Our fourth day in Cuba started off with bright sunny skies. The day’s plan was to eat breakfast then head to the pool to enjoy some sun before heading out on our second previously reserved classic car tour. Pick up was for 1PM, which left us a good amount of time to relax a little.
This was our first morning in this casa particular, La Rosa Ortega. It was even more beautiful in the daylight. When I opened my eyes our room was lit up in a peachy glow. The glow went throughout the house, especially in the terrarium. There were so many orchids draped in the light on the wall, with one magenta flower blooming in the top left-hand corner. It really was a neat visual in the space.
Getting ready in this apartment was fantastic. We had so much room, which is a huge deal when you have a teenager and a tween..who are total opposites. We made record timing getting into our swimsuits and covers. Not an argument to break up, and I was able to get myself put together without any interruption. Which doesn’t ever happen. Ever. It was a miracle morning!
Right outside the front door there was a view of the pathway to the rooms, and flanked to the upper right was a driveway that was not active. It was a grand cascading driveway that formed the letter ‘J’. In its crook were many parked retired classic cars. One of which, a black Cadillac, that I drooled over. Some little girls dream of unicorns and rainbows, well this girl had dreams of owning a vintage Lincoln, like the one there, but with suicide doors.
Breakfast at this casa was made with so much care and love, that it was hard for me not to at least try what was presented. The juices here also had a weird texture or taste, so after this first breakfast I just stayed away from juice in general. We started this breakfast off with coffee and milk, and, hot milk and tea for the kids. The milk served in Cuba is whole fat, and it is not bright white like in the States (just a heads up). It tastes great and is perfectly paired with their strong coffee. We were then served the first course of a pastry and homemade marmalade; yes, they served us in courses. This was a special treat after a weird few days with breakfast. Now, I like jelly and all, but this marmalade was the BEST I had ever eaten. It was beautiful in every way; the colors of the fruits they used and the texture, it was so enjoyable. Needless to say, I had eaten a lot of it.
During our meal we heard a parrot whistling, and playing with one of the maintenance men. The man would walk up to the pool railing, about 25 ft away, whistling to the parrot then the parrot would whistle back; in that sexy whistle. The second I walked up to the bird he just stared at me, wanted nothing to do with me. The maintenance guy, however, in Spanish behind me was telling the bird to whistle. The bird seemed freaked out by me so I walked away. The bird whistled finally when I walked away!! SOB!!
Back at the table, the traditional fruits were placed on the table. Here they made it into a soupy fruit salad, and well, it was not ‘Yummy. Yummy’. Man, I just don’t get why their fruits had such a crazy off flavor. At this point the woman running the space asked us about eggs. Since I had only eaten a bite of eggs the day before from my kids’ plates, and was not into them, I was curious and asked for one over hard. My kids asked for scrambled and my husband omelet. After that, we were served this beautiful basket of toasts and breads with the most amazing butter. Then a platter of tomatoes with a chorizo type salami was placed on the table. The eggs then followed and we were left to enjoy a beautiful morning under the thatched eating area.
Our kids couldn’t even wait for breakfast to end, they wanted to run up to the pool to play. Well, we let them go up a touch before finishing their meals. We then soon followed. The pool area was beautifully set up above the patio, facing the gorgeous yellow house and overlooking an expansive view of Havana. It was almost too perfect. We were there as a family alone the whole time, splashing around playing with the pool toys we had brought. Really enjoying the water and the sunshine. We then grabbed some drinks, yep, daiquiris and pina coladas! I miss these daiquiris typing out these days.
It was time to get ready for our big day ahead! We were all so excited for this tour!! We reserved it to take us to all the hotspots of Havana in a shiny pink convertible. And, well, we didn’t get what we reserved.. ugh I hate complaining.
So, we had made this reservation ahead of the trip, specifically for their gorgeous pink convertible that they had on their website. When this other convertible showed up that afternoon, my husband gave me the look of disappointment. I just smiled and carried on getting amped to go out.
Ok, so the car wasn’t exactly what we asked for but I didn’t want to ruin it for the girls and figured the tour will still be fun, regardless. WELLLLLLLLlllll.
