Monday, 26 May 2014

Havana, Cuba - Day 1.

After a ten hour flight from London to Havana with Air France (the only airlines who fly to Havana from the UK are Air France, KLM, and Virgin), we arrived late evening to sweltering heat and a storm brewing. We stepped out of the airport to be greeted by our taxi driver, and to the sight of run down old 1950's cars. After driving through Havana in awe of the crumbling buildings and old cars, we got settled in our Casa Particular, Casa Cristo Colonial which was situated in Old Havana (also known as Habana Vieja).

We woke to a beautiful breakfast laid on by our wonderful hosts Javier and Belkis to re-fuel us ready for a full day of sights and cocktails.

casa cristo colonial havana cuba
casa cristo colonial havana cuba

The Guava juice was probably the best I've ever had, it was insanely good, and we were very grateful for the fresh fruit salad after a rather unhealthy dinner on our Air France flight the night before. Javier gave us a map of Old Havana, and pointed out the main points of interest including the Capitol Building which was a 5minute walk around the corner. We set off and just seconds after leaving the Casa were being greeted by smiling friendly Cubans as we strolled down the road. 

Old cars and colourful buildings in Havana Cuba
It was slightly overcast, and our shoulders dropped when we saw that the Capitol Building was not only closed and fenced off, but covered in scaffolding. The colourful buildings and cars cheered us up though, and we set off in search for the famous Partagas Cigar Factory just behind the Capitol Building. Sadly this too was closed - the factory has moved outside of the city so the old building could be repaired. 

Partagas cigar factor havana cuba

Cohiba Cigars in Havana Cuba
The shop however is still there, so we made the most of stocking up on various brands of cigars, and then headed off to the Parque Central hotel for cocktails on the roof terrace - it was 11am after all, and we were on holiday! On the way we walked past dozens of old cars parked up or wizzing by us, Cubans shouting 'Hold Linda!' out of the window, which apparently means 'Hello cute girl' - be warned, Cuban men say this a lot, so just smile politely and say Gracias, it's totally normal for Cuban men to shower women with compliments.

National Capitol Building in Havana Cuba

Colourful classic cars in Havana Cuba
Jose Marti memorial statue in Havana Cuba
The Jose Marti statue in the Parque Central Square
Up on the Parque Central rooftop we had Mojitos and Daiquiris, for a bargain 4.50CUC (around £3) each whilst overlooking the Capitol Building and square. 

Parque Central cocktails Havana Cuba

View from Parque Central hotel rooftop Havana Cuba
After feeling wonderfully refreshed and slightly light-headed, we skipped (literally) down the street to Obispo, the main street that runs through Old Havana. It's full of restaurants and bars with music playing constantly and people dancing in the street. After Ciara had had a quick dance, we walked all the way down to Plaza de la Catedral, where San Cristobal Cathedral is, took a few snaps and then had a few more mojitos in La Bodeguita del Medio, Ernest Hemmingway's favourite haunt; "My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita".

Dancing on the streets of Havana

Ernest Hemmingway quote in La Bodeguita Havana
Mojitos in La Bodeguita Havana

Band in La Bodeguita Havana Cuba
Photo from Jasiminne

Photo from Jasiminne
San Cristobal Cathedral Havana
San Cristobal Cathedral is a pretty impressive Roman Catholic cathedral famous for its baroque architecture. It's one of the oldest Cathedrals in the Americas having been built in 1748, and is made mainly from coral. It's official name is The Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, but everyone calls it San Cristobal as it is dedicated to Saint Christopher. It also has links to Christopher Columbus, as his remains were interred in the cathedral until 1898 when they were returned to Spain. The plaza it's situated on is really pretty and has some excellent restaurants near it, one of which we went to; Paladar Dona Eutimia.

A Paladar is a private restaurant in someone's home, rather than a state-run restaurant. They are the restaurants where you will find the best Cuban cuisine, rather than the more touristy state-run places. Paladar Dona Eutimia was definitely better than the bland state-run 5CUC (£3) meal we'd had the previous night, there was much more choice, the food was excellent, and we left very full and very happy. 

Paladar Dona Eutimia Havana Cuba

Food at Paladar Dona Eutimia Havana Cuba
Dessert at Paladar Dona Eutimia Havana Cuba
It cost us around 20CUC (around £12) each for drinks, a huge seafood meal, and dessert, and it was so worth the extra cost! If you go, make sure you book in advance or be prepared to wait a while - it's one of the most popular Paladar's in Havana! After our very late lunch we then headed back to the Casa to have a nap and get changed and ready for Tropicana Club (more on this tomorrow!), however on the way back we passed a coupla interesting characters...

Dressed up dog on the streets of Obispo Havana

Photo from Jasiminne

Photo from Jasiminne
We're still not quite sure why this man was carrying a huge tray of eggs...we think he was trying to sell them.

Colourful Cuban lady with her cat on the streets of Havana
Cadillac in Havana Cuba
Our first day in Havana was truly amazing and definitely eye-opening, (however I wasn't too impressed that the Cadillac in the above photo had been totally destroyed *sob*) we learnt so much and I can't wait to tell you about it all in my 'Havana Day 2' post!


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