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Old May 24, 17, 11:05 am
  #15  
DanielW
Moderator: Trip Reports
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: Dubai
Posts: 3,193

Cuba.


Barbero.


Boy.


Outside La Gargola Guesthouse just after 4pm, the meetup point for a classic American car tour of Havana I had booked.


We split up into two groups for the tour. The driver for our car was Juan and Maritsa was our guide. We then headed off for our two hour tour of Havana.


Driving along side the other classic 1950's convertible on our tour.


Continuing our cruise down Paseo de Martí, a stately European-style boulevard and the first street outside the old city walls.


Coming up to El Capitolio, the National Capitol Building. Completed in 1929, it was the seat of government until the Cuban Revolution in 1959. It is now home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences.


And along Calle Simón Bolívar with Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús up ahead, the country’s tallest and most beautiful Catholic church.


On Avenida Salvador Allende where one of the cars needed a bit of TLC to get her going again.


At the first stop of the tour, on Plaza de la Revolución. In the background on the right is the Ministry of Communications building with the image of Cuban revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos with the quotation "Vas bien, Fidel" (You're doing fine, Fidel).


And cruising past the Ministry of Interior building, with an image of Che Guevara with the quotation "Hasta la Victoria Siempre" (Until the Everlasting Victory, Always).


Driving along the 140 acre Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón and home to more than 800,000 graves and 1 million interments.


At an intersection in Vedado.


Stopping at a park where we stretched our legs. Down by the river were some pigeon feathers and blood. Our guide Maritsa said it was from an animal sacrifice from a Santería ceremony, an Afro-American religion of Caribbean origin that is influenced by Roman Catholicism and that is becoming increasingly popular in Cuba.


We then continued our cruise through Vedado.


Through a tunnel under the Almendares River.


And along the famous Malecón, a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km (5 miles) along the coast from the Almendares River to Paseo del Prado.


Driving past the Embassy of the United States, which had been recently reopened after the resumption of diplomatic ties between the two countries.


In 2006, when the building was officially the United States Interests Section in Havana, the US began displaying messages on a scrolling "electronic billboard" on the building, including the George Burns quotation, "How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis or cutting hair". The Cuban government erected a large number of poles, carrying black flags with single white stars, obscuring the messages. The US removed the billboard in 2009 and the Cubans removed the flags in 2015 after the thaw in relations.

And at the end of our drive through Havana, outside the Hotel Nacional de Cuba where we thanked Juan for the fun and memorable tour through Havana.


We then went inside to the hotel bar for a drink. On the walls were some of the famous visitors to the hotel, including Winston Churchill, Jimmy Carter, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Marlon Brando and Yuri Gagarin.


And a large portrait of the late President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. During the Chávez governmemt, Venezuela traded tens of thousands of barrels of oil for military personnel, intelligence and assistance with social programs in order to maintain voter loyalty.


The bartender preparing some of the famous Cuban Mojito's.


We then enjoyed our drinks looking out onto the Malecón at the end of an amazing and very memorable tour!


I then started the walk back to Old Havana. Local kids playing football at Parque Antonio Maceo.


Playing cards in the street in Centro Havana.


At Paseo de Martí again.


And some more Cuban skaters.


Back in Old Havana where I stopped at a souvenir shop. I had managed to misplace my cap earlier in the day, so bought a Fidel Castro cap instead.


For dinner I headed to La Imprenta, a state-run (Habagaunex) restaurant in Old Havana. A very beautiful place situated on top of the ruins of what used to be La Habanera printing house back in the 19th century.

Fried fishcakes to start.


Followed by some tasty pork. Although not exceptional, the food was still very tasty.


And the profiteroles for dessert. The total bill for the three course meal was CUC$16 so very reasonable.


I then headed back to my Airbnb flat for some sleep after a long but eventful and fun day in Havana.


Day 2.

Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis, a Catholic church on Plaza de San Francisco in the early morning on day 2.


Today's plan was for a bicycle tour around Havana. The meeting point was all the way in Vedado so I caught a taxi just off the Plaza for the ~6 kilometre ride.

At 8am at Ruta Bikes with our guide for today, Javier. Also on the tour today was Kim from Sweden and Brian from Australia. Kim helped organise bicycle tours for Europeans around the world and was in Cuba to organise one here, and had organised the bicycles through Ruta Bikes. Brian was in Havana for a few days before going on a 10 day cruise around Cuba.


The route for today's bike tour was to start off from Ruta Bikes (A) and then travel east through Vedado, Centro Havana (B) and Old Havana to the Ferry Terminal (C) and then catch the ferry over the bay to Casablanca. After visiting Morro Castle we would then bike east to the district of Alamar before heading south to Guanabacoa. After stopping for lunch we would head west back through Regla and then catch the ferry across the bay again back to Old Havana before making our way back to Vedado.


