Most Air France flights arrive in Tana close to midnight (and depart about an hour later) so that the visitor to Madagascar’s capital is likely to arrive and depart in darkness. The ten-mile drive into the city passes through not-quite slums and modest residential areas and arrives in a hilly colonial city of great charm.
Independence Avenue (or Arabe Fahaleovantena as it is known in Malagasy) runs from the railway station, along the valley formed by two ridges which converge, effectively trapping the lower town or Analakely. Steep streets and alleys and many flights of stairs lead to the upper town made up of Antaninarenina and Isoraka. The main staircase which leads for Avenue de l’Independence (French is Madagascar’s second official language) to Place de l’Independence is wide enough to have vendors on both sides selling rubber stamps, wood carvings, raffia goods and other local crafts. The square at the top has a garden on one side and Le Buffet de Jardin on the other where one can recover from the climb with a fruit juice or an expensive (and inferior) glass of wine. By far the best choice is a tall glass of Three Horses Beer.
There are endless beggars, although to be fair, they usually offer you something in return for your money. The number one favorite product is vanilla. This is the seedpod of a vining orchid and is a much appreciated gift back home. But you can only buy and carry so much so you will have to learn to discourage the enthusiastic sellers with a polite “Non, merci” or if that doesn’t work, “tseemeesh.” In desperation you cantry shouting “Mandehana!” (Go Away!). Another useful word is (phonetically) Pun-gul-ah-tra meaning thief. Be on the lookout for pickpockets and keep a low profile – little jewelery, cameras hidden and large bank notes changed at the hotel.
It is a colorful, charming city most of which can be explored on foot. Taxis and buses are a completely different experience!