Day touring in Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Eiffel Tower as seen from Paris des LIbertes et des Droits de l’Homme, Paris France

Our first full day in Paris we decided to renew our connection with the city.  Both Boris and I have visited many times, even before we met.  Although we recommend the hop-on/hop-off buses in whatever city they are offered, we have never taken this tour in Paris.  We tend to take the metro (Underground to my British friends, the subway for my American ones) to a specific location and tour that part of town on foot.  This time we wanted an overall view of the city.  It was a beautiful, sunny, but not too hot late spring day.  The open-air top deck of the bus was very appealing.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Louve, Paris France

Our hotel in the 8th Arondessment near the Paris Opera was within walking distance of Open Tour Paris‘s main office, an intersection point of two of their routes.  There are also several other companies that offer a similar service.  (The article connected to the attached link gives you a comparison of the routes.)   We pre-purchased the tickets at our hotel (for the same price) and got right on as soon as we got to the stop.  The company offers 4 intersecting routes to provide the greatest coverage of the city.  The price is inclusive of all routes.  Discounted multi-day tickets are also available.  Its a great deal.  You can get off and hop on another bus on the route later or just take the grand tour.  Plug in your headphones and the adjust the station and you can tour in one of 10 languages.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our hotel is in the Opera district of Paris. On our last visit to Paris I toured the Paris Opera. Fabulous. I highly recommend it.


Arrondissements of Paris

A word about arrondissements, the municipal districts within the city of Paris.  There are currently 20 arrondissements in the city of Paris, arranged in a clockwise spiral.  You’ll note I refer to them when I try to give you my placement within the city.  They are a common reference for addresses and an important reference to have when visiting Paris.IMG_1460

Photo ©Jean Janssen. We are staying in a major Paris shopping district.

Our hotel, the Hilton Paris Opera House, is located near the Opera in one of the major shopping districts of the city.  We traveled first through Montmartre, a “unique village within the metropolis”.  It is also the name of the large hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.  We were unable to really see Basilica of Sacre-Coeur (just a quick peek between buildings) and the amazing steps leading you up to the crest of the hill.  You have to get off the bus for this attraction.  Its really all about that photo of you on the steps with the Basilica in the background.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Moulin Rouge in Montmartre in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.

We stopped at one of the major train stations, where day-trippers joined us for a tour.  We went by the Moulin Rouge, quiet in the morning hours. We’ll be back tomorrow night for the show.  This Montmartre used to be very seedy and dangerous.  Although somewhat sanitized, you will still see the sex shops and peep shows.  While it has been cleaned up substantially, I still recommend a visit during the day.  The areas around Montmartre can be rough at night.


Photo ©Jean Janssen


Photo ©Jean Janssen The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Paris, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Place du Carrousel, Paris

After switching routes, we headed to the 1st arrondissement passing through the Place du Palais Royal to reach the Louve Museum.  There are always major lines at the Museum; we decided to stay onboard the bus.  Across from the glass pyramid that serves as the museum entrance, is our second arc de triomphe, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Place du Carrousel.  Going through you will find the Tuileries Garden and the Place de la Concorde.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Seine in Paris, France.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Facade of the Musee d’Orsay on the left bank of the Seine, a former railway station.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Facade of the Musee d’ Orsay, Paris.

Leaving the walled Palais and Museum behind, we crossed the Seine to see the facade of Paris’ second most popular museum, the Musee d’ Orsay, on the river’s left bank.  The Orsay in housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a beaux-arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900.  The building was declared a historic monument in 1978 and opened as a museum in 1986.  The Musee d’ Orsay is one of the largest art museums in Europe, with mostly French art from 1848-1914.  It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the world.  I have toured the museum; it is well worth a visit.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The French National Assembly Building on the left bank of the Seine, Paris.


Photograph showing the interior of the Palais Bourbon, seat of the French National Assembly.

Before crossing the Seine again to reach the Place de la Concorde, we passed the Palais Bourbon, a government building which is the seat of the French National Assembly.  There is currently construction around the building.  A large photograph outside showed the detail of the impressive interior.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Place de la Concorde where the guillotine was located during the French Revolution.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Place de la Concorde, Paris.

The Place de la Concorde is on the right bank of the Seine and is Paris’ largest public square.  It was designed in 1755 as a moat-skirted octagon.  It sits between the Tuileries Garden and the Champs Elysees.  During the French Revolution, the statute of Louis XV of France was removed and a guillotine set up on the square.  It was here that King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, and Maximilien Robespierre (among others) were executed.  The name of the square has changed many times, but since 1830 has been known as the Place de la Concorde.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Luxor Obelisk in Place de la Concorde, Paris. The ferris wheel on the edge of the Tuileries Garden is a temporary entertainment installation.

In the center of the Place de la Concorde sits the Luxor Obelisk given to the French in the 19th century by the Egyptian government.  The Obelisk is decorated with hieroglyphics related to Egyptian Paraoh Ramesses II.   Because of the place’s proximity to the Navy headquarters and the Seine River, the two famous fountains on the Place de la Concorde celebrate the rivers and the seas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the gardens along the Champs Elysees, Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The tree-lined Champs Elysees.


Photo ©Jean Janssen The Champs Elysees, Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Champs Elysees, Paris.

Leaving the Place de la Concorde we enjoyed the tree-lined view along the Champs Elysees headed toward the Arc de Triomphe des Champs Elysees.  Circling the arc, we next headed to the Paris des Libertes et des Droits de l’Homme near the Place du Trocadero for one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Arc de Triomphe des Champs Elysees.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Arc de Triomphe des Champs Elysees in Paris, France.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A former city gate, Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Place du Trocadero, Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Eiffel Tower as seen from Paris des Libertes et des Droits de l’Homme, Paris France

The currently named Place de Trocadero in the 16th arrondissement of Paris sits on a hill, the site of the former village of Chaillot.  There have been several palaces on this site.  It offers the best view in the city of the Eiffel Tower.  Years ago when Rocky was much younger we spent a News Years Eve here.  It was winter and very cold, but we saw the tower all lit up and enjoyed watching the skateboarders who had taken over the area.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Crossing the Seine to see the tower.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Getting closer to the tower.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Eiffel Tower.


Photo ©Jean Janssen The Eiffel Tower.

Crossing the Seine yet again we are headed to the Tower itself where many visitors will get off to take the elevator up.  I have been several times.  Our first visit with Rocky when he was only 5 years old (also a winter visit) was probably my favorite trip up the tower.  We went up at night and saw all the lights of the city.  I recommend both a daytime and night visit.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Close up view of the elevator of the Eiffel Tower.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natasha at the Eiffel Tower.

Our full day tour of Paris continues in the next post.

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A Trip to Paris for Boris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Seine in Paris, France.

Yes, I know on my last series of posts we were celebrating Boris’ birthday with a trip to Cuba.  However, since he needed to be in London the week after his actual birthday in May, Boris suggested a long weekend in Paris so we could be in the City of Lights on his 60th birthday on May 6th.  I am a little late getting these posts out, but my May and June has been crazy busy as I completed my Presidencies with two non-profit organizations and started planning my next volunteer opportunity.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Perhaps the most famous restaurant in Paris, Maxim’s.

Boris decided we needed to eat at all of his favorite Paris restaurants-think long famous, established, and expensive eateries.  Our itinerary was built around his food choices.  I would recommend choosing just one of these places for a very special meal during your visit.  And how expensive are they?  Some of the tabs (not collectively, but by itself) cost more than my wedding dress.  Enough said.


Photo©Jean Janssen. Looking toward the elevators (mirrored archways at the far end) in the Grand Salon of the Hilton Paris Opera.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natasha and Boris in the Grand Salon of the Hilton Paris Opera Hotel.

As my frequent readers know, we often stay at Hiltons to make the most of the frequent visitor program.  If you don’t do this you are missing out.  Chose a chain and try to stay there whenever you travel.  We get accommodations on many of trips to more exotic locations paid for this way.  That is what we were able to do on this trip to Paris.  We are staying at the Hilton Paris Opera using points; our regular room generally rents for over $700 per night.  We are staying 3 nights.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Modern Art above the bar in the Grand Salon of the Hilton Paris Opera.

The Hilton Paris Opera is the former Hotel Concorde Saint Lazare. The historic, stately building is located in Paris’ major shopping district, just next to Gare Saint-Lazare.  The hotel was also “previously known as the Grand Hotel Terminus, designed by the architect Juste Lisch and originally constructed in honor of the Exposition Universelle in 1889, the same World’s Fair for which the Eiffel Tower was built.”  A major renovation of the hotel was completed in 2015.  According to the British designers, “[t]here were the heritage areas in the public spaces, which needed to be delicately restored, and then there were the guest rooms, which had practically no original features left. The overarching challenge was to take the two halves and make them feel cohesive.” (quoted text is from the travel section of the January 31, 2015 posted edition of Architectural Digest article entitled “Historic Parisian Hotel Refurbished.”)


