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Sandie Wiesenthal

Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent

Discovering Traditional Cuba

Cuba was high on my wishlist for many years, and when I finally had the chance to visit, I was not disappointed. It has so much to offer travelers looking for a completely different and very personal cultural experience.  

Just a 55-minute flight from Miami, Havana is unlike any place I have seen. Vibrant and exciting, colorful and electrifying, the city made me feel as though I had stumbled back half a century (an especially apt description after a mojito or two). There was no Wi-Fi, no credit cards and no cell phone service. I watched Cubans pack into a bodega for their monthly rations of rice and oil and passed Che Guevara's stylized silhouette over and over again.  

I had been concerned about the hotels, and while there is no super five-star luxury hotel, my room at the Parque Central was large and clean, the hot water worked as did the hairdryer, and it was right across from the park in Old Havana. I also visited many other hotels. I especially like the elegantly restored Hotel Saratoga, which attracts many A-list stars, and I was impressed with the boutique Hotel Palacio del Marques de San Felipe, a historic hotel on picturesque St. Francis of Assisi Square. 

I spent four days exploring the city and could have spent more. The people are wonderful and friendly, and the buildings are beautiful, despite the fact that many need some loving restoration. Best of all, there is music everywhere. 

The art scene is also booming in Havana. I visited the Fine Arts Museum and set up visits to several artists' studios. I was excited to visit the studio of renowned artist Eduardo Roco (Choco) and purchase a painting from him directly. 

I also made it a point to see Galleria La Lavanderia, a laundromat-turned-contemporary art center, where I was hosted by the founder, Rafael Perez. Another must-see for art-lovers is Fusterlandia, a once impoverished neighborhood that was converted into a glittering ceramic wonderland by Cuban artist Jose Fuster's iconic painted tile and mosaic work. He started by decorating his own home, and then those of his neighbors, many of whom have been inspired to become artists as well.  

Other highlights included visiting Hemingway's house and Cojimar, the setting for "The Old Man and the Sea," and Havana’s Colon cemetery, which has some of the world’s most stately mausoleums and chapels. I also enjoyed a day trip to Las Terrazas, a popular eco-tourism area for Cubans, and spent two days at lively Varadero Beach.  

The group I was traveling with brought supplies to donate to Temple Beth-Shalom in Havana, where we visited with the temple president. Listening to her stories of meetings with Fidel Castro and the history of Judaism in Cuba had me alternately laughing and crying. 

Most evenings, we ate at various local paladares, which are privately owned restaurants, some in homes. I also saw The Tropicana show which was right out of the '50s. I fully expected Ricky Ricardo to show up! The next night seeing The Buena Vista Social Club was so much fun, and the music was great.  

If you are looking for five-star luxury beach resorts and a destination where everything runs like clockwork, then Cuba may not be the trip for you. On the other hand, if you want to experience a destination relatively untouched by American culture then I can arrange a wonderful trip to Cuba for you. Please feel free to call me if you want to experience this wonderful destination. 

Adios for now!

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