My Day in Havana

As usual, I woke early, and I’m glad I did. It was before sunrise, and I went up to the observation deck (I was on a cruise–Norwegian Sky) to see what I could see. When I first got up there, it was still pretty dark, and you could see lights in the distance. As I made my way to the front of the ship, I found a good place to hang out to watch the sunrise as we approached Havana. There were probably 20 people out there, and typical for the sunrise crowd, it was pretty quiet. There was a different mood as we approached Havana, though. One man standing near me seemed reflective, and I’d say it’s possible that he was originally from Cuba. For me, it was somewhat surreal to be approaching this forbidden island that I’ve heard of my whole life. As I prepared for my trip, I did quite a bit of research to understand the history of what had happened there. That made me more excited to actually be there. Norwegian Cruise Line could not have planned the approach to Cuba better, and I don’t really believe that they did plan to arrive precisely as the sun was rising. It was absolutely stunning to see the dramatic colors of the sky along with the dramatic architecture of Havana.

I got some breakfast and went back to my cabin to get ready for the day. I was scheduled to meet Ramona and Donna at 8:15. Ramona noticed that I was traveling solo when we were waiting in the cruise terminal in Miami, and she asked if I would like to join her and her daughter on their day in Havana. They had arranged a tour guide to take them on a walking tour and classic car tour. I’m so glad that I met her and accepted her offer. It was a wonderful day. My only condition was that we went to the place I had planned to have lunch!

It took a while to get off the ship and through customs. In addition to the lines of people disembarking, there was a computer problem in the immigration line. We made it, though, and we met Luis, our tour guide, right on time at the Russian Orthodox church. He was very friendly and spoke excellent English. He apologized, though, because he had been giving tours in German recently. He told us that he learned German on his own! Also, his previous career was as an English teacher. The meeting place was also very close to the Havana Club Rum Museum, so we stopped by there to arrange a tour for later. We then started our walking tour, which was necessary since cars are not allowed on many of the streets in the Old Town. Here are some of the sights along the way:

Meeting Luis, our guide


A place where Cubans go for their rations


So, the woman is kind of interesting, but the building is the actual subject


Government building


Train car that used to transport important people


I was enjoying this guy’s music. Wished I had some coins to give him.


We were told that this has something to do with women wearing the pants.


Plaza vieja


Plaza Vieja with a sculpture of the national flower


Looking into the hotel where Hemingway stayed for a while.


“Shrine” to Heminway at Hotel Ambos Mundos


Old apothecary shop


Trompe l’oeil


Catedral de la Habana


C

Me with my mojito


Inside La Bodeguita del Medio (Hemingway’s place for mojitos)


Wooden street pavers


Going up the stairs at the rum museum


Courtyard at the rum museum


Tasting after the tour. Donna won a drink for answering a question


After the rum tour, we finally met our car, which was a green Oldsmobile. I thought 61 was the date, but someone told me that’s after the trade embargo. Maybe it was 58? Here it is, along with the Russian Orthodox church in the background.

Our first stop on the car tour was lunch at La Guarida. I read about this over and over as I was researching Havana, so this was the one place that I felt I must visit for a meal. La Guarida is a paladar, which is a restaurant run out of a private residence. If I had been walking, I likely would have missed it. Part of the charm is the staircase that looks like it’s in ruins. It was a fun surprise to see the linens hanging to dry as we walked up the stairs. Some photos from our experience there:

Yucca Fritters


Ropa Vieja–Yum!


The check was presented in this beautiful box


The handwashing area outside the toilets.


View from La Guarida.


I wish I knew what this wall says.


Next stop was the Hotel Nacional, which was modeled after The Breakers in Palm Beach Florida. I was excited to see that since The Breakers is one of my favorite places to visit in Palm Beach (just to visit–not to stay). It was interesting to see that it actually was very similar in design, especially from the outside. The inside was similar too, but a bit less fancy, as one might expect.

A menu at the restaurant, featuring photos of famous people.


We then went to the Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square). It’s very important to the politics of Cuba (description from Wikipedia).

Luis, the tour guide, then took us to a shop to buy rum and cigars. Although I have no interest in smoking anything, I bought three cigars to give to people who might appreciate them. I also bought 3 different small bottles of rum (for research). As Donna and I left the shop, we found Ramona outside enjoying a cigarillo.

Although Havana Club is more popular, it seems that Cubans prefer Santiago de Cuba rum.


Next stop was La Floridita, where Hemingway went to drink daiquiris. It’s also known as the birthplace of the daiquiri! It was a fun experience with live music playing.

A few other sights as we ended our tour:

Bacardi Building–they moved to Puerto Rico after the revolution.


Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso (Alicia was a famous ballerina)


Capitol


HUGE flea market


I went back to the ship for dinner, rested a bit, and went back out by myself. Although the streets were dimly lit, I felt more safe walking alone there than I would on many streets in Atlanta. It was great to see Havana at night! I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up, but I had a few places marked on my map. I had downloaded Havana in Google Maps, and I was very happy the the GPS worked even without cellular service. I ended up at a place called Siá-Kará Café. There were some great musicians playing, especially the saxophonist. I got a seat at the bar and ordered a Cuba Libre and flan. Both were wonderful. I had a great conversation with one of the servers, and it was very interesting to get his take on life in Cuba. By the way, I didn’t pry. He just started telling me about his life. On my next trip to Havana, I hope to visit there again!

Gran Teatro at night


Flan & Cuba Libre


A few more photos of the walk back to the ship:

Supposed to be a good place to go


The next morning, we were still in Havana until 11:30. I decided to just stay on the ship, since I had a very full day from 8:15am until almost midnight. I chose to keep that beautiful day as my Havana experience. Another thing is that I spent over $200! You could spend much less per day, but I’d say I packed about 3 days of enjoyment and exploration into one. I was eating a wonderful lunch in the main dining room as we sailed away from Havana:

Ah, I can’t wait to go back!

#mojito #classiccar #hemingway #rum #norwegiancruiseline #cuba #guaridita #havana #sunrise #paladar #ncl #daiquiri