Travels to Cuba : Havana, the capital city

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We recently went on our baby moon to Cuba. We did a one week trip splitting our time in half between the city, Havana and the beaches, Varadero. I was about 21 weeks (5 months) along in my pregnancy when we embarked on our trip. This is suggested as the golden period to travel so we took advantage of the small window where I was feeling my best and energetic to embark on one last hurrah as a married couple with no kids.

The Hotel – Iberostar Parque Central

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After a 3 ½ hour flight from Toronto to Varadero, we jumped into a Hyundai with our non-English speaking driver to Havana. Because of our driver’s lack of English, we were unclear on how long the drive would be. He originally held up one finger to signal one hour, but after one hour passed we soon realised it would be longer. The ride ended up being closer to two hours, maybe one hour and 45 minutes. We safely arrived at our hotel in the heart of Havana, the Iberostar Parque Central. The hotel borders on the old and new parts of the city.

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We escaped the heat of the city and entered the lobby to be greeted by smoke. Yes,  smoke and lots of it! Other than Vegas, it’s been so long since I’ve been subjected to cigarette and cigar smoke indoors that I forgot that it still existed in some places. The lobby is a popular spot for guests to hang out and relax with a drink and a cigar. This was an unavoidable place for us. Normally I would still not be a big fan of it, but being pregnant I disliked it even more. We checked in at around 1pm and luckily our room was ready for us.

rooftop pool, iberostar parque central, hotel, old, original

The hotel is split up into two parts: the original colonial section and newer modern section. We stayed in the original section. This was not by choice, it just happened. However both hotels are connected by a pleasant underground path and as a guest to either side you have access to both section’s amenities. The highlight? Both sections have their very own distinct rooftop pools! I’ve actually never spent any time on a rooftop pool and I have since discovered that I LOVE IT! The above picture is of the rooftop pool on the older section.
view, rooftop, old, city, havana, cuba, on top, beautiful, iberostar, parque central, central parkAnd this is the beautiful view! I normally don’t really care for poolside lounging, but this was just too perfect to not enjoy.

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We also spent time on the newer, modern rooftop pool. We found the crowd here was a bit younger. The signs say that this pool is not for children, however I saw some kids. Those rule breakers tsk tsk!
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It was nice having the option of the two different pools, making it feel like we were somewhere completely different. We didn’t have a preference between the two pools, they were both incredibly nice and relaxing.

The City – Walking Tour

havana, plaza, vieja habana, old havana, walking tour, city tour, sights, site seeing, tourist, what to see, what to do,, attractions, streetsWe went on a walking tour of Vieja Habana (Old Havana) which took us to all the famous city centres aka. Plazas. Somehow we got placed into a tour that had all Spanish speakers, Ken and I being the only English speakers. I’m usually really good with remembering the places we see and their history, however nothing really stuck with me about Havana. I didn’t realize this until after we were looking at all our pictures and I couldn’t for the life of me remember the names or meanings behind many of the places we visited. I apologize in advance for my lack of knowledge in the following pictures. I’ll do my best!
dogs, havana, habana, cuba, city, streets, common sites, site seeing, what to expectThere are a lot of stray cats and dogs wandering around the city. We couldn’t help but feel sad for them. We even saw one that looked like Loki and it made us miss him even more!
havana houses, spaniard, colonial, old, restored, renovated, museums, public, rich, plaza, centre, city, capitol, cuba, site seeing, what to see, tourist attraction, tour, walking, guideThere are a lot of old houses that were built during the Spanish colonial times. They have since been restored and turned into public museums. They all have these great before and after photos in front of them.

woman on rooster, sculpture, femininity, strength, women, statue, cuba, havana, art, naked, This is a statue of a bald woman riding a rooster, holding a large fork in nothing but heels. Interesting, right? This statue symbolizes woman’s strength and endurance. That’s all I got from our tour guide. vieja havana, night, beautiful, cathedral, plaza de catedral, old havana, habana, cuba, capitol, city, walking tour, site seeing, tourist attractionI know this place! It’s Plaza de Catedral. I know this because of the extremely large cathedral in the background. The magical thing about Vieja Habana is that at night the whole place just lights up in this dreamy glow. It eerily reminded me of the time I spent in Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) in France. Major deja vu. cannonsEvery night at 9pm across the river at Fortresa de San Carlos de la Cabana, a cannon ceremony takes place. This was probably the highlight of our night. Soldiers dressed in 18th century Colonial Spaniard uniforms reenact a traditional cannon shooting. Back in the day, every night the cannon would shoot to mark the end of the day and the closing of the city gates for the night. Make sure you go early so you can find a spot up close and personal to the show. I somehow found myself at the front and luckily had Ken behind me to cover my ears while I filmed because that cannon is super loud!
havananight

Not to mention the view from the fortress is unbelievable! The whole city lights up and is just breathtaking at night.

The City – Bus Tour

havanabustour On a different day we decided to take the city double decker bus tour. This one you don’t have to book, just find your nearest stop and hop on for 5 CUC per person. There was a stop situated at Parque Central so we didn’t have to wander too far to find it.havanastreetsThe streets of Havana are hectic and riddled with every type of automobile imaginable from old school 1950s cruisers, to brand new Hyundais, mini buses and mini put puts that look like moving lemons. Amongst the craziness we have pedestrians jay walking and weaving in and out of cars. Not to mention the air pollution. Waiting for the bus to come I thought I was going to choke from the horrible air quality. havanahighriseWe sat on the top level to get a better view of things. The bus takes you allover the city, taking up about 1 hour 45 minutes to loop around. It took us to a mix of tourist and residential areas. It’s pretty eye opening to see how people live. I found this particular apartment building haunting. I mean look at those outdoor stairs and hall ways! As someone terrified of heights I couldn’t imagine climbing up and down those stairways and walkways.
castro militarysquareWe also drove past the Revolution Square. This monument is also marks the highest point in the entire city. See I learnt something!

