Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cuban Fashion: The mini skirt and black lace stocking obsession

You’d think that Cuban fashion is like this...

Or this...

Well yes, that is correct, for the most part. Cuban women like wearing insufficient fabric on their bodies that leaves nothing much to the imagination. They love to swagger down the decaying streets of Havana in their tanned or very dark skins. Pull down that cleavage more, throw out that overflowing chest, rock that waist, strutt off that voluptous belly and do the salsa with that bum. And they don’t care even if they are showing off copious amounts of stretched and sagging skin either. No one cares.

I guess it’s part of the sexy, exotic, confident and somewhat promiscuous culture in the Caribbean. Maybe it’s the weather. Who knows? Your guess might be good as mine.

But what we really found odd in Cuba were the women security guards. They are like gate watchers of buildings, museums and important establishments in the city and they wear DIMINUTIVE SKIRTS and BLACK LACE STOCKINGS. When Blondine and I first saw our first security guard in this unbelievable uniform, we were gobsmacked.

‘Did you just see that?’ ‘OMG... is this for real?’

‘WTF!?’ lol


This is a major, major, major fashion faux pas. I have no words. And then we realised that all women security guards wear the same thing. Seriously, they all wear this. This is work attire in Cuba. Work fashion.

Then we thought that it might just be a Havana odd fashion look, but oh dear, we were so wrong. We saw the same odd fashion trend in Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Santiago de Cuba and many other places. Waitresses, more security guards and even bank employees wear the dreadful combination. While some of these black lacy stocking designs are so hilarious and perplexing, I at the back of my mind demand to know who started this trend!

Nevertheless, we weren’t able to get around to asking the locals about the mini skirt and black lace stocking obsession. We have figured out somehow the mini skirt phenomenon, after all the young school girls wear their school uniforms with really short skirts, but they have underpants underneath though.

It is a common sight throughout Cuba to see school girls in very short skirt uniforms, so that quite explains it a bit. But for the black lace stockings...? Well, this one remains a mystery. For now.

All pictures in this entry were taken in Old Havana (Havana Vieja).

Travel Period: May 2012
Destination: Old Havana, Havana, Cuba

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Elegant place to have a drink on Plaza de Armas - Hotel Santa Isabel (Havana, Cuba)

During our morning DIY walking tour on Calle Obispo – Plaza Armas – Plaza Vieja – Plaza de la Catedral – Plaza de San Francisco, we came across Hotel Santa Isabel. In my previous entry I’ve mentioned about this hotel as my first choice in Old Havana. The hotel was fully booked on the dates we are staying in the city so that’s how we ended up at Florida Hotel instead.

Our table at the portico restaurant facing the plaza at the Hotel Santa Isabel.

Very curious now on what we have missed, Blondine and I went inside to check out the premises. We came out of the hotel’s doors concluding that we are much better off at Florida Hotel because of its impressive atrium courtyard.

However, Hotel Santa Isabel does not disappoint. It has a gorgeous restaurant terrace portico facing Plaza de Armas. Probably the best and most elegant place to sit down, have a drink and watch Cuban daily life in this part of Havana. The hotel has another restaurant on top as well called Condado that offers a better viewing point of the plaza.

Plaza de Armas is the main (touristy) plaza in Old Havana.

The Hotel Santa Isabel restaurant.

On Plaza de Armas there is a daily book market as well. Cubans are like the Spaniards who are crazy about books. Many may have migrated to reading books electronically but not in Cuba. They even sell hard leather bound books.

For the literature fanatic, and if you speak and read Spanish, a stop at Plaza de Armas will for sure be a delight. Locals bring their guitars here as well and serenade passers-by.

Book market on Plaza de Armas selling a lot of (or about) Che Guevarra books.

The locals are always jolly, if they are not dancing on the streets, they are singing with a guitar.

My love affair with books have ceased, unfortunately. Not sure if this is just a temporary thing or the relationship has already grown a grave with an epitaph. I just do not have the time and desire anymore.

When I was a kid, I was a fanatic though. I read the Nancy Drew series in bed late at night under the comforts of my blanket and with a flash light in hand so that my mother will not find out, haha. And I even read our ancient Colliers Encyclopaedia and randomly chose topics to feast on.

Those were the days.

Travel Period: May 2012
Destination: Old Havana, Cuba

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hotel Florida in Havana and what happens when you put your foot down

Havana is literally a colonial architecture dump. Time stands still in Havana, frozen during the majestic 18th century and fast forward into the 1950’s. Cuba in faded glory. So obviously our voyage into this island country was to experience what time warp is like in the 21st century. A stay at one of the historical hotels in Old Havana otherwise known as ‘Havana Vieja’ to the locals will be a great start.

