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I came across this grandmother and her granddaughter on the streets of Old Havana, Cuba last May while I was studying there. In Cuba, families and their neighbours flock to public spaces such as this street corner to converse and socialize. Because of the US embargo, Cuban's have little access to the materialist-based activities Canadian's have access to. Instead, social interaction within the community and family bonding is an lengthy activity of leisure. I love the way this photo captures love and comfort and nourishment in I witnessed in Cuban family life. Also, mangos in Cuba were unbeatable, and this woman shared her mango with us after the photo was taken!
While in Cuba, I visited the nature reserve called Las Terrazas. There I found a coffee shop that served this capppuccino with a surprise cinnamon topping. With a specially designed stencil, the servers offer up a real Cuban coffee with an image of Che Guevara. It only seemed appropriate as Che Guevara is a beloved figure in Cuba. If you travel to Cuba, be sure to visit the town of Santa Clara. There you will find the Monumento Ernesto Che Guevara... a complex with a huge statue of the revolutionary hero, a museum detailing his life, and a mausoleum holding Guevara's remains.
Trinidad's Plaza Mayor is an open air museum of Spanish colonial architecture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site features colourful, brilliantly preserved architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries, when the town was the capital of the country's prosperous sugar trade. Colonial mansions, plazas and churches line cobblestone streets, surrounded by the Escambray mountains near the Caribbean sea.
With the US travel restrictions to Cuba recently relaxed, I was able to realize a lifelong dream and visit that enchanting tropical isle under an official educational license for "people to people" travel. There were so many highlights, I'll never be able to post them all. But let me get back on topic. In between the fascinating meetings with locals and the exhilarating live music and the walking tours of colorful colonial neighborhoods, I was also on a mission to decide who made the best mojito in Cuba. To be honest, I also sampled my share of Cuba Libres, but in the interest of stress-free travel, I was only judging the mojitos. And... the award for best mojito in Cuba goes to... the lobby bar at Hotel Meliá Cohiba in Havana. From the generous portions of rum and perfectly muddled spearmint to the exact balance of sweetness versus lime-ness, we have a winner! For any like-minded travelers who find themselves taste-testing around Havana, consider a trek to the bar where Hemingway drank his mojitos, La Bodeguita del Medio, a painfully small watering hole that has significantly more atmosphere than barstools. Above the bar is a framed note in Hemingway's own hand indicating that besides mojitos, he also enjoyed daiquiris (but for those he visited the historic restaurant El Floridita). Salud!
While visiting Old Havana, I couldn't resist a photograph of this elderly cigar smoker. She added some local color to a wonderful day in the historic and colonial heart of Havana. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a beautifully preserved colonial city. Travel restrictions have eased somewhat for Americans traveling to Cuba, so if you want to visit this fascinating island country, now is a great time to consider a trip there.
I had the opportunity to visit Cuba this year, and for the week I was there, I felt like I had taken a trip back in time. The vintage cars are a delight and they are seemingly everywhere. Many are used as private taxis or utilized by hotels to transport their guests in style. It was a thrill to be driven out to Hemingway's House from Havana in one of these vintage convertibles. It brought back wonderful memories of these cars from my childhood.
In recent years Cubans have been permitted to open their own restaurant businesses called paladars. Davimart in Trinidad is one of the most successful of the paladars. Here a photo of our dinner shows why. We found good paladars pretty much everywhere - most of them are within the owner's houses and frequently unique ways to meet local people willing to have "real" conversations about their lives with visitors from abroad.
Havana, Cuba is a living, breathing piece of art. The sky and sea battle daily for the most brilliant, striking shades of blue, and the decay on the buildings creates a contrasting natural canvas with varying hues of rust and oxidation. As the light changes hour by hour, it slides in between the buildings, highlighting new colors, turning others darker the shadows. It's a city that's "bright" by default ... like Mother Nature just dipped a giant paintbrush into 20 colors and then splatter painted it all.
