Havana, Cuba – September 2018

1988.

Calgary’s Winter Olympics happened in February, and the Summer Olympics were held in Seoul the same year.

The UK’s pound note ceased production, and Prozac started production.

Roger Rabbit, Die Hard, and Beetlejuice all came out.

These, um, items, were considered fashionable:

1988

And yours truly was born.

Making me 30 this year.

And what did I do for it?

Why, spent it in a nuclear bunker from the Cuban Missile Crisis, of course!

***

Mr Roams and I decided to go on holiday to Cuba a few months ago – in our eyes, it was the perfect time, considering the inevitable Americanisation after the embargo lift, and we both wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before. Add to that sandy beaches, cheap rum, and plenty of sunshine for me to get an outrageous Dickinson tan, and Cuba was the natural choice! This blog post will be slightly different from the norm, in that I want to address Cuba’s political situation too, as well as reviewing its holiday potential. If you’re put off by the thought of a 30 year old chatting shit about communism, you may want to skip this one ūüėČ

***

We flew off on Thursday 6th September to Havana, on Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick. Mr Roams has fancy-pants gold status on Virgin due to his job, so we enjoyed some pre-flight champagne and breakfast in the Virgin Clubhouse before departure. Pics below, don’t get too jealous!

 

 

It was my first time flying anything other than economy – premium, can I get a woo woo? – and suffice it to say that I LOVED the experience. Lots of legroom (I have 36″ legs, this is¬†very important), lovely food and drinks, massive leather seats, and plenty of champagne. Mr Roams was highly embarrassed at my squeals and unashamed fangirling over what he deemed standard (“LOOK AT THE LEGROOM MIKE, LOOK AT IT”), but I didn’t care – LOOK AT THE SODDING MENU GUYS!

 

 

We touched down in Havana’s Jose Marti airport about 9 hours later (that’s 9 hours of Mr Roams putting up with my overexcitedness, pray for him), and were greeted by a very 70s airport (Miles to Memories has a great post on the airport here), a few touts, and our smiling and welcoming rep Denis. Oh, and 35 degree heat. An hour on the transfer bus later, and we were at our hotel, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

 

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is not the flashiest in Havana, but in terms of history, authenticity, and time-travelness, it’s definitely the coolest. You can read more about the hotel here (thanks Wikipedia), but generally speaking, it’s one of the most historic buildings in Havana. The Battle of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, the Havana Conference, and several famous historical figures (Winston Churchill, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir,¬†Frank Sinatra,¬†Ava Gardner,¬†Rita Hayworth,¬†John Wayne,¬†Marlon Brando, and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few!) have stayed there. Plus the whole Cuban Missile Crisis thing which I’ll talk about a few paragraphs down. The location is also great to explore Vedado and the Malecon which is conveniently opposite the hotel, with a 10 minute drive to Old Havana on the other side of the city.

Mr Roams and I were delighted to find that their Pina Coladas/Daiquiris were pretty reasonably priced (for UK prices – you can get WAY cheaper drinks around Havana), so decided to spend the evening drinking lots of cheap rum overlooking the sea, eating rice, fish and beans at the restaurant next to the hotel, and listening to plenty of live music around the hotel. The perfect antidote to jet lag.

The next day was spent exploring the area of Vedado, which was where the hotel was based. Vedado is considered the business district of Cuba – there were lots of offices and factories around the place, and as a result it’s seen as quite affluent compared to other areas of the city, and has plenty of aggressive hawkers selling tickets to festivals that don’t exist as a result (avoid at all costs). Mr Roams is tall, white, and blonde, so naturally got hit up a lot by these hawkers – in contrast, they barely bothered me when I walked around by myself (and I don’t think it had anything to do with my resting bitch face). We had a list of places to hit up in Vedado, including Coppelia (the famed ice cream parlour with only 2 flavours, although we lucked out and got three… though I’m not sure vanilla with chocolate sauce on top counts?)

1280px-Coppelia1

The ice cream was served with crushed biscuit on top and sauce. It was… not great.

