There are several places in Havana from where you can enjoy extraordinary views over the capital of Cuba and its surroundings, but there is a beautiful special one that we recommend you visit and which we suggest you climb.
We are referring to the Bacardí Building Tower. This building can be considered a true architectural jewel from 1930, when its construction made it the tallest in all of Cuba. Its style is modernist, also known as Art Deco. It has the shape of a stepped pyramid with a slender tower on its central top part. It stands out for its colours, red on the entrance floor, reminiscent of the honeys of rum, and bright yellow on the upper floors, evoking of the white-golden rums already made. Its viewpoint is exceptional, which is the one we recommend you climb to enjoy the views of Havana. You can go up for only one CUC. You actually go up to the penultimate floor by elevator and from there take the stairs to the top. The views of the city are unforgettable, the sunset probably being the most beautiful moment of the day.
The Bacardí Building was the headquarters of the rum company that, among other things, gave birth to Cuba Libre, until the arrival of the Cuban Revolution. The memory of this is preserved in the symbol of the company all over the world: the bronze bat on its central tow-er, which can be seen today on Bacardi rum bottles.
Its construction took 300 days, as stipulated in the original contract. Unfavourable ground conditions required the use of 500 hardwood piles for its foundation, as well as high quality concrete.
The façade of the building is decorated with natural granite stone from Bavaria, Sweden, Italy, Norway, Belgium and Hungary, as well as terracotta and bricks. Tiles and colourful mosaics were used to link this building to the Catalan Art Nouveau style that was prevalent in the Spanish city of Barcelona at the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century. It also has bas-reliefs of mythological beings.
The Bacardi Building in Havana is a jewel of Art Deco, being one of the most beautiful rep-resentatives of this style in all of Latin America.
Some people say that this building can be considered a geological museum where you can see stones from many European countries and regions.
The interior of the building is also beautiful.
It has 12 floors.
Nowadays, it preserves almost all its original decoration, having been restored twice. Today, it is still a business centre, and is occupied by both local and foreign firms.
Address: Belgium Avenue 261, between Empedrado and San Juan de Dios
ONE CUBA LIBRE PLEASE THAT I AM THIRSTY!
There are many delicacies in the Cuban cuisine, but in such a hot country with a great tradi-tion of delicious rums, we can´t leave Havana without tasting its most famous cocktail.
The Cuba Libre was born in Havana at the beginning of the XX century after the war be-tween the Spanish and the pro-independence Cuban side supported by the United States of America. It is said that it was an American captain who first ordered a Bacardi gold rum and Coke on the rocks in a bar in Old Havana, and because other soldiers were interested, the bartender prepared a round for everyone. In the second round they toasted to ¨To a free Cuba¨ in honour of its freedom.
The recipe is prepared with about 50 ml of golden rum, which is what was originally used, 120 ml of Coke, ice, 10 ml of lemon juice and if you like, you can add a slice of lime.
The usual thing to do is to put everything in a tall glass, like a tube, and use a straw to drink it.
The Cuba Libre has different names such as Roncola in Chile, Cubata in Spain or just Cuba in Mexico.
It is perhaps the most famous cocktail in the world, along with Gin Tonic.
As a curious fact, after the American intervention in Cuba, the Americans not only brought Coca-Cola, which they mixed with rum from the island, but also opened a bar called "The American Bar", a place exclusively for American soldiers and civilians, where this cocktail was born.
The famous shout of "Por Cuba Libre" (to a free Cuba) had already been heard in the Great War that took place on the island from 1868 to 1878 and in the Little War (1879-1880).
A revival of this cry for independence came after the 1959 Revolution, with the nationalized Habana Hilton hotel bearing the name Habana Libre.
The Cuba Libre is very popular all over the world, and clearly, in Havana, its city of origin, there are plenty of places to drink it.
Here are some ideas for a good Cuba Libre or any other cocktail, such as the also famous Daiquiri:
El Floridita, the birthplace of the Daiquiri, at 557 Obispo Street, on the corner of Monserrate.
A 1950s atmosphere with an early XX century feels. It was Ernest Hemingway´s bar.
The Bodeguita del Medio, very close to Havana Cathedral. 206 Empedrado Street between Cuba and San Ignacio. A meeting place for the most authentic Cuban traditions. The walls are covered with signatures and phrases from its customers, some of them famous. Its mojito is acclaimed.