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Newly conceived ceiling of the Grand Salon of the Hilton Paris Opera Hotel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Looking back toward the Grand Salon from the elevator bank at the Hotel Paris Opera.

In the entrance lobby and Le Grand Salon, the renovation project called for “stripping away decades of dirt and layers of paint, uncovering the ornate, hand-painted details beneath. In the impressive Grand Salon, a mirrored ceiling was replaced by a backlit one to give the effect of natural daylight seeping into a covered courtyard.  When it came to layouts and furnishings”  the renovators “purposefully didn’t try to re-create the original, opting instead for an obvious modern element that would clearly differentiate the old from the new. To avoid too stark of a contrast, however, [they] used an assortment of vintage furniture from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s to make the common spaces feel as if they had evolved over time.”  (quoted text is from the travel section of the January 31, 2015 posted edition of Architectural Digest article entitled “Historic Parisian Hotel Refurbished.”)

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The facade of the Gard Saint-Lazare in Paris’ 8th arrondissement is somewhat hidden today.

As lovely as the hotel is, it was also a great choice because of its location.  It is literally next door to a train station (as hinted at in the various names the hotel has had).  The Gare Saint-Lazare is the second busiest railway station in Paris.  Its design is also by Juste Lisch.  The Gare Saint-Lazare was the subject of many impressionist paintings by Édouard Manet to Claude Monet.  It is a prime location for access to Paris shopping in the Opera District of the 8th arrondissement.


Just across the street from our hotel on the Rue Saint-Lazare was a McDonald’s. The building dates back to 1892 and has been listed as a historic monument since 1997. The Daily Meal‘s research found that “the building was originally home to a restaurant called Au Roi de la Biere (“The King of Beer”), which opened around the turn of the twentieth century. As for the statue, that’s of none other than Gambrinus, a legendary figure in parts of Europe; he’s widely celebrated as an unofficial patron saint of beer and is often referred to as the King of Beer.”

The quarter, formerly known as Little Poland, underwent a major renovation with the building of the Gare Saint-Lazare and the hotel.  Many buildings were razed.  Some considered the area “a den of thieves, cutthroats , and murderers.  The great detective Vidocq whose life inspired Edgar Allen Poe’s fiction such as Murders in the Rue Morgue and was the creator of the ‘world’s first detective agency’, prowled the area.” (quoting Boris)


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris crashed on the comfy sofa in the Grand Salon of the Hilton Paris Opera.

We took an overnight flight to Paris and then a car to the hotel.  Our room wasn’t quite ready, so we enjoyed a drink in the Grand Salon before heading upstairs.  We unpacked and rested a bit.  I hated to miss a late afternoon in Paris, but I knew I would be no good in the evening if I didn’t get my jet lag cat nap.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. We took the scenic route to the restaurant (perhaps all routes are scenic in Paris) past the Arc de Triomphe des Champs Elysees



Photo ©Jean Janssen. Restaurant Prunier on Victor Hugo Street in Paris, France.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mosaic tiles in the colors of the seas covered the facade of Restaurant Prunier Victor Hugo in Paris.

That evening was the first in our “dining series”.  Boris had made reservations at Restaurant Prunier Victor Hugo (designating the street).  It was a relatively short cab ride, circling by the Arc de Triomphe des Champs Elysees, to the restaurant.  Prunier retains its ornate art deco furnishings created in 1925.  The facade of the building is covered in stunning mosaic tiles.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Upstairs in Restaurant Prunier are the toilets (also with amazing art deco decor) and the group/private dining areas. When the restaurant was first conceived, you began your meal and had drinks downstairs. Those patrons having a full meal then went upstairs to complete the service.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Seafood tank at the bar in Prunier. At the far end of the room was the fresh seafood bar.

The restaurant has long celebrated seafood.  Alfred Prunier, age 24, and his wife Catherine opened their first restaurant in 1872 specializing in oysters.  After developing relationships with the Russian aristocracy, they begin to import caviar.  Prunier’s son Emile expanded the business to fresh fish, even setting up a fresh fish market next door.  He also introduced a tasting bar in the restaurant for patrons to sample fresh seafood.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. My amazing trout at Prunier in Paris. so good I ate the meat above and below the bone.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Preparing my main course under open flame at Restaurant Prunier in Paris. Note the beautiful art deco decoration and the bust of the sea captain.

Today the restaurant continues the tradition of focusing on fresh seafood.  The fish tank behind the bar was empty, but the tasting bar was ready for sampling the delicacies.  The restaurant also continues to offer a wide selection of caviar.  We started with the seafood tower with a wide variety of fresh fish-oysters, shrimp, different varies of mussels, clams, and crab.  There were even a few things I couldn’t identify, but everything tasted fabulous.  Boris’ main course was lobster; mine was trout.  It was prepared over an open flame near the table.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris’ soufflé at Prunier. When in Paris…


Photo ©Jean Janssen. We had early reservations (7 pm) at Restaurant Prunier; being the first patrons to arrive, we got the corner seat. (They started turning lights on after we arrived.) It remained mostly empty the entire time we were there.

We were the first to arrive at the restaurant, having 7 pm reservations.  The Parisians eat much later, but our waiter told us they open the restaurant early for the Japanese tourists who (like Boris and I) eat their dinner earlier.  First to arrive also meant we got the prime corner seat.  Wonderful.  We ended the meal with amazing desserts.  Boris couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a soufflé.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris made reservations at five special restaurants, most of his favorites in Paris. Prunier was a place he had always dreamed of going. It was my first visit as well.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris’ birthday tour of the timeless restaurants of Paris. 1 down, 4 to go.

It was still light outside when we headed back to the hotel, the sun setting behind the Arc de Triomphe des Champs Elysees as we passed back by.  To overcome our jet lag, we are going to bed early and have a full day planned for tomorrow, our first full day in Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sunset behind the Arc de Triomphe des Champs Elysees, Paris.

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Santiago de Cuba: The Revolutionary Spirit


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Near Revolution Square in Santiago de Cuba. The sign is lights up at night.

As we like to do on touring days, Boris and I had breakfast on our balcony before heading out for an early tour. We were overlooking the renovated harbor area and the park there big yellow letters spell out CUBA.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from our balcony of the new harbor park in Santiago de Cuba

I want to preface my comments for my international readers.   The relationship between Cuba and the United States during my lifetime has not been an easy one to put it mildly. The difference in ideology between democracy, which I support, and communism will undoubtedly affect my view on things I hear and see and consequently my comments


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Cathedral doors are open on this Palm Sunday morning in Santiago de Cuba.

Today our guide is Felix. Our first bus stop was at the Square and immediately I was concerned that we were in for a lot of duplication of what we saw yesterday. However, I noticed that the doors to the Cathedral were open. It is Palm Sunday after all. Perhaps, there would be some new experiences today.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Curator of Santiago de Cuba has his office in a former seminary near the city’s main square.

Felix walked us to the curator’s office first. The modest façade hid the beautiful renovations within. This is a former seminary and we are in what used to be the chapel. The city curator is an architect who has been a restoration advisor for the last 40 years. We got THE expert. His presentation was fascinating. He mixed the renovation history of the area with general Cuban history.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Bishop heading out to the Cathedral balcony at the end of Palm Sunday mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption, Santiago de Cuba.

Founded by Columbus in 1515, at 503 Santiago de Cuba is one of the oldest cities in America. It is a mix of the indigenous people, Spanish, African slaves, French Coffee Growers, and Chinese workers. The first ship with African slaves arrived in 1519 and in the 19th century there was immigration of the French, more slaves of African origin, and the Chinese. “To be a Santiagan, you need a heavy soup of African, Spanish, Asian, and French and boil it very hot” (referring the heat of the city).


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Performers on the city square on Palm Sunday in Santiago de Cuba

He referred to Santiago as the “Musical Capital of Cuba”, the birthplace of Bolero and what we know today as Salsa, a mix of rhythms from the countryside and mountains near Santiago. These traditions are celebrated year-round, but never more prominently than in July. In the first week of the month, there is the Festival of the Caribbean and in the last week in July there is Carnivale.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris used his free time on the square in Santiago de Cuba to visit the city’s oldest building, the Diego Velazquez home.

