La Habana Vieja: Stoll Down the Prado

Havana_06.jpgThe Paseo del Prado, or the walk in the meadow, is the largest street in Havana, with 6 Havana_20lanes and a tree lined median roughly 25 yards wide. The median creates a park and on any given day, the Cubans take full advantage of this for relaxation and recreation. Any trip to Havana is worth a tour of the Prado, especially on a weekend.

havana_17.jpgWith the extra wide median, Saturdays and Sundays bring an array of artists and other vendors to the Prado to sell their fares to tourist. Many works of art can be had from locals, along with other souvenirs. I happened upon this local photographer shooting tin-types for foreigners.

The Prado starts at the inlet to the harbor, but runs about 30 degrees west of it and takes you about a mile into the city toward the Capitolio. If you get up early, you’ll likely run into a CF004612-Final.jpgfew boxers jogging and staying in shape for their next fight. As you walk a little into the city, find a small cafe to get an espresso, some breakfast, perhaps a Montecristo #4, nurse the hang-over from the night before and watch the vendors setup. Be sure not rush, you’ll look like a foreigner. Cubans live at their own pace, so best to relax and enjoy your corona.

By now the vendors are set up and it is time to explore. Cubans are natural hustlers, and wandering through the medium can easily cost you a couple of hours and then some.  Many of the artists are easy to strike up a conversation with though.  CF004633-Final

Havana_02.jpgAs you stroll down the boulevard, you’ll come to many of the Havana hotels with great options for dining. By now, I am sure the espresso has worn off, and the headache. Sit down, have a meal and enjoy the architecture.  You may have missed it in the morning, but the Prado has some of the best architecture in Cuba.  My favorite being the Grand Theatre, which was recently renovated.

CF006476-Final.jpgAcross from the Theatre is the Capitolio, the location of the Cuban government, but the real treasure is on the other side, the Partagas Cigar Factory.  Try to ignore those outside selling cheap cigars, they’re counterfeit, and make your way into the factory store.  Immediately you’re hit with the rich smell of tobacco, a perfect place to buy a churchill, or figurado, and let your food settle. In the mood for a drink with your belicoso?  There’s a small bar inside as well to sit and relax, and be sure to grab another stogie on your way out.

Look close for the photo-shoot!

Depending on the cigar, this could easily take you to late afternoon, a perfect time to head back, regroup, and prepare for the evening.  Take your time as you walk, perhaps stumble upon a photo-shoot.

CF005853-FinalLater on that night, eat diner, but keep it light, because the Prado has many bars, all of which have live music and dancing.  The most famous is Floridita, Hemmingway’s stomping ground and home of the daiquiri.  It has become somewhat of a tourist trap, but the place is kept clean and easy to find.  However, most any bar on or near the Prado will have live jazz, so something more authentic can be found. If your not into dancing, now is the perfect time to break out that other cigar and enjoy the music.

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