Tuesday, April 28, 2015

havana, cuba day 2

we woke up on day two refreshed and ready to embark on our first full day in the city. our hotel is located in central havana, right on the prado walkway through town. we started the day with a long walk down the prado to the malecon, a five mile seawall that stretches the coast of havana. 

the streets were bustling with parents walking their uniformed children to school, people heading off to work, and lots of horns honking. we wandered quite a long way down the malecon, speechless at the sights of dilapidation everywhere. houses on every block were completely collapsed, yet the beautiful materials once used were still apparent. spanish tile work and art deco doors with what looked like hundreds of years worth of wear on every corner, yet, only fifty or so years had passed since some of these buildings were constructed. we snapped lots of photos of the houses on the malecon and quickly headed back for our tour of morro cabana castle and the cabana fortress with a local architect.

the view from our hotel

the malecon, five mile seawall

views from the malecon

as we drove to the morro castle and cabana fortress, we passed the below statue of che with the revolutionary message "hasta la victoria siempre" - we made it to the fortress and parked at the base in order to get out and explore the area.

my mom and me at the fortress overlooking the malecon area

after a long and insightful talk with the local architect about the fortresses built to protect the city (that later failed when the british snuck up an unprotected hill), we headed back to the bus and drove to the colon cemetery. above is a photo of the capitol building we saw on our way, the left side is original and the right side is completely renovated. the cuban capitol building was built to resemble the US capitol, with a few extra inches added to its height. go figure.

we passed more "revolucion!" markings in route to the cemetery. as we pulled up to the colon cemetery, we met up with a cemetery guide who was so helpful and lead us through a walking tour of some of the most grandiose grave sites of the cemetery. colon was founded in 1876 and is one of the greatest historical cemeteries of the world. this cemetery is the most elaborate in latin america and houses over 500 chapels and family vaults including 2.5 million individual burials.

I learned a lot about symbols of death throughout the tour, since I've never been on a cemetery guided tour before. for example, the photo above shows a torch covered in a shroud, a common symbol of death. another symbol of a life cut short, is a statue of a person left incomplete. this is to note death was from an accident or something of that nature, not due to old age.

our guide showing us another symbol of death, an upside down torch.

the above monument is 75 feet tall and is the grave site houses the cuerpos de los bomberos, or firefighters, who died fighting the great fire of 1890. if you look closely, you'll see the individual faces of those who passed away. the ironwork features tear drops to represent the entire town's sadness. the firefighters were called to a site but the callers did not mention that the site was full of gunpowder, which later exploded while the firefighters were inside.

the below monument is the most visited grave site in the colon cemetery, amelia. amelia died in childbirth, along with her baby. every day, her husband visited the grave and knocked three times to 'wake' them, telling himself they were only sleeping. the baby was initially buried below amelia's feet and later when the body was exhumed (common practice for this cemetery), the baby was found inexplicably in amelia's arms. amelia's story is a symbol of maternal love and now visitors come often, knock three times to wake her, and pray for their own maternal wellbeing.

after walking the cemetery, we hopped back on the bus and headed to habana vieja or old havana for lunch at paladar dona eutimia. a paladar is what private restaurants are called in cuba, and this spot is famous for its frozen mojitos!

we tried appetizers to share: fried root vegetables, plantains stuffed with meat, and fish croquettes. and for dessert, ice cream topped with guava fruit which was delish.

 after lunch, we decided to walk back separately from the group because we were tired and also wanted to see the town. the rest of the group visited a local youth dance company, they later gave us rave reviews of the meeting. meanwhile, we walked from old havana to central havana via o'reilly street - we passed lots of locals and stumbled upon a craft market. most of the items were tchotchkes, but we did meet one incredible local artist who was an architect by trade.

the sights of old havana

we chatted with the artist for some time, he told us about an exhibition trip he made to canada - he was so proud and excited about his work. we purchased a few prints from the artist and walked a few more blocks before running into el floridita. this bar was on my must-do list and bam! there it was in front of us.

although we were exhausted, we took it as a sign and headed in for some live music and el floridita's famous daiquiris. it was here that ernest hemingway is said to have consumed 16 daiquiris straight in one sitting! we only had two, and they were good - especially since I don't normally drink them. afterward, we walked the two blocks back to our hotel.

it was still relatively early when we got back to our hotel so we decided to explore the rooftop pool bar at the parque central. it was breathtaking, we were pleasantly surprised with the never-ending views of the city and nice breeze.

cigar service on the roof

we watched the sun go down with dinner on the rooftop and hit the hotel lobby for some internet time. we hadn't talked to anyone stateside since we left the day before, we let them know we made it safely and were having a great time!

click here to keep reading about day three of our cuban adventure....

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