Cuba

Besides Lázaro, we were fortunate to be accompanied by Miami resident Annie Betancourt, founder of Sisters Across the Straits, a Board Director of the League and a member for more than three decades. We were the twenty-sixth group Annie has taken to Cuba. She later explained that ‘it’s complicated’ is the standard response Cubans use to describe any difficult situation. It’s a diplomatic way of saying there is no answer to your question or perhaps there is no solution. ‘It’s complicated’ became the password for our six day adventure in Cuba.

Annie was born in Cuba and lived there with her parents until she was thirteen years old. That was when the revolution occurred and Fidel Castro came into power. Her father, an engineer, understood the changes that were coming and, like hundreds of other Cubans, moved his family to Miami, hoping that their time in that city would be short. But Fidel remained in power and the family soon realized that Miami was their new home.

Annie’s hope is that these visits will improve mutual understanding after decades of isolation and distrust between the US and Cuba. The itineraries, as you will see, are designed to provide League members with opportunities to learn about Cuba’s history, culture and society and to meet both academic experts and ordinary Cuban citizens.

Day 1.

Our flight from Miami to the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana was just 45 minutes long, a reminder that Cuba is only 90 miles from the United States. As soon as our group passed through customs, we boarded the bus and started our tour with a ride through central Havana and the Plaza de la Revolucion. Annie had warned us that we were going to a third world country but it was still a shock to see so many buildings that looked as if they had been bombed. Other buildings appeared very fragile, as if they might collapse at any moment. However, they were obviously inhabited, with people going in and out of the entrances and others hanging wash from balconies ten or fifteen stories high. The American embargo and a failing economy had obviously had a huge impact.

After a lunch stop at an outdoor restaurant in a garden setting, we stopped at the Jose Fuster Studio, the home of a ceramist who has changed the area where he lives. The entire street looked like an immense modern painting with bright colors imbedded in every yard. But as I got closer, I could see the designs created with vibrant ceramics, each one different from the one before. The artist had begun this project by transforming his own gate into an elaborate scene created with ceramics. When neighbors saw the effect, they asked him to do the same to their homes. He never asked for money, always raising funds through donations and by selling his own work. Finally, he transformed his entire courtyard into a ceramic masterpiece. Because the American embargo had made ceramics and just about everything else difficult to obtain, he has been forced to travel great distances to find the tiles he needs.

After we checked in to our temporary home, the Hotel Sevilla, and had a short rest, we joined Annie and most of our fellow travelers for a walk through the Plaza and Calle Obispo – a pedestrian street in Haban Vieja (Old City). Our walk ended at a hotel where Annie had planned to have us eat dinner at its roof-top restaurant. However, like much of Cuba, the elevator was not working. A hotel employee invited us to use the service elevator which was located around the corner. It turned out to be a small, dark box that held five people including the elevator operator. Our group went up in shifts; I went up with my eyes closed and my fingers crossed, convinced that each bump meant we were about to plunge to the ground. However, the view of the city from the top made it all worthwhile. The food was another story.

After dinner, four of us walked down six flights (thank goodness there was a bannister) and made our way through the plaza, looking for a taxi. Finally, we found six of them, all 1950’s automobiles, patched up and roaring to take us back to the hotel. We were herded into the backseat of one and enjoyed a bumpy, breezy and gasoline infused trip back to the hotel. As we were getting out, I noticed that much of the ancient upholstery was held together by tape.

Day 2.

At breakfast, I heard about a lot of problems with the rooms. One of our group had hit the jackpot: her window wouldn’t close, the air conditioning didn’t work, and the door wouldn’t lock. My traveling companion, Pat, and I had been lucky. Although the room was basic (we weren’t expecting anything else), everything worked. In fact, the air conditioning was too cold and we couldn’t seem to turn it down but we weren’t going to complain. The hotel had a lovely swimming pool which we enjoyed almost every afternoon; except for the last day when it was closed down at 5:00 pm for mosquito spraying!

