Flying into Havana that first night we really had no idea what to expect. We jumped in an old taxi and drove through the small dirty streets to what we assumed was our Casa, there was little way of knowing barring a small printed piece of paper stating ‘Casa Habana’ on the door. When a woman came to the door she muttered something about a broken air-conditioner and took us a few doors down to another Casa. We got lucky because the one she took us to was absolutely beautiful.
I’d like to take a pause and say that this is what we expected. We’ve been told by many people who have come before us that they over book casas and no matter how much you call and email and book with a ‘good’ travel agent they will still most likely over book your room, mutter something about a broken air-conditioner and move you elsewhere. You just have to hope that where you get moved is just as nice as the one you booked. In our case Casa Vieja was.
This particular Casa was built in the 18th century, it boasts 3 floors with towering ceilings and thin staircases that you might not want to have too many mojitos around. The furnishings were old yet well maintained (like most things in Cuba) and the rooms were filled with the most interesting paintings, drawings and sculptures. Cubans are very forward thinking in their art, they use what they have and they use it in the most creative ways. You’ll find sculptures of iron, wax and paint all meticulously put together to create something thought provoking, strange and beautiful all at the same time. Havana is a very inspiring city for an artist.
The weather for our first few days in Havana was pretty miserable, however, there’s something about a traveller’s spirit that makes you want to go out into it anyway. So in the pouring rain we set out on a walking tour with a guide and one umbrella between us. The guide was organised at short notice through our Casa, he wasn’t particularly knowledgeable and in fact I don’t think he was a guide at all, but he was nice and he spoke fair English.
He took us in a loop around the squares of Centro Historico. We stopped in at La Bodeguita Del Medio which is another place famous for being frequented by Hemmingway. Now it’s a tourist trap with little ‘magic’ left. $5 mojitos next to other bars that sell them for $2. A lot of English travellers get very drunk there now before stumbling back to their Casas. There’s also a lovely little book market in one of the squares (Plaza de Armas) which sells antique, old and new books in both Española and English.
We went to Cathedral square which is also beautiful but I have to say, the most exciting part of walking through these areas is finding the little art galleries. If you see one, go in. You’ll not only find interesting, inspiring art set in wonderful old buildings but sometimes you might also find beautiful old gardens out the back that look like something out of a child’s imagination.
Unless you know you have a good guide I would recommend just buying a map (tourist info on Obispo), taking a camera and exploring the streets of Old Havana yourself. You’ll find elegant old and well maintained buildings next to crumbling facades. You’ll find little art galleries, old cathedrals and most importantly, you might just find a bar that sells $1.50 mojitos…