Cycling through Centro Havana. The local drivers were quite courteous and forgiving of us errant bicyclists weaving all over the road while taking in the sights. As it was a Saturday too, the traffic was quite light and not too intimidating.


At Terminal de Ferris we caught the ferry over the bay with our bikes.


Once back onshore at Casablanca, we cycled up La Cabaña hill to the Christ of Havana Statue. The hands and arms of Christ are placed as if he is blessing Havana across the bay. Javier said that a local joke is that it also looks as if he is holding a cigar in one hand and a mojito in the other.


Javier then filled us in on the history of the statue. The statue was carved from blocks of marble imported from Italy and is 20 metres tall and weighs over 300 tons. The statue was was inaugurated on December 24th, 1958, and only fifteen days before Fidel Castro entered Havana during the Cuban Revolution.


Looking from the base of the statue over the bay to Old Havana and beyond. On the far right is the former house of Che Guevara, where he lived while he oversaw the revolutionary tribunals and executions of suspected war criminals, political prisoners, and former members of the secret police.


At a military museum, where there was the wreckage of a US Air Force U-2 spyplane that was shot down during the [URL="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Missile_Crisis"]Cuban Missile Crisis[a] in the 1960's. The pilot, [URL="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Anderson"]Major Rudolf Anderson[a], was the only person killed by enemy fire during the crisis.


We then carried on to Morro Castle. Javier gave us some history of the fortress. In 1762, the British besieged El Morro, and captured it after significant barrage from their guns, mortars and howitzers after 3 months during the Battle of Havana.


Despite gaining control of Cuba, the British ceded the island back to Spain the following year with the Treaty of Paris in exchange for Florida.

We then cycled back through the streets and then continued east.


Bananas for sale on the roadside.


Soviet-era apartment blocks in the district of Alamar, built in the 1970's to ease a severe housing shortage in Havana.


Passing another Lada as we make our way west to the district of Guanabacoa.


Escoba.


We then stopped at a small suburban paladar for lunch.


I opted for a ham and pineapple pizza and a can of Cuban coke. The meal was simple but for less than CUC$10 for all four of us it was very reasonable.


We then jumped in the saddle again and continued our bike ride through Guanabacoa.


La Pastelera.


And back in Regla.


It was great to see some of Havana in the eastern districts of the city and away from other tourists.


Back by the bay, looking out to Havana Port.


We then caught the ferry at Lanchita de Regla back over to Old Havana.


Brian navigating the traffic along Calle Simón Bolívar.


Cycling past the Jardín Botánico Nacional in outer Havana.


We made it back to Ruta Bikes just after 2:30pm. The six hour bike ride through Havana and around the bay was a great experience and a fun way to see more of Havana outside of the main city. After thanking Javier for the very enjoyable tour, I started the walk east back to Old Havana.

In Parque Wifredo Lam, where there was a wifi hotspot just across the road and lots of Cuban sitting staring at smartphones and laptops. There is no personal home internet connections in Cuba so Cubans must make do with public wifi spots which are accessible by buying hourly access cards.


At Coppelia, a famous Havana ice cream parlor where a couple of girls are super excited to get some ice cream! Built in 1966, it was designed to resemble a giant flying saucer.


There were long queues with Cubans waiting to buy some ice cream on the warm Saturday with their hard-earned Cuban pesos (CUP). As a foreigner though I was directed upstairs to an airconditioned room and had a four scoop sundae for a still very reasonable CUC$3.

Coppelia was originally a project led by Fidel Castro himself to introduce his love of dairy products to the Cuban masses. It is one of the largest ice cream parlors in the world and holds up to 1000 guests.


Azul. I then resumed my walk east.


Blanco.


Verde.


Still life.


Mercado.


Vendedor.


Pasar el rato (hanging out).


Inside San Cristobal Paladar, a famous restaurant where President Obama once dined when he visited Havana in 2015.


One of the government run shops in Centro Havana. This shop, ironically called Libre America, had quite a strange and limited selection of goods such as insect repellent, plumbing fittings and poor quality soap.


Calle Cuba. I then made it back to my Airbnb flat at about 4:30pm and had abit of a rest after the day's 35 kilometre bike ride around the bay and the 6 kilometre walk back to Old Havana.


At about 6pm I went out for a walk in Old Havana again. People queued up for some fresh hot churro's.


People enjoying some cervezas in Plaza Vieja.


At the very festive Bodeguita del medio. The bar is popular with tourists due to a handwritten note purportedly written by Ernest Hemingway that says "My daiquirí in El Floridita and my Mojito in La Bodeguita". The authenticity of the note has been disputed however and Hemingway's visits to La Bodeguita and his fondness for the mojito are supposedly just urban legend.


And the lively atmosphere at Café Paris.


It was great to enjoy some of the famous Cuban music from the energetic house band.


And where I had some simple chicken and rice at the end of another great day in Havana.





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