Havana University, Napoleon Museum, Hotel Havana Libre, Hotel Melia Cohiba, Hotel Riviera, Tango Cafñ, Casa de la Cultura
28. March (Wednesday): Ulija still regularly brings us a coffee in the morning, which is such a great thing.
Today, we'd like to do the second part of a walk through Havana, so we take a taxi to the starting point, Havana University. We walk though the campus, the buildings are in colonial style, beautiful, airy and impressive.
We continue on to the Napoleonic Museum, which contains a unique collection of Napoleon memorabilia collected by Napoleon's doctor who emigrated to Cuba late in his life. The collection is beautiful and worth seeing. The museum guards are women, well dressed with heavy make-up, painted nails, perfumed and wearing jewelry. There are about one or two of them per floor, and they sneak up on you and start explaining the exhibits in an engaging and humorous way, but without being asked. My Spanish was not good enough for me to follow properly. I suspected that they were after a tip, but trying to shake them off was tough. At the end as expected they asked for a tip, and I politely refused. Annewien did give one of them a tip, though, since she understood much more of their Spanish commentary than me.
The entrance of the Museo Napoleonico
The dated, simple dining table in Fidel's suite in Hotel Habana Libre
We walk over to Hotel "Havana Libre", and try to reach the top floor in the hope of getting a nice view of Havana. There are two large conference rooms there to either side behind glass doors, which are unfortunately locked. We've got to do without the view.
We take the lift down to the 22nd floor of the hotel, where Fidel and Che had apparently set up their headquarters during the revolution in 1959. At that time, the Havana Libre was the Hilton. Looking around the floor, we see that one suite called the "Suite Castellano" is open and in the process of being cleaned. We walk to the entrance and a pretty jet-black maid comes forward and asks us if we wanted to take a look.
What luck! We are actually allowed into Fidel's revolutionary suite!
Apparently HE still comes to stay here now and then. There are a number of well furnished rooms, a beautiful bathroom and a balcony with the BEST view of Havana we had ever seen or would see, and it was spectacular! The maid showed us around and it was no problem to take a few pictures. I gave her a small tip in the end.
We walked over to the famous Coppelia ice cream parlour nearby, which serves quite delicious (but not exceptional) ice cream. It was introduced as a perk for the masses just after the revolution, so the Cubans pay next to nothing for it, although they have to wait in a long line and their quota is restricted. Tourists paying in dollars get served immediately in a separate area but pay much more.
We decide to walk to some of the other large hotels of Havana, the Melia Cohiba and the Hotel Riviera, which are both near the west end of the Malecon. On the way, there is a famous large cold-war signboard with a cartoon (a Cuban on an island making fun of Uncle Sam on the other side of the water dressed in American garb) and the wording "Imperialists! We are not in the least afraid of you!"
Just nearby is the former American embassy which is a heavily guarded "American Interests Office" today. Interestingly enough, the employees of this office usually have to pass by this sign regularly. Nearby are the remains of a bronze statue of pre-revolution dictator Batista: all that remain of him are his shoes!
The 'Melia Cohiba' is a large glittering hotel belonging to the Spanish-owned chain supposedly built by Cuban volunteers and has the only escalator in the whole of Cuba! I couldn't quite grasp the ideology of building a capitalist monument using practically free communist Cuban labour, though...
This is what the Coppelia coupe looked like
Plaque to the victims of the Maine
The Monument to Calixto Garcia, a general during Independence is on the Malecon
We walk on to the Hotel Riviera, which was built by the American Mafia mob in the fifties and apparently was their hangout at the time. The former owner's suite is on the top floor but was not open for us to visit. We have some cocktails in the lobby bar. The lobby is built in the wonderful style of the fifties and well kept.
Only former pre-revolution dictator Batista's shoes remain on pedestal. The rest has been pulled down.
One benefit of visiting luxury hotels in Havana is that their toilets all stock toilet paper, a luxury commodity which cannot be found publicly elsewhere in Cuba! Toilet paper is so expensive that normal Cubans cannot afford it.
Outside the Riviera Hotel is a beautifully kept shiny olive-and-white 1951 Chevrolet taxi and we take it back to Havana Vieja. What a marvelous car!
In the evening at about 4 we return to the Tango cafñ. A live concert with Tango music is in full swing in the open courtyard. There are chairs to sit on and we sip a beer. The musicians and singers are locals and sound quite good to me, if not completely authentic. To Annewien's trained ears they were even unauthentic enough to be bad! The musicians stay for the whole duration of the concert, but the singers frequently change and it seems all the local talent gets a chance to show how good they are. There is no dancing, so we leave before the concert is finished.
Later, we head towards the Casa de la Cultura party, they charge us a dollar for entrance and we see our previous night's Cuban acquaintance who immediately comes to us and offers to get us drinks. We say we'd like to wait. Sometime later we are introduced to another Cuban who happened to have his "birthday today". The party is in an open area (surrounded by a high brick wall on 'Aguilar' street. The music is a bit too loud and the sound-quality is not too good, but ok. There are quite a few couples dancing, mostly Cubans with tourist girls, other tourists and a few Cubans dancing among themselves.
Some dancers were very good, there was one lean, rather crazy looking old man who seemed to dance with whomever crossed his path and he pulled off a lot of unique, fun moves. Then there were some young Cubans with good moves but having a amazingly bored expression on their face looking as if this was about the worst thing they'd ever be wanting to do!
Later, someone else again offers to fetch us drinks. We postpone once again. Then our acquaintance is with us once more, so we agree to drinks. He returns after awhile with one in each hand. He wants six dollars for the drinks, which is way too much and it is now that I see his motivation. He buys the drinks for a fraction of the price at the bar (probably in Pesos) and sells them to us for dollars, and a nice profit. When I signal my unwillingness to pay so much, he gets quite aggressive so I relent and we ignore him for the rest of the evening. What a cheat! We dance a bit and a number of Cubans are watching us when we decide to leave since we aren't feeling at ease anymore.
The walk to our room was short and it was delightful to be living in this part of town to be able to just do all this and return to our room on foot so late at night!