The colonial atrium courtyard lobby of the hotel.

I initially eyed Hotel Nacional de Cuba but this lovely hotel was tucked away far from the heart of Old Havana. We want a historical hotel in the centre where plazas and important sights are easily reached from our doorstep. Hotel Santa Isabel at Plaza Armas was also in my list but they were fully booked. I still have three other hotels to choose from and in the end the decision was placed on Hotel Florida, mainly because I love its colonial courtyard and its white and green colour scheme.

Before I booked this hotel online at Cuba Travel Network (you pay upfront) I researched high and low to make sure I made the right decision. It was when I learned about the drama on the missing windows in many hotels in Havana. So I specifically noted in my reservation—‘We need a room with a window or balcony please.’

Arriving quite late in Havana, I began to worry about the room without a window scenario. Well it seems that the stars have misaligned because we were assigned to Room 101—one of the notorious rooms indeed in Hotel Florida without windows.

NO FREAKING WAY. I simply cannot accept a room without windows after a crammed 10 hours flight?!

So I demanded my room with a window, and I stood my ground and never flinched. Hello? I PAID FOR A ROOM WITH A WINDOW gaddammit. I really and seriously put my foot down, not leaving the desk and nagging at the poor receptionist. Well, it paid off. She finally came to a solution and offered a junior suite at no extra charge for the next day before 10AM. Unfortunately the hotel was full and Room 101 is the only room available for the night. OK fine. I accepted her offer.

Here is the 4-star Hotel Florida on the legendary Calle Obispo, one of the prime streets in Havana Vieja:

This is the second floor where the suites are located.

On the right picture is the door to our room.

The view from the second floor's hallway down to the courtyard lobby.

And here is our junior suite:

Because its a suite they do not have 2 separate beds but a king size one which is fine as its big enough for us. I can stick to my own corner =)

Our own private sitting room and moi on the balcony. I love high ceilings.

The marble bathroom, antiquated and honestly I felt icky here but I have no choice. I felt icky in all the toilets of Cuba except for the one in Trinidad as it was fairly new.

Fire tree and view outside from our suite's balcony.

Florida Hotel's restaurant where we took our breakfasts.

The marble statue at the entrance of the hotel and the hotel's male mermaid doorknob.

As for Room 101? The room actually looked elegant but I almost had a nightmare after seeing the bathroom that I didn’t even think of taking a shower that night considering that we had just a long transatlantic flight. Trust me, I didn’t want to touch anything in that bathroom! The ceiling and walls were in a grand moldy state. Stale odour was also emanating out of the air-conditioning. How on earth can you breathe with recycled air? I need fresh air otherwise I will suffocate. I am also very sensitive to sanitation affairs because my skin can quickly irritate, and it did.

So we woke up early in the morning and made a bee-line for the hotel reception desk. Luckily, we were told that they are now cleaning our new room and they will bring our luggage to the suite once it’s done. We were relieved. We had breakfast and a stroll around Havana Old Town before coming back to the hotel to inspect our new room.

TIP: When booking a hotel room in a historical hotel in Havana, always check if they have windows because many hotels have rooms without one. Havana is very humid and hot, and when there are no windows but only air-conditioning and recycled air, this makes the room damp and stale. Consider as well that the buildings in Havana are old and are not that well maintained. This is granted, helaas. Most rooms in fact have traces of mold spores and bathrooms have dark tile linings.

Travel Period: May 2012
Destination: Havana, Cuba

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Back from Cuba and meet ‘Coralia’!

I’m just back from Cuba and not sure yet if I will be suffering from the infamous transcontinental jetlag malady (we will see!) but I was able to sleep nicely on the plane. It was quite a packed flight but fortunately we had 2 empty seats beside us that we were able to take advantage of.

So yeah, I have gone in hiding for almost 2 weeks. Internet is sadly a rarity in Cuba, it is almost non-existent. The country is frozen in time and internet is only for the privilege few over there. Most hotels starting from 4 stars have internet access (there is no wifi) and apart from having slow connections, they don’t work most of the time, and when there is rain, the country’s telephony infrastructure shuts down. No kidding. Hence, the silence in this blog.

But before I start with my Cuba blog entries, let me introduce to you an important person in Havana: ‘Coralia’ (or Coralla, or maybe Coralya?)

