Tag Archives: Ernest Hemingway

Havana Cuba: Cigars and old American Cars

My wife and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and began looking for a unique trip to remember. Previously forbidden for Americans, Cuba fit the bill and did not disappoint. In fact, it’s the best trip we’ve taken in a long time.

Havana Cuba Old American Car

Where is Cuba?

Cuba is the largest Caribbean island (about the size of Florida) and sits between Florida and Jamaica.

Map of Cuba

We elected to take a cruise from Jamaica (we spent a couple of days in Jamaica first) with Celestyal Cruises. The cruise took us to Santiago de Cuba, then to Havana, and finally to Cienfuegos. Because it was an educational exchange, we learned about Cuban history, the culture, the people, and the normalization process with America.

Celestyal Cruises

Why Cuba?

What made us want to go to Cuba? Until just 3 years ago, it was a forbidden land for Americans. Even now, the only way to go to the island is via an educational exchange tour where you learn about the history and culture of Cuba. I’ll talk more about Cuba history and why Americans were forbidden to travel there in an upcoming blog, but if you want to know more check out the Netflix series called The Cuba Libre Story.

Santiago del Cuba

Old American Cars

Havana is the capital of Cuba and the most vibrant city we’ve visited in a while.  It feels like a city stuck in time. Because of the American embargo, Cubans could no longer purchase American cars after 1960 so the streets are full of beautiful American cars from the 50’s and the buildings look like buildings you would have seen in 1960’s America.

American Cars in Cuba

Old American Cars Cuba

Old American Cars Cuba

Old American cars were everywhere. Not just a few — tons of them.

You can grab a taxi tour in an old car for about $40 an hour. Lynn and I took a 2-hour tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our drivers were 2 young men (23 and 21-year-old brothers) whose vintage car was handed down from their Dad. They took us to the major sites of the city and by special request, they helped us track down a specific type of cigar we were looking for (Montecristo number 2).

Cuban Cigars

Before leaving for our trip, I had 10 people ask me to buy as many cigars as possible to share with them.  As you may know, we can’t buy Cuban cigars in the USA and that’s what makes them so special.

With cigars, you have to keep them in an environment that’s about 70 degrees and 70 percent humidity or they will dry out. Cuban cigars are not cheap — between $10 and $30 per cigar is the norm, so you don’t want to pay that kind of money and have them dry out.

I decided to purchase enough cigars to give to a few to friends and keep a few. You can bring back 50 cigars per person but I brought back 38. I also bought a few humidors to ensure that they kept to 70/70 for the temperature and humidity. That amount filled an entire backpack. In hindsight, I probably could have brought back 100 (50 for me and 50 for Lynn) and put them in a humidor once I got back to the states because it is humid enough in Cuba and they would not have dried up by the time I made it back.

I had never smoked a Cuban cigar before now. I did a bit of research and found that the most popular brand is Cohiba. They range in cost from $10 to $50 each, the ones I purchased were just over $20 each.

Another popular brand is Montecristo. In fact, Montecristo number 2 was voted best cigar in Cuba a few years back, so that intrigued me. The cost ranges from $10 to $30 per cigar. Finding the Montecristo number 2 became a challenge because they are so popular. We visited about 5 cigar shops before I finally found them so I purchased more of these than the Cohiba.

I’m not much of a cigar smoker and have only smoked a few cigars over the years. I’ve never had a good cigar before I found the Montecristo cigar and boy do I get it now. What a great cigar, it has a smooth taste, does not leave a bitter aftertaste and does not wreck your throat the next morning.

The Floridita

Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for over 10 years and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls there. One of his favorite hangouts was the Floridita, the birthplace of the daiquiri. Lynn and I made our way there.

Ernest Hemingway

As we walked in, a Cuban band was playing latin music so we moseyed up to the bar and ordered a Mojito (a popular Cuban drink). The bartender said, “you sure you don’t want a daiquiri”?  Not thinking, we said “no” and the Mojito was great. Then we noticed everyone was ordering daiquiris and finally saw the sign saying that it was invented there. Wow, the best daiquiris we’ve ever had. One turned into two, two turned into three — you get the picture.

Floridita Cuba

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Cuba, keep an eye out for upcoming blogs on Cuba where I will explain more about the history and culture.

We found the Cuban people to be warm, inviting and full of passion. They love to dance and to spend time with friends and family. Even though they’ve gone through hardships economically and politically over the years, they take great pride in their homeland and are glad that relations with America are finally normalizing.

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I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had as we entered the bay into Havana.

Havana Cuba Bay

 

 

Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain

The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain was the first thing we put on the calendar when our vacation planning started. All other planning centered around that weekend. After visiting Paris, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Logrono, and Bilbao, this weekend finally arrived for the Running of the Bulls.

This festival dates back to the 13th century and was made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s book “The Sun Also Rises“.  As Hemingway chronicled, the festival is awash in wine and sangria, and runners partake copiously during long nights of partying.

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When you arrive here, the first thing you notice is everyone is dressed in the traditional red and white attire, which can be purchased at almost every street corner.

Ryan all dressed up

Ryan all dressed up

Hey -- when in Rome...

Hey — when in Rome…

It is definitely a festive atmosphere, with people drinking and having fun, and street performers everywhere. Music blasts and people of all ages join in.

Spanish Michael Jackson!

Spanish Michael Jackson!

Street Performers

Street Performers

A festival for all ages

A festival for all ages

On our second day in Pamplona, we awoke at 5 a.m. to head down to the Running of the Bulls. As we made our way towards the apartment at around 6 a.m., there were lots of drunk people staggering around and were just about to call it a night. We rented an apartment balcony on the street where the running begins, along with about 12 other Americans. We had a great view of the action.

