Cuba, exciting, Cuba!

First three one letter expressions of what I thought of Cuba are:

  • Great!
  • Music!
  • Safety!

I had a Great time in Cuba and would visit again in a heartbeat.  One of the reasons for this were the classic cars which we see on TV, or as Cubans call them, American cars.  I had always wanted to visit Cuba to see these cars before the country was too developed to have brand new cars.  There are two types of American cars: the ones for tourists and the ones for personal use by locals.  The tourist ones are spic and span, while the local ones look like they need quite a bit of TLC.

Tourist cars

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Local cars

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I also go to see the old buildings which were built to last fourteen millennia in mind, I thought.  These are really strong buildings because they are still standing even with minimal or no maintenance.

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Oh, they have their own Capitol Building as well, though it was under renovation.

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I love live Music and could not believe how much there was everywhere, not only in Havana but elsewhere.  Most of the tourists I met concluded that all Cubans have musical talents in their genes.  I believe it!

An almost all-female band in Vinales, a town outside Havana who are very good musicians.  The highlight for me was the young lady playing the trumpet.

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I treated myself to a dinner concert by Buena Vista Social Club, a group that consists of people who are in their eighties down to those in their twenties.  I particularly liked one elderly man, in the photo below, who seemed to be in his eighties.  I wondered why they brought him on since he looked fragile, until I heard him sing and saw his energy when performing.  True, he was not sturdy, but his energy was electric – he has been performing since the fifties after all.

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Havana is very Safe, whether you be male or female.  You can walk alone any time of day or night.  Nobody bothers you.  Instead Cubans are very helpful and will offer to walk you somewhere if they think you are lost, with no exchange of money.  A tour guide summed it up well when she said “We have to be friendly and helpful to tourists because they are our livelihood.”  You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Of course, not all is rosy in Cuba but for this and the next post I have decided to just focus on the positive.  I concluded that the positives more than outweigh the negatives.

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Mexico City Visit

I treated myself to a vacation I have wanted to take for several years – Mexico City and Havana!  I will tackle Mexico City first, where I had a great time. I was amazed at the beauty, cleanliness and safety of the City.

I was put off going there ten years ago when reports about drugs and violence started being broadcast a lot.  I made a hotel reservation down a few months ago but after checking with a local, changed to the Hyatt which is in a ‘safe’ place.  I requested for a hotel driver to take me around the City for added security, only for him to sit in the car and tell me to walk downtown alone.  Of course, I ‘fired’ him within the first hour as I felt very safe, what with police everywhere and people who did not bother me.  They were only curious about my look (I was wearing African clothes).  I even rode the Metro and had no issues.  I do realize that one can be unlucky and mugged, but that can happen anywhere in the world.

A healer? shaman? shooing away evil spirits – there were many people who partook.  I almost thought of standing in line 🙂

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Mexico City is quite clean compared to other places I have been to, even at roadside restaurants and shops!

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I went on a tour of the Teotihuacan Pyramids about 40 kilometers from the City.  I managed to climb the Sun Pyramid but had had vertigo as steps in one part are very steep and so I did not even attempt to go up the Moon one, which is even steeper.

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I tried researching what this cat/cayote found downtown is, but could not find anything on it.

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I spent one night in a hotel downtown at the end on my way from Havana.  I can’t say much about it as I spent the whole day in my room.  I just needed to get away from crowds for a while….

 

Grand Bahama Island

I decided to take a day cruise to Grand Bahama Island when I was in FL.  Pick up from the hotel was at 5.15 am but was delayed because of road closures stemming from the Memorial Weekend celebrations.  At least we made it to the cruise ship on time.

It was a roughly 2.5 hours cruise to the Island and I had a good sleep, after all I had had less than four hours sleep that night. The first thing I did when I got to Lucaya Marketplace was have lunch at this cute little restaurant.

