Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019 -Leaving Cuba

Hello Everyone!

Here we are, our last day in Cuba. Our departure day.

Our flight was scheduled for 5:30PM. Varadero was about a two and a half hour drive from the airport in Havana. We had reserved a vintage taxi to pick us up before leaving for this trip. And, our last driver, Lester, told us at this Varadero drop off that he would be the one picking us up for this trip to the airport.


We all had a restful night’s sleep, and woke up to cheery sunshine glowing into our rooms.  The windows in this casa, did not have glass on them, nor did it have a screen, just shutters to shield the light.  They weren’t closed tight, so you could feel a breeze coming through with the light.

We packed up all of our things, then made our way down to breakfast. Our taxi was going to pick us up by noon for the trek back to the airport, so we had some time here. You have to always factor that a meal is going to take at least an hour and a half, but most likely more. This morning we were greeted by both Iris and Ana.  It was very nice.  We had a similar type of breakfast today.  We were given the same savory mini cakes with butterfly confetti on them, which was special for the girls. The random plate of mayonnaise and queso fresco along with the cakes.  Then a bowl of fruits were served.  My husband was happy to see it was all bananas, as he loves those; he always eats the mini ones we get at home. Next to the fruit bowl was a platter with salads, that were beautiful but tasted odd. A cored pineapple showed up, then a buckwheat pancake was served while an order of eggs was taken with bread.  

 

We had some time to spare so we took our time eating breakfast.  As we were sitting here the elderly woman who lived in the apartment (as a resident) came by to say hello.  We had talked to her and her husband for a brief second on our first day as they helped me maneuver the outdoor shower for our sandy feet, and, then again we exchanged quick greetings when we were off to the beach yesterday morning.

She only spoke Spanish, but again, with my knowledge of Spanish and fluency in Italian we communicated. Using the offline mobile dictionary was a great help!  Actually, the woman and I ended up having a great compassionate conversation.  She was detailing about growing up in the area. It was pretty difficult, but her family got by. I pieced together a lot of her emotional journey.  She seemed very happy to have my ear for the short moment we talked.  We greeted each other good-bye, then a few minutes later her husband came by to say hello.  He didn’t stop to chitchat, I think he was just being nosey  haha.

We then made our way back up to the room to make sure we packed everything and to wait on our taxi.  With some time to spare my husband and oldest daughter wanted to make one last run to the souvenir market by the beach.  They went to do their thing, and my youngest daughter and I sat on our porch enjoying some last-minute sunshine in the salty air.

Weird.The photo I took below with a dog on the roof.  
The sky looks so grey, but it was NOT a cloudy morning!

Lester arrived right on time. He drove the same blue vintage Plymouth from two days ago for this trip.  We packed up our things, handed the keys to Iris and went off on our way to the airport.  It was bittersweet leaving the peninsula.  I had finally started to enjoy the relaxation that Varadero brought me.  But, we all know, vacation isn’t supposed to last for life.

While driving to the airport, we talked a lot to Lester.  He was such a nice guy.  He told us all about his girlfriend, showing us her photos on his phone of her, and his plans to propose to her some day soon.  He asked us how we met, and how long it took to get married.  He was surprised to hear how young we were when we met, but more so how we had dated for five years before getting married, then waited four years to start a family.  Is that surprising?  hmm..

Before hopping in the car, we had asked Lester if we could make one stop along the way, to he Revolution Square.  We never got to officially see it, or stand on it, so I wanted to go pretty badly.  Lester didn’t give a definitive answer, for timing reasons.  Once we got to the outskirts of Havana, he said there was more than enough time to make a stop to the square.  YES!!

We pulled into the lot adjacent to the square.  It was packed with the coolest vintage cars!!  It is kind of a funny coincidence that the red convertible here below was the very same one we saw on our first day walking in La Habana Vieja!  THE SAME ONE!  It is so beautiful in person I can’t even tell you how much the photo does it zero justice.

We walked over to the square, and it was empty.. just us and another family.  The square faces a lot where we were standing, that was flanked by these enormous buildings that had the infamous metal structure statues of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.  Each structure has a statement signature underneath.  Che’s said,”Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Victory, Always).  Camilo’s said, “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel).

After the walk around the Revolution Square, we took off for the airport.  It was just a quick twenty-minute ride through Havana.  Along the ride I had seen a lot of local propaganda on walls and billboards.  Not one Cuban billboard this whole trip dedicated to anything but the socialist agenda.  It was all so fascinating to me.

We greeted Lester with hugs and kisses of good-bye at the airport.  He was such a nice guy.   The airport was a breeze to go through.  We checked in fairly easy.  Went through immigration just as we did when we arrived.  One child per adult with the Immigration Officer. A stamp your passport after a few questions, a snapshot of each traveler, and you are on your way to go through security.  Which in Cuba may be easier than at home.  We got to our gate within a half hour of saying bye to Lester!  We ended up waiting for our departure longer than that.  While waiting, we grabbed a few more bottles of rum for ourselves at duty-free, and, a few bites for the ride home.

We left 85F Havana for 30F Boston!  We got home to find an immense amount of snow on the ground, and a storm on its way.  But you know what?  I actually did not care.  I missed home so much!

My review of our trip.

Never has a place left me with such complexity in my soul.  I walk away from this trip emotional.

