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Nov
23

Flights to Nairobi-A perfect place to get away from the holidays

I have a friend that has a total hate for Christmas. She doesn’t  even buy a tree. And no she’s not a terrorist.  She just can’t stand what Christmas has become regardless of the religion. And so last year she booked her family- the kids weren’t as thrilled- on a cheap flight to Nairobi.

Yep. Nairobi. Why?

Nairobi

Nairobi

Well, she wanted them to see animals. The kids told her they watch animal planet and know what animals look like and even what they do. They did not need to fly to Nairobi. They wanted a tree with lots and lots of presents underneath it. But she’s a toughie-Swiss, no less- and she put them all on that flight to Nairobi and they all got to see Africa first hand.

And this is what she told me:

nairobi chaos

nairobi chaos

Hire a guide. Micato Safaris can organize hotel stays, excursions, and city tours with local experts. You will feel safer and more relaxed to have someone who knows how to get around. The spaces are large and to truly see the country, you must rive. Hire a guide.

 norfolk hotel

norfolk hotel

Settle into Africa by spending your first evening  at the Lord Delamere Terrace and Bar in the Norfolk Hotel, which opened in 1904. Named for Lord Delamere, one of Kenya’s most famous British settlers, who in the early 1900s helped to make this city part of the social circuit.

lord delemere

lord delemere

Porters in top hats and tails wheel luggage through the courtyard while servers in starched white uniforms scurry around with trays of food. The terrace bar is an ideal place for a Tusker, Kenya’s native beer. Not cheap though at around $4. It feels like pure old Africa here.

Wake up and start your day where it counts most, discovering the animals of Africa.

saving baby elephants

saving baby elephants

Wildlife is surely what most people think of when they think of Africa. And while a safari is fun, going to baby elephant rescue centers is transcendent. Especially if you’ve got your children with you. Here at the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage near the Langata neighborhood, about 25 minutes from downtown, you will witness the beauty of baby elephants, yes, but it is amazing to see the good people can do. It is open every day to visitors from 11 a.m. until noon. It’s a nonprofit organization that rescues baby elephants whose parents have been killed by poachers or felled by disease. As the little elephants march into the viewing area in purple blankets, you’ll feel like you’re  Disney film. The elephants are highly intelligent but needy, too. The workers here actually sleep in the stalls with them until they get too big. Then they take them back to the wild and stay with them for six months in the bush until they are ready to live on their own.

giraffe center

giraffe center

Not far from the elephant orphanage is the Giraffe Center, open every day from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.  Giraffes amble right over to you to snack on peanut pellets from your hand. If getting licked by a foot-long black tongue and hit with musky giraffe breath isn’t your idea of fun, there’s also a cafe, a gift shop and a tortoise pen. If you’re really into giraffes, Giraffe Manor is right next door, a colonial-era home that has been turned into a luxury hotel where you can feed the animals from your room.

Karen Blixen house

Karen Blixen house

Nobody can fly to Nairobi without making the pilgrimage to the Karen neighborhood, a 20-minute drive from downtown Nairobi, is named after Karen Blixen, the Danish baroness who as Isak Dinesen wrote “Out of Africa.” She lived in Kenya from 1914 to 1931, and if you want a heavy dose of colonial times, you can visit the Karen Blixen Museum (Karen Road, which was her house, and see some of her old things, mixed with props from the movie, sadly no Robert Redford.  Soak up the million-dollar view of the distant Ngong Hills.

lion at safari walk

lion at safari walk

The Nairobi Safari Walk inside the headquarters of the Kenya Wildlife Service might just scare the crap out of you.  Follow the winding stone paths and suspended boardwalk for glimpses of lions, leopards, rhinos, ostriches and zebra. There are cheetahs, too, some quite friendly, you might just be able to pet a very large cat.

check out the papadum!

check out the papadum!

Fortunately for those of you not in love with African stews, rices and beans, there’s a huge Indian population here and their delicious food to go with it. Blame it on the British who brought workers from India to help build the East African railroad stretching from Mombasa to Kampala. The one to go to is Anghiti, which has two locations, the livelier at the back of the New Rehema House off Rhapta Road in Westlands. Start with some papadum and a passion fruit lassi, followed by chili paneer as an appetizer. The combination of the passion fruit yogurt and the spicy papadums both cools and thrills.

Mercury Lounge

Mercury Lounge

Grab your breath mints, tucks the kids in for the night, tip the hotel nanny and head to the Mercury Lounge, one of Nairobi’s hippest places to grab a late-night drink. Picture comfy couches, mood lighting and inventive cocktails. The crowd is a mix of locals and tourists. Take a sip of a Luv-in-ton, a fruit juice, vodka and amaretto concoction, which was called Maternity Leave before that name was considered too risqué. The tapas here are imaginative, too, like the beef on toast and micro veggie burgers.

open market

open market

Local shopping. City Market, an enormous tabernacle-shaped building on Muindi Mbingu Street, is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. It has all the carvings, cloths, masks, bags, fruit and flowers you could ever want. But this is a market, and the locals are there to sell. So if you haven’t got it in you to just say no, then try heading to the more. upscale Zebu, a leather goods shop in the Junction Mall that sells handbags, shoes and clothes designed by Annabelle Thom, a local artisan. Or Kitengela Glass  which sells stylish blown glassware at three different shops around Nairobi, including one at the Junction Mall.

national museum of kenya

national museum of kenya

One of Nairobi’s most significant galleries is the Loft, One Off Gallery set on the grounds of curator Carol Lees’s own residence. She carries a variety of work, from Peterson Kamwathi’s politically inspired prints and drawings on paper to mobiles made out of recycled bottles.  You’ll see artists at work at the cutting-edge Banana Hill Art Studio Gallery which represents more than 50 up-and-coming African painters and sculptors.  On the other end of the spectrum is the recently overhauled Nairobi National Museum founded by the East Africa Natural History Society in 1910.  Nairobi Snake Park is close and you should not miss it.

Hotels that are up and coming are, the Tribe Hotel:

Tribe hotel

Tribe hotel

With its rooftop hookah bar and proximity to the U.S. Embassy, the hotel attracts a mix of hipsters and diplomats. Close by, the emerging Westlands neighborhood is home to the Africa-meets-Asia Sankara Nairobi and an Angsana spa from the Thai wellness group Banyan Tree.

sankarra

sankarra

Near the genteel suburb of Karen—named for Out of Africa author Karen Blixen—the latest place to stay is Hogmead run by the Safari & Conservation Company, which owns lodges throughout East Africa. The patrician country-house hotel has wood-paneled soaking tubs, leather club chairs, and a famous neighbor, photographer Peter Beard.

hogmead nairobi

hogmead nairobi

Down the road is Ngong House, a tree-house-style boutique hotel, where I would totally hang my hat and pretend to be Karen Blixen.

kenya hotel

kenya hotel

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