Habana Bonita

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Contiuning the dichotomy of Havana, there are some decidedly gorgeous revitalized neighborhoods and buildings in Habana Vieja, largely categorized as the UNESCO World Heritage Site area of the city, and the historical civic center of the city. Above, a patio central in a hotel that I did not stay in.
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A street in Havana Vieja.

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I’m a sucker for Painted Ladies and these girls sure look fine. If you ever go to Havana Vieja, these ladies are between Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza Vieja, closer to the latter.

Habana Veija, Habana, Cuba
Jan., 2017

Habana Erosionado

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Havana. It’s extremely difficult, for me, to write an accurate account of traveling to Havana. First, the city is exceptionally dynamic, particularly so for an isolationist culture. The old neighborhoods are formed by gorgeous Spanish Baroque buildings, but these buildings, save the ones close to the UNESCO sites and the Parque Central, are crumbling to the point of being condemned. Yet, they are not. Buildings with crumbling columns, questionable roofs, patio centrales filled with rubble, and overflowing dumpsters fermenting in the Caribbean heat house multiple families of multiple generations. To my American sensibilities, I was horrified by the public health implications and worried that one good hurricane would knock the place down. Yet, the Malecon (and the whole city) still stands.

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The architecture is only half the story. The city is amazingly alive. I’m saying this as someone who has spent my childhood and teenage years running around New York and Philadelphia, two very populous, dynamic cities. In the UNESCO sites (Habana Vieja, basically), tourists are teeming in and out of buildings and around the plazas. In the residential neighborhoods, HabaƱeros and tourists alike socialize on the streets, eat al fresco in the lanes, and music teems from inside buildings, both from the radio and from bands playing Cuban classics (seriously, every restaurant seems to have a band playing). In Havana, you can experience the culture with no pretenses. It’s really a very fun, very alive city.
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Despite the decrepitude, or because of it, Havana is really beautiful. Spanish baroque architecture can be seen throughout the Caribbean, but here it is more rugged, less touched by American capitalism and our “resort industrial complex,” or whatever you would call it. It’s a Caribbean city that feels very Caribbean, and in which you, too, can feel you are experiencing a more true Caribbean urban culture. We ate rationed, sad, expensive, food at a government cafeteria (please try to avoid), but also had fabulous food that had to have been bootlegged at a very hip rooftop paladar. We drank Havana Club mojitos like water, because they were cheaper than bottled water. Cuba, particularly Havana, is an expedition, not a vacation. Keeping this in mind, you should go.

Habana, Cuba
Jan., 2017

Vedado

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Above is our taxi in Havana, aka our AirBNB host’s neighbor’s car. Jorge, the neighbor, asked for a daily fee and drove us to, from, and around downtown Havana. He was very gracious, played good music, and was definitely a great way to see the city. (Hailing a cab street-side will often result in very high fares). When we needed to get from Havana (northern Cuba) to Trinidad (southern Cuba), Jorge was able to find a friend who would take us the whole way.

If you are planning to go to Cuba, and are from the US, be aware: you cannot take money out of an ATM or use your credit card in Cuba. Bring 50% more of what you think you will need because taxis are very, very expensive, and Cuban public transportation is spotty at best. For example, we spent around 40 CUC daily on taxis around Havana for a family of 4-5, and 300 CUC on the taxi from Havana to Trinidad for the same number of people. This was with a salesman who speaks Spanish (my boyfriend) negotiating our fares. FYI.

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Here is the AirBNB, aka Santiago’s house. The lovely 1921 home had been built by his grandfather, and he was renting out the main bedrooms on AirBNB and living in the back in an attempt to restore the upper level and generate some additional income. According to Santiago, under Fidel Castro, property owners were unable to renovate their homes without approval from the government, which had stymied his efforts to rebuild the entire second floor (!!) of his family home.

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Vedado, Havana, Cuba
Jan., 2017

Rainbow

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There is a hot debate as to whether the multicolored trees of New England or the golden aspens of Colorado put on a better fall show. I don’t know. But Rocky Mountain National Park sure looks fine on a sunny October day.

Beaver Meadows
Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO
October, 2016