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Cuba 2015 - Log and photos
 
 
 
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photos albums - every day we post a daily photo album .. to view all of the photos for each day click on the small daily photo icon located in this column 
Sunday May 10th thru Wednesday May 13th - Fort Myers Florida
Happy Mother's Day weekend!  .. we have spent the weekend and the balance of the week completing some final preparations for our upcoming trip to Cuba .. since we have been advised that wifi is either non-existent or at best very slow and expensive to access we will not be taking our laptop computer .. thus we have decided to travel 'light' bringing just one wheeled carry-on suitcase, a regular carry-on bag, and the ever-present and reliable West Marine waterproof bag to tote all the camera stuff ..
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Sunday we took a drive south to Coconut Point and the Apple Store where we picked up a couple of connectors to download photos from the camera to our iPad and got a great tip from the Apple techie who recommended we get the Sandisk ixpand storage unit to transfer and store our final edited photos from the iPad .. our next stop was Best Buy .. and then another Best Buy .. where we finally found a couple of 64bit units that someone stashed in the back of the store .. 
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while we were at Coconut Point we couldn't resistant taking a couple of pix of a beautiful cream-colored Bentley coupe .. thought it would make a great contrast to the vintage autos we were sure to see in Cuba ..
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late Tuesday morning in the midst of our packing and other chores we got a surprise phone call from our boat broker in Dania who asked if he could send over a couple who wished to take a look at Dee Light .. yikes .. they would be here in a couple of hours .. no problem! .. we put it in high gear and by 1:30 the boat was ready to show and we were showered and cleaned up for our visitors too .. luckily they came when they did because shortly after they left the boat the skies turned black and we were hit by a torrential rain storm with gusty winds and lightening all around  .. seems the summer rainy season has officially begun .. by evening the storms had passed thru the area, the skies had cleared and stars were out ..
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Thursday May 14th thru Saturday May 16th - Fort Myers Florida
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with most of our preparations (except for some last minute items) completed for our trip we took a break and went with John and MK to the Nauti Parrot for a bite to eat before going to listen to the doo wop group The Brylcreams for their final show of the season at Daddy Dee's Ice Cream Parlor .. it turned out to be a great evening of entertainment .. not only did we enjoy the great music of the Brylcreams at Daddy Dee's - the Nauti Parrot happened to feature a terrific singer on their outdoor deck by the name of Sherri .. with a great voice and varied repertoire she sang everything from Taylor Swift to Michael Jackson to Bonnie Raitt and everything in between .. and she could sing and chew gum at the same time!

Friday evening we got together with good friends Bernie and Barbara who will soon be headed back to their home in Wisconsin .. Anita also joined us along with John and MK  and we headed down to the 'Smoke on the Water' BBQ competition in downtown Fort Myers .. this was also the evening of the monthly downtown Music Walk so it was really well attended .. we partook of some fine BBQ .. listened awhile to the Beatles 'Nowhere' Tribute Band and chatted with a few friends despite dodging the few on and off again rain showers .. we ended the evening for a nightcap with our favorite sax player Jim Blackburn at the lobby bar at Hotel Indigo ..

Saturday Dad gave Autumn the 'dreaded bath' in preparation for her stay with Martha our dog sitter .. finished our last bit of packing and finished getting Dee Light ready to show while we are away .. in the evening we decided to wander back downtown to pig out on some more BBQ ribs but we first stopped at the Legacy Chickee Hut to catch the Preakness Horse Race and watch American Pharaoh win the second race of the triple crown ..
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the above link has all (50) of our photos from the 19th .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day ..

 

Sunday May 17th - drive Fort Myers to Miami Florida
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Sunday morning .. time to go .. packed up the car .. gave John a quick orientation of the boat .. packed up Autumn and told her to be a good girl while we were away .. only to be totally ignored once we arrived at Martha's .. she was last seen giving us nothing but her tail end as she walked with Martha down the street sniffing all the way .. but we know we will miss our little girl! ..

finally on the road a little before noon .. midway down Alligator Alley we ran into lots of dense smoke from the brush fires burning in the Big Cypress Swamp area with periods of brief but heavy downpours .. and at this the rains are very much welcomed ..
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we checked into the Crown Plaza Hotel, arranged to leave our car for the duration of our trip and once settled in we took a short walk down the street to the Hereford Grill Restaurant .. it turned out to be a local Latin place with a Spanish-style guitar player in the piano bar alcove .. we found a comfortable seat in the bar area for a cold drink and a cheese appetizer plate while waiting for Sally and Vince to arrive .. it definitely looked like a place we would like to come back and try for dinner sometime ..
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at 5:30 we returned to the hotel lounge/restaurant where we met up with Sally and Vince along with Sally's cousin Nan and her husband Bill .. after cocktails and a light dinner we adjourned to one of the meeting rooms for our 8:30PM orientation meeting with the Friendly Planet Tour representative .. after more forms passed out and paperwork to fill out it was off to bed for an early morning breakfast and 9:00AM meet up in the lobby ..
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the above link has all (204) of our photos from the 19th .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day ..
 
