I had plans today of visiting the Museum of Revolution, and visiting one key church, before spending the rest of my day working. Well, after getting up, I had to be registered to the guesthouse, and while registering me, Maite gave me a bunch of suggestions of what to do on my first day.
The Casa Blanca is located between Old Havana and Vedado (up and coming area in Havana), making it an ideal spot for walking to different sites. Maite suggested that I walked to the Neptuno, and following it, I should hit the Central Park, and a bunch of tourist sites.
The Central Park area is definitely touristy. They had those shiny 1950s retro cabs that you associate with Havana, and some fancy hotels including the Hotel Ingleterre. The Capitol Building is also on this stretch. Some other tourist-y things you can do include horse cab rides, and they also have one of those double-deck tourist buses (5 CUC), which promises to bring you to the different tourist sites in Havana, with explanation.
After walking around the Central Park area, I turned down Obispo, a pedestrian street with shops, cafes, etc. There are many little food stands offering food and drinks for a bargain. Here I got myself a pork sandwich (Pan Lechon, 0.50 CUC), and ate it standing on the sidewalk. There are some cool buildings, with equally cool shops on this walking street, but at the same time, these buildings are also quite lived in. For instance, opposite an elegant building, there was laundry hanging out of the balconies. The Johnson drug store also looked very old school. At the end of Obispo, is the Plaza de Armas. I thought it was kinda cool that the shaded square at Plaza de Armas was flanked by little book stands. It was too warm for me to brave a tour of the fortifications, so I just turned back, and settled at a tourist café La Lluvia de Oro for lunch and libations.
Although it is a tourist cafe, La Lluvia de Oro is quite affordable. Main plates hover around or under 10 CUC. I got a Cuban sandwich (4 CUC), which is a sandwich with ham, cheese, and pork. It was substantial – it took me a while to finish it. I also had a café con leche (coffee with milk, 1.50 CUC), which was excellent. It is a nice spot to sit for a while, and get out of the heat. While I was resting at Oro for lunch, they also appear to have a live music gig, as they were setting music up.
Given the unbearable mid-day heat, it suddenly seems like a stroke of genius to just spend my mid-days working on various reading and writing projects, so I made my way down to La Mina. Along the way, I also popped into a bookstore, got some postcards and stamps (0.75 CUC). La Mina has a group of traveling musicians playing some classics from Buena Vista Social Club. I was actually there for more coffee (1 CUC – 1.75 CUC), but their espresso machine is down, so Cuba Libre it is (3 CUC). It has a great view of Plaza de Armas, and with some live music in the background, it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.
At around 2.30 or so, I finally recovered enough from the heat to make the short walk to Plaza de Cathedral. It seems like I am out of luck. I had planned to see the Cathedral, but the Cathedral, along with the Capitol building, is undergoing extensive restoration works. The Plaza de Cathedral is a nice little spot with some (fancy-looking) restaurants and cafes, and is less crowded than the Plaza de Armas, if you need a place to hang out.
After striking out, I decided to make my way back to my guesthouse for a bit of rest before the rest of the evening. I took a 30-minute walk along the Malecon, taking in some of the sights. There is an amusement part of sorts, with ferris rides and the usual carnival stuff at the beginning of the Malecon (low numbers). The Malecon is quite a mixed bag. There are buildings falling apart, buildings being restored, sidewalk cafes/restaurants interspersed along the way, and some random installation art. It is quite a nice stroll, when you don’t have to deal with traffic.
Some nice Germans staying at the guesthouse invited me out for dinner with them, as they had a recommendation for a nice restaurant. I figured why not? So I headed to Castropol on the Malecon with them. Castropol serves a bunch of seafood, and they also have a bakery of sorts in their premises. The upper level has A/C if you are looking to get away from the heat. Their entrée prices are highly reasonable for the quality of the food involved. Non-seafood mains are under 10 CUC, while seafood mains are close to 10 CUC, with the most expensive dishes topping out at 15 CUC. I had a grilled fish and shrimp with Bechamel sauce (8.90 CUC), rice and beans (2 CUC) and a sparkling water (2 CUC). The grilled fish (they offer a selection) was excellent, but the shrimp was somewhat forgettable. My dinner companions had a fish roll (tuna wrapped in snapper) and shrimp with lobster sauce. We were all very happy with our selections.
After dinner, we decided to walk around to look for a music club. Another doofus move on my part (never travel with me – shit happens). I read the Guardian article on Havana wrongly, and led us to a rhumba club on San Miguel, when my original intention was to go to a Jazz club. Oh well.
The walk was not completely fruitless – it did give insight into a slice of life. Havana is a very interesting place at night. Lighting is fairly limited, so there are many dark alleys. A lot of the motor traffic also disappears at night. Under normal circumstances at any other city in the world, you probably wouldn’t venture down these alleyways. But Havana felt very safe at night. There were people walking on the streets. So we walked a couple of those dark alleys.
Grand Theater and Capitol Building
Breakfast sandwich: 0.50 CUC
Lunch: 4.00 CUC
Coffee: 1.50 CUC
Water: 2 CUC
Cuba Libre: 3 CUC
Postcards + stamps: 5.50 CUC
Dinner: 13 CUC
Accommodations: 40 USD
Total: 70 USD