What to do in Havana Cuba in ONE weekend

Being in Cuba has to be one of the highlights of my life.

This secret world that I have longed for for years I was finally able to explore, and I didn’t do it alone. Sometimes, the greatest adventures are meant to be shared. So, Im going to share it with you.

If you’re in Havana and only for the weekend, here are some things that you MUST do.

As a fellow traveler, I usually check online and read about a place before I decide to hitch my wagon to it (usually..) and I did for Cuba. I read blog posts and news articles and everything seemed fresh and new because the travel ban for Americans to go to Cuba was lifted (#thanksObama)!

img_6602

I am a woman who loves lists, so
armed with my pen and a fresh page in my bullet journal, I was ready. I had seen movies about Havana, and especially Havana Vieja (old Havana) and I was dying to see if what they portrayed was true.

Dani (my friend that I went with) and I both had seen Dirty Dancing Havana Nights and  we were excited and expecting to salsa every night!

If going salsa dancing is not on your list, add it. Even if you’re not good, its Havana. You have to salsa in Havana. Salsa.

Speaking of lists, here is mine! Here are the things I did that I think everyone should:

1) Ride in a 1950’s car. They are taxis and it’s a blast!

img_4207

They will take you anywhere you want to go in the city, and who hasn’t dreamt of riding in the back of one of these babies since seeing Grease with your mom as a kid? The taxi’s don’t have a timer in their car, so before you hop in to see one of the most iconic cities in this country, make sure you have settled how much you’re going to pay. We didn’t pay over 20 paso for any trip (and the airport is about 40 mins from Old Havana).

2) Go to the Malécon at sunset.

img_6370

Because you’re not a idiot, you are well aware that Cuba is an island meaning it is surrounded by water as has some fantastic beaches.

Well, Havana Vieja doest have a beach, it’s more of a boardwalk. But this is where everyone goes at sunset and plays live music and drinks fantastic cuban rum.

If you’re here for sunset, you’re not moving until the sun is gone. Its too beautiful to leave.

img_6381

But maybe you get hungry when the sun sets. And as someone who just wants to eat great food and hear amazing stories, I get that.

So Dani and I went to a restaurant called La Presidenté which was right on the Malécon. If I can’t tell you about another restaurant (which I will.. in a different post) this is absolutely one to go to. And order a Mojito with Ropa Vieja. Your world with change.

And SPEAKING of mojitos..

3) Order a Mojito at the rooftop restaurant and bar of the Ambos Mundos hotel.

This was probably the greatest find that Danielle and I made. I think I may have had one

img_3965

mojito in my entire life before going to Cuba. And it was probably just a sip of someone else’s. They’re not my go to drink. HOWEVER, it’s the best drink in Cuba because of the homemade rum that is there.

Also, the view is incredible.

img_6319

It over looks the bay, and I won’t lie. We went back twice. The birds eye view is everything.

4) Go Salsa Dancing!

Like I said, it absolutely should be on your list. It was on mine, and we wanted to go to Casa de la musica, but it was closed for renovation. That is where they danced in dirty dancing. Instead we went to hotel Florita and danced to our hearts content and sweat through our outfits… You didn’t need to know.. but its true
.img_6691

img_6380Wonderfully enough, Dani and I found excellent dancing partners who taught us the moves. Danielle, being much more fabulous than I, had done salsa before. Unfortunately for Alfredo, my salsa partner, I was not at the same level.

But the best part of being in a new place with wonderful people is that  they will teach you what they know.

 If you can’t dance, go out any way. Get yourself a mojito and head out to make yourself some memories. You (most likely) won’t regret it.

5) Have a daiquiri at La Florita

Ever heard of Earnest Hemingway? He’s just one of the greatest authors of all time who also happened to fall in love with Cuba. He moved there and wrote a book called “The haves and the have nots” about a man in Cuba.

 hemingway-at-the-bar2He is quoted saying La Florita makes the worlds best daiquiri and should look “like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots.”

img_6499
img_4084

There is now a statue of him on his favorite bar stool spot for you to take a picture with, which is exactly what I did.