 
 
 
 
 
random photos from our first bus tour and lunch
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Havana icon - some of the vintage cars
 
 
 
 
 
 
our first dinner at Hotel Nacional
 
 
Monday May 18th - fly Miami Florida to Havana Cuba
the Crown Plaza has a very good breakfast buffet and was included with our room .. after breakfast we all gathered with our luggage in the lobby before boarding the bus for the Miami Airport at 9:30 AM .. our flight was not scheduled to leave until noon but they wanted us to be sure to check in early before all the other passengers arrived with their 'cargo' (i.e. microwaves, TVs, small appliances, etc) returning to Cuba .. our group of 23 checked in as a group and it went fairly quickly .. the flight was on time (with all seats full) and by 1:30 PM we had landed at the Jose Marti Airport .. cleared customs and immigration .. and another security check ..
 
we were able to collect our luggage from the carousel in a relatively quick time and exited the doorways where we were greeted by Trish Oliveira who would be our Friendly Planet tour guide for the next 4 days .. Trish then directed us with our luggage to bus No. 1704 where our driver Herman loaded our belongings .. we were pleasantly surprised and very happy to see a new, modern and fully air conditioned 50+ seat motor coach with comfortable upholstered seats and big clear windows which would allow the group plenty of photo opportunities .. we later learned that the Cuban government purchased these motor coaches from the Chinese especially for tourism and they are run and managed by the military ..
 
once on board Trish introduced us to our official National Cuba guide .. Alejandro - a very pleasant and good looking young man who goes by Ale .. at 31 years old he speaks fluent English and German .. after serving a year in the Cuban military he went on to the university where he majored in German studies and  is now employed by the Cuban government as a people-to-people tour guide working primarily with 3 or 4 US tour companies (including Friendly Planet) that are presently licensed to conduct Cuban tours ..
 
while underway from the airport Ale gave us a brief description of the city and encouraged us to feel free to ask any questions of him on any Cuban social, economic or government subjects ..
 
our first stop was for lunch at Saborear, a state-owned restaurant (as opposed to a privately owned paladar)  .. because we had not yet had an opportunity to covert our US $$ to the Cuban CUC Peso Convertibles (cukes) Trish took care of our tips to the toilet attendant .. 
 
after lunch we were free to walk around a bit and we naturally gravitated to the line-up of vintage cars parked in front of Central Park Square and the adjacent hotel where we met Fernando who drives a pink and white 1955 Chevy Bellair convertible .. we immediately liked and were impressed with this very well-groomed polite young man who spoke wonderful English and we exchanged contact information so we could contact him later be our tour guide for our independent program scheduled to begin Friday morning ..
 
upon arrival at The Nacional Hotel we were escorted to the terrace bar where the walls are covered floor-to-ceiling with photos of the many dignitaries and celebrities that have stayed there thru the years .. we enjoyed a complimentary welcome drink .. our first Cuban Mojito  (of course!) and got acqhttp://marvboater.smugmug.com/Dee-Light/2015-05-18-Cuba-first-dinner/ the rest of our group while we took in the view and waited on our room keys ..
 
the Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a historic luxury hotel opened in 1930 and is located on the Malecón in the middle of Vedado, Havana, Cuba. It stands on Taganana hill a few metres from the sea, and offers a view of Havana Harbour, the seawall and the city .. by Cuban standards it is a 5-star hotel .. www.hotelnacionaldecuba.com ..
 
our first night dinner was a welcome buffet in the 'basement' of the hotel .. we're not sure why they call it a basement as it is actually a lovely terraced dining area on the lower level with a covered outdoor portico and a terrace that overlooks one of the swimming pools (where Johnny Weissmuller .. aka Tarzan .. performed exhibition swimming and jumped from the 2nd floor balcony) ..
 
after dinner we ended our first day in Havana on the outdoor veranda overlooking Havana Harbor with an after dinner drink and espresso .. everywhere there is live music as it is part of the Cuban National Heritage .. with the beautiful songs of a female vocalist and the rhythmic tradition tunes of the 3 musicians .. a cool tropical breeze .. perfect temps under a clear evening sky .. it  definitely felt like we had stepped back in time somewhere to the late '50s early '60s ...
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the above link has all (503) of our photos from the 19th .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day ..
 
 
people to people visit to a school
 
The Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception completed in 1777
 
Graphic Arts Studio and Printmaking Shop
 
 
walking the streets near The Cathedral of The Virgin Mary
 
rum and tobacco shop
rum and tobacco and coffee party
the Cabaret Tropicana
 
Tuesday May 19th - Havana Cuba

up and at 'em .. breakfast is included with our room so after a breakfast of omelets, fruit, pastries, cheeses and meats (with lots of Americano coffee) in La Veranda on the lower level (also where we had dinner the previous evening) we met the group in the lobby and boarded the bus at 9:00 AM ..

 

we began our day with a visit to a neighborhood primary school (ages 5-12) located in Old Havana .. we were greeted by the principal who explained the structure of the school and makeup of the students with Ale acting as interpreter to answer all our questions .. after all our questions were exhausted we were treated to a song and poem from two of the 6th grade girls ..the school supplies and other items we brought were left for the students and we were invited to take a walk thru the classrooms to tour the school where we were able to take lots pictures of all the smiling and bright faces of the children ..

 

after leaving the school our next stop was Plaza de La Cathedral .. location of The Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception completed in 1777 .. the cathedral is built in the Cuban Baroque style cut from coral rock and contains many beautiful paintings, frescos and sculptures .. Catholic Mass is still said every Sunday ..

 

outside on the expansive Plaza are many locals dressed in colorful period costumes who will readily pose for you to take photos .. it is customary to give them a one 'cuke' or some combination of other coins for their time ..

 

just off the Plaza is the Graphic Arts Studio and Printmaking Shop ..  although the new artwork being produced is often are very contemporary in style they use the same same original 17th century German print blocks and printing techniques passed down thru the centuries .. many of the artists' prints were for sale ..

 

within walking distance of the Plaza we next visited the Cigar and Rum store where we were treated to a demonstration in cigar rolling while we shopped .. we asked if they accepted American credit cards .. the answer was 'no, not yet but hopefully soon'  .. but still many 'cukes' were expended and the treasures packed up with most of us with lighter wallets .. 

