Hotel Nacional de Cuba
At the nearby Hotel Nacional, all leafy lawns and shade, a tranquil antidote to the glare of the modern Habana Libre where we whiled away a few afternoons, they offered to take the ham out of the pre made ham and cheese sandwiches when they had run out of the cheese ones. I declined. .The fruit at breakfast is amazing but salads at dinner in various restaurants were usually made up of shredded cabbage or pickled cabbage. The delicious vegetables many of which are grown in organic urban gardens from the markets dont seem to be served to tourists who can pay for expensive meat. Following Cuba’s 1959 revolution and the United States implementing the biggest trade embargo in history the Soviet bloc was Cuba’s largest trade partner to the tune of 85%. Following the collapse of Soviet Union in 1989 Cuba could no longer import the chemicals it had been using in agriculture resulting in the world’s largest conversion from ‘traditional’ chemical led farming to organic farming.
My advice would be to take a four peso taxi from Vedado or Habana Vieja or make an afternoon of it and take a long walk along the famous Malecon. You may have to cross the road sometimes to avoid the waves that crash onto the pavement but you can see the stunning but crumbling architecture along this iconic sea road and recall scenes from the film Our Man in Havana. Fidel allowed the 1959 to be filmed in Cuba but complained that the brutality of Batista’s regime was not accurately depicted. Greene commented ‘Alas, the book did me little good with the new rulers in Havana. In poking fun at the British Secret Service, I had minimized the terror of Batista’s rule. I had not wanted too black a background for a light-hearted comedy, but those who suffered during the years of dictatorship could hardly be expected to appreciate that my real subject was the absurdity of the British agent and not the justice of a revolution.’
The big white hunter and Nobel prize winner Ernest Hemingway is up there along with Fidel and Ernesto on Havana’s A list of tourist attractions. Hordes of visitors flock to his house in the suburbs more than fifty years after his death by his own hand in 1961. In fine weather they can see his typewriter where he always stood to write, his drinks cabinet, his bed and his trophies. Bequeathed by him to be used as an a educational centre it was reopened as a museum in 2007 when it became apparent that nothing would be preserved unless it was protected. On fine days visitors can peer in through windows that are closed during inclement weather. It’s sprawling but not flamboyant and a sanctuary for the descendants of his many beloved cats and dogs for which there is a touching cemetery.