Thanks to all of you who keep in touch on a regular basis by tuning into Instagram. There is so much I like to share and I post every day to keep you in the loop on the super busy goings on at GreatHouse. It seems I don't get the time I used to to blog post and sales and events get announced only on Instagram. For those of you who don't have an Instagram page, it's really easy and we can get you set up if you reach out. Most recently you have been enjoying "Five o'clock FLASH SALES" every day with crazy pricing on great pieces as we clean out the warehouse! Also the website has been updated with new pieces although not everything is posted.
I just got back from a great trip to Cuba and I wanted to share the details in case you are planning a trip.
Although the Cuban beaches are beautiful we wanted to limit our exploration to the capital city of Havana as we heard it is a step back in time and it certainly is. I have visited third world countries before but I have never been to a third world big city .... tall buildings are crumbling, sidewalks and roads are in terrible disrepair. Conditions that would never be tolerated in our own country are the norm. It was shocking.
Unlike you have heard we did not have to travel with a group. Roger planned the whole trip taking to the internet and finding a travel agent online who handled everything. (Her contact, below) We did need a visa and had a great direct flight with Jet Blue out of Kennedy airport in NY.
The Hotel Saratoga was our home base and, although the staff was lovely and accommodating, we knew not to expect the usual 5 star feel.
The room was 1940's charming with its green tile and dressing area.
It is a city of contrasts.... La Guarida is a spectacularly beautiful restaurant set inside a decaying mansion. This lover of patina and all things old was "wowed" by the distressed elegance and opulence from earlier days. It seemed as if it was 100 degrees inside and we had to adjust to dining without air conditioning. This was a post dinner picture and you can see how I was sweating.
Stylish diners enjoyed creative cuisine and interesting cocktails.
If you are dining at that certain hour be sure to request the third floor to capture the breathtaking sunset over the city. I understand that Natalie Portman and Helen Hunt had been recent visitors.
Our first mojito, famous cocktail originated in Cuba!
The bathroom was photo worthy with its marble sink and interesting towel storage.
This is Roger giving his leftover tuna to a cat roaming the hallway. Notice the floor in disrepair. This is what you walk around inside the restaurant on the first floor. This is a good example of the contrasts in Havana... beauty amidst the extreme disrepair.
We met our guide Patrizia the next day who walked us through the city and answered so many of our questions.
The population receives ration cards where they are redeemed in "markets" like these. They are allotted one pound of chicken per person per month. You can see the jars on the shelves with the cards taped underneath showing the amounts of rice and beans etc, allowed.
Patrizia told us we walk in the middle of the roads because the balconies crumble.
This building was next to our hotel. Notice the cinder blocks stacked inside the arches to hold up the second floor.
The capitol building in view from our hotel is currently under renovation and the government offices will move in once completed. The beautiful opera house had also been renovated and is home to the National Ballet.
Patrizia took us to this park in the center of Havana lush with foliage. The pics on the right is a very old building made solely from coral pulled from the surrounding sea.
Everyone knows the popularity of a Cuban cigar, I grew up with my Father raving over the smooth draw. The picture top right are the 2 part wooden forms. After the cigar is rolled they are placed inside and pressed. I honestly enjoyed mine, it was pleasant. When I sent a picture home my Mother commented "that's a nice ash!"
We lunched at Notre Dame des Bijoux which I highly recommend as a super casual Cuban dining experience. We entered through the home of a former classical male ballet dancer who had dozens of China plates hanging on his walls. It was odd to be walking through his living room while he watched TV as he waved us towards an extremely steep flight of iron stairs out back. Mosaics everywhere and a very friendly gentlemen eager to please greeted us on the outdoor top floor. Our chef/host showed us the food choices, served us cocktails and grilled the meal all while masterfully balancing a "good ash" on his cigar as pictured on the right!
Delicious and friendly even with a big language barrier.
When we drove for about 20 minutes one night and showed up at the Cabaret Tropicana I thought "whose idea was this?" It was an old fashioned Vegas style show. It reminded me of an adult "Disney tiki room" where out of the darkness scantily clad dancing and singing men and women popped out in front of you, behind you and even above you out of the darkness. Lots of costume changes and rumba sleeves while the staff hurriedly plopped a bottle of rum and 2 cans of Cuban Cola per couple as we sat at Vegas style long tables. People were into it and we cracked up at first but ended the evening feeling as though we had experienced the Cuba of yesterday which is what the trip really is, genuinely. I say Cuban Cola because, of course, there are no American made products. No commercialism whatsoever.
Seen on the streets at left a man coming out of the store with eggs and another newspaperman "delivering" the tiny rolled up newspaper by throwing it up to the balconies.
The Museum of the Revolution told the story of the the Cuban dictator Batista's fall from power and Castro's rise. In 1952 Batista was still on good terms with the US. After the overthrow by Socialist Fidel Castro in the late 1950's he ended ties with the US.
Above the arched window on the left you can see the bullet holes from the machine guns of the revolutionaries that stormed the building to kill Batista in what was originally the Presidential Palace.
We saw life size childish caricatures of our political figures with sophomoric comments thanking us for strengthening their revolution.....seemed like a childish display.
Changing gears, (LOL!) everyone we came in contact with was friendly and charming and more than happy to receive this new attention and also dollars that tourism has brought. Since there are no longer American products allowed our cars from the 1950's are considered national treasures to the people. Some rides were in jalopies without air conditioning where the driver had to get a wrench to open up the windows as they had no handles. Keep in mind they can not get even new parts from American carmakers. Antique taxi cabs are the norm and the drivers are proud to speak of their restorations and origins in their family. Roger brought his catalogues for them to have. They immediately were happily pouring over them as the drivers outside our hotel had never been exposed to the opportunity. It's an adventure to navigate conversations with the language barrier but the friendliness was always apparent.
We loved Cuba, it was exciting and we will return to go to the beach resorts someday. The restaurants above are definitely worth your time and I really can't choose a favorite they were all great experiences where the staff seemed so happy to see us.
The travel agent who took care of everything seamlessly from the USA was
Laura Valdiva, Laura@dmcandtravel.com 305-316-3450. Roger was amazed that with the distance even our airport ride home showed up on schedule ...a reservation made weeks before. I hope you go and if you do please email me when you return. For more pictures head to Instagram.
Also we are planning a summer entertaining showcase, July 18th at 6 pm!, with some of my favorite talented people. You can get the details following Instagram in the next week or two or by stopping in.
HEY! HAPPY SUMMER! take some time to kick back XOXOLove and hugs,
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GreatHouse Bonny Neiman
12 Beechwood Road | Summit, NJ