Thursday, April 20, 2017

Back in Havana

The best bedroom in our last Casa Particular on Calle Oficios
we shared with Larry & Christine. The next morning they
left for Viñales and we met up with Josh & family
Christine lent Heather her beautiful scarf. We're having
drinks at Cafe Oriente in San Francisco Plaza.
Showing off the scarf!
Here we are all together (except Uzi who was hiding) at the
very expensive restaurant where we had our first dinner
Scott, Shira and Maya on our terrace at Villa Ruiz in Playa
Daniel, Uzi, Maya, Shira and Cookie pose with a Spanish
Maya and Shira at one of the fun clothes
pin sculptures at a beautiful gallery near
Cathedral Plaza.

There is so much fun public art in Havana. This is a very
 new piece in the Plaza Vieja.

Cookie, Shira, Daniel, Scott, Josh, Uzi and Maya stroll the

At the Museum de Bombas (firemen) Maya
poses behind a plaque.

Another example of the lovely small parks with art and
fountains scattered around Havana - here with a generous
musician practicing his guitar.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Trinidad, Cuba

Music is everywhere and participation is encouraged.
Christine joined for some salsa! 

The "Spanish Steps" like stairs to the Casa de Musica right
behind our Casa Particular apartment

A close up near the top of the stairs

Finding a nice place to eat is easy!

I'm not sure how long I have on wifi here in Havana. It's really surprising how much I miss having access to internet. So far on this visit we've had it only once three days before this. So I'm publishing this entry in segments so at least something goes out. Trinidad is very beautiful and there is music everywhere - and it's excellent. We had two nights in a beautiful Casa Particular (a future post will list all the places we stayed with Airbnb, restaurants and travel arrangements - along with advice on how to avoid the grifters) with a roof top terrace overlooking the city down to the sea. Our apartment in Trinidad was very charming with two terraces, 3 stories (pretty much one room per floor made up our apartment). The first terrace was tucked in between rooms on the third floor and was where we had our breakfast. The second encompassed the entire roof top. From there we could see over the entire town down to the sea. Melenia was the caretaker and took  care of us very well - the breakfast in the morning was perfect (the owner, Barbara, was in Rome). Our only critique would be the unequal nature of the two bedrooms - one was larger and adjoined the only bathroom. And as mentioned in the reviews, it was quite noisy at night - less the music and more the very loud party people.
Our first afternoon we took Melenia's advice and ate at a very attractive restaurant on the square just below our house. The band was good and Christine ended up joining them for a dance.
Leading out of the square a long flight of stairs ends up at the Casa de Musica with an outdoor lighted stage. Chairs and tables dot the stairs with some people just sitting on the ground. Bands rotate continuously throughout the afternoon and way into the night. That evening we sat and enjoyed mojitos with the crowds. The first band was the same as at lunch and they all waved to us! Afterwards we walked around the most historic area and chose La Terreza Restaurant due to the cascades of bougainvillea over the tables. The two women singers were quite good and sang more modern tunes, a nice change.
Melenia had organized a taxi to take us to and from La Playa the next morning. The beach was quite lovely with still clear water - Larry & Christine enjoyed a long swim. Scott and I walked the beach. There were a couple of small hotels back from the water but it was all very low key - no bathroom/shower facilities and just one simple cafe.
Back in Trinidad after a nice lunch out on a patio behind a restaurant we set out to find the Cubanacan office. In Cienfuegos the Cubanacan employee couldn't sell Larry the tickets to Viñales but told us to get them in Trinidad. The office was locked shut but luckily a nearby vendor alerted the agent who was having coffee and he opened up. BUT he didn't appear to know anything and denied that the agency even had a bus to Viñales! We were about to give up when a resident next door told us where to find another agent. This man was doing business in an arcade. He gave us some good advice (but couldn't sell us tickets). He suggested we try to buy them at the Hotel Plaza in Havana the next day and if that didn't work, show up at 8 am for the bus and try to buy them from the driver (in the event that failed, hire a taxi with anyone else in the same predicament - I guess this happens frequently).
Christine and I did some shopping on the way back and both bought red bead necklaces and bracelets. I found the souvenirs here more expensive than at the big tourist market on the harbor in Havana. After a siesta we were back walking the streets looking for a place to have dinner. Trinidad is packed with tourists, both foreign and local. There were lines at many places. Finally we chose one where we were able to wait at the bar and really enjoyed watching the bartender make drinks. He was very good and meticulous. He introduced us to the Trinidad favorite cocktail - the Canchánchua (lime juice, honey and rum, traditionally the very crude unfinished rum called Aguardiente), delicious. The food and service were great although we were all getting pretty tired of basically the same choices - fish, shrimp, chicken or pork with rice and a small salad.
Our last morning, after another great breakfast, Melenia organized a man to come with a wooden hand cart. He piled on all our luggage and tied it down. We set off at a trot as it was late. The bus was comfortable but it was a long trip - six hours with a brief stop for a snack. Larry was able to buy the tickets to Viñales and Scott managed to purchase 11 tickets to the Ballet for Sunday at the Grand Teatro.
We took a taxi to our Casa for that night and had a nice driver. He stayed with us while we tried to get in. The owner's aunt was watching TV and didn't hear us. Some of the other tenants in the building helped get her attention. More when I can get some faster wifi.

