A Travellerspoint blog

Cuba

Cuba, Part 1: Half of My Heart Is In Havana

Havana. The very name evokes images of a seductive tropical paradise, off-limits and forbidden. Havana is sultry nights spent dancing with strangers and downing mojitos; it is high heels and red lips and vibrant flowers tucking back loose strands of hair.

2017_Cuba_OpenerRed_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Openers4_-_2.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Openers6_-_2.jpg

2017_Cuba_fidel_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Openers8_-_3.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Openers8_-_4.jpg

Havana is rum and revolution; music and moros. It is a study in contradictions: Startling beauty and crumbling buildings; brutal dictators and a burgeoning arts scene. It is a city moored in time, never-changing and yet ever-changing.

2017_Cuba_OpenerArt_-_1.jpg

2017_Cuba_Openers6_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Openers_-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..ilOpen__-_1.jpg

2017_Cuba_Openers_-_7.jpg

Most importantly, it's where Fredo betrayed Michael.

large_2017_Cuba_Openers3_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Openers3_-_2.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Openers_-_4.jpg

large_2017_Havana_SkyOpen__-_1.jpg

But when we first set foot in Havana on a hot November afternoon on the tongue-twisting Perseverancia Street, my preconceived notions of this intriguing city are immediately dispelled. Dogs are barking, men are hollering. Children are crying and music is blaring. An old man with an impressive set of lungs is bellowing "CLORO!!!!" so loudly that it can be heard several blocks away.

large_2017_Cuba_Openers8_-_2.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_persever_-_1.jpg

2017_Cuba_loud_-_2.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_loud_-_1.jpg

I comprehend only snippets of Spanish as I carefully pick my way down the middle of a dusty street that is a veritable obstacle course of rocks, potholes, trash, and god knows what else. Directionally I'm at sea, and not yet convinced that the neighborhood we've chosen to stay in, Centro, is all that safe.

large_2017_Cuba_..Crumble_-_1.jpg

Yet amid this loud, crowded, dusty assault on the senses, there is beauty, so much beauty that I can't even begin to take it all in. Havana is stunning, like a tropical Paris, and I am torn between rejoicing in the city's magnificence and despairing at the senseless regime that has allowed so much of it to fall into ruin.

2017_Cuba_beautyover_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_beautyover_-_2.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_allure_-_3.jpg

2017_Cuba_beauty3_-_2.jpg

2017_Cuba_beauty_-_5.jpg

2017_Cuba_beauty_-_3.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_beauty_-_4.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_beauty_-_1.jpg

2017_Cuba_beauty_-_6.jpg

After just an hour or so in this noisy scrum, I am exhausted.

I am exhilarated.

I am falling in love.

large_2017_Cuba_love2_-_1.jpg

Our journey began at the arrivals terminal at JFK -- yes, arrivals. Flights to Havana have their own private check-in area, tucked away at the end of a deserted, out-of-the-way corridor, which immediately gave the trip an air of secrecy.

2017_Cuba_Departure_-_1.jpg

2017_Cuba_Departure_-_3.jpg

2017_Cuba_Departure_-_2.jpg

And the flight itself had an aura of outright fantasy, seeing as how it was only about half-full.

2017_Cuba_Departure_-_10.jpg

A few short hours later, the island came into view.

2017_Cuba_Departure_-_5.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_..reAmuse_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_..reCoast_-_1.jpg

448eeee0-2b0c-11e8-9540-c9e0f0b6cab4.jpg

large_44a0a220-2b0c-11e8-b410-a15d29ecd4b3.jpg

We'd decided to stay at a casa particular -- the Cuban version of a B&B -- called Casa Densil. Praised as a "tiny gem" in Vogue, the magazine had also raved about Casa Densil's rooftop terrace and private feel.

We chose a casa over a hotel for the chance to live like real Cubans for a few days, though that usually also means living without air conditioning and even hot water. Casa Densil, however, offered both, along with a great location just a few blocks from the ocean and a short walk to Habana Vieja, the historical "old town" where many of the buildings date back to the 1500s.

large_2017_Cuba_Densil_-_1__1_.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_DensilRoof_-_4.jpg

2017_Cuba_DensilRoof_-_3.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_DensilRoof_-_1.jpg

We were greeted at the airport by a sweet ride -- a classic, emerald-green Chevy Impala -- and a sweet lady, Barbara, the daughter-in-law of Ezio, one of the owners of Casa Densil. We immediately noticed Barbara's accented Spanish, and were surprised to learn that both she and Ezio were not from Cuba, but from Italy.

2017_Cuba_Pickup_-_1.jpg

2017_Cuba_Pickup_-_2.jpg

2017_Cuba_Pickup_-_3.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Pickup_-_4.jpg

Indeed, such is the allure of Havana that, although initially we couldn't fathom why anyone would voluntarily move to a communist dictatorship, by the end of our trip, the idea didn't seem so crazy.

large_2017_Cuba_allure_-_7.jpg

2017_Cuba_allure_-_6.jpg

AF84F622FC510AE1636D4CBD38689F0B.jpg

large_AF82C9010DFF1843B66821DB7E27755A.jpg

2017_Havan..AllCat__-_1.jpg

2017_Cuba_allure_-_2.jpg

large_2017_Havan..oLaLuz__-_5.jpg

Located just two blocks from the Malecón, or seafront promenade, Casa Densil was built in 1907 and retains much of its original architecture and decor.

