From the moment we received an unexpected mojito welcome at the ace Casavana, our time in Havana had been brilliant. Would day two keep up the enjoyment? You bet.
First port of call was the iconic Hotel Nacional, where we would be staying that evening as the first part of out organised tour with G Adventures. The five star hotel is perhaps Havana’s most famous.
It was here that Batista and his cronies used to hang-out in the mid-late fifties, a time of decadence fuelled by government corruption in partnership with the US Mafia.
Famously all the big Mafia bosses had met there at Batista’s invitation under the guise of a Frank Sinatra concert, in a ruse reminiscent of the fabulous Godfather film, albeit without the drama of a bloody shoot-out from a helicopter.
It was this type of largesse and embezzlement that inspired Fidel and his followers to overthrow the rotten regime.
Post the Revolution, Fidel set up office in the hotel for a while. Other guests have included Churchill, Hemingway and Graham Greene.
We memorably turned up at the monumental luxury accommodation in a beaten up Lada.
Expecting to be sneered at as we emptied the vehicle surrounded by pristine Cadillacs and Chevrolets nobody seemed to bat an eyelid, even when the driver untied the string that held the boot in the closed position so he could hand us our cases!
After sitting in the picturesque garden overlooking the Caribbean for coffee, we started our day of exploring with an hour long tour in an mauve & white open-top 1958 Ford Fairlane, which you can read about in a previous post.
The drive was great fun and we were dropped off right by the Revolution Museum in New Havana as requested.
I have already written about the Cuban revolution that swept Fidel & Che to power, suffice to say that the museum makes for a compelling hour or so, topped off by the actual boat called The Granma that brought the famous men and 80 others (including present leader Raul Castro) from their base in Mexico to Cuba. It is on display in a glass case in the museum’s courtyard surrounded by military vehicles from the late fifties.
After feeling suitably educated in Cuban politics and revolutionary tactics, we headed to Paseo del Prado, known as Havana’s answer to Barcelona’s Las Ramblas and home to the iconic Capitol Building and the beguiling Opera House.
The leafy street is tourist Havana with tour buses, up-market hotels, plenty of good restaurants and horse-drawn carriages enticing visitors to part with their money.
We took to the roof of the Inglaterra Hotel for lunch with a view. Decent value for money too.
After lunch we toyed with visiting the highly recommended Arts Museum, but never a great fan of museums and a little fatigued from the extensive collection of artefacts and revolutionary facts already viewed, we decided just to wander instead.
That was great fun as well as we watched people, cyclo-taxis and classic cars going about their business. Many of the buildings were wonderful examples of neoclassical, Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture.
Our favourite was the Macintosh like Bacardi Building, which was requisitioned after the Revolution and still houses municipal offices.
It was soon time to make for the Nacional and our rendez-vous with our G Adventures rep and our fellow tourers.
It did not go quite to plan, meaning that we missed our briefing and worried for a while about catching out organised flight next day to Santiago de Cuba. It all turned out OK in the end happily.
We saved Old Town Havana and the forts across the water for our return to Havana two weeks hence………