We slept well, and maybe not surprisingly with the time difference, were awake very early. We headed down to breakfast just after 7, and Ralph and Karen joined us not long after. Actually, locating the restaurant was surprisingly difficult and we ended up in the ‘other’ one on the other side of the hotel, after discovering later that the restaurant we should have ate in, was a few paces from the main lifts. Doh! a collective senior moment!
With brekky sorted, today, was ‘tour time’ and the opportunity to soak up some of the local culture by way of a walking (mostly) city tour. It was split into two parts – a six-hour walking part and then an hour-or-so open-top taxi tour around the city. Our Guide, Lillian, did a great job of ferrying us around and giving us an insight into the place and its people. First stop – and perhaps most significantly - was the Museum of the Revolution – a grand affair throughout (this used to be the presidential palace of the former President) and complete with authentic bullet holes!
Then we were off around the city taking-in as much of the history as we could. There were frequent reminders of the Revolution, and other significant events where Cuba has been involved in conflict of some kind.
Happily, there were other more pleasant sights to see, as Lillian took us into the old part of Havana. The architecture was stunning and full of colour. Buildings aside, we were soon able to appreciate the standard of living here in the poorer area of the city. Water, or lack of it, is a major problem here and the whole are seemed to be in a constant state of replace-and-repair.
Next stop, the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where Ernest Hemmingway frequented. this was clearly a ‘must-visit’ part of Havana - and the wait for the lift confirmed it!
After a quick refresh by way of a beer on the rooftop terrace, it was back to the Tour and where I was introduced two brightly dressed locals, selling their wares by way of a kiss for small charge. Apparently, it’s a local custom, and Ralph and I were both happy to immerse ourselves in the local tradition! I look frightened to death in the photo, but these were a couple of buxom babes, and I felt my breathing severely restricted!
That was enough excitement (especially in this heat!) for one day, and we then dropped into a cigar-making shop. I hadn’t fully appreciated the complexity of the task and the local who was doing all the hard work made it look so easy armed only with a knife, glue and a small machine for squaring-up the end upon completion. Apparently, the way to really enjoy a good cigar is to smoke it with a coffee and a rum. We managed two out of three!
It was getting really hot now, and as the saying goes: ‘only mad dogs and Englishmen….’ – well, we found the dog!
Then it was spot of lunch – a full three-courser, where the Restaurant was well positioned to provide a constant (and much welcomed) cool breeze as we recharged our batteries before continuing our walkabout.
Next, it was off to the Rum Museum – The Havana Club, The place was pretty busy and we had to wait a while for the English-speaking tour. There quite a few people on this tour and although the Guide was enthusiastic, she was completely inaudible (even with her mike-and-speaker attachment). Add to that, a dark and airless route, where the high-point was a scale replica of the site complete with authentic sounding model train, and that was all I needed to almost send me to sleep. Luckily, there was a tot of rum at the end of the tour to keep me interested!
Suitably moist from our tour, we headed outside where our Guide, Lillian had arranged the last part of our Tour – the open-top taxi-ride. After yesterday’s sparkling light display on the taxi’s dashboard, I was interested to see how today’s taxi would cope. Easy! It didn’t have any lights at all on the dash – in fact, there wasn’t really a dashboard at all, as our vehicle was ‘mid restoration’. Ooo-err missus as we discovered that the speedo was ‘taking a rest’ too.
Our transport-of-choice turned out to be a red 1956 Ford Fairlane whose original engine, we learned, had died some years ago and had been replaced by its proud owner, with a trusty 2 litre Toyota diesel alternative. As the engine burst into the life and we hit the highway, we could see there was still a lot of work to do. One thing that we knew wouldn’t be any different would be the car’s handling – and so, straight roads were a joy, as the car was taken up through the 60 year old four-speed gearbox, and down again. What proved to be more challenging was going round corners as the car displayed all the road-holding of a banana in custard! With the wind in our hair and the wiring-loom round my feet, we drove for miles taking in the sites, sounds (and a few flies) - what fun!
We stopped off at a local fort with some stunning views across the water and then motored onto Revolution Square – just as my battery gave-up on the camera.
According to our two drivers, the colour of the sky indicated rain, and being roofless, it was time to bring the tour to an end. It had been a great (and ‘full-on’) day, and we were knackered, although Ralph and Karen fared better. The Taxis dropped us back at the hotel and we said our goodbyes to Lillian and our chauffeurs. We then immediately headed for the comfort of our air-conditioned room – where the Maid had created a a couple of swans for us.
After a quick refresh ands a short snooze, we met Ralph and Karen in the Lounge before deciding to save our energy and ‘eat in’ in one of the hotel’s restaurants. We’re glad we did as the food was excellent! It was the perfect end to a perfect first full day here.
Tomorrow is planned to be a less-busy day where we hope to take in more of the local attractions at a slower pace.