Subject: Cuba (Long)
Hi everyone, Bob and I have just returned from Cuba and, as we had help from a number of Ziners with our planning, we'd like to share a few of our impressions. We loved Havana and found our 3 days there to be too short.Had we had longer, we would have taken tours to Trinidad and Santiago- we've heard positive comments about both. The architecture in Havana is amazing in a decaying sort of way. There's restoration in progress but it's very slow and mostly concentrated in Old Havana. We stayed at the Hotel Nacional and were so glad that we did. (Although we met a couple who were staying at a Casa Particular- Similar to a B & B- that was run by a translator and they felt they had made the right choice, also!). The Nacional sits on a bluff overlooking the boardwalk and is filled with atmosphere.The public rooms have been restored to the period of the 1930's when the hotel was built and much of the original tiling and mahogony ceilings is still in place. The outdoor areas are spacious and we loved sitting around enjoying a beer and a sandwich and talking to guests from all over the world. Our room was large, clean and everything worked but was a bit drab. The buffet breakfast inclued in the room rate was excellent. Cheese, meats, fresh eggs, breads, yogurt, fruit (why is the fruit in Cuba tasteless?) and certainly different to the cold spaghetti and bread served to Ziner Gail when she was there a few years ago!! We had 3 very good meals. On the first night, we hit the guide books and chose cafe la Mina on the Plaza de Armas. Had very fresh fish and a nice glass of wine and enjoyed the musicians . Next time, on a ziner recommendation, we tried another Old Havana restaurant - fish again, but good. We did't feel the meat looked very appealing in Havana! and our 3rd choice, was an Italian place for lunch. We were trying to find shade and the waiter simply picked up our table and found a shady spot on the sidewalk - cant't get better service than that. We moved to Varadero after Havana. The warm, warm water and the gorgeous beach were wonderful but we didn't find our hotel to be particularly Cuban Unfortunately we had tired ourselves out in Havana and did't have the energy to go on any of the great sounding tours that were offered.

We really woudn't advise anyone to try to see both places in one week.

Throughout our trip and perhaps especially in Havana, we found the Cuban people went out of their way to be helpful. Those working in the tourist industry hit a nice balance of giving service without being obsequious. Perhaps because we were travelling on our own, we didn't hear any propaganda although our questions regarding how the system works were never really answered. In Havana there were people begging for Dollars but a gentle sorry sent them away. We did try to be quite generous with those that helped us. It cannot be easy to be a Cuban at this time.

We certainly hope to return one day and see other parts of the island. I'd love to help anyone else who's thinking of making this trip. Best regards to all Judy, Abbotsford BC Canada.