I love this old and charming city. Although it has fallen into disrepair, it still remains the proverbial Paris of the Caribbean. There is a romantic quality and beautiful aesthetic here that has no equal in North America. Poverty abounds, yet the Cubans remain resolute, charming, polite and entrepreneurial. You feel safe wherever you go.
We arrived in downtown Havana around noon and took a few minutes to explore the Plaza de la Revolucion (Revolution Square) and see the iconic steel sculptures of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. We also got a good view of the José Martí Memorial – a 109 m (358 ft) high tower that dominates Havana’s skyline. On my last visit to Cuba I ascended to the top, but alas, not this time. Construction of the monument commenced in 1939 and the tower section was added in 1953 on the hundredth anniversary of Marti’s birth. José Martí was a Cuban poet, essayist, journalist, translator, professor and publisher, who is considered a national hero and an important figure in Latin American literature.
Our next stop was El Capitolio, (The National Capitol Building) which is modeled after the American Capitol Building in Washington. The building was commissioned by Cuban president Gerardo Machado and built from 1926 to 1929.
We took the rest of the day to walk around La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), which is my favourite part of the city. We had lunch in a little restaurant called Bar Monserrate where a band played traditional Cuban music. The band’s leader is Amaranto Fernandez who claims to be an early member of the world famous Buena Vista Social Club. Whether that claim is true or not made no difference, we enjoyed the music and charismatic singer.
After departing Old Havana, we made one last stop at El Morro (Morrow Castle) before returning to Varadero. El Morro is located on the promontory on the opposite side of the harbor from Old Havana. Built initially in 1589 in response to raids on Havana harbor, it protected the mouth of the harbor with a chain being strung out across the water to the fort at La Punta.