Heather bought a red bead necklace from this
really nice vendor, copying Christine who had
bought one earlier.
This is our apartment building - our bedroom was second
floor far left.
And this is our roof top terrace!
I love the tile detail on this restaurant!
It's common to see flowers are for sale 
Great combination of tile, painted murals and color
Scott, Christine and Larry at La Terraza Restaurant
Christine and Scott silhouetted in a patio 
This library was more notable for the building than for the
number of books - but it's impressive that this small town
had a library at all. 
Late evening in one of the pretty squares around town
Scott with Melinia and our luggage piled high in a hand cart
This was the scene across the street from our Casa Particular in the early morning as we left Trinidad.
Souvenir stands line the street - they all sell
pretty much the same things everywhere.
The view down from our terrace across tile roofs to a man
on a horse, a common sight.
A complimentary drink at Esquerra Restaurant on the Plaza
Many of the restaurants are in old colonial homes and still
contain some of the furniture, and often pianos.
Christine and Larry stroll down the Plaza Mayor with the
Church of the Holy Trinity in the background.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cienfuegos, Cuba

A wide sidewalk called the Malecon runs along the Bay at Cienfuegos
After 5 days together in Isla Mujeres on our boat, Larry & Christine and ourselves headed off for two weeks in Cuba. It was an easy trip to the airport at Cancun via ferry and taxi, and our flight went out on time. Our first night in Havana was lovely - dinner outside with an almost full moon beside one of the beautiful squares in the old section. Our casa particular was very comfortable and the host arranged a good early breakfast before our taxi picked us up early Saturday morning. 
After a 3+ hour drive he brought us right to our next casa. Cienfuegos is only 200 years old (compared to Havana and Trinidad which are 500) but it is quite charming - the only city in Cuba founded by the French - immigrants from Bordeaux and Louisiana. It was an important trading port and a battle site in the Spanish American War. Hurricane Dennis visited here in 2005 with winds of 144 miles per hour and gusts up to 177 miles per hour.
We walked all over the city. The anchorage and marina are on the bay with the beautiful historic Yacht Club but the water is rather disgusting - smelly and muddy. There were cruising type boats tied up there but the guards wouldn't let us on the docks so we couldn't talk to anyone. Unfortunately Christine had a stomach virus which really kicked in that afternoon and needed to stay at our Casa for the rest of the day. In the evening Scott, Larry and I walked down to the central square and had dinner with another great band playing. Afterwards we had ice cream at the famous national chain of ice cream stores called Coppelia and got taken. The water presented the bill of $2.50 each ice cream (not fancy or large portions) and we paid it, in C.U.Cs, which was all we had. He took the money and didn't say anything. It turns out that the charge was local pesos - about $.10 each. BIG tip! 
Our host family there were really great people and we enjoyed their company a lot; Elena, Chichi and their son Javier. Their home is over 100 years old with two story high rooms with decorated ceilings and pillars! The next morning Christine was feeling much better and we all enjoyed an excellent breakfast before walking around the city. Fortunately we came upon the Cienfuegos Symphony Orchestra having their weekly concert in the park and thoroughly enjoyed it. Music of every kind is everywhere in Cuba. Before Americans had 5+ hours of TV a day as a steady diet, they too were musicians and entertained each other. 
Our hosts arranged for a taxi driver to take us to Trinidad at 11 am - an easy 1.5 hour drive at first through the foothills of the mountains and then along the coast. Here  we had two nights in our own apartment - 3 stories high with two terraces and a view over the city to the ocean. It's very attractive and right in the oldest section of the town - but rather noisy at night! There are bands at every restaurant and bar and they are all good. I've been eating too much for sure. More on Trinidad later.
Looking into the living room of our Casa Particular from
the dining room.,