The Hemingway daiquiri is the most expensive drink I had in Havana but because its Earnest Hemingway I gladly put down the 6 pesos. And it was incredible. He CLEARLY knew what he was talking about.

6) Cigar smoker? Cuba has it for you!

Im not actually a smoker at all. Danielle is and she knows that you can’t beat a cuban cigar from Cuba. There is a whole story in getting the cigars that I will share later. For now, I will say that going to one of the bigger hotels to buy your cigar is a fabulous idea. They will have lots of variety of cigars and they will sell you just one (if you just wanted to try it without getting an entire box). Thankfully we did that.. because Cigar smoking is not for me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It should be noted; there is a way to smoke and a way not to. I am now very aware how not to smoke. But, when in Cuba.

7) Hang out with the locals!

This should go without saying, but in a new place you absolutely should meet the people who live there. There is beauty in going to a place you don’t know and finding yourself and friends and passion.
img_6372
img_6707
img_6460

Dani and I were a little nervous about the lack of Spanish that we knew going into Cuba, but luckily, a lot of the Cubans we met spoke broken English. And that combined with the Spanish we knew, we were able to talk to everyone we wanted to without a problem. It also helped that we spoke about 60% Spanish together. Meaning.. I can speak about 30% of Spanish, but Dani knew the other 30%!

8) See a Museum

Maybe you’re not a history buff or care to read about how people lived back in the day, but here you’re going to want to jump in that people group. Dani and I went to two different museums. Both were old homes- and by homes I mean palaces.

Because Cuba has been closed to America, it has been this wonderful secret that I didn’t know much about. Seeing their history helped me to fall in love with the people and the culture (not that I needed help).

If you only have a short time to be in Cuba, go to Havana Vieja. You will not be disappointed.

There are some things that I would let you know now that I have been.

  • Pack toilet paper and take it with you. Some bathrooms don’t have it, and the ones that do will charge you for it.
  • Download the map.me app. This is an offline map and it saved us more than once.
  • Take a nap. Don’t try to do it all, relax a bit. Take a siesta and go out for more after!
  • Most places will accept euros. They will charge extra for american dollars, but the euro and peso are 1 for 1, so the math is easy.
  • Try foods you can’t pronounce because they are delicious. But if you need a safe bet, papas fritas are french fries.

Here are some Spanish phrases that you will use, so practice:

How much is that -Cuánto cuesta 
Thank you - Gracias
Where is the bathroom - Donde estas le bano
I love your country - Me gusta tu pais
Take me to the Airport - llevame a El aeropuerto

Have fun practicing! If you’ve been to Cuba, what did you get to see and do? Are you planning a trip? Do you want someone to come with you? Im in.

Caio!

img_6458

If it’s Ice Cream, I’m in.

Growing up in my house, ice cream was sacred. We had more rules about ice cream than anything else:

  • Its not a real date if you don’t have ice cream
  • Every day must end in ice cream
  • You cannot have the last scoop of ice cream without buying more
  • Before you eat your ice cream, make sure dad has a bowl
  • You should never have ice cream long enough for it to melt
  • FroYo is not ice cream

You get the point. Its very important to me. And so when a new Ice Cream place opened up down the street from me, I had to check it out. Especially since I had seen videos of it being made in Thailand and going viral from there.

There are some things you see online that you just want to be apart of. An ice cream revival? And in Thailand?! I’m absolutely in.

This time, I didn’t have to go that far. Lucky for me I live in an area that has a pretty large Asian influence, and the east asian style ice cream came to me!

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-4-18-30-pm  Basically what happens is there are cold metal pans that are about -32º F and the guys will pour liquified cream on and scrape it around until it is flat.

They can also mix in your favorite toppings like brownies, Nutella, banana, strawberries, or Oreos. I went for Lychee, which is one of my favorite fruits.

Then comes the fun part. This is really the part that you are paying for. After the flattened cream has hardened on the pan, it is then scraped into rolls of ice cream! Its incredible.

