Archive for the ‘Havana’ Category

Farewell, Havana

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As my Adventure in Cuba comes to a close, it’s time to say farewell to Havana… at least for now.  It’s been a great first visit, filled with new experiences and some brief glimpses into a city and culture which most Americans have not seen.  And what’s a better way to say “adios” than with a nice, cold Dos Equis beer, served aboard Mexicana Flight 326 from Havana International Airport to Cancun, Mexico.

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Photos taken: 7/19/09

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In Cojimar

The Adventure in Cuba continues with a brief trip by rented taxi to Cojimar, a small fishing village located about 15 miles east of Havana, Cuba.

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Above:  This weathered and crumbling sign marks the entrance to the fishing village of Cojimar, located about 30 minutes by car from Havana.  Below:  A view of the outdoor sign of La Terraza Bar and Restaurant, situated along the harbor in Cojimar.

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Above and Below:  Views of La Terraza, one of Hemngway’s favorite places in Cojimar and now part of “The Hemingway Trail” for visitors.

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Above:  A view of the handsome interior of the dining room at La Terraza, with walls lined with photographs of its most famous patron, Ernest Hemingway.  Below:  The corner table, with a fine view of the Cojimar Harbor, was the author’s favorite spot, according to the restaurant manager, who kindly allowed us to visit the restaurant before opening hours.

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Above and Below:  Two views of the fishing pier in the harbor at Cojimar, which can be viewed from the dining room at La Terraza Restaurant and Bar.

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Above and Below:  Two views of the Ernest Hemingway Memorial, located along the waterfront walkway in Cojimar. According to local lore and some published reports, Cojimar served as Hemingway’s inspiration for the town that provides the backdrop in “The Old Man and the Sea,” which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in 1954.

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink?

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This tasty, nicely-prepared Mojito was served in a tall glass in the Lobby Bar at the Hotel Ambos Mundo, located at the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes Streets, in the Old Town section of Havana, Cuba.  Built in 1920, the hotel gained fame as the occasional home of Ernest Hemingway, who frequently stayed at the hotel during the 1930’s.  Room 511, reportedly his favorite room in the hotel, has been converted to a museum and is open to the public for an admission fee of about $2.00.

The hotel, which recently underwent a complete renovation, includes 52 guest rooms and suites, and a rooftop restaurant and bar that offers impressive views of Central Havana.  The spacious open-air lobby features contemporary furnishings and is filled with photographs and memorabilia about Hemingway.  Because its one of the significant sights along the “Hemingway Trail” in Havana, the two bars at Hotel Ambos Mundo are typically filled with tourists who eager to view Room 511 and to learn more about Hemingway’s days at the hotel, where he reportedly wrote portions of “For Whom the Bells Toll.”

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Above:  The entrance to Hotel Ambos Mundo which has been modernized as part of a recent major renovation.  Below:  A view of the Lobby Bar which specializes in Mojitos.

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Above:  A partial view of the Lobby of Hotel Ambos Mundo, showing some of the many photographs of Ernest Hemingway which are on display throughout the hotel.  Below:  A view of the brightly and distinctively painted facade of the hotel.

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Above and Below:  Hotel Ambos Mundo proudly displays signage on the exterior of the building (above) and memorabilia (below) of its most famous guest.

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Above and Below:  Views of the large rooftop bar at Hotel Ambos Mundo, with both covered and open seating.

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Above:  A view of Central Havana taken from the rooftop bar at Hotel Ambos Mundo.

To learn more about Hotel Ambos Mundo or to make room reservations, visit their official website by clicking here.

To go to previous posts in the “Where is That Drink” series, click here.

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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet?

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The feet are pausing while strolling through Central Havana to admire the amazing assortment of buildings– some grand, and some not– in various stages of preservation or decay.

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To go to previous entries in the “Where are the Feet?” category, click here.

