Day 2 in Cuba: Exploring Havana

23 Jan

Centro Havana,

Centro Havana,


Fanny cooked up a nice breakfast for us, with eggs, fruit and bread. We had booked a personalized tour of Havana in a classic car, and they were waiting for us out front at 9 a.m.

Jose was our driver, and our vehicle was a 1951 Chevy. Our tour guide was Jayliss (?), a senior at the University of Havana. Not among the better looking of the old cars we’d seen, and my door wouldn’t open and my window wouldn’t roll down.

We burned about 45 minutes of our tour time, though, waiting in line to do our currency exchange. Cubans love to wait in line – you them queuing up all over the place.

After that, the real tour began with a walk around Old Havana, hitting four of the more famous plazas. Jayliss gave us the lowdown on the history. The place was a bit overrun by cruise ship passengers.

Meantime, the weather was perfect – mostly sunny with a nice breeze and not too hot at all.

Next up was a drive over to the fort that guards Havana Bay. Nice view across the bay entrance to the city.

From there it was a scenic drive along the seawall past the hotels of Vedado and into the Miramar area, home to most of the city’s embassies. We passed through a large park before ending up at revolution square. That’s the site of May Day parades and other political events.

Next up, a walk past the university, and on to Calle 23, Verdado’s main shopping and hanging-out street. It’s also called La Rampa. It was at this point that Jayliss told us about going to see the Rolling Stones when they played a free show a while back. I asked her if U2 had been here, and she had never heard of them.

I said it would be great to grab a snack so she led us to a cafeteria. It turns out they had pretty tasty roasted pork sandwiches. Yum.

As we walked from there back to the seawall, I bugged Jayliss about the people’s perception of both Obama and Trump. With Trump they just don’t know what to think. And of couse they love Obama for easing some of the rules and visiting here.

Things got weird though when I moved the discussion to questions about the embargo and the state of human rights here. “Skip it,” she said. I could take a hint.

Then they drove us back to the casa and the tour was done. We bought some internet time off a guy on the street and then it was nap time.

At about 4:15 we headed out to walk the streets of crumbling Centro Habana. It was a mix of fruit sellers, vacant and overgrown old buildings and old men playing dominoes in the street. The photos are at the end of this post — click on them to see a larger version. By sunset we were back on the Malecon, the seawall sidewalk, otherwise known as Havana’s living room. You could pop into a bodega for a carryout beer, walk until it was finished and then pop into the next bodega for another one. Good times.

We had a surreal moment when we came across a large boat in a glass case, surrounded by guards, a couple of tanks and some jeeps. The boat was the Granma, the vessel that brought Guevara, Castro and 80 other revolutionaries across the gulf from Mexico to launch their historic uprising.

Dinner was at a place called Van Van in Old Havana. The Cuba Libres were flowing freely and band was great. We both ordered the Ropa Vieja (old clothes), the national dish. It’s shredded beef with onions and peppers in a tomato-based sauce. I wasn’t expecting much, but this was great – certainly better than the seafood the night before.

After a nightcap daiquiri at Floridita, we were back to the casa by 11 again. Quite the full day.

The view from the balcony of my room in Havana.

The view from the balcony of my room in Havana.

Lots of convertibles around too.

Lots of convertibles around too.

Hanging out with Che in Revolution Plaza.

Hanging out with Che in Revolution Plaza.

View of Old Havana and Vedado from across the bay.

View of Old Havana and Vedado from across the bay.

The driver's view.

The driver’s view.

The classic cars were everywhere in Havana.

The classic cars were everywhere in Havana.

The Cuban flag atop of building on one of Havana's city plazas.

The Cuban flag atop of building on one of Havana’s city plazas.

Inside the 1951 Chevy with our driver and guide for city tour of Havana.

Inside the 1951 Chevy with our driver and guide for city tour of Havana.

The entrance to the University of Havana. Our second casa in Havana was just a block from here.

The entrance to the University of Havana. Our second casa in Havana was just a block from here.

This is something called Pan con Lechon. Essentially a sandwich of roasted pork. For a dollar.

This is something called Pan con Lechon. Essentially a sandwich of roasted pork. For a dollar.

There's no roof up there. Centro Havana.

There’s no roof up there. Centro Havana.

A hard way to make a living.

A hard way to make a living.

The sight of crumbling buildings in Centro Havana was quite common.

The sight of crumbling buildings in Centro Havana was quite common.

Men playing dominoes on a street in Centro Havana. They were super fast.

Men playing dominoes on a street in Centro Havana. They were super fast.

Just walking her dog and shopping at the fruit cart on a street in Old Havana.

Just walking her dog and shopping at the fruit cart on a street in Old Havana.

Common street scene.

Common street scene.

You know a building has been maintained when trees are growing out of it. This is just across from our casa in Havana.

You know a building has been maintained when trees are growing out of it. This is just across from our casa in Havana.

Street art in Havana.

Street art in Havana.

One of the older classic cars we saw,

One of the older classic cars we saw,

More from Centro Havana.

More from Centro Havana.

Centro Havana,

Centro Havana,

Food seller walking along the Malecon in Havana.

Food seller walking along the Malecon in Havana.

Looking into the clear waters over the seawall in Havana.

Looking into the clear waters over the seawall in Havana.

Opposite the Malecon, Elvis is watching.

Opposite the Malecon, Elvis is watching.

A fisherman casts from the seawall in Havana.

A fisherman casts from the seawall in Havana.

Grabbing a quick beer at a patio bar along the Malecon.

Grabbing a quick beer at a patio bar along the Malecon.

Using a little lime, the national cola (no Coke here) and yummy Cuban rum, the Cuba Libras were spectacular in Havana.

Using a little lime, the national cola (no Coke here) and yummy Cuban rum, the Cuba Libras were spectacular in Havana.

This is the national dish, called Ropa Vieja. It's shredded beef and peppers in a tomato-based sauce. We liked it so much we had it twice at the same restaurant -- Van Van -- in old Havana.

This is the national dish, called Ropa Vieja. It’s shredded beef and peppers in a tomato-based sauce. We liked it so much we had it twice at the same restaurant — Van Van — in old Havana.

I was not expecting to see this late on a night out in Old Havana. Behind the glass is the Granma, the yacht Fidel Castro used to land in Cuba to launch the revolution in 1956.

I was not expecting to see this late on a night out in Old Havana. Behind the glass is the Granma, the yacht Fidel Castro used to land in Cuba to launch the revolution in 1956.

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