Our first full day in Havana started with breakfast on the patio. Soon after we headed up to some shops to try to source an internet card but to no avail. People kept giving us detailed instructions in Spanish (or perhaps they were saying 'get lost you bloody foreigner') which didn't help us in any way. We followed some instructions that I had downloaded along Calle 17. This street was full of mansions in various states of repair. Some were suffering from genteel neglect, others were ready for demolition while yet more were being restored, hopefully to their former state. Amongst them all were buildings that had been either very well maintained through the years or had been tastefully renovated. We could only imagine what this street must have looked like before Batista and his cronies were chucked out by Che and Castro. In a nearby park named after Victor Hugo we also found a memorial to Bobby Sands and nine other IRA fighters who were 'martyred' during the Irish troubles.
We stuck our noses into a lovely church with stained glass windows that could easily have graced a similar church in Spain or Italy. Strangely there were no indications that today is Good Friday and that Easter is on its way. Further along we came to a Museum of Decorative Arts which turned out to be a lavish building once owned by a Countess which still had rooms furnished with some exquisite European and Asian items. Some lovely volunteer guides, all women, did their best to explain to us what each room was all about. By smiles, gestures and a few common words we managed to communicate. It was all quite pleasant. Some further way down the road we came across a park dedicated to John Lennon. It was established after his death and features a life size statue of John sitting on a park bench. Naturally everyone including us has a photo taken with him.
Thank goodness for maps.me a navigational app that does not require either data or wifi. I had previously downloaded the maps for Cuba as had Maree on her iPad. Using this we were able to navigate our way to the fabulous Necropolis of Cristobal Colon. This is a huge and excessively decorative cemetery in which every person and family seems to strive to outdo the other. We wandered part of the way in before a policeman asked to see our entry tickets. We had not seen a ticket booth so thought that this was just an attempt to rip off the tourists. Having seen enough to gauge the magnificence of the place we simply turned around and left. Maree had spotted a botanic garden on the map so we next headed in that direction. We walked part of the wide Avenue of the Presidents which, as it implies, commemorates Cuban and Latin American presidents.
Eventually we reached the entry to the Jardin Botanico only to find that it was closed. It is meant to be open on Saturday so we may return. By this time it was after one o'clock so we stopped for lunch then headed for a nearby hotel to arrange for an evening tour of Havana which also includes the daily ceremonial cannon firing and a dinner. And so to rest for a few hours before nighttime adventures.
Just before 5pm we headed to the hotel where we were to meet our tour. The bus was a 'collectivo' which picked people up from various hotels. We were told to be waiting by 5 but in reality we didn't get picked up till almost 6. After a couple of more stops we eventually had 28 people aboard. The bus then drove to Old Havana for a walking tour. For some reason I had expected that we would have a bus tour of the sights of Havana. Most of our customers Spanish speakers so our guide spent ages explaining stuff in Espagnol and then gave us a quick précis. Her English was not too great but she did her best to accommodate us. We finally saw evidence of Easter with a parade from the cathedral with a statue of the virgin followed by a crucifix with Jesus aboard. The walk and talk was interesting and informative. Close to 8pm we returned to the bus and were driven under the harbour to the Fortressa where the canon firing was to take place. The crowds were immense, the traditional marching and firing of the cannon was a bit of an anticlimax but the cannon did make a satisfactory noise.
Our next stop was to have dinner. Our guide took us to La Bodeguita del Medio, a famous bar and cafe, where the walls are covered with photos of famous people and are also covered with thousands of names and signature either signed on the plaster or scratched in the wood. Upon arrival at about 9;30pm it turned out the the Maitre'd had forgotten our booking and had given away our tables to some of the throngs wanting to get in. There was a band playing and singing in the bar which was so crowded that you could barely move. The street outside was totally blocked by humanity singing, dancing, drinking and trying to get in.we were told that we would have to wait 20 minutes to get in and were offered a free mojito but it took so long to get half of them that ours never arrived. One family of four with two youngish kids gave up and demanded that the guide arrange a taxi back to their hotel. By ten past ten we were finally seated in a hot and stuffy corner with some nice Argentinian girls. The meal, when it came, was OK but nothing to write home about so I won't. By the time we had finished, re-boarded the bus and returned to our hotel it was close to midnight (way past our bedtime).
The next morning, after breakfast, we asked our host to contact Intrepid to find out where our next accomodation was to be. After some fooling about we finally had an answer and, as a result, decided to check out pretty much straight away. We caught a taxi to our new guest house in Old Havana which was just where we had intended to go to this morning. Although it was too early to check in we were able to leave our bags and go exploring. Our first stop was where Maree had been wanting to go the Museum of Cuban Art. This was well set up and the galleries of early art gave a wonderful display of early colonial life in Cuba. The more contemporary sections showed paintings reminiscent of Picasso, Dali and others but with a Cuban twist. We spent a happy couple of hours there before finding some lunch. After lunch it was time for the Museum of the Revolution which, as the name implies had displays related to Castro and Che Guevara and all the other revolutionaries who kicked out Batista and his crooked cronies. There was sufficient information in English to make this an interesting stop. Of course the Cuban victory at the Bay of Pigs was proudly displayed. We didn't see anything related to the 'Cuban missile crisis' except for the engine of the U2 spy plane that was shot down at some stage.
At 6 pm we met our fellow travellers for a briefing session. There are twelve of us, all Aussies but only three from Melbourne the rest are all Sydneyites. There are three other couples two of whom look about our age and a few youngsters. After the briefing we went for a group dinner at a fancy parador or private restaurant. Apparently it was the first, government approved, such establishment when Cuba began to open up to foreign tourists.