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Hemingway Museum

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Finca Vigia, located about 11 miles from Central Havana, is the home where Ernest Hemingway lived for over 20 years, from 1939 to 1960.  Following his death in 1961, the house and its contents were left to the Cuban government, which included Hemingway’s collection of books, photographs and letters, and drafts of his novels.  The house is now called the Hemingway Museum and is operated by the Cuban government.  It is treated as a shrine by Cubans and is part of the famous “Hemingway Trail” for fans of the acclaimed author who visit Havana.

The house contains a collection of over 8,000 books, a large number of stuffed and mounted wild animals he shot and collected during his travels, as well as the clothing and personal effects he maintained at the time.  Elsewhere on the grounds of the museum are the graves of four of his dogs, among the many dogs and cats he owned while living at Finca Vigia, and his 38-foot fishing boat, Pilar.  The large outdoor swimming pool now sits empty.

Visitors to the museum are permitted to explore the grounds; however, they are not able to enter the interior spaces of the home, which have been carefully maintained with Hemingway’s possessions, displayed in the manner in which he may have left them in 1960 when he departed Cuba, a year before his death by suicide.

While living at Finca Vigia, Hemingway wrote A Moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream, and The Old Man and the Sea, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.

In an article published by the  Times Online in June 2008, it was reported that a Cuban secret policeman offered a writer visiting the Heminway Museum any book in the Museum’s library for $200.  During our visit, I did not receive such a tantalizing offer; however, a docent at the museum offered to use my camera to take photographs throughout the interior of the house for a “tip.”  (I gave her the equivalent of $5. She seemed quite experienced at taking shots with interesting angles. Some of those photos appear in this post.)

Above:  The small plaque that marks the entrance to the driveway to Finca Vigia, now the Hemingway Museum.  Below: The front entrance to the main residence.

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Above and Below:  Views of the interior of the Living Room of Hemingway’s home at Finca Vigia, taken the by one of the Museum’s docents.

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Above:  A view of Hemingway’s bar, with the (reportedly) original items he left in the home in 1960.  Below: A view of the Dining Room, with some of the many stuffed animals that are on display throughout the home.

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Above:  A view of Hemingway’s bedroom, with a few of the approximately 8,000 books contained in the home.  Below:  A view of one of several writing desks in the house, where he wrote several works, including The Old Man and the Sea.

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Above:  A view of the Library and another of the author’s desks.  Below:  The grave markers of four of Hemingway’s pet dogs who lived with him at Finca Vigia.

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Above and Below:  Two views of Pilar, Hemingway’s fishing boat, which is now displayed in a covered shelter where visitors are able to walk around the boat.

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Above:  The feet are pausing at the large swimming pool on the grounds of Finca Vigia.

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Dinner at Vistamar

Among the many wonderful and memorable experiences I had while dining in Havana was a delightful dinner at Vistamar, a seafood specialty restaurant located in a quiet residential neighborhood in the Miramar district, directly along the waterfront.  The restaurant calls itself a “Paladar,” which is defined as a private, family-run restaurant operated within their home, that typically serves simply-prepared dishes using local ingredients.

The restaurant is situated on the second floor of a two-story building, in what otherwise would have been the Living Room and Dining Room of the residence, with small tables that accommodate a total of about 20 people.  Additional tables are available on the covered patio on the lower floor, adjacent to the swimming pool, for about 12 people.

The food at Vistamar was fresh, nicely prepared and well-seasoned, and handsomely plated, as well.

Paladar Vistamar is located at Calle 22HavanaCuba.

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Above:  The outdoor sign of Paladar Vistamar, located in a quiet residential area of the Miramar District in Havana.  Below:  A view of the entrance to the home-based restaurant, showing the breezeway that extends to the swimming pool and ocean beyond.

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Above:  The well-prepared and nicely-presented lobster main course.  Delicious!  Below:  A view of the upstairs seating and the additional poolside tables for cocktails or dining.