2017_Cuba_Densil_-_19__1_.jpg

2017_Cuba_Densil_-_11__1_.jpg

2017_Cuba_Densil_-_12__1_.jpg

2017_Cuba_DensilRoof3_-_2.jpg

Divided into two halves by an interior courtyard, the rental half of the casa consists of 3 queen ensuites plus communal living and dining areas, while the other half houses the owners' quarters.

2298b8d0-2d5e-11e8-b435-157bb670c665.jpg

2017_Cuba_Densil_-_10__1_.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Densil_-_8__1_.jpg

2017_Cuba_Densil_-_14__1_.jpg

2017_Cuba_Densil_-_17__1_.jpg

2017_Cuba_Densil_-_9__1_.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Densil_-_16__1_.jpg

Our bi-level suite consisted of a bedroom and small sitting area downstairs, with a vanity area and separate shower overlooking the courtyard upstairs.

2017_Cuba_Densil_-_4__1_.jpg

large_22aa9320-2d5e-11e8-a1ee-85c87eb46fb0.jpg

220be220-2d5e-11e8-b435-157bb670c665.jpg

large_21ff10e0-2d5e-11e8-8930-73905a816515.jpg

2337b7f0-2d5e-11e8-adc7-6f8baf6d889a.jpg

One floor above, an expansive roof deck plays host to breakfast each morning, along with dinner under the stars by request.

2017_Cuba_..eakfast_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_DensilRoof3_-_4.jpg

2017_Cuba_DensilRoof3_-_5.jpg

2017_Cuba_DensilRoof5_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_DensilRoof3_-_3.jpg

Across the street, one of Ezio's friends was restoring one of Centro's many crumbling buildings to its former glory -- a small sign of progress.

2017_Cuba_DensilBldg_-_2.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_DensilBldg_-_1.jpg

After settling in and freshening up a bit, we set off to find the incongruously named Calle O'Reilly in Habana Vieja.

large_2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_2.jpg

Named for Alexander "Bloody" O'Reilly, an Irish-born military strategist and Inspector-General of Infantry for the Spanish empire, today the street is home to some of the city's hippest bars and restaurants, including the one we were seeking, O'Reilly 304.

large_2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_19.jpg

But first we had to get from Centro to Vieja. Centro has variously been described as no-frills and crowded, with LaHabana.com helpfully pointing out its potholed streets and "frenetic (even daunting) street life." It was, in fact, all those things, but it was also positively buzzing with the contagious energy of daily life in Havana. (LaHabana also noted that some of the city's finest restaurants are in Centro, and so I rest my case.)

large_2017_Cuba_buzz2_-_2.jpg

2017_Cuba_buzz2_-_3.jpg

2017_Cuba_buzz_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_buzz2_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_buzz_-_2.jpg

2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_17.jpg

2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_1.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_13.jpg

2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_19.jpg

2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_15.jpg

large_2017_Havan..ilOpen__-_2.jpg

As we approached Vieja, the tenor of the neighborhood began to change; it became prettier and better-manicured, but also more touristy and less authentic.

2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_16.jpg

2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_8.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_6.jpg

2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_3.jpg

2017_Cuba_FirstVieja_-_9.jpg

It was to be our first meal in Havana, and we were a bit apprehensive, having heard stories about some restaurants running out of plates, utensils, and even food. That was certainly not the case at the stylish O'Reilly 304, where we ordered up an assortment of mini empanadas, croquettas, and papas bravas, all accompanied by complimentary fried plantain chips studded with large slivers of garlic and served with a fiery salsa.

large_2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_6.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_4.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_3.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_11.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_10.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_15.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_12.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_13.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_9.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_16.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_17.jpg

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_14.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_18.jpg

For bebidas, Angel decided to try the local beer, Cristal, while I took our waitress's advice and had a watermelon mojito.

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_7.jpg

The mojito was delicious -- strong and swampy, just the way I like 'em -- but I was surprised to find myself stealing sip after sip of Angel's crisp, refreshing Cristal.

2017_Cuba_Oreilly_-_5.jpg

After lunch, we explored Calle O'Reilly a bit, then made our way over to La Bodeguita del Medio, one of the most famous spots in Havana to sip a mojito.

2017_Cuba_Bodeguita_-_1.jpg

Roughly translated as "the little bodega in the middle," La Bodeguita opened in 1942 as a small grocery store; later, it began offering snacks and drinks for the regulars. One day one of those regulars, a journalist named Leandro Garcia, decided to write his name on the wall, and soon many other distinguished personalities followed suit, including Brigitte Bardot, Ernest Hemingway, and the former president of Chile, Salvador Allende.

large_2017_Cuba_Bodeguita_-_2.jpg

2017_Cuba_Bodeguita_-_5.jpg

Today, La B del M is crowded and touristy, and the mojitos are nothing to write home about, but it was a must-do nevertheless.

