Virtual Havana Bus tour!

Join us for encompass tours virtual Hop-on Hop-off bus tour of Havana, Cuba

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Got your camera, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, money and maybe a snack??? Yes? “Listo?” Ready? Then let’s go…….
This is your Hop – on Hop – off bus tour of the major attractions of the city of Havana!
Keep your ticket in a safe place, it is valid all day and will be inspected every time you hop on or off!! Remember you can get off at any stop and there will be another bus to pick you up in about 20minutes!!!

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As we are staying in a lovely casa (BnB) in Havana Vieja, we are “hoping-on” in Parque Central just opposite Hotel Inglaterra and Café Francesa. http://encompasstours.com/2012/09/coffee-break-havana/  This small park is surrounded by some of the most popular hotels of old Havana. Shiny new ones like Hotel Parque Central and not quite so shiny old ones like Hotel Inglaterra and Telegrafo.

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The best seats for city views are on the top deck, so cover up with sunscreen or you will burn quickly in the sun!!

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We are off!! Down Prado towards the Malecon, passing the Museum of the Revolution housed in the old Batista palace (recently restored) and a fascinating “must do” visit in itself!

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The city’s historians have realised the value of the old architecture to the tourist industry and attempts are being made to re build. Restoration of some of the crumbling facades is underway, but for some of the decaying buildings, fronting the malecon, weathered by the sea spray and the winds; it’s too late and they are being torn down. The malecon is always a popular place for Cubans and tourists alike. http://encompasstours.com/2013/02/life-on-the-malecon/

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Our tour bus stops to pick up people from various hotels en route, then we arrive at the first stop of real interest; Plaza de la Revolucion. This expansive plaza was built to celebrate culmination in 1959 of the revolutionary struggle for Cuba led by Fidel Castro.

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Plaza de la revolucion

Castro used the plaza to make countless public addresses to the masses in praise of the revolution over the years, but more recently this enormous plaza has been used for non political musical events. Famously the free concert in 2009 given by many of Latin Americas most famous and popular stars. This concert was attended by a staggering one tenth of the population of the island and astounded the authorities who struggled to provided security and support!!!

Next stop the Miramar trade centre with a good view of the coast and National Aquarium!

AquariumHavanaCastro announced the Aquarium would be “the best in the world”, but if you do hop off for a visit you will see it has a long long way to go! It’s mainly a day out for Cuban families who have not heard of animal rights or welfare, and sadly there is little information about the lovely fish that are housed here. Turtles are abundant and there are shows daily of trained of dolphins and sea lions who seem to be well fed!

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Winding through busy streets, a bus ride is a great way to see life going on in this extraordinary city where most buildings seem to be half ruined. Everyone going about their business.

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The CDR and Huge political hoardings remind Cuban’s to be uphold the revolution and this one at the gates of the cities cemetery Cementario Colon broadcasts the words Jose Marti  http://encompasstours.com/2012/05/in-search-of-cubas-national-symbols/ We can hop off here and explore the maze of magnificent tombs within the yellow walls, but If it’s not your thing stay on the bus!!

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Heading back towards the old part of the city our bus returns to the Capitolio (now closed and being restored) and the Gran Teatro de la Habana,  the majestic grand theatre, which is certainly worth a visit. You can take a guided tour for 2 or 3cuc. If you want to come back in the evening to catch a performance that will cost you tourist price of 25cuc upwards great value!

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More or less the last port of call on our bus tour is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. These fortifications are situated at the entrance to Plaza de Armas and were listed in a UNESCO world heritage site as part of Old Havana and Fortifications. If you look up at the watch tower you will notice a familiar figure, La Giraldilla, this one is a copy, but she is the symbol seen now on every bottle of Havana Club!!

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In the magic and romance of the old city, maybe it’s time to Hop off for one last time and explore! Find a nice bar to enjoy a cocktail before dinner and digest all you have seen!!

Why not join us for a real tour this year and take your own fotos!

“A Cuban Snapshot” http://encompasstours.com/tours/cuba/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

“Mi Cubita” http://encompasstours.com/tours/cuba/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Day of the Barber

Dia Del Barbero y Peluquero!

Cubans, like most of us, enjoy making much of celebrations and special days!

Here in Europe we are about to celebrate the biggest festival on our calendars with huge commercial build up over the last three months, over eating and drinking etc. It’s almost impossible to get away from the razzmatazz and present buying frenzy of Christmas! How different is the Cuban experience where religion was banned 53 years ago at the time of the Castro revolution of 1959!  The laws have since been relaxed, but religious events are only marked by a very few people and do not hold the huge significance and commercialism that the majority of the Christian world puts upon them.

 

During December there are some Christmas decorations displayed in some private houses, hotels and other tourist destinations, but for most people it’s just another day. Havana has a wonderful baroque Cathedral in the old city and here you always find an enormous Christmas tree just outside the main doors and a large nativity scene constructed in the Cathedral Plaza. It’s quite an attraction for tourists and locals alike and the midnight service on Christmas Eve sees the Cathedral full to over flowing!

The 27th of December however is a day marked by all Cubans, as it is the “dia del barbero y peluquero” and will be a day of holidays and fiestas for all the hard working barbers!

The “day of the barber and hairdresser” was created in 1946 in memory of a certain Juan Evangalista Valdez Veitia. Juan Evangalista was born on this day in 1836 in Villa Clara and died in 1918. He worked as barber, journalist, poet, historian and revolutionary, and as you can see from the photograph, he sported a fine moustache! It was in his barbers shop that plans were discussed and strategies put in place during the War of Independence 1895-1898, and for this activity he is revered!