Sloppy Joe´s has one of the longest bars in Havana. Calle Zuleta 252, near Paseo del Prado. Along with Hemingway, John Wayne and Gary Cooper passed through here.
The Chanchullero and Bar Roma are other good recommendations.
THE CARIBBEAN JACKET
We are going to wear a very special garment for men: Guayabera.
The Guayabera is a shirt with four pockets and two rows of pleats. It is a garment that is closely related to the elegant life of the Caribbean and Latin America.
Its origin is a mix between different legends and data from advertisements, newspapers, mag-azines, photos and descriptions that situate it in different places at the same time. Even its name has different denominations depending on the country we are in. The Cuban guayabera will be the chacabana in the Dominican Republic, the shirt-jac in Trinidad or the guayabel in Haiti.
In any case, most studies place it in Cuba or in the nearby Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, alt-hough some say they originate from the Philippines or Spain.
They most likely come from Cuba. The story tells that in the XVIII century, a Cuban peasant asked his wife for a shirt with several pockets so that he could wear it while working. Rec-ords from the end of the XIX century shows that it was similar to the one worn by Spanish and Cuban soldiers, while other sources say that it was worn by peasants and land-owners in Cuba. By the mid-XX century it is seen in abundance in Cuban cities such as Havana, being used by post-revolutionary civil servants. The recent decline of clothing factories in Cuba has made it more of a commodity for tourists than for ordinary people.
In Mexico, it is known as the Mexican wedding shirt, worn especially in cities such as Vera-cruz and Mérida, which have a long tradition of relations with Cuba.
Another popular story tells that it was Yucatecan workers that cut agave in Cuba who discov-ered it on the island at the end of the XIX century or beginning of the XX century and brought it to the Yucatan. It seems that the decline in the production of guayaberas in Cuba after the revolution led to an its growth in the city of Mérida. An international ambassador for this garment was Mexican President Luis Echevarría. The Yucatecans added the front embroidery. We could almost certainly say that this garment was born in the fields of Cuba, making the Mexican city of Mérida the capital nowadays, although they are also produced in China.
The guayabera is a garment which is worn today formally for business meetings, beach par-ties, and evenings out, especially in all Latin American countries and in the southern United States.
They are generally made with light fabrics, being cotton and linen the most used, produced in light colours, which relates them with a feeling of freshness whit elegance. Nowadays, the trade of this dress is growing, creating more designer and unique ones, even for ladies.
It is common to see all the leaders of the different Ibero-American countries and the Iberian Peninsula dressed in this costume at the Ibero-American Summit meetings.
Here are some addresses where you can buy them:
La Maison, a fashion house in Havana, sells guayaberas for the diplomatic corps and gov-ernment officials, although the brands offered here, such as Fariani, Oleg Casini and Cubavera, are of high quality but imported. Calle 16 # 701 corner 7 Avenue, Miramar, Hava-na.
Palacio de la Artesanía Casa del Habano.
Dador Haban Cuban fashion and lifestyle brand: 253 Amargura
Clandestina: 403 Villegas.
A SNAPSHOT WORTHY OF THE 50S´
What is one of the images that comes to mind when we think of Cuba and which we would all like to take home as a souvenir? Well, undoubtedly the city skyline accompanied by some of those classic model cars from the 30´s, 40´s or 50´s, which with their magnificence and bright colours brighten up the streets of Havana.
It seems like Havana have fallen asleep on its car fleet after the Revolution of 1959, when the city was in some ways the casino of the United States. Huge classic American cars drove around the city when Fidel entered Havana, and they have remained, continually recycled year after year to give the capital a very special image. It is curious to look at cars from the time of the American Dream capitalism considering that Cuba is today a communist country.
The first car arrived on the island in 1898. It was a Parisienne and ran at 10 km per hour. In-credibly, Cuba has the oldest car fleet in the world and the city of Havana can be considered an open-air rolling museum in this genre. These cars are offered as taxis for sightseeing tours or simply as a backdrop for our photographs. The autos that we see today arrived constantly from North America throughout the XX century until 1959 when the Revolution cut off their importation.