Our balcony

Our balcony

At 8 a.m. sharp, the cannons fired and the bulls came blazing around the corner. People spread like wildfire, some people ducking into side gates, others climbing up the first wall they could find. Some of the more brave ran in front or behind the bulls. From our vantage point, it was over in about 10 seconds but the entire run lasts about 3 minutes. There were medics and ambulances parked outside every turn and they carted 3 people off to the hospital today.

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Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

We capped off our day with a traditional bull fight. Bull fights are no longer legal in Barcelona, Valencia and a lot of other Spanish cities, but you can still see them in Madrid and Pamplona. I enjoyed the pageantry of the Matadors but I was not big fan of seeing the bull get killed at the end — I can understand why they outlawed it in many cities.

Sea of People at the Bull Fight

Sea of People at the Bull Fight

Traditional Bull Fight

Traditional Bull Fight

Valencia Spain

Prior to arriving in Pamplona, we made several stops along the way once we left Barcelona. Our first stop was Valencia. This is a beach town that is about a 2.5 hour train ride south from Barcelona. I really liked Valencia, it has a more hip feel and a cool beach vibe. We headed down to the beach, drank sangria and I took a swim in the Mediterranean. It was hot — about 88 degrees but the Mediterranean Sea was cool. I could have spent more time here, it was a great place to visit.

Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach

Tons of Beach Side Restaurants

Tons of Beach Side Restaurants

Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach

One of the fun excursions we took was a 3 hour bicycle tour through Valencia. It allowed us to get a little exercise while seeing the sights.

Bike tour in Valencia Spain

Bike tour in Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Madrid

We only had a couple of days in Madrid, but we took a tour to see the major sights like the Royal Palace. At this point, we did not want to see another Tapas Bar, so got our American food fix when we stumbled on a TGIF!

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

The highlight of Madrid for us was a Flamenco dancing show, we scheduled this for Ryan’s birthday and we all really enjoyed it. The dance is very passionate and awe inspiring. By the time we got back to the hotel, Ryan was performing Flamenco for us.

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

The guy in the picture above had a very distinct Spanish look, I could see most of the women swooning over him. His hair was really long and after a few minutes of dancing, it came out of the ponytail. Everytime he would spin, his sweat would spray the people in the front seats of the audience.

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Logrono and the La Rioja Wine Area

As we slowly made our way towards Pamplona, we planned a stop in Logrono and the La Rioja wine area. Although Logrono was a nice stop along the way, there were not many sights to see.

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Logrono Spain

Logrono Spain - our apartment view

Logrono Spain – our apartment view

Laguardia is a medieval town just minutes from Logrono where several wineries now occupy rooms of an old castle built in the 10th  century. The castle is now occupied by about 1,500 residents, mostly merchants of the many food and wine stores located inside of the castle. The castle is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped walking path lined with trees and flowers.

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Medieval Village

Medieval Village

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

The view from the castle is incredible — you can see all of the vineyards that are used to produce the incredible Spanish wine.

Incredible castle view

Incredible castle view

Incredible castle view

Incredible castle view

We scheduled 2 wine tours there and were not disappointed. When the castle was built in the 10th century, they built escape tunnels underneath to allow people to escape in the event of a siege. Later, these tunnels were turned into wineries because the caves offer the perfect condition for storing and aging wine (about 13 – 15 degrees celsius).  The first winery we visited was a small winery that produces only about 40,000 bottles a year. Our guide allowed us to the sample the wine directly from the cement tanks, not something you get to do every day.

Small winery

Small winery

Small winery

Small winery

The second winery was bigger (considered a mid-sized winery in Spain). It was in a section of the castle that housed some of the royal family members in the early days. They spent 4 years remodeling the winery after it had fell into disrepair. During this time, their excavation work uncovered huge cells that were used in the past for storing of wine.

Mid sized winery

Mid sized winery

Mid sized winery

Mid sized winery

Tasty Spanish wines

Tasty Spanish wines

Future Matadore

Future Matador

Bilbao

Our final stop before Pamplona was in Bilbao Spain.

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Bilbao Spain

Bilbao Spain

Bilbao Spain

Bilbao Spain

Bilbao Spain

We had heard a lot about the Guggenheim Museum located there and it was not disappointing. The first floor was the most impressive, it had a really large room with about 9 really large TV screens (floor to ceiling) and an incredible sound system. They had recorded a 60 minute song where each screen showed a different singer (singing and playing instruments) for the same melody — but each person was in a different room of the mansion. It was incredibly arranged and mesmerizing to watch and as you stood in front of a specific screen, you would hear more of the singing and instrumentation that was provided by the specific person in that room. It was a really cool thing to experience.

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Other areas of  the first floor had other video inspired art as well as some large steel art that served as mazes. The look of that art was different from the ground floor than when looking down upon it from the 2nd floor. It was very nicely done.

Steel mazes

Steel mazes

The second floor showcased more traditional art (drawings and paintings). The third floor was totally devoted to Yoko Ono. It included video of her performances and lots of art inspired by her. The coolest thing on this floor was a transparent cube that you could walk through to the center of the cube. It was like being in a carnival attraction — kind of like a house of mirrors but it was all plexiglass. You walked through it like a maze and it was hard to distinguish an opening from a real wall so people would run into the wall thinking it was an opening (myself included).

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

This wrapped up our time in Spain. Next we are heading to Italy to experience Milan, Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, Capri and Pompeii.