2017_Cuba_Bodeguita_-_3.jpg

2017_Cuba_Bodeguita_-_4.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Bodeguita_-_6.jpg

2017_Cuba_Bodeguita_-_7.jpg

That evening we had reservations at Habanera in Miramar, a short drive from Centro.

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_23.jpg

Before the Cuban Revolution, Miramar was home to some of Havana's wealthiest residents. After the revolution, however, Castro seized many of the mansions -- along with the owners' belongings and even their bank accounts -- in the name of "fairness." Today, Miramar plays host to many Cuban government officials, foreign embassies, and banks.

Habanera is housed in one of Miramar's prettier mansions, this one dating back to 1930.

large_2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_17.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_19.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_21.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_22.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_18.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_20.jpg

We had to forego the spacious outdoor patio due to a quick pop-up shower, but dining indoors among the fabulous artwork and period furnishings suited us just fine.

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_8.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_4.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_6.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_7.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_10.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_3.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_5.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_24.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_9.jpg

We began the meal wth a couple of simply-prepared appetizers -- a green salad with serrano ham and parmesan and a fresh fish ceviche -- along with a rum Old Fashioned for Angel, and a fun Cuban cocktail for me.

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_12.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_11.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_16.jpg

large_2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_1.jpg

For the main course, I chose the curried shrimp in coconut sauce, while Angel went with the chicken with chimichurri sauce.

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_13.jpg

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_14.jpg

Both dishes came with the politically incorrect, but very tasty, moros y cristianos -- black beans (the Moors) and white rice (the Christians).

2017_Cuba_Habanera_-_15.jpg

It had been a long day of sensory overload, and we were dead on our feet by the time dinner wrapped up late in the night. And so we headed back to Casa Densil to get a good night's sleep for the mojitos, music, and mayhem that awaited us in the days ahead.
----------------------------------------------

CLICK HERE to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 06:30 Archived in Cuba Tagged havana centro vedado vieja o'reilly_304 habanera casa_densil Comments (10)

Cuba, Part 2: The Lure of the Lair

The next morning we greeted the day from the rooftop at Casa Densil.

large_d1164920-4b47-11e8-8bf8-4917ca006fcf.jpg

large_1df979d0-4b3c-11e8-86cd-c71428747a5a.jpg

1dede110-4b3c-11e8-9c29-bbf2a77473d2.jpg

large_1e0dec30-4b3c-11e8-bc12-b7be0853ce5d.jpg

1df470c0-4b3c-11e8-9e3b-23436413a516.jpg

2017_Havan..ktoLuz__-_1.jpg

Then we did something we almost never do: We set off without a plan.

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_10.jpg

large_2017_Havan..ktoLuz__-_7.jpg

large_2017_Havan..ktoLuz__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan..ktoLuz__-_6.jpg

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_16.jpg

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_20.jpg

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_21.jpg

large_2017_Havan..toLuz__-_11.jpg

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_15.jpg

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_25.jpg

2017_Havan..ktoLuz__-_4.jpg

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_24.jpg

large_acad3f80-4b42-11e8-a466-c7c882b98ff3.jpg

But we did have a map, which we'd marked with various shops, bars, restaurants, art museums, and other points of interest that I'd researched before arriving. That sort of planning is essential for a visit to Havana, since looking up anything on the fly, including directions, isn't an option: WiFi is virtually nonexistent.

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_19.jpg

2017_Havan..oLaLuz__-_6.jpg

2017_Havan..Mojito__-_4.jpg

large_2017_Havan..oLaLuz__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan..oLaLuz__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..oLaLuz__-_3.jpg

large_AF822CCFCA8688F3C797AD61AB5AA40E.jpg

AF81204303451F714E876A13706008A2.jpg

4e4ad8b0-4bb2-11e8-b47b-bf3da1bd216c.jpg

Soon we found ourselves drawn to La Luz, a small local spot with outdoor tables where we could enjoy the live band that had just started playing.

large_2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_2.jpg

large_2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_11.jpg

large_2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_12.jpg

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_4.jpg

large_2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_3.jpg

We settled in at a table in the shade and ordered up a couple of cool cocktails to beat the heat.

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_8.jpg

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_7.jpg

Soon we were hungry, we so decided to order some fried chickpeas to snack on. We were a little confused when they brought us a spoon, but these stewed chickpeas turned out to be one of our very favorite dishes of the entire trip.

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_6.jpg

After lunch there was more music, this time with dancers on stilts.

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_14.jpg

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_17.jpg

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_16.jpg

large_2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_10.jpg

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_13.jpg

2017_Havana_LaLuz__-_15.jpg

After lunch we ambled around Vieja to take in the historic sights. Our first stop was Museo de la Ciudad, the museum of the city of Havana.

AF81A666A5404E69CFA2DD38ABE6846B.jpg

large_AF8358C7B8DEB94DAEB804D9A7797FAA.jpg

529a95b0-4bb0-11e8-8fc2-271de7d3ded5.jpg

2017_Havan..Museum__-_6.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Museum__-_3.jpg

2017_Havan..Museum__-_7.jpg

2017_Havan..Museum__-_4.jpg

2017_Havan..Museum__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..Museum__-_8.jpg

2017_Havan..useum__-_12.jpg

2017_Havan..Museum__-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..useum__-_10.jpg

2017_Havan..Museum__-_9.jpg

2017_Havan..useum__-_11.jpg

Of course, once you've seen one cannon, you've pretty much seen them all, and that seemed like as good an excuse as any to go grab a drink.

large_2017_Havan..Mundos__-_1.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Mundos__-_2.jpg

We headed up to the rooftop at Hotel Ambos Mundos, which was home to Ernest Hemingway for seven years during the 1930s.

