After enjoying the countryside for a few days, it was time to hit the big city! I was ready for some hot Havana action. I was feelin’ the Cuban beat and wanted to meet my Cuban Pete (or Pedro). Havana is a city with many faces. There are grandiose contemporary hotels next to colonial style buildings. There are streets lined with mansions, some in derelict condition, some refurbished to reflect a more modern aesthetic. There are “touristy” bars mixed in with local cafés and nightclubs. Want to eat at a nice restaurant? There are plenty. Prefer a smaller venue with more authentic options? No problemo. There’s basically something for everyone.
We decided to start off with a bang and go to Fusterlandia, a visual smorgasbord of color, shapes, and imaginative mosaic vignettes. Built by Jose Rodriguez Fuster, this ambitious project encompasses not only Fuster’s home and studio workshop, but the entire neighborhood. Words like surreal, creative, magical, and sometimes “whaaaaat?” came to mind while we wandered through the maze of outdoor and indoor exhibits. Other thoughts ran to “what was he smoking when he created this?” and “where can I get what he was smoking when he created this?” Just being real.
You can’t go to Havana without hitting Revolution Square (La Plaza de la Revolucion). One of the largest city squares in the world, it was renamed from Plaza Civica to Revolution Square by Fidel Castro following the Cuban Revolution. This square is the heart of Cuban bureaucracy and is comprised of administrative buildings housing ministries, governmental divisions as well as The National Library. On the north side of the square stands the 109-meter-tall Jose Marti Memorial tower. On the other side there is a giant mural of Che Guevara on one building and a similarly-styled mural of Camilo Cienfuegos on another.
The murals, tower, and statues were cool, but the best part or the square was the “car show” in the parking lot. You can take tours around the city in these cars which makes it pretty darn interactive and fun. These vehicles are usually very colorful and buffed to a perfect, mirror-like shine. I wanted to ride every single one of them. Maybe do a Whitesnake video on some of the convertibles, lol.
As always, it was mojito time. Off to the famous Hotel Nacional for more liquid culture and whatnot. The hotel has played host to many famous guests including Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jimmy Carter, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, John Wayne, Yuri Gagarin and so many more. On a less pleasant note, because the Hotel Nacional was segregated at the time, icons such as Nat King Cole, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and Josephine Baker were all turned away. However, there is now a Nat King Cole tribute located within the hotel.
We decided to sit outside and enjoy the ocean breeze and live Cuban music playing in the background. It was a wonderful way to end our day in the city.