Day 24: Museums–Bonkers, Broken and Brilliant

Thurs. 6th September 2012

Museum shutOne advantage of standing out as a tourist is that you can walk boldly into the posh Parque Central Hotel without being questioned. We are back in our favourite chairs on the first level of the  large air conditioned lobby reading and computing. This is also where we can access the very slow cabled Wi-Fi at 8 CUC an hour. The main disadvantage of being a tourist is that you cannot walk 10 paces  without being asked where we are from, would we like taxi/restaurant/cigar/to give them money. We will need to get used to it as other countries will be worse, as at least here they do take no for an answer pretty quickly.

As Havana is full of museums our aim today was to try and see the best ones. Cuban take on US PresidentsOur first was the Museo de Revolution, which according to the guide book manages to be both unmissable and overrated at the same time. The building was the presidential palace of General Batista in the 1950s, like most buildings in Havana it is very impressive and has been restored in parts. The museum is on three levels, one devoted to the period 1953 to 1960, the second for 1960 to date, and the ground floor had this message. Which has been translated underneath the pictures of President Reagan to President W Bush as Thank you Cretins!

We were glad of the history lessons Freddie had given us in our first week in Cuba as this helped us to understand the exhibits, which were mainly in Spanish.  Anything remotely related to the Revolution was displayed, down to the coin in Cienfuego’s pocket when he was arrested. It also explained the lives of Frank Pais, Antonio Maceo and Jose Marti names we recognised as streets are commonly named after them.

Another must do museum according to the guide book is a the tour of the cigar factory, Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas . Here on the top floor cigars are still produced commercially and not just a show for the tourists, the guide book enthuses. That may have been the case when the author visited but currently it is closed except for the shop ever keen to take the tourists CUCs.

Bat on roof of Bacardi Building Dave, still keen on his morning coffee, remembered there was a coffee shop in the Bacardi Tower. The Bacardi family are long gone and the building is now an office block. The guide book also mentioned that if you asked nicely and provide the correct tip, then you could get the lift up to the roof with a spectacular view of the city. This was well worth it and wooden pallets have been carefully placed to all tourists to step up and see the magnificent view over the wall.

Cuban health and safetyAfter lunch it was off to the Camera Oscura where you enter a small lobby and take the lift to the 8th floor. There was another amazing view of Old Havana from the roof before entering a darkened room with a huge bowl shaped in the middle. By way of a periscope and mirrors the whole of Old Havana is reflected onto the dish, which acts as 360 degree rotating lens, thus giving a live picture of the town where you can watch the flags blowing in the wind and the cars driving past.

Havana thru a lensOur final museum of the day was the much hyped and long awaited Museo del Ron Havana club, described by the guide book as a “slick presentation and interactive exhibits” and “smell the odours from bubbling tanks full of fermenting molasses”. For 7CUCs each, even with a taste of 7 year old rum and a model of a sugar cane plantation with its own working railway, the 15 minute tour was a rip off even by Cuban standards.

This cross-section of museums really does give a  good sample of what you can expect in Cuba – there are some gems pop up in unexpected places and quite cheaply, and some of the more touted and expensive things are non-existent or just plain poor.

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