Robaina's

Robaina's
Robaina's plantation

Friday, 2 December 2016

Bloody Caesars Have Arrived in Cuba

                   During my last couple of trips, maybe around a years time, I've been noticing more and more, a product on the shelves of most store coolers. I can't miss it because it's practically next to beer. There must be a lot of it on the island because some shops have a whole shelf dedicated to it. It's sold in cans the same size as a canned beer or soft drink. At first glance it looks like tomato juice or at least something tomato-like. The name always made me wonder...."Kermato", made me think of "Clamato". One day I picked-up a can and read the ingredients, besides all of the herbs & spices & the usual chemical jargon which I hardly understand in English (never-mind Spanish), there it was among the list, 20% jugo de tomato and almeja (clam). Upon closer inspection it was right there under the word Kermato in slightly smaller letters "coctel de Tomate y Almeja" (Tomato and Clam Cocktail).  This was a knockoff of Clamato Juice, produced by The Nestlé company & made in Mexico (if I'm not mistaken). I mixed it with some Stoli I got from the corner store for $16cuc and the Worcestershire sauce I brought from home and there it was, a Bloody Caesar in Cuba. I was getting into Gin & Tonics this last year, since three varieties of tonic water are now easier to find, schweppes being one of them. Many varieties of Gin are available today now that Gin & Tonics are the 'in' drink with the hip & affluent (monied) Cuban crowd. You can even find Hendricks Gin on some bar shelves and in some Supermarkets. It's nice having another Cocktail option while smoking a cigar on my terrace in Havana, I can only drink so much Rum & Beer. Cheers






















Thursday, 3 November 2016

Bus Stops of Cuba

                I live in Toronto, Canada and here in my country as I'm sure it's the same in other similarly wealthy and organized countries, our bus stops are uniform and immaculate. We have people paid for by the city that go around and maintain them, wash the glass, change the advertising, sweep and clean. Most of our bus stops (not all) are covered and somewhat enclosed from the elements. When I began to travel to Cuba I was always fascinated by it's bus stops, a curious mishmash of metal and concrete with one hardly ever being the same as another. Today they've become commonplace when I scan the streets while going from one place to another but I often think, what's the reason for their style of construction and how often do buses actually stop there. At first I laughed to myself thinking that the reason for them being built so firmly (concrete and metal) was so Cubans wouldn't steal the parts to use for the construction of additions to their own properties. However, I owe a small apology for having those thoughts. Although I still believe that may be part of the reason, after the last hurricane that hit Cuba this past month, another reason for their sturdiness could also be so that the high winds don't take take them away. As far as when the bus actually stops there, only Cubans know the answer to that, and just barely. No signs are posted by the stops giving you the bus schedule and if you ask Cubans they'll tell you it's never on time and when it finally arrives it's always packed. I'm glad that the only bus I take in Cuba is the Via Azul from one city to another and for the most part they're usually on time and air-conditioned, but you pay for that, public transportation is free or close to it in Cuba. Below are pictures of Bus Stops taken from different parts of the country.




































Friday, 21 October 2016

Cienfuegos (Cuba) A Must See

                Cienfuegos the city is the capital of Cienfuegos Province. It's located on the southern coast of Cuba about 250 km from Havana and has approximately 150,000 inhabitants. They call it 'La Perla del Sur' or The Pearl of the South. Translated Cienfuegos literally means "one hundred fires". Although the bay itself (today the third-largest port in Cuba) was developed during the 16th century, the first Spaniards didn't settle here until 1819. Shortly afterwards the city was settled by French immigrants from France and Louisiana influencing much of the architecture that still exists today. Many of the streets still retain their original French names. Cienfuegos was one of the last settlements to be established by the Spaniards during the colonial era. The city was first named 'Fernardina de Jagua' in honor of King Ferdinand VII of Spain but eventually was renamed Cienfuegos after the Captain General of the island at the time. The colonial or touristy part of the city is pretty compact, I was able to walk it quite easily. We stayed at the Hotel Jagua and was able to walk from there along the Malecon to Prado and then to the historic center in a reasonable amount of time. If you have ever considered visiting this city I would strongly recommend it, it's very underrated and has a tremendous amount of things to see....and if you get bored, Trinidad isn't too far away.

