Cuba - Varadero

After Havana, we spent 4 days in Varadero staying at the Sirenis la Salina resort.  It was just right as there isn't much to see in Varadero.  The resort is very nice but while it is very convenient to get into town on the shuttle bus, the town is very small and it is almost there just to cater to tourists.  There are two small arts and crafts markets and a few restaurants, an old church and that's about it.  But the proximity of Havana certainly made the Varadero resorts popular destinations.  Many people made side trips into Havana and also to see the Tropicana show.  

The lobby of the Sirenis

The old church in Varadero

Inside the church

Our man in Varadero

This gives an idea of the price of meals for tourists

Another Don Quixote tableau - in the middle of nowhere, beside the road from Varadero beach to the town - the Cubans must love Cervantes

Varadero beach - the catamarans were fun

Cafe in the huge lobby of the Sirenis - great espresso!
We went to the Tropicana show when we were in Havana, but many people took a side trip from the resort to see this - certainly worth seeing but not worth a two hour bus trip.  
This is my last post on Cuba for now.  It's an amazing country - warm and friendly people, culturally vibrant and a great winter escape.  I look forward to returning...

Now that the weather has warmed up, I'm ready to go back to Berlin!
Next post - Potsdam


Cuba - "New" Havana

It seems that I am reluctant to let go of Havana, at least not until the weather warms up in Toronto!  So here is "new" Havana - for us, mainly a trip out to Revolution Square and environs, which included the not so new University of Havana, Vedado and then back in Old Havana, the contemporary art in the Palace of Fine Arts.

The iconic image of Che and his "Hasta la victoria siempre"  in Revolution Square

Biblioteca Nacional Jose Marti - National Library of Cuba on the south side of the square

Mosaic in the ceiling - lobby of the National Library

Jose Marti Memorial with its tower from where you get a panoramic view of Havana

To the west, the offices of Castro and Miramar beyond

To the north, the University of Havana, Vedado and the Caribbean

From Revolution Square, which is in the middle of nowhere, we did what tourists do when they are on vacation - throw caution to the wind - hopped on a "Bubble Cab" (what?! no seat belts?!)  to get us back into town.  The University of Havana had some gorgeous buildings, here is just one of the many beautiful portals on campus.

A little unexpected - Don Quixote in Vedado

The beautiful Museum of Decorative Arts in Vedado, the place with the lovely staircase you may have seen in my earlier post Havana Stairs

A no less lovely skylight in the former mansion

The art deco Hotel Nacional at the waterfront
The lobby of the impressive Palace of Fine Arts (no broken windows in this place for sure)

You see Che everywhere in Cuba, this painting in the Palace of Fine Arts is quite special

I love this painting!  Wish I haven't lost the name of the artist!

Sunday, 4 MARCH 2012

Cuba - Old Havana

Havana, with its many gracious historical buildings spanning the centuries, was for me, the star of Cuba.  I've only included a few of the highlights below to provide a flavour of this destination, which I will gladly visit again.  

Courtyard, complete with peacock, of the Palacios de los Capitanes Generales - former official residence of the governors of Havana, now a museum 

The Cathedral of Havana

Inside the Cathedral

The booksellers at the Plaza de Armas reminded me of Paris

Paseo del Prado - the wide leafy pedestrian boulevard that cuts through Old Havana

The art deco Bacardi building and its lobby


The famous Calle Obispo - lots of street life with no traffic

 Farmacia Taquechel Museum, an old house turned into a famous pharmacy in the 19th century

Gorgeous restored building in the Plaza Vieja by day 

and by night

Typical street in old Havana
Not to miss Chocolate Musuem, not so much for the artifacts but for the smoothest cocoa ever!

Building under restoration

Iglesia de San Francisco by the waterfront

Looks like this might be a coming out event in the church square

Russian Orthodox Cathedral Our Lady of Kazan

Havana at night

Inside the Rum Museum

The famous Buena VistaSocial Club playing in the Rum Museum


Cuba - Havana Stairs

Staircases have always been a fascinating fixation for me when I travel.   They were often the first thing I saw upon entering a building and immediately gave me a sense of what the rest of the building would be like.  In some instances, I couldn't get into a building and a glimpse of the stairs was a teasing enticement to imagine the possibilities.  Here are some from Havana, some spectacularly stunning, others more understated, but all reflect the building in which they were situated.

In a house under renovation in touristy old Havana - think of the potential!

In the Palacios de los Capitanes Generales - former official residence of the governors of Havana,  a beautiful colonial building from the late 18th century

This is a nice surprise - not what I had expected to find in the 16th century old fortress Castillo de la Real Fuerza near the Plaza de Armas

Building in old Havana

Another under renovation

Imagine the possibilities!

The Rum Museum restaurant (possibly the stairs to the washroom)

Stairs to the University of Havana Library

One of the faculties at the University

Student Centre University of Havana

The exquisite National Museum of Decorative Arts

Stunning!  in a nameless building that's being used as some sort of community centre that I just happened to wander into

Museum of the Revolution

A random tenement house in Havana


Cuba - Havana

So I lied - that wasn't the last post on Cuba.  It's still freezing outside and I have to cling to the thought of Cuba to get through this winter.  What better way to do that than post my photos from my earlier trip to Havana!