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Above:  A view of the infinity edge of the swimming pool at Paladar Vistamar and the ocean beyond.  Below:  The second-level dining area, which maintains it low-key residential feel.

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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet?

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The feet have arrived at Restaurante Bar Floridita, in Havana, Cuba.  Floridita is a Havana landmark and is best known for their daquiris and as one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangouts in Havana.  The darkly-lit, plush and upscale establishment includes a large bar with small tables and a spacious, separate dining room.  The bar is a frequent stop for tourists, particularly those who are following the “Hemingway trail” across Havana in search of trivia, memorabilia and tributes to the famous writer.

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Above:  The entrance to Restaurante Bar Floridita and its distinctively and brightly-painted exterior.  Above:  The neon sign of Floridita, which highlights their famous daquiris.

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Above:  A view of the handsome and busy bar, where hundreds of daquiris are poured each day.  Below:  Visitors often pose in front of this life-size statue of Ernest Hemingway, which is positioned at the end of the long bar at Restaurante Bar Floridita.

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To learn more about Restaurante Bar Floridita, go to their official website (available in Spanish only) by clicking here.

To go to previous entries in the “Where are the Feet?” category, click here.

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink? (Okay, it’s really a serving of ice cream, but it’s equally intoxicating.)

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This wonderfully creamy mocha ice cream was served at the open-air ice creamery called Soderia Coppelia, Havana’s most popular spot for ice cream.

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Above and Below: Soderia Coppelia provides a pleasant, casual setting to enjoy their wide selection of delicious ice cream. Given the heat and humidity in Havana, it’s easy to understand the reason Soderia Coppelia is so popular with residents and visitors alike.

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To go to previous posts in the “Where is That Drink” series, click here.

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink?

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This incredibly refreshing Mojito was served at the Rooftop Bar at the Parque Central Hotel in Havana, Cuba.  The open-air bar is located on the Rooftop level of the hotel and features comfortable shaded and open seating, with spectacular views of the city, extending from Parque Central to The Malecon.  The bar also serves light fare throughout the day.

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Above and Below: Views of the comfortable seating– for eating or lounging– at the Rooftop Bar at the Parque Central Hotel.

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Above:  A view across the central portion of Havana, as seen from the Rooftop Bar at the Parque Central Hotel, which is owned and operated by NH Hotels.  Below:  A view of the rooftop swimming pool– one of Havana’s best– at the Parque Central Hotel.

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To go to a previous post with more information on the Parque Central Hotel in Havana, click here.

To go to previous posts in the “Where is That Drink” series, click here.

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Marti Monument

Among Havana’s most striking sights is the Jose Marti Monument, a memorial to Cuba’s national hero, which is situated on the northern side of the famous Plaza de la Revolucion in the Vedado area of Havana.  The monument consists of a 358-foot tower, designed by Architect Enrique Luis Varela, shaped in the form of a five-pointed star and encased in grey marble.  The tower, which was completed in 1958, features an enclosed observation deck on the top floor, which is accessible by elevator, providing a commanding view over the city.  On the ground floor, the memorial also includes two rooms of displays featuring writings and items from the life of Jose Marti (1853-1895), the poet, professor and political theorist who became a symbol for Cuba’s bid for independence against Spain the the 19th century and is one of the country’s most beloved historical figures.

Across Plaza de la Revolucion, which is one of the world’s largest public squares, is the Ministry of the Interior Building which features a large image of Cuban hero Che Guevara.

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Above and Below:  Two views of the Jose Marti Monument in Havana, as seen from the Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana’s central and symbolic public square.

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Below:  A view of the Ministry of the Interior Building, with a large image of national hero Che Guevara, as seen from the Plaza de la Revolucion.