The curator described three periods of Cuban history: 1515-1898 as the Colonial Period; 1898-1958 as the Republic, the American Intervention; 1959-present as the Revolutionary Period. The Colonial Period ended with what I was educated to call the Spanish-American War. Cubans take offence at that (check out the plaque at San Juan Hill pictured later in this post) as not outlining their role in the war; it is referred to locally as the Spanish-Cuban-American War. The bloodiest battle was at San Juan Hill and the adjacent Kettle Hill, which we will visit for the second time later today.  El Morro Castle, a Spanish Fortress formally known as Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, sits at the entrance to the bay near Santiago where several significant naval battles took place.  The curator also got the scuba diver in me interested when he mentioned the six naval vessels sunk in the bay as popular dive sites.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to the weapons storage at the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. It is now a museum. The gun fire holes are fake.

The revolution started with an attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, which we will also visit later today. The attempt to secure the barracks’ weapons failed and the rebels were taken prisoner.  The rebels often took refuge in the Sierra Maestra Mountains surrounding Santiago.


Photo @Jean Janssen. A wooden home on this site destroyed by Hurricane Sandy was rebuilt in the traditional style. In the background you see the 18-story apartment buildings, the tallest you can build in Santiago de Cuba due to the earthquakes.

Injected throughout the presentation were descriptions of the efforts made at historic preservation, renovation, and improvement made by the group of 1,200 people who work in the department under the curator. It is not only battles or time that ravages his city; Santiago is a city subject to earthquakes. Design and construction takes this into account; no building in Santiago de Cuba can be more than 18 stories high. Many of the older buildings are made of wood or have foundations made of wood (like the Cathedral) that “dance along with the earthquake”.   The city has also been a hurricane victim. Hurricanes are not uncommon, but Sandy was unusual. This hurricane got trapped in the city by the mountains. Deaths are uncommon in hurricane-prone Cuba, but 9 people lost their lives in Sandy. In Santiago, Hurricane Sandy is referred to as the “lumberman” because it took out so many trees.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. New housing project in Santiago de Cuba.

One of the questions asked of the curator had to do with funding of his department’s work. 2% of every purchase made in Santiago de Cuba goes to fund restoration and construction efforts; the government provides some funding; and the balance comes from foreign support or “donations from overseas”. Other communist nations, particularly China, have given support for specific projects.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  The Heredia Theater in Santiago de Cuba where we enjoyed our Azamazing Evening last night.

Beyond the work we had seen in the city center, the curator spoke of: the area where the revolution monument and the theater we were at last night sit (right next to the baseball stadium; baseball is the national sport in Cuba); the coffee plantations near the mountains where buildings have been restored to their 19th century look; the harbor park we enjoyed as our view during our balcony breakfast; the cemetery where Jose Marti and Fidel Castro are buried (the last stop on today’s tour); and the monument to the runaway slave on top of the Copper mine near El Cobre, today a site used for rituals of the Afro-Cuban religion.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Palm Sunday at Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Palm Sunday at Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The altar at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santiago de Cuba on Palm Sunday.

After the presentation, we were given 20 minutes of free time on the square. I headed straight for the Cathedral. It was wonderful timing. I was able to enjoy the end of Palm Sunday Mass and their beautiful tradition of waiving the palm leaves during the recessional from the church. I had time to snap only a few pictures after mass, arriving back in the square just as the bus pulled up to the curb. The festivities were beautiful and my faith in the health of religion in Cuba was restored.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Moncada Barracks, the site of guerrilla attack considered the start of the revolution in Cuba. The building later served as a school.

Leaving the Square and its colonial history behind, we went to the Moncada Barracks named for Queen Mercedes of Spain in 1859. The military government was based here in 1952 and this was site of the ill-fated rebel attack by Castro and some of his supporters on July 26, 1953.  At the time of the attack it was the second largest military garrison in Cuba.  “This armed attack is widely accepted as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.”  The rebels’ goal was to rob the facility of its weapons to support their cause. They had inside information. Dressed in military fatigues, but lacking military-issued boots, some of the rebels made it to the entrance of the building.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A fence line corner guard tower at the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The facade of the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. What this picture does not capture is the many long wings in the back of the building.

However, the attack was not the surprise they expected.  The alarm went off before the barracks had been infiltrated.  Once it was clear that they would not be successful, Castro ordered a retreat. Word did not make it to all of the supporters. Most were unfamiliar with the city and were captured either on site or shortly after. Castro and his brother, familiar with the area near Santiago de Cuba, were able to get away, but were caught later in the countryside. Many were also killed during the attack. Castro was eventually captured;  due to the support of a doctor who recommended they keep him rather than shoot him on site as Batista had ordered, he was imprisoned.  After 22 months in prison, Castro was released under an amnesty program.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Soccer (football) players on the field at the Second Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

This is a very large facility with many wings that you can’t even see from the front of the building. The large field in front was being enjoyed by soccer (I’m American, to many of you this would be football) players. The building was later used as a school. The part where the arms were stored and the area of the rebel attack is now a museum that we visited. On the façade are lots of bullet holes. After snapping many pictures, Felix told us these were fakes. They had filled in the holes when the facility became a school. Only a few on the marble door frame and on the medal handrail are original.images

They added to fake ones to create the look when the museum was opened.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A few original bullet holes from the July 26 attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba are still in the marble door frame


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Other than the bullet holes in the marble door frame, the only original (real) bullet holes on the Moncada Barracks are on a metal handrail.

The museum glorifies the rebels and does not shy away from detailing the brutal treatment of the rebels by Batista’s soldiers. Photographs and instruments of torture are displayed. The written documents and descriptions are all in Spanish, so I had to rely on Felix’s statements regarding what the documents said. Boris recommended I not pay the photography fee and I am glad I didn’t. Other than the vehicle used to bring Fidel Castro into custody, there was not anything I wanted to photograph.  Most of the pictures were pretty gruesome.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Wooden house across from the Second Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

Across the street from the barracks, Felix pointed out where wooden homes had been destroyed by Sandy. They were restored to their original look 8 months after the hurricane. He used the occasion to answer questions about property and citizens rights for those that leave/left the country.   Ownership of anything previously abandoned when the communists took over will not be restored. However, if a citizen leaves (the property under the protection of a caretaker and leaves) the country now and comes back within two years, he can retain ownership of his property. Cuban citizens who abandoned the country can come back and get their citizenship restored. They are free to purchase new property in the country.

A random observation made by Felix was the signs related to rooms for rent in a private home. This is a new concept in Cuba. Blue signs designate rooms available to foreign tourists. Red signs are related to rooms available to locals.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Street sales with kiosks have become very popular in Santiago de Cuba.

On our way to lunch at the new Melia hotel, we saw a street fair with brightly colored tents set up for blocks and blocks. Felix told us these kiosks have become quiet popular. We saw small groups of them in many parts of town, but in this case they barricaded off several blocks of a city street for the entire weekend.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. San Juan Hill, Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. San Juan Hill, Santiago de Cuba, where the bloodiest battle of the Spanish-American War took place.

Our first stop after lunch was San Juan Hill. The city itself is very hilly. You find yourself often on the top of a hill when touring the city. San Juan Hill is one such. Nearby is the San Juan Hotel, now used to educate students interested in the tourism industry. The Peace tree is also here; it was next to the city zoo, a very popular destination on this Sunday afternoon. There is also an amusement park nearby.


Marker on San Juan Hill. Cubans take exception with the conflict being described as the Spanish-American War.  Cubans refer to it as the Spanish-Cuban-American War. This marker is from 1945.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the distance in the center of the picture you see the small obelisk marking Kettle Hill, Santiago de Cuba.

Boris, our son Rocky, and I are all students of history.  I have to take exception with our first guide’s interpretation of the way Americans record the history of this battle.  Our guide said that because Theodore Roosevelt was “rich and later became President that he was given all the credit” for San Juan Hill.  However, Roosevelt and his troops actually fought at nearby Kettle Hill where a small obelisk marks the spot.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris by the trenches on San Juan Hill, Santiago de Cuba.

Simply because Roosevelt was/became a famous American does mean that history records him as getting all the credit.  Actually, Roosevelt credited the success on Kettle Hill to Lt. John H. Parker.  Additionally, at a time when the American Civil Was was not long in our past, American history records the contribution of “[w]hite regiments, black regiments, regulars and Rough Riders [i.e. volunteers]…[who] fought shoulder to shoulder, unmindful of race or color, unmindful of whether commanded by ex-Confederate or not, and mindful of only their common duty as Americans.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. This is the only marker I found on San Juan Hill that mentions Theodore Roosevelt, and then only by his last name. Note that the Cuban leader is acknowledged. The marker is from 1928.