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2.  Restaurant

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3. This meal was very delicious and I just wished I had a bigger appetite to finish all the food.  This is what you call finger-licking-good food.

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4.  Marina by the Marketplace

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I visited the Casino since it was well, there, where I played for USD3.00 and won USD3.00.  I actually found gambling boring – maybe it is nicer if there is music playing?  I have gambled before in Durban for about five minutes and found it boring as well.  I don’t want to ever enjoy lest I lose whatever little money I have 🙂

5.  The gate to the castle home of the richest man on the Island who is also the sole franchise holder for KFC.

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6.  That is the castle yonder.  The gold dome to the left is where his late wife was laid to rest and it’s also where he will be put to rest some day.

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7.  Words to live by, I thought 🙂

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8.  This looked like an interesting activity

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My overall impression of the Island was that it was extremely quiet, even for a Sunday.  I guess this is because I had had misconceptions of seeing people on the street walking, playing steel drums and generally having a good time.  The taxi driver told me that people on the Island mostly don’t walk except as exercise in the morning during weekdays.  I think next time I will go to a more tourist oriented and bigger Caribbean island to experience what I see on TV (although I know most things are exaggerated on TV and Youtube).  The beach near Lucaya Marketplace was not really busy either even though there were a few hawkers.  I was really underwhelmed by Grand Bahama.

Visit to Bratislava Castle and Christmas Market

Vienna is awash with Christmas markets, but I have not yet visited any, though I have had to pass through/near some on my way somewhere.  I visited quite a few markets in my first year here and that was enough for me.

A group decided to visit the Bratislava Christmas markets and the Castle one late afternoon and I decided to go along.  I have been to Bratislava a few times and was not very impressed with the city, so I did not expect any difference this time.  We walked through a residential area which comprised apartment buildings similar to those in Vienna.  When I mentioned this to a friend, she said the Bratislava ones are not right next to each other.  In Vienna, you can see into your neighbour’s apartment – that’s how close many apartments blocks are to each other.

  1.  We went past an expo hall….

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2.  Direction to the Castle

Direction to Castle

3.  Castle

Castle

4.  Castle, again

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5.  Castle, for the third time

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6.  Rider on a horse at the Castle, with the city beyond.

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The Castle has seen its fair share of destructions but it was restored and looks very beautiful.  Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to go beyond the courtyard.  There were a lot of tourists/visits when we visited.

7.  Christmas tree at Christmas Market

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8.  Christmas Market we visited.

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9.  Cumil, man resting with legs in the sewer

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10.  Natural and very fragrant room fresheners

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11.  Street musician who plays three instruments.  Quite interesting.

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10.  Presidential Palace – on our way to the train station

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I thought Old City Bratislava looks a lot like Old City Riga – it has a lot of character.  My impression of Bratislava changed this time around.  Bratislava is actually quite beautiful and modern.  We had very delicious dinner at a nice restaurant in the Old City and were amazed at the low prices.  I would recommend a visit to the Old City which has more character (or should I say attitude?) than the new area.

 

Problematic landing

I flew to the country up north a couple of weekends ago and was looking forward to see friends and family.  The weather was quite turbulent and people reacted differently to the unexpected dips.  My neighbour shrieked at one point while I gripped my arm seats and my palms sweated.  Many people stopped chatting and the plane went quiet for a while, except – there is always an exception – for some giggles up front whenever the plane dipped.  Some young children thought this was very funny and giggled every time.  Ah, kids!

Now to the story of my post…  The flight continued on and the Captain announced that we were starting to land.  I fly quite frequently, and so was surprised to realize that we had not landed within a given time.  Just at that time, the Captain came on again with another announcement which went something like:

“As you have noticed, we have not landed yet.  Radar to the plane that is flying near us has been lost and we don’t know where it is, so we cannot land now.  That is why we are still where we are – in the sky.”

We all laughed at the way he put it, but I wondered whether we would not bump into the other plane.  After all, we did not know where it was.