This photo for me captured the essence of Havana.  The incongruous mix of past grandeur and present squalor, magnificent mansions turned into utilitarian apartments for the masses - a fascinating mix that seemed to work, both for the camera and for life in Havana.

View of the harbour from our hotel room

Corner cafe where we ate our first lunch in Havana

The main drag in Havana - Paseo del Prado

The beautiful colonnade outside the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

The Opera House

Stunning lobby inside the Opera House - too bad it wasn't open
The Capitoleo - looks familiar?  U. S. Capitol?  Apparently it's modeled on the Pantheon in Paris.  Before the revolution, it was the seat of government but now it is the home of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, and of course major tourist attraction

The Statue of the Republic - apparently the world's third largest indoors statue

Inside the Capitol, hall with inlaid marble floors

The Library

Corridor leading to the Parliament Chambers

Inside the Parliament

Next post:  more on Havana


Cuba - Houses and more

We saw some pretty dilapidated houses on the way in to Santiago downtown but we also some outrageously fancy ones in some parts of town.   The one below was in an ultra affluent area, rather like embassy row in Havana.

Striking portico on this Holguin house
Not your typical Holguin house

Unusual garage!

Separate entrances for the two floors; it is very common for Cubans to build on top of an existing house, with arrangements between family members, in-laws and others.  These seemed to be very typical Cuban houses - obviously relatively well off with lots of iron fencing to keep out the unwanted.

Lots of fruit stands along the highway

A well-thatched roof in the village we stopped by on our way back to the resort

This one seemed to have a roof only over part of the house

Free range turkeys and kids in the village 

This one looked like a villa - also in the village!  I blew up the photo and noticed the words "Officina C.P.A." on the arch.  Is it possible that it's the office of the local accountant?  or did C.P.A. stand for something else in Cuba?  Too bad I didn't see it when the guide was there.

A half-thatched roof

Ox cart - incongruous but still everywhere

Cultural exchange between the young people on the tour and village youths - they were going to do some salsa dancing together but all it took was a moment's hesitation and the dynamics changed.  The guys thought better of it - to the disappointment of this photographer.  But it was still fun tagging along...


Cuba - Holguin

Our day trip into Holguin was one of the highlights of our Cuban trip.  We went on the tour with a minibusful of twenty somethings - what luck!  The energy among the group was palpable and the conversation invigorating.  What a difference from our day trip into Santiago with people our age!   

Our first stop was at a cigar factory, no pictures allowed but it provided a very interesting glimpse of how cigars were made.  I loved the pervading aroma of tobacco leaves - and I don't even smoke!

Outside the cigar factory

 Did I mention energy?  Awesome youthful energy...!

The 450 steps up to the Loma de la Cruz - these two guys made it to the top before the bus did.

Panoramic view of Holguin city from the top
The Cross at the top to receive pilgrims

The surrounding countryside in full view from the terrace at the top

The bus took us all the way across town for lunch at this restaurant from where we can see the hill with Loma de la Cruz and the surrounding hills from a different angle

The Provincial Library downtown with teens hanging out outside and inside, like all libraries - except this one had no computers, or many books...

Shooting the breeze in the square across from the library

The Casa de la Trova in the Centre of town

Cuban group performing inside the Casa de la Trova

Looking out on the square from inside the Casa de la Trova

Last post on Cuba coming up!


Cuba: Santiago

I have mixed feelings about Santiago.  I was really looking forward to visiting it thinking that it would be another Havana, in fact, even older.  Maybe it was the false expectations that made it a bit of a disappointment.  There were historical buildings but I was sad to see them in disrepair, even the special museum sites looked like they just got a layer of cheap paint that didn't go on very smoothly.  The Hotel Casa Granda which we would have stayed at were we to do an overnight trip looked like it was barely held together, the "roof" over the internal courtyard dilapidated.  Yet the view from the rooftop garden was spectacular and the building still retained an aura of past splendour.  While Havana was bustling with a sense of renewal, Santiago city centre was filled with people begging and hustling, giving an impression of a city in decay.  Maybe it was just a misconception over a short visit of just a couple of hours whereas we were in Havana for three whole days - I hope I'm wrong.  

A "classic car" jam viewed from the rooftop garden of the Casa Granda

The Cathedral in the Parque Cespede in the city centre

The gracious outdoor dining room in the Casa Granda

The internal courtyard of the Casa Granda (note the roof)

Rooftop garden - Casa Granda

View of the city from the rooftop garden

This building was boarded up - a sneak view through the hoarding but it doesn't look like any work is being done on it.

Another part of the same building possibly the Casa de Cultura is being used as some sort of display gallery.

Museo de Ambiente Cubano, the oldest residential building in Cuba (wish we had time to visit)

Detail from the attractive front of the Ayuntamiento or town hall, originally the site of the governor's house.

Some street life near the city centre

Museo Emilio Bacardi Moreau (see what I meant about the paint?)

Our favourite - the Casa de la Trova

Duo los Cubanitos invited us in and played for us.  We bought their CD - it is extraordinarily good!


