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Published: November 6th 2011
Ignoring all advice to take a local (European) summer holiday we decided to make the most of free air travel for Heidi whilst we can and went long haul to Cuba!
It is a destination we nearly visited during our Central America trip some years back and is somewhere we have wanted to go to for a long time.
We cheated slightly by booking an all inclusive but compromised with a few nights in Havana and also some trips from our resort into the interior - not quite backpacking - but with Heidi in tow we needed a bit of luxury and organisation!
So, in true form Sally spent several hours on trip advisor to work out which hotel did the best buffet, found a good deal, upgraded our flights to Virgin Atlantic - and we were off.
The outward leg was a long one, taxi to the station, train to Gatwick, 10 hour flight to Havana, and then another 2 hours at the other end to get us to Varadero.
The flight was great, not full so Heidi had her own seat. She was perfect for the duration, watching a
few cartoons, sleeping (not much), crawling around our leg room and generally having fun.
The heat was the first thing that hit us on arrival - we were still in Autumn clothes and therefore made straight for the air con coach that was to take us to our resort. It was so lovely to get off the plane to a blast of heat!
The transfer was pretty uneventful and we eventually got to our room some 18 hour after leaving the house.
The resort was pretty smart with a mightily impressive lobby with masses of plant tendrils hanging from each of the 10 floors into the atrium. Not quite 5 star but good enough for us and far smarter than anywhere we would normally stay. Our room was right above the 24 hour (almost) piano bar so we changed the next night which was fairly painless to one with a fantastic view over the pool and out to sea!
So, what to do other than kick back, read, sun bathe, swim, enjoy the white sandy beach and experience a few resort activities! Oh, look after Heidi who 2 weeks before we had
Everywhere in Havana and Cuba!
left had decided she she would start crawling, and subsequently likes to crawl and eat the mud and the sand - yum yum, why do babies not gag on those tastes!!! Heh ho, we became accustomed to sharing our time keeping an eye on the nipper to ensure she was not drinking our pina coladas and enjoyed some peaceful time when she napped, actually I lied we just had a nap too - well its tiring work all the sunbathing!
Anyway even thought this was not going to be a relaxing holiday it was certainly going to be one to remember and for all the right reasons - the first as a little family (proper holiday anyway).
All inclusive resort living is pretty good. We had been warned about the food in Cuba, especially in all-in buffet style hotels, but have to admit we were pleasantly surprised. Pretty much whatever you wanted was available, in huge quantities, and whenever you wanted it. It became the norm to have an omlette, fruit and pastries for breakfast and the need to try everything that was on offer at the buffet in the evening - it was a bit
like Pizza Hut when I was younger, the way I was so amazed that I could go up as many times I want without getting told off! Needless to say others took alot more advantage of it than we did - our body is our temple and all that.
We spent our days going from the pool, to the beach, back to the pool, then to the restaurant, the beach bar, a few pina colladas in the pool (loved that!), back to the room to cool off and have a siesta and then the same again in the afternoons. Heidi made more friends than we did, she was a real hit with all the other guests and even more so with the Cuban hotel staff - who all loved her, she even got an upside down doll from our breakfast waiter as a present - yep he did get a good tip for that!
It felt like something from that camp on Dirty Dancing as we did partake in some activities, Nick won an archery comp, I enjoyed sea aerobics (I must be ugly and old as I was not even chatted up by the sports
instructor unlike the youngish lady I partnered with) and Heidi enjoyed the onsite soft play room (so did we, it had air con!). The evening entertainment was also very impressive - Miss Blau Verde (no, I didn't enter) / aquatic ballet show that was brilliant and lastly a cuban cabaret show complete with some amazing dancing, that Nick also enjoyed after the show - watch out Strictly !!!!
We also braved the midday heat and went to a local dolphin show that was a 10 minute walk from our hotel, the dolphins were pretty cool and the trainer surfed his way around the lagoon on two of their snouts. Heidi seemed pretty impressed aswell!
Whilst we were in Varadero, we took in a bit of culture and chose to do an overnight 3 city tour that took in Santa Clara, where the Che monument was, Trinadad and Cien Fuegos. The distances were quite far and we spent a good 10 hours on the bus but Heidi was entertained by the 10 or so others who were on our trip. Of the 3 places, the most beautiful was Trinadad, an old Spanish colonial town that although dilapidated
still retained its beauty...it reminded me alot of towns we had visited in South America. As well as the endearing cobbled streets I was really interested to see the beautiful Paladeras restaurants, one of which was somebody's home with tables laden with period china wear and cocktail glasses, it was so cool, unfortunately we were staying up in the mountains that evening so did not get the chance to enjoy the glamorous restaurant. The trip was a good chance to see the agriculture areas of Cuba, citrus and sugar plantations dotted with huge schools, most bigger than our secondary schools, that taught the farming community's children. After a relatively early night with Heidi's in a home-made bed on the floor, we got up nice and early to start our jungle adventure.
