The band, drinks, and cigar at the end of last night really turned yesterday around. Let’s see if we can keep the momentum rolling!
Today started out with a trip downstairs to the lobby trying to figure out how to use the phone in our room. Even though I had already tried exactly what they told me to do, then tried again after they told me to press 9, I still couldn’t get a call out. So the receptionist in the lobby was kind enough to make the call for me. And even though she said it would be very difficult to get a reservation the same day, we were able to get a 2pm lunch reservation at San Cristobal.
Neither Cat nor I were eating much at this point; I’m sure partially because the food the past couple of days had been so disappointing. We skipped breakfast, and we didn’t get out of the hotel until almost 11:30am. While most of our trips are jam packed with activities, I wanted this trip to be more relaxing and spontaneous. With no plans or agenda, we started out the day buying post cards and sending them out on the way to the Museum of the Revolution. It just so happens that also on our way to the Museum of the Revolution was the Floridita Restaurant and Bar. This is the famous Hemingway bar in Havana known for their Hemingway Daiquiris. What are 2 travelers to do but to go inside for at least 1 daiquiri?
Cat writing postcards. Unfortunately we weren’t able to send as many as usual this time. Postcards and their postage are surprisingly expensive in Cuba, and the mail system is pretty unreliable so we have no idea how many will actually make it back to the States.
We would later encounter the tourist equivalent, but these ladies were the real deal. Just 2 colorful Cuban ladies enjoying a smoke.
Another of the open air markets.
This is Cuba. Classic cars and palm trees! Not pictured, all of the run down buildings, but this is a good one for the visitors. If only the city was this well kept everywhere.
The famous Floridita Restaurant and Bar. We couldn’t get a seat at the bar. The place was packed. But we did get a daiquiri and met some nice people that were willing to share their sticky table with us. There isn’t enough room for the staff to get around to clean, so all of the tables are sticky with spilled daiquiri.
They are delicious!
I’ve since looked up the recipe, but if you asked me how to make a Hemingway Daquiri when we left the Floridita I would have told you the following: “You juice some limes, put the lime juice and sugar into a blender, and then, if you’re at the Floridita, you pour an entire bottle of Havana Club in with the lime juice and sugar.” This guys hand must have been falling asleep from holding that bottle in that position for so long. They are NOT cheap on the rum; here or anywhere in Havana.
This is the main center dome in the Museum of the Revolution. The museum is housed in what used to be the Presidential Palace and showcases primarily the 1959 Fidel Castro lead revolution against the puppet president controlling Cuba. Prior to the communist revolution, and after Cuba’s independence from Spain, the country was plagued by military coups and United States military intervention. In 1952 Fulgencio Batista seized power in a military coup, canceled the democratic elections, and maintained power until 1959 when he fled Cuba at the first sign of Castro’s revolution. Batista was a U.S. backed president, and prior to fleeing Cuba had been allowing American mobsters to basically rule Cuba. While the Cuban people were dealing with water crises and low employment, the Americans were coming to Havana and living large; drinking, smoking, and gambling while taking advantage of Cuba’s tropics and beaches.
The perimeter wall of the Museum of the Revolution still contains holes from bullets that were shot during the revolution. As a slap in the face to the previous administration, Castro made the Presidential Palace the home of the Revolution Museum in 1974.
A view from a window in the museum.
The central courtyard.
The marble is very impressive, and prior to becoming the museum the palace was decorated by Tiffany & Co.
And now for lunch! We’re hoping to finally get some good food.
First up is our tapas style appetizer. Fried potatoes, Iberico ham, salmon lox, shrimp and white fish in a bell pepper broth, scrambled eggs, a sweet eggplant jelly, and olives. On the sides are plantain chips, and in the middle of course are cheddar and brie cheeses.
I asked for a recommendation. The waiter suggested the pork in “grandmother’s sauce”. It was delicious. The pork was overcooked (as it seems everything is in Cuba), but the sauce was fantastic and the bell peppers added a nice crunch to the plate. Cat also ordered a pork dish and enjoyed her fried pork almost as much as I enjoyed my food. I think she was just happy to finally get something edible! We also ordered fried plantains and each meal came with a side of moro rice which is a rice and black beans mixture.
The staff was awesome. We asked one of the guys to take a picture for us. Another waiter, not realizing someone was taking our picture, walked right in front of him. They had a laugh, and then all of the waiters jumped into the photo with us while the first guy continued to snap shots. On the way out of the restaurant we would see these 3 guys all standing on the stoop trying to pickup girls passing by.