The poverty. The social and economic issues and history.  The constant propaganda.  The oppression.  The buildings all in ruins. The trash collection not constant.  Yet, the people were kind.  From the moment we stepped foot into the country to the moment we left we always knew that the kindness from the people would be a constant in our day.   Where we had mostly visited had such immense poverty, Cuba still shined like a diamond. Albeit in the rough, but still shining.

Through its people. 

We started seeing a trend after our first day.  Everyone we met was highly educated, college/university graduates, and they were all proud to tell us that they had free education and free healthcare.  Funny how familiar this sounds as our own country is at odds with those pro and con in this area of politics.  I am not discussing politics, merely stating the obvious.  It’s also interesting to walk around in a city of millions where we never saw one child acting up, and we saw thousands of families on this trip. We saw no parents yelling at their children. Not saying it doesn’t happen, it’s just we never saw it in front of our eyes.   Also, we never saw anyone belligerent in the streets.  No one strung out on drugs. No homeless. Not a person who smelled offensively -dirty or of body odor; everyone was dressed nicely, smelling of detergent.  The houses we could see inside of were neat and clean.  I mean.  Do you guys know how rare this is on that scale?

I guess what I have been saying all along is the reason I am emotional from this visit. The people in Cuba are truly exceptional people.  I am so glad I had this opportunity to see this country.  A country I had always figured would be off-limits to me forever.  I am so glad that I got to see the beautiful sights, historical and special to Cuba, even if at times they were depressing. I feel like this country is on a rebound to being great again.  I hope so too.

I am also so glad to have met Maria and her husband Juan Carlos with their daughter of Vistalmorro.  Ernesto and Lester who drove us around great distances and always had a smile.  Julia and Silvio who own La Rosa de Ortega; with Jose Carlos and the staff. The elderly lady at the school.  The antiques dealers.  The bartender with the glasses at El Floridita.  Our waiter at Varadero60.  Iris and Ana of the Casa Cubana de la Familia, and the elderly couple downstairs. The random guy at the artist market who called me beautiful. Our taxi driver on Valentine’s Day Eve.  The Afro-Cuban artist who walked me personally around her gallery. The waiter from La Fondita Heredia. The group of colorfully dressed women in the park. The multiple taxi drivers in the city who drove us home after a long day.  It is all due to their generosity, kind watchful eyes, soft words and open heart that made me love Cuba.

“Havana, ooh na-na

Half of my heart is in Havana, ooh-na-na (oh, yeah)”


Thank you for reading along!  Hope you all enjoyed my point of view of Cuba.

Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019- Varadero Beach, our last full day

Hey Everyone,

Ok, well, after all this time, I am finally typing out our last full day on the island of Cuba!  After this is our departure back home.  😦


We woke up to beautiful bright skies on our first morning in Varadero. Our only plan for the day was to hang out at the beach then buy souvenirs! Finally one day of not running around.

We went down to breakfast to eat at 9AM. They had a table set up for us under a canopy out back attached to a garage. The garage was set up as a kitchen and the windows facing our table housed aquariums with fish swimming.  On this day we were greeted by another woman, Ana, who works with Iris managing the house. She was in charge of cooking us breakfast.

The breakfast of this casa was served in courses just like the previous casa. We started off with coffee, hot milk and juice. JUICE.  This casa offered orange juice.  Also, I asked for an extra-large bottle of water (to take to the beach).  The best part of a casa particular is that the people running the breakfasts would cook everything from scratch.  It was pretty amazing.  We were served hot homemade savory mini muffins sprinkled with sesame to start. They were really good! But Ana also put out a dish of mayonnaise with queso fresco, we were not sure why.  Then we were served fruit; there was a fully cored pineapple, which was just ok, and a platter of local fruit, which was not so good.  Even at this location, hours away from Havana, the local fruits tasted strange.  We followed this with an order of eggs and toast.  Following the eggs was a buckwheat pancake drizzled with local honey.  The girls really enjoyed that.  Then came a plate of bananas covered in chocolate with sprinkles special for the kids.  It all ended with individual jello molded in different shapes.  You can’t make it out in the photo below, but the adults dish of jello had a flower shape on it, but our girls had Minnie Mouse!  Is this not an insane amount of food?

After this two and a half hour breakfast, we got into our swimsuits as quick as possible and made a mad dash for the beach.   The beach, again, did not disappoint.

We got to the beach right before noon to find the ocean much smoother, and the waves coming to surf at a normal pace.  The water was even more crystal clear than yesterday, didn’t think that could be possible.  Once we found a spot, we were greeted by a very young man dressed in an official lifeguard scuba suit.  He introduced himself as Martinez.  He was a jack of all trades hired to guard the beach during peak hours, and, on the side for extra money, he offered rental umbrellas to beachgoers and run for drinks.

Then a cute group of girls set up camp under an umbrella they rented from Martinez at the edge of the beach, but sat directly on the sand right next to us. No towels, just a bluetooth speaker. There was a whole beach around us, but they set up five feet away.   Almost right away Martinez walked over with a drink delivery for the girls.  We were impressed, not about the girls, but Martinez’s drink caddy!  He was able to deliver glasses on the beach!

