Welcome back, hopefully I didn’t bore you too much last time with all that history, but it is really quite interesting and wouldn’t be the place it is now without it.
Now before I go on with my tales of my holiday there are a couple of things I really would like you to know.
Now Cuba operates a closed currency system. That means you cannot exchange your money anywhere outside of Cuba. Secondly not only does it have a closed system but it actually has 2 currencies. The Cuban’s use the cuban peso natonale or CUP whereas tourists use the convertible peso or CUC. Now to give you an idea while we were there the conversion rate to the Pound (sterling) was £1 = 1.2CUC – Sterling by the way was the best rate as the government takes a tax on all US dollar conversions making the rate $0.8 = 1CUC. And 1CUC will get you about 26 CUP.
So basically you get a lot for your money. However, in Havana the wage was around 20 CUC per month! and what’s more is that in Havana everything is priced in CUC and so the Cubans are all having to pay tourist prices for everything, meaning to get by they all have a little something on side going on. But the people are all very friendly and even in the areas where you kind of expect to get hassled if you just decline them nicely they will leave you alone.
Right back to the holiday. we decided that to get our bearings we would take a hop-on-hop-off bus tour round the city. And yep we got to see it all, it took us all the way out to Revolution Square where we got off to have a look round.
Residing here is the Jose marti memorial (that’s the first image) and then across the square are the Che Guevara and Fidel Castro memorials (which I’m told light up at night) The national library and some other government buildings are scattered around this area too. It is the place where all the huge political rallies take place and where everyone goes to celebrate national holidays.
We spent most of the rest of our time in Havana exploring the old town. This is the area of the city that once was housed behind the city walls. During this time the cannon at the fort would be fired at 9am in the morning to announce the opening of the city gates and the city for business and then again at 9pm to announce the closing of the gates. The evening ceremony still occurs but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to go an see this.
I fell in love with old Havana straight away. There is so much culture and history around every corner and even more when you look up! The main street is called obispo and is pedestrianised. Down here there are shops, both what you would consider ‘normal’ and those that have sprung up on the stairs of the buildings and in people’s front rooms. There are many little cafes, restaurants and bars and every now again the street opens up onto a little plaza where there is always something going on. My favourite little square (i say little in comparison to revolution square) was Cathedral square. Here (yes you guessed it) was where the Cathedral is and the whole area looks like it belongs in a film by the way. It is also just round the corner from here where you will find La Bodeguita Del Medio who, according to Hemingway, serve the best Mojitos in Cuba. We were going to go in for one, because you know, it would be rude not too. However it was late-afternoon, there was a band on and it was fairly busy so unfortunately I can’t let you know if Hemingway was right.
here a few photo’s of Old Havana to wet your appetite.
Housed in the former Presidential Palace, the revolution museum holds a wealth of stories, photos, maps, and other artefacts from throughout the whole of Cuba’s revolutionary past. Granted there is quite a lot of it that is in Spanish, but there is still a fair amount with English descriptions. The museum itself is set out in a way that takes you the whole way round the building snaking from room to room as you wander through Cuba’s history. The Palace even still has the bullet holes sustained during the revolution displayed almost proudly. The architecture inside the building is just unreal, akin to what you might see in the Royal Palaces in London- albeit in need of repair. But that is happening and I have no doubt it will be restored to it’s former glory in due course.
Just a couple of blocks from our hotel (and the revolution museum in the opposite direction) we stumbled across what became our favourite bar n Havana, Sloppy Joes. Originally we only went in because there was air con but we returned a few times in our short stay in Havana.
Originally opened by Jose Abeal Otero, the bar reopened in 2013 after being closed for 48 years. It has a distinct American bar feel about it, and no wonder as back in the ’40s and ’50s it catered to many american who came to Havana for it’s nightlife, to gamble and to drink during the US prohibition era. Now it is home to a huge variety of cocktails and a small but very americanised food menu. It is a must visit!
The Tropicana Cabaret show – the best show in town! this is how it was sold to us and my god it was right. We paid $85CUC each for a middle seat ticket and as we arrived early we ended up with seats pretty close to the stage too! Your ticket also comes with a lot of rum (well you are in CUBA!) Between the 5 of us we had 1.2L of Havana club rum with a small bottle of coke each (you could buy more coke for $2CUC each) plus a glass of bubbly, plus a Ron Collins (the rum version of a tom collins cocktail). We also bought a round of drinks before the show too.
Now the show itself was everything you would expect from a caribbean cabaret. Lots of salsa/samba music and singing, and extravagant yet skimpy outfits (for both girls and the boys) and a few cirque du soleil type strength acts thrown in there too. Now my camera isn’t super-expensive and the lights were very strong but I will supply you with a few of the decent shots i managed to get and possibly a video too. If you do anything when you visit Havana (because let’s face it you know you want to go) you have to go to the Tropicana.
Oh and I nearly forgot we got a taxi to the show. The taxi was a 55 Chevy!
hmm so here is my friend asa enjoying himself (there are couple more on my youtube channel here)…
Other bits and bobs in Havana
Ok so we managed to fit a lot into our short stay in Havana but there are still several things that I didn’t get time to do. These include visiting the fort, visiting Ernest Hemingway’s house (it is on the outskirts of Havana and has been left untouched) visit the national hotel (which is like a hotel/museum so far as I can tell) and there are probably other things that I forgot but maybe next time eh?
Oh yeh, how could I forget so this was the hotel next door to ours…
And guess who was staying there while we were next door? Yep that’s right Madonna! Turns out she flew in to celebrate her birthday – I bet she didn’t have to wait 2 hours for her baggage though.
So after Havana we took a 2 hour drive to Varadero where we spent 1 week chilling by the pool/beach in the all inclusive Melia las Americas. There’s not much else to say as we pretty much just chilled and here a my final few photos to prove that (photocredit: these were from my dad’s camera)
I guess it’s time to start planning my next adventure (well and writing my thesis)
Until next time…
*disclaimer* All prices quoted were correct at time of writing