It’s December 7th—Pearl Harbor Day—a “Day of Infamy” to most Americans. Cuba also had its own “Pearl Harbor”—the American invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. We will be visiting this area on Friday.
This morning we had breakfast outside under the alcove of our hotel, facing the Plaza de Armas. Our hotel is in one of the best locations in Cuba. The plaza just outside is the oldest in Havana. It is only a 3-minute walk to the oldest fortress in the western hemisphere, the Malecon seawall, and the Hotel Ambos Mundos. This is where Hemingway lived and wrote for several years. Also located in the immediate area are the Museum of Chocolate, the Natural Science Museum, and Obispo Street—the popular pedestrian walkway that runs from the harbor about ¾ mile west to Central Park.
We visited the Museum of the Revolution, which is located in the former Presidential Palace. Afterwards we went to the National Museum of Fine Art, reportedly one of the best in Latin America. Our museum guide was Laura. She spoke fluent English and was very knowledgeable about the various periods of Cuban art. Afterwards we had a delicious lunch at the Restaurant Bodeguita del Medio, Hemingway’s favorite place to eat.
Later we walked around Old Havana, admiring the colonial architecture. For the first two centuries after Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, this area was the military, cultural, and economic center of the entire western hemisphere. It had a harbor entrance that was narrow, and thus more easily defended. Across the harbor were cliffs, where two massive fortresses were eventually constructed.
We had free time in he afternoon for shopping and wandering around in this almost 500-year-old town. It was once called the “Pearl of the New World.” It eventually fell into much disrepair following the completion of the Revolution in 1959. However, in the last 10-15 years, many historical buildings have been rehabilitated. Many more are scheduled to be updated in the next few years, funded mostly by Chinese corporations. Old Havana has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This evening we split up into smaller groups. Five of us walked over to a restaurant near Central Park called La Xana, which had great Italian food at reasonable prices. Thus ended our first full day in Cuba.