Back in 2001 (yes, over a decade ago, yikes), we splurged out on a holiday to Cuba. Looking back on it now, I realise how lucky we were because I have never met that many people who have been there. It was quite a journey to get to – flying from Belfast to Gatwick, staying overnight and then a long flight to Havana. I remember arriving in the early hours of the morning, it was pitch black (very few street lights) and being confronted on our coach trip to the hotel by large billboards proclaiming the virtues of the revolution. I remember feeling a little bit intimidated by it all and wondering if we had made the right decision to go there. I needn’t have worried. When I woke up the next morning and saw the sunshine and the view of Havana harbour from our room at the Hotel Nacional, I instantly felt excited.
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba, famous for its 1950s heyday, is a majestic building and although at the time it was probably starting to show its age a little, it still retained its elegance and I feel very privileged to have stayed there. That was where I was introduced to mojito cocktails for the first time and although the hotel didn’t quite cater for vegetarians (my husband was given lettuce and tomatoes for dinner on one occasion), the staff were very helpful and friendly and I’m sure things have improved on the food front since then.
We took time out to visit a cigar factory, tour Ernest Hemingway’s house and generally soak up the sights and sounds of wonderful Havana before heading on to spend a few days at a hotel on the beach at Varadero. We did struggle with the heat some days though and perhaps, in hindsight, we should have spent more time in Havana. Here are just a few pictures from our time there:-
One particular highlight was a trip to Club Tropicana. A 1950s Cadillac collected us from our hotel and that was the start of a wonderful night of dancing, music and all round glamour. I’m so glad we went – my husband was reluctant and it might be considered very touristy, but it was fun – as you can see from these pictures:-
Probably the most enduring memory of all was on our final night at the Hotel Nacional – we came back to our room to find a hand written letter from the maid who had very diligently looked after our room during our stay. My husband had been leaving little tips during the week and she obviously appreciated his generosity:-
It reads – ‘Dear Guest, I hope you have enjoy your staying with us here and have been satisfied with my service. I would like you have a good trip today. Good luck, thanks, your maid, Berta’
Of course, there are many other places in the world I want to visit but I do hope to return to Cuba some day – to see how it has changed, to explore more of the island and to enjoy the colour and hospitality once again.