Our first stop was the Cuban Embassy to meet women who were members of the Cuban chapter of the United Nations. The Embassy building had been the home of one of the wealthy Cuban families who had left during the Revolution and it was still in good shape. Soaya E. Alvarez, Director of ACNU Associacion Cubana de las Naciones Unidas, spoke to us about Cuba and the United Nations and the importance of lifting the embargo. The Cuban people are suffering; salaries are $15 to $20 a month; Lázarus (who has a master’s degree) left a government job to become a guide because he could earn more money. Although health care is free, gas and some food is rationed and there is not much left over for luxuries. The Cuban dream is to come to the US; in 2015/16, 153,000 Cubans arrived in the US. People are leaving now because they are afraid the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows a path to citizenship, will be repealed. Thus, the Cuban workforce has been diminished and the population is aging.

Our next stop was a visit to El Quitrin, a women’s clothing shop sponsored by the Federation of Cuban Women. Annie had suggested we bring thread and needles as gifts for the women working here as these items, like everything else, are in short supply. At the time of our visit, most of the finished dresses and shirts in the shop were white cotton. The work on the clothes was amazing but I didn’t find anything to buy (for a change).

Later in the afternoon, we visited a conservative synagogue and heard about the Jewish population in Cuba from a young woman. There are 1200 Jews in Cuba and three synagogues; a typical situation for Jewish people in any location. But in Cuba, they are either conservative or orthodox; the modern reform movement has not reached Cuba. However, I was glad to hear that girls are having Bat Mitzvahs.

That evening, three of us took a taxi to a restaurant for dinner and made the acquaintance of a young driver who spoke excellent English. The taxi was brand new, had leather seats and purred as it made its way through town. Our driver told us it was made in China and purchased by the Cuban government. He was leasing it from the government and sharing it with another driver; each had three days on and three days off. He was married and had a toddler. When we asked him about President Obama’s visit, he said, with emotion, “Obama is our hero.”

Day 3.

Annie had arranged a visit to the newly opened U.S. Embassy. I was surprised at the amount of security – our passports were carefully examined and our bags were checked. We entered through a turnstile and were seated in a room right off the entrance. An embassy director who had been sent to Cuba to prepare for Obama’s visit gave us an overview of our country’s situation and answered all our questions. It was thorough and interesting. She encouraged us to interact with Cubans to dispel any negative impressions they might have about Americans.

At the end of the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the American Embassy, there is a football field of very tall black poles that look like they had been planted. Annie told us that, right after the Revolution, the American Embassy began running a ticker tape with a message about freedom along the top of the building. To retaliate, the Cuban government put up the poles and topped them with the Cuban flag to block out the tape.

Our next stop was Finca Vigia, the home of Nobel Prize laureate Ernest Hemingway who lived in Cuba from 1930 to 1960. Pat and I had seen the movie “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” just a few days before our trip so it was exciting to look in the windows and doors and see where the movie had been filmed. His fishing boat Pilar has been restored and is on display at the property.

We had lunch in Cojimar, a fishing village that was the backdrop of Hemingway’s novel, “The Old Man and the Sea.” I looked out at the water and could almost see the old man rowing the boat. Lunch was at a privately owned restaurant run by young local entrepreneurs and it was delicious. Many restaurants in Cuba are owned and operated by the government but more and more people are getting permission to open their own restaurants, a very good sign.

Day 4.

Breakfasts at the hotel were enormous; five large tables filled with everything from fruit to meats to pancakes or eggs and sweet breads. By now I knew our lunches would be huge – at least four courses – so I stuck to cereal, fruit and yogurt (at least I think it was yogurt) for breakfasts. I also decided I would not weigh myself for a week after I got home.

We walked through Old Havana and visited the plazas. There were dozens of stands selling books and street artists were everywhere, displaying their work on boards and boxes. One young man followed our group, drawing quick profiles of a few women and then trying to sell the sketch to the owner. He was remarkably good and we later found out he was an art student. One woman bought her sketch; then discovered that it looked more like another member of our group. Then we visited an artisans’ cooperative and I bought a small painting to take home (my first purchase).

In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Fine Arts- Cuban Collection and I was so awed by the art that I kept moving even when my body was telling me to go back to the hotel and take a nap. Of course the elevator was out here also so we did a lot of walking.

Day 5.

