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Published: April 24th 2015
Our hotel in the center of Old Havana was very nice.
When our daughter and her family came back from Cuba with glowing reports of life in an all-inclusive resort, Dianne decided we should go too. It took a bit of scheduling but we finally managed it during our recent Spring Break.
I was a bit apprehensive about spending a week on a beach but, in her wisdom, Dianne decided we should split the week between Old Havana (Habana Vieja) and the all-inclusive at Veradero. We booked our flights and hotels through Transat. Old Havana
Our travel agent mentioned a hotel outside of Old Havana, with a shuttle bus service into the centre. Dianne asked if there wasn't something right in the centre of the old city as we love to walk and explore older parts and, of course, there was! The Parque Central Hotel was right on the edge of Old Havana and a great starting point for our walking trips. The hotel was very modern with two roof top swimming pools with attached “snack bars”. We managed to eat in both although we didn't actually use the pools. We had been told Wi-Fi access was limited in Cuba. It was available in the hotel although you supposedly
Near by street
Just a couple of blocks from the hotel, the streets were nice and quiet.
had to use it in the lobby internet area (and pay for it). We chose to go off grid.
Walking around Old Havana reminded us of parts of China we have visited. A lot of restoration going on and some of the streets were pretty rough. You had to pay attention to where you were walking. But it was worth it. All the streets seemed to have Spanish names (surprise, surprise) until we came to one named O’Reilly. For some reason that really broke me up. Apparently he was an Irish chap who enrolled in the Spanish Army in the late 1700s and rose to some prominence in Louisiana and Cuba. In Louisiana, he was known as “Bloody O’Reilly”! His life makes an interesting read on Google.
There is lots of interesting architecture dating back to the 1500s. Churches, mansions, and fortifications abound, all within a short stroll of our hotel. Most are free although you can pay a small amount to get interesting guides which makes a lot of the history come alive.
Cuba is somewhat famous for the number of old cars that roam the streets so we were prepared for the sight of many
This great looking church isn't even the cathedral!
58 Chevs, 57 Plymouths etc. What I was surprised at was the great shape many of them were in. Many were convertibles (not so surprising, I guess, considering the climate) and most seemed to be taxis. Lots of people were taking rides in them and many a photo op was had. Outside the downtown core and on the highways the cars were often not in such spectacular shape and our new bus passed some of them very easily.
The tour company representative at the hotel recommended the hop-on-hop-off bus (only 5 CUCs per person for the whole day) as a great way to get an overview of both old and new Havana. Some friends we met on the trip used this bus quite a bit but we settled for a round trip with one stop: the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón or Colon Cemetery. Long-time blog readers will remember that we like to wander through old cemeteries and this one was worth the price of admission. There were graves dating back through all the revolutions since the early 1800s. Once again we saw the difference in the currencies. The locals paid in MN and the tourists in CUCs. We pay the
Part of the fortifications along the water have been converted for police use.
same number but I believe the difference is about 25:1.
We took one evening tour that took us under the Canal de Entrada (which opens into Havana harbour from the Caribbean) to the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, the old fort guarding the harbour. The tour started with a walking trip of the part of Old Havana that we had just covered that afternoon. While that might seem a bit redundant, the guide was very personable and answered a lot of questions that we might not have thought of had we not been there before. I had no idea how big Ernest Hemingway was in Cuba; we came across several of his favourite watering holes. The fortress can only be reached by cab or tour bus and we got there in time for the ceremonial firing of the 9 o’clock cannon. This used to indicate it was time to haul a chain across the entrance to the harbour to prevent attacks at night. It was pretty dark by 9 PM and a bit hard to follow with the huge crowd present. As soon as the short ceremony with costumed performers ended with the firing of the cannon,
Lots of carriages and pedi-cabs. Could be Victoria!
everyone broke for the parking lot. Did I mention how dark it was? Very few lights. I don’t know how everyone found their cars, buses or cabs. Our guide looked very relieved when he counted and found he had everyone. The tour ended at a restaurant that had lukewarm reviews in our guide books. The reviews were accurate. If I had it to do over, I would skip the 9 o’clock gun and take a cab over to the fort in the daytime.
On our last day we discovered the O’Reilly Café (guess what street it is on). Too bad we hadn't found it sooner as the food and cappuccinos were great! We had two each! We also discovered an elementary school which Dianne invaded (at the Principal’s “on the spot” invitation) and talked to a few people as best she could. The facility was very basic with students crowded into small rooms in an old building. Dianne went back another day with some pencils (from Canada) and pens from the hotel.
We had been warned about the two currencies in use in Cuba and the fact that you couldn't get the Cuban Convertible Pesos in Canada. The
Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña
still guards the entrance to the harbour.
books all say converting Canadian Dollars at a bank will give you a better rate than at the hotel conversion booth. That may be so but it is a lot more convenient to do it at the hotel. The longest line we had in our hotel was four people but we passed some banks where the line-up was out the door and down the street. You can’t save that much to make it worthwhile IMHO.
After three very enjoyable days we checked out of Old Havana and caught our bus to Veradero and the beach portion of our Cuban adventure.
To be continued…
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