1. Hotel Habana Riviera
3. National Hotel
4. University of Havana
5. Christopher Columbus Cemetery
6. Revolution Square
7. Museum of the Revolution
8. Fine Arts Museum
9. Old Havana
10. Centro Cultural Antiguos (Market)
I was able to mark most of the important places we visited on the map of Havana. We visited many different parts of Havana, and even some that were farther away such that I couldn’t put them on the map. The overall structure of the city was difficult, but interesting to look at over the course of the week.
The first thing I noticed often was the structure of the roads. They got bumpier when we were outside the city, but were smoother on the highways and when we were in the city. The roads in Old Havana were nice too. I think it was in Old Havana where there was the one street made of wood because the president’s wife would complain about hearing people go over the cobblestone streets.
The most interesting thing to look at in terms of structure was the preservation of the buildings in Old Havana. It was impressive how well a lot of those buildings held up, especially the extremely old forts. It showed how much the people care about their history and culture that they work so hard to preserve the buildings. I was impressed to hear about the school in Old Havana that teaches restoration techniques and helps people get jobs in restoring and preserving the buildings. I also thought it was great that the primary school has workshops to get kids interested in it as well.
The second night there presented another part of Havana to look at structurally, which is the Malecón. It rained on Saturday and by afternoon the waves were crashing and then coming up onto the Malecón. The flooding was truly impressive and so extensive that those of us who went out walking around Saturday night were wading through water a good distance from where the water was coming up over the ledge. The closed down the Malecón at some point because of water, but traffic didn’t seem to be overly affected in other areas. It makes me think that they are used to flooding, which makes sense since Cuba is an island, but that they know what to do when flooding happens are have the structure in place to avoid anything worse.
The architecture within Havana is unique and interesting. There are a lot of large, older buildings, some more run-down sections like what we saw in the film Sergio and Sergei, and a few more modern looking buildings. Over toward Old Havana, there are old forts and other buildings from a long time ago. The contrasting architecture was one of my favorite things about the city. It was obvious that there were many architectural influences over time. It was also interesting to see how many individual buildings were in disrepair even if the area as a whole didn't seem to be. There were a lot of apartment buildings that at first glance appeared to be uninhabited, but if you looked closer there was laundry outside drying or a person sitting in a chair.
Overall, Havana was not completely what I expected it to be. I knew there were different architectural influences, but I didn’t know how well mixed and integrated they would be throughout the city. I knew the buildings in Old Havana would be older, but for many I could never have imagined how old and it was interesting to see the distinct progress in which buildings had been restored and which were still waiting. The city as a whole seemed to run smoothly and everything worked together to create a unique culture and environment. I really hope I get the chance to go back one day and explore some more.
This was definitely my favorite day of the trip. Though we did not go to as many individual places, the places we did go to meant more to me personally and had more of an impact than the places on the other days did. It was also bittersweet being the last scheduled day of the trip because I couldn’t believe we only had the free day left afterwards. The trip seemed to go by so fast and I wasn’t ready for it to be over yet.
The International School of Film and TV was incredible and I am so tempted to try and go there some day. The Steven Spielberg quote that he wrote on the wall was one of my favorite parts since he’s one of my favorite directors, but everything about that school sounded fantastic to me. It was also breathtakingly beautiful and there was green everywhere. I was impressed by the studio and their ability to build sets to use for filming. I also liked the class sizes. There were only five or six students per discipline per year. I think that would be so great because you form a great team with your classmates. I also like that it wasn’t too far from Havana to go to other things from time to time.
ICAP was also very interesting because I didn’t know what to expect going into it. It definitely ended up being one of the more valuable parts of the trip to be able to speak candidly and ask questions about Cuba and the relationship between Cuba and the United States. I learned more in that one meeting than I did during our unit on Cuba in my IB History class in high school. I feel like I am more prepared to discuss my experiences in Cuba and the country in general after that meeting. I feel let down by the American education system because it is ridiculous that the American people know so little about a country that is so close to us. I think that if we were better educated on the subject then we would be able to handle the relationship between the two countries in a much more appropriate and healthy manner.
The movie on day six was my favorite of the narrative films. Despite Sergio and Sergei
not having English subtitles for parts of it, I was able to understand most of what was happening. The occasional English scenes with Ron Perlman and AJ Buckley definitely helped, though. Once again, there were a few plot lines that didn’t seem to really relate to the main story, like when Sergio and his neighbor started making rum. However, I thought this story was the most unique of any we had seen and I thought the interaction between the main characters was especially interesting since it is entirely over radio and they never actually meet in person. Despite this, each interaction was genuine and remained interesting. The characters sometimes moved around while they talked, so it kept the visual interest up.
Old Havana was my favorite place to explore. There are so many different things to see in
not a very large area and it is a great place to walk around and see a lot of the Cuban
culture. We went to a graphic arts studio that also had work for sale. It was interesting to
see the variation in art styles between the artists and to watch some of them work while
we were there. I enjoyed looking at the pieces displayed in the gallery section at the front of the workshop.