A day in the country! The bus took us through the countryside for over an hour and Lázaro kept us awake with a lesson on Cuba’s history. Now and then, Annie took over the microphone, giving Lázaro a rest and us some background from the American point of view. We arrived at lookout point in Valle Vinales in Pinar del Rio Province which is west of Havana. The unique hill formations (known as mogotes) are gorgeous; unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Then we moved on to a rum distillery (not sure that’s what it’s called) and then a tobacco farm. We watched a man actually roll cigars which almost made me want to smoke one. Of course I bought some for my husband; he smokes one occasionally but only when I’m not home.

Lunch was on the porch of a charming country restaurant. Annie warned us there would be a lot of courses and there were; one after another, each one better than the last. Dessert was the best flan I have ever eaten.

I thought I’d never eat again but by 7:30, I was at yet another restaurant eating the best eggplant lasagna I’d ever had.

Day 6.

Time to pack our suitcases for our trip back to Miami that evening. But in the meantime, we were still moving. We visited a local arts and craft market where I searched for (and found) a humidor in which to put my five precious cigars. I also bought a beautiful, hand-made white cotton dress for my granddaughter which will probably not fit but I couldn’t resist it. Next, our group visited an art community project in inner city Centro Habana. An artist named Salvador Gonzales Escolono first started developing art from graffiti until galleries opened and it became a street of art celebrating the African/Cuban experience. Salvador, who was leaving for Washington and New York the next day, was at his gallery and he told us to “enjoy my country but don’t try to understand it.”

Lunch was at an organic farm that also provides meals for people in need, painting and environmental classes plus classes for single mothers and seniors. When the government gave the land to the family that has produced all this, it was a swamp area. Now they grow 150 different varieties of fruits and vegetables (plus a little dog that kept getting underfoot). The lunches help pay for the free food and classes.

Next stop: The airport and the end of our adventure in Cuba. But first, I and several other travelers checked out all the duty free shops, trying to spend what was left of our Cuban money. I settled on two bottles of vintage rum which my husband tells me tastes like smooth bourbon.

Travelling Tips Suitable for Couples

Decide and agree as a couple with your itinerary

Before proceeding with your trip, it would be advisable to agree with an itinerary for your trip. Decide as a couple on where to go, what activities to do, hotels to book, flights to take as well as your seats on the plane. It would be advisable to agree on the schedule for your trip because some people are comfortable traveling at night time or some with day time. Have your whole trip planned, even the possible side trips so that both of you would enjoy and would be less stressed during the trip.

Decide and agree on mutual expenses

Whether you are travelling with a friend or with a love one, it would be best to agree on who will shoulder the expenses or how much the both of you are capable of spending for your trip. Money can destroy friendships and relationships, let alone if you travel with a mere acquaintance. Decide on what, where and how much both of you are willing to spend for the trip. Have a budget and stick with your budget as much as possible.

Allow “me” time during your trip

Even though you are traveling with a partner or a love one, it would be best to have alone time for each other. One might enjoy a walk on the beach alone during day break while the other one might prefer meditating inside the hotel room before going to bed. Respect each other’s “me” time so that both of you get to enjoy and reflect individually during your trip.

Places To Visit In City Avignon

Avignon became the official residence under Pope Clement V in 1309. His successor, John XXII, made it the capital of Christianity and transformed his former episcopal palace into the primary Palace of the Popes. It was the official residence of seven popes from 1309 to 1377. Nowadays, 25 rooms are open to the public and although most of the furnishings have disappeared, one can still see how vast the place was.

Go to Place de l’Horloge to have a cool drink at a café and watch the world go by. This is a very beautiful square and is the centre of life in Avignon. On one side is the theatre and the Town Hall. The Town Hall itself was built in 1845 and incorporates a beautiful 14th century clock tower with life-sized figures on top.

The Musee du Petit Palais is an art gallery and museum. It houses an exceptional collection of Renaissance paintings of the Avignon school as well as art from Italy and is in a 14th century building at the north side of the square.

Another place well worth a visit is the Rocher des Doms. These are beautiful leafy gardens set on a hill, with views of the river and surrounding countryside.
For those interested in art, a visit to the Musee Angladon is not to be missed. This museum contains paintings and furniture and it is enjoyable to wander around if you have the time.