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-4-19-22-pm

I am sure there is a scientific answer as to why ice cream is better in rolls, I just don’t know it. Or perhaps ice cream is just better when the flavor is Thai Tea.

So, this rolled ice cream, or stir fried ice cream is all the rage. And its not hard to see why. But tasting, that’s my real reason for trying it. I am naturally drawn to any place that has ice cream, but if you are adding lychee I would gladly hand over all my cash.

The only real draw back is how fast its over. So if you’re going to get this delicious snack, take a friend who can’t finish theirs. But really, do those friends exist? img_4755

Side note; no one in the shop was Thai, but because this craze started in Thailand, heres how to say thank you in Thai! (Its a beautiful language to look at, but I still can’t read it very well. )

ขอขอบคุณ  It’s pronounced- kap-coon-kah (if you’re a lady)

-kap-coon-kap (if you’re a gentleman)

So, kòp kun, and get yourself some ice cream! Its absolutely time!

Two Minutes Too Late.

I had a stupendous weekend in New York City. If you only have 48 hours to spend in any city, this will always be my recommendation. But this isn’t a post about New York. It is an honest account of what it can look like to travel alone.

Shall I regale you with the story of trying to get home? Prepare yourself, because it teeters on the dramatic side. 

The f train (accurately named), which is the only train to take out of east side without a 1.5 mile walk, was running slow. And by slow I mean 20 minutes late. That’s okay. It eventually came and I jumped on, squeezing between the packaged commuters. I was able to jump off at the correct station and got turned around looking for Penn Station. Luckily I have a great sense of direction and only got lost twice.

It got crazy on the train from the beautiful city of New York to the now known clingy city of New Jersey.

I hopped on another full train to cross the water into the unknown that would bring me to the holy land (or the airport). After buying another bus pass to get to the airport I shoved into yet another train. My love for trains had not been diminished, but was wearing thin..

It was only when I got to the security line when I felt the pressure for time. Half an hour and three times through the medal detector later, I was informed that I was at the wrong gate!! (It was not mentioned before but I was told which gate to go to by a horrific liar!)

In order to get to my gate I must traverse by bus to the correct part of the airport. Like most bus drivers I have come in contact with, this man was not pressed for time. He had no problem taking his time and driving possibly slower than a broken car without a wheel.

I could feel myself start to lose it.

I was breaking down just a bit as I watched the minutes tick by. It was 3:14. One minute before the doors closed. He pulled up and threaten a broken door by waiting to let me out. I jumped out and booked it to my gate. I was so close!! I ran the handicap ramp with shocking grace, only running into the wall once. And then, I saw it! It was beautiful, but there was no time to gaze in wonderment. I ran, full force toward gate B41. I showed my ticket to the lady at the gate fully believing I had made it.

“The doors just closed, mam. We have given away your seat.” 

I missed it. I had failed.

I would never get home and I would be stuck in Jersey for the rest of my life.

I collapsed on the ground tears flowing full force.

There are moments in your life that are beautiful, and there are moments when you are hysterically crying in an airport in Newerk.

This was that day.

After, I kid you not, a full 4 minutes of crying on the floor, I was told that it’s possible to get on the next flight. Still sobbing, I tried to regain any pride I had left and got into a unmoving line for option b. I was unable to control my emotions. It was as if I hadn’t cried in years and this was the moment that I broke.

A young (attractive) man came up to me. He must have been concerned about my mental health because he calmly said “you should probably breath so you don’t pass out”.

It was then I realized I was hyperventilating. Luckily, like most extroverts, talking to someone calmed me. It was possibly to process rational thought again. Of course I wouldn’t be trapped in New Jersey. There would be tons of flights and it was absolutely possible to get on one of them. He said he was a medic and that’s when I knew (though anyone could have guess before) that I was being dramatic.

So, after a few more sobs and a conversation with the ticket booth ladies, I was put on standby for the next flight 3 hours from then.

Most of the time I love airports. They are a place where everyone can be from different worlds but its equal playing ground. Everyone is traveling. Everyone is the same.

Layovers can be fun, but unexpected layovers in a clingy city that wants you to stay there forever, those are best handled with an exorbitant amount of French fries.

