Cuba!

The streets are alive with music! It’s everywhere, from the bands playing in cafes, the busker with his saxophone on a stoop to the radio playing in someone’s car. You cannot escape the musical beat that pumps its way around Cuba. This is an island full of life, soul and music, and you just do not want to leave.

Music everywhere!

Music everywhere!

Walking around Old Havana is like walking around a time capsule, the architecture, and the cobbled streets and of course the 50’s cars. It’s a city that exudes life. With the streets being narrow you find very few cars in and around the old squares which adds a tranquility to your wandering. One thing I found surprising about Havana and Cuba in general is their attitude to tourists, they are friendly and will ask you to look in their shop as you pass but there is no hassle, life just goes on in Havana. You would never think you are in one of the most visited destinations in the world. The streets are filled with people going about their business; in fact we are probably an inconvenience to them with tour groups filing through on walking tours. It’s by far one of the most relax capital cities I have ever visited.

The Capitol Building in Havana

The Capitol Building in Havana

With such architectural variety, from the colonial to the art deco you could wander around for days taking everything in. The amazing thing I found about Havana is, if a city was protected by UNESCO it could almost feel a bit Disney – everything a little too bright and shiny – but it doesn’t. The buildings are crumbling around you, a huge amount of restoration is going on, but people are still living in these buildings and life goes on. This is one of the contradictory things about Cuba and one of things that left me asking more questions. The Old City is protected and there is a huge amount of preservation going on but you have so many people living in these cramped buildings. Yes they are building new housing outside the historic centre but then you are in the suburbs and have to travel in (on highly unreliable public transport). Having all this amazing architecture protected is a privilege and it’s a reason tourist’s love Havana but with houses in need of dire repair how good is it for the actual Cuban people when they are being relocated out of their homes.

The colourful streets of Havana

The colourful streets of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

IMG_6034Havana is a city with so much to see and take in that it can be hard to leave, but leave you must as there is still so much of this country to see. Setting out we headed to Las Terrazas, a community and nature reserve named a biosphere reserve in 1985 by UNESCO. It’s a beautiful place. This community tries to be as self-sustaining as possible and was a dream of Castro’s soon after the revolution when he ordered a reforestation programme due to the heavy deforestation that had been taking place over the centuries. It’s like a small paradise in a bubble, the standard of living here is higher than in much of Cuba but you cannot simply move to Las Terrazas, there is a waiting list as they do not want to over populate the area. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by a community working together and by using what they have around them to attract visitors it creates an income for the community. I would certainly not hesitate going back and staying within the community for a short time in their hotel, the Hotel Mako. Leaving the lush green forests we headed further west to the Vinales valley and its stunning karst landscape which is encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome like limestone outcrops (mogotes). The moment you descend into the valley and you get your first view of the mogotes you want to whip out your camera and start taking photos, but resist you must because there will be plenty of opportunity for photos in this photogenic landscape. With much of the land being fertile this is a key tobacco growing region, but also home to more than one organic farm that is striving to promote vegetables and growing your own, something Cubans need to take on board because eating their greens is something they are not doing. If more people grew their own food then they wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on rationing as they would be able to supplement their food much more easily, but with a diet focused on rice, beans and meat getting them to eat their greens may be a long term project for the government. In fact the food at one of these organic farms was the best food I had the entire time we had in Cuba, farm to table in a matter of hours!

Vinales doesn't have a bad angle

Vinales doesn’t have a bad angle

The stunning Vinales

The stunning Vinales

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A beautiful organic farm

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

Vinales is one of those places I could have quite happily meandered around for a few days but alas our time there was short and having done a cave tour and tobacco farm visit we had to leave after 2 nights. With the quaint little town full of paladars to try this is definitely somewhere to take your time, rent a bike, go for a walk, explore the valley do not rush it. With the forests and valleys done we headed towards the coast and the colonial town of Cienfuegos, the only town in Cuba to have been settled by French colonists. The long roads, colonnaded walk ways and squares this is a chilled out town. The brightly coloured buildings entice you to explore.

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

From Cienfuegos it’s the perfect opportunity to head into the mountains and to Topes de Collantes National Park. Here you are overwhelmed by the views you get climbing high into the mountains to the dense forest that cover these mountains. There is an abundance of flora and fauna and the birds, oh the birds, if you like birds this is the place to come and look. As someone who isn’t too bothered by twitching, having hummingbirds flutter around you is just breath taking, stunning miniature creatures.

