(apologies to those of you who managed to locate this post (when it was a Page!) but my Senior Technical Adviser advised me to repost it as a blog so here it is.
Up early and drove through heavy rain all the way to Heathrow. (And here’s your first travel tip!….) Parked at the Premier Inn (booked thru JustPark.com for £40 for 10 days) and simply caught the FREE bus no 423 to Terminal 5.
CHAMPAGNE BREAKFAST, ANYONE?
Checked in and made our way to the BA lounge for a hearty free breakfast (we declined the wine and champagne at this hour!) and last minute use of wifi to do more research. I managed to email a couple of Casa Particulares for our 2nd & 3rd nights as I’d just got an email telling me the one I thought I’d booked was full. Holly (my friend Hilary’s daughter who’d given us tips on backpacking round Cuba) had said don’t book any accommodation till we got to Cuba but having looked at a few places and found them fully booked I decided to book Havana then do the rest as we went along…….I hoped to receive replies in Madrid where we had a 2.5 hour layover.
We arrived in Madrid and were intercepted by a most helpful employee asking ‘¿vuelos connectandos?’ and we were siphoned off with one other guy flying to New York and ended up on a private bus which took us through the bowels of Barajas Airport to the intercontinental terminals in record time. (And Madrid is a BIG airport, from previous experience).
We found our way to the Iberia Lounge and had our pick of a selection of Spanish food and drink (well-stocked bar, like T5) for lunch. I checked email to get the news that the Casa was full but the owner gave me map links to a few others- I googled them but none were on tripadvisor (not even no 889 of 900 in Havana but I decided to ‘go with the flow’ and not bother with others’ opinions for this trip so we looked at a couple of photos provided and chose one located down near the Malecón coast road between Old Havana (currently being renovated, at least the front of the buildings are, and the tourist hotspot) and Centro Havana (where all the Cubans live). I was relieved knowing we had at least something booked as we’d decided that we didn’t want to carry our luggage around Havana knocking on doors.
We landed in Havana at 9pm local time. We inadvertently chose the slowest queue for immigration (took about 45 mins) and thought our luggage would at least be waiting for us….but we had to wait another 15 minutes as each case came down the carousel one….by…..one!
HAVANA EVEN SMELLS OF CIGARS!
Through to arrivals and eventually located our pre-booked taxi (no public transport into the city). Outside it seemed the subtle but definable smell of cigars is part of the atmosphere. First impressions as we’re driven downtown ….The road system appeared pretty chaotic with old rusty cars, bikes, taxis and pedestrians sharing the highways.; limited or non-existent street lighting…….or was it just turned off?…; roads were all 6 or 8 lanes; traffic lights that counted down in green to tell drivers how long till they turned red, and in red if they were about to turn green! What a great idea! (But no pedestrian crossings, I realised later!)
We arrived at the Hotel Inglaterra, the oldest hotel in Havana (1865), centrally located between Old and Central Havana. Outside were many taxis, bici-taxis, coco taxis, a 5 piece band was playing and it was still pretty warm. The hotel was an imposing building and in a fabulous location near the Capitolio and next to a beautiful Plaza. We walked into the hotel which was beautifully cool and in pretty good condition. We checked in and took the lift to the 3rd floor.
We’d booked through Trailfinders and they had notified the hotel that it was our special anniversary so we were hoping for a better room. Our room on the third floor had high ceilings, high windows that opened but the shutters were painted shut so no view to speak of,….and two single beds! We were too tired to change and it was only for one night. We hadn’t been able to change any money to Cuban pesos yet but thought we’d be able to charge hotel stuff to the room so we decided to pop up to the rooftop terrace to listen to the live Cuban band and for a cocktail …but were advised that we couldn’t ‘put drinks on the room’ so went downstairs to get a credit note. There was a queue at reception and as it was now 11.30pm local time (and 4.30am body time) we decided to go to bed! We’d been up nearly 24 hours by now, after all.