2017_Havan..undos__-_14.jpg

2017_Havan..undos__-_15.jpg

large_2017_Havan..undos__-_16.jpg

large_2017_Havan..undos__-_18.jpg

2017_Havan..undos__-_13.jpg

2017_Havan..undos__-_11.jpg

2017_Havan..undos__-_12.jpg

Surely Hemingway must have enjoyed a pina colada or two served in a hollowed-out pineapple while writing "A Moveable Feast," so I figured I'd have one, too.

large_2017_Havan..Mundos__-_3.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Mundos__-_6.jpg

2017_Havan..undos__-_17.jpg

Angel decided on a caipiroska, which was quickly becoming our drink of choice in lieu of mojitos, since we weren't loving the ubiquitous Havana Club rum.

2017_Havan..Mundos__-_9.jpg

2017_Havan..Mundos__-_8.jpg

2017_Havan..Mundos__-_7.jpg

Having been properly, er, fortified, we decided to check out Fort San Salvador, which was built in 1590 as part of Havana's colonial-era defense system.

2017_Havan..jaFort__-_7.jpg

large_2017_Havan..jaFort__-_8.jpg

2017_Havan..jaFort__-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..jaFort__-_9.jpg

2017_Havan..jaFort__-_6.jpg

It had been a long day of sightseeing and my feet were aching, so we picked a candy-apple-red ride to match my dress and headed back to Casa Densil.

large_2017_Havan..toLuz__-_13.jpg

2017_Havan..toLuz__-_26.jpg

After a short siesta, it was time for dinner at the famed La Guarida, just a couple of blocks from our casa.

large_2017_Havan.._roof__-_12.jpg

Known as the restaurant in a ruin, La Guarida -- which means "the lair" -- is known for its faded but stunning architecture and secret-hideaway feel.

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_23.jpg

2017_Havan..a_roof__-_7.jpg

large_2017_Havan..a_roof__-_9.jpg

2017_Havan.._roof__-_13.jpg

2017_Havan..a_roof__-_8.jpg

2017_Havan.._roof__-_10.jpg

2017_Havan.._roof__-_19.jpg

large_2017_Havan.._roof__-_20.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_25.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_15.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_7.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_3.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_24.jpg

large_2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_5.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_26.jpg

large_2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_2.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_6.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_27.jpg

Even the bathroom was cool.

large_2017_Havan.._roof__-_18.jpg

The space is large and spread over several floors, including a main dining room; a couple of smaller, private-feeling rooms with just 3 or 4 tables; a narrow balcony overlooking the street; and a large, open-air terrace overlooking the city.

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_20.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_1.jpg

large_2017_Havan..a_roof__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..a_roof__-_6.jpg

large_2017_Havan..a_roof__-_4.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_18.jpg

large_2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_17.jpg

large_2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_19.jpg

Happily, the great food -- including tuna tartare, ropa vieja, and grilled swordish -- and the mismatched glassware just added to the charm.

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_9.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_8.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_16.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_12.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_13.jpg

Indeed, everything was so delicious that we decided to have dessert -- a deconstructed lemon pie with almonds for me, and a gorgeous apple tart with vanilla ice cream for Angel.

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_10.jpg

2017_Havana_LaGuar__-_14.jpg

After dinner, we braved the precarious sprial staircase up to Guarida's sexy rooftop lounge, El Mirador (which means the tower or turret), for a nightcap.

2017_Havan.._roof__-_15.jpg

2017_Havan..a_roof__-_3.jpg

2017_Havan..a_roof__-_5.jpg

large_2017_Havan..a_roof__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan.._roof__-_11.jpg

Though Havana's mojitos failed to impress us, the rum old-fashioned, made with Havana Club 7-year, was a hit, as were the succession of sweet, tart, perfectly muddled caipiroskas.

2017_Havan.._roof__-_17.jpg

2017_Havan.._roof__-_16.jpg

Soon it was time to head home, and the empty streets on the way back to Casa Densil looked ominous. But we found Havana to be incredibly safe, even late at night, and so we strolled back to Casa Densil arm-in-arm.

large_d6073970-57cd-11e8-9eb0-35b1c985cc81.jpg

Mostly to keep from falling over after all those caipiroskas.

Posted by TraceyG 05:36 Archived in Cuba Tagged ruin el_mirador casa_densil la_luz fort_san_salvador ambos_mundos la_guarida Comments (9)

Cuba, Part 3: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

The next morning Angel and I decided to have breakfast together at Casa Densil, since we planned to split up for the afternoon.