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What Things Cost

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As part of my Havana adventure, I learned that there are two currencies in Cuba–  the official national currency, the Cuban Peso (CUP), and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), both of which are issued in notes 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 denominations.  The CUP is valid for exchange only within Cuba and is used primarily by Cuban citizens to purchase daily consumer goods.  The CUP is intended for use by tourists and was introduced by the Cuban government in 1994 and pegged at par against the USA dollar, which then was also recognized for use in Cuba.  In 2004, in retaliation against the sanctions imposed by the USA, Cuba withdrew the USA dollar from circulation, leaving the CUC as the principal currency for non-Cubans.  The approximate exchange rate between the CUP and CUC is 24:1, where one CUC peso is equivalent to about 24 CUP pesos.

For visitors from the USA, there are some key considerations when exchanging currency or making purchases in Cuba:

1.  Credit cards (e.g. Visa and MasterCard) issued by USA financial institutions, including American Express, are not accepted in Cuba, as part of the embargo.  This means that purchases need to be made in cash, via CUCs;
2.  A 10% tax is imposed when converting USA dollars to Cuban CUCs.  This tax was introduced by Cuba in 2004 as punitive action against the USA in response to the embargo.  As a result, converting USA dollars to Cuban CUCs is an expensive proposition.

Many visitors from the USA bring Canadian dollars or Euros with them to Cuba, instead of USA dollars, in order to avoid the 10% tax levied against the USA dollar.

Here are examples of the cost of typical items in Havana during my visit (in US$ equivalent):

*  Taxi ride from Havana International Airport to Central Havana (about 30 minutes): $25.00
*  Vodka Martini  at Lobby Bar at Parque Central Hotel: $9.00
*  Grilled Cheese Sandwich at local Cafe: $4.00
*  Half-Day City Bus Tour with English-speaking Guide: $29.00
*  Dinner for two at popular local restaurant, with drinks: $65.00

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Havana Dachshunds

While in Havana, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of dachshunds I saw throughout the city.  Of the many dogs spotted in Havana , a significant majority (perhaps three-fourths) were dachshunds.  Does this mean that the mighty dachshund is the unofficial “Dog of Havana?”  All of the dachshunds seemed well-fed and healthy.

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Above:  A miniature dachshund who served as the official “mascot” of an art gallery located along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba.  Below:  Another miniature dachshund who was greeting visitors along the oceanfront walkway in the coastal fishing town of Cojimar, on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba.

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Above:  A street entertainer in Havana, Cuba, shown with his colorfully-costumed miniature dachshunds perched atop a bicycle, offered photo-taking opportunities for visitors for a small donation.  Below:  A group of young children were thoroughly entertained by the two costumed dachshunds.

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Cars of Havana

One of the most charming and fascinating sights in Havana is the remarkably large, roaming assortment of vintage American automobiles, which are seen in every imaginable state of repair and restoration.  Some of the more meticulously-maintained vehicles are being operated as taxis, much to the delight of tourists who are able to extend their Havana “flashback” experience by touring the city in a vintage 1950’s automobile.

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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet?

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The feet are resting on the expansive and well-manicured lawn fronting the porte-cochere of the legendary Hotel Nacional de Cuba, located in Havana, Cuba.  Opened in 1930 after two years of construction, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba has 457 guest rooms and features a distinctive blend of architectural styles, including Moorish-Spanish, Art Deco, neoclassic and neocolonial.  The hotel occupies a large, impressive site atop Taganana Hill, providing stunning views of the Malecon and the blue waters beyond.

Among the many international celebrities that have stayed at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba are Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Weismuller, Buster Keaton, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor .

The hotel’s dramatic and grand spaces  has served as the backdrop for numerous movies, including Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather, Part II.”

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Above:  The feet are pausing to admire the marble plaque bearing the hotel’s name at the front entrance.  Below:  A view of the long and spacious main lobby, with faux wood-beamed ceilings and large chandeliers.

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Above:  A view of a portion of the exterior of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba showing the beautiful blend of architectural styles along the arched walkways and the facade of the building.  Below:  A view of the main swimming pool with views extending across the Malecon.

