Monday, January 23, 2017

Cuba Trip Day 3 - Havana

OAT Itinerary:
Our first full day in Havana begins with a discussion on urban development in Havana, led by Pedro Vazquez, an architect, urban planner, and an associate and advisor to CIERIC, a Cuban NGO focused on habitat, art-related, community-based and socio-cultural issues. Then, we visit a residential neighborhood and stop at a non-governmental agency like Iglesia San Agustin or Iglesia Merced, where we visit one of the senior centers sponsored by Cuban churches. Sharing photos and stories with senior Habanero residents will give us an intimate glimpse of Cuban family life in this fast-changing island nation. Then we visit a handcrafts market and talk with local artisans before having lunch at a paladar in Habana Vieja. Afterward, we embark on a neighborhood walking tour, where we'll stop and chat with the Cuban people as we walk through the streets and squares of Old Havana. We will see the historic restorations that have revived much of the district’s former splendor—and we begin to gain an understanding of why Havana’s historic heart has earned recognition by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Later this evening, we’ll head to a Havana barrio to visit Muraleando, a community arts project of colorful murals and various forms of street art, where we’ll meet with some local artists and view their works. Several of the talented artists will then join us for dinner, which they host in their community.
  • Meals included: B L D Accommodations: Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Thursday January 12

We had to set the alarm clock. Breakfast starts at 7 am on the 6th floor. Be in the lobby at 8 am. Quickly a photo out of our window on the 4th floor. It looks marvelous.

We had to be punctual because Pedro (an architect and retired professor from the university) gave us a lecture. It was most interesting and we were very pleased to have heard it. Of course the talk was about the buildings, their history, why they were falling down, what is being done about it and about housing in general, society, politics and law. Lots of questions were asked and honestly (we believe) answered. And it made later more sense what we saw.


After the lecture we had just a little time to get from the rooms what we needed and had to be in the lobby again. We were a moment early and just had time to step out in the back for a first impression.
Lovely! The weather is very pleasant. The hotel is grand. Was built in 1930 with splendor, still has 5 stars and is the best in Havana. It has seen rich times and has a lot of character.

We get on the bus and are taken to a neighborhood in the old town where we walk. A lot of renovating has already been done but so much still needs doing.

We are in a day care home for seniors, really needy people. It is sponsored by the Catholic Church.
I had forgotten to mention in the last blog that we had been asked to bring gifts from the US for this, the kindergarten and pretty much every group we are visiting. We all brought our stuff to Migdalia's room last night, she had sorted it out and brought today the first bag with gifts appropriate for this place.
First we were welcomed. Things were explained to us and we could ask whatever we wanted to know.

Then we joined the seniors in a big room. James and I were lucky to get to a table with three women where one spoke English. She had been in NY and Miami visiting her son. We had been encouraged to show them pictures of our families at home on our telephones. The picture of our 4 grandsons was a success.

There was music being made in the corner and it was very loud. James wanted to change place with me so the women had someone new to talk to. I could not communicate with these two ladies though except for the occasional word. In desperation I took my tatting out. I had 2 of my "standard travel hearts" done and one was in the works. They loved seeing it. And then they asked whether they could have the finished ones. What can you say? They were so happy.

When we all left again, this was watching us from across the street.

We walked a little through the streets. There is so much to see.
We visit a church.

A quite unusual side altar.

This used to be a church (next picture) but no longer. Havana tries to save as much of the historic character as possible so this was renovated and is now a concert hall. Migdalia explained that the religious character was saved too.

James took the next photos before we crossed the street. Historic cars are everywhere. Several in our group are a bit obsessed with them. I must say they are fun to see. They are very precious to the Cubans which have to be very inventive to keep them running. We got explained that the innards might not be from the same model or even maker of the cars. All of them looked very loved and polished.

We can go in.

A group was rehearsing a performance of medieval music. It was very unusual but I liked it very much.

More evidence that this used to be a church. Just before leaving right of the door "Nacimiento" by Isavel Gimeno (ceramica mayolica 1998)

Across the street a mural made with tiles.

We crossed the street on the other side and visit a craft market.

We have way too much time here because we are not into shopping much. James sits outside in the sun which I do soon to.
Two from our group see us and take pictures (which I will add later when I have received any).

And then we go to lunch.

... with live music!

And suddenly I have a cap on my head and those shakers.

Main course. Oh dear. Fish. No other choice for James.

He is getting a clean-plate award.

Does it look from the outside like one of the better places to eat?

The cathedral.

Just thought the little angels around this were cute.

The statue is of Antonio Gades 1936-2004, a famous Spanish flamenco dancer. I made James stand next to it.

Back in the bus and on the way to the hotel. There are so many nice views.

We had about an hour and half at the hotel and then off we went again. This building is not far from the hotel. I took this photo because the lecturer this morning had talked about it as a typical example of the situation. The building belongs to the government. People should pay rent but nobody can ever be kicked out of their housing. People might take care of their place (or not) but nobody feels responsible for anything else. So it all is run-down.

There are three forts at this bay and I am sure we will visit there too. Another picture from the bus but we can see this from the hotel.

Ha, the things you can see driving along. Somehow these workers didn't seem real, but they are.

I think we had about a 20 minute drive when we arrived here. It's all about a huge water tank on a hill. It had turned into an ugly dump since it wasn't used any more. Some in the neighborhood felt like doing something about it. They asked for permission to re-purpose it and went to work. Volunteers cleaned up the area and turned the tank into a community center with lots of art all around. There are all sorts of workshops including singing and dancing but especially for children.

This is Victor, the spokesperson. He is so enthusiastic that it is no wonder that it is contagious. This volunteer community project is by now widely recognized and is a model for others.

Victor told us many stories including about the dentures of this statue. In this picture in the background are also some of the volunteers responsible. He introduced them to us.

After getting introduced to the outside we sat in the chair area. A band (again: all volunteers) played some lively mainly Cuban music. What a rhythm. Of course there was some dancing too. In the photo you can see the tank in the middle.


This is inside the tank. The neighborhood volunteers are also talented artists and there were some handmade items for sale.

We were invited to walk around and look at everything.

Then we had a welcome cocktail upstairs ... and peeked into some workshop rooms.

And still higher up, on top of the tank, was dinner served. Another band played popular songs there. It was a very lively evening. The meal was all home cooked. Some of the volunteers/artists helped serve and then sat at the tables with us.

My plate.

The first band's main singer /dancer's mother was there too sitting next to James. It was her birthday. James and I especially liked to talk to her. She was a delightful person. Actually, so was everybody.

It was great to have seen this project and support it. A special evening.


  1. All these marvelous places you visit that I have never imagined! What a lovely day spent not only in tropical beauty but also in the realities of the Cuban people.

    I cannot wait to sit down with you and ask a few questions about the church you visited and some of the places you have already described. And of course I want to read and see the next chapter!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. That dog is hilarious. He looks very suspicious. Maybe left over from the KGB?

    I am just getting caught up – what an exciting place. And an exciting time, too!