2017_Havan..lBfast__-_3.jpg

2017_Havan..lBfast__-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..lBfast__-_9.jpg

2017_Havan..lBfast__-_6.jpg

2017_Havan..lBfast__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..lBfast__-_2.jpg

large_2017_Havan..lBfast__-_4.jpg

We enjoyed strong coffee, fresh fruit, and an assortment of cereals, plus an unusual pink drink that neither of us could identify. Angel asked our server what it was, and even though he speaks fluent Spanish and I have a decent vocabulary, neither of us were familiar with a Spanish word that sounded like "you who."

2017_Havan..lBfast__-_7.jpg

Until I figured out that it was English. Yoo-Hoo. Strawberry Yoo-Hoo, to be exact.

After we stopped laughing, we each set off on our respective plans for the day: Angel was headed out to Havana's baseball stadium, Estadio Latinoamerica, to see the Havana Industriales take on Granma (which didn't sound like much of a contest to me), while I planned to spend the afternoon sunning myself at the rooftop pool at the Hotel Parque Central and wandering around town.

large_2017_Havan..toLuz__-_12.jpg

Attending a baseball game in Havana is a little like attending an underground rave -- nobody seems to know where it's happening, or on what day, or at what time -- and if you do manage to somehow stumble upon it, it's really noisy and confusing.

2017_Havan..llGame__-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..llGame__-_7.jpg

2017_Havan..llGame__-_9.jpg

The schedule we'd found online before leaving New York had the game starting at 1pm, but word on the street was that it would actually start at 4 (though without internet or television, there was no way to confirm). We'd also heard that they didn't serve food at the stadium, so Angel showed up early (whatever that means in this case) to grab a sandwich beforehand.

large_2017_Havan..llGame__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan..llGame__-_3.jpg

Of course, only after he'd downed a smushed El Rapid-o-wich did he discover that not only was there food at the stadium, but really good food.

2017_Havan..lGame__-_10.jpg

2017_Havan..lGame__-_11.jpg

Happily, his luck only improved from there -- a group of friends from Florida who regularly attend the games in Havana took him under their wing, pointing Angel to the best roast pork sandwiches, introducing him to Coral juice drinks, and sharing background information and stats on various Industriales players.

2017_Havan..lGame__-_24.jpg

2017_Havan..lGame__-_22.jpg

2017_Havan..llGame__-_4.jpg

2017_Havan..lGame__-_21.jpg

2017_Havan..lGame__-_12.jpg

2017_Havan..lGame__-_17.jpg

2017_Havan..lGame__-_14.jpg

And then he hung out with Rob Reiner.

large_2017_Havan..lGame__-_20.jpg

2017_Havan..lGame__-_23.jpg

2017_Havan..llGame__-_8.jpg

large_2017_Havan..lGame__-_19.jpg

2017_Havan..lGame__-_18.jpg

While Angel rubbed elbows with celebrities, I claimed a lounger at the Parque Central's rooftop pool, then enjoyed a towering strawberry daiquiri as I basked in the warm sunshine.

2017_Havan..Parque__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..Parque__-_2.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Parque__-_3.jpg

2017_Havan..Parque__-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..Parque__-_9.jpg

2017_Havan..arque__-_15.jpg

2017_Havan..arque__-_13.jpg

2017_Havan..arque__-_16.jpg

large_2017_Havan..arque__-_11.jpg

For lunch, I ordered up a cool, refreshing tomato gazpacho, an entire pizza that I didn't have to share, and a pina colada for good measure.

2017_Havan..Parque__-_7.jpg

2017_Havan..Parque__-_8.jpg

2017_Havan..arque__-_10.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Parque__-_6.jpg

Soon, however, I found myself longing to get back out on the street, the noise and energy and foreign-ness of it all drawing me like a magnet. And so I headed back to Centro to explore the area around Casa Densil.

2017_Havan..Alone__-_17.jpg

2017_Havan..Alone__-_19.jpg

2017_Havan..GAlone__-_8.jpg

2017_Havan..GAlone__-_7.jpg

2017_Havan..GAlone__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan..Alone__-_12.jpg

2017_Havan..Alone__-_18.jpg

2017_Havan..Alone__-_11.jpg

2017_Havan..GAlone__-_3.jpg

2017_Havan..GAlone__-_4.jpg

2017_Havan..Alone__-_14.jpg

2017_Havan..GAlone__-_9.jpg

2017_Havan..Alone__-_10.jpg

large_84d50130-5bcf-11e8-b715-db720c822d66.jpg

2017_Havan..Alone__-_13.jpg

2017_Havan..Alone__-_15.jpg

2017_Havan..GAlone__-_5.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Alone__-_16.jpg

Without Angel around, I was left to my own translations of the signs I saw around town.

2017_Havan..Gsigns__-_1.jpg
"Your electoral college is a baby circus, but it's not your fault."

2017_Havan..Gsigns__-_4.jpg
"If you don't have a batallion in your life, alleviate it with some alcohol."

2017_Havan..Gsigns__-_2.jpg
"Jesus is our homeboy."

2017_Havan..Gsigns__-_3.jpg
"This message brought to you by rum. Lots and lots of rum."