After plenty of stops for drinking cocktails, and occasional walks back to the hotel room for naps (#jetlag), we decided on a walking tour of Old Havana at night. Which was awesome. (click on pics to see larger version)

 

I would completely recommend going on a walking tour of Old Havana – our guide was engaging and knowledgeable about the area, and to say we fell in love with the old town was an understatement. My blurry pictures simply do not do it justice. We also managed to sneak in a trip to Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana, an 18th century castle on the outskirts of Havana, where they perform nightly¬†ca√Īonazo¬†ceremonies. Block your ears, because those cannons are louder than me on a few pina coladas.

castillo

The next day was the inevitable Рmy 30th. Gulp. I had to change the heading of this website and everything. Mr Roams demanded I exit the room early for a birthday surprise, so I made my way down to the California Cafe, a fantastic little cafe on Calle 19 in Vedado, right near our hotel. I started the day early with some banana daiquiris natch,  had some lovely continental-style breakfast, and then Mr Roams surprised me by decorating our room in balloons. Bless him!

After balloonfest 2k18, we decided to go on a tour of our hotel… which included the bunkers used in the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were shown around by a little old lady who told us she was actually there in the bunker in 1962, which was absolutely amazing – she was such a huge wealth of information and I genuinely felt so honoured to be shown around by her. Pics of both the hotel and the bunkers below – I’d highly recommend this tour, it’s free for hotel residents and 5 CUC for tourists (I believe).

 

Bunker pics below!

 

After fully freaking ourselves out #claustrophobia101, we did what any good tourist to Cuba does – went on a tour of Havana in a bright pink classic car. Our tour guide, Alex, was very knowledgeable and took us to various Cuban hotspots, including Cuban Jesus,¬†Fusterlandia, and Havana Forest (where it absolutely pissed it down), as well as Beyonce’s favourite restaurant in Havana (apparently).

 

The firster stop was Fusterlandia (sorry not sorry). Fusterlandia is an idyllic, Picasso-like neighbourhood covered in art. Story goes that a local Cuban artist, Jose Fuster, wanted to replicate Park Guell in Havana, so decided to buy a small house and cover it, as well as the neighbouring buildings, in mosaic and broken glass. The result was childlike and idyllic – it was a hugely relaxing and truly unique place to visit, and I very much doubt I’ll ever go anywhere like it again.

 

Some more pics from our car ride below, including the MENTAL rain in Havana Forest, and Cuban Jesus (Alex pointed out that his hands were positioned to hold a mojito and cigar ;)):

 

Evening was spent drinking pina coladas, mojitos, daiquiris, and smoking cigars whilst watching Buena Vista Social Club live in the hotel. Absolute bloody perfection, and a pretty amazing birthday all round ‚̧

The next day was our last day in Havana, heading to an all-inclusive resort up the road in Varadero for a few nights, and we chose to spend it in the place that had captured our hearts the most in Havana – the old town. I mean, we had to go and get more daiquiris in the style of Hemingway, right? (pro tip – go to the¬†Hotel¬†Ambos Mundos on Obispo, the hotel Hemingway lived at for many years in Havana, for drinks. I think the daiquiris were about 5 CUC each – approx. ¬£3.80 – and icy cool with a tad too much alcohol, if that’s even a thing).

 

The last thing we did in Havana which bears mentioning was eating at Cafe del Oriente, one of the most expensive restaurants in Havana. Throughout the trip, I enjoyed finding out what the everyday Cuban ate and drank in this previously secretive country, but Mr Roams and I were also intrigued by what the hoi polloi chowed down on. Turns out, it’s pretty damn good. I ordered a Caesar salad which was made fresh – dressing and everything! – at the table. Seriously one of the best – and most garlicky – salads I’ve ever had, and all for the low price of 12 CUC (¬£9).

 

I’ll write a more practical post about Cuba, including the political situation and history, the currency situation, and some tips on how to get around, but for now, I hope you enjoyed a little glimpse into one of the most vibrant, friendly, and colourful cities I’ve ever been to!

R xx

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s