Old Havana

Monday 8 June, 2015

After we enjoyed our final Breakfast in Marte’s spectacular apartment, Susie finished reading a novel that she had selected from a small library that Marte’s previous guests had left behind. When the last page had been turned we ventured onto the grid of Vedado and made our way back to the bar called Fresa y Chocolat. This time the poster shop was open, but there was also an art exhibition on which turned out to be more interesting, so we spent most of our time viewing the prints and sculptures in the gallery space adjacent to the shop.

As midday drew near, we walked back to Marte’s apartment via a different route so as to maximise our exposure to the local architecture. In hindsight, we should have dedicated a day to architectural photography: there are some intriguing and unusual buildings from the 1950s and 1960s that exemplify fashionable design from those decades.

We retrieved our luggage from the apartment and hailed a taxi to take us to the Old City. When we arrived at the casa, we rang the doorbell and someone lowered a key on a rope from the second-story balcony so that we could let ourselves in. It was not much fun lugging our newly-acquired suitcase up the narrow steps. The casa in La Ciudad Vieja was run more like a like a hostel than a casa particular, and the room was viewless, so we spent little time there.

We promptly set out for the plaza with the cathedral, and booked a table at paladar Dona Eutimio for our last night in Havana. We also paid a visit to the chocolate “museum” and made a few purchases. We had developed a taste for Baracoa’s famous export.

Old Havana’s lop-sided cathedral

Our casa was not far from Calle Aguacate. A friend of Glynis and Johnny had recommended a restaurant there called Ivan Justo. We eventually located it and, after taking a quick look at the decor upstairs, we booked a table for the evening.

When the worst of the heat had subsided, we went out exploring parts of the old city which we had not yet traversed. Susie was particularly interested in La Calle Mercaderes, which had several small art galleries. At the precise hour of “beer o’clock” we chanced on a busy bar attached to a beer factory in the corner of a plaza. The amber liquid could be ordered by the pint glass or in huge, chilled carafes that sat on the tables looking like the world’s biggest bongs. We opted for a couple of pints and were pleasantly surprised.

Beer factory, Havana Vieja

A large band was crammed onto a patio outside the bar, and as usual the music was excellent. A drunk man conducted the musicians from the edge of the patio. He looked like he had been at the bar far too long—possibly by several years. Everyone politely ignored him, including the waiters who had to step around him as they shuttled between the bar and the tables that spread out into the plaza, taking and filling orders for the cool ambrosia. In Australia, he would have been frogmarched out of the plaza by a bouncer or capsicum-sprayed by a posse of jackbooted cops and then tossed into the back of a paddy wagon. But this was Havana, where even annoying drunk people are tolerated with grace.

As the evening gradually poured into the night, we re-traced our steps to Aguacate and took a table in Ivan Justo. It was decorated in 1930s style and decked out with nostalgic photographs of famous musicians from yesteryear. We had dressed up for the occasion as best we could. Susie wore something exotic with tassels that she had excavated from Clare’s suitcase. For nearly six weeks she had been wearing the same three cotton dresses, and she was enjoying the change of couture.

I ordered a rabbit dish and Susie took a chance on some seafood, both of which were good; but the bill was outlandishly expensive compared to every other meal we’d had in Cuba.

When we returned to the casa, we took the remains of a bottle of Santiago rum up onto the roof with some limes, and sipped while we watched the light shimmer on the water underneath the stone walls of the Spanish fort.

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