We booked a sightseeing tour with a German speaking tour-guide for 120 EUR in advance. Currently 1 EUR equals (on Feb. 12, 2017) almost 1 CUC, which is the official currency for tourists. An average Cuban worker makes approximately 40 CUC/month. One CUC equals almost 25 CUP, which is the official currency for locals. A visit to a museum costs for a tourist 6 CUC and for a local 6 CUP!
The guide (Carmen) arrived at 9:30 hours to pick us up for the tour, which included a two-hour convertible ride through the town of Habana followed by a three hours walking-tour through Vieja Habana. Carmen was a German philology student and spoke quite well our language. She introduced us to the history of the country and the town.
We drove from our B&B towards the University, the Botanical Garden and the Plaza Nacional where we stepped out of the car and walked around the asphalt pavement to hear about Che, Fidel and their friends during the revolution. Then we continued our tour through the suburbs along parks, embassies and other official buildings such as schools, sport arenas, etc. Our next stop was at Fusterlandia, an art area where José Fuster works in a way like Gaudi did. Born in Caibarién, on Cuba’s north coast, and coming from a very ordinary family, he started working as a literacy volunteer in the Sierra Maestra mountains, followed by studying art in Habana. Today Fuster estimates his personal exhibitions at more than 100. He puts his own money – money he makes from selling his paintings and sculptures – back into the community, redecorating his neighbour’s houses, incorporating them into Fusterlandia. We have been very much reminded of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona that is impressive, too.
From the exhibition at Fusterlandia we drove to the Bosque de La Habana (parque Metropoitano), which is a botanical park area in Havana with exotic plants, a little river and rest areas. Because of the fact that we had chosen the “not raining” season of the year (equals winter in Europe) we did not see many blooming plants and trees, but the temperature was very acceptable (around 28 °C) and the humidity was quite fair. Walking around didn’t cause much sweating but you have to have bottled water with you all the time.
After two hours of driving and sightseeing the driver stopped near Old Havana, the so called Vieja Habana. We stepped out off the car near the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and walked into Old Town Havana. Here we thought we might find the real Cuba: Life music and people dancing while others are smoking cigars and drink Mojitos. But … the worse happened: houses in a horrible status, people who tried to get the tourist’s money out off their pockets, etc. Nothing like Cuban flair or human lifestyle! Although some houses looked nice the average building was in bad shape. You could see that money and effort is needed to bring them back to life.
This part of town was busy with crowds of tourists walking around and artists trying to make some money by posing or attracting.
After three hours walking around we thought that it might be a good idea to get something to eat. Our guide recommended a place where we could good food at a reasonable price. We stopped at Chacón 162, where we did have a delicious meal and perfect cocktails. Because of the fact that our internal human memory got overloaded with information, we decided to walk back to our B&B to get some rest before we start our evening excursions in Havana.
Dining in Havana can be an adventure, because stepping into a restaurant doesn’t mean that you will get what they do offer on their menu. You should be patient and ask what they have to offer. Many items are not available – especially on the weekends. Knowing this I preordered Lobster at the restaurant Casa Abel two weeks in advance. I found it quite helpful that I have heard – while watching a documentary about Cubas new IT businesses – about an App from which you can easily find restaurant in Cuba: Ala Mesa. I choose this restaurant because of it’s Cuban dishes and it’s close vicinity to our B&B. And we haven’t been disappointed.
It looks like a wonderful place, tastefully furnished. The menu is a little limited. They also have a balcony with a few tables on the main dining room floor but a shame that the view is marred with an eyesore of a space where a building used to be (I didn’t post a picture of that).
The food was good although the lobster was different to what we knew from Maine, MA or the Provence, France. But the dinner was delicious, the wine from Chile excellent and the dessert what we expected: to die for. When I ordered “La Cuenta, for favour” the host offered me a cigar as a thank you for being my guest instead of a drink on the house. What a wonderful experience we never expected. On our was back to our Casa Particular we stepped into a music club, had a drink or two, listened to life music and were ready to go to bed afterwards.
What an exciting day we’ve had. Let’s see what the next will offer to us. We did make plans already, but we had to see how the weather will be. The forecast wasn’t that good: Strong winds and rain are coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. So we will see …