Cuba Conference Update

As outlined in a previous post, I attended the Florida United Numismatists Show in Orlando. After the shows completion on January 12, I headed off to Cuba the next morning. I was joined by Fleet Society Directors John de Bry and John Pullin. Also with us was a colleague of mine from Pennsylvania, J. Scott Leckie. We had an early flight out of Orlando and touched down at Jose Marti International Airport at approximately 9:15am. After clearing customs we were greeted by Sergio Gonzalez, who is the head of the Cuban Numismatic Museum and Dana Reed of ASC International USA who is our travel agent for the Cuba Conference.

From there we were treated to a panoramic bus tour of emblematic areas of Havana. We briefly detoured to the Marina Hemingway where conference attendees will be invited to a dinner reception at Club Nautico at the Marina on Thursday evening, March 26 at 7:00pm. We met with the manager of the facility who expressed his appreciation that we had chosen his facility to host the reception.

1950’s cars lined up for the tourist trade in Havana.
Another group of old cars.
Typical scene, old cars on Cuban streets.
Restored buildings in Old Havana.
Side street typical of Old Havana.
El Floridita Restaurant and Cocktail Bar.

Our visit to the Marina was followed by lunch at the La Divina Pastora Restaurant. We were seated outside under a porch with a beautiful view of Havana. Those attending the conference in March will be having lunch here on March 23, the day of arrival.

Scott Leckie (left) and Fleet Society Director John Pullin (right) at the La Divina Pastora Restaurant.
Parking lot outside of the La Divina Pastora Restaurant. Notice the old 1950’s cars.
Patio area at the La Divina Pastora Restaurant.

After lunch we drove to Casa Josefa, a private AB & B home, where we were lodged. Casa Josefa was owned by a family who were very engaging and genuinely pleased that we were staying with them. This was in the area of Havana  referred to as “Old Havana” or “La Habana Vieja”. It is the city-center and one of the 15 municipalities forming Havana. The rest of that afternoon and early evening was spent exploring Old Havana. Founded in 1519, the city displays the charm of old architecture (some restored and some in need of restoration) that one might find in a major European city. The people were very friendly and we felt safe no matter where we went. After several hours we returned to our lodging for a brief rest and then it was on to dinner.

My apartment in Old Havana.
Street Scene.
El Ligerito Hotel.
Gran Hotel Manzana (off limits to Americans).
Another restored building in Old Havana.
Old style television antennas grace the tops of many buildings.

Our 8:00 pm dinner reservations were at the El Guajirito Restaurant which included a traditional Cuban music show. We hailed a taxi (actually a 1956 Chevrolet) and enjoyed a rather wild ride through the streets of Havana until we reached our destination. We had front row seats to a marvelously entertaining program which featured a string quartet followed by lively Cuban music from the 1950’s. The night ended with one of our group being pulled onstage for a final dance which included various members of the audience. From there, we returned to Casa Josefa in the same taxi that had driven us to the restaurant at the beginning of the night. Seems that he waited for us. Good tips always get good service.

String Quartet at the El Guajirito Restaurant.
Me in my red 1956 Chevrolet Taxi.

On Day 2 of our visit, we were treated to a breakfast of fruit, hot rolls and eggs. Also, we were introduced to Cuban coffee which was very much like espresso but stronger. It really kept me going throughout the day. After breakfast we had a tour of the Historic Center of Havana where we examined the restoration efforts currently being undertaken in Old Havana as well as social and cultural projects. Afterwards we met with Silvia Garcia Muniz, Commercial Specialist of the San Cristobal Agency, the company handling a lot of the conference incidentals such as lodging, food, transportation, etc. Following this meeting we met with Dr. Michal Gonzalez Sanchez, Director of Cultural Heritage of the Office of the Historian of Old Habana. Dr. Gonzalez will be speaking at our conference on March 24. His topic will be “18th Century Havana”. After exchanging pleasantries, we were escorted to the Conference rooms of the Museum of the City of Habana, where the event will be held in March. I found the facilities to be first rate, comfortable and technically appropriate. Our group was very pleased.

Castillo de la Real Fuerza Museum.

After a brief lunch at the La Caleza Real Restaurant we headed over to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza where we got a tour and visited the underwater treasure room. Very impressive!! (Especially to those who love shipwreck treasure.) We will be visiting this site again on March 24 as part of our conference program. From here we went to the Numismatic Museum and got a tour conducted by its Director, Sergio Gonzalez Garcia. The museum had a wide variety of medals, coins and medallions. We spent an enjoyable hour as we learned about the museum and its collections. Afterwards we met to finalize the details of the upcoming conference in March.

Display inside Castillo de la Real Fuerza.
Small model of Castillo de la Real Fuerza.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza.

On our way back to Casa Josefa we went through the Historic Center of Old Havana and did some site seeing. Dinner was at 8:00pm at the Bonsai. Returning to our rooms we settled in for a long nights sleep. Up early on Day 3. Another tasty breakfast and then out the door for the return trip home. All in all a very productive visit in anticipation of our upcoming conference.

 

Café street scene
Another side street view.
Street Scene.

Ben Costello, Director

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