I also thought it was interesting that we saw more animals walking around in Old Havana than other places in the city. There were a lot of cats near the cathedral and a lot of dogs laying in different places. Some were pets and some weren’t. I got my picture taken with a clown who had a dog wearing a tiny hat and we also saw a man with two dachshunds dressed as Santa.
I really loved the Fine Arts Museum and I wish we had been able to take pictures. Everything was so different than art I had seen before. I appreciated that we had a tour for part of it to learn more about specific pieces and I liked being able to wander on our own for a bit to see what we wanted to see. There were so many different styles of art and pieces within each style that I’m not even sure I could pick a favorite. There were some interesting sketches of animals at one part that I thought were beautiful. I also liked the pieces that were three dimensional and slightly more interactive. There was one piece that involved a painting on the wall and a sculptural element in front. The colors were divided in interesting ways in the painting and it connected well with the sculpture, even through the differences in style.
We had lunch at the House of Friendship, which is an absolutely beautiful building. I had the shredded beef with rice and beans and I loved it. The beef in Cuba seemed really different from beef in America, but I actually liked it better.
The movie for the night was called The Good Demons and there was a short film that played before it. I wasn’t a big fan of the short film and it didn’t have English subtitles so I had a bit of trouble understanding what was going on. The feature film was good, even if it was a bit unnerving watching a film where one plot line was tourists being killed by a taxi driver. I thought that this film was the most different from the styles of film we are used to. There were more plots and subplots than I am generally used to and it was very open ended. It might have been a little too open ended for me, especially with how many plot lines were not wrapped up by the ending.
The first place we went was an art school called Instituto Superior de Arte. It was designed to resemble parts of the woman’s reproductive system because the school’s job was to produce newly formed people. The architecture was very unique and came together in a nice way. I also liked seeing art as we walked around. There were some large metal flowers in the distance as we walked up to the main building and coming back, there was a large art piece in the shape of a kitchen knife. I enjoyed seeing how the work was integrated into the construction of the school and thought it added a more unique element.
The University of Havana was incredibly beautiful. The buildings were impressively large and old even though the campus itself was not too big. There was even a tank in the part of the school where we began our tour. Our tour guide was really helpful and I really liked when he was able to answer questions. Even though I didn’t have any to ask, hearing the answers to other people’s questions helped me to better understand the university and the culture of education in Cuba. I’m not sure I like how their majors are chosen, but I was overall very impressed by their educational system.
I had forgotten that Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for a while, and I was excited when I learned we were going to visit his house. I was shocked at how well preserved everything was and grateful that it was able to be kept that way for people to view. His office up in the tower seemed like the perfect place to get away from people and work for a while. I couldn’t believe how many of his possessions were still there. I liked being able to see all of his books how his rooms were set up. The views from around the property were spectacular and I completely understand why anyone would want to live somewhere like that.
This film was my absolute favorite. It was a documentary called The Color of the Chameleon. I was pretty sure I would like this film going into it because I have always been a huge fan of documentaries and I want to make them one day. The filmmaker seemed like an awesome guy and I wish I could have met him after the film. I liked his style of filmmaking and how he inserted himself into the documentary. I also appreciated his dedication to the project and how obvious it was that he cares about his family a lot. Seeing his understanding of his dad’s story unfold on screen was beautiful. As I am about to film a documentary focusing on my family for my capstone, I was paying particular attention to how he interacted with the story as both a character in the film and as the filmmaker. The film definitely gave me a few things to think about in regards to my own future projects.
Just as I expected, the Christopher Columbus Cemetery was breathtaking. Our tour guide was fantastic and didn’t make walking through an absolutely massive cemetery depressing in any way. I thought it was interesting that everything was above ground, since I’ve never seen a cemetery like that in the US. There were a lot of gorgeous statues that obviously took a great deal of time and artistry and were well taken care of. The memorial to the firefighters was one of my favorite parts and I thought that was a great way to honor them.
Seeing the dance performance was another highlight of the day. I appreciated how the dancers explained each of their characters beforehand so we could better understand who they were and how that influenced their dancing. I bought an awesome painting and they told me that the goddess depicted in it is the feminist leader. I am planning on buying a frame for it over break so I can hang it in my room.
Easily one of my favorite places from the entire week was when we visited the art museum in Miramar. I was blown away at how extensive the artwork was and how much it spread out from the one building. It was all unique as well and different from any other art style I’ve seen. The best part was going all the way up to the top and seeing the view. It showed how all of the art interacted and worked together to form the whole experience and better showed how unique each portion is from the others. There were some shops on the same street that we were able to look at and some of them were similar to the market. However, there was one art shop that I really liked. I saw a painting on a record that I loved, but ended up not buying it because I was still trying to work out my budget.
