Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Havana - and the second old car

The next afternoon the four of us hired one of the big old open top Cadillacs for a drive around the city. This car was in somewhat better shape than last nights, although Russell had for some reason picked a bright pink one!

We drove around the old town, seeing as we passed the old churches, the tree that tradition says people have to walk around on a particular day for luck, and the old town fortifications.

We drove along the Malecon and watched people getting wet as the waves splashed over the sea wall onto the pavement. It seemed to be part of the walk to get wet - perhaps because it is hot no one cares about a quick soaking.

Our first stop was the Hotel Nacional, which was USA built in the 1920s with art deco and arabic influences, and was tremendously popular as a casino and hangout for the rich and famous.  The Mafia bosses used this place for meetings.

After the revolution, the US management left and the hotel was state run.  This is one of the few places that you can see any kind of tribute to Fidel Castro as there is a display of pictures in the lobby here. It is interesting as most longstanding unelected leaders have statues of themselves everywhere, but Fidel has none of that. There is one plaque on a wall in Havana which celebrates him but that is it, and even that is small, understated and on a corner of a building.

We stopped for a while in the Plaza de la Revolucion, which is a huge (72,000 square metre) square that is surrounded by state buildings including the office that was Fidel's and is now used by his brother Raul. This is where the big parades happen. The main structure is a 109 metre high monument to Jose Marti, with rather dwarfs the 18 metre statue of him.

Two of the buildings have large faces on them. One is the Ministry of Communications building with the face of Camilo Cienfuegos, the other is the Ministry of the Interior building with Che Guevara. We had half expected that taking photos wouldn't be allowed, but in fact there was no problem at all.

We drove through a leafy area full of big old buildings, one of which was the British Embassy.  It looked quite impressive, but we were amused to see that it was next door to that of North Korea.  Not something that would happen in most countries.

Of course one country that does not have an embassy here is the USA.  But we were surprised to see that it does still have a presence in the form of the United States Interests Section.  But just in case the US should start to feel too comfortable here, Fidel Castro has created the huge Plaza de la Dignidad next to it with a large anti-imperialist stage where the columns bear the names of revolutionary heroes and North Americans who fight for social reform.  About five years ago, around seventy huge flagpoles were erected right in front of the building to hide the anti castro propaganda that President Bush in his usual diplomatic way, was issuing from there.  President Obama stopped it, but the flags remain.

Our last stop was rather less grand. The John Lennon park is small and leafy, with is a wooden bench where you can sit down next to a bronze John for a photo or a rather one sided chat if you feel so inclined. The writing on the ground is the Spanish of 'You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.'

The cadillac trip is a very touristy thing to do, but it was a bit of fun, and with four of us, the price isn't too bad.

After the trip we stopped off at the Hotel Park View and had some of their excellent small plate food and lovely cocktails. The hotel isn't cheap, but the food and drink in the ornate lobby is reasonably priced and very good. They also have a decent wifi connection - though you do have to pay for it.

Appetites satisfied, we went to a nice bar that Nic and I had found the day before. The Monserrate is a fairly small and understated bar, but the drinks are good and they have excellent live music all evening. Another good evening.

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