The ceiling!

A few of the houses across the street - we loved the flag
decorated terrace on the last one.

Another lovely casa

Our own Casa Particular, run by Chichi and Elena with
their son Javier.

Horse drawn carriages are everywhere outside of Havana
(and some even in the city). These are not for the tourists,
although a few are, but transportation for the locals.

Arcades line the main street and everywhere
there is beautiful wrought iron work.

The main street has a tree lined center park down the entire
length until you reach the Malecon along the bay.

Larry and Scott join our bartender at the Bahia Restaurant
for a photo. We had a great lunch there.

As everywhere young people love having their photos taken
(and not only the young). After taking their photos for them
I took one of them myself. These were Cuban students on
a weekend holiday.
Beautiful homes lined the bay
This one was undergoing renovations.
The Blue Palace (from the back)
Larry and Scott in front of the Cienfuegos Yacht Club. It had three restaurant/bars, tennis courts and a big swimming
pools complex as well as the Marina. Most of the Marina was full of charter boats. About 10 cruising sailboats were
anchored in front. The water in the bay is really disgusting - somewhat smelly and brownish.
Heather poses with famous native son
Benny More - Cuban singer
Restaurants line the one of the Pedestrian streets that lead to
Jose Marti Square.
Here's a view of a section with lots of seats for people watching.
I loved these public phone "booths" and notice the FBI
on the t shirt of the man on the left.
The Cienfuegos Cathedral with the Medici Lions.
The lovely theater
Huge trees cast comfortable shadows across many of the benches
City Hall
Lots of people are frustrating themselves trying to use the
public internet. We certainly had problems.
The "barbershop" trio that played for us during dinner. They
loved to harmonize - more than usual in cuban music.
The view as the sun was setting down the Pedestrian street.
Larry and Scott enjoy their very expensive ice creams!
Next morning Christine was feeling much better.
A shot as we approach the concert on the Prado (the park
in the center of the main street).
A close up view of the right side.
And on the left - no strings so really a band for this concert.
Bicycles are fitted with a wooden seat in front for children.
Generally women sit on the back wheel.
Christine looking lovely and feeling well.
Another pedestrian street lined with souvenir stalls and
waiting for customers.
We all loved these cars and cameras made of
soft drink cans - Christine bought several for
her grandsons.
These last photos are all Christine's and they
are fun! These puffer fish were made into
ceiling lights at the Bahia Restaurant.
I love the textures in this shot
Vintage car and lovely home along the Malecon
The view along the road from Cienfuegos to Trinidad
Our taxi driver to Trinidad and his car.
This is priceless! Great eye Christine.
Street scene in Trinidad
Christine enjoying this great orange car!