From my vantage point on Cafe de Maria's outdoor terrace, I'm struck by the undulating slopes below me coated in foliage. Here, in the petite community of Las Terrazas, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that was founded on a green ethic, my intention was to meditate on nature while sipping perhaps the best coffee in Cuba. But I'm distracted from my musings by my cappuccino that arrives with the cocoa-sprinkled visage of Che Guevara staring at me. Serving a dozen different coffee beverages, Cafe de Maria is hailed for its signature iced drink – Las Terrazas is made by blending espresso with milk, chocolate syrup, coffee liqueur and ice – that's particularly appealing on this humid day. But Che only makes an appearance atop a foamy cappuccino, making my coffee the focus of every tourist's digital camera within reach on this terrace. Despite this photo frenzy, Las Terrazas, that's home to just over 1,000 residents, is the hallmark of tranquility and sustainability. The self-contained community is surrounded by foliage thick with indigenous species, including hibiscus, teak and ebony, trees that were part of the reforestation project that gave birth to Las Terrazas. With such a respect for nature, no wonder Hotel Moka was constructed without chopping down a single tree. Even the lobby was built around a towering lime tree. The veggie restaurant, El Romero, sources its honey from the local bee hives and the fruits, including guava and sour orange, from the nearby mountain orchards.
Club Ayala is one of the most unique clubs I've been to anywhere. Located about 100 feet underground, this massive nature cavern is impressive both for its incredible space and killer acoustics. I've never been to anything like it. Saturday tends to be for locals and Fridays for tourists. either way, its a great time.
Stop by the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Old Havana. Ernest Hemingway spent many years living in a hotel room here and the view from the rooftop restaurant and bar is breathtaking. Have a cool, refreshing mojito after visiting the small Hemingway museum and take in the views of El Morro Fort, lighthouse and rooftops of Old Havana.
The Cuban National Ballet is one of the most respected classical ballet companies in the world and the Great Theatre of Havana is just gorgeous. It was quite a special night out for 30 dollars.
and he might even have slept here- this place is world famous for two things - its Hemingway connection (Papa still resides in the corner of the bar in a life sized bronze) and it is reputed to be the home of the original daiquiri. what I can say is they make a mean one and the place is always hopping - live music adds to the atmosphere of the party hearty past when all of pre 1959 Havana was a playground for tourists. so walk the streets of Old Havana and follow the music from bar to bar but end your evening here- with Papa and his favorite drink.
America isn't the only country infatuated with the automobile. Cuba loves its cars too. What's considered a classic car in the United States is just a daily driver in this country limited to fixing up fixer-uppers due to trade issues. I'm betting if the embargo ever gets lifted, there will be a traffic jam of car collectors heading down Cuba way to pick up a vintage ride.
One of Havana’s newer privately run eateries, Nao has a chic dining room with exposed beams and a large international wine collection. In addition to fritters, croquettes, lamb shoulder, pork loin, and a variety of seafood dishes, Nao serves a traditional ropa vieja that is quickly becoming a local favorite. Obispo No. 1-e, between Avenida del Puerto and Baratillo, Habana Vieja, 53/(0) 7-867-3463. This appeared in the October 2013 issue. Photo courtesy of Nao Bar Paladar
Once you’ve found the restaurant, tucked away in an alley off the Plaza de la Catedral in Old Havana, you’ll discover why Leticia Abad’s ropa vieja is widely considered the best in the city. Tables are few and in high demand, so make a reservation for dinner. Callejón del Chorro No. 60-c, Plaza de la Catedral, Habana Vieja, 53/(0) 7-861-1332. This appeared in the October 2013 issue. Photo by Holly Wilmeth
This beautiful baroque facade belongs to the Cathedral of Saint Christopher in Old Havana, Cuba. This classic cathedral occupies a prime position on a beautiful square in Old Havana. If you visit Cuba, be sure to visit this treasure with its vaulted ceilings, large pillars, and collection of antiquities.
Right across the bay, facing the Old Havana port, it's the fishermen town of Regla. There is a very simple boat that crosses people over several times a day. It's an opportunity to experience a more 'local' and genuine Cuba, further from the tourists and it's innate infrastructure. More on this story on: http://www.martinhsphoto.com.
A trip to Santiago de Cuba wouldn't be complete without a visit to San Pedro de la Roca Castle, also known as Castillo del Morro. This imposing fortress on the bay protected the city from pirates and military attack and is considered both historically and architecturally significant. It has been magnificently restored and has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997. We were lucky enough to visit just before sunset when the views were spectacular.
Yes, you read that correctly. This beautiful bar at the Saratoga Hotel is a place for both drinking and smoking. Now forgotten in the US, this used to be how most people passed their time in bars in the "olden days" - here in Cuba, it IS the "olden days"... so light your cigar and order a daiquiri and enjoy your trip to the past. And although it would seem this ambience cannot be topped - they also have a roof top bar (The Mirador) with a stunning view of the senate building and Old Havana to entice you to the top floor poolside bar and restaurant.
