Music is in the air and it’s everywhere.(February/March 2015)


We arrived in Havana late in the evening, primarily due to a two hour ordeal getting through customs, immigration and baggage claim.

It wasn’t complicated just painstakingly slow.

When we were dropped off at our Casa Particular (private accommodation) it was in the right street, but both the name and numbers was different to what we were expecting.

We never did work out what happened.

We were in the old colonial area and every bar and restaurant had live music.

This was a theme that was repeated wherever we went.

Yes, there are the old American cars and a medley of architectural styles, but it’s the music that’s the soul of Havana.

Having said that, the diversity of architecture is a treat, yet there would be only one building in five hundred that has been renovated.

The rest are slowly decaying away.

There is a plan to return this city to its former glory but it’s a long, slow and costly exercise.

Eusebio Leal Spenger is the city’s historian who has been the mastermind behind the rejuvenation of Old Havana.

Not only is music in the air but so is the aroma of Cuban cigars.

Smoking is actively encouraged, especially a fine Montecristo.

On our first morning we took the Hop-on Hop-off bus around the city. At $5 per person it was the cheapest city tour we have ever had.

This gave us a good idea of the layout of Havana and meant we could plan where to explore further.

In the afternoon we did a city walk through Habana Vieja, the old colonial area and the part of the city that has undergone the most renovation.

We ended up in the Plaza Vieja and there discovered the Factoriea Plaza Vieja Micro Brewery. This is an inspired addition to the tourist agenda and it never seems to have a spare table.

This could have something to do with the five litre beer towers that the customers line up to try.

Another example of Havana’s hospitality creativity is La Imprenta, a restaurant just near Plaza Vieja. It was formally an old print house or newspaper as it has a type themed decor and a display of old printing equipment.

It only occupies the ground floor as the upper part of the building is just a shell – like many buildings around the city.

The quality of the interior design unfortunately didn’t run to the food, as it lacked flavour, even though it was well presented.

And much to Thea’s disgust, white wine wasn’t even on the menu – that’s like having a type library without Times New Roman.

La Imprenta is typical of many restaurants that have sprung up since Raul Castro took over power and encouraged privately owned business.

It will take time, and the development of a quality restaurant supply chain, before Cuba becomes known for its cuisine.

After dinner we walked to Plaza de San Francisco de Asis only to discover an exhibition of Buddy Bears. We had seen these in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.

Another result of Cuba’s isolation is the lack of Internet services.

The contemporary tourist relies heavily on being connected in order to plan their movements and stay in contact.

We certainly do.

Telstra obviously don’t have a network partner in Cuba so we were in a connectivity black hole.

The next day we went looking for WiFi.

When we did track down a connection it was in a five star hotel and all we could do was download our emails from our iPhones, but not send.

Carlos III, is the shopping centre where the locals go. It has a decided lack of any branded products, well at least brands that I recognise.

There was Heineken and Adidas and that was about it.

Consuming large quantities of fast food seemed to be the most popular shopping experience at Carlos III, so I guess buying isn’t that important.

In Havana, Cristal is the local beer and it’s drunk like bottled water is in Australia. Adults of all ages seem to have a can or bottle in their hand as they walk around the streets. This could be mid morning, mid afternoon or late at night.

On our way back from the shopping plaza we popped into the local Catholic Church, Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús y Ignacio de Loyola.

This is a large church, in a Spanish Modernist style, with a very impressive interior of high ceilings and stained glass.

Late in the afternoon we had a quick visit to the The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, which houses the Havana Museum. This is a beautiful building, made from the local coastal rock and housing a good collection of colonial artifacts. It was here that we had heard a rather good orchestra perform a couple of days earlier.

More music in Havana.

On our final day we took a taxi through the tunnel to the twin forts of Moro Castle (1589) and La Cabaña (1590).

These are on the other side of Havana Bay and from there you can get great views of the city.

This is the largest fortress complex in the the New World yet it was put under siege and captured by the British in 1762.

There are so many canons and canon balls in Havana that they are used as street furniture.

In the afternoon we took a one hour trip around Havana in 1954 Chevrolet Convertible.

This was definitely on the wish list of things to do. The sky was bright blue, just like the Chevy, so it was a perfect ending to a great adventure in Havana.

There is an entire industry built around restoring and maintaining these old ‘Yank Tanks’. There are people who rebuild the engines, others that look after the bodywork and even more who recreate the interior trim and soft tops.

The only concession to modernity is the inclusion of power assisted brakes. This is a government initiative designed to protect the tourists.

In the evening we had a final stroll around Plaza Vieja and then walked down to the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel. We were primarily there to check email, this time with our laptops. We stayed for dinner, where our wine mysteriously disappeared while we were at the buffet – we had only taken a sip.

It was very quickly replaced and became the running joke of the evening.

We never left our table unattended again that night.

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