Thursday, January 26, 2017

Impressions of Cuba


That, along with "gracias" and "cafe con leche" is about all of the Spanish I know, haha. Thank goodness we have the perfect translator/tour guide in our family. As some of you may know, our son-in-law was born and raised in Havana, Cuba. Which is what prompted our recent trip to visit his homeland and his family, now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba have improved and commercial flights are available. Our visit was relatively short, only 4 full days there, but it was a great introduction and we will definitely be returning!

I'm going to warn you that this post is photo-heavy, so I'll try to keep my ramblings to a minimum. But I do hope you enjoy the beautiful sights of Havana and Varadero Cuba. OK, let's go...

Our first view of the city was here, along the Paseo del Prado, leading to this photo of the Parque Central. It is easy to see the charm of island vegetation intermingled with centuries-old baroque and neoclassic architecture. And, of course, the famed antique cars of Cuba are abundant. It really is very much like the romantic photos you see on travel websites. And as a bonus, the weather was absolutely perfect while we were there! There was not a cloud in the sky, and the temps were in the upper 70's and lower 80's during the days. What a welcomed break from our Nebraska winters!

On our first night in Havana, my favorite daughter surprised me with tickets to see Ballet Nacional de Cuba performing The Nutcracker in the incredibly beautiful Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso. I can't tell you how happy this made me :) My daughter and I love to attend dance performances often (she is a professional dancer, herself, as is our son-in-law) and this was SO special! As a matter of fact, The Nutcracker is what brought our two dancers together, as that is where they first met :)

Now, I will say that we had to giggle a little bit about the fact that we were seeing The Nutcracker in January in a tropical climate. We have seen many versions of this ballet, and she has performed in countless Nutcrackers; and this was the first time we went wearing summer attire.

You can see the opulence of this theatre. In Cuba, unlike in the United States, the arts are highly revered and supported.

I would never have known it, but Jordan pointed out that Alicia Alonso, herself, was in the audience. Her story is very interesting. I encourage you to look her up on the web. She is a Cuban prima ballerina whose vision was impaired from the age of 19. She married early and the couple moved to New York, where she studied with the School of American Ballet. She eventually became a principal dancer for the company, and she and her partners learned to compensate for her vision impairment. In 1948, she returned to Cuba to found a ballet company, and she also started a dance school. During these years, Alonso continued to dance as well. When Castro took power in 1959, he offered cultural funding for her company. To this day, she is considered one of the "greatest ballerinas of her time", and as a director has produced many world-renowned dancers. This is but a brief little summary of Alonso's story, but there is much more to it if you care to do some exploring.

You can see here that the sets were not as extravagant as some American productions. But the dancing was stunning! We didn't mind the minimal props, and it was fun to see a new interpretation of the scenes and costumes.

And here is a dazzling look at the theatre at night. Have you ever?

The next day, we walked through Old Havana and visited a brewery. I have to say that I was not very enthusiastic about this prospect, because I had better things! But the brewery turned out to be surprisingly fun! We had lunch, a cocktail, and listened to some live music - Cuban style :)

We all laughed a little over the menu. It was this giant board that the servers carried from table to table. During our trip, we enjoyed many mojitos. We were also fond of the Cristal, which is a light beer...and it's inexpensive, too! I'm not much of a drinker, but we were on vacation after all ;)

After leaving the brewery, we walked over to the "fair" for a little shopping. It was very much like other tourist spots that I've visited on cruise excursions in the past...lots of souvenirs and inexpensive kitschy items being sold in rows of booths. But we all left with a few treasures, like coasters, art, and jewelry.

When our stomachs and shopping ambitions were thoroughly sated, we headed to our son-in-law's family home for a wonderful, authentic Cuban dinner and priceless time blending our two families together.

There was a bit of a communication barrier, but we did lots of laughing and hugging in the universal language. Because Cubans are not permitted to leave their country, they were not able to attend the kids' wedding. This was the first time we had all been together, and we created some extraordinarily special memories.

The following day, we headed 2 hours from Havana to spend time on one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. White sand, turquoise waters, a gentle breeze...ahhhhhh!

I hadn't prepared for a beach day when I packed, so here I am in my shorts. Obviously, though, that little faux-pas didn't dampen the day's fun! Here at Varadero, Matanzas, there are many hotels and resorts. My husband was chomping at the bit to play can bet that next time we go, I'll pack a bathing suit, and he'll pack his clubs!

A few daiquiris later..........

Day 4 included a visit to Floridita, a historic fish restaurant and cocktail bar in the older part of Havana, Cuba. The establishment is famous for its daiquiris and for having been one of the favorite hangouts of Ernest Hemingway in Havana. (source: Wikipedia.)

The designer in me was compelled to take a picture of the chair (please forgive the glare.) It's cool, huh? The decor was really interesting, and those famous daiquiris were quite tasty. We had some Cubano sandwiches and, once again, enjoyed live local musicians.

My hubby decided to have a little chat with Mr. Hemingway, and my daughter took a sip from the giant daiquiri display. Pretty typical hijinks for this family, haha.

Our final evening in Havana found us in Plaza Vieja for a fun dinner at La Vitrola, a 50's-themed restaurant. We really enjoyed the area, which boasted more gorgeous architecture and a delightful atmosphere.

This city is rich with beautiful buildings, carved wood and stone, and old-world elegance. My fascination with the architecture had me taking lots of pictures, as you can see.

I hope you've enjoyed this little travelogue. If you ever get the chance to visit Cuba, you won't be disappointed. I can hardly wait to return!

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