Speaking of rum: That evening we had reservations for dinner and drinks at one of the hottest spots in town, El Cocinero.

large_2017_Havan..cinero__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..cinero__-_7.jpg

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_16.jpg

ffff5a30-590a-11e8-873b-2555bcb752fc.jpg

2017_Havan..inero__-_13.jpg

2017_Havan..inero__-_33.jpg

2017_Havan..inero__-_26.jpg

large_2017_Havan..inero2__-_3.jpg

Located on the banks of the Almendares River between the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar, El Cocinero, which means "the chef," is defined by its towering smokestack, a remnant of the peanut oil factory that occupied the premises in the 1930s.

2017_Havan..cinero__-_3.jpg

large_00b1ba40-590b-11e8-bf46-75eb6a4e0e4c.jpg

We'd booked a table on the coveted rooftop terrace and were graced with perfect weather -- including a full moon -- to enjoy it.

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_12.jpg

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_21.jpg

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_10.jpg

For dinner, we grazed on ropa vieja, mini Cuban-style cheeseburgers, patatas bravas, and a couple of appropriately swampy mojitos. (Are you noticing a stubborn unwillingness to give up on the mojito? We figured if we tried enough of them, we'd find the perfect one. El Cocinero was as close as we got.)

2017_Havan..cinero__-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..cinero__-_4.jpg

2017_Havan..cinero__-_9.jpg

large_2017_Havan..cinero__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan..cinero__-_6.jpg

After dinner we headed upstairs El Cocinero's "waiting bar," one of the coolest spots we've ever been to . . . since it's housed inside the smokestack.

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_23.jpg

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_14.jpg

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_24.jpg

2017_Havan..inero__-_25.jpg

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_19.jpg

And the inside of the smokestack is illuminated by a constellation of "stars" -- thousands of tiny colored lights.

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_22.jpg

large_2017_Havan..inero__-_17.jpg

2017_Havan..inero__-_15.jpg

By the time we'd had another round of drinks it was nearly 11pm . . . which was just in time to visit an art gallery.

2017_Havana_FAC__-_1.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_17.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_19.jpg

But not just any art gallery. The Cuban Art Factory, known by the initials F.A.C. (La Fábrica de Arte Cubano), is Havana's hottest nighttime scene, drawing throngs of hip young Cubans with its contemporary art exhibitions, dance performances, plays, and indie-music concerts -- all of which go on until 3 a.m.

large_2017_Havana_FAC__-_18.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_14.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_8.jpg

large_2017_Havana_FAC__-_6.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_16.jpg

The space at F.A.C. consists of different inter-connected rooms, so you can meander from one space to the next as the mood strikes, moving from a crowded dance floor, to a quiet room with a single video installation or sculpture, or to the bar for a piña colada.

2017_Havana_FAC__-_2.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_10.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_4.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_11.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_3.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_7.jpg

2017_Havana_FAC__-_5.jpg

We would have loved to wander around F.A.C. until the wee hours (and will definitely do so next time), but other plans beckoned. A friend of Ezio's at Casa Densil was scheduled to perform at a local bar called Sia Kara in Centro around midnight, so he dropped us off at the packed space, but not before speaking to the manager to make sure there'd be room for us and that we'd be well taken care of.

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_9.jpg

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_15.jpg

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_13.jpg

We were ushered to a cozy couch in Sia Kara's loft, which afforded a perfect bird's eye view of the piano and lounge space below.

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_4.jpg

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_14.jpg

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_3.jpg

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_1.jpg

large_2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_10.jpg

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_7.jpg

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_2.jpg

An unassuming bar frequented not by tourists but by chic Cuban hipsters, the name "Sia Kara" is said to come from the Afro-Cuban religion and is colloquially used to ward off a bad mood or tell someone to just "forget about it."

large_2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_8.jpg

2017_Havana_SiaKara__-_6.jpg

Which is precisely the function of a bar like Sia Kara, estoy en lo correcto?
-----------------------------------------------

Posted by TraceyG 05:41 Archived in Cuba Tagged baseball granma parque_central industriales sia_kara el_cocinero f.a.c. beisbol estadio_latinoamerica Comments (1)

Cuba, Part 4: A Mojito-Borne Illness

The next morning marked our fifth day in Havana, which is about four more than I can usually go without some pasta. And so we set off for 5 Esquinas Trattoria in Vieja.

large_28092ea0-597b-11e8-b4b9-c586f12ab694.jpg

284af290-597b-11e8-9bfc-2fe0c774e3fb.jpg

283065b0-597b-11e8-be90-6f18d04273e2.jpg

276637e0-597b-11e8-8a68-6b6385699226.jpg

large_282f0620-597b-11e8-9917-0d2782a49d8e.jpg

279fe580-597b-11e8-9678-2d270530cebb.jpg

2797f640-597b-11e8-b53e-a9dfed27ef56.jpg

275c4cd0-597b-11e8-b562-d1ce238d7710.jpg

2778fc90-597b-11e8-a01f-253c43c16c85.jpg

2753e860-597b-11e8-9678-2d270530cebb.jpg

large_275fa830-597b-11e8-b53e-a9dfed27ef56.jpg

282fa260-597b-11e8-aeb7-47e3021537f4.jpg

large_41e9cc40-597f-11e8-8213-2733aeeafc90.jpg

27672240-597b-11e8-bd59-bde9e782f4a1.jpg

283bd760-597b-11e8-a964-7fa5e6e2ffef.jpg

27cd3710-597b-11e8-bd59-bde9e782f4a1.jpg

2d7d6710-597c-11e8-9917-0d2782a49d8e.jpg

large_2d8a3850-597c-11e8-bf17-7ffb9f669059.jpg

2d0c55c0-597c-11e8-82f6-ebfd6f802059.jpg

large_2d4a2210-597c-11e8-bd59-bde9e782f4a1.jpg

2d634f60-597c-11e8-82f6-ebfd6f802059.jpg

Occupying a tiny triangle where, yes, 5 corners meet, 5 Esquinas also had 5 of my favorite things: Homemade pasta, fresh mozzarella, frozen lemonade, ice-cold Cristal, and outdoor seating.