The girls started playing Spanish pop songs and fluttered around us taking selfies.  I offered to take a group shot of them.  They were so happy, and already tipsy somehow!  They started to get personal real fast after that picture.  They understood I spoke English, so they just started spewing information at me.  Within a few seconds I learned that they were two sisters with a best friend hanging in Varadero for a day trip to the beach. They were on vacation from Mexico, though one of the girls recently moved to Texas to marry.  They jumped right into asking me how old I was, what state I lived in, who I was with, why I was in Cuba, how long I was married, and what I did for a job.  It was like they were on speed with how fast these questions came out.  I am pretty stoked though, they thought I was 33yo..jussayin I am 42! 🙂

I still may have it.. whatever it is… eh whatevz.

Then around 2PM after sweating in the sunshine, I got antsy for a drink. My husband did too.  He offered to run for drinks since the guy was busy, which was awesome. He surprised me with huge mojitos for us and sodas for our girls. They didn’t come in glass cups, but they were pretty frickin’ amazing nonetheless.  The rum in Cuba is truly special.  After we had our drinks, which went down waYYyy too easily, we got in the water for a little fun with the kids.  While in the water we could see humongous fish swimming by, super cool!  The vistas of the water in the distance felt like they could go on forever.  The crystal clear aqua-colored water was dreamy.  After a few minutes, I decided it was time to get back to the towels, I felt the mojito catching up.

My husband then came back to the towels, and the girls near us were now pretty drunk.  Martinez dropped off another round of drinks, and headed over to us, clearly making eye signals like these women were a handful.  We talked to him for about twenty minutes about the job, as his friend left the girls behind him.  He told us how he took his job hyper seriously, and how he had a family to take care of.  The girls were behind him calling him over again.  Before he left he asked us if we wanted another drink, which we said yes to!  We ordered another round of mojitos and virgin pina coladas for our girls, and he happily ran to go get them.

He came back with our drinks a few minutes later in glass cups in his cool caddy!  Yes, I am super happy to have glass cups on a beach!  It does make a big difference.  He let us hold on to the caddy to keep all the cups together and out of the sand, which was super nice.

The stylish bubbly girls on the beach all of a sudden turned into belligerent drunk girls. Martinez was called over to them once again to help them get a taxi.  They shouted their goodbyes to me as I made sure they grabbed their things. They walked along to the exit with Martinez ahead. The walk for them up the beach was sad, however. One of the girls just kept falling down.  Face first. In the sand.  And struggled to get up each time.  It sounds funny, but it was just sad.  Martinez shuffled them along into a taxi.  And came over to us to apologize and assure us they should be safe.  I hope they got to Havana all right.

After the women left we basically had the beach to ourselves.  The tides don’t shift much on this beach so we dragged our towels closer to the girls playing in the sand.  My husband started chasing the girls then jumped in the water with them. Then I.. guess what?  I PASSED OUT!  I am not sure how long I fell asleep for but I woke myself up with a snore.  Yes, I did!  🙂  And it felt so good!

We hung out on the beach until the sun was starting coming down. We all started to become hungry and decided it was the right time to go freshen up for dinner.   On our walk back to the house, we saw the most spectacular start to a sunset we had ever seen.  The colors in the sky were neon pink, yellow and blue, just spectacularly glowing.   It lasted so long, as it was still setting when we went out for dinner.

We walked the main street of Varadero for a while trying to decide where we were going to eat.  We had planned to go to two places, both were packed with long waits; one place had a two-hour wait!  Luckily, we had the offline mobile map that had listings of all the restaurants in the area.   We looked up a few spots to check out.  We walked by a lot of restaurants along the boulevard that were not on the map though.  But unluckily, every spot we wanted to check out was booked solid.  So we stopped in to a place we walked by that looked nice, and had seating, La Vicaria.  It ended up being a super fun place and the food was so good!!

We started off with daiquiris and pina coladas, of course.  The restaurant was open air under a thatched cabana. Which made it interesting as while seated we saw chickens and cats walking along the restaurant.  My kids enjoyed that part.  We got fried and grilled chicken platters, a grilled fish plate and a pork tips plate, and, a side of fries because my kids saw them on the menu and freaked out.  It was all really good.  We ended up staying there enjoying our dinner for about two hours or so.  Then we took a nice walk back to our casa particular, but not before buying some rum.. and soap!  The house we were in had this deliciously scented banana soap in the bathrooms that I saw in the pharmacy and had to have!  Can’t wait to use it!

My review of the day.

There really was no profound introspection during this day at the beach.  I had a lot of fun in the sun, while catching the show that was the gaggle of girls on vacation.


Next Cuba post will be our last day– departing Cuba, but first we check out a few sights.

 

Posted in Random Stuff

CUBA 2019- Hemingway House and Varadero

SELRES_5de68f1d-210b-4da2-999f-c2a2ba0030aaSELRES_87e291db-d27c-4a01-99d4-5cbcc2b777a3SELRES_84962270-c50c-402a-a416-6f68d561dfd0SELRES_659a1678-f381-4d9d-858f-d5380c9c7c70SELRES_659a1678-f381-4d9d-858f-d5380c9c7c70SELRES_84962270-c50c-402a-a416-6f68d561dfd0SELRES_87e291db-d27c-4a01-99d4-5cbcc2b777a3SELRES_5de68f1d-210b-4da2-999f-c2a2ba0030aaWhat’s happening, everyone!?!?

