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Cuban Vacation…Part VII

The series of squares and Old Town Havana in part reminded me of being in Europe. The impressive architecture would capture the attention of any North American, as our vernacular architecture is different in many ways – style, size, material, age to name a few examples.

Old Town Square

Church at San Fransico Square.

The fountain in the square.

We took a stroll along the Caribbean sea, along the waterfront promenade.

The Old Town Havana is under restoration with many of the buildings getting a new lease on life, while others still require a facelift. One did not have to veer too far away to see that not all regions of Havana had the same level of prosperity. As we strolled along the water front I was briefly reminded of my roots of rural Newfoundland & Labrador. A series of small fishing vessels were moored in the harbour, while a couple of men were trying to catch some fish at shore’s edge. I reflected of a time, nearly two decades ago when my father and I went fishing on the wharf in an attempt to catch some rock cod. We were successful! I remember also catching some flatfish, unwanted sculpins and even a catfish. I kept the eely catfish for a couple of days before I realized he did not make a good pet and needed to be released back into the ocean.

After spending the morning under the suns rays of nearly 35 degree temperatures, we sought shade under a large tree. We were readily befriended by a local who chatted it up with us. He told us about a concert happening later that night due to the National Holiday. That he could get us cheap tickets. We passed on the offer. He disappeared and came back handing us two cigars. We noted that we did not want. He would not take no for an answer and insisted they were gifts. A gift in fact that you pay whatever you would like to give. :(. I do not miss the constant pressure from some locals to provide them with money. However, it is hard for me to judge as I am unaware of the personal circumstances and adversity that may challenge these  individuals. To move things along we stopped by the Museo de la Revolucion (Revolution Museum). The impressive building had an immaculate dome that caught my attention. It had memorabilia, information and praised national heroes.

The Granma Memorial and Gardens we were guarded. One must be careful not to loiter or sit as they will get a whistle blown from the careful watch of a guard at his post. There is an exhibit of war vehicles, including cars, tanks, planes and boats.

After spending the day sightseeing and walking many streets we had a rest to escape from the shade. Additionally, at the hotel I tried to purchase Internet. It appeared to be a rare commodity. The cards were not for sale at the front desk. The store hours at the hotel werre limited and when I did manage to talk to the worker, she did not have cards for sale. Quite often I heard, check back tomorrow. It was actually a blessing to be away from technology – where I was not frequently checking my Blackberry, Email, Facebook account or even posting on my blog.

That evening we have a meal and a couple of drinks at a quiet restaurant on the square. A great meal for a mere $10.00. It as quite the find. It was time to call it a day and make the most of the final two days of the vacation, as on Sunday I would be starting my way back to Varadero and making a flight that night for Canada.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

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Cuban Vacation….Part VI

I’ve left my readers in suspense long enough and owe it to you all to finish the stories of my Cuban vacation. In Cuban Vacation….Part V, I ended with a teaser with the hope of meeting two wonderful women at Casa de La Musica.

Another Fabulous Cuban Meal by Addys

After leaving the pub, Umberto took us to visit his mother and little brother. His mother had made some lovely fabric dolls that were quite colourful, which his brother watched cartoons in Spanish with a friend. It was different to see the way the locals lived in Cuba. At 20:00 a large meal of pork, black bean rice, fried bananas, fruit, side salad served with coffee and ice-cream for dessert. We hurried to eat our meal, get decked out and swing by Casa de La Musica.

Stairs at Casa de La Musica

We climbed the stairs and who would be highly visible but the two wonderful women I met earlier from Birmingham, who turned out to be Kate and Alice. We had found out that we were heading in different directions in the morning, but still enjoyed each others company. We had hours of storytelling and laughter with the playful music continuing in the backdrop before receiving a goodnight kiss. It was like a midsummer’s night dream.

In the morning, Kate & Alice noted they would leave for a waterfall. Tobias and I decided we would give them a send off; unfortunately we were unsuccessful finding the departure of the tour company. Alas, we left Dr. Suerez after writing a nice comment in their book and taking the long ride on the Viazul bus to Havana, some 300+ KM away and more than 6 hours of driving.

A Vintage Car...One of Many

 I slept most of the way and was quite happy to arrive at Hotel Los Frailes, which was a former monastery. The rooms had towering 14 ft ceilings, with wooden furnishings and was poorly lit, partly due to the fact there was no window. One can only imagine the life of a monk several hundred years ago, living in this room – it was quite the masterpiece.

The Key...it had a little Monk!

The key was quite heavy and had a little figurine of a monk. It was a nice feature. Maybe an idea for local accommodators to incorporate something culturally significant to their operation for a small cost, but will get people to notice and keep them talking. Local ventures like Fisherman’s Landing, Torrent River Inn, Sea Echo Motel, Tuckamore Lodge, Mayflower Inn, Vahalla Lodge, Viking Nest and others may be able to utilize this tactic.