Our guide’s comments were just another example of twisting history to suit the communist rhetoric. Modern American history gives the credit where it is due. The guide said that there was a statute of Teddy Roosevelt in one of the plazas in town, but that is was down for renovation. Right; I wonder how long it has been “under renovation”.  I found only one marker that mentions Roosevelt and that one only mentions his last name.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Monument at Plaza de Revolucion in Santiago de Cuba.

Leaving San Juan Hill, we made a photo stop at the Plaza de Revolution and the monument honoring Antonio Maceo, a 19th century military hero.  Maceo appears on horseback in a position that makes it clear he was killed while riding.  What I found most fascinating were the many metal spikes representing machetes that appear as part of the memorial, they are meant to acknowledge the contributions of the farmers who used their own tools to be part of the revolution.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.   The Teatro Heredia is part of the Convention Center that was the location of our Azamazing Evening the first night in town.

The monument is part of the larger Plaza Antonio Maceo, the site of many political rallies.  Adjacent to the plaza is the Teatro Heredia. “The theatre was inaugurated in 1991 and named after Jose Maria Heredia – the national poet of Cuba.”  This was the site of our Azamazing Evening our first night in Santiago.  Next to the theater is the baseball stadium; baseball is the national sport in Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Goose-stepping solders during the changing of the guard at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba.

Our final stop was the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, opened in 1868.  Here are the preserved graves of the wealthy and military heroes.  Soldiers guard the the large mausoleum of Jose Marti and the large stone marking the grave of Fidel Castro.  Every 30 minutes, there is a changing of the guard, employing pristine marching in the goose-step style.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking down into the interior of the mausoleum of Jose Marti at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba.  Three of the solders who participate in the changing of the guard are stationed at the entrance to the mausoleum.


Photo @ Jean Janssen. The open-air second level of the Jose Marti Mausoleum in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba with the Sierra Maestra Mountains in the background.

In addition to the military personnel there are security guards who watched our every movement.  They did move away during the changing of the guard. We were only allowed to view the main graves in front and had to stay on certain pathways.  A visitor who ventured onto the grass was abruptly called out.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The large bolder is over the ashes of Fidel Castro. Notice the marker that only lists his first name and the armed guard to the left (under a cover).


Photo ©Jean Janssen. There were some highly decorated graves at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. I was fortunate to have a zoom lens; I wish we had been able to walk around a bit more.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba.

I took photographs during the changing of the guard and of those stationed at their posts.  It was later when I found out that you are not allowed to photograph military personnel.  Perhaps they make an exception at the cemetery; perhaps they just chose not to say anything.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our balcony view from the dock at Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our sail away from Santiago de Cuba.

We returned to the ship and Boris spent time on the pier using up his remaining convertible pesos.  We bid Cuba goodby this evening with our departure from Santiago de Cuba.  It has been a memorable visit.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Departing Cuba.


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Santiago de Cuba: The Birthplace of Rum, Revolution, and Rhythm


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Near the Square in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.

Our second port of call in the Republic of Cuba is Santiago de Cuba, the original capital, on the southeasterly side of the island.  Cuba is part of the Greater Antilles of the Caribbean. Columbus’ trip to the new world took him to Cuba and Hispaniola (where we will make our final stop of the cruise). The city celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2015.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Sierra Maestra, Cuba from the rooftop restaurant in the Santa Barbara neighborhood of Santiago de Cuba where we had lunch.

Santiago de Cuba sits surrounded by the Sierra Maestra; the mountains trap the heat in the city making it the hottest place on the island. Santiago was the original home of Bacardi Rum. The company moved to Puerto Rico with the nationalization of businesses by Fidel Castro in his effort to move to a communist state. The people claim it is the sweet sugar cane, the temperature, and the mixing in the drums due to vibrations of the trains that make their rum the best. The old Bacardi factory sits right next to the train tracks and is now home to Santiago de Cuba Rum.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The old Bacardi Rum Factory in Santiago de Cuba.

By the most recent census, half a million people live in Santiago. However, if you add in the students and the people that work in Santiago, it is closer to one million. Education is free through university (like American high school). At eighteen, Cuban boys serve a year of mandatory military service. If they test well enough, after that year they go on to college. If not, they serve another year of mandatory service and make another try to get into college. Women serve for six months on a voluntary basis. After college, graduates serve two years of assigned community service.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Uniformed students returning from school in Havana, Cuba.

Younger students in Cuba wear uniforms distinguishing their level. The same colors are worn across the country. There are no private or parochial schools in Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Pilgrims to El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, El Cobre, Cuba.

We will be visiting Santiago de Cuba for two days. Originally the cruise had only one day scheduled here, but after we booked they eliminated the Cayman Islands as a port of call and added an extra overnight in Havana and an extra day in Santiago. We had originally booked the Revolutionary Tour; that will be tomorrow since the new day is on the front end.  Today we have chosen a tour that takes us out of the city to visit the community of El Cobre . This translates to copper in English, the name drawn from the copper mines nearby.  Although they had been closed, the mines have recently reopened.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, El Cobre, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The altar at El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, El Cobre, Cuba. Note the virgin in gold near the top.

El Cobre is best know for it’s domed Church, arguably the most important in Cuba, and as a pilgrimage site to visit the Yellow Virgin, also known as the Virgin of Copper. She is identified not only in the Roman Catholic faith, but also by the AfroCuban religion. Pope John Paul II visited and crowned the virgin here in 1998. In fact, all three of the last popes have visited Cuba, the most recent visit being Pope Francis in 2015.   Castro’s falling out with the church had resulted in Christmas no longer being recognized as a holiday.  That changed as a result of Pope John Paul II’s visit; after Pope Francis’ visit, Good Friday (preceding Easter) is once again recognized. We will see the Cathedral in Santiago de Cuba where Francis addressed the people later today.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Horse and cart was the most common transportation mode we saw around Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the Square in El Cobre, Cuba.

After passing the monument dedicated to the revolution, we headed out of the city. I saw many more forms of transportation.   There are far more carts pulled by horses than cars in this part of Cuba. The field workers I saw out were using hand tools, no machinery in sight. Cattle pulled the plow in the fields. These were the only cattle I saw on the whole trip. Beef is very scarce in Cuba. It is almost unheard of in the people’s diet.  Our guide told us a man caught stealing a cow was sentenced to 20 years in prison.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Facade of El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, El Cobre, Cuba

We also passed a crematorium. This is a new tradition in Cuba. All the graves I have seen so far have been above ground; the mausoleums have been new construction. The burial system lasts two years. The deceased is first buried in a coffin for two years; after two years, the coffin is dug up, then the body is cremated and buried in the wall of a mausoleum.


Photo @Jean Janssen. Roadside vendors sell religious items and flowers, mostly sunflowers, to the pilgrims to the black Madonna, the Virgen de la Caridad in El Cobre, Cuba.


Photo @ Jean Janssen. The yellow virgin in the church at El Cobre, Cuba.

As we approached the city of El Cobre, we saw roadside booths selling religious items and flowers, mostly sunflower arrangements. The color yellow is associated with the black Madonna, the Virgen de la Caridad or Virgin of Charity.  “Her parallel figure in Afro-Cuban worship is Ochún, goddess of love and femininity, who is also dark-skinned and dressed in bright yellow garments. In 1998 the Pope visited and blessed the shrine, calling the Virgin ‘La Reina de los Cubanos’ (Queen of Cubans), and donated a rosary and crown.”  Many of the pilgrims we saw today wore yellow.   Most of the people who live in this area make money off of pilgrimage support.


Photo @Jean Janssen. El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, El Cobre, Cuba


Natasha at El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre. As a sacred place, visitors must have their shoulders and knees covered. There are monitors at the gates to make sure visitors were reverently dressed.

The church, which was built in 1927 and whose full name is El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, is relatively new in terms of Catholic churches worldwide. There is a long series of stairs leading us to the front of the church, but a flat rear parking lot was built in connection with the Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998. There were a lot of visitors of all ages. Many pilgrims had left gifts, including prosthetics and health aids; sunflowers were the most common gift. Hemingway’s Noble Prize for literature is kept in El Cobre and Boris requested a picture with it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Visitors and pilgrims to church at El Cobre lit candles and gave offerings, note the physical aids on the back wall.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the Square in El Cobre, Cuba

After leaving the church, we traveled into the village of El Cobre, a modest city although larger than many other communities in the area. We stopped near the square waiting in our air-conditioned bus for the start of a musical performance. One of the guests noticed a transaction so our guide explained the rationing system. Families receive beans, rice, chicken, pasta or rice, 1 piece of bread a day, coffee, milk, and juice (for children) based on the number of people in the household. The government gives the rations in a system the people referred to as the “notebook”. You can buy other things like fruit or vegetables on the street from vendors.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. El Cobre, Havana


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Directing the Steel Band del Cobre, El Cobre, Cuba.