Or those interested in natural history, don’t miss a visit to the Musee Requien which is named after the French naturalist, Esprit Requien.

The Jewish community in Avignon goes back as far as the first century after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. However, there aren’t any written records of Jewish culture and history before the 12th century. The first Jewish quarter faced the Palais des Papes on Rue de la Vielle Juiverie. By the early 13th century, the Jewish quarter was on Rue Jacob and Place Jerusalem. Today, this is where the shul is located. It is a tiny area, about 100 square yards and it was home to more than 1000 people. It was forbidden by law for Jews to live outside the designated area, which was surrounded by walls. They had to have permission to leave this site for religious tours in France and three locked gates kept them from leaving.

Argentina Valley

Campo Marzio is a small mound in the most accented bottleneck of the river, marked by remains of a pre-Roman town and by its subsequent Roman fortifications. The first town of the Valle Argentina is Badalucco in a crossroad position for itineraries from the bottom of the valley towards the mountain. The village throngs its rough-hewn stone houses on the hill in front of Mount Faudo. In the village, made of stone, to invade every corner and take advantage of every cleavage, one finds imposing arcane figures nested in frescoes and, in the damp and silent alleyways, a permanent art gallery in the open exhibits sculptures ceramics and sculptured slate. The “sagra du stocafissu a baiicogna” is the colorful touch that attracts to the village, during the month of September of each year, throngs of tourists and “gourmets”.

Following the provincial road, but turning right and after some short bends, you meet Montalto Ligure in a panoramic position. The legend has it that, around the year one thousand, a young married couple who escaped from the “jus primae noctis” (the right of the first night), established this village. Here the Romanesque parish church of San Giorgio preserves valuable frescoes; the baroque parish church is rich of prestigious paintings, such as polyptych by Ludovico Breashed this village. Here the Romanesque parish church of San Giorgio preserves valuable frescoes; the baroque parish church is rich of prestigious paintings, such as polyptych by Ludovico Brea.

Carpasio is a mountain village, with its low houses with slate roofs, impressive because of the suggestion given by the overlapping of its alleyways and its covered passageways, dominated by the majestic bell tower of the church of Sant’ Antonino. Returning on the provincial road, going up the valley, the traveler meets the village of the twenty-three watermills, Molini di Triora, with its fifteenth century origin baroque parish church and the sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Month. Here, every year in September, vacationers from the coast, converge for a meeting of great gastronomy, the “sagra delle lumache” (the snail festival). Also worthy of being visited, are the neighboring hamlets of Andagna and Corte.

In the past it was the granary of the Republic of Genoa and Podesteria, today Triora is known as the “town of the witches” owing to a trial held in 1588 and concluded, with a sentence of guilt for witchcraft of a group of local women who, because of their meeting in a secluded place (the Cabotina), were deemed guilty of the impending famine. There is memory of that event in the local ethnographic and witchcraft museum, for the luck of shops and handcraft workshops that display funny sorceress dolls and sell liquor of the witch and snail milk, well-mixed together concoctions of grappa (distilled liquor) and aromatic herbs. The medieval village is an art jewel, steep, rough, built without obstructions, whole in its defense system of gates, arches, alleyways and fortressed-houses.

Beautiful Mosques In The World

Al Haram Mosque-Mecca, Saudi Arabia

It’s the most famous worship mosque in the world. According to the Qur’an, it’s the first house built for humanity to worship Allah. It’s the world’s largest mosque and surrounds Kaaba, the holiest places for the Muslims. The current structure covers an area of 99 acres and includes both indoor and outdoor praying spaces. During the period of Hajj, it can accommodate up to 4 million people.

Faisal mosque Islamabad-Pakistan

It’s the fourth largest mosque in the world and the biggest in the south-east and southern Asia. From 1986 to 1994, it was the biggest mosque in the world before the completion of the Hassan II in Morocco. For many years, the worship center has been voted as one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Sheikh lotfallah-iran

It was constructed between 1602 and 1619 during the reign of Shah Abbas I. In addition to being a worship center, it has other roles. It also functions as a hospital, royal mint, royal caravanserai, and bath.

