Friday, May 5, 2017

Havana – Prima’s birthday Tuesday 25, 2017

For the second year in a row, we are spending Prima Troxell’s birthday with her. Or should I say, she is allowing us mere mortals to celebrate with her? Last year we were in Bangkok together, this year in Havana. Closer to home and just as exotic.

Prima Troxell and Primo Harvey
Liannet, who managed the condo, offers breakfast in the morning for an agreed upon price per head. We booked her to prepare a birthday breakfast for our first morning in Havana. Had we realized how hard it was to obtain provisions, we might have had her cook every morning. It was during breakfast that the official “Birthday Girls Tiara”, made it’s appearance for the day.

The best job in Cuba - Taxi Driver

Money is not straightforward in Cuba. First and foremost, the exchange rate for US dollars is awful. Really, the worst exchange rate I have encountered on my travels anywhere, so we went to Cuba with purses bulging with Euro’s. In fact, if a Cuban national is caught with US dollars, there is a good chance jail time will be in order. That cuts out on any black-market exchange of US currency for the Cuban CUC. (pronounced kook)  or Cuban Convertible Peso. As of this writing, a CUC is very close to our dollar in value. The locals use Nacional Peso’s, which are worth about a 1/5th of the CUC. The newly arrived tourist needs to make sure she/he is not given the wrong kind of money when change is given.
Also, US credit and debit cards do not work here. We were told by the Novia Scotia Bank, located in Old Town, that that was going to change in the next month. Very interesting. So, be sure and take enough cash to Cuba!

Cheesy as it may be, the best way to get to know a city is on the double decker tourist bus. A short stroll to the Malacon and we hopped the bus for the day for a whopping $10 CUC/per person. First stop, Parc Central and Jose Marti Square in the heart of Old Town. Across the street is the Gran Theater, where Harvey was greatly disappointed that the concert being held for International Jazz Day, was by invitation only. He has been trying to buy tickets for several weeks thru the internet. The Cuban National Past time is drinking coffee, so we stopped to hear a great band playing on the patio of the old and well renovated, Hotel Inglaterra. Harvey and I danced and Prima Troxell was serenaded by the lead singer (when he noticed her birthday tiara). By then we were energized and ready to hop back on the bus. 
Park Central - Jose Marti Memorial

Everyone loves a Birthday girl

Tourists on the Hop On/Off bus

The bus had a large route thru town: Plaza de la Revolution Jose Marti, down the length of the Malacon,
The Napoleonic Museum, The University of Havana, Casa de las Americas, Colon Cemetery and eventually turning around at Marina Hemingway in the Playa community. Interesting to note, the further one traveled from the Old Town, the better kept the buildings and houses became. Take water with you if you take the bus!
Park along the ride.

Street Scene

Narrow streets of Old Town

Lunch was at Cubana Café, near the Tunnel de la Habana, on the edge of Parque Cespedes. The bus made a special stop for us to get out. Have I mentioned how nice and obliging the Cuban People are?
Lunchy was only ok, but on the outside terrace where we sat there was an amazing 8 piece band playing. Being in Havana is like going to a music festival. Everywhere you turn, there is more music – in the parks, on the streets, restaurants and bars. Good music too and everyone has a CD to sell. 

This is a $5CUC meal
Incredible, no grocery stores or markets, but somehow these people can record and cut a CD to sell.
Speaking of groceries and the need to have real coffee in the morning, in our condo, Prima and I set out to find a store we have heard tell of. Arriving at 4pm, we find that it is locked up tight and closes at 3pm daily. At least, we have located something and can plan accordingly tomorrow.

Tonight we have tickets to the World Famous, Tropicana!

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