Here we are on our sixth day in Cuba.  It was VALentine’s Day, and it turned out to be a pretty great one! Especially compared to the day before.  For starters, the rain stopped. Yes! Then we left the bustling city of Havana, in our third reserved classic car, for the laid back beach of Varadero. We made a few fantastic stops along the way and ended the day eating at a kickass restaurant.

Before I go onto journaling my day, quickly let me point out, Valentine’s Day in Cuba is a big deal.  I mean, BIG deal!  They really go all out for the day.  Here I thought I was would be the love-day-centric one with dressing cute and having the kids wearing springy heart headbands, but everywhere we went, places were themed, decorated to the nines.  It was like a magical place for me.  haha (Get it? nudge Cuz I love all holidays? nudge nudge..)


Overnight, the storm came back.  The sounds of the pouring rain and wind were horrendous, and we were so thankful our children slept through the whole thing. Waking up on this morning, I noticed before jumping out of bed, that a lot of birds were singing and chirping from the trees below our room. Something we hadn’t heard on this trip yet. The skies still looked grey when I peaked to check, but also seemed like the clouds could break to sunshine.  Just couldn’t tell.

Secretly the night before bed, I had set up a surprise in the corner of the kitchen by the terrarium for the girls. Nothing crazy;  silly cards, themed candies and a few fun toys.  When I walked from the bedroom through the kitchen, I noticed that they had left cards there for me and my husband, and each other, too! Those rascals got me!! 

As we got to the patio for breakfast, we were surprised by the staff, too. They had set a table for us with a special Valentine’s Day chocolate treat at each place setting. Gee, I wonder how long they waited for us to come down!?  Right when we got coffee, we had the girls exchange cards and open gifts.

Ok, onto breakfast.  Our last breakfast at this casa particular.  Which looking back, was such a beautiful, special place. We absolutely enjoyed this location with its people and beautiful landscape. I hope if we ever go back to Cuba we start our trip off right from this casa particular!

I laughed when we got coffee because what showed up…that darn bowl of fruit salad!  haha My husband didn’t have a chance to say we wouldn’t be needing it on this morning.  So, he did eat some, I don’t know how, but I watched him do it!!  (If you have no clue why I am laughing, it’s because during this trip we found the fruit to be strange in texture and flavor, just very undesirable.)

With the sun struggling to appear, our car showed up right on time at 10AM. It was a 1949 blue Plymouth sedan!  The tour guide who picked us up was Lester, the owner and best friend of the driver who took us to Viñales a few days before. Lester was a very young and pleasant man.   We packed up the car with every bag and person then headed on our way.  The drive to Varadero is about two and a half hours long. We had planned two stops beforehand, the Museo Ernest Hemingway  (Ernest Hemingway’s House now a museum), which was 20 minutes away from the casa, and then the Bacunayagya Bridge lookout for pina coladas, which was an hour and a half away from the museum.

For some reason Lester, his voice and demeanor, reminded me of the comedian/actor/podcaster Bryan Callen.  If you don’t know who Bryan Callen is.. shame on you, and I highly recommend The Fighter and The Kid podcast.

Lester started driving us in a totally different direction through Havana. He told us to get to Hemingway’s House, our first stop, he had to take us through a different ward, which is a neighborhood that not many tourists go through.  This neighborhood was totally different on every level from where we had been before on this trip.  The serious economic problems were glaring.  I had alluded to this previously in my Cuba posts, but driving through this neighborhood it was raw. In your face. There were no impressive embassies, no large distinguished hotels, no crystal ocean views, no historical monuments, and definitely, no vividly bright buildings; here had none of that.

Side note:  This is what I battled with emotionally through this trip.  It is a beautiful country with a lot of history and culture. So much of its modern-day culture, however, is draped in its socialism, which lends to this devastating way of life and poverty peppered throughout.  We would see poor living conditions a lot, not to this extreme as we did here, but every night I was left feeling sad.  Wanting to give everyone I saw whatever I had to offer. The people we were meeting were so wonderful and generous, even if they were living in what we know as an oppressed society.  Which seems to be on some uprising, or at least I hope it is.  It really is a complicated country. It’s hard to explain to people that it’s beautiful, with its rich history, without telling them of this heartache.  I mean, I am sure people can turn a blind eye, it’s just I don’t know they can.

This neighborhood spilled into another and then into the San Francisco de Paula ward.  This is where Hemingway’s house/museum is found. It is definitely a different vibe from the streets we just traveled through.  We were now on a wider boulevard with large homes, and green trees tucked perfectly around. Such a shock from the one we just drove through.   We were just observing a man wheeling cakes through black exhaust to sell by the train tracks, then we were driving up this amazing wooded driveway to a villa. 

Hemingway’s house lays upon serene wooded and hilly grounds, with a vista of Havana from the back patio of the house.  It is just beautiful. My gosh.  Though the house is not open to visitors to walk through the inside, it is completely open for viewing from the outside through doorways and windows. This goes for the three-story look-out building adjacent to the house, as well.  Everything is preserved, and staged, as he had it while he was alive. While you poke your head into a living room, or a bedroom, or even into his bathroom, you can’t help but want to jump in there to play house with all of his belongings.