large_2d3c6670-597c-11e8-9bfc-2fe0c774e3fb.jpg

2d4c44f0-597c-11e8-a964-7fa5e6e2ffef.jpg

2d006ee0-597c-11e8-9bfc-2fe0c774e3fb.jpg

2cbfe370-597c-11e8-9917-0d2782a49d8e.jpg

2cbf2020-597c-11e8-aeb7-47e3021537f4.jpg

2ce65730-597c-11e8-a964-7fa5e6e2ffef.jpg

2d9f1fe0-597c-11e8-923d-597e2fac51c5.jpg

2cfcc560-597c-11e8-9917-0d2782a49d8e.jpg

Properly, er, carbonated, our next stop was Habana 1791, a perfume shop located in an 18th-century mansion in the heart of Old Havana.

4191c130-597f-11e8-8704-436ff3ec3b39.jpg

41f2ccf0-597f-11e8-aeb7-47e3021537f4.jpg

large_41eb2bd0-597f-11e8-90fd-6d9299918ebf.jpg

The shop has 12 different "signature" scents from colonial-era Cuba, such as violet, orange blossom, lilac, vetiver, and tobacco, along with custom scents like the one I chose, verano (summer).

41d2e8e0-597f-11e8-9888-8d0ff9f68726.jpg

41cd4390-597f-11e8-99c2-e553c9027b3c.jpg

42a41b90-597f-11e8-902f-65df246f9ce1.jpg

42a8fd90-597f-11e8-82dd-955d0dcdf155.jpg

42ac0ad0-597f-11e8-a408-59f108134db2.jpg

41ca0f40-597f-11e8-8704-436ff3ec3b39.jpg

41ccf570-597f-11e8-99d3-8b244785b791.jpg

41e70d20-597f-11e8-ba09-fb11ea327dab.jpg

I even got to choose the bottle -- one hand-painted with tiny colorful flowers.

large_25e24500-6405-11e8-baec-83dab2211067.jpg

After a little more wandering around, we happened upon the lovely Hotel Raquel.

large_2017_Havan..Raquel__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..Raquel__-_3.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Raquel__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan..Raquel__-_4.jpg

2017_Havan..Raquel__-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..Raquel__-_8.jpg

The rooftop bar affords a nice view of the street below.

2017_Havan..Raquel__-_6.jpg

2017_Havan..Raquel__-_7.jpg

By this time it was nearly happy hour, so we stopped at Mojito Mojito for a frosty pina colada and a mojito made with 7-year Havana Club.

2017_Havan..Mojito__-_6.jpg

2017_Havan..Mojito__-_5.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Mojito__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..Mojito__-_3.jpg

large_2017_Havan..Mojito__-_7.jpg

The staff here was sweet and accommodating, and even the check comes with love.

2017_Havan..Mojito__-_2.jpg

In fact, we so enjoyed the drinks and the warm welcome at Mojito Mojito that we decided to return for dinner. Apparently I was very excited by the prospect.

large_2017_Havan..itoDin__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan..itoDin__-_6.jpg

large_2017_Havan..itoDin__-_8.jpg

2017_Havan..itoDin__-_9.jpg

large_2017_Havan..toDin__-_10.jpg

We ordered up a panoply of porky products, along with a couple of perfectly-shaken cocktails.

2017_Havan..itoDin__-_7.jpg

large_2017_Havan..itoDin__-_3.jpg

2017_Havan..itoDin__-_4.jpg

2017_Havan..itoDin__-_5.jpg

After dinner we headed back to the rooftop bar at La Guarida -- I mean, it was on the way.

2017_Havan..orRoof__-_5.jpg

2017_Havan..toDin__-_11.jpg

large_2017_Havan..toDin__-_12.jpg

2017_Havan..toDin__-_13.jpg

We ordered up our "usual" caipiroskas, along with a cigar for Angel.

2017_Havan..orRoof__-_6.jpg

2017_Havan..orRoof__-_8.jpg

2017_Havan..rRoof__-_16.jpg

2017_Havan..rRoof__-_11.jpg

2017_Havan..rRoof__-_13.jpg

2017_Havan..rRoof__-_14.jpg

large_2017_Havan..rRoof__-_15.jpg

Eventually we made the short walk back to Casa Densil, capping off the evening by taking in nighttime city view and brisk sea air from the rooftop.