Towering Doors

The towering doors had a peep-hole, which had a latch and several drills. It made me think of time that was more medieval.

Hanging Chandelier

The hanging chandelier looked like it required a stepladder to climb and light the candles. It was a very good knock-off and I was pleased they had upgraded to electricity, even if it took a while to light the room.

Furnishings and use of wood trims

Dinner was at a nearby restaurant that had a platform with a band and two dancers that made great use of the floor to vibes of  Cha Cha. I ventured into the wine cellar to pull out a Spanish Chardonnay. The Big Sword was my order, filled with a variety of grilled seafood. Believe me if was quite the feast….if you do not, the photo below will speak for itself.

The Big Sword

My friend Tobias had a little sword (a skewer). The baby version more or less. The meal was quite enjoyable and I was quite eager to explore the Old Town of Havana in the early AM, after getting a taste of the flavour during the evening.

Part VII will be posted soon. Don’t miss a post by subscribing to my blog by entering your email at the top of the page. You will get an email telling you of a new post.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

 

Cuban Vacation…Part V


The amount of green vegetation was quite the shocker for me. There were many impressive fields, trees and forests thriving in Cuba. Some of this may be due to the exceptional amount of humidity in the air.

One of the stops via train led us to a restaurant and bar. We ventured inside to get refreshments to quench our thirst. The temperature almost unbearable, with my clothing getting wetter by the moment as I perspired. A bottle of icy cool water never tasted so wonderful as it did at that moment.

Suddenly, a guy from the train told us that just down the stairs there was a contraption to press sugar cane to have a juice. He noted it was better with added rum for just 2 C.U.C. We ventured down. Little did we know we would be put to work pushing this device.

A two person job and a couple of turns we had enough juice collected for a couple of drinks.

The delicious end product – with rum for extra flavor.


After catching the train, we returned to Trinidad. Tobias and I met up with Umberto at the park. He toured with us, showing hidden gems of Trinidad. He also kept trying to sell us on visiting a family restaurant, despite us telling him that we had made previous commitments with our Casa for a traditional meal at 8 PM.

We were going for ice-cream, but instead walked to the Casa de La Musica. We opted to spend some of the afternoon at a nearby bar. We had rounds of Mojito‘s and Buchanero beer for all. It was an afternoon of sharing a few drinks and trying to talk to Umberto without him knowing English and myself not knowing Spanish. A little bit of friend and a good translator in Tobias we were able to have some conversation.

Suddenly there was a scream from a nearby table. A snake had dropped from the vine ceiling. The music was great, when suddenly my attention was no longer with Tobias and Umberto but two beautiful women across the room. The brunette and I had shared a few smiles with our eyes and the blond reminded me of a certain Doctor Heritage. Since Tobias was engrossed with trying to explain in broken Spanish my position of working for a non-profit in Rural Newfoundland & Labrador conducting Community Economic Development and business development services. I had to get up, in one part because I knew they had a good story to tell and secondly I had to passed them to get to the restroom.

The ladies greeted my presence with a smile. From hello I tried to get their accent and had asked the blond if she was from New Zealand (we later did make a connection from New Zealand); however, this women was currently enrolled in her third year of medicine in the United Kingdom. We had some beginners chat about the UK, Cuba and not wanting to overdo my visit let them know we would be going to Casa de La Musica at 9-9:30 PM. They noted they would hope to meet us there.

Stay tuned for more adventures of Cuba in Part VI.
Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

 

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Cuban Vacation – Part II

A Friendly Game of Chess

After the show, Tobias and I set up a giant chessboard for a challenging game. My goal was to get the dark queen of the night. However, she would be my downfall. Although I reached checkmate, it would be illegal. I ended up losing in the end to the dark queen. Great match from a worthy competitor.

One would be shocked to know that I went to the gym before breakfast while on vacation. It has been long overdue actually. I enjoy running on the treadmill, gliding on the elliptical and cycling the stationary bike. It was quite a workout. The combination of my activity and the heat had me left drenched by the end. I recommend some exercise, as it is a great way to start the day of energetically.

Cycling in Motion

“I never felt so alive! I guess that is why we should strive to remain active to continue a healthy lifestyle.”
Afterwards I would enjoy an oversized breakfast with a complimentary beer. It was time to hit up the beach. I read more of my Stephen Booth Detective novel. My colleague treated himself to a sports massage. After a morning at the beach, I ended up re-visiting the pool and enjoying the sponge floaters.
Sadly, all good times all-inclusive must end. We opted for a taxi to catch the afternoon Viazul bus to Trinidad as noted by the Tourist Office at the hotel. However, the only bus was at 8:15 AM. The employees found us a route at a premium rate of 60 C.U.C for both to Santo Spiritus via Transtor.