Cuba: El Morro, Santiago

El Morro is a fortress strategically located on a promontory at the entrance to the bay going into Santiago.  Built in the 17th century to guard against pirates, it was subsequently used as a prison.   It was one of our first stops on the day trip to Santiago and we got there before the crowds so it was great for picture taking.  Stunning view of the Caribbean.

Many handsome angles and curves to be found on the grounds...

A chapel on the grounds

Conveyor for the cannon balls!
Some kind of lizard? (interesting tail) - well-camouflaged against the stone

This model gives you an idea of how the castle is situated

Next post:  Santiago


Cuba - Shopping

We dropped by this store on the way to Holguin.  This would be typical general store in rural areas, open 7 to 11 am, 2 to 5 pm, leaving plenty of time for lunch and siesta.  Take a look inside, merchandise is in pesos (not the convertible kind).  A baseball costs 60 pesos, about the equivalent of $2.50 Canadian, quite expensive in Cuban terms.  A young man on our bus bought a baseball and on the way back, gave it to a boy going home after school.

One happy kid!

This is the shopping street in Holguin, which seems to be a relatively well-off town.  Department stores are bigger and there are even specialty stores.

Where tourists shop...

The butcher

The magician...?

 ....pulling out one rabbit after another - it's hard to decide which one to take home!

Granizado looks like it might be slush - probably welcome relief on a hot sunny day, but no one had the nerve to try it!

 Next post: El Morro in Santiago


Cuba: "Coming out"

On our day trip to Holguin, we were given an hour to wander around the town centre.  The Iglesia de San Jose was a destination a few blocks from the centre.  Unfortunately, it was closed and we only got a glimpse of the baroque interior through the locked gates.  But we came across an unexpected find in the plaza in front of the church - a 15 year old debutante's "coming out" ritual.  The public part of this started with her laying a bouquet at the memorial to dead revolutionary patriots (the irony of it!) in front of the church and then she was put in an open car and shown off to the whole town.  This seemed to be such an incongruous (not to mention capitalistic) ritual in the Cuban setting, that it caught us by surprise and on the way back on the minibus, I brought this up as a question about its compatibility with the rest of Cuban society.  The youthful Canadian tourists on the bus held various viewpoints about this, sparking a debate about communism and socialism - an unexpected bonus for us on what would have been just another touristy day trip in Cuba!

Iglesia San Jose

A glimpse of the interior through the gate

Here comes the debutante supported by parents

A carefully rehearsed and recorded offering of the bouquet at the memorial to patriots who died during the revolution

Walking carefully on the uneven stones

The exchange of glances between the debutante and the worker comrades

Poised and confident - obviously well-schooled

The parade through the streets

Where debutantes shop...
Next post:  The "general store" - where everyone else shops


Cuba: the resort

Since there is so much interest in the Sirenis Playa Turquesa on the Trip Advisor site (I was told over 3,400 people read my review in the past week), I've decided to post some photos of the resort to give people a better idea.  
The entrance lobby - this is not what you see when you first enter, I just like the light from this angle
View from the lobby - shop to the left, theatre and snack bar to the right, the pools straight ahead

This is what most units look like - two floors, 4 - 8 units in one building

The bed was made up everyday with a different pattern using the blankets

Every unit has a walkout balcony

This is the view from the top level - these are kiddie pools
Second level - we really liked the shade option on the right when we've had enough sun
We called this our Chichen itza (the mayan pyramid in Mexico) because of the steep climb to the higher level pool 

Nice archway that takes you to a gazebo outside the snack bar that is open 24 hours

A shaded descent to the lower level pool, the main one where the bar is, and closest to the beach

The beach 

Nice fine sand on the beach - catamaran rides available
We had a great time!


Cuba - Getting around

Or not - gosh, it's hard work!

Transportation seemed to be a big preoccupation in Cuba - partly because of its scarcity.  But there are many options.   You can go by horse cabby

or by donkey

by vintage car

or by vintage truck.  

More than one tour guide described this mode of transportation as how the government ensure there is transport for everyone.  An official wearing top to bottom yellow uniform would be stationed at major intersections and all vehicles with yellow licences are legally required to stop and pick up extra passengers.  And it looked like a lot extra...

Rain or shine

To market, to market...

More about this beauty in the next post...


Cuba Revisited

I can imagine Berlin being as cold as Toronto in January, so it's time to take a winter break and visit Cuba to warm up.  We visited a resort near Holguin in north-east Cuba last week.  It was everything we expected - hot and sunny, blue skies and turquoise seas, palm trees and fragrant flowers.  But we also took some time to get a glimpse of Cuban life.  We took a day trip to Santiago.  One of the highlights we visited was a farmer's market near the Antonio Maceo monument.

Antonio Maceo Monument in Santiago - the farmer's market was just across the street from this impressive monument with its 23 machetes

Locals seem to really enjoy shopping here

This man used what looked like a machete to slid off the bananas from their stalks in one sweeping motion

Enough bananas for you?!

 To give you an idea of prices - these are in Cuban pesos, the non-convertible kind

Family fun!

More interesting glimpses of life in Cuba in the next post - transportation in Cuba!