The ones from the 40´s and 50´s such as the Chevrolet Bel Air, Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, Mer-cury, Dodge, Chrysler, and a long etc. stand out for their abundance. These are cared for like jewels by their owners making the necessary innovations to keep them running, usually in a handcrafted way.
There are several places in Havana where you can rent one of these wonderful convertible cars to take pictures of yourself driving them or simply to use them as a backdrop for your Cuban snapshots. The most common places would be the Central Park, Revolution square, Port Avenue or the whole area around the Capitol. If you don´t see any, which is quite diffi-cult, wait for a while on any street corner and wave to the first one you like. The price for a ride usually ranges from 20 to 50 CUCs depending on the route.
In Cuba these cars are known as almendrones. Apart from being used for tourism, Cubans often share a ride to a common point, sometimes paying as little as 1 CUC per person.
What better picture in Havana than wearing a pair of sunglasses and a colourful 50´s flowered shirt in one of these discontinued cars with the blue backdrop of the Caribbean Sea or the Havana Parliament structure?
Addresses: you can rent them in Central Park, Revolution square, Port Avenue or Capitol area. From 20 to 50 CUCs for a ride.
TEMPLE OF OLD FORMULAS
Now we suggest you go to a place that is a real treasure hidden in the streets of Havana. It is the Habanera Pharmacy Museum, a wonderfully preserved place where you can learn about the evolution of the pharmacy on the island of Cuba.
If we leave from Plaza del Cristo and take Brazil Street, a few blocks away we find this mu-seum founded in 1886 by José Sarrá. Its origin is much older, dating back to 1853 when a group of pharmacists from Malgrat del Mar in Catalonia, Spain, moved to Cuba and founded a company called La Reunion which sold both allopathic and homeopathic medicines, leaving Mr. Sarrá in charge of the business that gave birth to this pharmacy-museum.
It is a curious place that has two functions: pharmacy and museum-shop.
This marvelous classic pharmacy has three enormous showrooms.
In the first room we can see the so-called old apothecary´s shop (hence the name apothecary), a place that fully preserves all its original furniture made of noble wood and has a neo-Gothic style with a Mudejar influence, very popular at the end of the XIX century.
In the second room we can see a large exhibition of pharmaceutical tools and ancient jars for containing medicines that have been recovered in various archaeological excavations carried out throughout the Historical Centre of the city of Havana. It also has a book collection of detailing antique formulas for the cure of different diseases, which is of immense documen-tary value for scholars of pharmacy, history, botany and many other fields of knowledge.
Finally, the third room has a shop where you can buy natural and traditional pharmaceutical products, as well as spices from the same medicinal plants that were used to make prepara-tions before the beginning of the modern chemical pharmacopoeia.
The pharmacy-museum also exhibits a very elegant model of an old pharmacy, accompanied by historical explanations.
Address: Brazil Street (Compostela corner). Havana, Cuba
Opening hours: 9 h to 17 h. Entrance free.
WOULD YOU SMOKE A HAVANA CIGAR?
For most people, smoking a Havana cigar is a challenge, either because you don´t smoke or because it goes beyond of what you normally smoke. We´re not telling you to smoke a full Cuban cigar, but daring to take a few puffs of these handmade jewels from the largest Carib-bean Island will be a way to empathize a little more with the landscape and culture of an en-tire people who have been consuming this product for centuries or millennia. Remember, you don´t have to swallow the smoke, just let it sit in your mouth for a while before releasing it again.
Tobacco, originally from Southern America, was introduced in the Antilles thousands of years ago, long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus and all those who accompanied him. Tobacco was used especially in religious ceremonies, and was given a sacred meaning, serving in many cases to make different types of cleansing. The Spaniards took up the custom of smoking this plant and brought it back to their homeland, from where it quickly spread throughout the old continent.
One thing is a normal cigarette like the ones made by the big tobacco companies all over the world, a highly addictive product with many chemical additives that make it unhealthy. An-other thing is a Habano, something very different. A Habano is 100% made in Cuba with tobacco leaves from these lands. The mixture of plant, climate, type of soil, care and tradition make these cigars a delicacy that has not yet been imitated anywhere in the world even using the same seeds.
A Havana cigar is not just any cigarette, which is why a good Havana cigar can cost as much as 20 or even 200 full packs of normal cigarettes.
