Two more fascinating days in Havana!
Friday began with another mission; learn more about Havana outside the old streets of Havana Vieja. We decided on a tour of the surrounding neighborhoods of the Capitol building that took us deeper into real life in Cuba. Of course, we rented a 1958 purple Ford convertible to take us on this journey!
Our trip began by traveling down the Malecon into Vedado, a place intriguing to this trip because we have an address of a 96 year old special women named Beba. She grew up in Vedado and left Cuba in the 1950s to flee the revolution. She has not returned since. We snapped a few pictures for her in hopes to have captured the house she grew up in. As a close friend of the family, we were excited for this little excursion!
We stopped at some local monuments: plaza de revolution, Havana forest, Havana Nuevo (New Havana), and the Malecon. Our U.S. Embassy so happens to be on the Malecon. We were especially interested in seeing the Embassy because right before we left it was all in the news about re-opening (July 20th) the Embassy for the first time since the Embargo.
U.S. interests section Havana (now the ‘official’ U.S. Embassy location!)
After our tour of all of Havana, we wanted to check out the San Jose art warehouse & market. We heard from a past traveler (thanks Alexis!) that this is a must to see. We took our first Cuba Coco Taxi ride. They look like a yellow apple on three wheels. Funny how the price for taxi rides can differ to and from a location??
It’s an amazing place, with art ranging from historic Cuba, daily life in Cuba, to even contemporary works of art. With the notion to bring home a piece of authentic Cuban art, the warehouse seemed overwhelming. We decided to digest what we saw and come back the next day.
Leaving the art warehouse, we walked back down to Plaza de San Francisco. It is a very nice plaza and a great resting point, and another great place to watch locals go about their daily life. We got a café expresso and perched in the plaza. We were able to paparazzi newly weds getting their pictures taken in the plaza and kids playing with dogs!
One thing we learned is that Cuban cigar purchases need to be done in the government regulated stores. Most of these stores are in the hotels. They are guaranteed to be all same price and real Cuban cigars. During our walks in Havana we probably got asked 100 times (no exaggeration) if we wanted to buy cigars. 90% of the time these are ‘fake cigars’. We have asked several people how do they tell the difference and there is no real way. They are just rolled differently and with less tobacco leaves.
We wrapped up another wonderful day in Havana with dinner at O’Reilly’s 304, a highly recommended restaurant, and we weren’t disappointed. Of course no night would be complete without another stop at Plaza Vieja with a few drinks, cigars, and people watching at Café Bohemia.
Our last full day in Havana and we wanted to be sure to visit the Museo de la Revolucion to learn about how communist Cuba formed and came to its current government. Of course this is especially meaningful for us as during this process the conflict between U.S. and Cuba heightened turning into animosity, distrust that has lasted until today. To say the least, it was quite interesting to read through Cuba’s timeline of events and see their ‘side of the story’.
Leaving the museo, we had a few checklists before leaving Havana: café expresso, buy authentic Cuban art, and of course, more churritos! To accomplish these tasks, we jumped on the first bicycle taxi we saw. Another genuine local Cuban escorted us through the old streets of Havana to Plaza de San Francisco, telling us stories along the ride. Despite his limited English, and our limited Spanish, it was quite entertaining to hear his love for his city.
Next up, back to the San Jose art warehouse to again peruse the gallery. After a lengthy visit, we settled on a piece that depicted our viewpoint of the Havana Vieja for the majority of our trip. An oil painting that caught our eye!
After lunch on the water outside the warehouse, we ironically stumbled upon our cart of glory, churritos! When you’re on a budget, what better than a daily dose of $.50 CUC deliciousness!
So many other finer points of the city to share, but one last notable street to share is Obispo. It is more of an informal street, blocked off to cars lined with restaurants, bars, and markets that sell Cuban novelties. A must stroll for anyone looking to see all sides of this fascinating city.
Dinner led us to another local spot near our casa, Venami. A small Italian place, squeezed in with good food and cheap prices. We actually tried to buy local pizza earlier, but they only accepted pesos, basically a way to feed locals cheap. Prices are marked up for people using the CUC. Once again we weren’t disappointed in our selection!
We wandered for one last stop on this city tour, and enjoyed a few drinks and cigars with a local Cuban. He worked in the Cigar Factory, like many Cubans in Havana, and was eager to talk with us Americans. We were told leading into this trip to avoid ‘political’ talks, but he wasn’t shying away from his thoughts. Of course Scott kept wanting to talk baseball (or attend a game) with anyone who would engage, but since their baseball season is November to January, it was more challenging than expected. Another day, another experience to remember!
Next up: Limestone mountains and valleys of Vinales!