A tour is usually with someone who knows about the area they are taking you around, explaining why the sights are important or at least knowing something about the area. As much as this man taking us on the tour was nice and knew where to drive, he didn’t really tell us anything about the sights he was pointing out, nor did he speak English very well (or at all). Which was not part of the reservation. We asked for a specific car and an English-speaking guide.
Our tour guide started off with taking us down a street pointing out all the embassies around, we were obviously near embassy row. These things were easy for us to understand without much more explanation. Then things we didn’t quite understand the reasoning of why he was pointing them out started right after.
Our first stop was to a river. Why was this river important? We have no idea. Well I do now since I googled “rivers of Havana” when I got home. SMH. All we saw at that moment, however, were a work crew on our left, some old world pavers and steps to our right, and a sight of the water rushing below. From the guide’s expression I understood it was somewhere important, but he couldn’t say more than the word river to us about it. I learned that it was the Almendares River, an important river of the area that was used centuries ago to separate the provinces then became a major waterway for industry. The construction crew there, I learned, are working on a project to bring back the area with greenways of paths, plants, parks and even restaurants to enliven the city.
As we left the river, he took us on a tour through a beautiful wooded area. Why was this wooded area important? We don’t know. I learned it was the Havana Forest. As we were driving the path, the trees were making interesting shapes, like the elephant in the photo below. So many old trees along the path were twisted around like that. The sunlight was struggling to make it through the lush canopy. There were a few sights like an old castle like building and a park where families were playing with their children among these huge trees.
Then from the wooded area we ended up in the city. We were driving by some interesting places, but nothing was said by our guide. We arrived at our next destination, Fusterlandia, in the Jaimanitas neighborhood outside Havana. This place was so super cool. From the drive into the neighborhood you are immersed in art. Our guide parked, let us out, then motioned to us and literally said, “You go look. I am here.”
Well, OK then. Thankfully we researched this place beforehand. It is an artist colony that started as an art project of José Fuster. He is a folk artist who was so influenced by his overseas trip to Spain, as he was struck by Gaudi’s artworks. When he returned to Havana, he decided to transform his impoverished neighborhood into a work of art. Little by little he tiled his space, then his neighbors, then the whole neighborhood. The end result is this folksy, colorful tiled space that brings a smile instantly to your face.
We enjoyed it so much. The main part of the area, Fuster’s art studio, was transformed into a three-story outdoor wonderland. Each rise of your eye level, along each floor, brought you a totally different view-point of the surroundings. Each tiled space would show you its secret, like the pool below that was tiled in blue abstract tiles turns to reveal a woman bathing below from the top level. So cool! Every piece of building was tiled. It was so impressively unfathomable. The time and talent behind this space. After looking around this space we decided to take a quick walk to the shops that surrounded the streets. We hopped to different jewelry stores, where I bought myself a cool wooden bracelet. Then we got to look at an art gallery where we found this woman artist who specialized in Afro-Cuban art using different mediums like spray paint, newspaper, or naturally made paints from locally sourced plants, she was so talented. I talked to her for some time as she showed me all the upcycled materials she had used in her gallery.
We really enjoyed this time on our tour.
We planned to go to the Hotel Nacional in Habana Vieja from Fusterlandia. Well, this is where my husband started to lose his mind. My husband is a passive giant, seriously, what a patient person, but on this afternoon tour I could see from the back seat that he was slowly turning into the hulk. haha I just have to laugh, because it is so not in his nature to do what he ended up doing. Ok, so I am not sure how I can explain the oddity of this tour further. Our guide started pointing out some sights, but not more than one word about it. Even if we’d ask about it, he would just repeat what he said. Like this:
Our tour guide pointing to a hotel in Miramar (affluent area): “Hotel Melia Habana” (which was written on the building)
My husband, sitting up front: “Ok, what about it?”
Our guide: “Hotel.”
My husband: “Why is it important?”
Our guide: “Hotel.”
My husband: “Yes, hotel, but what about it?”
Then my husband points to another hotel coming up with the name on the front: “Hotel Panorama? Hotel.”
Our guide smiling: “Yes hotel.”