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Disappointingly we had to leave being this landscape and head down to the coast and the beautiful town of Trinidad. This sleepy colonial down a short drive from white sand beaches is an ideal place to settle down for a couple of days. Take in the colourful cobbled streets, enjoy the delicious food of the paladars and take your book down to calm crystal waters of the Caribbean. Trinidad is an ideal place to relax and take in everything you have experienced in Cuba so far.

The colonial square of Trinidad

The colonial square of Trinidad

Cuba

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

IMG_6289Before heading back to the happening city of Havana we headed to Santa Clara, the home of Che. His memorial and mausoleum is the main point for passing through. It dominates. It certainly made me wonder what they have planned for when Fidel dies. It certainly makes you think about the part he played in the revolution, his drive and passions for the communist and socialist movements. He is much more than just a face on a t-shirt that has become a bit of a fashion statement. This is a man who is an idol, a founder of modern Cuba, the respect for this man can be felt as you enter his mausoleum and walk around his memorial. It’s certainly thought provoking. Cuba

The monumental Che

The monumental Che

Arriving back into Havana I scrambled to fit in the last bits of sightseeing but just didn’t have enough time. There are still lots of galleries to explore, streets to wander and bars to try out. Cuba is a country that just keeps on giving, the friendliness of its people, its culture, and the way it makes you think about your perceived thoughts about its politics. There are so many reasons to return to Cuba. I have so many unanswered questions, and things will only keep changing and evolving there, especially if the continuing talks with the USA hold. Hopefully things will not change too quickly for the sake of the people and the islands innocence. Cuba

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Vintage Car Boot!

Now there is the grand old British tradition of car boot sales on a Sunday morning. I have no idea where this tradition comes from or how it’s still going but it is. For anyone who has never been to a car boot sale, the basics are, you rock up in your car with all the stuff you no longer want, you get a trestle table, or literally open your car boot and pop your stuff out to sell…. Yes it’s that simple. They happen on fields all over the UK and on occasion after rifling through all the crap you can find a couple of bargains!

So when I heard there was going to be a Vintage car boot sale on the delightfully quirky South Bank, I just had to go. I haven’t been to a car boot in years and the novelty of vintage stuff was certainly appealing. The Vintage car boot sale also had another USP…. The vintage wares were being sold out of vintage cars, oh yes!

Vintage Car Boot Sale

Arriving at the South Bank on a glorious autumnal sunny day, as you headed to the entrance to the car boot (entrance was £3 but it was worth it to see all the beautiful cars) it’s lined with vintage automobiles. I am not going to pretend to know a thing about cars, hell I do not even drive, but I can certainly appreciate the design and beauty of some of these cars, they just instantly take you back to a more glamorous era, you want to jump into one of them and be whisked off by Don Draper. Heading into the car boot itself, it was full of stunning vintage cars, some just for display and others full of vintage clothing and articles to be bought.

Vintage Car Boot Sale

Lady Penelope's I presume?

Lady Penelope’s I presume?

There were lots of people taking the vintage theme very seriously, which was great to see, and lots of the stuff on sale. For me I wanted something for the house, I have gotten quite into collecting random pieces ( not that I have anywhere to put them) but as I get more and more into my blog and read more and more of other blogs, I want to expand my collection of plates and platters, so that was what I was looking for. About half way round we came across a stall selling tea sets… yes! There were full tea sets or individual cups, saucers and cake plate… these were ideal, just what I wanted. I could have quite happily bought a full tea set for 4 or 6 but I was controlled and just got myself a dainty little china cup which I now proudly drink out of and pretend to be lady!

its so mini!

its so mini!

so many different things on sale

so many different things on sale

so much china....

so much china….

The whole venue was buzzing, luckily the weather held. There was a big old London bus pumping out music from the DJ decks, on the other side of the car park was an array of street food sellers, some playing their own music so your ears were constantly trying to differentiate which tune was coming from where. Having purchased my lovely china cup set … shopping is hungry work…. We headed over to the street food and grabbed a massive hot dog. But there were so many choices on offer it was hard to pick… it was tempting to grab a cocktail but sense prevailed and we got ice cream instead!

there was a lot of random stuff

there was a lot of random stuff

.... and creepy stuff!

…. and creepy stuff!

The Vintage car boot sale was a great bit of novelty fun to be had on a Saturday afternoon. As we left there was still a queue of people trying to get in and the car park was full. Seeing all the vintage cars in such great condition plus the opportunity to buy some random vintage stuff was great fun. If it’s on again next year I will most likely swing on by!