 

the Cigar shop faced onto an adjoining atrium area and were then ushered to tables in the interior open courtyard for a very fun and 'enlightening' lesson in the fine art of Cuban coffee, rum and cigar tasting ..

 

finally time for lunch and more Cuban food! .. today lunch was in a paladar located on the first floor of a grand old house .. it had a tiny but cozy bar area and large airy dining room where we were seated at 2 long tables of 12+ .. we were offered a choice of 3 entrees and the side dishes of rice, green beans and salad were served family style on large platters .. dessert was traditional caramel flan ..

 

after the late lunch we were back at the hotel around 3PM to relax, shower and change for the evening ..

 

before leaving the hotel for dinner our tour company had arranged for one the the economics professors from the University to met with us at the hotel for a discussion on the history and current affairs of US/Cuban relations .. 'the Professor' was extremely engaging in answering and further discussing with us any of our questions or comments .. and in a totally uncensored and forthright manner .. the hour passed too quickly and as most of us had dinner reservations we had to go .. but we could have easily stayed talking with him for another couple of hours ..

 

for dinner tonight we would be on our own and we had been given a list of several excellent  paladars we were welcome to choose from .. Trish graciously offered to make our reservations for us .. our group of 6 (with Sally Vince, Nan and Bill ) decided to attend the iconic Vegas-style floor show at the Cabaret Tropicana .. however as the show did not start until 11PM Trish suggested we have dinner at the Vistamar .. a 1950's contempory-style home right on the ocean and it turned out to be a wonderful choice .. the 2nd floor dining area overlooked the water and we had dinner on http://marvboater.smugmug.com/Dee-Light/2015-05-19-Cuba-Rum-and/boater.smugmug.com/Dee-Light/2015-05-19-Cuba-Rum-and/ boater.smugmug.com/Dee-Light/2015-05-19-Cuba-Rum-and/boater.smugmug.com/Dee-Light/2015-05-19-Cuba-Rum-and/ outdoor deck .. the lobster special was prepared perfectly and a bargain at only 20 cukes ..we had such a good time lingering over dinner we were almost late for the show ..

 

the Cabaret Tropicana was everything it is advertised to be .. beautiful dancers, colorful costumes, a great orchestra, and talented singers set in a tropical and exotic outdoor theatre under the stars .. oh and I almost forgot the bottle of rum! ..

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the above link has all (360) of our photos from the 20th .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day ..
 
 
the Christopher Columbus Cemetery (
 
home of Ernest Hemingway
 
 
 
lunch at a Mexican paladar  Bodega Las Brisas
 
 
Callejon de Hamel street - entertained by a group
 
 
 
 
dinner at Nazdrovia a Russian Restaurant
Wednesday May 20th - Havana Cuba
Trish had warned us not to drink too much of the rum at The Tropicana .. that was a good thing because it was a short night and we were to be back on the bus at 9:30AM .. we also wanted time to have a leisurely breakfast and coffee at the excellent hotel buffet La Veranda this morning .. the weather has been very warm but picture perfect for taking photos and today was no exception .. another beautiful morning with blue blue skies and puffy white clouds (Kodak clouds) .. with no rain in site ..
 
our first destination was Revolution Square with it's Monument to Jose Marti .. the Square is notable as being where many political rallies take place and features a 358 foot tall tower and a 59 foot statue of Jose Marti, Cuba's National Hero .. opposite the square is the famous Che Guevara image on the side of the Ministry of Interior building ..
 
our next stop was the Christopher Columbus Cemetery (Cementario de Cristobal Colon) .. founded in 1876 .. it is one of the great historical cemeteries in the world .. the 140 acre Cemetery is noted for its many elaborate sculpted memorials and family vaults .. many shipped to Cuba from Europe and made by Spanish, Italian and French artists with Carrara marble or granite .. with more than 800,000 graves and 1million interments (approx. 40 funerals still take place every day) space is currently at premium .. after 3 years the remains are removed from their tombs, are cremated and placed in special niches ..
 
Andres who was our official guide during our visit brought us to the grave of a young women named Emilia and her infant daughter .. both had tragically died shortly after birth .. when they buried Emilia her baby was placed at her feet .. however when they removed their remains after 3 years for cremation the baby was found embraced in her arms .. to this day people visit their gravesite to make a wish (especially for a healthy baby) .. when their wishes come true they often leave beautiful painted tiles and plaques at the grave in gratitude and in memory ..
 
our next destination was the home of Ernest Hemingway and his restored fishing boat Pillar .. we found it to be quite different than his home in Key West .. much smaller in scale and simpler in design .. it is also very well kept up .. after viewing the house and boat we stopped for one of their special sugar cane cocktails made with freshly pressed sugar cane juice and .. yes - you guessed it .. rum! 
 
after leaving Hemingway's home we drove to the small fishing village of Cojimar .. noted to be the inspiration for Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea .. Cojimar is also the site of a 17th Century Spanish stone fort built in 1645 as the easternmost defense point of Havana .. lunch in Cojimar was at a Mexican paladar  Bodega Las Brisas .. ice cold daiquiris, a cold Cristal (local beer) and either seafood paella or grilled fish or turkey ..
 
our next and final stop of the day was the Callejon de Hamel .. one of the shortest but most interesting streets in Havana and a hub for the African Cuban religion of Santeria .. a fusion of the African belief system of spirit worship and Christianity .. the colorful artwork, dance and music of this area reflect the culture and religious beliefs of the Santerians  .. during our visit we were entertained by a group of drummers, singers and dancers depicting the mythological symbols of child, water, wind, fire, and wood ..
 
we were left to our own devises for dinner again tonight and had come across an interesting article in the Cuba Magazine profiling Nazdrovia Restaurant, a paladar specializing in Ukraine-Cuban cuisine and featuring art and memorabilia from the Soviet-Cuban historical period .. we found the address/phone and asked Trish to make reservations .. so we ended up with 2 folks from Florida, 2 from Kentucky, 2 from Indiana and 1 originally from Aruba in 2 vintage American automobiles at a Russian Restaurant in downtown Havana!  .. go figure .. 
 