2017_Havan..rRoof__-_17.jpg

large_2017_Havan..orRoof__-_1.jpg

2017_Havan..orRoof__-_2.jpg

2017_Havan..orRoof__-_3.jpg

The next morning I awoke feeling terrible -- exhuasted and weak. I never get sick, so I had no idea what the problem might be, and without any Wifi to consult Dr. Google, my imagination began to run wild. The leading contenders were hoof-and-mouth disease from all the pork chops I'd eaten the night before and salmonella from that glass of warm Yoo-Hoo . . . and Angel wasn't any help. All week I'd been trying to pet a cat I kept seeing around the neighborhood, and all week Angel had been warning me not to. Left on my own while he was at the baseball game the day before and, well, I think you can guess what happened.

large_a696c730-5d56-11e8-9bd3-f50b0d67a05e.jpg

And that's how Toxoplasmosis worked its way to the top of the list.

Too weak to even get showered and dressed, I urged Angel to continue with our lunch plans on his own, and so he set off for Azucar while I tried to remember exactly how snuggly I'd gotten with that cat.

04edab10-5bd0-11e8-8d31-d94c477b49ef.jpg

04e67f20-5bd0-11e8-938c-8d09ee296184.jpg

04eff500-5bd0-11e8-8395-61eab6346987.jpg

04b2ec00-5bd0-11e8-890b-4b808faeecb0.jpg

04c11cd0-5bd0-11e8-a794-d9e6d3ca60fc.jpg

040b3a50-5bd0-11e8-b715-db720c822d66.jpg

large_04511cf0-5bd0-11e8-b715-db720c822d66.jpg

0515f390-5bd0-11e8-ad09-8f77d2a5f812.jpg

large_051e09e0-5bd0-11e8-895a-4fce6cde0a5a.jpg

Angel enjoyed croquetas, a ham sandwich, and a watermelon caipiroska for lunch, while I had my own saliva and a fever.

04beabd0-5bd0-11e8-9c8f-47d3cc423039.jpg

04f60f80-5bd0-11e8-b3eb-cdfbe5a2c915.jpg

04c73750-5bd0-11e8-b50a-a50aec5ad876.jpg

04bb7780-5bd0-11e8-957e-431fdd098b02.jpg

large_04a44600-5bd0-11e8-9f10-719baef8b388.jpg

I hadn't recovered by the evening, and so our plans to see the Cabaret Parisien at Hotel Nacional after dinner at L'Atelier were foiled. In fact, I was still so ill that even heading up to the roof at Casa Densil for dinner was out of the question.

And so the sweet staff brought the dinner to me.

733a6dc0-5bd9-11e8-9a58-731008c2fcf3.jpg

large_732474c0-5bd9-11e8-9146-7722c6d55089.jpg

731d48d0-5bd9-11e8-a73e-157894f92393.jpg

Fragrant Cuban chicken soup with fideo pasta, mounds of rice, chicken legs . . . it just kept coming, even though I could do nothing more than take a few sips of what turned out to be the best chicken soup I'd ever had.

726829a0-5bd9-11e8-96d0-c5bc5a2e8d15.jpg

They even brought flan for dessert.

72e48590-5bd9-11e8-ad9d-bf19c58150cb.jpg

Happily, we'd brought an assortment of baby products to Havana -- wipes, q-tips, cotton pads, and the like -- and were thrilled to be able to use them to "repay" my sweet waitress/nurse, Meiby (and baby Chiani), for her kindness.

e8cf4a10-5bd9-11e8-9146-7722c6d55089.jpg

Whatever was in that soup did the trick, and the next day, though I was still quite weak, I felt well enough to head up to the roof for a quick breakfast before we had to depart.

large_e5dda1e0-5d59-11e8-9bd3-f50b0d67a05e.jpg

e939f2c0-5bd9-11e8-a73e-157894f92393.jpg

e9202930-5bd9-11e8-9a58-731008c2fcf3.jpg

e8c3d860-5bd9-11e8-8e73-7bbfae152e2c.jpg

e8ece430-5bd9-11e8-a73e-157894f92393.jpg

large_e95988b0-5bd9-11e8-8e73-7bbfae152e2c.jpg

e968caf0-5bd9-11e8-9a58-731008c2fcf3.jpg

It wasn't until I got back to New York that I was able to Google my symptoms and obtain a diagnosis: Severe dehydration.

It made perfect sense. Angel had gone though roughly a dozen bottles of water during our stay, while I'd barely made it through one.

large_e8c956a0-5bd9-11e8-9a58-731008c2fcf3.jpg

I'm sure it had nothing to do with all those mojitos.

d63fa2c0-5d58-11e8-9bd3-f50b0d67a05e.jpg
------------------------------------------
Where to next? A dose of Vitamin D in Delray Beach; a clothing calamity in Anguilla; homemade hooch in the Hudson Valley; a birthday blowout with my sissy in Brooklyn; a wine-soaked weekend at the Key West Food and Wine Festival, and some bungling in the bush in South Africa. Check back soon, click here to subscribe, or join us for weekends in the Hamptons this summer at Escape.From.New.York on Instagram!

Posted by TraceyG 04:05 Archived in Cuba Tagged el_mirador casa_densil la_guarida 5_esquinas_trattoria habana_1791 mojito_mojito Comments (6)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]