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Published: January 7th 2021
View from the seafront
Last night my plane landed at 11:48 pm, which technically meant we arrived today, since we didn’t clear immigration and customs until well after midnight. My seat-mate and I exchanged jokey remarks about not adhering to our visas. In spite of scary warnings about what might be asked at immigration, the process was conducted in grim silence and satisfying efficiency. Luggage took much longer, because it was unloaded by hand. With my usual relief, I found the designated taxi driver, and we drove for about half an hour into the centre of the dark city. He kindly came into the lobby to make sure the hotel would admit me, which they did graciously.
The Capri Hotel
is a slightly less expensive place, recommended by Eldertreks
for the extra night. According to an online review it is decorated in the style of the fifties. The mirror was round and the furniture was light-coloured – perhaps a Miami fifties style.
Of course, I was stunned with fatigue and travel but had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Only a moment after I woke at 9:00, my alarm rang, in time for the buffet breakfast. While taking some photos out the window, I
Hotel Nacional lobby
Where the rich and famous used to gather before the revolution
discovered that last night I had set the clock wrong and it was only 8:00! I bemoaned the lost sleep but carried on with a shower and went down to the buffet – standard omelet, tropical fruits, several breads and naughty pastries. The staff were charming, pointing out dishes that might tempt my appetite.
I repacked my suitcase with smug satisfaction, putting my parka and fleece on the bottom where they wouldn't bother me for a couple of weeks. Having checked out of Capri, I pulled my cases the short block to the resplendent Hotel Nacional
, where the tour group is staying. Inside the property, the driveway was as long as the block between the two hotels. The external steps up to the lobby made me feel defeated, and I handed the cases over to a porter called by a snooty door man. For just such a situation I had exchanged a bit of cash last night with the taxi driver.
The Nacional was built in 1930 and still celebrates that style. Warm dark wood dominated the vast lobby, and the elevators once must have had operators. My room was similarly large, decorated in wood and muted colours, with
Old cars meet tourist dreams
dim lighting. The bathroom walls showed its history, but the fittings were all new.
Exploring the hotel led to a short walk above the coast where the city had been defended by cannons and bunkers during the US-Cuban missile crisis - now an official historic site. Following the wrong way, I found the road that sloped down to the sea wall. Only slightly terrified by the traffic on the six-lane expressway, I crossed to a wide esplanade, called the Malecon, that protected the city from crashing waves. First walking in one direction, and then the other, I admired the distant apartment buildings. Their essential concrete starkness was alleviated by strong colours that emphasized the balconies and layers of floors. These may have originated in the fifties, before the revolution. Strewn amongst these buildings were a few with more elaborate stone decorations, remaining from the European colonial age. In the distance was the historic fortress, El Morro
, a structure familiar to me because of the marquetry picture I bought when I first visited Cuba in 1984.
Deciding on a short-cut to return to the hotel, I found myself walking a few blocks amongst workers waiting for transit buses, looking tired
El Morro 1589
For the defense of the harbour of Havana
from their day. Near the hotel was a long row of the famous US cars stranded on the island after the revolution. They are maintained by hand-machined parts and painted in outrageously bright colours. All seem to be taxis now, taking tourists for rides and tours. Taxis abound; regular ones are yellow and are unexpectedly varied in style, from cars that would look right in Calgary to tuk-tuks that would look right in Mumbai, and even an open-air “train”.
Such a long walk resulted in a nap (after eating my emergency almond butter sandwiches). I wanted to swim, but the strong breeze cooled the air too much. I substituted drinking mint tea in the hotel café.
Back in my room, I juggled my luggage to find some warmer clothes because of the breeze. I am now writing these notes in the outdoor bar and drinking my free welcome mojito. In a few minutes, our group will gather in the lobby, and our tour will begin.
As it happened, I had mistaken the meeting time, which was 6:00. 7:00 was for dinner. Our very accommodating guide, Daniel, found me sitting alone, and he politely explained that
the group had been waiting an hour for me, even while we were seated within about fifty feet of each other. Daniel bought me a welcoming mojito, and the evening rolled out as planned. For dinner I had a luxurious amount of smoked salmon, followed by a generous amount of roasted salmon filet. Surprisingly, a drink was included with the meal, so I had a glass of tangy Chilean sauvignon blanc.
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