Nazdrovia is located in a building directly on the Malecon and overlooks the Havana Harbor .. it also happens to be on the 3rd floor .. with no elevator .. strictly stairs but has a great view! .. when we arrived we were the only patrons however by the time we left all the tables were filled .. the 2 young handsome waiters and bartender spoke excellent English with hardly a trace of an accent .. the food was plentiful, well prepared and authentic and the drinks were generous .. and everything was very moderately priced ..
 
so after another very busy and active day we again ended our evening relaxing on the hotel veranda with a drink in hand listening to the wonderful Cuban music under the stars ..
 
the above link has all (378 of our photos from the 21st .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day ..
 
 
 
 
streets of Havana 
 
 
 
 
lunch at Tres Monedas Creative Lounge
 
 
 
the wedding 
 
 
 
farewell party for group
 
 
our 'people to people' group
 
 
 
Thursday May 21st - Havana Cuba
this would be our last full day with the Friendly Planet tour group .. most of our group were from Naples with a few from Marco Island .. the make-up of our group was about half couples and half single folks .. all very nice and most in our group were very accomplished high-end  photographers ..
 
another 9:30AM bus call and we were off .. this time to the complex of military offices, barracks and armament displays located on the opposite side of the Harbor from Old Havana and next to Moro Castle .. the castle was built as a fortress in 1589 and is perched on a high promontory guarding the entrance to Havana Bay .. it also serves as a navigational landmark ..
 
this is also the site of Christ of Havana .. a 66 foot statute of Jesus of Nazareth sculpted from white Carrara marble .. the sculpture with a 10 foot wide base was inaugurated on December  24, 1958 .. just 15 days later Fidel Castro entered Havana on Jan 8, 1959 during the Cuban Revolution .. that same day the image was hit by lightening and the head was destroyed .. it was later repaired (source: Wikipedia) ..
 
about 50 feet from the main statue we noticed a large piece of white marble displayed .. we suspect that may the remnant of the piece stuck by lightening but we were not able to confirm that during our visit .. the view from the top of the hill at the base of the Christ Statue overlooking the city of Old Havana, the entire Harbour and the entrance to the sea was absolutely spectacular ..
 
also at the entrance to the park area were several vendors selling local craft items and we purchased 2 handmade crocheted tops and a white guayabera-style shirt at a very reasonable price ..
 
we also had a chance to chat with Trish, our tour guide .. born and raised in Brazil she moved to the US as a young girl and now resides in Atlanta, GA .. after working for Coca Cola for 15 years she left her position as administrative assistant and became a bi-lingual tour guide .. she works as an independent contractor setting her own travel schedule and has been with Friendly Planet for 3 years .. she tells us she loves her work and it clearly shows .. Trish is very detailed oriented and took wonderful care of our group in every respect .. she is also very fun to be around!
 
next the bus dropped our group off at the base of Cardenas Street which leads to the Capitol Building and Square .. we had ample opportunity to take lots of photos and absorb the atmosphere and to observe the activities on the very busy city streets .. several of our group also visited one of the many free neighborhood health clinics in Havana where various minor injuries and ailments are routinely treated ..
 
lunch today was at Tres Monedas Creative Lounge ..  this paladar is named for the 1952 time capsule found embedded in the wall during renovation of the building .. 3 cents in a coke bottle and a letter to the future from the former owner - a local doctor  .. the restaurant's owner is an artist and it has a very hip and cool 1950's vibe .. staff was very friendly and the food was very good .. traditional Cuban roast pork or chicken and our complimentary drink was .. surprise! .. a Mojito ..  the excellent piece of flan for dessert was served on the owner's vintage family china dishes .. .. after lunch we were invited to the small adjoining bar area and treated to a demonstration of fancy mixology by one of the top-rated bartenders in Havana .. going back down the narrow flight of stairs to the street we noticed the walls had been totally papered with the historic slave documents from before the civil war ..
 
after lunch we were given the choice to get dropped off at the Market Place (a large flea market with no A/C) to do some shopping or at one of the many museums in the area .. several of our group went to the Market Place and a couple went on to visit a neighborhood organic farm .. since it was the now the hottest heat of the day we elected to go back to the hotel .. enjoy our cool air conditioned room with a nice shower and to relax before dinner ..
 
for our last evening they had planned a special farewell dinner for our group and we were told to wear our dancing shoes! .. it was a short bus ride to Casa Miglis .. a Cuban-Swedish dining and bar .. upon our arrival we were greeted with a cuba libra cocktail (rum and coke) before being ushered into a large dining room set with white tablecloths .. the room also featured a unique metal sculpture on the ceiling lit with revolving colored lights setting the mood for a fun and festive evening .. after being seated we placed our orders from the menu specially prepared for us .. one of our party (to remain unnamed) insisted he was eating lutefisk! ..  during dinner we were entertained by a wonderful group of musicians ..
 
once dinner was finished a dancing couple appeared to entertain our group .. eventually after everyone had dessert (along with a few adult beverages) they invited everyone to get up to join them on the tiny dance floor area to teach us how to do the salsa Cuban style! .. we shared lots of laughs over our 2 left feet and everyone agreed it was the perfect ending to our tour of Havana ..
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the above link has all (384) of our photos from the 22nd .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day .
 
