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Dorothy & Don Gagnon - Vacation in Havana, Cuba (See Photos in Our Album)
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The Silver Airways Reservation Agents took extra good care of us seeing that Don was a former Eastern employee. We were quickly checked in on our standby passes, and given our seat assignment and a Visa to fill in (cost of $75.00 each) and then quickly sent to U. S. Customs to make our flight. Next we had to fill in an Affadavit at the Ticket Counter needed for Cuban Travelers, otherwise you couldn’t board.
enough we went down the jetway through doors but instead of going into
the plane, it lead outside
to a roped area on the tarmac, and followed into a waiting shuttle. It
was windy as usual and not a good hair day! Our flight on Silver
Airways was a prop plane and not
the best way to travel, however, it was only an hour 40 minutes flight.
a good deal of turbulence that could be
felt quite a bit and asked to remain seated with seat belts, which
waited in Cuban Customs filling out another form then onto another room
for a luggage check again. However, we were stopped
by a medical nurse to fill out a
hospital record before being allowed to leave at a cost of $25.00 each.
The Cuban terminal was quite old but up to date. We changed our
American dollar currency into Pesos as American Cash/Credit cards were
in Cuba. The American dollar was worth
$.87 cents but when we planned this trip originally, it was worth $1.34.
Outside the Terminal were 25-30 cab drivers all asking to drive us and we finally secured one for the 2-hour drive from Varadero, Cuba to our Havana Hotel, El Bosque. Check-in was quick so we took the elevator up to our room on the 2nd floor, and unloaded the luggage. We cleaned up for dinner and as I set up the Converter plug for cell/tablet charging, we lost electricity and had to get service personnel to restore. Our hotel was 4 star rated, but the marble floors and tiles were very old. Architecture was beautiful. We did have a king size bed even though they advertised 2 double beds. The room was very nice and had a small balcony overlooking a Nature forest. We had plenty of hot water and clean towels etc. I had read reviews that sometimes you were lucky to have hot water and some folks actually had none for the entire week they were there. So we considered ourselves very lucky.
The wait staff was super, and most spoke some broken English and enough for us to get by without a problem and ordering our dinner from their menu (which was Cuban with an English translation on the menu) was not a problem. Cuban dinner was served with a flair, and delicious and inexpensive.
The next morning, a full Continental breakfast and off to our previously arranged 3-hour tour of old Havana, Cuba. I had researched on the Internet and found Cuba Irresistible Tours with high reviews of our guide, Ary, and he was exceptionally knowledgeable, very kind, and courteous. The weather was beautiful the entire vacation.
We learned so much of the beginning of Cuban from Ary as he guided us through the original Havana
and related the story of the Spanish conquistador, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar who first sited Havana
in 1515. The area was renamed in 1519 as
San Cristóbal de La Habana. This name came from the patron saint of travelers San
Cristobal, although some say it is a derivative of Christopher Columbus. Unfortunately,
four years later the settlers moved to the present site of Habana Vieja (Old
Havana) on the west coast to the channel leading into the harbor. Although the
capital of Spanish Cuba was initially Santiago de Cuba at the eastern end of
the south coast of Cuba, it was transferred to Havana in 1592.
The first industry of Cuba was panning for gold. The Spanish
war ships arrived and took the natives prisoners, and had natives pan enough
gold to keep the Spanish pursuing it for several years before giving it up in
1547. A Spanish settler, Hernan Cortéz, left for Mexico taking with him the
stock of gold. Later Havana became a key port for ships traveling between Spain
and New Spain as the ships needed fresh water, dried meat, leather and wood for
The climate of Cuba only allowed growing “casabe” which is made from a
flour ground from the roots of the yucca plant and depended upon the rain to
keep it watered which they caught and stored in cisterns.
in 1550, Havana authorities brought in
fresh water from the Almendares River and dug a canal (zanja) but money
was an issue so the King of Spain authorized an anchoring
fee to discourage some ships from stopping at Havana. The economy
deteriorated and in 1562 the anchoring
fee was rescinded and taxes were imposed upon Havana residents. The
completed in 1592 and fully paid by
Havana now was under siege by Pirates and the
fleets carrying treasure from the Americas to Spain rendezvoused at Havana to
travel in convoys across the Atlantic. As a result of this Havana was the
target of French, English and Dutch marauders. Pirates began attacking Havana
and in 1537 it was captured. In 1555 the famous French pirate Jacques de Sores
captured the city of Santiago de Cuba in the east. He demanded a ransom that
the residents could not pay so he burned their homes. Later he went to the countryside
and captured landowners and slaves and Sores had them hung. A dedicated place in the Plaza was on our tour to see.
The Spanish decided that
given the key role played by Havana in the transporting of gold and silver that
they should build fortifications and a city wall to protect Havana. It was
started in 1558 and the fort was called
El Castillo de la Real Fuerza (The Castle of Royal Might) and completed in
1577. In 1589 King Philip of Spain ordered the
building of two forts at the entrance to the harbor called The Castle of Saint
Salvador of the Point and The Castle of
the Three Kings of the Cliff, that one which popularly is known as El Morro. Their
construction required financing and they began to tax shipping.
We were toured through the
Nacionale Hotel where the battle of Cuba and Spain took place. We saw massive cannons that were
entrenched and absolutely enormous. We also toured the bunker showing written
banners of the original conflict between American and Cuba over the Russian
missiles entering Cuba. We were then escorted by
taxi to the next El Morro fort where we saw the Russian missiles, planes and
cannons that were going to be used against the Americans during that conflict.
The last of our tour was up to see the enormous tall and beautiful statue of
San Cristobal overlooking the harbor.
Christmas Day we went to the Nacional Hotel in Old Havana which is gorgeous and though expensive rooms, the restaurant was inexpensive compared to U. S. 5-star restaurants, and we were quite surprised. Fabulous dinner all the way around at The Aguliar Restaurant. This exquisite spot is named after the Havana defender Don Luis Aguliar who forced the British back from the bluff now occupied by the hotel during their invasion in the 18th century. Perhaps the most elegant restaurant in town, its finely crafted ceiling, beautiful vases and hanging lamps are testimony to the fine design of this exceptional setting. Our Christmas dinner was great. Just a tremendous visit of old historic Havana.
The next day, we had another free full breakfast, and left Havana, Cuba after having such a wonderful 4-day vacation. We hired the same driver, and he took us for the 2-hour drive to the Varadero Airport. Once there, the airport was packed and we received notice that our plane was delayed in take off due to the many holiday travelers. Canadian vacations north were cancelled and some delayed due to weather.
we boarded, it was a 1-hour flight to Ft. Lauderdale. We had a 3-hour
wait in customs though, but as we expected, due to the threats on our
country in the past. We have all learned that patience is a virtue and
we must be patient to allow security to do their job.
visit to Cuba, such a beautiful country with very kind and friendly
Cuban people to make our memories of Cuba a great one. But remember... don't forget to Exchange your Cuban money at the Cuban airport before departing for the U. S. You cannot exchange Cuban currency here in the U.S. or you will lose it as we did and are stuck with the Cuban currency.