I enjoyed lunch a lot, and dinner was the first time we were on our own for a meal. A group of us went to a place called La Cocinita near the hotel, and I really liked it. I had the fried chicken with cake for dessert. There was also a little dog who followed us around the whole evening and she was really cute.
The movie for the night was called The Summit. The theater we saw it in was my least favorite of the trip because there was no leg room, so I was uncomfortable for most of the time there. This film was my least favorite of the week. There were unfortunately no English subtitles, and the film was pretty difficult to follow without them. Right away I could tell it was a political film, which is often difficult to get the gist of the story in visuals only. Thankfully, there was one scene in English about halfway through with Christian Slater. That’s where I was finally able to catch up a bit and figure out the basics of what was happening.
The Museum of the Revolution was much more interesting than I was expecting it to be and I learned a lot while we were there. I had no idea that there had been an attempt by university students to kill Batista. It was a little crazy to stand in the courtyard of the museum and see bullet holes riddling the walls around me. Seeing the truck the students had used later was strange as well. I think the idea of being around something with obvious signs of violence is a little bit unsettling. I really liked that the museum had documentation of all revolutions in Cuban history. It was great to see such a large collection of historical items. I was particularly impressed by the outdoor section, which had the boat Che and Castro returned to Cuba on.
We went to an indoor open market called Centro Cultural Antiguos. It reminded me a lot of the market in Managua, Nicaragua, but with less kids running around. It was a lot of fun to start looking for souvenirs for my family and I thought it was interesting how a lot of the things they made came apart to make them more likely to survive travel. I also found two tiny wood turtles for myself to add to my collection. One even says Cuba so I won’t forget where I got it. It was interesting to see what all was available at the market. Some items were incredibly similar to items at the market in Nicaragua, but some were much more unique. There were also a lot of paintings off to the sides that I wanted to get a better look at on our free day.
The food continued to be great. Breakfast was a buffet at the hotel, which had so many options I was almost overwhelmed. The pineapple juice was my favorite. For lunch I had shredded beef and for dinner I had lobster. The beef was incredible. I’m not a huge fan of lobster, but I thought it was pretty good and the bread and soup were delicious.
We went to the first movie on Saturday. It was called Matar A Jesus and it was a really well-done film. I thought the characters were genuine and interesting. They sometimes acted in ways different than I would expect them to based on similar films I have seen, and I liked that because it made the film just a little more unpredictable. The ending was more open than I’m used to, so it took me a little while to process that and decide what I felt about it. I do wish there had been something a little more concrete, but overall, I wasn’t disappointed. I liked being able to analyze how I thought it might continue after the credits. The characters in the movie were very well developed and continued to grow over the course of them film. The lead actress was brilliant in such an emotionally demanding role, and I think she was perfectly cast.
Stepping outside in Havana for the first time was almost surreal. I had been waiting for this trip for most of 2017 and it did not seem like it was actually happening. There were so many things I wanted to see and I couldn’t wait for the film festival. When we got out at Revolution Square is when it started to really kick in that we were in Cuba. The outlines of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos are images I had seen many times before, but only in books. Being able to stand in front of them and take pictures was something else.
At lunch, I realized how amazing the food was going to be for the week. The first drink we got was spectacular, not to mention the swordfish. Starting at that lunch, I made it a personal goal for the week to push myself a bit more than I normally do with trying new foods. As soon as I saw the pineapple, I was looking forward to eating a lot of fruit, since I’m not that good about it usually. I also started to feel like I was getting to know my classmates more during lunch. It was pretty much the first time we all got to sit down and talk outside of the classroom, and it was awesome find out that we all got along really well.
Getting to the hotel was nice for so many reasons. First of all, the building was spectacular from the outside and I was very curious since we had to change hotels last minute. I was also beyond ready to lay down for a while. I didn’t sleep Thursday night before going to the airport at four in the morning and both flights were short, so I was starting to feel very tired. Our view from the room was beautiful and the beds were so comfortable. I got to take a nap for a while and recharge, which made the evening even better.
Dinner was just as good as lunch. I had bread, some kind of squash soup, salad, red snapper with rice, and flan for dessert. Red snapper was another kind of fish I had never had before, but I really enjoyed it. After flan with lunch and dinner, I was also beginning to see a dessert trend. The juice continued to be delicious. We had papaya juice at lunch and guava juice with dinner. I am not a big fan of either of those fruits, but the juices were amazing and very refreshing with the fish.
Driving through Havana throughout the day was a lot of fun because it was almost like a sneak preview at the rest of our week. From the drive by alone, I could tell how spectacular the Christopher Columbus Cemetery was and I couldn’t wait until we visited. I also thought it was interesting to drive by the zoo. I didn’t see a sign at first and then there were zebras and ostriches right outside my window. The first day definitely set the tone for the rest of the trip.