We wake up at 4:20, after notoriously waking up all night. And now it is 6 am. The sun is rising and roosters are crowing. Yes, yes, we are in the middle of old Havana and roosters are crowing in the morning…
If you have just arrived to Cuba from Europe, you probably woke up at 3 or 5 am and will be beaten up by 6 pm. So don’t plan too much for the first day. Get your rest and get used to Havana. The best is to see your neighborhood.
After being woken up both by Havana’s roosters and our private one – Zosia 😉 , we decided that we have no choice but to start our first day in Havana far too early. We drunk black tea from empty plastic cups after instant soups, tried to stay awake and keep up with the moodiness of our daughter. By the time we were supposed to have our breakfast we were totally beaten up. Of course till we saw, what is served for Cuban breakfast: a huge plate of fresh fruit (pineapples, guavas, papayas, and bananas), toasts, omelets, eggs, fresh juice, strong strong coffee. Most of the time, we were not able to finish it. With breakfast like this your day cannot go wrong 😉
It’s time to discover Havana. Our first casa was in Centro Habana very close to the Malecon and the western part of La Habana Vieja, where you can find El Capitolio, so that’s what we decided to see first. During our first day in Havana we did two walks: one during daytime, the other just before the sunset.
A day walk:
- El Capitolio was the seat of the government till the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Nowadays the Cuban Academy of Sciences is there. During our visit (02.2016) it was under renovation.
- Hotel Inglaterra is Havana’s oldest hotel. It is one of the fanciest buildings in Havana, with characteristic neoclassical design features. Fancy shmancy 😀 , the real two things you should know about it:
1. it looks nice on pictures
2. here you have wireless internet 🙂
Glamour vs Cuban magical realism; we go for the second one…
- Parque Central with the marble statue of José Martí is the heart of the Capitolio-Inglaterra-Central triangle. Cubans are sitting on the benches, street artists are performing, old fashioned photographers can make you a retro photo, Cubans are smoking cigars, a double of Fidel is ready to take a picture with you for 1 CUC, old cars, coco taxis, bicitaxis and tourist busses are coming and going. Overwhelmed? Well, get used to it, you are in Cuba now.
Here you can as well rent a fancy old timer, and join a group of shmucks:
“Schmuck,” or “shmuck,” in American English is a pejorative term meaning one who is stupid or foolish, or an obnoxious, contemptible or detestable person. The word came into the English language from Yiddish (שמאָק, shmok), where it has similar pejorative meanings, but where its original and literal meaning is penis. – source Wikipedia
OMG! 😀 We owe you an explanation. After spending a few hours in Cuba you will notice that the people passing you by can usually be divided into two categories: cool Cubans and shmucks. Shmucks are usually middle-aged/older white tourists characterized by arrogance. They will answer to a Cuban, who asks them in Spanish or English if they want to rent a car: “Nene, wir sind von Varadero mit Bus gekommen.” A shmuck will rent a fancy car for a ridiculous high price, put a cigar in his mouth and drive through Havana honking. He will treat most Cubans as inferior and make pictures of them like they are animals in the ZOO.
- Boulevard de San Rafael lies behind Hotel Inglaterra. It is less touristic than the rest of the area, which is more staged. San Rafael gives you a preview of Cuban reality. Department stores from 1950s, local cinemas, street food stalls, old ruined buildings and Parque Fe del Valle with wireless internet, where Cubans are surfing on their phones or skyping. This is definitely more Havana like.
An evening walk:
- Avenida de Italia (Galiano street): walk up Av de Italia and you will get to the Malecon. On the way you will pass La Casa de la Música Centro Habana and Teatro América. You have as well a well-equipped grocery store (“well-equipped” according to Cuban standards) to refill your water and soft drinks supplies
- The Malecón is said to be Havana’s finest close to locals’ life experience. But to be honest, we haven’t noticed this. It is more of a busy 8 km street at the coast. It looks spectacular during a sun set or windy weather when waves are crushing over the Malecón. With a reputation as “Havana’s most authentic open-air theater” (Lonely Planet, please! Too many mojitos? 😉 ), Malecón works as a magnet for tourists. Of course there are many locals there too, but let’s be honest: no touristic place can be a real local experience. More tourists, less real. Simple as that. However, without too many expectations, the Malecón is definitely a beautiful place for a walk.
- Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta: a fortress at the east edge of the Malecón.
- Parque de los Enamorados with the statue of General M. Gómez: the park is dedicated to the memory of the victims (many of them Cuban patriots) of the prison that used to be in this place.
- Paseo de Prado (Paseo Martí): a very nice boulevard perfect for the late evening walk, when Havana’s heat goes down and locals get out from their homes. Paseo de Prado is full with couples holding hands, kids running around or skating, and people simply sitting on the benches. The boulevard finishes at Parque Central.
- And here are one of the most beautiful places in Centro Habana – the ones you are simply passing by on your way: THE STREETS
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