Vieja Havana is the old part of the Havana. It has plazas and cobble-stoned streets, many of which are pedestrian-only. This is the heart of the city. There are people, art, music, and dancing everywhere you turn. On one side is the port of Havana and the start of the Malecon. Within the area of Vieja Havana are several plazas with cathedrals, old architecture and so many surprises to see. This is also where you will find Opisbo Street along with several museums.
Everyone seemed to be looking for the one that represented his or her country – and I was no exception. Should be easy to find a bear representing Canada –look for one decorated in red and white, maybe with a maple leaf, or a moose, or a beaver, possibly even a hockey stick, or a goalie mask, or a Mountie’s hat. Well, it wasn’t easy at all and several of us Canadians stood around it trying to find out how it represented Canada. Maybe you can figure it out:
Here are some of the other Unity Bears:
About a 90-minute drive along the coast of Cuba from the town is Cienfuegos is the town of Trinidad. The drive itself is very beautiful as it runs past farms, mountains and then the sea. Trinidad is a beautiful town on the southern shore of Cuba with some unique architecture and cobbled streets. It is very easy to walk around the main area around Plaza Mayor. If course, the highlight to the plaza is the church, however there are several other interesting buildings. One building is a former house that is now a museum showcasing beautiful furniture and art objects typical for a home of some of the powerful people of this area. There are lively bars and art galleries that line the street surrounding the plaza.
The energy in Santiago de Cuba is very different from Havana and is considered the most Caribbean-influenced city in Cuba. Whereas Havana has large, open plazas and broad avenues, I found Santiago more chaotic, with smaller plazas and narrow streets. In some ways, I felt safer in Havana as I wandered along its streets because there seemed to be more people – and they all wanted to ask you something! In some ways, Santiago seemed almost claustrophobic with so many people and different modes of transportation crowding its narrow streets. It was very exhilarating!
The port is near town but is can be a bit of a walk up the hills that are part of this city, so for some people, it will be easier to take a taxi to get around and see the sights. That said, if you are good with crowded streets, it is very walk-able and has different types of colonial architecture. The buildings are very different from the grand structures in Havana. They are more colourful and unique to this portion of the island.
Known as the City of Heroes, Santiago celebrates its contributions to Cuban revolutions with many monuments and a large Revolutionary Square. In the cemetery, there are a number of special sections devoted to different groups of revolutionary fighters — including a section to those who died fighting apartheid in South Africa.
The Morro Fortress provides a guards the entrance to the bay leading to Santiago. It was built to protect the city from pirates. now, it provides a great vantage point to see the entire city.
Before I begin this, none of this is meant as a political statement, but as a way to show how Cuban revolutionaries are commemorated. In a prior post, I talked about John Lennon and shared a print that I bought linking him to other revolutionary people. In every country, you will find monuments to that country’s heroes. In Havana, there is the Avenue of Presidents that honours leaders from many parts of the world. Cuba has a long history of revolution and you will find signs of these everywhere, including monuments, statues, signs and large plazas.
Probably, the most honoured is the revolutionary poet, Jose Marti (January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895). He worked in many ways: a journalist, a revolutionary philosopher, a translator, a professor, a publisher, and a political theorist. Through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol for Cuba’s bid for independence against Spain in the 19th century. He honoured all over Cuba through statues, and monuments. He fought against Spanish occupation and influence of other countries in Cuba. He dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, political independence for Cuba and intellectual independence for all Spanish Americans. His murder became a cry for Cuban independence from Spain by both the Cuban revolutionaries and those Cubans previously reluctant to start a revolt.
The tomb of Jose Marti in Santiago has a changing of the guard ceremony at his tomb daily. It is designed in such a way to honour his wishes from a poem a wrote:
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun
The sun shines through the stained-glass dome of the tomb directly onto his casket which is draped with a Cuban flag and fresh, white roses placed on the coffin daily.
Revolution Square in Havana is a large, open area framed by three large memorials. The highlight is the large statue of Jose Marti in front of the tallest monument in Havana. Across from the monument and statue are the iconic figures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on government buildings.
In Vieja Havana, there is the Museum of the Revolution, you can learn more about Cuba’s struggles.
The tomb of Che Guevara is in Santa Maria – a place I did not get to on my 2015 trip to Cuba but hope to on future trips. There is, however, a memorial statue in Santiago for him and the fighters killed with him in Bolivia.
It is near the large Revolutionary Square in Santiago that has a statue for Antonio Maceo.
In Trinidad, Cuba, there is a private pottery business run out of a family home. The Santander family started this pottery business in the 1890s and it still runs out of the family homes around Trinidad. In 2007, UNESCO recognized their work with a Master Artisan award.
You enter the back of the family house, directly into a pottery showroom. The day I was there, a large dog was asleep near a counter and a parrot in was in a cage near some pottery chimes. Soon after we entered, an elderly man walked up a pottery wheel, and demonstrated how to make the pottery cups that you will find in bars all over Trinidad. I picked up a small bowl, which costs only $2 CUC. I should have bought more but I did not know how much would fit in my luggage! They have a wall of pictures that show many of the famous people who visited the shop.
Here is a YouTube video that tells more of the story of this pottery business.
Opisbo Street is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare in Vieja Havana. Lining the street is a collection of art galleries, souvenir shops and lots of restaurants and bars. Most of the bars have a band or some form of entertainment. Rum is the alcohol of choice served in a variety of ways – usually daiquiris and mojitos.
One of the most famous bars on this street is the Floridata, a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway and the “home of the daiquiri”.
Being a street where many tourists go, there is a lot to see. Here are some of my sights along Opisbo Street.