Walking the paths of the gardens was peaceful.  We went down the main path towards the recreation area; there was a swimming pool, cock-fighting ring and his boat. What an amazing sight!  First you come across the pool to the left. It was empty, but all I could think of was the blue glistening water on a sunny day. And, Ava Gardner skinny dipping and how I would totally be there doing that same thing!  The cabanas that flank the back of the pool are decorated with poster sized photos of Hemingway with his famous friends. Just thinking of all the people who went through that space is dizzying; must have been an amazing sight!

Right past the pool is the burial spot of his favorite cats.  They were in front of his boat; they look as if they are guarding it!  His fishing boat, recently restored, is not accessible by guests, as it’s grounded in the tennis courts space. I spent a long time looking at this boat.   This boat saw a lot of action in the water with Hemingway. He invited notable guests on that boat.  He caught record-breaking sized fish. He made a few epic water trips like those we read about to Bimini. Also, he used this boat to search for German U-Boats during WWII and on science expeditions off the coast of Cuba!  How cool, right? Also, two of his books were influenced by the time he spent on this fishing boat, The Old Man and the Sea, and, Islands in the Stream.  So much history.  If that boat could talk, it would probably have some insane stories!

We left the Hemingway House with the sun still struggling to come out. It did peep out a few times. Ahead of us was another hour or so of driving before our next stop. We were headed for a little stretch and drink at the Bacunayagya overlook.  This overlook is in the town of Bacunayagya and faces a valley where the highest bridge in all of Cuba is located. The Bacunayagua Bridge is considered a modern Cuban engineering marvel.  It is quite impressive, and the view from the overlook was magnificent of the valley.

The overlook had an outdoor cocktail bar. This place was a lot of fun; a great place to check out views holding a pina colada. An interesting little fact about cocktail bars like this is Cuba is that they make the drink virgin, then you put the alcohol in the drink.  So, we had a lot of fun making questioning faces with the bartender pouring lots of rum into our drinks. 

We were feeling pretty happy leaving there, to say the least.  🙂

After leaving the bridge, which we were able to drive over, we drove along the coast line of Cuba.  Wow, it was beautiful.  The colors of blue and aqua beaming from the water looked like a postcard. It was fascinating to see how not the Cuban government nor its people capitalized on the spaces along the water. I mean, we drove for a good hour along the water without any homes or businesses, not that they were needed.  That isn’t what I am inferring, but all I could wonder was how prime real estate could exist without any need for it.  Back in the States this space would be eaten up!  (I hope for Cuba’s sake no one does overbuild and ruin the coast.)

We made it to Varadero!  Yes!  The skies were still a little grey.  No!

Varadero is known as a beach resort town.  This town is located on the Hicacos peninsula, which lends to great surrounding views of the Atlantic Ocean.  One side of the peninsula is beach front, the other side is a coastal highway.  The beach is about 13 miles long, with government-run resorts along a small stretch of beach. (We never walked to that part.)  As colorful homes are conveniently located along tightly nestled grid alleyways, roughly a block away from the beach entrances. Between the homes and the beach front are the restaurants and souvenir shops.  There are no boardwalks lined with stuff, this is a natural sight where the streets make their way to the sandy edges of the beach paths with small fences and trees.  Walking the paths towards the beach is a HUGE treat, visually.

We were reminded along the drive by Lester that the Cuban government did not allow its citizens to vacation in Varadero until a few years ago.  We learned this information before arriving in Cuba.  The boom for its privately owned industry is very recent, open a handful of years.  Which is something we thought about throughout our trip.  I can’t imagine my government telling me that I couldn’t vacation with tourists in my own country.  But that is what they did, and that is how they lived.  

We arrived to our casa particular, the Casa de la Familia Cubana, at 2PM.  We were greeted by Iris, one of the staff helping the owners of the house. Iris took us on a great tour of the house, showing us all the ins and outs, and details for breakfast. We had a lot of space.  Two bedrooms equipped with AC and fans.  Our bedroom had a mini fridge, which was stocked with waters and beers. We had two full bathrooms, which was a treat!  A kitchen with dining area that had access to the roof deck and to the patio where they served breakfast every morning.

Iris was a very sweet woman, but spoke no English.  Which was fine with me!  haha

After our walk through of the house, we ran to get into our bathing suits because you know what came out when we got to the house?  THE SUN!!!  Seriously, it was like a gift from the universe.  We drove over the town border, onto the peninsula, then the skies cleared up and the sun just shone with all its might.  I was beyond happy to see the sun.

We headed straight for the beach with towels Iris handed us and the water from the fridge.  I stashed a few snack bars in the bags too.  Oh I forgot to mention, that we had taken the rice and plantains from dinner the night before to have for lunch today.  Which we scarfed down before the beach.  I totally forgot.

This is all we had planned for the day, get to Varadero, sit on the beach then eat dinner somewhere nice!

The beach was literally a five minute walk away from our casa.  We crossed one major street, then took a right down another toward the entrance of the beach.  Along the walk there were restaurants and breweries, other casa particular, and public bathrooms lined up.  The walk onto the beach transported you to a more private space.  The sands were cool to the touch of your feet, even in the sunshine, and the turquoise waves were brilliantly crashing.

There were not many people on the beach, as we were warned not a lot of people would be.  It’s Cuba’s Winter season, so not many locals will go, which was ok by us!   The storm from the days prior really shook up the ocean, bringing us these crazy waves.  I have never seen such clear blue water anywhere else as I have in Cuba.  The colors made my eyes sparkle and my heart flutter.

