Cultural Cuba - Havana, Tuesday 2020 January 7

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January 7th 2020
Published: January 7th 2021
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Hotel Nacional  Hotel Nacional  Hotel Nacional

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 Hotel Nacional lobby 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
Contemporary apartmentsContemporary apartmentsContemporary apartments

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 El Morro 1589 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.

Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


My room My room
My room

Hotel Nacional
Hotel Nacional elevators 1930 Hotel Nacional elevators 1930
Hotel Nacional elevators 1930

Décor of a by-gone era
Hotel Nacional terrace barHotel Nacional terrace bar
Hotel Nacional terrace bar

View from my window
Bunker in the grounds of Hotel NacionalBunker in the grounds of Hotel Nacional
Bunker in the grounds of Hotel Nacional

Defense during the 1962 Missile Crisis
FOCSA Building 1956 FOCSA Building 1956
FOCSA Building 1956

Fomento de Obras y Construcciones, Sociedad Anónima, once the second tallest residential building in the world
Havana buildings Havana buildings
Havana buildings

New, old, and whimsical
Central HavanaCentral Havana
Central Havana

Love the preference for bright colours
Anti-propaganda arcade Anti-propaganda arcade
Anti-propaganda arcade

Filled with flags, the arcade obscured propaganda videos shown on the side of the once-functioning US embassy.
Quincentenary of Havana Quincentenary of Havana
Quincentenary of Havana

Layers and layers of history
Mural   Mural

Havana Art Biennial
Havana Malecon Havana Malecon
Havana Malecon

8 kilometres of walking and contemplation
Entrance to Havana's harbourEntrance to Havana's harbour
Entrance to Havana's harbour

El Morro (background) and Malecon sea wall (foregrounc)
Taxis for touristsTaxis for tourists
Taxis for tourists

A modern tradition born after the revolution
Vintage cars Vintage cars
Vintage cars

Colour! Colour! Colour!

8th January 2021

Happy to have visited Havana!
Your blog brings back great memories of our own 2 trips to Havana (which I've blogged about on this site too) which are brought to life in your excellent photos. We enjoyed exploring the Hotel Nacional and its grounds, had a mojito at the Hall of Fame Bar and lunch at La Barraca. It's interesting to see what their rooms look like. Loved the music and arts in Havana, so it's interesting to see that Cuban artists have recently been standing up against censorship and repression and demanding civil liberties and artistic freedom. Looking forward to reading more on your Cuban trip.
13th January 2021

Visiting Havana
Glad to have brought back good memories. Certainly the arts in Cuba are healthy and active.
8th January 2021

A delightful reminder
I fondly remember the Malecon and some of the renovated centre of town. We spent only part of 1 day in Havana, bussing a few hours each way from our resort. I'd love to see it again and look forward to reading about your tour. As you say, a good decision that looks even better in hindsight.
13th January 2021

Reminder of Havana
I didn't know you had visited Cuba. At the risk of predicting the future, you may have a chance to travel there again.
14th March 2021
Faded architectural gem

How I recall Havanna
We were in Cuba a few years ago. This is one vivid memory I have of Havanna, the beutiful old builings in need of repair. I have followed your blog from a distance for a while. But your Cuba blogs made me decide to follow you for real. I am already looking forward to future entries. /Ake

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