We finally landed and some passengers jumped up immediately to grab their luggage.  The stewardess asked everyone to sit but no one listened.  She then shouted, almost angrily, for people to sit and there was immediate obedience.  The Captain came on the PA again and announced that the ‘thingy’ (I can’t remember the name) that guides planes to park correctly was not working and a truck would have to pull us to the correct spot.

I started wondering whether my trip was doomed, but I am happy to say that my connecting and return flights went perfectly.  I had a great time with family and friends.  I came back to Vienna rejuvenated and feeling more loved than ever.

 

Vatican City

My relative and I went to the Vatican City on our second day in Rome.  I am not Catholic but she is.  I was very excited, all the same, to visit a place I have heard of since childhood.  The security wall is imposing and was really well built to stand the test of time.  I think there were almost a thousand people ahead of us, but the queue moved very fast and we were in within 30 minutes.

  1.  Dome of St Peter’s Basilica

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I easily lose my way, so I asked for a map to use for the tour.  I was told that Information Booth was closed and that I did not need one because the tour is “one way”.  There is nowhere else to go except outside and even then the only exit is by the one way corridor.

2.  Art just after the Vatican security point/reception

Vatican painting

I found the old Rome city not to be as clean as the new one.  Equally the new Rome is not as clean as the Vatican City which is very very clean – after all, visitors only see a small section.  One can see that these are definitely two different countries.  I am not surprised that the Vatican is so clean as I think they have a lot of revenue from ticket and souvenir sales so they can afford the maintenance.

3.  The garden is very beautiful and well maintained

Vatican courtyard

4.  Garden

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5.  I did not find this courtyard very nice as it is all concrete, but at least that keeps the dust away. 🙂

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6.  Picture of the Pope and a football team.

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The highlight of my visit to the Vatican was visiting the Sistine Chapel and seeing Michelangelo’s  ‘The Creation of Adam’ painting.  I learnt about the Sistine Chapel ceiling in third grade and so seeing that particular painting was unbelievable.  Photos and videos are not allowed, so visitors have to rely on their memories – I think online sources, no matter how good, are not as good as remembering the visit in your own way.

I was amazed at how strong my relative turned out to be.  She later told me that visiting the ‘capital’ of her church was very energizing.  Additionally, she could also sit and rest during the tour.  I had been afraid that her not-too-good health would not allow her to stand in the queue or do the whole tour, but I should not have worried.

7.  Guard at another part of the Vatican City on our way to St Peter’s Square

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After visiting the Vatican City museum area, we went to the St Peter’s Square.  However, you have to go out of the museum and go round the wall to the opposite side.

8.  Gate to St Peter’s Square

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9.  St Peter’s Square – that lady photobombed my National Geographic worthy shot 🙂

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Like I said in my previous post, my trip was made more enjoyable by my relative.  She is a riot!

 

 

 

 

 

Rome Part 2 – Colosseum

I will start off by saying that I am still very tired from all the walking I did in Rome.  I don’t know how many kilometres I covered but they were all worth it.  We arrived in Rome early in the morning on Friday so that we could have a whole day of exploring.  I was with my elderly relative and I had to plan our itinerary to suit her limited mobility and strength.  Travelling with her may take a little more planning, but she makes my trips such a pleasure with her perspective.

Our first stop after leaving our stuff at the hotel was the Colosseum – an awe invoking structure especially since it was constructed such a long time ago.  The queue was very long but it moved fast so we did not have to wait too long to go in.

  1. Part of the Colosseum is undergoing maintenance

Part of the Colosseum is being maintained.

2.  Looking in from outside

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3.  Under the main area of the Colosseum

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4.  Amazing workmanship

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5.  Striking building

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6.  The Colosseum looks even more amazing at night

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It always amazes me to see ancient manmade structures that have stood the test of time, be it wars or earthquakes.  A person can truly achieve unimaginable feats if she puts her mind to it.

 

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