Thanks to President Obama, who modified the restrictive Cuba travel policy, throngs of visitors are making their way to the island. The change is designed to encourage more contact between Americans and citizens of the Communist-ruled island, the Treasury Department grants so-called “people-to-people” licenses, which greatly expand travel opportunities for Cuba-bound visitors. However, one still cannot just hop on a plane and visit as an independent traveler.
Cuba is realistically set in a time warp – the cars are decades old; 1950’s big Buick’s, Oldsmobile’s and Chevy’s – replacement parts, of course are not available, but the drivers amazingly seem to have kept them running. Evident in a door handle workings: almost hidden, a bent nail and some wire; many of the cars are lacking the interior panels – safety is not relevant – style, reflecting a vintage culture is of importance, amazingly the streets are clogged with traffic of another era.
Crumbling buildings, once elegant and refined European dwellings look like they are on their last legs; majestic marble staircases lead to apartments and restaurants – mixed housing development is clearly acceptable. Walking up the three flights of a graceful wide marble stairway to a hip restaurant, one can easily peer into the bedrooms of the apartment dwellers. A scene out of the Honeymooners television hit.
The Malecón waterfront is beautiful and if commerce is allowed to return, it should be a stunning location for rebuilding these fallen treasures. Old Havana is filled with lovely churches, central parks and leafy tree lined squares, cafes brimming with lively musicians and European tourists. Architecture evoked by Southern Spain, despite the crumbling, one can imagine another time, a time of an elegance and hope.
A trip to the Hemingway Museum is definitely best taken in a vintage convertible, the bumpy ride produces a big smile. Finca Vigia, which means lookout farm, was the name of Hemingway’s residence when he lived there. The Hemingway Museum provides a glimpse of the daily life of Ernest and his wife; the pleasant surroundings and original furnishings make this a must see for anyone interested in the life and works of Ernest Hemingway.
National Museum of Fine Arts Havana – Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes. The Museum of Fine Arts in two impressive buildings, one dedicated to Cuban Arts and Universal Arts. Beautifully organized, view the work of master Cuban painters – including, Adigio. His work can also be seen in his small studio, paintings stacked three deep in his apartment. Despite the language barrier, he enthusiastically shared his latest work, since my visit he has passed away.
Havana is a very fascinating place to visit, and I recommend it for a fun, safe, and utterly unique travel experience in the Caribbean, especially if you’re interested in history, architecture, the contradictory effects of socialism, lively music and great dining. We enjoyed our best meal at family run La Casa a celebrity dining destination. Although the Tropicana night club show is a bit campy, it is definitely a fun cabaret evening. Launched in 1939, it quickly spread the spicy Latin culture to the world, the Tropicana showgirls described as “Las Diosas de Carne” or “Flesh Goddesses”, were celebrated for their curvaceous figures and their embellished feather-and-sparkly sequin costumes. Tropicana Club inspired musical revues in New York, Las Vegas and Paris.
Trinidad – a UNESCO World Heritage site is a picturesque town filled with small taverns and ice cream shops. The Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad is the finest lodging and overlooks the charming Plaza Mayor, strolled by the locals on Sunday afternoons. A gathering spot for conga drums, animated singers and percussionists who participate in small impromptu festivals. Don’t miss the Museo Romantico, a 19th-century colonial mansion with period furniture and textiles, evidence of the once opulent lifestyle of this city. Sunday street vendors offer crafts and local cuisine.
Imagine no cell phones ringing on the street, no one walking down the avenues, head down tapping on a keyboard, no billboards or advertising – quite pure in an odd sense. You will see political signs elevating Fidel Castro and other national heroes. A brief visit, not necessarily a place to spend a lifetime. Still one must be a member of an organized tour group to visit.