Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Crazy ladies in Cuba - the final days!

In Havana on Sunday, having travelled back from Viñales for a final night in the city, we found the hotel full the bursting and ourselves placed in a suite, instead of just a room. Maybe this was the only room available. We went in via a sumptuous hallway which gave onto a sitting room area with two sofas and a television set. Round the corner was a dining table and chairs. Only then did you go through a door into a huge bedroom. A family could have lived there comfortably. It was bigger than the farmer’s house we visited in Viñales! How the other half live!

We didn’t discover our luxurious accommodation until late in the afternoon as we could not check in until 4.00pm. So we left our luggage with the conserje (concierge) and visited the art gallery, full of works left behind after the Batista regime. It was supposed to include a Canaletto but although we found some Rembrandt and Turner, there was no sign of a Canaletto. There were lots of paintings by artists, supposedly well-known in the first half of the 20th century, we had never heard of. This is not surprising as we may be two quite knowledgable ladies, neither my friend or I can really claim to be art experts. One of the new-to-us artists was a certain Bastida, whise full name turns out to be Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. Here is a link to wikipedia info about him. We were quite charmed by his paintings of people at the seaside in the early years of the 20th century. A nice bit of serendipity!

On Monday morning our luggage was again consigned to the conserje. Our transport to Havana airport was booked for 4.00pm and so we still had a day ahead of us. 10.00am saw us out and about, ignoring the cries of “Taxi, Lady! Very economic!”.

We were determinedly hunting for a handicrafts market which we had failed to find on the previous Wednesday. On that occasion we had plotted a zigzag route through the streets of Havana and at some point, possibly after sheltering from a downpour under a bridge, we must have taken a wrong turning, for we ended up in the middle of nowhere.

Not lost as such, for we could see how to get back to various major landmarks, just not where we had intended to be. Our zigzag route had taken us past some splendid graffiti embelished with this saying: “Sean realistas pidan lo imposible” - be realistic, demand the impossible.

As we took pictures of it and I translated the saying for my friend we fell into conversation with a lady from Argentina and a local Cubano. The latter finally asked us, “¿Quién lo dijo?” - Who said it? Well, it had to be Che Guevara, of course! I had to explain on my friend’s behalf that she has relative, well, sort of relatives through her ex-husband, called Che and Fidel! This is what happens when two old friends go adventuring in Cuba!

Anyway, on the Sunday we plotted our route more simply: straight down O’Reilly and hang a right when you get to San Ignacio and then go straight on to the very end! It worked a treat!

It also took us through the Plaza Vieja, a splendidly restored old square where local primary school children were having PE lessons in shady spots. Two groups of perhaps 20 to 25 apiece stood in neat rows doing bending and stretching, yoga poses and star-jumps, any kind of exercise you can standing in one spot!

Right at the end of San Ignacio, behind a fine church we found a warehouse housing the handicrafts market, divided into masses of little alleyways and stalls. One side was filled with paintings of Havana and Cuban people of all ages. Unfortunately we had no room in our luggage for such stuff. My friend, however, last of the big spenders, managed to purchase a teeshirt - embellished with a face of Che Guevara which changes colour in the sunshine - and a necklace!

Walking back towards our hotel we tried to stop for refreshment at a bar on the Plaza Vieja, where the chidren were now forming into crocodiles to head back to school or hime for lunch. However it turned out to be a pub with no beer - they specialised in coffee and rum! So we doubled back to one on San Ignacio called Papa Ernesto. There they used old 78 records as place mats, the label on one side replaced by their logo but still bearing the remains of the original label on the reverse side! And there was the inevitable drum band with a formidable girl singer performing their hearts out in the cafe.

Refreshed, we went on our way, just time for a snack lunch at the well camouflaged restaurant on O’Reilly Street, simply called 304, its street number. You can’t get in there without a reservation in the evening but you stand a chance at lunchtime. We were lucky! A plate of empanadillas, a salad and a drink and we were off.

The Cuban adventure was over! But there will be more photos over the next few posts!

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