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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cuba: Day Six

Warning: This post has a ton of photos. More photos than text, actually. If you can handle that, scroll on.
Day Six was our free day. After a more leisurely start to the day, Kelly and I headed to Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) to explore the city. Havana was founded in the 1500s by the Spanish. We started in the Plaza de la Catedral, home to the Catedral de San Cristóbal, founded in 1748. 

No city is complete without worthless furballs lounging in doorways.

We enjoyed a full day of peeking down narrow streets.

Eyeing buildings that are slowly crumbling - this, by the way, is true for nearly every building we saw in Havana including the airport.

Cuba values its artists and you'll find artwork everywhere.

The old buildings were fantastic - this was a former bank turned into hotel.

Just look at its stained glass ceiling!

We noticed that several countries (primarily China) are investing money in Cuban restoration projects. This is Plaza Vieja.

We also took a long walk to the Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Deposito San José for some shopping.

It used to be an open-aired market and is now housed inside an abandoned ferry building. Due to the US embargo, the only things we were allowed to purchase (to bring home) were music, books and artwork.

Isn't this interesting? It's a notice from the census department indicating that this house has been accounted for.

I'm sure we could have spent days exploring Old Havana because there were hidden treasures everywhere, like this small park outside the Museum of Sciences.

We stopped for a late lunch at Bodeguita del Medio Bar/Restaurant. The scribbling you see on the walls are the signatures of patrons. Each year the restaurant will paint over all but the famous signatures to provide a "blank slate" for future guests.

They are best-known for serving Hemingway's favorite mojito. Those were so-so, to be honest. But the food was really great traditional Cuban cuisine.

We found the Johnson and Johnson pharmacy.

And eventually we landed at El Floridita - another Hemingway hangout.

The daiquiri was invented here - legend has that Hemingway may have even helped with its invention.

Havana is very beautiful, despite its shabby neglected state. Where money is available, it's lavished on improving the buildings.

We tried to tour Havana's Partágas Cigar factory, but were told that it had closed recently for restoration. (I asked how recently and was told "Two years ago.") But they did let us come inside and take photos of the lobby.

Strolling down the Paseo del Prado.

More of Havana's eclectic buildings.

Havana, like many early seaports, has a string of forts constructed to protect the bay and the city from pirates and other nefarious characters. In fact, in its early years Havana was captured and burned by French pirates.

The Palace of the Captain Generals, built in the late 1700s. It now serves as the City Museum.

The wonderful secondhand book market in the Plaza de Armas (this plaza is considered the heart of Old Havana, as it houses the oldest fort in the city and this was the start of the growth of the old city).

The old Bacardi building.

We were able to go to the top of the building - what a view! You can see that Havana isn't all that large of a city.

Its hard to make out in this photo, but in the middle of this plaza is a glass-enclosed yacht - the very yacht that Fidel Castro rode in from Mexico to launch the start of the revolution.

We took some time to visit Havana's chocolate factory.


And spotted the Russian embassy.

Before long, we were exhausted from walking and decided to take a pedi-cab ride.

Good times.

And then we decided to have even more fun by taking a mini-cab ride back to the hotel.

What it was like to ride along Havana's famous Malecón, an 8-kilometer roadway along the bay, in a mini-cab:

I paid the driver extra for the ride with the promise that he'd be careful with us - our mini-cab was little more than a moped!

We ended the evening with dinner at Paladar Vistamar. It's located in a renovated house on the waterfront.

Watching the sunset before dinner.

And apparently, the key lime pie is so famous it was written about by the New York Times. The only article I could find (here) talked about a lemon pie, not a key lime pie. But it was exceptionally delicious, so who really cares about the details?

Talk about a fantastic final day in Cuba!

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