Meeting Coralia was one of my beautiful experiences in Havana City. I personally think that she is a heroine of the city. In her own right of course. She is Havana’s famous and affable street sweeper and she does her job exceptionally with flair. Such enthusiasm, superb grace and flower fashion that I have never ever seen before. Not from someone who sweeps the city streets while singing the whole day every day.

Yup, those are real flowers on her hair (hibiscus and a few others). She plucks them fresh from the gardens of Havana Vieja (Havana’s Old Town). I reckon she does this tradition on a daily basis. She even gave Blondine and I two hibiscus flowers! That was soooo sweet of her.

Coralia is such a joy on the streets of Old Havana.

If you happen to be in the city, do look for her and compliment her of her great deeds for serving Havana in her own unique, flamboyant and passionate way.

Coralia here in action with her broom and dustpan, and of course when she sees a camera nearby, she poses right away!

Blondine and I with Coralia, the friendly and flower power street sweeper of Havana. She is definitely a Havana street icon.

More Cuba stories, lots of pictures (I have more than 1700!) and a few videos very soon =).

Besos mi amigos y amigas!

Travel Period: May 2012
Destination: Havana, Cuba

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

CUBA here I come!

So, flying tomorrow morning to the Caribbean, to Cuba. It is going to be a long flight.

This trip just came in at the right time. I badly need a longer break right now. Seriously. I need to relax and think of NOTHING. Yes, think of nothing. Ahhh, that sounds so peaceful. No stress at all.

I am also tired of the cold weather here.

Nevertheless, I will be back in the Netherlands at the end of the month but will be blogging during the trip when able.

Travel Period: May 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nyhavn Postcard

Nyhavn or New Haven is unquestionably Copenhagen’s or Denmark’s best landmark. It’s a lovely and lively place. Many would probably argue that (for the country’s landmark) it should be the Little Mermaid. Honestly, I don’t quite understand what’s all the fuss about this plain bronze female statue. For me, Nyhavn offers what Copenhagen is all about.

I have more pictures of Nyhavn. I will post them later on a separate entry once I am done polishing them. Polishing a picture for me is very basic—Picasa style, adjusting light and darkness and such only. I don’t have any Photoshop program and I don’t even know how this works.

Anyway, more pictures of Nyhavn soon. Promise!

Travel Period: April 2012
Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

A foodie’s haven in Copenhagen: Torvehallerne KBH

With Noma recently taking the spotlight as the best restaurant in the world, Denmark is seriously becoming a foodie paradise. Before the Copenhagen trip, which was before Noma was again selected as the best restaurant for 2012, I earnestly checked out my options of having dinner at Noma but later on realised that my chances are regrettably very slim, i.e. getting a table at Noma is like getting invited to a presidential dinner, and secondly, since when is it nice to dine alone in a Michelen starred restaurant?

So while in Copenhagen I backtracked at the idea and concentrated on finding my way to Torvehallerne KBH instead, a showcase of culinaire slash farmer’s market haven.

My hotel’s concierge informed me the night before that there will be snow flurries in the morning, however he said that after 10AM it will stop and then we will have sunshine.

It is now past 10AM and I have just finished dressing up and now watching TV in my hotel room but outside is grey and I can still see snow falling down. This spring long weekend trip has turned into a last hurrah winter trip. Nevertheless, it was getting late for my breakfast so I decided to just wing it to Torvehallerne KBH. I am hungry, and I have a map and a sturdy hat anyway.

The Torvehallerne KBH is a great place for first timers in Copenhagen (foodies or not) to sample Danish cuisine, as well as other popular international cuisines, i.e. Spanish, Italian and French. It is actually a farmer’s market with the usual raw produce of vegetables, fruits and meat available, as well as stalls selling gourmet charcuterie and cheeses. Moreover, there were cafés, restaurants and bakery stands offering ready-to-eat foods.

The market is housed in 2 separate galleries that resembles a greenhouse. You have to physically go out to go to the other hall. When in Copenhagen, DO NOT MISS THIS.

Here are my pictures when I toured the place:

This stand called ‘Ma Poule’ (french cuisine) has a long queue of customers. It is selling duck confit sandwiches. Here are the guys busy tearing the meat into pieces before serving them on a sandwich.

Here is the fish section:

Cheese and charcuterie, my favourite by the way, and more:

I had a very nice smushi breakfast here. A smushi is a smaller and more artistic version of the smorrebrod (Danish open-faced sandwiches). It was a very pleasant respite as well to be sitting inside with a warm cup of coffee while outside is snowing.

Their website in Danish: Torvehallerne KBH. The market is located on Frederiksborggade.

Travel Period: April 2012
Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark

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