I love Havana. There is something oh-so-special about the light--the life--in elegantly decayed La Habana. I go beyond old Havana, into the streets of Centro, of Cerro--walking, observing, experiencing. The laundry hangs from graceful old balconies. A woman sells delicious papa rellenas and cortaditos from her home window. Men carry open cartons of eggs--5 dozen or more at once, stacked, stacked and stacked on a shoulder. I smell the exhaust from the old American cars alongside the fresh baked cake with frilly pink icing that just got into the taxi with me. Listen to the kids screaming as they play futbol in the streets with shoes too big for their feet. Watch the smiles, the touches, the winks, the innocent and easy intimacy among family, friends and lovers in the streets. "Buena!" you'll say as you kiss the cheek of someone you've just met. There are no strangers here, not for long anyway. Dance with abandon to the trova, the son, the salsa music as it pours into the streets from cars and homes. Taste the rum, savor the frijoles negros over rice, pinch the yerba buena, crunch the granules of cane sugar at the bottom of a mojito. Havana is life in full measure. Life lived with the senses, with spontaneity, against the sea, under the caribbean sun and soaked in a sultry moon. La Habana seeps into me like rain into dry soil. I smile to think of it. Five times I've been in the last 25 months. It is not enough. I cannot imagine how it will ever be enough.
If you ever find yourself in Baracoa, on the eastern tip of Cuba, dine at La Rosa Nautica Restaurant and Bar. Perched on the top floor of a nondescipt building away from Baracoa's main drag, this "paladar's" (e.g., a privately-run restaurant) fittingly-designed sliding wood frame-glass windows, not only keep the rain out, but slide open to snapshot views of the Bahia de Miel (Bay of Honey). The entrees - chosen from an international or Creole Baracoa menu - are tasty, colorfully presented, well proportioned and priced. Side dishes are varied, and desserts are local fare and mouth watering. The mojitos and daiquiris from its well-stocked bar add just the right sting. Top dinner off with a cup of cafe con leche or if one were so inclined - "un mojito mas, por favor". What makes this paladar one not to miss is its service and ambience. It is par excellence. Friendly, warm, attentive, authentic and unexpected. Where service in Cuba is at times lackadaisical, here it is served in spades. In addition, Spanish, English and French are spoken. The evening may have been a drizzly and quiet night - but that didn't dampen the spirit of the evening when a girlfriend took to the floor to Bob Marley's music, and La Rosa Nautica's proprietor and staff gamingly took part in the revelry. Truly, a lovely place to be in Baracoa. La Rosa Nautica 1 ro de Abril, No. 185 altos Baracoa, Guantanamo, Cuba tel. 64 57 64 or 58 14 46 54
Here I am, getting my hair blow-dried by the gales crossing over the Malecon. Once I was 'perfectly coifed,'I headed back up to the hotel veranda for a relaxing evening of mojitos and cigars.
Since 1939, Havana's Tropicana Club has illuminated Cuba's nightlife scene with a strong latin music beat and beautiful dancers. Get the rum flowing, the dancers strutting and the music pounding, and a good time is guaranteed.
No visit to Havana is complete without attending the so called "Paradise Under the Stars." The spectacular show opened in 1939 and continues with colorful performances of music, dance and song. The club also has a colorful history, including prior mob involvement and surviving the revolution. Past show headliners included Nat "King" Cole, Carmen Miranda and Josephine Baker. Upon entrance, the women are given a rose and the men a fine cuban cigar. The music, culture, and of course....showgirls made the Tropicana an unforgettable experience in Havana.
Given Aruba’s love for Carnival, it's no surprise San Nicolas residents stage and celebrate a colorful, cultural Caribbean Festival every Thursday night. Imagine pop-up tents featuring fruit smoothies, street food, hand-crafted treasures, colorful performances and more. Most hotels offer packages, including transport, to the festival too. I mingled with locals who cheered on the dancers in costumes. Visitors swayed to music inspired by Calypso and reggae. The icing on the cake was a mini carnival resplendent with masks, sequins, and genuine characters. We saw a man simulating the Aruban sun with dazzling plumes of red and orange—and enough glitter to make a Broadway star go bonkers. I too wore a plumed mask and joined in the crowd of drum-beating, feather-sporting, salsa-stepping locals and had a blast. The festival is also a great morale-booster to locals who can share more with locals. Created in 2011 as part of a $1 billion island refresh initiative (San Nicolas used to be the island’s legal red light district), the Carubbian Festival encourages locals and visitors to celebrate weekly. If you drive past the colorful capital of Oranjestad and the giant cruise ships, you’ll find yourself on the other side of Aruba in San Nicolas. Here the roads are quieter, the low-rise houses are residential and Carnival can be celebrated year round.
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