Archive for March 22nd, 2020

March 22, 2020

Plaza Vieja, Havana!!

And as I am feeling nostalgic and long away from having spoken about these spots almost from the beginning of my blog’s history and think not enough said. Therefore, I am telling you a bit more about the wonderful Plaza Vieja in old Havana, Cuba!

This is a wonderful spot for strolls alone the old Havana district which is full of history even if some repairs are needed due in fact to the dictatorship blames on someone else, you get my picture.

In fact, the Plaza Vieja has been renovated thanks to a grants by Unesco for the preservation of heritage in Cuba.  It is really 24 km or about 15 miles to where I was born.

The Plaza Vieja or old square was done in 1559 surrounded by beautiful homes of the colonial times. It is bordered by the streets of Teniente Rey, Muralla, San Ignacio and Mercaderes all in Old Havana of course.

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Plaza Vieja is one of the many beautiful squares of old Havana. Built in the 16C, it would have served as places of gathering, parties and market. From an architectural point of view, it is one of the most beautiful squares in Havana. You will see very beautiful colonial buildings dating from the 16C to the 19C. Plaza Vieja is said to have benefited from a Unesco restoration campaign in the 1980s, which explains its neat appearance. In fact, there are mostly upscale restaurants and hotels

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Over the past 150 years, Plaza Vieja has played host to an open-air food market, a park, and an amphitheatre. Plaza Vieja was the site of executions, processions, bullfights, and Fiestas,  all witnessed by Havana’s wealthiest citizens, who looked on from their balconies.

This was Havana’s third open space after Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Francisco. It is said that Franciscan monks requested that a new square be constructed where local vendors could carry out their business activities away from the Plaza de San Francisco, where they were hindering the celebration of masses. The new square was completed in 1559 approximately one hundred meters from the convent. It was called precisely Plaza Nueva  or new square, and gained in popularity right away. Some authors claim, however, that in fact this was the second square to be built in Havana, before the Plaza de San Francisco.

In the 18C, the Plaza Nueva was transformed into a market place. And in 1814, with the emergence of the market at the Plaza del Cristo, it was renamed to Plaza Real, Plaza Mayor, Plaza Fernando VII, Parque Juan Bruno Zayas and Parque Julián Grimau, until it finally received the name of Plaza Vieja.

During the 17C to the early 20C, the area was developed with residential, commercial and recreational buildings that fortunately maintained coherence, including the majestic Palacio de los Condes de Jaruco (or palace of the counts of jaruco) and the first exclusive recreational society in Havana, Sociedad Filarmónica, (or philarmonique society) housed in a residence at Calle San Ignacio 352-354. Curiously enough, no religious or military constructions were ever built around the square.

In 1908 the old market was demolished to make room for a park which was regrettably transformed into an underground parking garage in 1952. The underground parking garage was torn down and a replica of the original fountain was placed in the center of the square.  The original Carrara marble fountain surrounded by four dolphins was demolished in the 1930s when President/dictator Gerardo Machado built an underground parking lot here. There is a simpler fountain there now.

There is no official webpage to showcase the square at least that I could find, so will leave you with Cuba’s official office of tourism in English.  Tourist office of Cuba on Havana

The site on the organization for Unesco heritage cities in English on Havana here: Org heritage cities Unesco on Havana

Hope it helps your walks in my dear Plaza Vieja in old Havana, its like going back in times, better times for me.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

March 22, 2020

Hotel Nacional, Havana!!

Let me bring you back out way back to another time another era in my life. Memories always popping in and out and yet so far. I like to tell you a bit more on the Hotel Nacional, Havana, Cuba!

It is magical ,still there gleaming at you, hearing the waves bang against the rocky hill below, and the Strait of Florida in front of it. It has been thru all the episodes in Cuban history since its construction in 1927. Knowing it is to know Havana (San Cristobal de la Habana) a bit more, and Cuba too.  This is simply the Hotel Nacional.

The Hotel Nacional officially open from 1930, it was designed by an American architectual firm of McKim, Mead & White (they also build the National Museum of American History in Washington DC as others). A bit of history  says that in the 19C, the hill on which the hotel stands held the famous battery of Santa Clara. The “Ordoñez” cannon, one of the largest of its time, still lies in the hotel’s gardens. On the headland of Punta Brava,(same name of my native town!!!) Corregidor Don Luis Aguilar chastised the British during the seige and assault of Havana. The hotel’s most famous and luxurious restaurant is named after him.

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Some of the memorable people who have stayed here over the years are Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Keaton, Jorge Negrete,Agustin Lara, Rocky Marciano, Tyrone Power, Romulo Gallegos, Errol Flynn, John Wayne , Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, and Ernest Hemingway, as well as Winston Churchill, Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Alexander Flemming, and  innumerable Ibero-American Heads of State and European monarchs.

It was the site of a bloody battle in September 4, 1933 pitting the Cuban Army officers who participated in the coup d’état to overthrow President/dictator Gerardo Machado and the non commissioned officers and rank who supported the new strong man Fulgencio Batista. The US ambassador Sumner Welles lived here while the transition in the Cuban government took place.  In December 1946, it was the meeting of a mafia figures such as Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Santo Trafficante, jr, Frank Costello, Albert Anastacia, Vito Genovese and many others that was later characterized by Francis Ford Coppola in the movie, ” The Godfather ,part II”.