Photo 10-13-2014, 10 27 21 PMThat concludes our stay in Havana, the first half of our trip. We enjoyed our hotel very much, the pools were relaxing. It was also interesting to learn all about Havana, however I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I normally love to wander and explore different cities and rarely enjoy sitting by a pool. That was the opposite with this trip. Walking around on the streets I didn’t feel quite as safe. We had many people approach us trying to ask for money. Some tried to engage in a conversation with us the second they found out we spoke English, following us for blocks. One instance when we went to a local grocery store to purchase bottles of water, a man came over and striked up a conversation asking us where we were from? Were we Chinese (this is a very common question, it never gets old) and what we were looking for? We didn’t ask for his help, he simply commenced following us around the store trying to interrupt us anytime we attempted to speak to an employee. At one point he even brought his wife over, exclaiming that she was pregnant. She seemed extremely uncomfortable and unless she had just found out she was pregnant, she did not look it at all. At this point we had said multiple times that we didn’t need his help and even said “Goodbye”, but he would not leave us alone. The second he brought over his “pregnant wife”, I had had enough and walked out of the store without our water. Needless, to say this experience left a sour taste in my mouth. I couldn’t help but ignore anybody that attempted to approach us in Havana afterwards, even if they were just kind people with no motives.

On Day 4 we left for Varadero, which was to be the relaxing portion of our trip. Stay tuned to see how that went.

  • Glenp Rich

    The Oasis Hotel in Varadero is helping the strays – a first for Cuba – this is the only one so far where you can feel safe that one of the strays wil not be poisoned http://kreolischerhund.de/Hotels.en.php#Cuba

    Cuba

    Oasis Varadero

    Hotel Oasis Varadero on http://www.travelpod.com

    Cuba is still a very bleak spot on the map of Caribbean animal wefare. The US-registered organisation Aniplant Project https://www.theaniplantproject.org/, the only animal welfare organisation that is allowed to work in Cuba, report in their 4th quarter newsletter 2014 that strays, sick and injured animals are regularly trapped by government dog catchers, carried away to a killing pound east of Havannah where they are kept without food for days to check if any of them are infected with rabies.

    See The Aniplant Project.pdf or The Aniplant Project.docx Word document .

    Then they are given food laced with strychnine and are left to suffer a slow, horribly painful death. Euthanizing is considered too expensive by the Cuban government. The pound’s statistics show 13 – 15000 killings per year during the nineties, having declined to about 9600 since Aniplant Project started to help Cuban animals with spay and neuter. In this overall situation it is certainly remarkable when a hotel calls an animal welfare organisation to have its animals spayed and neutered.

    And this is exactly what the Oasis Varadero has done!

    11/02/2014 the vets of Aniplant Project spayed and neutered the hotel’s cats.

    According to eye witnesses there were aout 50 cats. Aimal lovers travelling to Cuba should not miss to aid Aniplant Project with a donation. For most a monetary donation will be the easiest, you find the PayPal account of the Aniplant project on https://www.theaniplantproject.org/HOW_YOU_CAN_HELP_29ND.html Click on Donate or visit Aniplant Project yourself while you are there:

    In Canada, the initiative Resort Strays in Cuba was started by retired Canadians who wanted nothing but to spend part of their retirement in Cuba, enjoying sunshine and naturally grown food. Shocked by the animals’ suffering at their vacation spot they returned to Canada and don’t cease to aid Cuban animals from there. Their statement:

    “Animals in Cuba need help, if you can take supplies or if you fall in love with a dog or cat there. – there are ways to bring them back with you but you need to plan ahead. The organizations that try to help animals there need supplies desperately.

    We need guests to provide names of vets and potential fosters – you can try and get this information while at a resort and then post here so that there is a list of resources available to help the strays. We need people to take a letter and give it to the resort managers requesting that guests have information available to them if they desire to help an animal.

    Ultimately this will help some animals, vets and the people who foster.”

    Sweet Angel was saved with their help and lives now in Canada as ambassador for Cuban animals.

    Jamaica

    Sandals Resorts International & Sandals Foundation

    http://www.sandals.de

    Since the opening of the first hotel 1981 in Montego Bay, Sandals Resorts International has been engaged in an exemplary manner in the well-being and development of communities on Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean region. In 2009 the Sandals Foundation was launched. Hardly any issue concerning education, healthcare or environmental preservation that the foundation doesn’t tackle! In 2013 26 schools were adopted, 136 scholarships awarded, 544 teachers trained, 28 Computer labs built, 509 computers and 106.000 books donated, 24 children’s homes and infirmeries supported, 107.000 people impacted by healthcare initiatives and 62.000 people gained access to dental and eye care. 2 marine sanctuaries were created, 4210 trees were planted AND 3500 cats and dogs were spayed and neutered in Jamaica and on the Bahamas with the participation of the Sandals Foundation (Resource: http://www.sandalsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/SF_Annual_Report_2013.pdf).

    Since 2011 the Sandals Foundation has partnered with the Animal House Jamaica which houses stray animals and works to get them adopted. Their focus there has been in providing proper infrastructure through the installation of fencing for free roaming, construction of kennels and dog houses as well as a water catchment system and pressure pumps to ensure running water is available at all times.

    Since 2012 Sandals hotels provide accommodation for the spay and neuter team of the Florida-based animalwelfare organisation International Spay Neuter Network http://www.spay-neuterjamaica.org/. Since then ISNN spays and neuters the cats of the Sandals Resorts and helps with the managing of their feral colonies.