We clamoured aboard an old Russian army truck and went off road towards XXXX tropical forest where we took in the flora and a lovely jungle walk. With Heidi in a backpack, it was happy times, we crossed narrow wooden bridges and got close to a beautiful waterfall. We were then asked if we wanted to do the Rambo tour, with chests puffed up most men said
yes. I opted to be bag lady and carry our daughter and the rucksack, very glamorous. Nick took to being Rambo like a duck to water and leapt off a rock into the river, him and a group of others then continued down the river and its challenges, mostly of which were mini waterfalls that they had to slide down or jump off. Our efforts were awarded with a yummy lunch in an outdoor restaurant in the middle of the lush green landscape next to the river. After a quick stop in the french town of Cien Fuego, we made our way back to our hotel in Varadero. Our last day there was spent chilling and enjoying an a la carte meal in one of the hotel's restaurants where despite getting bitten beyond belief we enjoyed a really tasty meal (ok Nick got the squits aswell but that is too much detail!).
After a relaxing morning on our last day in Varadero we boarded the coach to go and get some culture in Havana - we could not wait. We were the last to get dropped off and disappointly had been booked into a hotel 8km outside the
city centre - that was never in the holiday brochure! Anyway apart from being a motorway ride away from the centre the hotel was good with a few big pools which included a shallow pool for Heidi, perfect! It was in the posher district outside Havana where all the embassies were, including the Russian embassy that looked like a robot!
Our first night was spent searching for a local Paladares - these are restaurants not owned by the government but ran by locals offering you a real taste of cuba We were expecting someone's front room but the restaurant that was called La Fontana was like a hidden gem. It was behind a wooden door, with no sign, luckily a local English guy directed us to it otherwise we would have been walking around all evening. It was dead posh with a bridge crossing a carp pond that lead to an outside restaurant followed by an inside restaurant. Nick ordered black squid to start and I had beans and sausages, Nick did not rate his. I then ordered prawns, that came out in a skewer of at least 100, which turned out to taste dodgy so I had
Santa Clara Memorial
to leave them - and being incredibly British we both said it was all yummy but we were full up! That said, it was a lovely restaurant and little Heidi behaved herself which was good as Nick spent most of the meal worried that she was going to cry and upset the other poshies who were eating there.
The next day we took the open top tourist bus into the centre of Havana, it was fantastic to spend the time waiting for the bus watching all the old 50s cars zoom past, just what we had expected but better! The tourist bus took us around the city past some of the sights which included the biggest graveyard I have seen in the world - it was very fancy! When we got into the centre we walked down the busiest street where there were some unscrupulous couples wanting to befriend us, probably for a few pesos. We then walked down a beautiful cobbled street and stumbled upon Cathedral Square - it was stunning, beautiful Spanish colonial architecture that took your breath away. After a quick coke, we started a walking tour around the old town with a quick stop
at a lithography workshop where we purchased some local artist's prints of Havana and watched them at work. The walking tour took in a maze of gorgeous streets, squares and beautiful architecture. In the old square we took in a view of the whole city via a camera obscura, basically a 360 degree camera whose image is reflected onto a large white disk, very cool! Not only that Heidi was entertained by the lady who worked there for a good 10 minutes, we have never seen anyone make her giggle so much - cuban people really do have a way with children. Next stop was the chocolate shop, one that could not be missed and included a yummy chocolate milkshake in air con - what could be better!
The next day encompassed more mooching; the first mooch was at the beautiful opera house where we had a behind the scenes tour. It was one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen with a grand central staircase leading up to a huge magohany bar and elaborate marble ballroom with a minstrels balcony - would have love to have gone to a party there in the 50s! After a
Havana - From the Theatre
hot sweaty walk around the Capitol building we went to a superb restaurant called Los Nardos, a recommendation from a guy at our hotel. Wow, what another hidden gem, the place was grandly decked out in maghogany and the food was amazing, Nick had lobster for the princely sum of £8 and I had a chicken cordeu bleu, which ended up being two huge chicken breasts. They even went out to get Heidi a banana from the local shop so she was happy! We washed it all down with a jug of endless sangria, a real lunchtime treat. The afternoon was spent walking around some of the residential streets of havana that were a stone throw away from the tourist centre, an interesting peek into the daily life of cubans.
Our last couple of days were spent visiting the craft market, getting ripped off at the famous ice cream palour La Coppelia (some couple befriended us then tried to get the waiter to charge us more than quadruple the cost of the ice-cream, we did not fall for it but he still wanted a couple of quid for taking us into the ice cream palour!), walking the malecon and
Lord of the Rings
No.... revolution square!
watching the teenagers smooching on its wall - I don't think there are youth centres in havana as there will literally thousands of teenagers there. After a fun taxi ride in a egg taxi, we had a lovely meal listening to a traditional cuban band next to the cathedral square - the cubans are a talented bunch of artists.
On our last day a storm was brewing (it was hurricane season) and we watched in amazement as huge waves crashed over the malecon wall, much to the bemusement of some of the cuban kids who took the opportunity for a free shower!
Cuba is a fantastic country, so interesting and full of life - definitely somewhere we would like to go back to and explore some more, and maybe next time we can learn the rumba and have a night out on mojitos!
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