Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cuba Trip Day 2

OAT Itinerary:

Day 2: HavanaCuba - Lost in Time - Let the rhythms of Cuba captivate you in this music-driven video, highlighting everyday scenes from across the island.This morning we fly to Cuba. After we exit Cuban Immigration and Customs at the airport, we’ll be met by our Cuban Trip Leader, who will accompany us to lunch at Il Divino, one of the best of Cuba’s new wave of privately owned restaurants called paladares. After our meal, we’ll stop at the nearby sustainable family farm and botanical garden which supplies fresh produce to Il Divino. Then, we’ll make a brief stop at Havana’s historic Plaza de la Revoluci√≥n.Continuing on to our hotel, we'll meet our Grand Circle Foundation Representative. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is an historic hotel overlooking the harbor with views of the sea wall and El Morro Fortress. Our hotel is located in the Vedado section of Havana, across the street from the Malec√≥n, and close to the University of Havana, the U.S. Embassy, and Coppelia ice cream—featured in one of the most widely viewed Cuban films, Strawberry and Chocolate. An orientation walk around the immediate vicinity will show us this modern part of the city. We'll have dinner together this evening at a paladar called La Moraleja in Havana's Vedado district, where we'll have the opportunity to learn about the difficulties and successes these young entrepreneurs have faced with their private restaurant.

  • Meals included: L D Accommodations: Hotel Nacional de Cuba


Wednesday January 11


We were down in the lobby with our luggage at 7:30 am and bussed to the airport where somebody else had already checked us in with our passports and other papers we had filled out at the meeting the night before. But then we stood in line to check in our suitcases. It was a group check in but James and I had no problems anyway because ours weight only 33 and 36 pounds of the 44 aloud. They even weighed our hand luggage. After that and security we had plenty of time to find breakfast. Not very exciting but a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee will do.

And then we really waited. Boarding for this Aruba Airlines flight was supposed to start at 10 with the take-off at 11. I think we started boarding at 11. James and I marveled how the Cubans on board seemed to hop from one seat to another even when we were supposed to be seatbelted.




Finally ... bye bye to Miami




Hello to Cuba




It took a long time to get through immigration and to get our luggage. It was funny because half of the plane's cargo space must have been full with shrink wrapped bales and flat TVs belonging to returning/visiting cubans.

Finally we were all through and our tour guide Migdalia met us. She will take care of us the whole time and also bus driver Raul. The bus is spacious and pretty new.



It was almost 3 pm now and we were late for lunch which was in a private (not state owned) restaurant Il Divino. It was on a terrace and very nice.



We had choices like squash soup and chickpeas to start with. The soup was excellent but we got to taste the chickpeas and that would have been a good choice too. Dick at our table was wondering what was in it and we were told chirozo which explained the nice taste.




Local beer ... very good.



Choice of fish or pork. Guess what James had. Delicious plantains and ocra.



Postre! Choice of papaya and guave. Must have been marinated in sugar but ... we are on vacation. It was worth it.




Afterwards we had a tour of the farm and got the situation explained in Spanish by the lady on the left and translated by our guide. Too much to write! But the owners do a lot for the community and inviroment.



Cuban bees are different. The honey is supposed to be very healthy. No bee should ever try to get in the wrong house. There is always a guard (you can see) and would be killed.




The garden is open for the community to come for picnics, bring their own or buy.





A house in the back for seniors to come every day. They get meals and play games, socialize.







A view into the street to the other side.



On the way to the hotel we stopped briefly at the Revolution Plaza.

I did take a VIDEO for a better impression but I have to plug it in later because it doesn't want to be uploaded to utube here.




There are also everywhere these old cars around. The rest of our group seems to be very obsessed about them. James took several photos but I can't seem to get them to the iPad. Something else which needs to get plugged in. And the photo of Cuba's version of the "tuck tuck".





We are briefed at the hotel, got our keys and had a little time to settle in.

At 7:15 pm we were supposed to be at the grandfather clock in the lobby.



Another private restaurant. We had our own room with live entertainment. Everything was very nice ... including the lobster.




The live music was lovely.

VIDEO ... again, has to be added once I am home.





At the end we were offered complimentary cigars and rum (neet). We gave the cigars to fellow travelers. The rum was very nice, almost like brandy. It settled the stomach nicely.



We had our fun though because somebody said the rum smelled like perfume to her ... so we had to do the dubbing behind the ear.