Sites of interest:

Teatro Tomás Terry:
Opposite the Parque Marti at Avenida 56 y Calle 27. Construction began December 19, 1887 and finished sometime in the next year with the theater open for business in November 1889. Commissioned by Terry Thomas, one of the wealthiest men in Cuba (the world) at the time. He died in Paris before construction began but his children honored his wishes and construction went forward. Enrico Caruso had sung here during it's glory years. At the time of it's construction, it was one of the largest theaters in the Caribbean with a capacity of 1200 people. The theater is still used today for performances. There's a fee for entering just to look around.
Telephone: (53) (43) 51 3361 e-mail: terry@azurina.cult.cu

Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Cathedral:
This church located opposite Parque Marti with it's neoclassical facade & two bell towers is also known as the the Cienfuegos Cathedral. The original building was inaugurated on April 15, 1833 when the town had a population of just over 3000 people. The building has had some expansions and improvements in 1850, 1852-61, 1866-69 and 1869-75 finally being declared a Cathedral in 1903. The Cathedral is considered part of the historic center which was made a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2005. Open to the public.

Palacio Azul Hotel:
This mansion, designed by the Italian architect Alfredo Fontana, was originally built as a private residence between 1920-21. Through the years it's been used for various purposes until finally being converted into a 7 room hotel in 2004....each room is named after a flower. All the rooms come with air conditioning, and satellite TV. It's located to the side of the Cienfuegos Yacht Club at Calle 37 #1201, right in front of the Malecón of Cienfuegos, just 10 minutes from the city center.

Palacio Ferrer:
The Ferrer Palace in Cienfuegos, built between 1917-18, was for a brief time the home of merchant and landowner José Ferrer. Enrico Caruso stayed in this house in 1920. I'm not sure whether or not this building is open to the public yet. It has been under renovation and I read somewhere that it's slated to be reopened as the Casa de La Cultura in 2018 offering tours for a small fee to whoever wishes to visit. The views from the top of the building are majestic. Located on Ave. 54 esq. Calle 25.

Clotilde del Carmen Rodriguez Lopez:
Clotilde del Carmen Rodriguez Lopez designed and made the first flag of Cienfuegos.

Necrópolis Tomás Acea:
The cemetery (one of two in Cienfuegos), a National Monument since 1986, opened it's neoclassical gates in 1926. The Garden Cemetery is 2km east of city center along Ave. 5 de Septiembre. It's named after Tomas Acea, one of the wealthiest families in Cienfuegos at the time, who donated a great deal to the construction of the site. Within you'll find a monument to the cienfuegueros who gave their blood in Africa during Cuba's contribution to African liberation.

Yacht Club Building Punta Gorda:
Along the Cienfuegos Malecon, next to the Palacio Azul Hotel, lies the Cienfuegos Yacht Club. During the first half of the 20th century, the surrounding Punta Gorda area, dotted with Art Nouveau style mansions, was home to the wealthiest inhabitants of the Cienfuegos. Today most of those mansions have been converted into hotels. The marina is actually working and providing services to those who wish to charter a boat of varying sizes for daily or weekly excursions (fishing). I found it to be leaps and bounds better than the Marina Hemingway in Havana.

Benny Moré:
Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré (1919-1963), better known as Benny Moré, was one of the most famous Cuban singers of his time. He was born in Santa Isabel de las Lajas in the Province of Cienfuegos. He died in 1963, an estimated 100,000 people showed up to his funeral.

Colegio San Lorenzo:
On the Plaza Jose Marti, this building was constructed in the early 20th century and opened it's doors in 1929. The wealthy Nicolas Salvador Acea (of the cemetery fame) left part of his estate to the creation of two schools that were housed within the college dedicated to underprivileged children. A Unesco World Heritage Site.

