Friday, 5 August 2016

Discovering Havana

As we leave the chilly sanctuary of our bedroom next morning, the living room is already very hot. The shower is only a trickle but at least it works. Ines arrives to prepare our breakfast – great coffee, home-made preserves, squashy rolls, a big plate of fresh fruit and eggs prepared as we wish. The travel rep arrives to bring us vouchers for our accommodation and hire car and brief us on the plan for Havana., then we go and meet our guide for this morning, Marta. She takes us first to San Francisco Square to board a pink Chevrolet for the vintage car tour.

 It’s a bit of a squash in the back as we drive along the harbour, past the castle and through the Vedado district where she showed us the “barbeque floors” added in above the ground floor of the high ceilinged colonial buildings to create more living space. We stop briefly at the university attended by Fidel Castro then drive to Revolution Square with its phallic monument to national hero Jose Marti. Around the sides of the square are the old Government HQ, Ministry of the Interior with a mural of Che Guevara and Telecoms Building with one of Camilo Cienfuegos looking rather like Ayatolla Khomeni and a slogan that says “You are going well Fidel” in Spanish.

We drive on through the leafy Miramar district which was formerly the home of the bourgeoisie, their houses now occupied by government cronies. A peaceful park with a river and spectacular trees with separates this from Nuevo Vedado district where we drive past the enormous Cristobal Colon cemetery, through Chinatown and finally along the Malecon, the coastal highway that comes alive in the evenings as a place to meet and socialise. We leave the car at the edge of the old town and walk up to cathedral square and along to the Playa Des Armas where the cobbles were replaced with wood to avoid disturbing the occupants and a book market now occupies the shady square.
Our tour ends back at Plaza Vieja where we enjoy mojitos and pineapple juice with mint in Bohemia bar. We talk to Marta about the respective education systems in Cuba and UK and are surprised when she asks our opinion of Brexit – given the relative isolation of Cuba this seems like a more local issue than would have been widely reported here. We return to our casa for some cash and queue at the Cadeca in San Francisco square to change some more cash, including a small amount of the local currency, MNs, as well as convertible CUCs.

Finally fully solvent, we walk the length of Calle Obispo to the Floridian bar frequented by “Papa” Hemingway, where a bronze likeness of him still presides over the bar. We order daiquiris and club sandwiches and listen to the live band – peripatetic bands move from bar to bar, playing a short set, sending round the hat and moving on. 
We walk past Johnson’s drug store, still with its many wooden drawers lining the walls, and buy Alex a coconut at a street stall.  Then past the theatre and the capitol building and back to our casa. Although the streets are fascinating it’s so hot and humid we don’t have the energy to stay out for long, it really saps your energy. As we get back to the casa it begins to rain but it doesn’t cool things down.

We had tried to make a reservation at a highly reviewed restaurant called Dona Eunomia for dinner but it was full so we book for tomorrow and go instead to Mama Ines. The food is less impressive than the Lonely Planet would have us believe.

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