Wake up, yawn, stretch, stand up and scratch the balls. I slept like a stone – how long did it rain yesterday? No idea. The view from the window: The sun shines at the buildings, which seem to need quite some renovation. We got up relatively early. Roly is also already in the kitchen and about to get breakfast ready. A little small talk, some tips and 2 cups of strong coffee later we run down the stairs to the street. We are on the parallel road to the Prado and almost a stone’s throw away from the Malecon. All the imaginations we had of Cuba seem to be confirmed at first sight: The sun is shining, the colonial buildings with the crumbling fronts maintain their old charm, you can hear some salsa and reggaeton coming out from from some apartments above… and the streets resemble a classic car open-air museum. Seems the taxi from yesterday is not a rarity here. Nothing much happening here despite this being a boulevard street – people seem to start their day slow and relaxed. If it wasn’t for the multi-lane streets and the multi-storey buildings, one might think that we are on the countryside – even in the capital city people on the street greet another . We buy two water bottles at a kiosk on our way. The Prado leads us to the Parque Central: Seems to be a little more going on here. New and old taxis are waiting for passengers before the pretty “Tacón”, the Gran Teatro de La Habana, as well as lovingly restored vintage cars for tours around the city.
For the first day with a little jetlag, we decide without exchanging many words that we are sluggish. There are some hop-on-hop-off buses anyway, so you can relax and watch the city while driving by. For just 10 CUC (10.00 USD) you can take the bus line T2, which takes us first past the Malecon to the Hemingway Marina. Every few minutes we hear something unintelligible coming from the speakers of the bus (whether someone actually explains something about the nearby buildings or this is a tape recording, I can not say – I can not even tell with absolute certainty if whatever we are hearing is actually Spanish ) – so we just switch off for minute and enjoy the view.
Cementerío de Cristóbal Colón
We get out at the station Cementerío de Cristóbal Colón – here is the Necropolis of Havana – a huge rectangle-shaped area in the middle of the city having even wide roads*. Quite unusual to see such a thing for the first time, but apparently such cemeteries do not appear to be exceptional in Latin America . Actually, Christopher Columbus was to be to laid to rest here, but he was then buried in Seville. We stroll around for a while, following the signs to the tombs of celebrities (Ibrahim Ferrer, Alberto Korda, …), but after a while we are starting to feel too warm. The water bottles also are almost empty – and nothing around here to buy something to drink. So back to the station and wait in the shade until we can get into the next bus.
Plaza de la Revolución
The next line T2 bus takes us past the university to the Plaza de la Revolución, from where you have a view of the memorial of the poet José Martí. This is a tourist attraction, there must be something to drink somewhere, right? We get off, look around: Doesn’t seem so. The two buildings having neon tubes in the shape of Castro and Guevara in front are both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Information. Hmm, if I would lie down on the huge concrete place here, I would be crispy in about 15 minutes… We walk across the square and head into the direction of the José Martí Memorial hoping it so have some sort of souvenir shop inside with something you can drink. There seems to be some sort of event coming soon on this square as some benches have already been put up, flags are blowing, some soldiers are sitting in the shade of a tent and… an “AGUA POTABLE” lettering on a truck!
Water! WATER! We stagger to the tent and ask for something to drink making puppy eyes. The soldiers look at each other and have to laugh. They don’t mind to refill our empty bottles from the tank – with some quite cool iced tea. Interesting. After a little small talk (using partly gestures and signs), they give us a tip to visit the monument. “Not only pleasantly cool inside, but also interesting” . Quite true. Both. Inside the pretty thick walls it is almost chilly and you get to see numerous poems of José Martí in gold letters on the walls. Also quite interesting is the nearby elevator that takes us to the top of the monument. Great view, but on quite a lot of concrete soviet-style buildings – we decide to visit the old town, where you can get around easily by walking. So use the elevator to get down again and wait for the line T1 bus. In the shade. Somehow.
Mercado Almancenes San Jose
We do not have to wait that long. We get in and realize very soon that we actually wanted to go in the other direction. Whatever, the bus goes a circular route anyways. When we arrive at the terminus at the old promenade Alameda de Paula, we decide spontaneously to get off. The Almancenes San Jose market in the old warehouses on the promenade is nearby. There seems to be quite a lot of things here: From household appliances to clothes to kitschy souvenirs… And in fact, some great things are to be found: Among all the art prints there are some pictures of local artists… After we have strolled through the marked had a beer (I really feel it’s easier to get beer than water here), we decide to get back to the Parque Central by bus. This time, we pass the Capitolio – in general, everything seems to be quite close here… apart from the cemetery and the Plaza de la Revolución.
We go on on foot from here: The pedestrian cobblestone streets seem to be starting at the bar “Floridita”, Hemingway’s main pub**. Nevertheless, we have to use the narrow sidewalks and get past the other pedestrians, because of a construction site in the middle of the road going on for a few blocks. As we arrive at a square with a statue of Don Quixote it starts to feel like a relaxed pedestrian zone. On the opposite side there is a bank – time to withdraw money. A few steps further to the next sight: The Farmacia Taquechel, probably the oldest active pharmacy in Havana having antique glass and majolica containers and other medical device exhibited. The path takes us to Plaza Vieja. Hmm. Wrong place. We actually wanted to go to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza next to the Plaza de Armas. “Geez Frank, you messed up with the map!” – Yes, mobile phone, Google Maps and GPS are all at home . I find it quite interesting that you can not really get lost here. Almost all roads lead to some bigger place you can orientate yourself. A lot of money seems to have been put into renovating all the buildings here. Quite different from the residential areas…
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
Somehow we make it to the Castillo. A little too late to look inside, so we walk along the castle moat. No crocodiles to be seen. All those cartoons pass on a distorted picture of reality to children . Nevertheless we get a look at the bronze statue “La Giraldilla” on one of the lookout towers – one of the city’s landmarks (and also on the logo of the Havana Club Rum). Our stomaches are starting to growl. At the Plaza de Armas, the booksellers are already packing up their stands, and we head for the Plaza de la Catedral. Roly told us there were some good restaurants.
Plaza de la Catedral
The Cathedral of San Cristóbal is not hard to get to – Columbus is said to have been buried here for a short time… Not far away is the Palacio de los Marquesas de Aguas Claras – at that time a luxury palace, now a restaurant. But we choose another one in the nearby alley. It seems that all the restaurants here have this rustic flair and you can listen to live music everywhere . For a city directly at the sea there is surprisingly little fish to choose from on the menus – but you can get Pollo. In all possible variations. And if you order a Mojito here, you will soon notice that folks aren’t stingy with alcohol. I can definitely not drink more than two of those. After having dinner we get very very very slowly back to our Casa …
*By the way: Having more than 2 mill. graves this is the 3rd biggest Graveyard of the world
**They say the Daiquiri was invented in here