Always wanting to visit Havana Cuba, I hopped on the RCL ship “Empress of the Seas” for a 5 night cruise with an overnight in Havana, lucky for me the “Empress” was the last ship allowed to visit Cuba, a new Cuba embargo was put into effect while on the ship was docked in Havana. To make the most of my 30+ hours in Havana, I booked a 6hr excursion tour with “Urban Adventures” that turned into 8hrs. It was a perfect sunny day as I made my way to San Francisco square to meet my tour guide “Yuri”.
-The Capitolio… much like our capital building
-Plaza Revolution…with faces of Jose Marti and Che on the government buildings(only building with A/C)
-The Malecon…Havana seaside wall
-Cemetery Colon… Artistic graves
Our final stop was at the famous Hotel Nacional and I sampled the “Mojito” while admiring the photos of the famous celebrities who had a drink at the bar I was sitting at.
Following our drive we visited a local restaurant to sample Cuban food, very simple but dipping bread in a mayonnaise sauce was interesting.
We then started our walk through old Havana and visiting a few new Havana sites. We walked to all four famous squares; Plaza de la Cathedral(Havana Cathedral), La Bodeguita Del Medio( famous Hemingway bar), Plaza Armas, Plaza Vieja and finally ending our walk at a park displaying “La Giraldilla” the fist sculpture cast in Cuba and is now a symbol of city.
Day#2 Now that I had my bearing I decided to explore the city on my own. Walking in Havana is a challenge as the streets are filled with “large chuck holes”, there are very few traffic lights and the duel currency system is a tad confusing. I made my way to the Almacenes San Jose which is Havana’ largest handcraft and art market. Endless small shops selling everything from original art to Jewelry. I then walked to a recently restored warehouse known as Cerveceria Antiguo which is a massive brewery, restaurant and bar on the waterfront, had a cold one while listening to the music and watching the locals dance. Following a snack I walked through the streets admiring old, the new and the falling apart that are still lived in. Found a local barber and got a trim before making my way back to the ship.
OBSERVATION; Cuba is a very poor third world country, I found lines of people at small stores just picking up small plastic bags of bread crumbs, grocery stores had empty shelves, Credit cards are not accepted and cash in the way to go. Dollars and Euros are widely accepted by private merchants and if you want to buy cigars, only shop at the official government stores as there are many counterfeits. The streets are very colorful, I was never hassled and I was saddened to see a county in such a poor state.