an unfamiliar face.
A traditional wood-fired earthen stove and oven.
The one room house where Mehritab translated while we had a bit of a chat.
Our next stop was a local livestock where sheep, goats and cattle were all for sale.
We got back into Asmara just after 1pm. Mehritab dropped me off in town to grab some lunch while he went to see his family.
At the Spaghetti & Pizza House where they had a wood-fired oven cooking some seriously tasty pizza.
I opted for the spicy Africana pizza, laced with some very hot chilli's!
At about 2:30pm Mehritab picked me up again for the ride to Massawa.
Stopping just outside of Asmara to see the recently renovated train track. Due to the steepness, the track has to make several switch-backs as it descends the mountainous terrain. The steam train currently only runs for a short distance at the moment for tourists who can hire the train by the hour.
And some more of the picturesque scenery. Asmara is at an elevation of 2,325 metres so there is a considerable descent on the 113 kilometre drive to the coastal city of Massawa.
A photo of Mehritab with the imposing view in the background.
Stopping for a drink (Sprite and Coke in Ethiopic/Eritrean Ge'ez script) at a road side stop ~ 40 kilometres out from Massawa.
Just before Massawa was a bridge built by the Italians (and recently renovated by the Japanese) that was dedicated to General Menabrea, the 7th Prime Minister of Italy, and bears the inscription 'Ca Custa Lon Ca Custa' (whatever it takes). Also on the distant side is some camels grazing beside the road.
An old rail bridge across a dry river bed heading into Massawa. The rail bridge is also featured on the Eritrean 10 nakfa note.
We got into Massawa just after 5pm and headed over the causeway to Taulud island. War Memorial Square to commemorate the Eritrean War of Independence.
We then drove onto the island of the Old City. It was a mixture of Ottoman and Italian architecture. The old Italian Commercial bank, now in ruins from the war. Unlike Asmara, Massawa was subject to heavy aerial bombardment by the Ethiopians, including napalm and cluster bombs.
Mehritab then dropped me off at my hotel for the night, the Grand Dahlak Hotel. Situated on Taulud island, it was quite a large complex wth 400+ rooms but I never saw another guest while I was there.
In the evening we headed to the nearby Luna Hotel for dinner. Some more injera with some big, juicy chunks of locally caught fish, very tasty! The chef was a little surprised with an European ordering injera, as they apparently just stick to pizza and pasta, but he was glad I really enjoyed it.
We then went to a seaside café for some sugary lemon tea. We chatted about my travels to interesting and unusual places. Mehritab had also spent 14 years living overseas, first in Italy, then Germany and finally California before returning to Eritrea after it gained independence in 1992.
Sunrise over the hotel pool just after 7am.
After a morning run around the island, I caught up with Mehritab and then headed over the causeway over to the Old City to a local café.
Omelette and bread.
Followed by a couple of strong and very tasty espresso's.
After the decent breakfast we headed to the ruins of the Old Palace. Built in 1872 to 1874 for the Swiss explorer Werner Munzinger.
It was later used by the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as a winter palace. It was unfortunately bombed during the war however.
After picking up my swimming gear at the hotel, we drove ~10 kilometres north to the Gurgussum Beach Hotel.
Despite being November the temperature was still quite warm.
And taking a refreshing dip in the waters of the Red Sea.
Mehritab said it was quite common for people from Asmara to come down for a weekend at the beach.
And enjoying a cool Fanta.
Playing football on the beach.
And some sea-shell necklaces I bought for 100 nafa to take home for Rianda.
After a relaxing few hours at the beach, we headed back to the hotel to check out and then begin the drive back to Asmara.
The remains of an old Italian mineral water bottling plant.
A couple of gentleman in local dress who gracefuly allowed me to take their photograph.
For lunch we stopped at a little café/pension in the town of Ghinda.
And had some tasty fuul and bread.
And some 'burn your mouth' spicy ginger coffee which was quite an experience!
Looking down on the town of Nefasit. Near the mountain peak on the upper right is the Monastery of Debre Bizen, founded in the 1350s. It is apparently possible to hike up the monastery, but I decided to leave it until my return visit to Eritrea.
A Hamadryas baboon checking us out on the road close to Asmara.
We stopped for a coke at a village close to Asmara. The locals were playing Italian billiards. Quite a bit different from normal billiards, and was played with hands instead of pool cues and with small pins that you had to avoid in the centre.
We got back to Asmara just before 3pm and Mehritab dropped me back at the Sunshine Hotel for my last night in Eritrea.
After a shower I went out for a walk and stopped at a local shop to spend some of my last nakfa on some water and a Kitkat.
And back at the Fiat Tagliero Building for a few last photographs.
In the evening, Dr. Kahsai took myself and Mehritab out to a place called Hidmona for some tasty Eritrean cuisine, drink and music.
Getting a big glass of sowa, a home-brewed Eritrean beer made from roasted corn, barley and other grain. Not fizzy or frothy like normal beer, but very tasty.
Followed by a very liberal serving of tibsi, meat cooked in butter and served on injera bread.
Some Eritrean coffee to finish.
At about 10pm the dancing started, first with some local ladies twirling their long dresses to the throbbing beat of the live band. Afterwards everyone joined in with plenty of locals as well as some Chinese workers and Russian aircraft mechanics.
And some Eritrean raki liqueur before heading back to the hotel to get some rest before the early morning flight back home tomorrow.
After a quick shower, I met up with Mehritab just before 5am for the short drive back to the airport. There was minimal street lighting with the limited electricity and it was quite strange to see stars twinkling in the sky above the city.
After thanking Mehritab for the great and warm hospitality, I said farewell and went through to check in and was soon airside after passing through immigration and security.
And boarding the Flydubai 737 just before 7am for the flight home after an amazing three days in Eritrea!