Blue mosque-Istanbul

It’s one of the landmarks in Istanbul. It boasts of six needle-like minarets and a series of domes and half domes. It was constructed during the reign of the Ottoman ruler Ahmed I between 1609 and 1616. In addition to the exciting domes, the mosque also has high ceilings featuring 20,000 blue Iznik tiles. The tiles have trees and flowers of differing patterns.

Ubudiah-kuala Kangsar, Malaysia

It prides itself of four minarets and a golden dome that was designed by a British architect, Arthur Benison Huback. Huback created the worship center at the command of Sultan Idris Mushidul Azam Shah who had vowed to construct a beautiful mosque as a thanksgiving after recovering from an illness.

Wild Atlantic Way

Kinsale

A colourful village that worthy to spend a couple hours walking through the small side roads & alleys. Being located on the coast offers fresh fish to be had, check out Fishy Fishy restaurant or their takeaway.

Nearby is the Charles Fort which you could walk the coastal trail from Kinsale to the fort via Scilly Walk, a 6km round trip. The Charles Fort is a 17th century military based with a star-shaped fort on the water’s edge.

Mizen Head

The most Southerly point of Ireland looking out to the Atlantic seascape with an iconic Mizen footbridge which you can crossGreat clifftop scenery.

Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is a 179km loop in the southwest of County Kerry, a popular route for visitors to take by a tourist bus or their own car. Commonly driven counter-clockwise to avoid being stuck behind a coach – an important note to take as you would want to see the beautiful views.

Skellig Ring & Islands

A detour off the Ring of Kerry drive, an 18km route taking in the views of the famous Skellig Michael islands which has recently been featured in Star Wars films. Do visit Valentia Island for 360 viewpoints from Geokaun Mountains.

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey & Walled Garden is located on a beautiful castle grounds with a picturesque entrance. Located in County Galway in the Connemara National Park.

Sky Road

A small route with large scenic views, this is an 11km sky road touring route starting from Clifden in Connemara region. Follow the signs for Sky Road to enjoy fantastic views of the coastline, old coast guard, bays and more.

Start Your Travel Journal

Choose a Medium for Your Journal Entries

Most people love the idea of writing their travel stories in a leather bound notebook. However, if you want the world to read about your adventures, you can even start a blog and start putting in your entries. It could be anything from a small paragraph about the places you are visiting or your experiences. And if you have the time, you can even write complete How-to blogs to help other people plan their journeys.

Start Travelling ASAP

In order to be able to maintain a travel journal, you will first have to start travelling. Pick up a destination and go there. If you have a busy life, dedicate a certain period of the year to your travels. If you don’t have money, you can save up and plan a trip on a budget. For instance, you can easily book cheap flights well in advance so that you save both money and time.

Earn Experiences

There’s a reason why most people these days want to be travellers and not tourists. It’s because tourists go around a place, sightseeing the important monuments or historical landmarks. On the other hand, travellers explore the local culture and lifestyle of the people living there. So, while you are travelling, remember to not just see the important places but to also get a glimpse into the life and culture of the local people. This will instantly add a lot of value to your travel journal.

Eat a Variety of Delicious Dishes

One of the best things about travelling is that you will be able to try a variety of local dishes, that might not be available in your hometown. Try out local eateries and small places that make and sell authentic dishes. Before starting your journey, you can even do a little research about your destination to know about the best restaurants there.

Ways Kids Can Enjoy the Beach

Beach Bowling

Creating the bowling pins out of the sand will be the first exciting part of this game, followed by playing a game of bowling with your gang. The re-creation of pins every time will make them even more involved in the game. They can play this game in groups as well, where they can keep rotating the roles of bowling, creating pins etc.

Beach Funny Faces

The best way to play with the sand is to show your creativity. You can draw numerous funny faces on the beach. While creating these faces, kids can also play a game where they will talk to each other by making only faces and not speaking. This will encourage them to understand different kinds of human emotions. Who knows? We may get back a totally new set of emoticons invented by these little geniuses.

Sun-Dial

This is one of the easiest and simplest activities you can enjoy on a beach. You only need a stick and few pebbles, which you can get easily. Place the stick in the centre in an upright position and place the pebbles around it equidistant from each other in a circle. While chilling out and playing, kids will observe and learn how the motion of the sun is associated with our time system.