A Steel Drum Band that has been based in El Cobre for the past 30 years gave the musical performance. A group from Trinidad Tobago left the equipment. Their director has been with the band for 29 years. He has musical training and can read music; he has developed a system to teach for those who do not have the benefit of a formal education. There is no school for the members to learn the art of the steel drum. As the director said, “in Cuba we are the teachers”. It takes approximately one year to learn and the members learn to play multiple types of drums. This is the second generation of the group.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Steel Band del Cobre performing in El Cobre, Cuba. The Cuban flag and province flag hangs behind them.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Community Center in El Cobre, Cuba.

The group was amazing. They took time to greet us through a translator and also to answer our questions. They played Cuban favorites and recognizable songs. I think Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean surprised me the most. I bought my second CD of the cruise. Outside a large group of locals had gathered to enjoy the music. Most of the members had to have other jobs, but as their popularity and fame has grown they are now able to devote time to the band full time. They have performed for Popes and at Carnivale. The community center at El Cobre where they play proudly displays their name on the outside.


Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the Square in El Cobre, Cuba

On the way back into town, the guide told us the origin of the famous song Guantanamera.  The songwriter fell in love with a female farmer hero from the Guantanamo province, the adapted term in its feminine version and the province from which she came giving the song its name.  “Guantanamera – meaning ‘girl from Guantánamo’ – is a Cuban song, which has been successfully performed by numerous singers over the years.  The music is attributed to José Fernández Díaz.  And, the official lyrics are based on the first poem of Versos Sencillos – “Simple Verses” – written by Cuban poet José Martí and adapted by Julián Orbón.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. We had lunch at a restaurant in the Santiago de Cuba residential neighborhood of Santa Barbara. The restaurant was on the rooftop terrance of the family’s home.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our main course was served in this cool container at the 5 Cero 2 Restaurant in Santiago de Cuba.


Photo @Jean Janssen. Lunchtime entertainment in Santiago de Cuba.

Back in town we made a stop at San Juan Hill for pictures and then went to lunch. I will share more about San Juan Hill when we visit with our revolutionary tour tomorrow. Lunch was in the Santa Barbara District and I thought of my aunt and godmother, Aunt Barbara. We were in a residential neighborhood and the family had converted their rooftop terrace to a restaurant. There were wonderful views and breezes as we enjoyed a rustic family style lunch. A violinist and guitarist played for us as we ate far more than a typical Cuban family would enjoy. First there was a lovely salad; the second course was rice and beans with pork, chicken, shrimp, and fish. The main course came in a unique container. I had a Cuban cola while Boris had a Cuban beer. The dessert was flan.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris’ beer can in Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Santiago de Cuba Cathedral, formally known as Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption.

The final stop on the tour was the city’s main square dominated by the lovely raised Cathedral, its balcony where Pope Francis addressed the people in 2015.  On the façade was a statute of, as our guide put it, “Cuba’s first tourist” Christopher Columbus. Unfortunately, the doors were closed and the church was not open to visitors during the afternoon hours.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Statute of Christopher Columbus (according to our guide, “Cuba’s first tourist”) on the facade of the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santiago de Cuba.

I want to preface some of my comments for my international readers.   The relationship between Cuba and the United States during my lifetime has not been an easy one to put it mildly. The difference in ideology between democracy, which I support, and communism will undoubtedly affect my view on things I hear and see and consequently my comments.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the church at El Cobre, Cuba

I noted the attitude toward religion of our guide and of other people in Cuba who had grown up under communism. She referred to the El Cobre Cathedral as a peaceful place but not a spiritual one. She downplayed the Roman Catholic faith and played up the “virgin goddess” history. On the square, she referred to the Cathedral in harsh terms not as a church or place of worship, but as an example of oppression. In her mind, it was “a symbol of how the Spanish tried to impose their religion on the people.”  A student of history knows that all conquering people throughout history have done this; it still happens today.  Her attitude is typical of those that grow up in a communist state where religion and devotion to anything other than the state is squashed.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Just off the square in Santiago de Cuba.

I wandered around taking pictures. Boris was off shopping. I asked him to get me some Santiago de Cuba rum so I could do a taste test with Bacardi. There were beggars on the square and there was little shade, but for the most part it was a pleasant place to sit and watch life happen.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the square in Santiago de Cuba is the city’s oldest building, the residence of Diego Velazquez de Cuellar.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The French Fencing Club on the Square in Santiago de Cuba.

In addition to the Cathedral, Diego Velazquez de Cueller’s home, the city’s oldest building (and some say the oldest in Latin America), is also on the square. Velazquez’s secretary was Hernan Cortes who later overthrew the Aztec Empire.  It was from this home that the invasion of Mexico was planned. Also on the square was the French fencing club, used mostly for social events. French coffee plantation owners had fled Haiti with their African slaves.  The influence of both these groups is found in Santiago.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The city hall of Santiago de Cuba. Fidel Castro addressed the people from the balcony of this building upon the success of his revolution.

Across the square facing the Cathedral was the town hall. The balcony of this Spanish-style building is where Castro first addressed the people after the success of his revolution. Santiago de Cuba has the distinction of being named the “Hero City of the Republic” by Fidel Castro. In fact Castro’s burial place is in the cemetery here.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hotel Casa Granda on the Square in Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. By the Hotel Casa Granda on the Square in Santiago de Cuba.

The Bank of Cuba is also on the square; it used to be the bank of the United States. In contrast to and directly across from the unattractive bank was a lovely building, the Hotel Casa Granda, named for Granda family who once lived there. The large white building with shutters on its windows featured a long veranda on the main level where people were enjoying the bar and escape from the sun. There is also a rooftop terrace bar in the hotel. There was great people-watching from the square, although I suspect many had searched for a shadier spot.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A capella performers at our Azamazing Evening in Santiago de Cuba

After a bus ride back to the pier, we did a little shopping with the local crafts vendors and re-boarded the ship. Tonight is our Azamazing Evening. On most cruises with a late night or overnight in port, Azamara Club Cruises hosts a cultural evening off the ship. The logistics of moving all these people can be a problem. The staff captain told us it was also a challenge to find an air-conditioned venue in Cuba for 650 people.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Dance company performers at our Azamazing Evening in Santiago de Cuba

We are fortunate that our cabin is on the top level so we are among the first off the ship. We did a “guarantee cabin” that meant we paid the price of the cheapest balcony cabin, but could be assigned a cabin with a balcony anywhere on the ship. We were lucky.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The seasoned performers at our Azamazing Evening in Santiago de Cuba

Once we reached the venue that we had passed by earlier in the day, we enjoyed a mojito in the covered carport while listening to the vocals of an a capella quartet. Once inside we were able to snag seats in the center on the 4th row.  Wonderful. The show featured a local a capella singing group, a dance group dedicated to the preservation of the African traditions in Cuba, and two bands. It was a great evening. My favorite was a large group of older local couples that performed a traditional dance in an unorganized fashion. So glad they were included.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Musical performers at our Azamazing Evening in Santiago de Cuba.

Some people who had visited the Tropicana thought it would be much the same and a letdown after that very polished show. This was a completely different experience and I am so glad we didn’t miss it. You could never call it polished; some of the individuals just came out and danced for us without any specific choreography, but I enjoyed the show. It really gave us a flavor of the local culture and the importance of dance and music to the people of Santiago de Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sunset in Santiago de Cuba

We will overnight here and head out again on another tour in the morning. We will be celebrating Palm Sunday in Santiago de Cuba.


Natasha and Boris at lunch in Santiago de Cuba.

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Havana: Hemingway and Slightly off the Tourist Path in Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Roaming around Old Havana, Cuba

I foolishly thought I could get all of one day’s worth of touring into one post. Didn’t happen, and so I continue on my tour of Havana, Cuba. Check out yesterday’s post, Havana, Cuba: Crumbling Colonial Architecture, Classic American Cars, and the Warm Cuban People, for a little more history and insight on the city and how my day began.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hotel Nacional de Cuba Bar, a museum to all the famous people who have visited there and our first mojito stop of the day.

About midday our tour group ended up at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba where Sinatra, Hemingway, and Winston Churchill were guests. After passing through the tiled entryway, we went straight to the ground floor bar via the ballroom. The room is almost a museum to the many famous people of all walks of life who visited. In addition to the photographs, there is scattered memorabilia-like a guitar from Peter Frampton-around the room. I toured the grounds a bit before heading back to meet the tour group. I was glad I didn’t know at the time that Cubans are denied entry to the Hotel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Aramburo District of Havana is dedicated to honoring Afro-Cuban traditions.

