Saturday, January 2, 2016

fun with seniors Cuban style!

Day two- and we are off in the morning to begin exploring Old Havana- we break the walking tour into two parts because the weather is unseasonably hot and therefore we go out early when it is "relatively" cool... and have more interaction with the people to people when the day gets hotter.

Our first activity is a lecture from 8AM to 9AM where a city planner gives us the background on the founding and growth of Havana with city maps and various photos of architectural styles over the course of time and growth.  Excellent information and a good basis for our walk which began immediately after the lecture.  

here is a little bit of background on the development of the city and its current restoration- from wikipedia... and severely edited to a manageable summary by me- LOL

Havana began as a trading port, and suffered regular attacks by buccaneers, pirates, and French corsairs. Ships from all over the New World carried products first to Havana, in order to be taken by the fleet to Spain. The thousands of ships gathered in the city's bay also fueled Havana's agriculture and manufacture, since they had to be supplied with food, water, and other products needed to traverse the ocean.  By the middle of the 18th century Havana had more than seventy thousand inhabitants, and was the third-largest city in the Americas, ranking behind Lima and Mexico City but ahead of Boston and New York.  As trade between Caribbean and North American states increased in the early 19th century, Havana became a flourishing and fashionable city. Havana's theaters featured the most distinguished actors of the age, and prosperity among the burgeoning middle-class led to expensive new classical mansions being erected. During this period Havana became known as the Paris of the Antilles.

During the Republican Period, from 1902 to 1959, the city saw a new era of development. Cuba recovered from the devastation of war to become a well-off country, with the third largest middle class in the hemisphere. Apartment buildings to accommodate the new middle class, as well as mansions for the Cuban tycoons, were built at a fast pace. Numerous luxury hotels, casinos and nightclubs were constructed during the 1930s to serve Havana's burgeoning tourist industry. At the time, Havana became an exotic capital of numerous activities ranging from marinas, grand prix car racing, musical shows and parks. In 1958, about 300,000 American tourists visited the city.

In Old Havana, effort has also gone into rebuilding for tourist purposes, and a number of streets and squares have been rehabilitated. But Old Havana is a large city, and the restoration efforts concentrate in all on less than 10% of its area.  Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado, and the newer suburban districts. Old Havana, with its narrow streets and overhanging balconies, is the traditional centre of part of Havana's commerce, industry, and entertainment, as well as being a residential area.

To the north and west a newer section, centred on the uptown area known as Vedado, has become the rival of Old Havana for commercial activity and nightlife. Centro Habana, sometimes described as part of Vedado, is mainly a shopping district that lies between Vedado and Old Havana. The Capitolio Nacional building marks the beginning of Centro Habana, a working-class neighborhood. Chinatown and the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partag├ís, one of Cuba's oldest cigar factories is located in the area.  A third Havana is that of the more affluent residential and industrial districts that spread out mostly to the west. Among these is Marianao, one of the newer parts of the city, dating mainly from the 1920s. Some of the suburban exclusivity was lost after the revolution, many of the suburban homes having been nationalized by the Cuban government to serve as schools, hospitals, and government offices. Several private country clubs were converted to public recreational centres. Miramar, located west of Vedado along the coast, remains Havana's exclusive area; mansions, foreign embassies, diplomatic residences, upscale shops, and facilities for wealthy foreigners are common in the area.

In the 1980s many parts of Old Havana, including the Plaza de Armas, became part of a projected 35-year multimillion-dollar restoration project, for Cubans to appreciate their past and boost tourism. In the past ten years, with the assistance of foreign aid large parts of Habana Vieja have been renovated. The city is moving forward with renovations, and most of the major plazas (Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza de Armas) and major tourist streets (Obispo and Mercaderes) near completion.  Due to Havana's almost five hundred-year existence, the city boasts some of the most diverse styles of architecture in the world, from castles built in the late 16th century to modernist present-day high-rises.

We head to Cathedral Square, one of the four main plazas in Habana Vieja...  

we move along to the Plaza Mayor where the streets are paved in wood!

then it is off to the senior center where we meet up with people from all walks of life and former professions- including a man and a woman both of whom had been professional singers/opera singers

participating in a sing-a-long everyone gets into the act!

maybe I can get a video to load for a little idea of the group-

here is the church where the senior center is located-

then we are headed out and back to Old Havana for a quick post lunch stop at the art/handicraft market where you can find crap in all shapes and sizes - and on the way home I get a few shots of cars and political graffiti and scenery before we stop at the foot of the Prado and walk back to the hotel from there- but there are so many more photos of the day I will have to include those in another post...

 escaped from the tourist trap- I found cars across the street and Coco taxis around the corner...

so on we go - the Prado has a number of interesting buildings which typify the various architectural periods and stages of renovation - but as I said that is for another post! stay tuned....