World Travel

Exploring Havana

25. March (Sunday): We wake up early, since this is the first day for us to explore Havana!

I shave and get ready, when Ulija surprisingly brings us both a cup of coffee. We're delighted! We set off and wander around Havana, seeing the outside of the Museo de la Revolution with various military hardware such as a tank, a truck, a missile, and a boat inside a glass building (we climb over a small fence trying to get in and immediately get told-off by a guard saying we'd have to enter the Museum at the front gate). Because of the stiff entrance fee we eventually decide against entering.

Opulent Facade of the National Theatre - Teatro Nacional
Opulent Facade of the National Theatre - Teatro Nacional
One of the Teatro Nacional turrents up close
One of the Teatro Nacional turrents up close
The historic Hotel Ingletarra, our favorite place for cocktails
The historic Hotel Ingletarra, our favorite place for cocktails
Combo playing in Hotel Inglaterra porch to Cuban onlookers

Combo playing in Hotel Inglaterra porch to Cuban onlookers
Cuban revolutionary listening critically to the words of live street music
Cuban revolutionary listening critically to the words of live street music
On the Prado boulevard in Havana
On the Prado boulevard in Havana
Shiny old-timer in Havana Vieja street
Shiny old-timer in Havana Vieja street

We had a Mojito for the first time (out of many more during our stay) on the front porch of Hotel Inglaterra. They had a good combo playing Son, Cha-Cha's and Boleros there, with a singer in a white suit. He was phrasing amazingly quickly at times and apparently singing such interesting texts that a Cuban crowd gathered on the street to listen to him. An older 'revolutionary' with a Cuban flag and picture of Che affixed to his beret listened skeptically at first, then broke into a big smile. The others were smiling too, and I assumed it was a funny rendering of the problems of daily Cuban life (it might also have been a naughty "love story"?). I liked the group so much that I bought their CD. It seems to a common phenomenon that such groups always sell their music on tape or CD when collecting money.

The CDs have a standard going price of 15US$ and are home-burned with wildly varying sound quality! Don't expect studio recordings here.

Teatro Nacional (foreground) with Havana Capitolio (back)
Teatro Nacional (foreground) with Havana Capitolio (back)
Capitolio from it's steps
Capitolio from it's steps

We visit the Capitolio, which is impressive, see the Gran Teatro from outside and splurge by having a pasta lunch at the luxurious Golden Tulip Hotel for all of 33$. The waiter recognized that I had an affinity for Parmesan Cheese and brought the whole bowl to the table. Walking around Havana, I'm amazed by the number of combos playing Cuban music around the café's, some of which are really good, others pass.

View from the top of the Golden Tulip. To the right the Bacardi Building
View from the top of the Golden Tulip. To the right the Bacardi Building
The Statue of Maximo Gomez
The Statue of Maximo Gomez

We later visit the area around the Cathedral with it's outdoor handicrafts market, they have wonderful souvenirs which I'd have loved to take along, but alas! Backpackers on a long trip must resist such temptations! They also have a lot of Cuban artists having mostly oil paintings on display. There are a few good ones amongst them.

Cuban Art for sale at the handicrafts market
Cuban Art for sale at the handicrafts market
More Cuban Art
More Cuban Art
Cuban Art
Cuban Art
Cuban Art
Cuban Art
Cuban Art
Cuban Art
Cuban Art
Cuban Art
The old Havana Stock Exchange
The old Havana Stock Exchange
B/W photographers on steps of Capitolio
B/W photographers on steps of Capitolio
Havana 'Camel' bus at the main bus station
Havana 'Camel' bus at the main bus station

In the evening we think of crossing the river to El Moro, the lighthouse of Havana. It's getting dark by the time we find the place where the boat would leave. This was not the best time to start such a trip, so we decide to come back the next day. Amazingly, in the alleyways near the harbour we find a 'Tango Café', a place where tango lovers meet and dance. A woman greets us at the entrance and she and Annewien engage in a longer conversation. She says that the best day to come there is on Wednesday, then you can dance.

We go back to Hotel Inglaterra, this time to the roof, where the same combo which we had seen earlier is playing (they had told us in the afternoon that they would be playing again in the evening on the roof terrace). Of course the singer didn't hesitate to introduce us as his "Friends from Switzerland". Well! We'd said that we would come to dance, but when we didn't (they played boleros, son, cha-cha and some furious Rumba, we were looking for Salsa) he eventually asked us why we weren't dancing.

The drinks at Inglaterra were great, and I tried a different one each time: Mojito, Daiquiri, Daiquiri Frappe, Cubanito. After the group had left, they played some mainstream Salsa and we did a quiet dance or two. Some young Cuban girls who were sitting there (with some older male tourists) even clapped when we finished. I had drunk a tad too much and was buoyant on the walk back to our room, Annewien had to restrain me a bit.

Continue to 26.3 More of Havana