The sun started to set, but we had to run to get ready for our reservations.  We were so excited to go out tonight! Not just that we were all starving, haha. We got to the house to find the view of the sun set from our front door.  We got ready as fast as we could because we were running behind, and still needed to flag down a car to get us to the restaurant.

We flagged down a watermelon colored vintage Pontiac.  This car was cool!  The girls loved it because, well, watermelon colored and a convertible! And my husband loved it because the driver of the car blared Cuban music along the drive, and would randomly honk his horn to pedestrians on the side-walk.  The horn sound was whistling, you know, that sexy whistle. If you play the video below, you can hear it in the background of the song. That ten minute ride to the restaurant was super funny, and set a tone for the night.

The car dropped us off, with the music blaring, right out front of the restaurant that was booming with people! The entrance to the restaurant was decorated fully in red balloons with a sign above that read ‘love you forever’ with hearts. We walked up to the desk to check in with the woman.  She greeted us by handing a Valentine’s Day themed cocktail to each adult, a caipiroska, and a virgin drink of the same to each child. We were then seated at a table outside which was perfect because the weather was warm and there was a light breeze. The table was set in red with flowers in the middle and a box of candies for the girls.

We had an exceptional waiter.  He explained that they had a prefix menu for Valentine’s Day along with their regular menu… and what a menu they had! I decided to get the Valentine’s Day prefix. My husband opted for the seafood platter as the girls decided to get a risotto dish, which was black squid ink with seared beef, and a pasta dish, which was with a meat sauce, to share.

Soon served was the appetizer to my meal. It was a play on sushi; three large rolls on a plate neatly.  One was a twirl of squid ink risotto with a black salmon center.  The next was a red wine tinted risotto with Serano ham. And the third was a traditional white risotto with shrimp. We enjoyed that dish so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to take a picture; and I kick myself every day because it was so beautiful to look at! We grabbed another round of drinks, and then the mushroom cream soup with balsamic vinegar reduction was served. This soup was by far the best soup I’ve ever eaten in my life! And I’m not exaggerating. The soup was that good. The consistency, the finesse, it was all beautiful. My family took a bite but let me eat the majority of it..which I gladly did!  haha   Then everyone’s main dishes arrived.  We tasted the pasta and risotto dishes, which were pretty great.  My husband’s seafood platter was so good, but my dish really out shined them all. I had the paired pork chop and steak with a port wine salsa. The food on my plate was definitely cooked with love. Even the side of potatoes, that seem to be au gratin, were some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had.

All while we were there, about 3 hours, in the background was a band playing at the end of the enclosed patio.  It was a guitar duo, playing classical versions of modern songs.  No singing, just guitar.  They were amazing. This restaurant just had such a great vibe.

What a joy of a meal. A great way to end a day.

 

 

My review of the day.

I was so grateful when the sun finally showed itself as we got to Varadero.  This was the first day of our trip that I felt like I was on vacation.  We got to see some sights, but knowing where we were headed, to the beach, my thoughts didn’t seem so heavy on my shoulders.  Like I was letting go of thoughts of back home and focusing on …nothing, just me and relaxing.  It was a day my family needed.

And I just have that to say in my review today.  🙂

 


Next Cuba post will be Days 7 – hanging out in Varadero.

 

Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019- RAIN DAY

Hey Everyone!
Well, as you can tell from the title, the rain we had the day before barely let up overnight and washed out this day.

Our plan for the day was to head back to the center of Havana to check out some shops and continue on our historic tour around.  Well, we never made it because the universe had other plans for us.


We woke up to gloomy skies. The first morning without sunshine on this trip.  We had a morning plan to swim again till noon, but with the skies so grumpy we thought otherwise.  ‘We’ meaning my husband and I, as our girls did not care to skip swimming.  Their mindset to swim is strong.

Breakfast this day was basically the same, with some minor differences from yesterday.  We were served a traditional Cuban juice to start this time, which of course, I took a smell of but did not taste. Everyone tried a sip and gave the “why did I drink that?” face.  I watched it immediately settle in front of my eyes into a murky brown drink, so no way was that going down my throat.  Following were crispy fruit turnovers served with pineapple marmalade and our coffees and milk.  The marmalade and pastry were beautiful.  My husband requested no fruit on this morning. For my husband, a fruit junky, wanting no part of them… they must’ve tasted horrible.  Next to make a breakfast appearance was the yummy basket of toast, where they asked about cooking our individual eggs.  Then we were given a platter of tomatoes with hotdogs.  Hotdogs.  Yes, I said hotdogs.  They were more like a würstel, a Vienna sausage.  I only know what würstels look and taste like because in Sicily, where I have been many times growing up, it is liked as toppings on pizza.    

The kids flew up to the pool right after eating.  They swam gleefully for a long time. They were having fun diving, calling for us, and screaming for the dog, Brenda, to join them.  That girl was not having it, she was old.  Then the rain started to fall.  The girls did not care, so they continued on swimming.  My husband at this point went to talk to the manager about what things we could explore locally before heading to Havana later.  She gave him a map with a few fun spots on it.  When we looked at it together, we made the decision to check out a local antiques dealer.  Thinking the rain was either going to pass.

