Exploring Havana | History and Colours

For 2013 we planned something special, a 3 week trip to Cuba. An island full of history and a good opportunity to train my Spanish as well.

Cuba 1

Lucky us, there´s a direct flight from Berlin to Varadero, the all expense tour paradise on the island – not exactly the place were we wanted to stay ;). Alas, it was raining the first two days, so we couldn´t really enjoy the beach and had to stay with Cuba Libre and Mojito (only til dinner, lateron they ran out of fresh mint).

This was our welcoming committee at the Hotel:

Both Varadero and Havana are located in the north of the island and we booked a bus to get from one place to the other. Busses are actually a quite comfortable way to travel on the island. You can book them in advance at http://www.viazul.com/. Wear something warm, their drivers are addicted to air condition!

If you´re doing an individually planned trip in Cuba the most flexible and cheap way of accommodation are Casas Particulares – Cubans sublet parts of their flats or houses to foreigners – kind of a great way to get to know people and culture as well. Most of the owners are pretty good organized: if you ask them where to stay in the next city on your round trip, they´ll call some friends and everything is arranged within minutes.

One can recognize them by the following sign:

(Sorry for the quality of the picture)

At http://www.havanacasaparticular.com/ you can even book some in advance.

We found a Casa located directly at the Malecón on the seventh floor of a house with a really scary old elevator which we used nevertheless because of our luggage. (After the first ride it wasn´t that scary anymore, so we used it again the next day at least bottom-up.)

The next day we started our Havana tour.

Prado:

We decided to do the Habana-Bus-Tour, a hop on hop off tour for only 5$. A very touristy thing to do, but it gives you a nice overview of all the must see places of the city. I wonder if all these hop on hop off tours are actually run by the same company. The busses looked exactly the same as the ones in Berlin and Barcelona.

Bus stop:

Some way ahead down the Malecón we passed Hotel Nacional de Cuba, built in 1930. Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Marlene Dietrich were among the first guests. It was also an important place during the crisis back in the 30s. But I do not remember exactly why.

The famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba:

Our next destination was Plaza de la revolucion, (obviously) the largest city square in the world. It was also our first meet and greet with Ernesto Guevara and José Martí, which we met a couple of times more during our journey. Even completely empty the plaza is quite impressive and its hard to imagine how it would be completely crowded – nothing for my phobia of crowds of people I guess.

Plaza de la revolucion:

Hasta la victoria siempre:

(Until the everlasting victory)

Memorial José Martí:

Here are some more impressions from the tour… I do not know why, but turquoise seems to be a very trendy color to paint a house besides pink and peachy.

At the Prado:

We also passed the central cemetery. It´s fascinating how different cultures are when it comes to graves. Compared to German graves that look like little gardens with a lot of plants and flowers on them, Cuban graves are more like in southern european countries, made from marble and thus white. Because of the cemeteries size it was almost like a white ocean.

Central cemetery:

In front of Havanas university the alma mater is watching you. We were actually told by a student that a lot of German medical students come to Havana for a semester abroad. The guy wanted us to join one of the students´ parties that evening, but we were to tired to stay awake.

The university:

In the periphery the streets became wider and the “Kabelsalat” (literally cable salad, meaning muddle) at each street corner more complex.

Street view:

Back in town we passed the National Capitol Building, a copy of the United States Capitol in Washington. It is home of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. As kind of a beginning of a never ending story of our stay in Cuba, the Capitol was under construction and we were not able to enter.

El Capitolio:

Old colorful cars in front of the capitol:

In Habana vieja (historic section of the town) a lot of reconstruction and reconditioning is going on. However, especially those houses that are not completely mended have their own special atmosphere.

Another street view:

One can also explore Cuba by train. However, to be more flexible and independent we decided to rent a car. The central rail station in Havana is now approx. 100 years old.

La Habana Central:

For the next day we planned some museum visits. The Museo de la Revolución and as a contrast the Museo del Ron of the Havana Club distillery. (To be continued in the next post)

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