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Above:  A view of the famous Galeria Bar that extends the full length of the interior court of the hotel, where patrons can enjoy a cocktail and admire the beautiful, landscaped grounds while being serenaded by wandering musicians.  Below: A view of the  Hotel Nacional de Cuba, as seen from the Malecon along the seawall.

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The learn more about the history of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba or to reserve a room, go to their official website by clicking here.

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To go to previous entries in the “Where are the Feet?” category, click here.

Photos taken: 7/28/09

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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet today?

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The feet are pausing to admire the beautiful sights along Paseo de Marti in Havana, Cuba, commonly known as The Prado, a 3/4-mile promenade orignally laid out in 1772, in the style of grand European boulevards.  A tree-lined pedestrian walkway separates the traffic along each side of the Paseo de Marti.  The shady boulevard, which is lined with ornate marble benches and lampposts, is the principal pedestrian walkway in Havana that provides an ideal setting for entertainment and for artists to sell their handmade crafts and paintings.

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Above:  A view of the wide, tiled pedestrian walkway that extends the full length of the Paseo de Marti.  Below:  A group of student musicians performs along the Paseo de Marti for passersby.

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To go to previous entries in the “Where are the Feet?” category, click here.

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Parque Central Hotel

While staying in Havana, Cuba, we were guests at the Parque Central Hotel, a 277-room, 5-star hotel, located in downtown Havana, near historic Parque Central and the El Prado (officially called Paseo de Martí), a European-style, tree-lined promenade.

Opened in 1999, the Parque Central Hotel incorporates some original structural elements from an historic building that occupied the property, including portions of the facade.  The hotel features two restaurants, a large lobby bar situated within a two-story atrium, a library/living room, gym, full-service spa, business center, currency exchange office, gift shop and an outdoor patio bar adjacent to the rooftop swimming pool and jacuzzi.

Amenities in the guest rooms include wi-fi, mini bar, balconies with french doors, separate bathtub and shower, terry-cloth bathrobes, and large in-room safe.

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Above:  Room 741 featured two queen-size beds, a small table with two chairs, desk and chair and TV console with mini bar and refrigerator.  Below:  The room also included a reasonably-sized working desk, along with wi-fi access.

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Above:  Partial view of the bathroom in Room 741 which featured a separate shower and bath tub.  Below:  A view of the interior courtyard of the Parque Central Hotel, as viewed from the 7th floor.

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Above and Below:  Two exterior views of the facade and front entrance to the Parque Central Hotel, located directly opposite Parque Central.

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Above:  A view of the reception and cashier’s desk in the Main Lobby of the Parque Central Hotel.  Below: A view of the tree-lined Paseo de Marti, a spectacular tree-lined pedestrian promenade that extends from Parque Central to the famous sea wall of the Malecon.

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Above:  a view of the all-day dining restaurant in the Lobby Level of the Parque Central Hotel, where we enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast each morning during our stay.  Below:  A typical initial serving from the breakfast buffet.  The assortment of food included made-to-order omelets, french toast, pastries, yogurt, fresh fruit, including mango and papaya, deli meats, assorted cheeses, breads, and fresh juices.

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To learn more about the Parque Central Hotel or to make room reservations, visit the official website of NH Hotels by clicking here.

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Photos taken: 7/15/09

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Havana or Bust

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After spending a couple of days in sunny Cancun, it’s time to head to Havana for an authentic Cuban adventure!  The adventure gets underway with a 1-hour, 10 minute flight from Cancun International Airport to Havana International Airport via Mexicana Airlines.  Although Havana is only 320 miles away from Cancun, and just 230 miles from Miami, it seems like a world away.

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Above and Below:  The 1-hour, 10-minute flight to Havana was via Mexicana Airlines Flight 327 from Cancun.

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Above:  An aerial view of Cuba, taken about 10 minutes prior to arrival in Havana aboard Mexicana Airlines.  Below:  A view of the main terminal building at the Havana International Airport,

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