I was near the water in the old part of town and although I knew where Hotel Nacional was, I also knew that it was far, far away.
Hotel Nacional is very distinguishable even from a distance. The eclectic art deco building sits perched on top of a cliff overlooking the Malecon and the Straits of Florida. The hotel is now 85 years old and if you’d like to stay here, be prepared to dish out around 200 CUC (or roughly the same in dollars) per night (suites are in the range of 500 CUC and up).
Honestly, I wouldn’t stay here. Mostly because I love the casa particulares and with such abundance of those in Havana it would be a crime to stay in a boring old hotel. But definitely come and visit the hotel! The architecture is beautiful and the hotel is surrounded by charming gardens. There are bars inside and outside (so, if you decide to meet at a “bar”at Hotel Nacional be sure to specify which one) and they serve decent mojitos.
I have visited the hotel a few times before, but never stayed in a room here. It helps to walk in and act like you belong, but I don’t think anyone cares if you’re staying at the hotel or just hanging out at the bar. I do recommend it for the atmosphere.
Hotel Nacional is where our group decided to meet up for a drink that night. I planned on walking over, but once I looked at where I was and where the hotel was, I realized that it would be a very long walk and I’d end up getting there very late. No, I wasn’t able to just text and say I’ll be late, so I decided to flag a taxi.
Car taxis are fun in Cuba, but this time I decided to get into a bicycle taxi instead. It seemed like it would be an experience. And it was! I had fun. The guy charged me an arm and a leg (10 CUC), but he spoke some English and was telling me how much he loves Obama.
As we were biking down the street, I spotted Jo! She was heading for the hotel as well, so I told him to pull over and she hopped in. It was the kind of happenstance that is very pleasing in a foreign country. You’re just in the middle of a very foreign environment and then you spot a familiar face! I love it when that happens… It’s happened to me in Hanoi and in Stockholm as well and both times it was unplanned and completely unexpected.
The price of 10 CUC quickly doubled, but it was still worth it, to be on a bike, but not actually doing any biking. Sometimes I’m lazy like that…
We found Nedene and Mtn Val out on the patio, already enjoying mojitos. Stuart wasn’t able to join us that night and he was missed! But we had fun updating each other on our day and sharing stories. I realized (something I kinda already knew, actually) that I’m really a city girl. Ok, I’m also off the grid kinda girl. I absolutely love the outdoors and hiking and being away from it all. Sometimes I need to get away from the city and recharge in the mountains and among the trees, but coming back to a city energizes me. I loved the Cuban small towns and villages as well, so I don’t really discriminate. But again, being in Havana put a pep in my step and I was already lamenting having only one day left here!
We hung out on the patio for a little while, as Nedene admired her Rolling Stone in Cuba t-shirt. We then tried to figure out where to have dinner.
There are plenty of restaurants near Hotel Nacional, so I hope that no one ever thinks it’s a good idea to actually eat at the hotel.
We tried going to Cafe Laurent (a starred recommendation from the Lonely Planet), but the wait was about an hour and a half. Deciding we were too hungry for that, we stumbled upon the next great little bistro: Los Amigos.
And guess what?! This is where Tony (Anthony Bourdain) likes to eat whenever he’s in Havana! This place was featured on No Reservations once, I believe. I love Anthony Bourdain and try to catch his shows as much as possible, but I also am way behind on my TV viewing. I just now started on Season 4 of Game of Thrones.
The food was delicious! I had the Uruguayan steak, which was a pork steak stuffed with cheese and more pork and then deep fried to perfection. Came with congri, of course, and some ornamental vegetables.
A very pleasant evening and almost our last one in Cuba. 😦
I Strava-ed my walk that day and so the idea for “urban hiking” was born. It’s still a hike, right, even if it’s in the city? I walked almost 11 miles that day (10.9). See how big this city is?! I hardly even made a dent (the part marked “Havana” is just the old town. The areas surrounding it, such as El Vedado, Casablanca and Miramar, are also in Havana).