The rest of the tour will be conducted as a larger group via a bus. Jorge will still be with me. Our first stop is the Aramburo district with street art and a section dedicated to the celebration of the African cultural traditions brought to Cuba. A theatrical group accompanied by women on drums, performed a play based on their stories. Each character represented a deity dedicated to the honoring of very basic facets of life. The main character is the trickster. I loved the color, music, and dance of this area.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Afro-Cuban traditions celebrated in dance in the Aramburo District of Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Afro-Cuban traditions celebrated in dance in the Aramburo District of Havana, Cuba

Finally, we moved on to the Habana Vieja, the colonial historic district of Havana that is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. We left the bus and passed by the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and the Temple where the city originated. Next to it is the Plaza de Armas (Arms), but Jorge likes to call it the Parade Plaza because he thinks the term arms doesn’t sit well with tourists. The plaza is centered by a statute of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, considered initiator of the Cuban wars of independence and father of the country for his symbolic freeing of his six slaves. In addition to the castle, the former American Embassy faces the square (now a bank) as well as the city first baroque building (now a museum).  The Governor made this building his residence and had a wooden street installed in front to diminish the sound of the passing carriages.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Next to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza on the Plaza de Armas, Havana Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the Plaza de Armas, Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Plaza de Armas centered by a statute of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Havana Cuba

This is the part of the tour where they direct us to a souvenir shop that sells only rum, cigars, and coffee. Boris was going to select some rum (I do drink) and cigars (I do not smoke) for us. I had no interest in the store so I walked around the square taking pictures, then Jorge walked me to a small nearby shop where I could get something different I might be interested in. It is run by some of his neighbors. I selected a few small paintings.


Natasha on the Plaza de Armas at the city’s first Baroque building, Palacio de los Capitanes, Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the Plaza de Arms, Havana Cuba

Finally, Jorge led me past the ceramic museum to Plaza de San Francisco the location of a lovely church and fountain. It is directly across from our ship terminal. All of the areas we have seen since entering Habana Vieja have been beautifully restored. We are meeting the rest of the group in the courtyard of a gallery directly across from the entrance to the church. It is time for a second mojito. I don’t know if it was because of the choice of rum, the preparation, or the fact that this is my second mojito on no food since breakfast, but it tasted fabulous.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Gallery courtyard across from the Plaza de San Francisco, Havana, Cuba

Jorge and I enjoyed the lovely setting. He was still convinced I was a professor, so I let him know that I was a retired lawyer who volunteers for the University I attended and a nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities and teaching leadership skills to young women, the Girl Scouts. “Ah,” he said, “you ARE a professor. I will continue to refer to you as doctor.” Natasha was most flattered.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Plaza de San Francisco, Havana, Cuba

Then he returned to the subject of law and we discussed the similarities and differences in our laws and law enforcement, finding more similarities than differences. Jorge and I chose to focus on the ways we are the same. Jorge has been to the United States and said an individual in the sponsoring organization (who he no longer does work for) was impressed by his skill in multiple languages and suggested he might want to stay in the USA and find work. Jorge knew and said that he knew this was illegal. Although he had a longer Visa, he returned to Cuba after only 5 months.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Aramburo District, Havana, Cuba

Talk about a great cultural exchange! The partnership I was concerned about, Jorge and I touring together, guide and tourist, turned out to be special and a wonderful experience. We walked over to the terminal together before parting at the staircase where I would go up to pass through immigration.

Although I had expected to arrive after Boris, I beat him back to the room. I was so hungry and so tempted to go up for a late lunch without him, but I waited. He had gone on the Hemingway tour. The American author, Ernest Hemingway, had a long relationship with Cuba and particularly the area of the country in and around Havana. Boris visited “Francisco de Paula, the town where Hemingway lived and worked for 20 years.” They also visited Finca Vigia, the house where Hemingway lived from mid 1939 to 1960 and in which he “penned some of his greatest works, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and Old Man and the Sea.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Floridita, Havana, Cuba, birthplace of the daiquiri

Hemingway loved to fish and the tour also took them “to the fishing village of Cojimar to see a monument dedicated to Hemingway after his death in 1961.” Back in the city, they stopped for a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio, one of Hemingway’s haunts. They walked by La Floridita and the Hotel Ambos Mundos, but Boris was very disappointed that they didn’t go inside. Together, Boris and I had lunch on the ship at the outdoor café and I suggested since we planned to go back into town that day that we just go to the bar and the hotel in the late afternoon and either return for a late dinner on the ship or eat out. I think Boris was already thinking along the same lines. Jorge had pointed out the hotel and I had seen the bar on the map so I knew where we were going.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The cage elevator at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, Havana, Cuba

I was able to take Boris straight to the hotel. Boris knew that the room Hemingway had lived in for seven years at the Hotel Ambos Mundos had been maintained and was open to visitors. He also knew the room number so we headed up to the 5th floor. Although now fully automated, the hotel has one of those fabulous old cage elevators. They do still employ elevator operators.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hotel Ambos Mundos, Havana, Cuba

We found the room. Although it was within visiting hours, the door was closed and locked. Finally we heard a voice that told us it would be a minute. A docent eventually let us in and we paid the 5cuc fee (each) to tour a very small hotel room with a closet and small bathroom. It was rather strange. The room has a wonderful setting on a corner overlooking the water toward Plaza de Armas. Hemingway’s typewriter, his desk (that could be raised and lowered so you could type while standing), some of his clothing, and other memorabilia from Finca Vigia was in the room. Boris was so excited to be there. It was the only time I had ever toured a hotel room.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hemingway’s Suite at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from the rooftop terrace at Hotel Ambos Mundos, Havana, Cuba.

The shuttered windows were closed and locked, but the docent suggested we check out the 6th floor terrace bar for a similar view. We walked up and found a lovely rooftop terrace with tiled walls and excellent views. It would have been a great place for a drink, but we still had to make it to the Floridita.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Ambos Mundos, Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen Colonial Havana, Cuba

We walked down a semi-renovated pedestrian street to reach the Floridita near the city’s central park. Along the way, we saw lots of outdoor cafes and bars with musicians playing. These venues have no air-conditioning so all had the doors and windows are open so you can enjoy the music without even going inside.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Enjoying the music and street life in colonial Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen Beauty Shop in Habana Vieja, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. La Floridita, Havana, Cuba

La Floridita is a restaurant, but it is the bar that is famous. It was Hemingway’s favorite hangout. They have a life-size bronze statute of him leaning against the bar. There are lots of pictures of Hemingway on the walls, including a large one of him and a young Fidel Castro. We stood at the bar and eventually got seats there. There was a great band playing and we liked the music so much we purchased a CD. The vibe was fantastic. There were locals and tourists alike and the room was so crowded you could barely move through it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Floridita, Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Floridita, Havana, Cuba

La Floridita claims to be the birthplace of the daiquiri. The bartenders were always moving; they just kept making daiquiris and the blenders kept buzzing. It wasn’t my favorite daiquiri, so I tried a pina colada. Oh my, heaven. One daiquiri and two pina coladas (for Natasha) later, the band had finished and the crowd had thinned slightly so Boris suggested we move on.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Coco taxis outside the Floridita, Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Coco taxis in Havana, Cuba

There were lots of people on the street. The corner was also a popular one for cabs, coco taxis (small motorized vehicles made for no more than three guests that are supposed to resemble coconuts), carts, bikes, and classic American cars. We had had enough to drink so we decided dinner was in order. Both of us were tired from a long day, so we headed back to the ship.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Near the Floridita and Central Park in Havana, Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Off the main (renovated) streets in Old Havana Cuba

I suggested trying a different street back. What a difference a block makes! No major renovation on this street, although one building had been demolished. A peak inside showed the interiors had not been renovated and the electric wiring was an after thought. No tourists on this street, but plenty of activity. People were buying food from cart vendors. They was even one selling homemade cupcakes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Peaking inside the colonial buildings in Old Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the street in Old Havana


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In Old Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen Roaming around Old Havana, Cuba

We made our way back to ship, too exhausted for another late night in Havana. We will probably regret it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Roaming around Old Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. From an old ship seen while roaming around Old Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Roaming around Habana Vieja, Cuba

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Havana, Cuba: Crumbling Colonial Architecture, Classic American Cars, and the Warm Cuban People


