Art Deco tour of Havana

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

After another fortifying breakfast on Alberto’s balcony, we set out to meet up with two friends from Sydney, Glynis and Johnny, who were passing through Havana at the same time we were there. Johnny had booked an Art Deco tour of Havana in a classic car for the four us before he left Sydney, so we had all been looking forward to this for some months.

We met in a nearby street that looked much like the rest of Centro: run-down, densely packed, and full of life. We were invited inside the casa and were surprised to find that it was decorated in early C20th style. The house had been in the family for 80 years and everything was immaculately preserved and polished. The host of the Casa showed us some prized items in his art deco collection and invited us to sit down for a cup of tea or coffee while we waited for the transport to arrive.

Art Deco interior, Centro District, Havana
Art Deco interior, Centro District, Havana

When we re-emerged onto the street there was a cherry-red ’55 Chevy waiting for us with a sultry driver and a chatty Argentine tour guide. For the rest of the morning they shunted us around Havana from one Art Deco delight to another.

The first was the Teatro America, which was only a block up the street from where we were staying. Other treats included the Bacardi Building, the López Serrano Building, and the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. At each of the attractions we got out of the car and the tour guide pointed out some of the finer details of the architecture and design. Half the fun, however, was gadding around Havana, crammed into the enormous, noisy car, watching the street life from the street.

After the tour we went up to the roof of the Hotel Inglaterra where we enjoyed a beer and a lunch which consisted of ropa vieja for three of us, and an octopus salad that we dubbed The Kraken.

After lunch we walked back through Ciudad Vieja and checked out the hotel where Glynis and Johnny were staying. I spied an internet terminal next to the check-in desk and resumed out ongoing effort to wrangle tickets on a domestic flight to Baracoa. Afterwards we visited the local chocolate factory, where dark, rich chocolate from the factory in Baracoa was fashioned into wicked, elaborate treats. Half the fun was eating the display with your eyes before choosing three or four creations to smuggle back to the casa.

When we arrived back at the casa in Centro, we found that there had been a misunderstanding about when our booking was to end. This was resolved amicably, however, when Alberto fixed us up with a different host in the same building.

We re-located our belongings to our new lodgings, and then walked to a bar called Prado 12 near the end of the Malecón where we enjoyed a beer, a Cuba libre, a mojito and some great ceviche. Our waiter was a charming man called Norje who was happy to chat to us. It was the low season and business was slow.

In the late evening, we walked back to Centro along the Malecón, stopping to sit on the seawall and gaze out over the sea among cheerful drunks, musicians, and lovers buried in each other’s faces.

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