The seeds of the plant germinate in a seedbed from which they will be taken to the field. The leaves are ready to be harvested from one and a half to almost three months later. After cut-ting the leaves, they are strung and then dried. The leaves are separated from the noble part of the leaf and sorted according to size. And finally, like a good wine, the process involves age-ing and fermentation, i.e. ageing, which, among other things, helps to release chemicals such as ammonia.
The tobacco fronds are then taken to a cigar roller to be shaped into a cigar. It must be said that in many of the stages involved in the production, women are preferred to men because of their delicate hands. Finally, after another period of ageing, the finished product will be taken to the cedar boxes for packaging. Nothing like a sad cigarette that comes all chopped up into powder, wrapped in paper, and put in a cardboard box. When we talk about Habanos we talk about serious things!!!
The picture of Cuba always has a Havana cigar in it somewhere. The image of Cuban revolu-tionaries Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Cienfuegos would not be the same if we did not see them in those old photos smoking a Havana cigar.
Habanos cigars are commercialized by the joint venture Habanos S.A., which is equally owned by Cubatabaco, the island´s state-owned company, and Altadis, a multinational group created by the merger of Spain´s Tabacalera and France´s Seita, although the British company Imperial Tobacco Group has recently entered the market.
La Casa del Habano, C.D. Havana and 207 Mercaderes, Havana
La Fábrica Partagás, 416 Industria, Havana
The best-selling cigars are priced between 90 and 500 dollars.
MY NAME IS HAVANA
To the south of Paseo del Prado, just 100 metres from the imposing Havana Capitol building, we find a fountain, the Fountain of the Indian Woman or the Fountain of the Noble Havana, which was designed by the Italian architect Giuseppe Gaggini in white Carrara marble. It is three metres high.
The woman wears a feathered headdress and carries a quiver of hunting arrows over her shoulder as if she were Diana the Huntress. In her left hand she holds a horn of plenty filled with tropical fruits, bearing the coat of arms of Havana in the other. She ap-pears seated on a pedestal at the foot of which four dolphins can be seen emanating water from their mouths, which they pour over the large shells that form their base.
The fountain dates back to 1837 when it was placed at the East Gate of the Plaza de Marte, then moved to the Central Park and finally brought here in 1875.
This fountain has a legendary history behind it. It is said that when the Spaniards arrived on the island and began to acknowledge the coast in the middle of a storm, the captain spotted a hill where he took refuge and called it Puerto Carenas.
The next morning weather was wonderful, as the saying "After the storm comes a calm”. The officers went out for a walk when they were surprised by a young woman located under royal palm with beautiful long jet-black hair, who had just bathed in a waterfall, and whose tanned body shone in the tropical sun.
Then one of the officers asked her: "What is your name? And what is the name of this place? Havana, the young woman answered tersely. “And what is your father´s name?” asked the Spaniard again. Habanex, replied the young woman, seemingly calm and composed.
She was asked again and repeated Havana. The officer said that the place would be called Havana.
The young woman touched her chest and pointed herself said: “Havana, Havana”.
It is said that one of the men, who was fond of painting, made a sketch of her on a rock, writ-ing at the bottom: Havana.
Years later, according to the legend, following this sketch, the sculpture of the Fountain of the Indian woman was made.
There are many legends about the origin of the town´s name, but the most widely accepted suggests that it comes from the Taino chief Habaguanex who controlled the area before the arrival of the Spaniards.
Address: Paseo del Prado and Monte Street. A few metres away from Máximo Gómez Ave-nue, known as Monte Street. 100 metres from National Capitol of Cuba.
¡HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE!
One of the characteristics of the city of Havana, as of the whole Cuba, is the almost total ab-sence of advertising posters that the capitalism has put in every corner of the world, and in-stead the proliferation of a large number of propaganda posters about the Revolution and its achievements, which you will see everywhere. This is a curious aspect of the city and the island. Some of the messages on these posters are almost permanent, only being renewed after decades, but others are in constant change of themes, depending on the Cubans and world political situation, as in the case of the ones that existed years ago remembering the five imprisoned in the United States, and calling for their release, which today no longer exist as they have been freed.
It´s always nice to stroll around a city as lively and bustling as Havana, and a good walk can always lead you to look for some of these eye-catching posters that you´ll find all over the place.