 
 
 
 
 
our first Hemingway Bar
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
the Hemingway Hotel (Hotel Ambos Mundos) and upper deck
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
the streets of Havana
 
  
 
Cuban street music (video)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
dinner at  The Atelier
 
 
Friday May 22nd - Havana Cuba
Trish had contacted Fernando and we all agreed to meet in the Hotel Nacional lobby .. with Trish we were able to coordinate some places to visit and the cost to engage Fernando's service as our tour guide for the next couple of days .. a little after 9:00AM we said our goodbyes to Trish and thanked her for everything and at 9:15 we stared at the back of Bus No. 1704 as it roared out of the hotel driveway on its way to the airport with the rest of our group .. Yikes .. we were now truly on our own in Cuba with no Trish or Ale to tell us what to do and what time to be there! ..
 
we had made arrangements for Fernando to pick us up at 11:00 so we had plenty of time to finish our packing and a leisurely breakfast before checking out of the Hotel Nacional .. because the hotel was fully booked when we made our initial reservations we would now be moving to the Hotel NA Capri located just one block up the street ..
 
whereas the Hotel Nacional is the 'grande dame' of hotels .. very elegant and stately .. the Capri was built in 1956 and is a comparatively modern, contemporary 'avant guard' sort of structure ..
 
Fernando arrived promptly at 11:00 and loaded our luggage into his trunk and we were off in the back seat of his pink and white 1955 Bellair Chevy convertible .. no top and no seat belts! ..
 
our first stop was the La Floridita Bar .. the famous Ernest Hemingway bar and home of the world famous Daiquiri .. Opps! .. as it was not yet open we left Fernando at the car to wander down Obispo Street to take some photos .. we had been advised not to buy 'street cigars' because you often don't get the real thing however .. after climbing up 3 flights of stairs .. Yup .. you guessed it .. we did! .. since it didn't really matter as we don't smoke we will have our dock neighbor and friend Lorenza try them out ..
 
by the time we got back to the La Floridita they were open .. we ordered a daiquiri a light coke and a virgin strawberry daiquiri for Fernando .. when we arrived there were only a couple of other tables occupied but by the time we had finished our drinks it was standing room only ..
 
while we were at the La Floridita we noticed a large group of people wearing T-shirts with a Longboat Key logo on them and a fellow wearing a Useppa Island hat .. we had heard that there was a sailing regatta from the US on the island and it turns out this was the group .. they originally had applied for visas for 10 boats but were only able to obtain permission from the U.S. State Dept to bring 4 boats .. by now the bar was very crowded and noisy so we didn't have much time to talk further .. not sure how many people were in their group but they did say several were staying in hotel rooms at the Marina Hemingway Resort ..
 
Fernando then drove us to the Plaza de Armas .. we had visited this lovely shaded park area with its statue of Carlos Manuel de Caspedes in the center on our bus tour but now had more time to explore and take a closer look at the many book, poster and memorabilia vendors lining the pedestrian street ..
 
we visited the elegant lobby and atrium with its fountain at the colonial Hotel Santa Isabel .. originally the private residence of a Spanish family with extensive gold and silver mining holdings in Mexico .. there is a wonderful display of large old historic photos of the square from the 1800's .. the atrium also included a photo and letter from former President Jimmy Carter when he and family stayed there in 2002 ..
 
our next stop was at the Hotel Ambos Mundos .. built in the 1920's with an Art Deco decor this was also a favorite of Ernest Hemingway as evidenced by his bar tab preserved for posterity in the hotel's museum room ..
 
we squeezed into the original Otis wrought-iron and bellhop-operated elevator with 4 other patrons and glided silently up to the 5th floor rooftop terrace with its open-air bar and restaurant and panoramic views of the city and harbor ..
 
before arriving at the hotel Fernando also showed us the local pharmacy with its shelves lined up to the ceiling with jars containing the various herbs and other natural supplements used for  homeopathic remedies .. all the major hospitals in Cuba practice homeopathic medicine with its emphasis on preventive care rather than treating disease after it occurs ..
 
next on our afternoon agenda was a visit to a Cuban coffee house and it also time for a snack .. we walked a couple of blocks to the Plaza Viejo .. the oldest square in Havana with its extensive restoration of the building facades .. it was quite interesting to see the 'before and after' photos displayed in front of each of the buildings ..
 
while walking along the narrow street leading to the Plaza Viejo our guide Fernando he told us the locals do not walk on the sidewalk but instead walk in the center of the streets .. Why? .. 'well one has a much better chance of surviving being hit by a truck then from a baloney falling on top of you' .. since then we have stayed in the middle of the street!
 
we walked to the opposite side of the Plaza to Cafe Escorial .. the coffee hit the spot and was delicious .. a cold iced coffee with latte and a regular coffee with ice cream floating on top!  .. accompanied by a delicious piece of Tres Leche cake ..  while we sat on the veranda enjoying the sites we were able to spend some quiet time chatting with Fernando and learning more about him and his family .. we had wished to buy some coffee beans to take home with us but unfortunately were told that there was presently a shortage of beans with none available to purchase ..
 
on our walk back to Obispo Street we stopped in at the Hotel Raquel - a Jewish hotel.. built in 1905/08 it is a monumental and baroque structure with an interior in the Art Nouveau style .. a centerpiece feature of the hotel lobby is their elaborate stained-glass barrel ceiling which spans the length of the lobby and bar area .. their refined restaurant offers Jewish cuisine ..
it is the only Jewish hotel in the city and also near the oldest Sephardic synagogue in Cuba ..
 
after a very busy afternoon it was time to check into our 'new and newer' hotel The Capri and Fernando dropped us off about 4:30 with plans to pick us up for our 7:30 dinner reservation ..
 
