Cuba - Look Up! Look Down!

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March 9th 2011
Published: March 12th 2011
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Look Up! Look Down!


The area of Cuba I’m staying in is Vedado. This area seems to be mainly a middle-class residential area developed from the 1920s onwards. It has also houses Havana University, many hospitals and a lot of the city’s hotels and nightclubs – it had been a favourite haunt of the Mafia until Fidel chased them out of town.

I’m staying about 10-minutes walk from The Malecon, the “boulevard” which runs along the sea-front. My plan is that after classes I will walk down to the sea and find a spot on the Malecon to sit, read and chill-out.

For the first few days I nearly don’t make it to the Malecon. I’m not an expert on architecture but I find the strange mix of styles in Vedado fascinating. The danger when exploring Havana is that you could be concentrating too much on a map and finding your way around that you forget to look up. Every time you look up at a building there is something new to see and every house seems to have its own unique style. Even in the most run-down streets where the houses are in desperate need of repair you can see such a diversity of different styles.

For the first few days I find myself getting side-tracked on the way to the Malecon and wandering randomly towards every interesting looking building or side-street I spot.

Look Down

Although it’s good to keep looking up to make sure you don’t miss any of the amazing architecture in Havana, it really is a good idea to look down regularly. I frequently have to negotiate holes in the pavement which would make the holes in the pavements at home ashamed to call themselves “potholes”. Some of these are easily big enough for you to fall into.

Around Vedado

I’m living just across the road from the university, so this is one of the first places I visit. The main campus dates, I guess, from the 1920s and its design is clearly based on the designs of some of the “classic” universities. One thing it has that other universities don’t have though is a tank in its grounds – this is a memorial to students who fought in the revolution. A lot of the houses near me are owned by the university and the grounds tend to be full all day of groups of students playing music, drinking and partying – just like the rest of the world, I guess. And the students all seem to disappear at the weekend – I guess they’ve all gone home and taken their washing for their mum to do! Another advantage of being near the university is that I find lots of places that open up at lunchtime to serve the students so that I have plenty of choices of somewhere to find a snack {as long as it’s a pizza or a burger!}. And, although they seem to be a bit bemused by my presence, the students tend to leave me alone and I don’t get hassled to buy cigars or be taught how to salsa.

I’m also quite close to two of Havana’s main hotels. The Habana Libre had only been open for a few months as the “Havana Hilton” when the revolutionaries arrived, renamed it, and set up government in one of the luxury suites. There are a couple of interesting photos on display in the lobby from when the revolutionaries first set themselves up in the hotel. The hotel itself is not of a particularly interesting design, typical of the “oblong tower” hotels built in the late 1950s. It is useful as a landmark and meeting-point though and has fast {but expensive, even by Cuban standards} internet access. The nearby Hotel National has more character, is next to the Malecon, and you can visit here knowing that all the famous Mafia bosses were here at some time before you.

The Malecon

The Malecon is the road that runs for about 8 km. along the seafront from Old Havana as far as Miramar. It’s a short walk from “Mi Casa” down to The Malecon and then it’s the scenic route into Old Havana. Most days you’ll meet groups of fishermen, some swimmers {usually snorkelling for fish}, occasionally someone who will want your money in return for posing for a photograph, and maybe even a crazy Canadian marathon runner out for an early morning run.

It really comes to life at the weekend, though. It seems that on a Sunday, particularly in the area near La Rampa where I am staying, the Malecon is the place to be seen and everyone empties out on to The Malecon to sit, swim, picnic, walk up and down the length, and see and be seen.

Additional photos below
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Don QuixoteDon Quixote
Don Quixote

My favourite statue in Havana

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