Havana Capitolio Internet cafe, Vedado, Plaza de la Revolution, Teatro Nacional, Cafñ Cantante, Ulija cooks dinner, Dancing in Hotel Florida
27. March (Tuesday): The morning starts off with a coffee from Ulija.
We later pay her the room's rent for the days we were there. I decide to change some Dollars into Pesos just in case and Linaa takes me to the Cuban money-exchange office.
We then schedule the day to first visit the dollar store to buy some water and biscuits and then check our mail in the internet cafe we'd found in the Capitolio's gift-shop. You can buy quite a lot of things in Havana stores, but have to pay in Dollars. The prices are similar to those in Europe, although 'Havana Club' Rum is very cheap (about 3.50$ for a large bottle of normal white rum).
Surfing and checking mail at the Capitolio was indeed possible and it is somehow amazing to be instantly linked to things back home through a computer screen while all the time feeling like we were in another world. We had both set-up email accounts with GMX and it's very easy to access such an account from any computer connected to the Internet anywhere in the world. Clicking between mails is a bit of a hassle though, since connection speeds to the Internet are usually not very fast.
We have a Mojito at Hotel Inglaterra and then take a quick look inside the Cigar Factory just behind the Capitolio. They demand a 10$ entrance fee for a look inside (that's steep!), so we restrict our sightseeing to their gift shop. We catch a rickshaw to take us to a park in Havana Vedado. It's nice to be riding in the open air through Havana at such a leisurely pace. The driver demands some additional money at the end of the trip and somehow I don't have the heart to refuse after him having such a strenuous time at working the pedals.
Cigar factory with store. Partagas Real Fabrica de Tabacos
Havana residential facade
We pass through the park which is ok, there are some Cubans all over the place practicing horns and saxophone. This part of town has wide streets and is very open (a BIG contrast to the cramped layout of Havana Vieja). Continuing onto the 'Havana Bus Terminal', we find it to be rather large and seemingly well-organized, with many bus lanes and computer-screens.
We have a pizza at a fast-food place in the Terminal and then continue on by foot to the "Plaza de la Revolution".
Plaza de la Revolution is a gigantic open space with several huge revolutionary monuments. Jose Marti's white column-like monument towers up into the sky and inside there is a museum about the Revolution. I guess the square in front of the monument can be used to hold many many thousands of people! On the other side of the square is a building with a giant black iron 'drawing' of Che on it's fañade.
Fidel's office in the Headquarters of the Communist Party of Cuba at the back of the Jose Marti Memorial
Wow, envy. Just look at that wide road with no traffic! (Avenia Cespedes leading to the Jose Marti memorial)
It's not allowed to go up the stairs to the Jose Marti memorial, nor is it possible to walk to the back of the monument, where the office of Fidel Castro is located in a concrete building called the 'Bureau for the Maintenance of the Revolution'.
Hearing a 'PSSSTT' usually means someone is trying to get your attention and this is uttered in rapidly increasing loudness and urgency if you do not react! This was the case with the guard who prevented us from doing what we wanted there!
We decide to visit the 'Cafñ Cantante' for an afternoon Salsa dance session. In the afternoons it's targeted at Cubans, the entrance is supposed to be 10 Cuban pesos then, in the evenings it's Tourist-Time. Cafe Cantante is near the Teatro Nacional which is within walking distance from Plaza de la Revolution. There is already a crowd of Cubans waiting to get in, but even after a long time, the line doesn't seem to budge a bit. We wait for about an hour in line but hardly anyone is let in. So this is what a Cuban line feels like!
I guess that the place is already full and chances of getting in today are nil, so we decide to give up and take a scooter (three-wheeler with place for 2 passengers, in bright yellow) back to our room. We relax a bit.
Later in the evening, Ulija knocks on our door and tells us to come to the living room. There on her table is a complete meal for two which she has prepared for us! We don't know what to say, this is so nice of her! The dinner consists of a soup, rice, beans, salad with tomatoes and a refreshing guava drink. Apparently she could buy a lot of commodities with the rent we'd given her this morning!
We set off on foot to find a place to dance and eventually land up at Hotel Florida, where we had seen on a sign outside saying there would be "Live Cuban Music at 22:00". When we entered, a band was playing in full swing and we sat down to watch. There was an older Cuban couple dancing in typical Cuban Salsa style. He later distributes business cards amongst the audience, it turns out that they are there to promote their Salsa Lessons. Eventually we dance too. After one particular song, where we are the only ones dancing, we even get a round of applause!
Later I am asked by a Cuban where we come from and where we learned dancing. He then energetically tells us that tomorrow evening there is a very good opportunity to dance at a Salsa party, taking place at the Casa de la Cultura, which is just nearby. We MUST come, he says, and he repeats this several times during the evening. I believe that with such a recommendation this must be a good event to go to.
We dance a lot that evening and even get our pictures taken by a local photographer. Even though we've had quite a number of Mojitos and other drinks, he seems to have topped us. He wants cash down, but I tell him I'll pay when I have the picture. He says he'll deposit it at the bar by Thursday and we should fetch it there. We're in a heady mood and eventually when it's time to leave we fool around dancing in the lobby.
Luckily, our room is within walking distance and it's safe walking in Havana Vieja even very late at night