Trish had made reservations for us to have dinner at another paladar .. The Atelier ..  some of our group had dined there this week and highly recommended we try it .. Fernando dropped us at the gate to the private house and we were greeted by an attendant who then directed us to the front entrance and up a flight of stairs to the restaurant .. we were seated at a large table on a small covered terrace with 2 other tables .. as the evening progressed we were able to meet and talk with the others .. a women and her son visiting from Maine and a couple who just arrived on the afternoon flight from NYC .. small world huh?! ..
 
after dinner Fernando was at the curb waiting for us at the agreed upon time to take us back to the hotel .. upon check-in we had been given a coupon for a welcome drink at the 17th floor bar so decided to stop by for a night-cap .. sure enough .. it was a Mojito! .. we spent some time talking with Williams the pleasant bartender and then walked up the flight of stairs to the rooftop pool area with bar .. the live music was just ending but we arrived in time to enjoy a final number and a drink before they quit for the night .. we said we would be back tomorrow evening!
 
 
the above link has all (481) of our photos from the 22nd .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day ..
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fusterlandia .. the home and surrounding neighborhood of Jose Fuster .. considered the Picasso of the Caribbean .. Wow!
 
 
Marina Hemingway Marina and Yacht Club
 
 
 
 
City Forest
 
 
 
 
dinner at the Le Chansonnier
Saturday May 23rd - Havana Cuba
in the morning we went down for the breakfast buffet at The Capri  (again included with the room) .. we found this buffet even better than the one at the Nacional ..
 
we asked Fernando pick us up at 11:00AM again today with the destination of Marina Hemingway on our itinerary .. Marv had the occasion to visit the marina in the early 2000's and was curious to see what changes -if any - had been made .. we also thought we may run into some of the folks from the 4 sailboats from the US ..
 
we drove thru the Miramar District of Havana where many of the fine old mansions are located and Fernando pointed out the various elegant buildings housing the foreign embassies .. we thought the Canadian Embassy was one of the prettiest and the Russian Embassy one of the most foreboding .. we also enjoyed seeing the local middle school baseball game with parents whooping and hollering for the players ..
 
earlier Fernando suggested we make a stop to tour Fusterlandia .. the home and surrounding neighborhood of Jose Fuster .. considered the Picasso of the Caribbean .. Wow! ..  we had no idea what a surprising treat we would be in for .. we had difficulty focusing our eyes and the camera lens! .. starting with a small wooden home over 25 years ago as his canvas Jose Fuster has turned his dream into reality and transformed not only his home but the entire neighborhood into a unique and colorful artistic landscape and has adorned the community with sculptures and mosaics everywhere .. his work is not only beautiful but expresses a special spirituality and oneness with nature that shines thru in all his art work ..
 
we lingered, explored, looked at and photographed as much as we could for well over 2 hours and left knowing we still hadn't seen everything! .. this is definitely a must-see for things to do in Havana and worth a second visit or two ..
 
we arrived at the expansive drive into the Marina Hemingway complex and drove right in with just a wave from the official at the entrance guard house .. much looked the same with the exception of several new modern buildings containing groceries and other provisions, liquor and cigars and gift shops ..
 
after parking the car we walked along the docks snapping some photos of the boats tied alongside the sea wall .. a few were older boats in need of some TLC but also some very nice (and expensive) yachts .. we noticed several flying the Canadian flag from their transom ..
just as we started to head back to the car our photo hound was approached by a man in a uniform who very politely advised him that photos were not allowed on the property! .. even Fernando was surprised by this ..
 
 
it being time lunchtime we decided to see if we could get into the Hemingway Yacht Club for something to eat .. Marv went in to speak with the manager and came back to the car to tell us that yes .. we were welcome to have lunch with them .. on our way out of the building after lunch we happened to run into a fellow who lives on Fort Myers Beach and works in the yachting business primarily in Fort Lauderdale .. he was accompanied by a Cuban-American who introduced himself as an art lawyer .. they explained to us that they were in Cuba to arrange an exhibition of large yachts (in the 80-150 foot range) to visit Marina Hemingway right after the 2016 Miami Boat Show .. seems lots of changes are afoot ..
 
on the way back to Old Havana (approx 12 miles) Fernando drove us thru the City Forest .. in the blink of an eye all the city traffic noise was gone and we were surrounded by a tropical rain forest with the Almendares River meandering thru the serene forest setting   .. then in another blink we were back in the midst of city traffic ..
 
our last stop of the day was back at the Cathedral Plaza and around the corner to the Bodeguita del Medio .. a teeny tiny itty-bitty bar in the middle of the block .. another famous Hemingway haunt with walls covered in handwritten messages and names .. after a quick look-see and a few photos inside the hot and crowded bar we instead decided to head back down the street where we had spied the lovely and pleasant sidewalk cafe at the Hotel Tejadillo for a couple of cold cokes and a cold Cristal cervaza before heading back to the Hotel Capri ..
 
the previous evening before going to dinner Fernando stopped by the paladar  Le Chansonnier  a very nice sophisticated French bistro .. he had suggested this restaurant for our Saturday evening .. the restaurant was totally jam packed on Friday when we stopped in but to her relief we quickly assured the young server we wanted a reservation for the following night!
 
