Cuba: days 8 and 9 - Havana and home

John Lennon statue attendant

Day 8: Thursday 20 February 2014
The breakfast at Hotel Occidental Miramar wasn't as chaotic as on the first day, when there were no plates or cups, maybe it was the late start that worked in our favour. Today was the walking tour of Havana's Old Town, but first a detour to John Lennon Park. Now this is what I love about Cuba: People (tourists?) kept nicking John Lennon's spex so they employed a guy to put them on him every time someone wants their photo taken. This guy must be the richest man in Cuba. Every 20 minutes or so a coach full of tourists arrives and each tourist tips him say 1 cuc. Now a cuc (convertible tourist peso) is worth 60p to you or me but 24 times that in local pesos! So he must make at least 20 quid for every coach arriving… Simple pricing in Cuba: 1 cuc buys you a bottle of water, 2 cuc a beer, 3 cuc a mojito!

Loco museum outside Central Station

We then headed to Central Station, where in the park outside are several retired locos and a herd of wild cats. We also passed three other locos on the way and I'm not sure whether this was a treat for me, or a regular part of the tourist trail. Anyway I had a quick peep inside the station too and spotted a big old diesel loco. Not much in the way of train activity however.

Loco museum outside Central Station

The coach dropped us off at Plaza de San Francisco and immediately we were surrounded by caricaturists and women in national costume, all wanting our cash. Rob very kindly forked out 5 cuc for a drawing of me done surreptitiously by a woman with gold teeth and Mick got nabbed by the ladies.

Mick gets nabbed by Havana ladies

We saw the President's railway carriage, but didn't go in - you had to pay, and the restored Plaza Viega, with its giant cock statue and the only microbrewery pub in town, Factoria Plaza Viega, sadly it was too early to get a drink - it opened at 12 noon.

Rob and Amanda at the giant cock

At the cigar shop I bought the cheapest they had, a Romeo y Julieta No. 2 at 6 cuc.  We had lunch of tuna toasties and mojito on the roof terrace of the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernie Hemingway lived, transported upwards by an ancient iron lift complete with wise-cracking attendant. We then had some free time and I bought some space stamps in the Plaza de Armas, where there was a market of booksellers all around the square. At the allotted time, we headed to the cathedral to meet up with Tony, our tour guide.

Tony at Havana cathedral

I was intrigued by how many cannons there were used as bollards (in Trinidad too), and the strange 'green man' letterboxes everywhere.


Then it was back to the hotel to say goodbye to those travelling on the earlier direct flight with Virgin, those staying on, but in Old Town casas, and our tour guide, mechanic and driver. At 6.30 we got a taxi to the airport to be greeted by mayhem at check-in, with people pushing and shoving to get in a queue, but once through security the departure hall was pleasant enough. Had a beer and bought a bottle of Havana Club Anejo Especial for 5.95 cuc, then it was the long tedious Airbus flight back - only 8 hours this time cos the wind was behind us!

Cuban space stamps

Day 9: Friday 21 February 2014
At Madrid, we ran to catch the connection - a rather more pleasant flight in a Brazilian Embraer 195 (EC-KRJ), which felt more like a private jet, whose route took us over Brighton. Back at Gatwick we discovered that our cases had stayed in Madrid, so after some form filling, came home on the train in the freezing cold in just a short-sleeved shirt and shorts! My case was delivered the very next day, door-to-door!

Tons more photos on Flickr.

Cuba: days 7 and 8 - back to Havana >

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