I rose early so that I could squeeze in a final swim and a walk along the beach in the opposite direction as the day before. On my way out I said goodbyes to Wally who was just wrapping up a month on the island that morning and the other Casa guests that were awake. We enjoyed a late breakfast (you really can’t pass up one of these Casa breakfasts) and we paid for our stay. This Casa had been $30 CUC a night with 4 CUC breakfasts. We then walked over to the bus station allowing a fair amount more time than the 30 minutes early they said to arrive just to be on the safe side. After all it would turn out to be our only chance we’d get to use the Viazul bus service and didn’t want to risk losing our spot with no more departures available that day. Tickets for this stretch were $20 each. It was no problem for the attendant to locate us on the list they’d be the day before to purchase our tickets and the bus departed on schedule. The trip was just under a few hours making stops at the Veradero airport along the way and another time at a junction to transfer to another line. There were many great views of oceanfront, valleys of lush rainforest and coastal towns.
To note here, if you are on one of the longer bus rides and may require toilet paper, be sure to bring along your own. In fact, I forgot to mention earlier that packing your own paper may come in handy several time as you travel throughout Cuba! Another good tip for the buses is that we heard they can be very chilly sometimes from the air conditioner so you may want to bring a sweater just in case. On this trip we had the sun on our side shining through the window so the temperature on the bus was just right.
The entrance into Havana was pretty incredible. I looked up from my book just in time to catch a glimpse of the majestic fortresses that line much of the coastline there before we entered a tunnel through time and emerged to the sight of the famous Havana with its crumbling colonial architecture and views of the monstrous fortress we had passed moments before. The bus made a stop here which was Old Havana and many of the passengers disembarked here. We had a lead on a Casa particular in the Vedado neighbourhood so we continued on and exited the bus near the Havana University.
From there it was a short walk to our first Casa attempt which as expected didn’t work out. Of course once again it was for the better because they led us around the corner to an apartment building opposite the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba and unobstructed views of the Malecon boardwalk and the Ocean. We stayed on the 7th floor of this building in a 4-bedroom apartment that was shared with the family and another pair of guests. It was available at 25 CUC a night for the room, the best rate we had paid this trip so far. From there we headed out to explore the impressive Havana University Campus with stops along the way along Avenida de los Presidentes to admire and snap some photographs with statues of some of the important figures of Cuba’s past and an attempt to have my phone repaired to recover photos from the first couple of days. We then stopped for dinner and headed in for the night exploring a couple of other neighbourhood streets and small galleries along the way.
Where Trinidad had its roosters and dogs throughout the night, the 7th floor of Havana safe from the noises of the street had its squawking birds! This was remedied by drowning them out with the sound of the air conditioner which was just a little above the level of the beds.
Day 5 began with breakfast on the patio of our apartment watching the sun rise over the ocean. We then packed some supplies for the day and headed out to Old Havana. The taxis here were mostly classic American cars, many of which appeared to be held together with Stucco and came with a fairly hefty price tag so we opted to take the transit bus around with the locals.
Once we arrived in Old Havana we roamed through some of the main streets exploring shops and galleries. There were many great snacks and some of my favourites varied from freshly cracked coconuts to churros and Cuban fudge (I particularly enjoyed the sugarcane fudge with a layer of Guava Jelly on it). We also tried homemade nut bars (somewhat resembled granola bars), corn on the cob dipped in mayonnaise and popcorn which was abundant in most places. There was quite a bit of painting and road restoration going on at the time in preparation for the historic visit from USA President Obama which would be occurring in a couple of days so we did not spend much time as we would have liked on a few of the main streets. There were however many more plazas and buildings to explore and we decided to spend the afternoon in the National Museum of Cuban arts as we’d been impressed with the unique art we had seen throughout the island so far.
After leaving the gallery we headed over the African Cuban Museum to learn a bit about the history between some of the nations and the influences they had on the island and enjoyed some live music and dancing.
We headed back to the Vedado to pick up my cell phone/camera but the shop had not had any luck with it so we then boarded a bus to go and visit the historic cemetery. Later in the day we struck out again at the Viazul station (they announced they were sold out to Santa Clara for the next 6 days!) and decided to head out to a restaurant we’d walked by earlier in the day for a fantastic Italian dinner followed by an enjoyable a drink on the patio of our apartment while watching the sun set. We discovered today that bottled water can be difficult to come by or in limited supply in some areas of Havana so make sure that you bring enough water for most of the day when you set out to be on the safe side to combat the really high humidity.
Day 6 began with another sunrise breakfast and we headed back to Old Havana to tour the Ship Museum featuring a wide range of exhibits from boats used by early Spanish settlers to the famous Canadian Bluenose Schooner. Part of the charm of this museum was its location in a historic fortress called the Royal Force Castle (as translated by Google maps) at the entrance to Old Havana. We then headed over to the Museum of the Revolution which is truly a must visit for anyone visiting the city. To learn about the revolution from the perspective of the Cuban’s really is an enlightening experience. We realized that we had not yet seen any of Central Havana which is where Old and New Havana collide and decided to walk back to our Casa through that neighbourhood and then along the Malecon. After dinner I headed across the road to check out the Hotel Nacional. What a gorgeous historic building, it was the Caribbean’s first 5-Star hotel and unlike most of Havana has been very well kept up. After touring the grounds and some of the shops I learned about the Cabaret Parisien Show hosted at the hotel and we decided to check that out as Cuba is well known for its Cabaret and the one at the famous Tropicana Hotel was not within reach of our budget friendly trip price range.
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