as it was getting late we decided to head back to The Capri after another full day .. we had made an 8:00PM reservation at Le Chansonnier so we had time to enjoy a drink while listening to the live music at the lobby bar while waiting for Fernando .. thankfully they ended up having a much slower evening at La Chansonnier that night so we could relax and we thoroughly enjoyed a quiet dinner of asparagus soup with a perfectly grilled rare filet mignon steak with fresh vegetables .. we also had the pleasure of talking with a nice couple presently living in Havana .. she works for the Canadian Embassy and he was from Austria ..
 
the above link has all (148) of our photos from the 22nd .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day ..
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fernando and his family
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
trip to the ice cream parlor with Fernando and family
 
 
 
 
 
our farewell dinner at the
Cafe Laurent 
 
 
Sunday May 24th - Havana Cuba
whew!  .. our last full day in Havana, Cuba ..  it has been a fascinating and tremendously rewarding experience .. we have continually been astounded and amazed at the beauty, diversity and friendliness we have encountered during our visit to this fascinating city and its people ..
 
we decided to have a late breakfast and than spend the rest of the morning organizing and packing up our suitcases for our departure in the morning .. our flight didn't leave until 2:00PM but Trish had advised us to leave the hotel for the airport around 10:30AM .. we also noted on our  ticket folders that flights close 1 1/2 hours before departure and you would need to purchase a new ticket if you arrived later!
 
after being satisfied that our luggage was completely stuffed and ready for tomorrow we took a break for a short walk in the neighborhood .. on our drive back to the hotel in the evening we had noticed a lovely terraced dining room on the upper floor of a building just around the corner from the hotel and learned it was the Cafe Laurent .. another of the recommended paladars on our list .. we walked the block and a half to check out the menu and make a reservation for later that evening .. located in another lovely old home it turned out the paladar was on the 5th floor but .. hooray .. they have an elevator! ..
 
we walked the short way back to the hotel and ended up on the rooftop bar .. it was another hot and sunny but beautiful day with just enough breeze to keep it comfortable and there were a few brave souls sunning on the poolside lounges .. the waiter tried to talk us into trying their Cuban sandwich but we settled on a plate of salty French fries instead just to hold us until dinner .. besides we had a date to meet Fernando and his family later for ice cream!  ..
 
one of the highlights of this trip was our Sunday evening ice cream outing with Fernando and his family .. he wanted us to meet his wife and children so we had arranged to meet in the hotel lobby .. a few minutes before 5:00PM he showed up with his lovely wife Denise and their 2 adorable children (very sorry I didn't write down their names) .. they surprised us with a gift of 3 espresso cups and a small ceramic holder to hang them on and another ceramic holder for keys .. and for Marv they had a lovely white long-sleeved Guayabera shirt that Fernando said he would like him to have ..
 
after a couple of photos .. of course ..we took a short walk down the street to the local ice cream shop where we had ice cream salads .. a waffle-cone bowl with five scoops of orange, pineapple, mango and strawberry ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce and diced fresh fruit on the side .. we had an absolutely delightful visit and after our ice cream treat we all took a walk .. the young man (age 10) even took my hand at the very busy and very wide street we needed to cross to reach the Malecon .. it being a Sunday evening there were many people sitting on the sea wall overlooking the harbor enjoying the nice breeze while waiting for the sunset .. back at the hotel we said our goodbyes and confirmed our pick up time in the morning with Fernando ..
 
during our stay the hotel has been extremely busy with many tour buses coming and going every morning and evening and tonight was no exception  .. the elevators and lobby were bustling with activity and we happened to speak with an English couple in the elevator ..
when we arrived at the Cafe Laurent we noticed the same couple requesting a table and being told there were no reservations available that evening .. we asked if they would like to join us if they could find a table for 4 .. in a few minutes they had one set up and ready .. we had a great evening splitting a nice bottle of Cabernet and visiting with both Caroline and Paul .. we had originally requested a table on the terrace but when a brief but strong rainstorm came thru we were glad we were seated inside .. this was the first rain we had seen in our entire time here ..
 
by the time we finished dinner the rain was long gone for our very dark but thankfully short walk back to the hotel .. they recommend you bring a small flashlight along if you will be out and about on the streets after dark and now we could see why ..
 
after a quick stop at our room we decided to head to the rooftop for a nightcap and listen to some music .. because we had said our goodbyes in the lobby we all laughed out loud when we walked in and saw Caroline and Paul already sitting at the bar! .. we all ended up having a great time dancing under the stars and when Caroline got Paul up to dance she said 'that's a first in 30+ years of marriage - must be the Havana night air!' ..
 
 
 
the above link has all (74) of our photos from the 22nd .. latter we will be adding additional links highlighting parts of our day ..
Monday May 25th - fly Havana Cuba to Miami 
time to head home .. after our final breakfast buffet downstairs we gathered up our luggage .. we wished our nice room maid farewell and headed down to the lobby to checkout at the reception desk ..
 
we counted up the cukes we had left in our pockets and figured we had just enough to pay Fernando for our ride to the airport with a few cukes to spare for cold drinks .. if needed you are also able to exchange money at the airport with no fee ..
 
it was about a 20 minute drive to the airport and Fernando was a couple of minutes early to arrive so we had plenty of time .. with big hugs at the airport we wished him the best with our hope that we may someday soon return .. Fernando was an absolutely godsend as a our guide .. we consider ourselves very fortunate to have been able to spend time with such a knowledgeable competent and responsible young man and all-around good person  .. we would highly recommend Fernando Devila Mena (phone: 5 283 3271 or nandotur81@nauta.cu ) to anyone wanting to see Havana .. and he has a cool car too!
 