A good starting point is Revolution Square, where you can see two of the most photographed signs in Havana. At the Ministry of Telecommunications, next to the Capitol, the stylized image of Che Guevara with his classic starry beret and his emblematic phrase: "Hasta la Vic-toria Siempre" can be seen on the building. Nearby is the image of Camilo Cienfuegos with his motto: "Vas Bien Fidel".
In the city there are many billboards referring to the Young Communist League (UJC) show-ing the most revolutionary historical figures such as Julio Antonio Mella, Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto Che Guevara representing study, work and the rifle, which are the organization’s slogans. There will also be themes such as "Socialism or Death" or "Homeland or Death", always with hammers and sickles, raised fists or red and gold stars.
Posters against the US blockade of the island also proliferate around the city, with phrases such as: "Blockade, the longest genocide in history", or explaining what "The Garrote Law" is, which attempts to economically asphyxiate the island through an economic, financial and commercial blockade against the island.
Although the most important historical figures of the Cuban Revolution frequently appear in these governmental propagandas, there are curious things such as the fact that by Fidel Castro´s own will, after his death, the use of his image or name to call institutions, parks, streets, public places, create monuments, busts, statues, or any use for commercial or adver-tising purposes was prohibited.
Che Guevara is nevertheless widely publicized, being an idol for most Cubans even today. It is said that his physical attractiveness helped many young Cuban girls to follow him.
Billboards referring to the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), a non-governmental mass organization in charge of the popular protection of revolutionary neigh-borhoods, are also very present with writings on the walls such as: “En la Unión está la Fuerza" or "Por la Unidad que Defendemos".
There are also many posters about victories against the invaders, such as those referring to the attempted invasion of the "Bay of Pigs", as well as those insisting on Energy Saving.
Directions: a good and long walk through the centre of Old Havana, along its main avenues and squares will bring you across many of these posters, as well as those written on protective walls in the most popular neighborhoods.
Address: Revolution Square
WHERE EVERYTHING BEGAN
On the 16th of November 1519, the Spanish explorer Diego Fernández de Cuéllar founded the city of Havana by celebrating a mass in this same place that today you can enjoy is Plaza de Armas. It is said that even the ceiba tree that stands there is the original one under which the ceremony took place.
Either way, you are in a central location in Havana, in a space of lush greenery where you can find a cozy bench to sit on while you watch all kinds of Old Havana characters pass by, especially friendly and polite, older people who come and go for a stroll and with whom it won´t be difficult to start a pleasant conversation on any subject.
This square is also a place of culture and from Monday to Saturday, a flea market is held there. Even though it offers a bit of everything, mostly antique items such as watches, coins or stamps, it is more specialized in second-hand books. There you can find from unique out-of-print editions to books about Fidel, Che and the Revolution. This place creates such an interesting cultural atmosphere in conjunction with peculiar people who have a wealth of life experiences.
The park is small, but the trees are formidable. It houses a statue of Carlos Manuel Céspedes, who was the initiator of the struggle for Cuban Independence back in 1868.
This square, as we have said, is the oldest in Havana. When it was founded, it was located between the Castle of the Royal Force and the Parroquial Major Church, which gave it its original name of "Church Square". It was during 1741 that a Spanish imperial ship exploded destroying the church.
The square took the name of Plaza de Armas when, due to the proximity of the English pirate Francis Drake to the island, the colonial governor began their military practices in this square to face a possible assault.
Today, the square is surrounded by XVIII century buildings which house museums such as the City Museum, located in the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the former official resi-dence of the Spanish General Captains. In its central courtyard is a white marble sculpture of Christopher Columbus. It is the ideal place to learn about the history of Havana and Cuba, with more than 40 permanent exhibition rooms. This is where Havana´s original church was located. Other museums are the Sailing Museum and the Automobile Museum. Other places of interest are the Palace of Segundo Cabo or Castle of the Royal Force. The Templete, a neoclassical monument and museum, which takes its name from its resemblance to a Greek Doric temple, and which commemorates the founding of the city, stands out.
It is very beautiful to enter the square through the portico at the junction of Port Avenue and Reilly St., where you can admire the coat of arms of the city of Havana facing the sea.
Address: Plaza de Armas. Havana, Cuba
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