Category Archives: Cuba

H = Havana

A to Z Ports: Havana, Cuba

Sailing into the port of Havana as only been open for four years on a cruise ship has only been available for the past few years. A Canadian company setup a partnership with Celestial Cruise Ships. For the first two years, they did a week-long cruise around the island and allowed passengers to board at either Havana (mostly for Canadians and Europeans) or Montego Bay, Jamaica (for US citizens). The ship was older, some of the cabins were a bit funky, but the entertainment was amazing and the mostly Cuban staff was friendly and extremely helpful. Because it was a small ship, it would dock in some unusual places.

For the Port of Havana, the dock is across the street from the plaza in front of the San Francisco of Assisi Plaza, making this an easy walk throughout old town Havana.

If you walk along the beginning of the Malecon, you will come to a stand for Coco taxis. I highly recommend negotiating a tour with one of these and heading down the Malecon! I had such fun and my driver, Nadia, was very good at showing me the highlights of Havana – as well as some of her personal favorite places.

It is so easy to just walk off the ship and explore this fascinating city. Language can be a barrier, so learn some basic Spanish so you can talk to the locals. Most of the people who work in the bars and restaurants speak English, but it is always nice to know a little of the local language.

In some of the plazas, you will see people dancing or dressed in colourful costumes. Don’t just take their pictures, but ask or permission. Most will agree, some may ask for something in exchange. I was standing on a street corner with several other people waiting for a bus when some guys came by pushing a cart filled with vegetables to sell. All of a sudden, everyone (except me) seemed to have their camera or cell phone out to take a picture. Finally, one of the guys looked over and said “hey, this is our life. If you want a picture, ask.” There is something to be said for being polite.

Celestial runs its own Cuba cruise now, and changed the itinerary, missing the north side of the island completely. Some US-based cruise lines are now visiting Havana. If you get the chance, go! There is no place like Havana!

For more posts, click on the menu above for Cuba or the A-Z Challenge for 2016!

#atozchallenge

Y is for Y más: a review of my top five places

y

Y más or “and more …” is my review of my top favorite places to visit — as least at of today! Here is my countdown…

Number Five:  Cadiz, Spain! I was so surprised at the  beauty and walk-ability of Cadiz. At to that a Fortress named after my patron saint that is constructed in a star shape, beautiful beaches and great seafood — what more could I want!

IMG_4023

Number Four: Lisbon has beautiful architecture, twisting streets, great museums, amazing music and, of course, good food and wine!

Number Three: Buenos Aires with it different neighborhoods, tango all night, and friendly people — I think I lost part of my heart there!

Number Two: Cuba!  I am still dreaming about Cuba and all it has to offer. I love Cuba and her people. Viva Cuba!

And number one should not be a shock to anyone who has read my blog … BARCELONA! If I could, this is where I would like to live. Architecture, people, beaches, food, night life, museums, concerts — it has everything I love (and did I mention football and Camp Nou?).

 

L is for La Habana Vieja

L

For last year’s challenge, I wrote about Cuba. I just couldn’t let this year go by without another quick visit to La Habana Vieja — the old city of Havana. It is one of the most vibrant cities I’ve visited. I love the energy, the music and the spirit of Havana.

For more about my adventures in Cuba, check out my 2015 A to Z Challenge blogs.

J = Journeys through the Land of the Dead

J

Cemeteries can be interesting places to find some fascinating artwork as well as quiet places to walk in otherwise busy cities. Here are some of my favourite ones.

Père Lachaise Cemetery is Paris is well-known and has some very interesting statuary and “residents”.

La Recoleta Cemetery is the large cemetery in Buenos Aries with many famous Argentinians buried there, including Eva Perón.

I stumbled upon a massive cemetery in Sao Paolo, Brazil. I thought it had interesting art, then I came to the edge of the cemetery and saw there was so much more. This is the largest cemetery I’ve every seen.

My last suggestion is the cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Not only does it have a memorial to Jose Marti with a changing of the guard and other famous memorials.