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Havana, Cuba

One of the United States’ closest southern neighbors, the Republic of Cuba is a small communist nation.  Cuba is an island that sits in the Caribbean Sea bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Its early history is of Spanish Conquest of the native tribes. Spain, England, and even the United States have overseen this land. Americans invested heavily in Cuba and it was their play land. At one time, there was some thought to making Cuba a state of the United States of America. In 1959, a revolution under the leadership of Fidel Castro ousted Cuban President Batista. Castro nationalized the American business holdings in Cuba and established relations with Soviet Russia, the start of the strained relationship between the two countries and the embargo imposed by the United States that still exists today.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Miramar Neighborhood in Havana, Cuba

I want to preface my comments for my international readers. Visiting Cuba is a unique experience for Americans, having long been denied the opportunity to do so by our own government. My comments will be colored by this history. We can now visit the country legally under very specific restrictions.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Havana, Cuba

Havana is the capital of Cuba.   It sits west of center on the northern side of this long, narrow island shaped like a crocodile. Santiago de Cuba was at one time the capital; it is our other Cuban port of call on this cruise. Santiago is on the southern and eastern side of the island.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Apple Stores have a different look in Havana, Cuba

Diego Velazquez founded colonial Havana in 1515. It was named for a local Taino chief. It started as a trading post, but became the most active Spanish port in the 18th century. Its natural harbor had to be defended and the channel where our ship entered is lined with the remains of several Spanish forts. Our ship is docked at the San Francisco Terminal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Our berth in Havana, Cuba, the San Francisco Terminal

Boris and I had breakfast on our balcony today. We are heading out on separate tours.   Boris originally booked us both on the Hemingway Tour, but I wanted one that was more general. Ok, I admit that part of the attraction is that part of my tour takes place in an American classic car. Their American owners abandoned many of these cars-from the 40s and 50s-here when they had to flee the country. Many of these vehicles still have their original parts.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Revolution Square, Havana, Cuba

Boris loves Hemingway’s work. He has gone to many of the locations Hemingway frequented, especially in Paris. His selected tour is perfect for him. If I am lucky, I can talk him into going back to the Floridita this afternoon.


Princess Natasha is going to ride in style through Havana, Cuba

Today we checked in for our tour on the ship; so everyone on the tour is passing through customs and immigration at the same time. It was a much quicker process than last night. We were taken by bus to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Here we were allowed to pick our classic convertible (or “yank tank” as they are called by the locals). I chose a bright yellow 1951 Chevy Delux. I thought of my dad whose proudest bachelor possession was a 1960 white Chevy convertible. It was part of the reason he was able to snag my mom.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Photo of the beautiful tile work in the lobby of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana

Each vehicle has a driver and a guide who sit in the front seat. In my case the driver was Eric who is also the owner of the car. He has an engineering background and maintains the car himself. It is in excellent condition. My guide introduced himself as George. With a puzzled expression I asked if that was the name his mother gave him. He showed me his nametag that identifies him as Jorge, but he gave me the English version. I called him Jorge. Princess Natasha sat in the back seat.


Natasha at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana

Havana is a city of crumbling Colonial architecture and warm people. The government has attempted to retain the colonial facades where possible, but in many cases completely demolished and rebuilt the interiors. This is often the cheaper process. In some parts of the city, the façade is crumbling but the interiors have been renovated because the building is “owned” by several families and no one of those families takes responsibility for the exterior. However, for the most part, the structures are just lived in as they stood with some “make shift” adjustments to provide power. Only 10% of the country enjoys air conditioning.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Miramar Neighborhood, Havana, Cuba

We drove first along the Malecon, the seawall “bench” enjoyed by the Cuban people each evening. We saw a lot of people out there at midnight on a weeknight when we returned from the Tropicana show. The breeze off the water and the socializing are the main attractions.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Havana, Cuba

The city of Havana is divided into 15 districts. We started with the central district with a drive by the balcony from where Castro delivered his famous speeches and the building that houses the enshrined yacht on which Castro returned to Cuba. We were headed to Revolution Square where most of the large political rallies took place.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Balcony in Havana, Cuba from which Fidel Castro delivered many of his famous speeches.

I wasn’t sure about the match between Jorge and I. He stopped talking every time I took a picture, although I told him I was listening. He said he didn’t want me to be distracted. This has disaster written all over it. I take a lot of pictures and Jorge does a lot of talking. I feared our tour might take twice as long as the other vehicles.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cuban Capitol Building, Havana


Photo ©Jean Janssen Bust of Abraham Lincoln in a Cuban Plaza in Havana.

We passed some beautiful colonial buildings with Spanish style interiors that have been restored like the Hotel Inglaterra (Hotel England), the oldest hotel in Cuba, and lovely plazas. We also passed the Capitelio that looks remarkably like the US Capitol Building. It is no surprise that it was built one foot taller than the US Capitol. Jorge was quick to point out a bust of Abraham Lincoln, beloved because he freed the slaves in the United States. The bust sits on a pedestal in one of the plazas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Havana, Cuba

Jorge singled out all the hospitals we passed and the Cathedral. Almost 80% of the population is Roman Catholic; although I didn’t get the sense that the Cubans practice their faith, at least those that grew up under communism. Jorge told me that the churches were never closed as a result of the revolution or the coming of communism. For most of his life, Castro was an atheist and did not enjoy a good relationship with the Cuban priests. However, he would have faced a bigger threat from Rome if he sought to abolish the Catholic Church. Jorge claimed Castro sought to unite the goals of his revolution and the church by claiming they both sought to help the poor people. The first Cathedral was built in Havana in 1777 and the new catholic diocese created in 1787 also covered Florida and Louisiana.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Havana University, Cuba

Established in1728, the University in Havana is one of the oldest in the New World.  Education, even higher education, is free in Cuba if you test into the program. There is one exception. If you want to study foreign languages, you have to pay 20 pesos a month. It did not surprise me that this course of study incurred a cost in a communist country.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Monument dedicated to Jose Marti at Plaza de la Revolution, Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Photo stop at Plaza de la Revolucion on the Classic Car Tour in Havana, Cuba

We passed the university just before reaching Plaza de la Revolucion; we spent about 15 minutes at the plaza. The tall monument, the Jose Marti Memorial, is made of Carrera marble. For a fee, you can take an elevator to the top and enjoy the views. The square was the site of the major political rallies of the revolution. On the exterior of two nearby buildings, artists reimagined the paintings of two revolutionary leaders, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, in metal. These works are several stories high and were for me, the most interesting part of this stop.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana, Cuba


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana, Cuba

When we resumed our ride, Jorge asked me if I was a professor of English. I told him I was not, but he started calling me doctor after that. No more Princess Natasha in the back seat, it was now Doctor Natasha.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Entrance to Havana Cemetery


Photo ©Jean Janssen Entrance to the Chinese Cemetery, Havana, Cuba

We passed by the main cemetery in Havana, with its above-ground tombs. This was one of the places I was disappointed I didn’t get to stop at. Cemeteries are great places for photographers and there are always a lot of stories to be found just by wandering among the graves. We also passed a Chinese cemetery. Chinese men were brought in as workers and intermarried. Although it has been suggested that their population was wiped out, today DNA tests show that 1.5% of the population has Chinese blood.


Photo ©Jean Janssen City Park, Havana, Cuba

Next, we broke off from the rest of the vehicles because Eric said the road was too rough on his car. Instead we rode through an interesting residential neighborhood before reaching a park. Although there was trash along the riverbank, the park itself was beautiful with very old trees covered in hanging vines. Along the river, there were some people and Jorge told me that they were practicing the rituals of the Santeria faith. To appease their Spanish masters, African slaves claimed to have adopted the Catholic faith. Actually they just reimaged their deities giving them names like Mary or Lazarus familiar in the Catholic teachings. The faith is still practiced in Cuba today.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Miramar neighborhood in Havana, Cuba

After leaving the park, we drove through the “exclusive” neighborhood of Miramar. These homes were once jewels and Jorge was impressed that I picked out his two favorites to photograph. Along the boulevard, many of the homes are now foreign embassies.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. American Embassy in Havana, Cuba

Before returning to the hotel, we passed the American Embassy that sits along side the Malecon. In the lot next to it is what looks like a hundred flagpoles with no flags on them densely packed on the lot. The story is that the American Embassy had a scrolling screen that showed news from across the world, no news in particular just current events. In order to block the view of the screen from those traveling along the Malecon, the flagpoles were put up overnight. That is one way to solve a problem.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The American Embassy in Havana Cuba from the back.  To the side you can see a portion of the densely packed flagpoles meant to block the view.