Bus ride back to the hotel. City is very pretty with buildings and statues in a nice light. No photos. Have to commit it to memory. It's a nice group and we have fun.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Off to Cuba and Day 1

We have planned this trip for quite a while and booked with OAT Overseas Adventure Travel. We have travelled with this small group company already several times and have always been very happy. The trip is called: CUBA - A BRIDGE BETWEEN CULTURES

Here are things copied and pasted from their website:

Uncover the mystique of Cuba with Grand Circle Foundation on a journey that reveals Cuba’s complex history, natural beauty, and cultural riches in the most authentic way possible—through its people. Interact and engage with a variety of artists and writers, fishermen and farmers, and Cubans from all walks of life as you stroll the colonial streets of Old Havana, experience Afro-Cuban rumba rhythms of Cienfuegos, and discover the colonial gem of Trinidad. Toss aside any preconceived notions you may have of Cuba—and prepare to be enthralled by the welcoming spirit of the Cuban people and the unforgettable experiences that await you.

OAT Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Arrive MiamiAccommodations: Sheraton Miami Airport HotelAfter arriving in Miami today and transferring to your hotel, meet with members of your group for a Welcome Briefing and what to expect for your charter flight to Havana tomorrow (Please note: No meals are included while you are in Miami).


Monday January 9, 2017


Ben came promptly at 8 am to bring us to the airport. It was VERY VERY cold but the sun was shining and the sky was blue and the traffic not impossible. Thank you Ben.


We were checked in and through security in no time. A coffee would be nice. Neither one of us likes the taste of Starbucks so next door had to do.



Too much time? I was reminded though why I try to get sausage muffins (and not sausage biscuits) if I can.



In the plane on time.



Tried that selfie again.



Today is monthly lace meeting in Williamsburg. Thinking of you, my friends. But tatting is what I can do here. No scissors though in the plane to finish it off.



BNA to IAH and IAH to MIA, both flights on time and then the hotel shuttle to the Sheraton for two nights. One night is included in the trip but everybody was encouraged to come a day earlier since we all (20) come from all over the US. At check in they linked the reservations and we don't have to move.


Half an hour until "happy hour" is over.



Seemed like finally our vacation started. We started to relax. 50% off a cocktail is not bad. We each had a caipirinha. The bartender was disappointed that we didn't like it with pineapple juice and made us a second one each how we knew it from Brazil. He was very excited that we were going to Cuba because that is where he is from. He said that everybody says that they loved it when they come back.

Sitting there we have fun trying to guess who else might have come early and be in our group.

The back of the hotel looks over a golf course. Good thing there is a fence because from there we see a sign: beware of the poisonous snakes and alligators. Oh really?



Back in the room I want to use James' gadget to bring photos over to my iPad for my first blog ... not signing on to the Internet since we were told there might not be any in Cuba. I had tried it out in Nashville and it had worked. Can't get it to work here. We tried til 1 am. Using the internet now but are worried for Cuba. Oh well.



Tuesday January 10


A good night sleep is always a blessing. Today is a strange day though because there is nothing on the agenda until 6:30 pm when we meet the group and are briefed. We didn't have a day like that in a long time.

Here is a picture of last night's fence from the 8th floor.



We can make hot tea and coffee in the room and we actually had a banana for James and some stollen in the backpack. We decide to walk across the street and take the Sky Train to the airport to take care of something. We are quite impressed with the airport and the public transportation. I think this is actually called "MIA Mover". On the way back I took a picture of our hotel.



We decided to keep walking past the hotel and the golf course to a little shopping area we found on the Maps App on our iPhones. It had a Walgreens which was not "on a corner of happy and healthy". It also had a Kmart. In both we found what we were looking for. It was interesting because the sales people hardly spoke English and one didn't understand me and had to get a translator. Sigh.


Lunchtime! Not far across the street was Don Camaron Seafood Restaurant and Market, not a chain but very local how we like it. We enjoyed it very much. Caesar salad with grilled shrimp. 2 for 1 beer from the tap.




Why not? We walked about 5 miles today. Postre! James didn't think he wanted any but I wanted the Crema Catalana. James changed his mind and had a Bahama Mama. Both were "from scratch" and very worth the calories especially with those coffee con leche. Yummy!



Back at the hotel we had several hours to relax. James even took some reading down to the pool area. At 6:30 pm we were supposed to be in a certain conference room on the Mezzanine level. So we went short before that for happy hour. Many more people this time. There were several groups going to Cuba and people looked around guessing. We sat next to a couple at the bar and sure enough they were from our group.

The orientation was very interesting and detailed. We even had to fill out some forms. But for dinner tonight we were still on our own. James and I didn't feel like going out again and we didn't want much anyway. We ended up in the bar area were they had also tables and that same couple (Al and Ellen) joined us.


James had a individual margarita pizza and I had the seared tuna on greens with pickled ginger. It was excellent and not too much.



And now it's night night because the alarm will ring early tomorrow morning.