Full Friday, morning
Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
51Trip End Mar 01, 2007
Over at the Hotel Nacional, my mother, who stayed at the hotel yesterday while her cold got the better of her, is on the mend, but we still mercilessly quarantine her in a second cab and head off to the Plaza de Armas.
All travel companions have areas of tension
Everyone is in good spirits today, thankfully. We're picking up the walking tour of Old Havana from where we left off yesterday. Mom missed a terrific guided tour of the museum of the city (Museo de la Ciudad) and a relaxed drink in the Plaza de la Catedral. It turns out my great bargaining session with one of the book merchants around the Plaza de Armas, wherein I proposed various prices and he never budged, could have been carried on today as well, as the book stalls are back. Had I known, I might have left the collectors' card "Album de la Revolucion Cubana" overnight to see if the price ever dropped
Our walk south from the plaza follows the Lonely Planet Cuba walking tour for Habana Vieja. I've been really happy with this guidebook. The publication mere months ago means the info and prices are actually pretty accurate. We orient ourselves at the scale model of old Havana at the Maqueta de la Habana Vieja, beat a hasty retreat from the overly fragrant Habana 1791 perfume shop, poke around the photography exhibit in the inner courtyard of the Hostal Condes de Villanueva, and arrive triumphant at the Museo del Chocolate.
Cold air and the heady aroma of chocolate leap out at us as we push open the door. Lucy's eyes become dinner plates as she takes in the various chocolate animals along the counters and the chocolate waterfall flowing through the form-work area. Some of us opt for the milkshake-like chocolate fria, but my choice is the warm, thick cup of heaven that sells as chocolate caliente, for 55 centavos. We've beaten the tour buses here and have the place almost to ourselves.
Back out in the heat, Julie experiences her first hustle for milk. Typically carried out by women with children, this scam centres on telling foreigners that the milk rations the government provides are insufficient and more milk is needed
Surprisingly, we're actually accosted by less hustlers with our parents around; our incessant interfamilial banter provides an effective protective membrane. Even Julie's moment of entrapment between two mothers intent on easy prey is easily resolved by me simply saying "Let's go, people!" Everyone's momentum carries Julie out of the collusion and on to the next stop, the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis. This is familiar territory for everyone but mom. I take her to poke around a few of the building lobbies, then join the slowly baking family in the shadow of the church. It's getting warm, so we allow the piano music drifting from the renovated church to draw us in to the cool interior.
The deconsecrated church and monastery now house a concert hall, museum and national academy of music. While everyone else relaxes and cools off, I take a grumpy Jonathan out of ear shot of the piano recital and get instantly sacked by any number of charmed museum guides
A great feature of the complex is all the modern sculpture on religious themes dotting the cloisters. The second storey, which I only see from the ground, is filled with modern sculptures on classic themes -- Venus de Milo and her whole family in a weird orgy of missing-limbed miasma.
We extricate ourselves from Jonathan's fans and continue through the face-lifted streets to the expansive and impressive Plaza Vieja, leaving Julie with a now-sleeping Jonathan (still holding down his chow) while we go up to the top of a 35m tower to take in the views at the Camera Oscura. As lovely as this part of town is, it's a little thin on eateries. We elect to head back to central Havana for lunch. Our ride in a minibus takes us around the waterfront of Habana Vieja, in front of the central train station and up Avenida de Belgica past Jose Marti's birthplace. We'd intended to walk to these sites with Mom and Dad before illness curtailed our plans, so it's a nice little detour.