Havana, Cuba.  A very special place, so much so that we paid it two visits! 

Our first visit, before going west to Vinales, landed us in a Casa in the boondogs.  We were put up by a very nice (but shrewd) lady and her son, and enjoyed chats with them about what is going on in Cuba for the Cubans.  The only downside was having to go through the lady´s bedroom to use the bathroom!  We used her apartment as a base to discover “Havana Centro”, the area beside the UNESCO-protected Old Havana.  We took in Mass on Easter Sunday, strolled down wide crumbling boulevards whose traffic consisted of horses, bikes, 1950s American cars and lada taxis, and whose sidewalks teemed with stalls offering plastic knicknacks and random snacks.  A side trip into a shopping mall revealed a sight out of a 1950s American Movie, it was so dated!  Needless to say there was little in the shops. 

We admired the impressive Capitolio building, but discovered that guides tend not to work on Sundays.  We had the same story at the tobacco factory.  This, we did however manage to visit the following day, where Cathal was very disappointed to learn that women did not roll the cigars on their sweaty thighs!  We took in the view of the city from several top hotels in the Centro area. 

road sign for havana

La Muralla Metre of Beer with Maeve and Martin

Night out at La Muralla Belgian brewery in Havana Vieja

Jintera in operation

This Jintera would need to look elsewhere for real business! 

CDB with guy from front cover of LP

Cathal with the Cover Model from the Lonely Planet Guide! 

Our return to Havana marked our last stop in Cuba.  We had previously scoped out a really lovely Casa right in the middle of the old town, a room with three balconies overlooking the bustle of the city.  This was a great base to explore the old town.  Havana Vieja has been a UNESCO world heritage site since the 1980s.  The Castro brothers have managed this really well – with the help of the city historian, the old city is being gradually restored to its former glory.  The 5 main plazas have been restored, as have the main streets linking them.  All has been very sensitively done, it is really beautiful.  And it being kept as a living city – families still live there, there are schools, bakeries, government enterprises everywhere.  We were lucky enough to be there for the Festival of Movement, a weekend of dance and music throughout the city. 

CDB at accomodation in Habana Vieja

Cathal on one of our balconies!

Stilt dancers in Havana, Festival of Movement

Stilt dancers at the Festival of Movement

Mercaderes, Havana Vieja

Street scape – Mercaderes in Havana Vieja

It is hard to escape culture in Havana, music just erupts from its every pore.  We took in a classical concert in St Francis Church, now converted into a concerthall.  We were entertained, among others, by the Havana Polyphonic Choir! 

St Francisco Church & concert venue

St Francis Church, on San Francisco Square

View from Camera Obscura, Old Square

City view taken from Camera Obscura building, Old Square

Old and not so old

Old memores and new things

Jane at Plaza Vieja

Jane in Plaza Vieja – beautifully restored square in the old City

A walking tour on our last day with an official guide revealed lots of interesting facts about Havana.  We passed this astonishing sight – a caption in Irish underneath O´Reilly Street!  We never found out exactly the story, but the plaque appears to unite Cuba and Ireland, two Islands united in struggle. 

O´Reilly Street, Havana Vieja

Cathedral on Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square – note lady in bottom right corner – can spot a camera at 50 paces

Another highlight of our trip was a ride in a funky pink opentop Ford out around the rest of the city.  We started on the famous Malecon (road along the sea), took in the Plaza de la Revolution, posh area Miramar where the Americans and Mafia lived it up in the 1940s and 50s, the University, and the Havana Libre Hotel, the Fidel Castro famously took over as his first government headquarters. 

We finished the trip with a stroll along the Malecon back to the old city, taking in locals swimming and enjoying a couple of beers en route. 

freedom!

The windblown look!

Revolution Square Classic image

Classic image of Che Guevara, Plaza de la Revolution

23 Ave or Prado Building decay – UNESCO status has not reached 80% of the old city yet

Jane enjoying the sun

Sunny!

Swimming off the Malecon

Sunday relaxation on the Malecon – or just admiring the boys?

Old car on the Malecon

Classic image of the 1950s car on the Malecon – Cathal had to risk his life for this one! 

Cozy on the Malecon 

Cathal´s camera was smoking by the time we finished in Havana – there was just so much to see and record.  Definitely a city to be returned to!

 

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