We made it! There was definitely some anxiety-inducing obstacles; passport issues (for a later post), lightning storms and delayed flights, a sick pooch, just to name a few. We overcame them all, and finally landed in gorgeous Havana. I had spent a few weeks back in the spring, looking at insta-stories and blogs about Cuba on a couple of my favorite blogger's pages. I was fascinated at how beautiful the colorful, distressed buildings were. The culture is so rich that it just screams at you from every picture. Finally, I decided to plan a mother-daughter trip. I wanted something different, not just a beach trip. Someplace where we can bond while we explore a different culture, learn about the history of a nation, all while getting an amazing tan. When a friend of mine decided to come along, it made it the perfect small girl's trip. I'm a real nerd when it comes to planning travel. Maybe because I worked for a travel agent while in college, but it's part of the excitement for me. I searched all of the Cuba hashtags and watched as many travel vlogs on youtube as I could. I did my research on what to bring, how to get a visa, where to stay. Oh and is bringing toilet tissue really necessary? (Yes!). We planned our outfits, packed our bags and got out of New York for four days.
We flew on Jet Blue and landed, at about noon at Jose Marti' International Airport. My friend was on a different flight from my daughter and I. The plan was to meet in arrivals. Well, that wasn't so simple. When you get to arrivals, you'll see people waiting in the terminals. But there is a glass separating you and you're ushered into immigration and customs. At this point, I start to remember that there's no cell phones, no texting, nothing. I refuse to let anxiety take over. We nervously went through immigration where we had our passports stamped, and got our pictures taken (no smiling!) Strolling through customs was a breeze. On the other side was my friend with a handmade sign that said "Moore". Thank God! We changed our US dollars for Cuban CUCs, found one of the yellow taxis and we were off to our Airbnb.
Our driver was friendly. He asked where we were from. As soon as I said New York, he mentioned Beyonce'. I mean who doesn't love the queen? After a little difficulty, we found our Airbnb. My first Cuba tip is to download maps.me and google translate. They work offline and are lifesavers. We finally pulled up to the address. We rented a cozy two bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Nuevo Vedado. It's a quiet, residential area outside of Old Havana. It took about 20 minutes to get there from the airport. Now this was our first experience with Airbnb, so there was some understandable anxiety. We made our way up a questionable elevator (for even NY standards) to the top floor. We were greeted by the sweetest hosts: Gabby and Odalys. They showed us around the apartment (which was amazing), made us an authentic Cuban Rum cocktail (so good I can't remember the name), and gave us tons of helpful local advice. We decided to change our clothes and head to Old Havana to explore. Our hosts arranged for a taxi and we were off!
New to Airbnb? Use my link to sign up and get $40 of your first stay.
Our taxi dropped us off in Havana. We started off walking around beautiful Plaza de la Catedral, one of the main squares in Havana. We peeked in little restaurants and paladores trying to decide where to have our first Cuban meal. There were live musicians and people dancing in the street. We bravely sampled Cuban street food: chiviricos (fried dough with sugar and cinnamon). Finally, we stumbled upon NAO Cuban Restaurant. We sat outside on the cobblestone streets with a beautiful view of the ocean. I ordered the flank steak, my daughter got the red snapper, and my friend got the Cuban rice. All were tasty. I successfully started my personal mission to drink as many mojitos as possible in four days. We then shared the best damn flan and vanilla ice cream ever, while a live band came and played at our table. This is honestly one of my favorite memories of the trip. We were relaxed, safe and everything was just peaceful. No phones and no worries.
After our meal, we walked back out towards The Malecon. Its a seawall in Havana that stretches for about 5 miles. It's quite common to see people sitting there sipping their Club Havana rum and watching epic sunsets. The Cuban people are super friendly. They were always excited when we said we were from New York. They sang to us and welcomed us. We walked along the Malecon and peeked into different artist' flats until our feet hurt. Hailing a taxi was challenging, but we made it back to our Airbnb. We literally crashed. Day one in Havana was a success!