Havana did not feel like a capital city. Aside from the Capitol building and certain hotels, it was not particularly modern. Even the most central buildings were crumbling at the edges. The city was stacked: most shops had housing on top that would stretch to four or five stories high. It felt like an overgrown, sprawling village, home to over two million people.
Our time in Havana was split, with a day and night at each end of our tour. The old town is mostly pedestrians and bike taxis. It extends down to the water, from which there is an underground tunnel to the fortress across the bay. The most common way to visit the fortress is by hiring a vintage car and riding in style. Where to find a vintage car? Any old corner on any street with cars. They are literally everywhere and the colours were captivating. I was mesmerised each time I saw these cars in mass. It’s going to be weird going back to countries where cars like this are no longer the norm. I also think I’ve probably never seen so many broken down cars on the sides of highways, so maybe that’s why!
Throughout our time in Cuba we stayed in homestays. Sometimes our hosts could speak a few words of English, but usually we were limited to thank yous and apologies for not speaking their language better. Each homestay we stayed at would provide us with breakfast. This was usually an extensive spread of an omelette, pancakes, a plate of fruit and usually some ham, cheese and bread which we would save for later.
In Havana we stayed near the Prado: a shady boulevard with a pedestrian island running through the middle. There we witnessed so many artists at work: interesting crafts as well as some incredible paintings. The Cuban artists have it easy: colourful buildings and colourful cars make for ideal subjects! We were also near to waterfront, which made for a pleasant stroll.
An artistic area that is a short drive from the city centre is to Fusterlandia. This was a quirky neighbourhood, full of mosaics. The art comprised the walls, rooms, roofs and sculptures in all the nearby buildings and it was pretty amazing to walk through. It was super colourful, and after watching my mum mosaic for years, I knew that it must have taken a seriously long time to accomplish all this.
I don’t think more than a few days in Havana is necessary. We could probably have done with another day to visit a few more of the local spots but two days was more than enough to wander the streets of the old town and get a feel for what the Cubans must consider metropolitan.