 

 

A is for Autos in Havana

AClassic automobiles are a highlight for most tourists visiting Cuba. Some of them look brand new, some worn down, and all seem to be full. In fact, one of the ways to get around Cuba is to wave your hand at passing cars until someone stops to pick you up.  I would not recommend this for a tourist, unless your Spanish is very good, but it could be an option for some.These classic autos fill the streets of Havana, and, if you do not see them, you will hear them – honking and even an occasional backfire. The exhaust can also be intense.

Exhaust and full car i  Havana!
Exhaust and full car i Havana!

Here are some of my favourite photos that I took of classic autos in Havana.

Classic cars in Havana

IMG_0817

IMG_0809

IMG_0841

IMG_0863

IMG_0683

Arriving in Cuba

Probably the least interesting part of travelling is the getting form one place to another — especially if travelling by air.  However, this is also how many of my trips begin.  So, on a very cold and snowy day in Toronto, I headed for the sun and warmth of Cuba. Ok, the snow didn’t start until AFTER I got to the airport, but it was still cold! Check-in at Air Transat was easy and all I had was carry-on.  Even though I really planned out my packing based on the “rules” stated on the Air Transat site, I was told that I needed to back my small shoulder purse into either my roll-on (which I weighed carefully but they never checked), or my smaller bag with my camera equipment.  So, I re-arranged everything. then I went through security and won the prize!  They choose me to be “thoroughly checked” so they had to open all my bags, etc. This then meant Re-pack Number 2 wherein I misplaced the lock on my roll-on suitcase. Now, nothing was exactly where I wanted it, so I found my gate and found a spot for Re-pack Number 3.

Having to use my cane was also a bit stressful and my knee was really starting to hurt. But I found a nice place to site close to the gate — and then they moved the gate!  Yeah!

So there has to be some good news, right? Well, there was. There was an extra seat in Comfort Class — which I was able to snag, thus giving me priority loading and a nice cushy seat, free food and wine, etc. Now things were looking up.  We loaded the plane right on time and I was handed a glass of champagne — this is the way to fly!

By now, however the weather turned uglier — the temperatures were dropping, making it harder to load all the luggage — and it was snowing.  We sat at the gate for an additional hour, then had to go to the de-icing zone. So 90 minutes later, we were in the air.  This also meant, however, that we would land after 11 pm and I would still have up to a 2 hour bus ride to Havana.

I have heard all the bad stories of going through the immigration and custom steps in Cuba, so I was prepared for the long lines as each person had to go through the immigration check one at a time.  It reminded me a bit of going into  St. Petersburg, Russia. with the only difference being that the Cuban immigration agents would actually smile and talk to you — and they take your picture.

Once through the locked doors, there is another line — this time for scanning all passengers and carry-on luggage.  It was a little shorter because you are filter through the immigration doors.  Once through this, there is the place for checked luggage — which I could breeze by on my way to hand in my customs form. I was now, finally, in Varadera, Cuba!

Next challenge, finding my bus to Havana, was really pretty easy — but a bit overwhelming with so many people and buses and I have no clue how they kept everything straight.  But I was directed to a bus, and soon there were a few other people with me and we were off to Havana.

My first sight, as we entered Havana was this statue as we made our way to my hotel (of course I first saw it in the middle of the night).

Statue of General in Havana

 

The last stop the bus made was, of course, at my hotel — the Melia Habana. Reviews stated that the outside of the hotel wasn’t nice, but the interior was amazing.  I have to say the the entire place is amazing. Check-in was easy and you can exchange money at the hotel desk 24-hours a day.  So, with my room key and CUC money, I went on search for me room, and here was the surprise — the rooms are arranged in a partially open courtyard and the first thing I felt was the breeze coming off the sea. Here are more pictures of the hotel.

IMG_0435[1]

IMG_0443[1]

IMG_0446[1]

IMG_0465[1]

IMG_0470[1]

IMG_0471[1]