Havana is the biggest small city we have ever visited. Wait, there is like 2 million people, how can anyone possibly call Havana a small city? For me it is the way the people treat each other. Walk down the street and see if one person does not say ‘Hola’ or ‘Buenos Dias’ to you after saying hello to them. Watch them greet each other with a smile, a kiss, a hug and a warm conversation. You will see people sitting on their porches, in front of their apartments, walking down the streets singing about the bread they have available to sell. You will hear them playing music, not just for themselves, but for anyone walking by or pausing to listen. You will watch them sweep their driveways and hang their laundry, stopping only to smile and greet you as you walk by. These are people that live in their city, their community and you can feel the work and hardship that has gone into the communal respect and feeling they have for one another. And even though you are just a visitor to Havana, they give that same feeling to you. These are lovely people, possibly the best in the world that we have met up to this point!
Buy a ticket to the Habanabus. It is $10 a person (up from $5 last year), but the kids are free! It made around 50 stops at all kinds of points of interest including many hotels, Colon Cemetery, Plaza de la Revolución and Parque Central. This is a great way to get a feel for this city on your first day. Soak in the colors and architecture and settle into that throwback feeling while watching the old cars and horse drawn wagons. We hopped on at Plaza de la Revolucion, which we walked to from Loly’s apartment. We hopped off a few times to walk around. If you hop off once, make it at Parque Central, walk east and find O’Reilly or Obispo streets, one block east of the Park. Take a slow walk down these beautiful streets. See if you can find the street markers and find yourself on the map so you can start letting yourself wander as you start seeing the colors, people and sounds that will pull you in all directions. Eventually find yourself on Mercaderes St. Walk in and out of the galleries, stop at the Chocolate Museum for a cup of cold drinking chocolate and watch them make their chocolate molds. Keep moving south from there and buy a $3 ticket (of course kids are free) to learn about the Camera Obscura and while you are on the 8th floor, move about and enjoy the view. Head down to the open square in front of the Camera Obscura and watch people dance on stilts. Buy a coconut. Enjoy the school kids running races, chasing the pigeons and watch them play with your kids. Wanna sit and relax? Stop at the newish micro brewery on the corner for a beer and skinny fries or just buy some corn on the cob for .50 cents, from a street vendor, and enjoy the people relaxing and playing in the square! Head back to Parque Central down another street, maybe Amargura or Teniente Rey. Witness the clothing hanging from half of the apartment windows and look out for the pile of dead baby chicks in the streets. They are part of your dream too….
You experienced the bustle of Havana, now it is time to see Jose Fuster. Located in the Jaimanitas neighborhood, very close to the water and about a half a km from Club Habana, Fustor has created an art environment for those that live in the neighborhood and anyone that wants to see it. Once you pay for your taxi to get there, it is free to walk around Fuster's property and of the outlining neighborhood where Fustor has covered the surfaces with mosaic images. There is a donation box, that of course we suggest contributing to.
After 2 days of exploring and walking around, our kids were begging to go to the beach. We walked to club Habana. We knew that it cost $15 a person to use their beach (kids are free), so we decided to pay for one adult to go to the beach with the kids and while they were swimming Kristen and I decided to relax and have some mojitos at their bar. We also bought a wifi card for $1.50 (most places charge $3) and use their internet for an hour. We were going to walk around the area while the kids swam, but it turned out we needed a break too, so Club Habana ended up being the perfect place for all of us while we waited for our taxi to pick us up at the meeting time we had decided on when we got dropped off.
Walk through the Colon Cemetery…. We ended up walking through this incredible cemetery on the day we rode the Habana bus. It is located about 8 blocks from Loly’s apartment and the bus has a stop there. The stop was on the opposite side from where our apartment was, so we decided to walk through on our way home. Once inside, we realized that is cost $5 to enter. After letting them know we were just trying to get to the other side to our place, they let us in for free and we did not want to take advantage of their kind heartedness, so we did not walk around too much. But what we saw was beautiful! The cemetery is completely walled in and you feel like you are in another world, and I guess on some levels you are. To me it felt more like a Southern California neighborhood then Cuba, lots of palm trees manicured roads with a lovely little church right in the middle. We would have loved to spend more time here. From the cemetery head to Avenida 23 and hail an old 57’ Chevy taxi (we were told you can get an old cab here for $.50 a person, but it was generally about $10 a ride) to the Hotel Nacional. In full disclosure, we did not do this cause we ended up spending another day in Vinales, but everyone told us to go this Hotel and walk around and we honestly wish we had. After the Hotel you can cross the street and walk down the Malecon along the water. Do this walk at night and it is a joy to watch the cars race down the street from the water side. Watch excited groups gather for weddings, listen to the water lap against the rocks below, and stop to listen to a Mariachi band walking up and down the sidewalk playing to tourists and young loves.