Casa Verde:
Avenida 58 #3709  e/ Calle 37 y 39
Another one of those mansions on Cienfuegos' Punta Gorda that's been converted into a boutique hotel. The house was built in 1920 and originally called Chalet Masonry. In 2009 it was reopened as Hotel Casa Verde after being restored by the Gran Caribe hotel chain. The hotel contains only 8 rooms one of which is a suite. I had the opportunity to visit and can tell you the rooms are quite spacious, all with flat-screen televisions and working air-conditioning. Your stay includes breakfast provided in one of the common areas. The back of the building that faces the waterfront has a bar with a seating area for the guests...sometimes there's live music. The hotel is owned by the same group that owns the Hotel Jagua across the street and guests of Casa Verde may use it's pool.

Hotel La Unión:
Calle 31 esquina A-54
Since it's inauguration in 1869 the hotel has housed many important historical figures. this is one Cienfuegos' oldest hotels. However, after the revolution in 1959 it ceased to operate as a hotel and so began it's deterioration. The hotel was eventually shut down for restoration and reopened in July 2000. With 49 rooms (2 suites, 11 junior suites & 36 double rooms), this is considered a mid-sized boutique hotel. You couldn't imagine that this centrally located building just one block from the main square (Parque Marti) was built on farmland that was once owned by Don Tomás Terry. Each room has a balcony and satellite TV and the hotel has a small pool and rooftop bar/restaurant with a wonderful view of the city. However, it's not cheap, the price I found listed on the internet was from CA$184 for a Standard Room.

Palacio de Valle:
Calle 37 esq. a 0
This wonderland of a mansion is located in Punta Gorda near the end of the Malecon, practically in the parking lot of the Hotel Jagua where we stayed for a week. The picture below was taken from the balcony of the hotel. It's only a few minutes from the downtown area. I say wonderland because you don't know what the heck they were thinking when they built this thing; Gothic, Moorish, Romanesque & Baroque influences are all mixed together. Construction on the palace began in 1913 and it took Italian architect Alfredo Colli 4 years to complete at a cost of a million and half pesos, which at that time was considered the most expensive building project of the century. French, Arabic, Italian and Cuban artisans worked with marble, alabaster, brass, glass and ceramic imported from Spain, Italy and United States. The materials used were of the highest quality, even precious woods from Cuba. The building has two floors, a roof and a basement and is surrounded by a beautiful fence with gardens and potted ornamental plants within. The entrance boasts a Gothic style white Carrara marble staircase and to the left you'll find a seafood restaurant that has a bar on the patio with a splendid view of the bay. I don't remember the food here being that great (average) but it was run by the Hotel Jagua and the only place we knew on our first night there. There's usually someone playing the piano and on the night we went someone was singing along. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and today it's also used for cultural events & is home to the National Heritage Memorial of Cienfuegos (museum).
                The house owes its name to Acisclo del Valle Blanco, a Spaniard from Asturias, a wedding gift from Amparo Suero’s (his wife) father, when they married. It was completed in 1917 but Acisclo died only 3 years later in 1920, he left everything to his wife and 7 children. She abandoned the house in 1922 when she left for Spain with the children. It was the Hunter's Club for awhile until the Revolution of 1959 when it became an Art School.






Colegio San Lorenzo


Statue of  Benny Moré Along Prado


Statue of Jose Marti in Parque Marti


Arco de Triunfo Parque Jose Marti





Punta Gorda Open Air Gallery Sculpture Park (above and below)



Prado (above and below)



Casa Verde Hotel


Yacht Club Building Punta Gorda


Yacht Club


Palacio Azul Hotel



 Colegio San Lorenzo


 Teatro Tomas Terry


Statue of Clotilde del Carmen Rodriguez Lopez


Catedral de Cienfuegos


Pedestrian Promenade in the city center  


Hotel La Unión


Punta Gorda looking towards the city center


 Palacio de Gobierno de Cienfuegos


Parque Jose Marti


Ferrer Palace





Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Cathedral (La Catedral de Cienfuegos)


Palacio de Valle (Punta Gorda)


Cienfuegos Malecon


Yacht Club