These days barbers and hairdressers are as plentiful in Cuba as ever and as a tourist you can enjoy a somewhat old fashioned style shave or trim with cut throat razors and scissors. The machinery may be low tech, but the high techniques, expertise and dedication by your barber are a match to any swanky London salon! Cubans like to chat and gossip and barbers worldwide are renown for cultivating an ambient conducive to doing exactly that and are always a buzzing local.

 

If you are visiting Cuba at this time of year remember can be quite cold and breezy at night so make sure you pack a shawl for evening walks and outside dining, especially if you have just had your hair cut or your beard shaved off!!!!

Enjoy a holiday in Cuba with our popular holidays “A Cuban Snapshot” http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

“Mi Cubita” http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Our groups are small and our attention personal!

Waiting for snow in Havana: Book Review

Waiting For Snow In Havana by Carlos Eire first published 2003

ISBN 0 7432 0737 8

EAN 9780743207379

This is a delightful evocative, novel of non fiction telling the story of a privileged Cuban boyhood in an island paradise turned upside down by the revolution of 1959. Christmas was cancelled and life was never to be the same again. The sound of firing squads replaces firecrackers and friends began to disappear from school. People were scared! Carlos along with his brother and 14,000 other children were airlifted alone to the United States in an operation called Peter Pan, in an effort to save lives. With the promise of families to follow… one day.  Son of a lawyer, who is convinced he is Louis XVI , the author recounts evocative tales of childhood pranks and adventures influenced by the imaginative world of his father’s intricate model making and fantasies of noble birth. The story is of a life torn between two lands and two cultures, families forced apart and the difficulties of adjustment and acceptance.

This book is a great read! It will make you laugh and cry at the same time! It will leave you with a beautiful and realistic image of pre revolutionary Cuba and bring into focus on a very personal level the  practicalities of difficult decisions made in haste with best intentions the consequences of which are being lived out by many too young to understand what was going on.

Why not book yourself onto one of our Cuba Holidays and see how the island has transformed!

A Cuban Snapshot is our 7 day tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

Mi Cubita is a 14 day tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Home Cooking!

Local, Nutritious & Delicious….Home cooking in Cuba!

The fashion these days, here in Britain, is for cooking and eating with an emphasis on “seasonal produce” and even better “locally sourced”! We are asked to appreciate the extra time and effort that obtaining these ingredients necessitates, and we seem to be more than willing to dig into our pockets and pay extra for this privilege!! It’s a big selling point! We will however, quite likely, accompany our meal with a good French or Italian wine and a Costa Rican coffee with a “fare trade” label, the pepper used to season will be imported and the Olive oil in the salad dressing will not be from a British olive grove! Well…these inconsistencies we allow, and we feel we have had a more healthy and nutritious meal that has contributed to our local economy.

How marvellous then to arrive in Cuban and find that the cuisine is 100% seasonal and 98% local produce!  Oh the advantages of island life with a US trade embargo!! You can be certain that your food has come straight from the land and that pig you hear squealing over the wall is going to reappear on your plate as a succulent and delicious meal!

Obviously, living in a country where the season dictates your flavours means that dishes change with the available ingredients and menus likewise.  Your holidays are for experiencing new flavours and we at encompass tours, aim to offer you the chance to eat the best and typical dishes of Cuba. The lovely ladies of the “casa particulars” take a great pride in being able to offer you their best and favourite dishes, and never has it been more true that “necessity is the mother of invention”.  Recipes are passed down the family and any Cuban will tell you his Mamas cooking is the best!! Neighbours help out with ingredients and cooking utensils and food is the major preoccupation of most Cubans.

As a tourist you will be able to eat foods forbidden to local people!!!! Lobster and Beef are for the tourists and the government owns all the cows and keep a check on them!! Occasionally an unfortunate beast might get “hit by a train” and as food is in short supply, there will be no time wasted in dividing up the carcass among the local community.  Fish can be hard to source, which will surely come as a surprise as most cities are a stone’s throw from the ocean. This is because no Cuban fishing fleet exists for fear of someone running away to Miami!  People do however fish from the shore and go out in tiny “rowing boat” type vessels to catch some fish and earn a little extra money. Cubans get their food on the ration card that has existed since the liberation forces ousted Batista in the revolution of 1959. That covers their basic commodities per head of population, but 4 eggs a week do not go far, and last year the Casto regime announced that the rations were to be cut. Getting enough food can be a daily chore for a lot of inner city families.

These days Farmers markets are growing in popularity and your host families will be able to buy the extras ingredients needed to feed tourists. Tasty plantain, sweet potatoes, yucca, cassava, pumpkin, beans, an assortment of “greens”, coconut, garlic, sweet peppers and various herbs will make memorable dishes.  Fruits such as oranges, lemons, bananas, pineapple, fruita bomba (papaya to us, but you can’t say that in Cuba!), melon, guava and lemons make delicious juices for your breakfasts.

By far the best cuisine in Cuba is to be found in the home and not in the restaurants whose menus are repetitive and boring and service…how can I describe it….erratic?. You might find the only dish available from the 20 or so listed on the menu, are the two containing ham, cheese and chicken! If you are a vegetarian or vegan eating in “casa” is really your only way to survive.  Cubans like meat and don’t understand vegetarianism; many don’t eat vegetable at all as they can’t afford them!

A typical dish called “Ropa Vieja” is a stew of shredded meat onion and some sweet peppers with seasoning, and translates as “old clothes”. Rice is eaten daily and the most popular dishes are known as “Moros y Christianos” which could be interpreted as “blacks and whites” as it’s made with black beans, while “Congri” is made with red beans.

Eating in Cuba can be a challenge, but the results are worth waiting for! Join us on tour and taste the flavours of Cuba!
“A Cuban Sanpshot” 7 days tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/
“Mi Cubita” 14 day tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/