Then my husband just repeats what he sees along the tour like a chimp: “school”, “park”, “man”, “car” as our tour guide smiled along saying yes.
…I can go on; Though I was starting to become upset with my husband for his behavior, I understood where it was coming from. From the start it wasn’t the right car, then our tour guide was not the right match for us, as he didn’t speak enough English nor did he understand our social queues, nor did he try.
When we made that Fusterlandia stop, my husband pulled me aside while we were looking around to ask me if I wanted to continue the tour with this guy or not. We decided I’d make the call at the next stop, The Hotel Nacional. When we pulled up to that hotel, I gave my husband the nod to let the guy go. We paid him in full, I mean it wasn’t his fault, it was his companies fault, and left him to go enjoy of our day on our own.
Hotel Nacional is a national monument and my gosh, is it GORGEOUS! We walked in to the most welcoming doormen, and the lobby had that stately old-world feel. It was gleaming with people, and cheerful staff waiting to help. We wanted to grab a drink and relax along the water. Oh, and eat, because my family needs to eat at all times. We made a beeline for outside to where they had a seated area. We grabbed drinks, daiquiris for us adults and a lemonade and pina colada for the girls. Then they ordered traditional Cuban sandwiches to share.
The hotel was beautiful outside. There was a peacock walking the grounds, and in the back ground was the gardens overlooking the Havana Harbor shimmering. We decided after our little lunch to walk the gardens towards the water. We knew that along the pathway there were the original caves and canons on display that made up the old Santa Clara Battery. This is where, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara set up defenses against aerial strikes. It was surreal to see this stately hotel in the background to these canons and trenches.
We walked back into the hotel to roam the lobby. It was chock full of historic information and had so many impressive famous people who stayed there, we were just in awe. Our youngest was most impressed with Walt Disney staying there and hearing what dish at the restaurant was named after him.
From the Hotel Nacional we decided to take ourselves over to the market area for local art, jewelry or whatever we could find. We took a conventional taxi straight to that stop, the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market. This was in the cruise ship port/waterfront area of Habana Vieja, the high tourist area near where we went the first day.
I LOVED WALKING THIS PLACE!
This building was so beautiful on the outside, it is the oldest warehouse in the city, and they went through a major restoration a few years ago. Where they turned into the central location for local artists. it is a bit chaotic at first, but the chaos comes from the hustle of the artists. I met some funny people shopping within each stall. One of whom, was really into me, and wouldn’t let up until I took a selfie with him… yup.
The building was split out from one end to another neatly, however. Everyone was grouped by their stalls, like, paint artists flowed into the clothing artists that shared space with the jewelry artists that gave way to print artists. Peppered in some of the walk throughs were hair artists looking to braid or chalk color hair. There was a lot to look at here, so much talent! I bought myself two of the coolest resin rings that I have ever seen in this bizarre.
We were a stones throw away from one sight we had wanted to visit, the Havana Club Rum Museum. We got there just shy of it closing, so we couldn’t take a tour, but were able to look around at the cool lobby ..and use the bathrooms.
We left the museum to look for a classic car, preferably a convertible, to continue on with the rest of our tour. The girls asked about a pink convertible, which we weren’t sure about. We walked towards the Malecon, where we had seen a row of beautiful cars the day before. Again, there we saw a few guys hanging out with some nice vintage cars, but not exactly what we were hoping for. Gorgeous, but blue, green or burgundy colored. A random tour guide walked up to us, hoping we would take his car service. This guy spoke English so well; we turned him down because the girls didn’t like his car so much, but ended up asking if there was a pink convertible, maybe a cool Cadillac, anywhere nearby. He smiled at us then immediately waved over to someone else.
And guess what? The guy he was waving over was the owner of the ONLY pink 1959 Eldorado Cadillac convertible in service in all of Havana (and this fact checked out when I got home!).
OHMYGOD!! The girls were jumping up and down cheering for this car, and so was I. Needless to say we hired the guy on the spot to take us around to the few locations we had left on our itinerary. We hopped in the car to find it was customized, too They extended the seated area of the car to add in a bar!! Talk about a dream car, right!?