The girls swam for two hours! We grabbed them from the pool for a snack and drink, before getting dressed.  The shop was about a fifteen minute walk away from our casa particular. As we exited our room we saw that two large golf umbrellas were left for us.  Score!  We had packed ponchos for this trip, but figured the rain would be compliant.

The place was only down the street right?!

We went on our way.  The street our casa was on was interesting to say the least.  Geez, the neighborhood, at this point is safe to say, was interesting, too.  Our casa and the villa across the street were these exquisite mansions on top of this steep hill.  Beautiful in every detail imaginable.  As you would leave the homes to go to the street it was like you were in a war-torn country.  The roads were ripped up.  Trash collection areas were overflowing with what looked like a month’s worth of trash, with cats hanging out all over them.  Which on the bright side, we NEVER saw a mouse or rat, or cockroach, or anything of the like! There was an explanation for the roads, but still it was pretty crazy to see.  The streets were all ripped up because there was a neighborhood wide water pipe replacement in process. But a week prior to our arrival, a tornado hit the other part of Havana.  The workers were instructed to the tornado torn areas to get them back in shape before returning to work on the water pipes.  Crazy right?!

As we were dodging potholes and the like, the skies remained gloomy but hopeful; there seemed to be a spark of light behind the clouds trying to break through.  Just as we made it down a pretty steep hill, like five minutes from our casa, that hopeful thinking sank. The skies grew dark then opened up to a heavy rain with an extreme gusting wind.  We walked as much as we could. The winds were just whipping too much. We thought to take some refuse under a tree with the umbrella.  While there it was tolerable to stand.  As soon as we thought it wasn’t terribly bad to keep walking, the rain changed from heavy drops to literal sheets! Trying to figure where we were within the distance to the shop on the map under all the wind and rain was hard.  It was so noisy, blustery and wet that I couldn’t hold my wits together.

Yes! The rain and winds picked up so much at that moment that concentrating was difficult!  I looked up from where we were to see a large house like building with a porch and a plaque on the fence with the word escuela faintly printed on it.  Ahh, a school! So I grabbed the girls by the hand, yelled to everyone to head up onto the top of the stairs of the school where there was better shelter. We made it.  Standing there, we were all hopeful that the rain would scatter soon as it did the night before.

Nope.  It didn’t!

The rain turned to a literal tropical storm two minutes after we got on top of the stairs (when I shot that small snap video). The water that was falling flooded the street in seconds, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  Some cars had to turn around because the flooding was so bad along the corners of the road!  We were huddled in the doorway of the school behind the umbrella getting drenched by the rain being whipped around as we were watching this storm unfold before us. Each gust of wind moved us around to try to find dryer spots.  My husband and I were at a loss because what were we to do with the amount of water on the streets and sidewalks. Not only could we not walk, but the idea to find a taxi fleeted fast.

The storm was crazy!

We were there battling the storm for about twenty minutes when all of a sudden the door behind us gave way, and we heard this sweet voice. A small elderly woman, who we think was a teacher passing by in the lobby, welcomed us inside the lobby in Spanish.  What I could understand was she was asking us to come in from the storm then directed us to take shelter till the storm passed on.  She even said a prayer for us. What a sweet woman. We shook her hand a million times saying thank you. Seriously, we were so thankful.

We were in an Elementary School!  The lobby door was flanked by vintage glass panels, giving us a wobbly view of the storm outside from the inside. Every few minutes a parent would come to the door to pick up their child. These people were soaking wet as they must have walked to the school for pick up.  Each opening of the door was harder and harder for the person, as the wind was blowing at a great strength.  We watched every child walking to the door with their parents being blown from the stairs then rained upon through the window.

We were safe in the lobby.  We sat around there for an hour or so trying to figure out our plans. My husband grew restless.  Surprisingly, not the girls who were happily distracted playing; one on my phone playing Wood Block puzzle and our oldest playing old snap videos on her phone.   I was just happy to be inside!   My husband started roaming the lobby, it was open to a semi covered outdoor courtyard. By this point, sitting around for an hour and a half now, seeing that my husband was not up to waiting this storm out, I told him to take the umbrella to head down to see how far the shop was compared to where we were waiting.  Take a browse and come back.  The wind seemed better to trek through, and it looked as if MAYBE the storm was moving past.  Us girls stayed behind as he went along.

After 20 minutes of being on our own, I grew nervous, naturally.  Where was he?   The storm died down a tremendous amount as we watched child after child being picked up.  We all felt like the school was emptying out fast and we would probably be asked to leave at some point soon. Hesitantly, I took the girls off for a fast walk towards the shop address I memorized. I was fearful of getting caught in this storm without my husband, without an umbrella or without shelter.  The roads were no longer flooded, and lots of people were walking by us.  Just as we were crossing to the other side of the street, we bumped into my husband!  He was safe and so happy to give us the umbrella.  He did find the shop, browsed a bit and was heading back to grab us.

He walked us to the shop, which was someone’s home.  That is how it is in a lot of family run businesses.  They are out of their homes, which are set up like stores, just with a full kitchen at the end.  This place was impressive. I only took these three pictures below, but the place was not only beautiful and colorful, but filled to the brim!!  It was all so fascinating!

