Havana Day 1


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Customs House

We arrived in Havana in the afternoon. This, as you might expect was the highlight of our trip. We had lost time waiting for Fidel and that meant the tour was a little rushed. The bus dropped us off at the Customs House. It looks a bit disused but our local

Coche Mambi

guide, Janko, assured me it is being refurbished. We walked along the waterfront and then stopped at a train carriage. This originally belonged to the Cuban Railroad Company and, beginning in 1902, was used by Cuban presidents for campaigns and official visits.

Plaza de Armas

Continuing along we came to the Plaza de Armas (square of arms), Havana’s oldest square. It was laid out in the 1520’s. It gained the current name in the late 16th century when it was used by the colonial governor for military exercises.

Plaza Vieja

Our walk continued along lovely narrow streets with imposing buildings looking down until we emerged in Plaza Vieja (Old Square). It was first used in 1559. It was popular for processions, bullfights, fiestas and executions. Havana’s wealthiest citizens had balconies overlooking the square and it is still enclosed by a host of resplendent buildings. Quite a number are currently being renovated.

Viaje Fantastico by Roberto Fabelo

A bronze rooster with a nude girl riding him sits incongruously in the square. This is a statue by Roberto Fabelo entitled Viaje Fantastico, or fantastic trip. It was donated to the people of Havana.

As we continued our walk I was overcome by the amount of colour. So many buildings were decorated

Blue building

in various shades of bright blue. It does a lot to enliven a cityscape.

Terminal Sierra Maesta

The next stop on our journey was St Francis of Assis Square. We entered the square by passing in front of the saint’s church. The square opened out showing us the shipping terminal,

Casa de Cambio

Terminal Sierra Maesta, which is a long way from the water and across the other side, Casa de Cambio, the house of change.

Janko took us along several narrow roads and we were able to occasionally glance inside houses. They


were generally cool and luxurious. A quite amazing sight we passed was a huge mural. It is approximately 300 square metres and is made up of 52 panels. It depicts 67 historical and artistic figures from Cuba.

Our walk now took us into Plaza de la Catedral. This is a relatively

Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception

small square dominated by the Cathedral of Havana, Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of eleven Roman Catholic Cathedrals in Cuba. The right bell tower is larger than the left.

Hemingway’s bar

Next we were taken to the bar that Ernest Hemingway frequented. In my research it turned it out that Mr Hemingway liked a wee dram. There are several “Hemingway” bars. Normally this place is packed but it was closed due to the mourning so we could actually see inside. Later we were taken to an hotel where, for a small fee, we could climb five stories and see Mr Hemingway’s typewriter. Between you and me, we have seen a typewriter before so we gave that a miss.

Now we were given some free time. Our first task was to get some money. This proved to not be so

Drink time

easy. Aside from Australian mobile SIM cards not working in Cuba, Australian bank and credit cards don’t work either. This could have been a disaster but fortunately Anna had a Polish card. It worked fine. Dodged a bullet there.

It was pretty hot so we decided it would nice to have a feed and a drink. We found a likely looking bar; sat down and chose from the menu… and waited… and waited… and waited. We moved outside thinking we might be able to attract attention. Anna even button holed a waiter but there was no way they were going to serve us so we up stakes and moved to another bar. Here they were very friendly and had a pleasant menu. Mojito mmm. We ordered a couple of drinks. No rum. It is the period of mourning. We were mourning too. But they were very nice and refreshing anyway.

Paying respect

While we were eating our pizza, five people appeared wearing lettered t-shirts. My initial thought was that they were on the cadge but this did not prove to be the case. They were simply expressing their feelings.

After regrouping we continued our walk, heading to


Parque Central which is a small park where old cars do laps for tourists. Opposite is the domed Capitolio Nacional de Cuba and the resplendent opera house, Gran Teatro de La Habana.

Gran Teatro de La Habana

Our guides took us down Paseo del Prado which is reminiscent of

Capitolio Nacional de Cuba

the Las

Paseo del Prado

Ramblas in Barcelona. To gain access one needs to cross a very busy and very wide road with innumerable traffic lights. I was following along like a sheep, mostly looking into my camera view finder when Anna screamed. I was walking against a red light and into a tsunami of traffic. I made it back to the footpath, just.

Bordering the street that parallels Paseo del Prado are

Memorial Granma

huge and beautiful buildings. Most of them are being restored but their elegance was evident. When the work is finished this will be a very special place.

Continuing on we came to Memorial Granma. Granma is the small launch that brought Fidel Castro and his men back to Cuba to begin the revolution. It is preserved in a glass room in the middle of the park guarded by armed soldiers. The park around the yacht is filled with military curios: tanks, jeeps, the delivery truck used in the 1957 assault on the Palacio

Presidencial, and an aeroplane turbine, allegedly

Museum of the Revolution

from a U-2 spy plane downed during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Our walk then took us to

Fort Morro

the presidential palace which is now the museum of the revolution. We finished up on the banks of the banks of the Almendares River looking out to the Morro Castle which guards the entrance to the harbour.