We drove down the rest of the Malecon, talking to the owner’s tour guide. The owner, himself, did not speak any English, but his guide did. He was a super friendly guy who was born in Cuba but brought up in Norway. His English was great, and he LOVED talking to us about the politics of Cuba. As we were going down the Malecon the sky started to dim, and by the time we were driving over to the John Lennon Park the skies opened up to a deluge. The guys quickly put up the convertible top, and we got to see the park from the car. So, I saw the John Lennon statue I wanted to sit on from the car. Womp.
The rain did not stop. It actually got worse.
We drove by the Plaza de la Revolución, the ONE sight I talked about standing on in person. It is the largest plaza in the world, and my hype for it was because the day before we were told that there were millions upon millions of Cubans from Havana on the plaza during Fidel’s memorial services when he died. Not just there to pay their respects, but because they were all MANDATED to go!! I imagined how crammed everyone would be going around the José Martí Memorial building because they had to be there. Plus, I really wanted to see the Palace of the Revolution, across the street, for the steel memorials, most importantly of Che Guevara. But we got to see them from the car.
After this, the guys drove us around a while longer to see Chinatown and a few more obscure places. Then we all realized this rain was not letting up. When the girls mentioned they we were starving by this point, we decided it was a good time to end the tour to go grab dinner. They recommended we go to the restaurant La Guarijita. We had them drop us off there, and magically the rain slowed down, so much so, that they offered to take down the top for us to take some photos. Which was a lot of fun. Everyone came out of the restaurant and from around the neighborhood to see the car.
It was a beautiful car!
While we were out there, the rain picked up again. We realized we made the best of a rainy situation by going to dinner at that moment. The restaurant ended up being fun fun. We got seated quickly, as the restaurant was empty, but that all changed quickly as the place filled to the brim minutes after we sat down as two large groups of travelers came in right after us. WooH!
We immediately ordered daiquiris, a frozen lemonade and a pina colada once we were seated. Then we ordered our meals. My husband ordered what was essentially sweet and sour pork. I got braised chicken with onions, and family style fried plantains and tostones. And… This is where my kids lost their minds in ordering. They got pizza. haha PIZZA! Surprisingly, the pizza wasn’t as terrible as I had expected it to be. I only tried the crust, but the girls and my husband swore it tasted like a normal pizza.
We were at this restaurant for about three hours. When we left the doors it was still raining, but not as badly as before, so we decided it was a good time to make it back to our casa particular and hired a classic car taxi to take us back. The drive back was entertaining as the driver was a young man who spoke great English. We talked about Cuba, and what it is like to be a taxi driver there with his family. He was a very nice man.
We arrived to the house to find the rain had turned to drizzle. Now there was a crispness felt in the air. I didn’t get a chance to check out the actual home of the casa particular, so this was a great time to do it. The house was beautiful, with so many antiques and large chandeliers. Magnificent.
We asked the night shift manager about the weather. The weather information without good wifi is an issue. No one knew if the rain was short-lived or not, but we were semi-assured that rain in Cuba doesn’t last very long.
We all went to change, and the girls begged to hang out on the patio for family game night. Which was a great idea. The bar and kitchen night staff was all around, so we got to hang out with some daiquiris while playing Codenames with the girls, and, our dog pal Brenda. Codenames is such a fun game, if you haven’t heard of it. We bought it last year for a trip we took to Maine to visit our friends. We had such a ball with everyone, but mostly the kids enjoyed it. So, we bought the Disney version for the girls at Christmas. It was such a trip playing this version here in Cuba, and super hard after a few daiquiris! I can’t wait to bring this along this Summer with our friends.
My review of the day.
This day was a great example of making the best of what comes your way. Even though a lot of curveballs were thrown at us, we hit them all out of the park, not letting them affect our vacation. We saw some once in a lifetime places and things like Fusterlandia, the Hotel Nacional, and the canons and trenches! We ended up riding in a pink 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible along the Malecon! We met some interesting people at the art colony, the restaurant and along our rides in the taxis. We even got to spend time together, which is all we want to do anyways.
Nothing dampened our spirits… even in the rain!
Next Cuba post will be Day 5- Rain doesn’t pass that quickly in Cuba.