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Havana vintage car heaven

March 9, 2012

The opened topped 1950’s style car, as recommended by the exquisite Dawn Howard the Roquefort Informer was indeed the perfect way in which to become acquainted with Havana on the first full day of being in Cuba. I took a picture of our transport, a 1956 Chevy Bel Air but with then internet being unkind on occasions, I am uncertain whether I shall be able to publish it. The orientation was successful in that I now know where get a mohito, where to get a daiquiri, from where to buy cigars and where to eat, but let me start at the beginning.

It was as you will know a tough decision to eschew my work for Currencies Direct for a few days, indeed it is impossible for me to put it completely out of my mind so good is their service, even if you only have comparatively small amounts of foreign exchange to move around, but I have made a promise to myself not to mention this whilst in Cuba so I will not.

The night before last we had arrived in Havana discourtesy of a very dry and unimpressive Virgin Atlantic flight when they ran out wine a full seven hours still to go forcing us to purchase several bottles of champagne to keep body and soul together. I had to intercept Slash And Burn Thornton Allan, still a bit punchy from his altercation with a handful of security guards at Nice airport the day before, from risking arrest by “discussing” this shortfall with the cabin crew by diverting his anger into calling Sir Richard Branson (with whom he is slightly acquainted) to demonstrate with him. He was finally “headed off at the pass” as I think our American cousins call it by a combination of my reasoning and one look from his steely eyed goddess of a wife Lisa.

view from the pool of Hotel Saratoga, Havana

So yesterday, we boarded the ancient battered worn out but still charming (a bit like me?) open topped red Chevy, a government owned taxi with, as our driver told us with 2 million kilometres on the clock to explore the city, and what a city. The 50’s film set here is a living thing. The plethora of fascinating and in many cases utterly decrepit vehicles are everywhere, a symptom of the American embargo which has been in force for nearly 50 years. The whole place is so much better kept than many other 3rd world destinations I have visited, sand part from being famous for cigars, it is where both the mohito and the daiquiri were invented and Ernest Hemingway seems to have been involved in both. It seemed important to me to sample some of both at the seat of their invention so we started with monitor in Bodegito Del Medico after a visit to a flea Market left me feeling unaccountably thirsty. Our driver was very informative, even pointing out what he called a hotel with free food, drink and beds, and supplying a free if rather rough massage. He was referring to the police station.

After lunch at one of the charming restaurants in the city, in a fantastic vast old colonial building which once housed a printing press, the otel swimming pool called to me and weakly I succumbed to a couple of beers on the 8th floor of the splendid Hotel Saratoga, our home for the next few days.

Dinner was taken at La Floridita the home of the daiquiri where this particular invention was tested thoroughly and repeatedly by our party to the extent that “Slash and Burn” became “Crash and Burn” during the evening, retiring hurt well before midnight.

Astonishingly, we have been here less than 36 hours but have crammed in such a lot, including a brief visit to the Romeo And Juliet cigar factory, but just as rust never sleeps, nor shall we, so a full day awaits us.

Chris France

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