Saturday, May 5, 2018

My heart is in Havana

Oh Havana, where to start.....

I am so totally behind with our blog but for me Havana is virtually impossible to write about and capture. I've been struggling where to to start or even to find the words for this incredibly beautiful city of contrasts, fantastically good humoured people, music and history.

We were lucky enough to meet Jorge shortly after we arrived at Marina Hemingway - he became one of our favourite taxi drivers and friends. He has a 49 Chevy which is his pride an joy, Andrew and he became brothers as he drove us to Havana and then on a day tour of the surrounding area ending up at a local restaurant for a wonderful lunch that cost $15 for us all. Wandering around the Museum of the Revolution with Jorge gave us a very special insight as he was able to give us his family stories. It was fascinating to read the Cuban perspective on this story, and some of the evidence about the US Government involvement was pretty compelling.
Andrew checks out the 49 Chevy
We loved Jorge's car even with the weird steering
The Russian Embassy - subtle!

One of the many perfectly restored streets
The US Embassy - the poles were erreted by the Cuban Government to block 'US propaganda' screens
Pretty cars everywhere
Museum of the Revolution - fascinating
At the old port
Beautiful park near the centre of Havana
During our first few day trips to Havana we knew we wanted more, so decided to return for a few days (think minibreak). Throughout our time in Cuba we have seen signs for Casa Particulares so decided we would take the plunge and packed a bag and went off to find one of these private hotels. We went to one of the main squares and instantly saw the sign. In through an outer door, up three flights of stairs I found a maid cleaning a room, after a bit of my bad Spainish I learned this one was fully booked, but she called a friend. He came and took us to his Casa just around the corner - 40 CUC a night for a clean, secure, air-conditioned apartment just off the fabulous Plaza Vieja, right in the centre of everything. We booked in for three nights!

Plaza Vieja
The entrance to our Casa
These boys playing on their phones - too cute!

One of the fabulous things about Havana is that people live in the city - that may sound strange but think about it, most cities in the world the real people don't live right in the city any more. In Plaza Vieja one end of the square is a primary school and the kids take breaks and games out in the square. There are also fruit and veg carts milling around, mixed in with tourists and business people. Our apartment was in amongst Cuban apartments and everyone was super friendly as we came and went.

Life in Havana
Renovations required, you walk from a perfectly preserved area to this in 2 minutes

Day to day life goes on right in the centre of the tourist district of the old town
Andrew went for a haircut - it wasn't as cheap as in Manzanillo however the experience was pretty surreal as the building was on the verge of collapse, and the barber told him all about his religion that included dolls and special powder. I bought shoes and have never had so much attention; it would be a months wages to buy the shoes I bought. Now fondly known as my Cuban heels.
Hair cut Havana
So much attention - only buying a pair of cheap wedges!
We did a number of the museums, the small African museum was a treat as we saw all the gifts that Fidel had been given from the African countries all displayed for the people. These small museums are all free, however a tip of the guides is always appreciated and they are pretty knowledgeable.

Getting down at the Hotel Inglaterra - the oldest hotel in Cuba
View from Hotel Ingalterra roof terrace

Thanks Crystal Blues for this picture of one of our fav bands at El Patchanka
Music is just everywhere in Havana and while we were told to check out the big venues we found that the music throughout the city was so fabulous we never needed to venture too far. In the old town it stopped a lot earlier than we expected, however we found the Hotel Ingleterra was open much later - the oldest hotel in Havana and a great rooftop bar. A bit of a late night watching fantastic Salsa into the small hours however meant we were a bit late getting up for the 1st May parade at the Plaza de la Revolution that started at 5.30am..... we instead watched it on the TV, Raul gave a speech in his perfect Army uniform while the new prime minister was in a suit - a sign of change perhaps!?!

Plaza de la Revolution
A bit late for the 1st May Labour Day parade at Plaza de la Revolution

Hemmingway at El Floridita
 Floridita - home of the Daiquiri - we may have tried one or two....
Football in the Bar Bilbao - no big screen but a lot of passion
We had a fancy night out - we started at the Hotel Nacional for Mojito. This hotel is famous for the largest ever gathering of the Mafia and has hosted many famous stars. We had a cocktail on the terrace high up above the Malecon watching the sunset with peacocks walking around - what a contrast! Then we took a Taxi to the fabulous  La Guardia restaurant, in the building where the famous Cuban film Fresa y Chocolate was filmed. This stunningly romantic building hosts Havana's best restaurant and we were not disappointed. We arrived back at Plaza Vieja to find the party still going at our local bar and carrots had arrived in Havana. This was big news - we hadn't seen a carrot for weeks and then there was a truck full of them, not in crates, just wedged into the back of a truck, floor to ceiling, about a million carrots - in Cuba vegetables come and go - buy when you see!

Hotel Nacional

Arriving La Guarida

Fine dining in Cuba - wow!

Fresa y chocolate - signature desert
Wondering around the backstreets, we met Vianko a fabulous artist. We admired his work and chatted to him for a while. He decided to make artwork on my arm with a symbol, I think was Santeria very popular in Cuba. He told me it meant long life and safety on the ocean. We later bought a picture from Vianko that he painted just for us - another story!

Me with Vianko
The Malecon Havana
There were more treats for us back near to the marina and the fabulous people we met there....

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