Staffing at the Embassy has been reduced indefinitely due to health attacks.  Only core personnel remain and it is defined as an “unaccompanied post”, meaning assigned staff can not bring family members with them to Cuba.  The investigation into the source of the attacks continues.  Limited staffing means long delays for Cuban nationals trying to get visas to visit the United States.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana

We returned to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba where we started our classic car tour. Time for a mojito!


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Not all those roaming around the Hotel Nacional de Cuba are paying guests. Havana, Cuba

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Cuba: A Tale of Two Currencies


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The headliner show at the Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

Boris is celebrating a milestone birthday and would rather take a trip than celebrate in any other way. He challenged me to come up with a special place that he had never been. I rose to the challenge by selecting a cruise out of Miami to Cuba, a place he had always dreamed of going.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Havana, Cuba

Cuba sits so close to the coast of Florida that the captain’s biggest challenge is to not move the ship too quickly. At this slow pace there is no fear of anything flying off the shelves. The one-hour delay out of Miami-a cargo tanker was in the channel-proved to be no big deal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen The Malecon, Havana, Cuba

I want to preface my comments for my international readers. Visiting Cuba is a unique experience for Americans, having long been denied the opportunity to do so by our own government. My comments will be colored by this history. Of course, many enterprising patriots traveled to the island by simply booking a flight out of Canada or Mexico and asking not to have their passports stamped. I preferred to wait until I could make the trip legally.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Havana, Cuba

Americans have to travel to Cuba through an approved form of cultural exchange, which is one reason we chose the cruise route. The cruise line, in our case Azamara Club Cruises, takes care of those details. To board the ship, you have to fill out a form designating whether you will go on the ship’s excursions, a combination of ship excursions and approved tour company offerings, or self-guided touring. Choosing options 2 or 3 means a lot more paperwork to fill out.


Photo ©Jean Janssen A headliner performer at the Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

Our full first day on board meant a slow crawl to Havana. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy the spring sun and also go to talks on the excursion offerings and the history of Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Old 60s-style shopping mall still in operation in Havana, Cuba

I had read about shopping in Cuba and about the 10% tax on the exchange of American dollars in addition to the currency exchange rate. With Euros, Canadian Dollars, and British Pounds there is no tax. What we found was that it was a steep service charge on the exchange, 13%.  How bad is that? Although we were told the exchange was close to one to one (actually .98 to 1), our $400 only got us 350 cucs (convertible pesos). You cannot secure Cuban currency prior to entering the country. Upon arrival, you visit a Cadeca to make the exchange. This is a country of two currencies. The locals use cup (pesos) while tourists trade in cuc (convertible pesos). One convertible peso is worth about 5 pesos. There is talk in the country that the dual currency system will be eliminated. With a change in the Cuba’s leadership anticipated on April 17, 2018, this may be sooner rather than later.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castillo de la Real Fuerza on Plaza de Armas, Havana, Cuba

Your credit cards are no good in Cuba, so we’ll leave those in the safe in the cabin. Americans are now allowed to bring a limited supply of Cuban cigars and Cuban rum home with them. Boris once purchased Cuban cigars in Mexico and smuggled them in. All went well until about two feet after leaving the immigration officer, when a young Rocky-who had been coached not to say anything about the cigars to the official-announced that Dad was very lucky that he had not been caught. To this day I am convinced that the officer must have chose to ignore the comment of a child and let us go. We were still so close to the US immigration official that there is no way he wouldn’t have heard Rocky.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Classic American Cars along the Malecon, Havana, Cuba

This evening we dock in Havana. It was a scenic ride into the port and it gave us the opportunity to enjoy our balcony. I was on the look out for the classic American cars still found on the island. We sailed along the Malecon, a seawall the locals refer to as the “world’s largest bench”. It is popular spot in the evenings, especially on warm nights when you want to enjoy the cool ocean breezes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

We arrived in port early, but customs officials did not clear the ship until 5:30. There were lots of people ready to head straight ashore. We dressed for our special evening out. Tonight is our show at the historic Tropicana. It will be a late evening. We meet our buses at 8:15 for an 8:30 departure. The doors open at 9 and the show starts at 10 pm. We made sure we got to the dining right at 6 pm when the doors opened. Lots of other people had the same idea. There are 7 buses going to the Tropicana tonight, by far the evening’s most popular excursion.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Havana, Cuba

The ship’s excursion guide told us that we could go ashore at 8 pm,  clear customs, exchange cash, and still have time to make it to the bus at 8:15. We decided to give ourselves an extra 15 minutes and left the ship at 7:45. I am so glad we did. The lines at immigration were long and slow. There were two ships at the pier so everyone on the Azamara Quest was trying to get off and others were trying to return to their ship. It was our first trip through Cuban immigration and customs. We purchased the Visa in Miami at the terminal when we checked in. It’s a serious process; when your picture is taken they tell you not to smile. It also took a long time. Fortunately, the money exchange was quick and we made it to the bus right at 8:15. We were on bus 3 of 7.


Photo ©Jean Janssen The headliner show at the Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

Our guide Jaime told us it was just luck of the draw on where our seats would be in the 1000-seat open-air theater that is the historic Tropicana. The Tropicana opened in 1939. They do have an indoor theater that seats 600 and is used when it rains. Jamie told us that it rarely rains. We arrived just before the opening time at 9 and I don’t know how he did it, but we were dead center in the first row of tables next to the stage. I might have cropped out a few of the heads that got in the way, but none of the pictures were shot with the zoom lens; we were just that close.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Performers at the Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

As we entered, women were given a carnation and men were given a cigar. You also paid a fee if you wanted to use a camera (5 cuc), tablet (10 cuc), or video camera (15 cuc). Our package includes a welcome glass of sparkling wine served when the show starts, a bottle of rum to be shared by 4 people, a mixer (a small bottle of coke), and a snack (peanuts and a wrapped piece of candy). You could purchase additional drinks or food. Since we still had an hour before the show started, Boris and I each ordered the specialty daiquiri. The daiquiri was invented in Cuba.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Terminals at the port in Havana, Cuba. Our pilot boat led us in to the San Francisco Terminal

We spent the time getting to know the other people at our table. There was an older, single widow from San Francisco of Indian decent and we talked a little about the Bollywood show tradition. She had also been to the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The other two couples were from Tennessee and Arizona. The single remaining seat was filled near show time with a man from Argentina who spoke no English. Of course, he could understand the show; it was sung entirely in Spanish.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Havana, Cuba

While we waited, we drank the very disappointing daiquiris (definitely not sweet and I couldn’t even taste the rum or vitamin R as Jamie called it) and got rained on. It was just a little drizzle and I was more worried about my camera than anything else. The guides kept running around telling us not to worry, that it wouldn’t really rain. It was fine by show time.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Headliner performers at the Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

The show ran continuously for 1 hour and 40 minutes. There were 112 dancers and over 10 singers. It is a tough life for the performers. They arrive at 3 pm each day. The first show is over just before midnight and then after an intermission there is a late show. They perform 7 days a week. The advantage is the pay, 400-600 pesos a month. That may not sound like much, but a Cuban doctor only makes 200 pesos a month. Their career is over by age 30-at least in the case of the dancers-but most don’t make it that long. 90% of the dancers are age 18-20.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Headliner at the Tropicana, Cuba

There is a main stage, a high platform, mid platforms on each side and staircases. There are a few remote stages and a separate wall with three levels for additional performers. They also come out into the audience.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Headliner performers at the Tropicana, Cuba

Talk about over the top! Talk about sensory overload! There are incredible costumes and seriously tall headpieces. Nothing is modest and these people are in terrific shape. I have never seen so many feathers (or G-strings). Jamie called it Vegas on steroids.


Photo ©Jean Janssen The headliner performance at the Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

The dancing was beyond anything I have seen. Although I don’t speak Spanish, the singers conveyed the emotion of the music so well, it didn’t matter. At one point, Opera Singers came out in white tuxedos and gowns and entertained us. This was the only part of the show not sung in Spanish; it was sung in Italian. It was such a dramatic contrast to the rest of the show, but somehow it worked.


Photo ©Jean Janssen The Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

I loved it! I loved it all!


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Old Havana, Cuba

I went because of the historic significance, but will remember it for the entertainment. The shows are done each day for tourists; the locals could never afford to go there. Jamie said that he has seen the show hundreds of times as a guide and it never gets old. There are some remote locations where locals have a chance to see this type of entertainment.   Did I say I loved it? I loved it all.


Photo @Jean Janssen. Havana, Cuba

Coming back to the ship, there were once again horrible lines at immigration in the hot terminal. It was a late night, but totally worth the lack of sleep. Welcome to Havana, Boris; Welcome to Cuba, Natasha.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Back on board after the Tropicana show in Havana, Cuba

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