By 1955 the hotel was in full swing, and under new management, created  a new wing consisting of Clark’s famous Casino Internacional, the adjoining Starlight Terrace Bar and the Casino Parisién night club in january of 1956 with the first presenter been Eartha Kitt. The casino was closed by new President/dictator Fidel Castro in October 1960, as well as the hotel nationalised. It is now under management by the government supported Gran Caribe group. This is their webpage on the Hotel Nacional: Gran Caribe group on the Hotel Nacional

For me it meant many afternoon visiting the patio with grandparents and/or parents, and sipping a delicious cold Coca Cola with lemon and plenty of ice. When visited the island there was no doubt to come here again, just to be quiet and listen to the winds and the waves cracking below in the ocean. Memories that still linger with me since childhood. You will be embracing Cuban history and perhaps a quiet moment listening to those same waves.

Hope you enjoy the post and why not one day do stay there it is the ultimate in Cuba.

The official Hotel Nacional webpage is here : Hotel Nacional at Havana

And there you go folks when in Havana, the Hotel Nacional is a lot more than a vacation, its the history and architecture of Cuba in one spot. Hope you enjoy the post.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

 

March 22, 2020

Miramar, Havana, Cuba!

This is another time lapse for me going back many years almost 50 in fact! One has travel the world from a small spot on earth and gather many moments and souvenirs but there is always home. Mine was around the city of Miramar in Havana , Cuba. The name might seems familiar to those in Florida as there is a city there name after the one in Havana, and gosh I lived there too!!

Let me give you a bit of off the beaten path trip that would be wonderful to see again if possible. I am talking about the neighborhood of Miramar one of the main residential areas of the city of Havana, Cuba. Today , they put it in the county of Playa in Havana.

The Cuban upper class lived here before 1959 in sumptuous mansions and houses with pools, large patios, and other amenities. Being located in front of the coast, it made possible the existence of numerous spas, yacht clubs and social clubs in the wealthiest sectors. The stores were the best known in Cuba. Its busiest and most fundamental street, Fifth Avenue, with the same name as the famous one in New York, is considered by many to be the most beautiful street in all of Cuba.

The urban project for the construction of Miramar was conceived and signed in 1910 or 1911. The Miramar project was carried out on the grounds of the “La Miranda” family estate, making it a 100% Cuban urban project. This project is approved by the Marianao (another city just next to Havana ,and part of Marianao at the time) city council on February 6, 1911. On July 19, 1913 the contract to execute the urbanization of the Miramar neighborhood is signed.

The metal drawbridge over the Almendares river was popularly called the Pote bridge, an iron bridge over the Almendares river, in the extension of Calzada del Vedado ,a boulevard (going into another modern neighborhood Vedado)   towards Miramar.

In 1920, when the 5th avenue to 42nd street section was completely designed and built, the clock tower on 5th avenue and 10th street was made between 1921 and 1924 and is a 22-meter-high tower with its old carillon, a replica of London’s Big Ben, according to what it says as there is no written proof. The machinery of the clock has a mechanism by which music and time are synchronized, also chimes that sound every 15, 30 and 60 minutes, as well as every nine hours. After a period of deterioration in the 1960’s and onward, it was decided to do work on it which took three months, and finally the quarter of an hour and the melody of the bells were heard again. The four spheres, located on each side of the tower, give the exact time as they did in a distant 1924. The tower keeper need to climb the tower ladder every 72 hours and wind the machine, using the same mechanism as the manufacturers did. And the tradition is thankfully kept. Great for me as really when you passed this clock tower you really finally were in Miramar for us, memories.

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You will see the Fountain of the Americas located at the beginning of 5th Avenue and the sculptures were made in 1920. The Fountain is integrated into one of the parks on both sides of 5th Avenue, like the 2 large street parks at 24 and 26th streets. It is next to one of these two park blocks that the Church of Santa Rita was built in 1941. In Miramar numerous artificial beaches were built, the so-called Playas del Oeste or west beaches, formerly private clubs. The Miramar Yacht Club founded in 1926 with a nautical, sporty and social atmosphere, began in 1927 with a classic wooden construction on Avenida 96 and the sea. It was in 1952 that it was replaced by one in modern architecture.

The 1950s was the year of the real estate explosion in Miramar, the Almendares tunnel and the Linea tunnel date from this time, to substantially improve access to the neighborhood. The most luxurious buildings in Cuba are built in the Miramar at that time, true mansions and palaces, with swimming pools, large gardens and patios decorated with statues and fountains, which alternated with yacht and social clubs such as the Havana Yacht Club, in addition to others truly colossal churches such as that of Jesús de Miramar Church on 5th avenue and 82 street, in addition to the San Antonio de Padua Church on 5th avenue and 60 street.

At the end of the construction of the Malecon (big bulkward to the ocean) that extended it to the mouth of the Chorrera (tower bordering the Almendares and Cojimar rivers), the 5th Avenue becomes its natural extension, towards the other side of the Almendares River, with which the new neighborhood and all the territory of the west becomes a new housing seat. The crossing that was made through the Pote drawbridge, represented a great problem for the heavy traffic in the area and was finally replaced by a double track underwater tunnel in 1957.

The vast majority of the people who lived here left Cuba as a result of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and went with their families to the United States, mainly to Miami.

There is a general tourist office of Cuba webpage Infotur for general info in English: Tourism of Cuba Infotur on Havana

And this seems a newer version of infotur simply call Cuba Travel in English for general info here: Cuba Travel on Havana

Hope you enjoy the post and follow me on my nostalgic runs once in a while. The Clock tower or Torre del Reloj is a memory of the past still shining for all to enjoy in my La Habana. 

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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