at the Jose Marti International Airport we received our boarding passes at the main counter and after checking our bag proceeded to the customs area .. one at a time please .. take off your glasses and have your picture taken and then passport stamped .. thru the little door and step right up to security with your stuff on the conveyor belt .. a pretty straightforward procedure .. if you are bringing back art work they suggest you put it in your carry-on luggage ..
 
we boarded our flight at 2:00PM .. given a customs form to fill out and the wheels left the ground at 2:35 for the 45 minute flight to Miami .. in Miami they now have electronic kiosks where you enter your customs info .. smile for the camera and its spits out a receipt with your photo .. pretty cool .. you take that and your passport and go thru a checkpoint .. we collected our bag and then thru another check point and we were out! .. jumped on the hotel shuttle and checked in .. all in all we were in our room before 5:00PM .. had one of the best hamburgers EVER in the hotel lounge .. a patty of ground sirloin, pork and chorizo covered with blue cheese and bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion on a buttered and grilled Cuban-bread bun .. YUMMY!
  
 
post Cuba 2015 images

 

Tuesday May 26th - drive Miami to Fort Myers - and post trip images ..
 
we left the hotel at 9:30AM Tuesday morning and after a couple of stops for gas, drinks and potty we were at Martha's house about 12:30 to pick up our little girl Autumn .. we also have the BEST dog sitter and we call her the dog whisperer .. Autumn was running around the kitchen with 3 other little dogs and acting like puppy .. she looked great! .. after a great trip everyone was glad to be back safe and sound  ..
 
several people have inquired as to how we were able to visit Cuba as US citizens .. since the US State Department has loosened the travel restrictions we are able to obtain our visas under the people-to-people provision of traveling under an organization that sponsors such exchanges .. our sponsor was Understand Photography with Naples Portraits and was arranged by Peggy Farren and Joe Fitzpatrick and we were under the Arts category  .. the actual details and arrangements of the tour .. i.e air and bus transportation - hotels - meals and all other activities were handled by Friendly Planet Travel who has the actual license to conduct tours to Cuba ..
 
 
 

 

in conclusion here are just a few of our general observations ..
 
the city is much bigger than envisioned .. once considered one of the five most beautiful cities in the world along with Paris Rome Madrid and Athens .. we can now only imagine what Havana looked like once upon a time .. there is also a lot more construction and restoration activity than we anticipated .. seems like it would be a good time to purchase some waterfront property! ..
 
along with the vintage cars everywhere there is lively Cuban music everywhere .. on the streets and in the hotels, bars and paladars .. we enjoyed live music in the afternoons and evenings at both our hotels .. we also brought back a couple of CD's - one a gift from Fernando of his friend's CD/DVD .. also in Havana you will see original art work everywhere .. during our visit they were just setting up for Havanas 12th Arts Biennial which takes place every 3 years .. various large art displays are set up thru out the city which are designed to interact with the public .. as it was just beginning we were only able to catch a few glimpses of what was to come ..
 
we have been asked about the food .. in the hotels and paladars it was very good, artfully prepared, plentiful and pretty varied for the most part ..  pork, chicken and seafood is readily available ..
 
we had been warned that the Internet - when available - would be very slow and expensive and it was .. the cost wasn't too bad considering the source but it was difficult to access and when you finally got a connection you were often bumped off immediately .. found it wasn't good for anything except checking and sending a few emails and toting along a laptop would have been a total waste of time ..
 
they only have running water every 3rd day .. every rooftop contains barrels (often blue in color) used for storing water for their use until the water is turned back on ..
 
$2.2 billion is contributed to the Cuban economy from US visitors .. after Canada the US ranks 2nd in the number of visitors but not counted in the 'official' tourism numbers ..
 
the Cuban government previously allowed only 10 paladars (privately owned restaurants) in Havana but at this time there is no limit on the number allowed .. however the larger the paladar (with more tables and more revenue) the more taxes they pay and can be as high as 90% of profits ..
 
there is only one private new car dealer in Cuba  .. a new Peugeot from France runs about $260,000 .. a small Kia (like those used for taxis) will cost $35-50,000 .. and always paid for in cash ..
 
Cuba imports about 65% of all goods (including food) consumed .. they import chicken, rice, beans, wheat from the US but it is all paid for with cash by the Cuban government .. most all cosmetics, lotions, toothpaste, etc comes from China and is of inferior quality .. the locals appreciate any nice cosmetic items ..
 
Homeopathic medicine is practiced in the major hospitals with an emphasis on preventative care ..
 
we were told there is very little crime in Cuba .. most crimes committed are those of passion .. they say there are 3 million people in Havana and 1 million are policemen ..
 
we were told that Cuba has little or no racism - most of the people are of mixed race (or what they call mulatto) .. Cuba once had substantial Chinese - Lebanese - Jewish neighborhoods however the the majority of people are primarily of Spanish and African descent ..
the vintage cars are also of mixed heritage with many of the auto parts to keep them running imported from Russia Spain Germany etc .. whatever is available they will use ..
 
with the breakup of the USSR and when their financial support dried up good food soon became scarce and many of the Cuban people were starving .. as a result of the lack of good nutritious food in their diets for so long they are now left with many residual health problems .. especially in the older populations .. also there are no 6-toed cats left at Hemingway's home because they ate them all ..
 
despite the many hardships the people of Cuba have endured and the lack of modern conveniences all in all we found the people we met very resilient and resourceful .. they still carry with them a profound hope for a better future for themselves and their children ..
 
 as Ale, our tour guide very succinctly put it  ..
 
'the first thing we have is hope and the last thing we lose is hope' ..