Tag Archives: Havana

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

S is for Stables

s

Stables? That sounds like a strange topic for a travel blog, but I love horses. So this post is really about horses. First stop, Stockholm, Sweden where I just happened to be at the Royal Palace during the Changing of the Guard — complete with a band!

Stockhom, Sweden
Changing of the Guard, Stockholm, Sweden

Next, we go to Copenhagen . This time, I was on a mission to visit the Royal Stables. I got there early and watched a bit of a training session. Then, because they were officially “closed” that day, a caretaker let me in to see the stables and collection of of carriages — on my own!

There, there are the Royal Mews in London, England.

One last one, because I do love Cuba!

IMG_0525

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.

Y is for Yemanja and other Orisha

YIt is very possible to see practitioners of an Yoruba-based religions, typically called Santeria by many people, while travelling in Cuba. Practitioners honour the spirits of Orisha and ancestors. There are several different Orishas, each with their own attributes and symbols. One of them is Yemanja, who is associated with the sea. Before coming to Cuba, I was told I would have an encounter with an Orisha. I figured it would be because of some of the places I wanted to visit. I was not expecting to be walking down a crowded street in downtown Havana and be approached by an older woman wearing white and blue. But there she was, walking towards me with her arms opened wide to hug me and give me a kiss on the cheek. And then, she was gone, vanished into the crowd. I think being blessed by the Mother of the Sea was a good omen for my cruise around the island!

You may encounter ladies dressed in traditional costumes in some of the plazas in Vieja Havana, like the ones in this picture.

ladies

I’ve already written a lot about Callejon de Hamel.  While I was there, I saw several priests busy working around the area to clean and prepare things for a gathering. They will typically wear white and have strings of beads that indicate the Orisha they work with the most. In the art shop, there was a small altar with candles.

When we docked at Cienfuegos, we were greeted by three women dressed in traditional costumes that would be worn to honour and dance for different Orisha: Oshun (gold), Chango (red) and Yemanya (blue).

IMG_5139[1] IMG_5140[1] IMG_5149[1]

And you may even encounter other symbols that represent protection.  This baby doll was next to one of the bus drivers, along with the gold crown and lucky dice hanging from the mirror. He was both a very safe driver — and very lucky.  Somehow, he made it back to our ship in record time! IMG_5142[1] IMG_5145[1]

To my friends who practice Santeria / Lukumi, I thank you for the information. I also apologize for the simplistic way I may have portrayed it in this post. You know how much I respect and honour you.

X is for “X”tras treats at Antilla Cuba

XYou probably won’t find Antilla on a map of Cuba. It is a very small village in Holguin Province. It is mostly a farming and fishing village and, for the past couple of years, a port of call for the Cuba Cruise. We used ship tenders to get to a very small dock — always an interesting experience!

IMG_1643[1]IMG_1651[1]

Waiting for us on the dock was a group of dancers and musicians. They were very good and fun to watch.  It makes you feel like everyone in Cuba can dance — they sure had great moves!

IMG_1654[2]

IMG_2031[1]

IMG_2029[1]

Local craftspeople set up shop along the road leading out of the port and into the little village of Antilla.The village itself is trying to rebuild from the devastation of a hurricane. One building that appeared to be intact was now used as a local lunch place.  Someone I met on the ship went there for lunch and really enjoyed it.

IMG_1658[1]

The rest of the village had small houses with yards filled with gardens, chickens and an occasional goat.  As with everywhere in Cuba, there were old cars as well as horse-drawn carts in the streets.

IMG_2038[1]

IMG_1665[1]

IMG_1669[1]

IMG_1655[1]

IMG_1660[1]

IMG_1657[1] IMG_1669[1]

It was fun to see this village and talk to the people that lived there.

W is for Walled fortresses

WBoth Havana and Santiago de Cuba have fortresses originally built to protect Spanish interests from raiders and pirates. While each as a longer name, both are usually known by the shorter name of Morro Fortress. The one in Havana is older, built in 1589 while the one in Santiago de Cuba was built in 1637. The styles are very different, as you can see from the photos.

Havana’s Morro Fortress

Havana Fortress

IMG_0531

Santiago’s Morro Fortress

IMG_2086

IMG_2088 IMG_2089

IMG_2100

IMG_2091[1] IMG_2080[1] IMG_2064[1] IMG_2115[1]

V is for Vieja Havana

VVieja 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.

IMG_0549

IMG_0551IMG_0571
IMG_0600IMG_0668IMG_0819IMG_0830

IMG_0720[1]

IMG_0716[1]IMG_0704

U is for Unity Bears

UEveryone loves bears, right?  When I was in Havana, there was an art display called Unity Bears. This was a collection of bears painted to represent countries from around the world.

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:

Canada Unity Bear

Here are some of the other Unity Bears:

Unity Bears

wpid-img_0576.jpg

IMG_0565

IMG_0583

IMG_0591

IMG_0589

IMG_0588

IMG_0585

IMG_0581

IMG_0579

IMG_0584

R is for Revolutionary Heroes

RBefore 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.

IMG_0780

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.

IMG_2210

IMG_2227

IMG_2228[1]

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.

IMG_0770

Jose Marti

Che

Fidel

In Vieja Havana, there is the Museum of the Revolution, you can learn more about Cuba’s struggles.

Fidel's tank

IMG_0825

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.

Che Memorial

It is near the large Revolutionary Square in Santiago that has a statue for Antonio Maceo.

Santiago Revoution Square

Q is for Quirky transportation

QGetting around Havana is interesting as there are so many different choices. There are regular taxis, classic car taxis (and for a negotiated price, you can arrange a  tour in a classic car), horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, buses, including a Hop On, Hop Off bus that costs $5 CUC and my favourite, the Coco Taxi.  There are even tours offered on Harley Davidson motorcycles via La Poderosa.

Coco taxis are three-wheeled, motorized “scooters” that hold a driver and up to two passengers. You can negotiate your price with them and then you’re off! My driver was Nadia – and she loves Havana.

IMG_0861[1]

For 2 1/2 hours, she drove me all around Havana. We drove down the Malecon and along the Avenue of Presidents, past the University of Havana and the cemetery. She took me to Callejon de Hammel, acting as my translator, and surprised me by going to the John Lennon Parque. We even ran out of gas, but Nadia had a quick fix, then she pushed the Coco taxi to re-start it again and, with a stop at a local gas station, we were off! We ended our tour with a stop to take a picture of the statue of Neptune. Overall, this was one of my best experiences in Havana!

Me and Coco Taxi

Once you get out of the city, you find more diversity in transportation. Some of the horse or ox-drawn carts or made from parts of old cars or trucks. You can also find former Soviet Union-style trucks (some are used to give “tourists” an authentic experience) I even saw old some Soviet Lada cars.

Here are some pictures of the different types of transportation available in Cuba.

IMG_0841

IMG_0524

IMG_0556

IMG_0674

IMG_0779

IMG_5137 IMG_5147

IMG_5165

IMG_1677

IMG_5170[1]