The waiter was very proud to show us the “Obama Room”. This is the table where President and Michelle Obama sat with their children and Michelle’s mother when they dined at Paladar San Cristobal. In the back is a letter from President Obama, a photo of him on the street outside, and a painting of the same photo hung high on the wall.
The total bill came out to 30.50 cucs. Cat and I each had a drink, we had a massive appetizer, entrées, and a side dish. We tipped another 5 or 6 since the service was spectacular.
Above is a Cuban bicycle taxi. We had a great experience on the bicycle taxi getting to the restaurant earlier. Our second ride would turn out quite differently.
We were offered a taxi from a bicycle across the street. We accepted, and he rode over. We agreed upon 5 cucs to get us back to our hotel. We knew this was the appropriate amount based on all of the other rides in cars and bicycles that we had taken. He agreed and off we went; directly across the street where the driver jumped off and a new driver jumped on. I now said to the new driver “5 cucs para dos personas a Hotel Raquel en Habana Vieja”. He didn’t really respond. I was preparing for the fight that was soon to come.
So I told Cat on the way to the hotel, “If the driver doesn’t have change for a 20, I’ll stay with the taxi and you run into the hotel to get the 5.” After the taxi particular scammed us last night, we already had a plan to deal with taxi scams going forward. Cat was to get out and just start calling for the “Policia”.
So, when we arrived at our hotel, sure enough the scam begins. I hand the driver a 20 cuc note, and not only does he not offer change, he tells me that it is not enough. He starts telling me the fair is 25 cucs. I tell him no. Cat jumps out and starts screaming, in the middle of the day in Old Havana where the streets a filled with tourists and lined with shops, “Policia, Policia!!”. The driver quickly changes his story. “No, no, no, no problem, no problem” He proceeds to hand me 10 pesos as change. I notice that he has tried to return pesos instead of convertibles (pesos are the local currency and they are worth MUCH less than the tourist convertible currency), and immediately call him on trying again to pull one over on us. Cat jumps out again; “Policia! Policia!” The driver again tries to calm the situation. He hands me 10 cucs this time as change. I again demand the other 5. Now he calls the first driver that accepted the ride. Since my Spanish is basically non-existent and Cat’s literally non-existent, these conversations are difficult. The language barrier is not the cause of this situation, however, these guys knew what they were doing and were working together. Now the original driver is on the phone telling me the same thing. “Veinticinco” which in Cuban Spanish sounds more like “benty chinco”. Now I’m yelling at the guy on the phone that he’s wrong and telling him no.
So I grab the 20 cuc bill from the drivers hand, give him back his 10, and hand the 20 to Cat. Since our plan was previously discussed she heads into the hotel lobby for change. When she returned, we handed the driver 5 cucs, and he was all too happy to accept the money leaving us with a “Have a nice day!” as he rode off to find his next prey.
Cat and I headed into the hotel to take a break from the heat and enjoy the air conditioning.
We emerged from the hotel after dark and into the streets. No plans for dinner tonight, so we decided to get a table on the balcony of one of the paladars right in Plaza Habana Vieja; Don Eduardo Alegre.
I think Cat and I were both a little reluctant to order Cuban food since we did not know anything about this restaurant or its specialties, so I ordered a carbonara pasta and Cat ordered a ham sandwich. The pasta came out thick with Alfredo sauce, but the bacon in it was delicious and the pasta tasted great. Cat’s sandwich was pretty fantastic too. It came with a small side of plantain chips. And total, including 2 caipirinhas, I think the bill was under 20 cucs.
And the view from the balcony was nice!
During the walking tour we were told about a brewery right here in Plaza Vieja. We thought it would be pretty ridiculous not to visit a local brewery that is 1 block from our hotel. So, we sat down outside and ordered one of each type of beer at La Factoria Plaza Vieja. There is a live band playing outside pretty much the entire time the business is open. This night there was also a man drawing caricatures. He wasn’t even asking for money. He would draw the cartoon and place it on your table. It was entirely donation based.
But when our caricature hit the table I knew I had to pay him. He so perfectly captured Cat’s resting bitch face that he needed to be rewarded.
Overall a pretty relaxing and successful day 3. We had some great food (finally!), we thwarted a potential scam and terrified a scammer, and we enjoyed some local brew. I think we’re starting to get the hang of the city.