So, moral of the story is, never take the F train, and if all else fails, Irish Nachos. (Google Irish Nachos and enjoy your life being changed)

Becoming Korean

 

One of my favorite people introduced me to Korean Dramas.

IMG_5910.jpgShockingly she is from Malaysia not Korea, but none the less we bonded over Korean Dramas. In fact, we watched so many of them that we were able to speak some Korean to each other. It was never good, but we tried.

So on a recent trip to New York I stumbled across the promise land. I had been dreaming of going to Sheol since watching Boys Over Flowers. And coming out of the subway station we were landed right in the middle of KoreaTown. ChinaTown I had heard of, but KoreaTown? I didn’t know such a place existed! I was elated and we ran to the first Korean Barbecue restaurant we could find.

It was not my first time having the delicious Asian cuisine, but it was magical even so.

I had watched countless groupings of my now favorite Korean Actors eating their weight in the barbecue that seemed to be in every restaurant in Korea. I watched them drink soju (which is the most famous alcohol in Korean and an absolute must if you’re having Korean barbecue) and wondered what it would taste like.

We didn’t order any because it was a bit out of our price range, but I have been told that there are certain rules that go along with drinking soju. When I finally have some, I will share the rules and history behind it.

I thought I would have to buy a ticket to Sheol to try any of this, which I was more than willing to do.

But here, on a random subway stop on 6th and Broadway my dreams came true.

We walked into the restaurant out of the freezing cold and got seated at a table with a golden pole above it. My friend and I were the only two white people in the whole place 15283935_10154580690735470_5376157459553142837_nand it was perfect.

We sat down and looked at the menu. In all of my studying (by that I obviously mean watching Korean television) I only recognized 3 dishes.

Being the bold adventurous types that we are, we just smiled and pointed. We had full faith that any Asian food we eat would be perfect and delicious.

After about two minutes of the fantastic wait-staff telling us what their favorites were, our table was full of kimchi and beans and soy beans and what we thought was salsa. The only other Korean Barbecue I had been to was in Chiang Mai in Thailand and it was buffet style. This was much more classy.

15203399_10154580691440470_1705438816140106678_n

If you have never had Korean Barbecue, the most important thing you need to know is that you will cook the food on the table you’re sitting at. If you don’t do cook it on your table its not real Korean Barbecue.

If you are wondering what a safe thing to order because sometimes the menu can be overwhelming with foods you don't know; order the duck. Always 
order the duck. I don't know how or why, but I have never gone to an asian restaurant and had bad duck. Its impossible I believe.

Before you think that you use the chopsticks to eat such incredible food, lets talk about this. There is a particular way to eat Korean Barbecue or Korean ssam style. This means you’re eating with your hands, so make sure you wash up. At a fancy Korean restaurant they will provide hot towels for you.  Then there will be a bed of lettuce on your table and this is what you’re piling up the deliciousness on.

img_4387

 

On the table there will be numerous things like bean sprouts,  kimchi, a green onion salad mung bean jelly, braised beans (which I ate in their entirety.. sorry Marissa..) grilled zucchini and squash. There are also sauces and vegetables and seeds and garlic and all types of things to add to your lettuce wrap. Once you have put everything you want on it, you eat it in one bite. That might change the amount of ingredients that you put in.

It is probably one of my favorite dishes to eat AND you get to prepare it yourself which is really cool. If you have never had any food from Korea, let me be the first to tell you to try the braised duck. And if you’re in New York, go to Miss Korea Barbecue. They impressed me and I’ve been dreaming about Korean food for two years now.

But don’t let me be the one to tell you. Find a Korean Barbecue restaurant near you and try it for yourself.

Here are some Korean words to practice before you go in.
  • Hello: annyeonghaseyo [sounds like an-young-ha-say-oh]
  • Thank you: kamsahamnida [sounds like calm-sa-ham-ne-da]

Luckily most places in the states will speak English and are very helpful.

I whole heartedly believe in eating the food of other cultures because even if you can’t speak the language, the food is universal.