Sponge-Animal

Let the children understand how a certain object can absorb so much of water and become heavy. First, they can make the sponge-animals absorb water from the sea and then they can play various throwing and catching games with these sponges. When someone catches the sponge, they will be splashed with water.

Balloon Fish

Sitting on the sea-shore, one can easily find a couple of fishes closer to shore. Parents can show children some fishes in the sea, and can ask the kids to draw the faces of the fishes which they saw near the shore on the balloons. They can then fill balloons with water and will be happy to see the inflating of their balloon. This will make them understand how things inflate in real world.

Passing the Water

This game is played by more than one player. The more people, the more interesting this game will become. The main idea behind this game is to pass the water in one player’s glass, to the glass of the person who is standing right behind him. They can make themselves stand in any way. They can either stand one after the other in a straight queue or they can even form a circle.

Metro Transportation

Due to increasing rate of the population in these cities, Metro is one of the major transport systems which provides better options to the inhabitants. Do we ever think why this rapid system is beneficial for most crowded cities like Kolkata, Bangalore, and Delhi? To know an answer you have to understand, various viewpoints of Kolkata metro report which is as follows:

Fuel cost saving: The yearly saving due to minimum fuel utilization will be Rs.180.89 crore in 2009, more than twofold from Rs.73.22 crore two years prior.

A Number of vehicles off the street: Since the Metro started operations in December 2002, there has been a dynamic reduction in the day by day vehicle demand because of the people moving to Metro for commuting. In 2009, the Metro will take the day by day share of 57,953 vehicles for every other method of travel, for example, autos, transports, bikes, auto-rickshaws, etc.

Vehicle cost saving: The yearly vehicle (capital and working) cost saving will practically triple from Rs.93.21 crore in 2007 to Rs.276.24 crore this year.

Reduction in the outflow of greenhouse gasses: The expanding utilization of the Metro will bring about the counteractive action of discharge of 131,395.34 tons of greenhouse gasses, for example, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide from being radiated into Delhi¡¦s air up to 2009. This is a five-time increment from 27,614.34 tons in 2007.

Emission cost saving: The discharge cost saving will likewise increment very nearly three times from Rs.14.29 crore in 2007 to Rs.41.04 crore in 2009.

Various Road accidents avoided: The Metro will stay away from an aggregate of 255 accidents, including 51 fatalities, in 2009. In 2007, the individual figures were 196 and 21.

Should Know Before Visiting Iran

Money

In Iran, the local currency is called Iranian Rial. The exchange rates vary greatly. For currency exchange, you can head to the currency exchanges or the other currency dealers. So, it’s a good idea to shop around when getting your money exchanged for the local currency. This way you can get a better rate of exchange. It’s interesting to know that if you have $35, you will become a millionaire in Iran. As a general rule, you won’t need more than $35 for a day of expenses in Iran.

Dress Code

The rules for dress code keep on changing in Iran. Nowadays, if you are a man, you can go for jeans or trousers. Just make sure your legs are covered. In other words, you can’t put on shorts. As far footwear, you can choose whatever you like, such as boots or sandals.

For women, the dress code is a bit complicated. Generally, you can go for loose tops that should cover your whole arms all the way to your knees. You must be in trousers and your hair must be covered. But you are allowed to keep your hands, face and feet open.

Internet

In Iran, Internet sucks. In big cities, the connections are a bit stable. But mostly, you lose connection over and over again. Outside big cities, things are terrible. Many types of sites are banned, such as Facebook and Twitter. If you want to access these websites, you will have to make use of a VPN, which will make your internet slower.

Safety

Unlike what the western media tells, Iran is not a country full of terrorists. As a matter of fact, the people of Iran are quite friendly. They are more than happy to know more about you. They are really nice people. You can talk to them almost anything under the sun. For many reasons, not many people go to Iran. You will be surprised to see that some Iranians will even offer gifts to you. So, safety is not a big issues over there.

The “Religious Thing”

While Iran is an Islamic republic, you may not feel that the country is overly religious. The dress code is strict, alcohol is banned but all else is normal. The life goes on in Iran just like it goes on in any other country of the world.