Floating by the Pool

It added to the travel adventure, as we realized we were not taking the expressway. We stopped numerous times to exchange wares, pick up some locals and even stop to check on some motorists that were having car troubles. At Santo Spiritus we got a “chico” (driver) for 30 C.U.C. to take us the remaining 71 km to Trinidad.  According to the original bus station at Varadero it would only be 30 km and 10 C.U.C.. Nevertheless, it was well worth the cost as we rode the distance in a Cruella DeVille 1940’s or 50’s Chevrolet automobile.

The Road We Came….

The Road We Came....

First Trinidad Meal Trinidad by Night from the Terrace

We arrived at 174, the Casa populaire of Dr. Suerez and Addys. Great house! Best laughter from this women who is an amazing cook. After getting a view from the Terrace, we decided to have dinner as the music from Casa de La Musica played in the backdrop. Addys whipped up an excellent jumbo shrimp dish. I also enjoyed the delicious vanilla ice-cream with sprinkles. We decided to venture into the streets and find our way to the outdoor concert. It was quite impressive to hear and watch the performance of the musicians and dancers.

Stay tuned for Part III of my Cuban Vacation…
Live Rural NL
-Christopher C. Mitchelmore

A Cuban Vacation – Part 1

In my 25 years, with more than 25 countries travelled – it was my first venture to the sunny south.

 The Caribbean is a stark  contrast to Rural Newfoundland & Labrador. When I awoke on May 20, 2011 from my home the snow was gingerly falling. My bag was packed and I looked forward to sunshine, sandy beaches and lots of relaxation.

I departed the Deer Lake Regional Airport to fly to Toronto, only to re-routed back to Montreal. From Montreal I would fly to Varadero, Cuba.

At the Pierre Trudeau airport, I was asked to complete a survey. I did not realize at the time the many wonderful features of this airport. For instance there was free Wifi, an abundance of easily accessible power outlets and comfy armless chairs for napping. I was pleased with the variety of food outlets and gift shops. Although, signage could be slightly improved, especially for international connections as the American flag represents all WORLD/INTERNATIONAL travel connections. What symbol would the USA have? In my opinion an update for this sign is needed.

The Air Canada service was again to be touted! We departed a few minutes late because of the tug break down during push-off. We departed late and arrived more than 30 minutes early. Arrival in Cuba was greeted with intense humidity. Vacationers were eager to get their luggage and reach their nearby resort. The airport was very small and was not equipped with good signage. I was an unsure Canadian as I waited for my luggage, as I had not booked an All-Inclusive vacation with Air Canada or Sunwing. I am glad to have booked a resort to start my 10 day vacation, as I left the airport people asked which Hotel I was staying. I noted the Melia Las Americas. They instructed me to get on bus #4. Since, I was not part of the vacation I was told to pay $10.00 for the ride versus a higher taxi fee.

The resort was breath-taking. As the lobby I met my friend Tobias of Germany, who I had first met when I studied at the University of Economics, Prague, Czech Republic back in 2007. We checked out the view of the beach and toasted to a Caribbean vacation to some Bucanero beers. It was wonderful to hear the waves gently touch the beach. We opted to go for a dip! The Caribbean sea was quite salty, yet pleasantly warm.

We stopped for a drink at the lobby bar, listened to some piano music and then caught a live band. The entertainment had the small audience captivated. Some lifted from their chairs and started to salsa! The Mojitos never tasted as brilliant, as they did in their homeland of Cuba.

An early rise was met with an extravagant buffet breakfast. The beach was waiting, it was not crowded. The pool, hammocks and beachfront games made for a fun morning. There was a lively game of beach volleyball. As well, a beach stepping game of Mojito-Daquiri, Pina Colada, Rum Punch. Each drink had a special step and as people missed the step, he/she was eliminated. I stand by Rum Punch as being my favourite.

A meal was reserved for the Italian Restaurant. A feast of 7 or 8 courses was served. It was matched by a pairing of a semi-sweet white Spanish wine, served in a stainless steel wine bucket. The meal had a specialty Cuban twist.

I will not forget the sky that evening or Peter’s Birthday party. We got to sing happy birthday to our table neighbours. They were kind enough to share the specialty cake.

After eating a delicious meal were went to the theatre and watched some very impressive and energetic dancers. Parts were moving that I never thought were humanly possible.

The day was full of relaxation, but also jam-packed with activities. It did not end with the show, which I will continue in my next post…Cuba Part II.

Enjoy!

Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

 

 

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