Once we went through this house, the antiques dealer’s assistant walked us across the yard, through the rain, to another house they owned that was also filled to the ceilings! Just wow. They had themed rooms throughout, too. There was a room of vintage kitchen jars. A room of glassware. A room of cookie jars. A room of propaganda. A room of metal statues. A room of local artists..  I can definitely go on and on!

We had a great opportunity to buy some antiques, so we did.  Just a few unique items that you just can’t find here in the States.  The dealer was a quiet man but friendly.  He went out of his way to take us to the depths of the house looking at antiques.  He sort of reminded me of my best friend Tony.  The shop’s owner, house owner, however, was a more talkative man. He was real concerned during our purchase that we were walking back to where we were staying.  He kept asking if we wanted a ride, but we kept declining.  It was a super nice gesture.

We left the shop talking about all the cool stuff we just saw and bought.  It was still raining, much more tolerable drops, but we now had heavy bags.  There was a big tree out front of the shop which was perfect to help shelter the girls with the umbrella, as we flagged a cab.  The streets were not flooded, but we were having the darnedest time hailing a taxi.  The whole city of Havana is chockers with taxis, but the one time we would welcome some harassment from a taxi driver we find none!  Figures!   After about ten minutes, we heard someone whistle over to us.   It was the shop owner! In his driveway outside of his car!  He demanded to give us a ride back to the casa particular.  We didn’t think twice really, because riding with him for six minutes was a much better scenario than us trying to hike up the steep hill in thee rain that we easily came down before in dry weather.  He was a very sweet man, even talked to us in the little English he knew.  Apparently, he was good friends with the owners of our casa!  He kept saying it was is pleasure to drive us, which I believed.  He seemed sincere.

Seriously, the people of Cuba are quite wonderful. 🙂

By the time we got back up to our place, it was getting dark.  We had spent an entire day out and all we did was shop at one location!!!  OHMY!  We went right to the main house to make dinner reservations at a place they had suggested to us earlier.  We made reservations for 7PM, and a taxi was going to pick us up at 6:45PM.  Which meant we had an hour to kill.

Did someone say daiquiris on the patio?!!?  Oh, that was me.

We got freshened up for our dinner in minutes after drinks. It was rainy still, so even though I changed, I didn’t want to lose the cap!  Our taxi came to pick us up on time.  When we gave him the address, he smiled because the ride was short. So short that he offered to pick us up after dinner for a total fee of $6 CUC, because he said it would be more worthwhile for all of us.  I mean, that was super nice, right? Our reservations were for La Fondita Heredia.  The taxi driver brought us to the restaurant’s door, handed us a business card, then literally parked across the street.  Whether he waited the whole time, we aren’t sure, but he was there in seconds after we called for pick up.

The restaurant was so much fun!!!  We walked in to this beautiful modern space to find it decorated with red and white balloons for Valentine’s Day (it was the eve of).  We were seated by the bar where you walk in.  We were greeted by our very nice waiter. He spoke English very well, and greeted us with a complimentary drink of our choice.  We got a round of drinks, which were so fancy and delicious.  A canchancharra for my husband, a sangria for me and the girls’ usual drinks, a pina colada and a frozen lemonade. Right as we started ordering our main dishes the restaurant got busy!  In a matter of ten minutes sitting there every table, both floors filled up.  A lot of people were out to celebrate VALentine’s Day.

We ordered a round of appetizers to share, a chicken tamale casserole, talk about amazing!, and plantains stuffed with tuna.  I didn’t eat the tuna appetizer but they all raved how fantastic it was. Talking to our waiter was a lot of fun.  We ordered another round of drinks.  Then our meals arrived; ropa vieja, chicken chimichurri,  pork tips and shrimp enchilada.  This feast came with a side of tostones and moros & cristianos (rice cooked with black beans) family style.  We ended the meal with a round of flan for my crew.  I just couldn’t fit another bite of food in, so I had to pass.

This meal was so comforting and delicious. You could just see the attention to the dishes, and the flavors.  It was the best meal of the trip thus far.     

Our waiter let us use his cellphone to call the taxi, who arrived in seconds. Was he sitting nearby?  I mean, we were dining at this place for about 2 hours, or even more!  He was so joyful picking us up, and got us back up to our casa particular safely.  Driving these crazy ripped up streets was so nerve-wracking in the daylight, but at night-time it was scary!!

We arrived to our apartment full, happy but utterly tired.  We changed into pjs then hung out on the beautiful leather couch in the living room watching a murder mystery.  It was a great way to end our rainy day


 

My review of the day.

What a soggy and blustery day! While we were watching TV tonight, all I could think about was the kind hearts of the people we encountered today.

The elderly woman who let us in from the storm.  She didn’t have to do that; she had a school to take care of.  We were strangers to her, but she saw us struggling and opened her heart.  The antiques shop owner going out of his way from the comfort of his home to driving us in the rain, up the largest hill I had ever seen in a city. He opened his heart.  The taxi driver at the end of the night.  He did not have to help us out with a good price for a two-way cab ride or wait for us, either.  He didn’t have to do anything even close, but, he opened his heart.

What better gesture on Valentine’s Day Eve is there than opening your heart to someone?  I can’t think of any.  ❤︎


Next Cuba post will be Day 6–  We head off to the beach of Varadero, and go out for a special Valentine’s Day dinner!! Does the rain stop??

 

Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019- Fusterlandia and Habana Vieja

Hello WordPressers!

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!