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Cuba, Part 2: The Lure of the Lair

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Even the bathroom was cool.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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

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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).

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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They even brought flan for dessert.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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)

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