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La Habana; photopost

img_1670I have too many impressions of Cuba to structure them. And that is killing me. I really want to share as much as possible here to remember one of the richest experiences in my life so far. Luckily I have a habit of taking notes while traveling so it should still be possible for me to restore my feelings while being there.

I usually start all the after-trip-posts with stories and then I go with the pictures, already having told briefly what it’s all about for me. But this time I am going the easy way, starting with a photopost. It’s mostly Old Havana with some exceptions from el Morro castle and Vedado. Of course, I post the pretty side of it. There is much more dirt, trash and mess all around. Nevertheless, Havana is so charming… it is a real pearl of the Caribbean world. And for me it will always look like in the following pictures. Add loud noises, never-ending music, a lot of movement and inexhaustible energy! Welcome to Cuba!

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view while hiking up to El Morro

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Havana military base keeps the Caribbean crisis warheads

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fortess cannon blast, every night at 9 p.m. – a must see!

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streets of Habana Vieja

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Havana geometry is spellbinding

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Capitolio de la Habana

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the famous Asturias – another must visit!

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take a walk along Paseo del Prado!

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on the weekend there is an arts market on Prado

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the most beautiful building of the city in my opinion – Edificio Bacardi

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Bacardi bat watches over Havana

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wi-fi zone is easy to spot

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fortunetellers are all very authentic

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flea market at the end of Obispo street is a place to find indeed unique things!

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if you like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain…

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street salsa dancing is another big thing for Cubans

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Isabella is absolutely happy in her element

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they just do it anywhere!

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UPD: back on track

Hey, guys! I am alive and I am back to Europe. tulqqdt4vrcExactly a month has it been. I still have no way to write a complete story about my summer trips that has to also be followed by a lot of thoughts. And there are a lot of thoughts. What I saw and experienced this summer changed me a lot. I started appreciating such things as drinking water, to begin with. Living in a Cuban society interacting with people being stuck in such an unusual for the modern world situation literally blows your mind! I am inspired (I never ever use this stupid phrase!) by Cuba, I will talk about Cuba, I will always remember what Cuba taught me. And I miss Cuba.

I was also lucky to visit Mexico this summer. Was a short trip but I managed to see/eat/drink a lot of amazing things. And this I can’t wait to share as well!

As I returned to Europe, my friends flew to Paris to meet me there and spend some time in the city with less English and white people to overcome my cultural shock a little bit. It was a very useful buffer before coming back to Vienna. And Paris was just so sweet this time!

I am praying now that with my extremely tough upcoming semester I will have time and inspiration to write about my summer experience. Would be such a shame to just let the impressions slip away! I still can’t forgive myself for writing absolutely nothing when used to live in the US. Won’t let it happen again! Posts are arriving soon!

Meanwhile, happy beginning of the school year for everyone! It’s the first day of fall for us, but luckily we caught the last sunbeams and made a trip to the lake yesterday.

Hope you are all safely returning from the vacations that were just amazing and warmed you up enough to meet the autumn.


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Cuba: Observations

IMG_6859.jpgHola amigos!

It is my third week in Cuba now and I can’t believe time flies so fast! Seems like I had just arrived and don’t know where to go and how to behave in the streets. Now I know my way around havana very well and have already met quite few locals, too. But every morning as I open my eyes it still takes me a second to figure out where I am. I kind of like that feeling while traveling a lot in a short period, though.
So, let me share some more observations about Cuba here. To begin with, most of the things that I am writing here are applying to Havana only, as Santiago de Cuba or Trinidad, for example, are totally different. But several facts are common for the whole country, too. If you just go to Varadero, which most of the tourists do, you won’t find any Cuban authentic sights, so I highly recommend spending at lest couple days in the capital city, and better stay in la Habana Vieja. Some things that caught my eye:
  • it is very dark in the streets. Maybe not in the newest hotel areas in Vedado, but in the old city for sure. It doesn’t feel dangerous, though. As I already mentioned in the previous post, people want foreigners’ attention, they would whistle and yell something very often, but don’t get scared. I had never been touched or anything. Just keep on walking.
  • you have to make yourself very clear when speaking with the locals. They can ask you to buy them food; making up stories about babies, faking pregnancy, being extremely sweet and friendly with you and taking pictures to later have you buy them something is very common here, especially if you go to some market areas and shops for locals. Just be smart and don’t let them trick you. It is absolutely fine to say no in a harsh way. Another usual way to trick tourists is when you go out dancing: some guy will come up to you and start teaching you salsa, you have fun and dance with him for like an hour and then he requires 25CUC for a lesson. If you are invited to dance, just make it clear that you just want to dance and don’t want a lesson!
  • in general, salsa, ron, rumba, bachata and all kinds of latin american dances are a big thing here. Cubans are the best dancers in the world. At the same time, they have their own way of dancing most of the internationally popular dances. Mixtures with African culture and isolation from the continental latin America have had their strong impact on evolution of dancing culture here. Most of people who come here are salsa dancers back home. Almost any club is going to be a salsa place at some point during the night. So if you have no idea at all how to dance, you might want to learn some basics at least not to be left out. I am taking salsa classes at a place called Casa del Son and the instructors there are very nice and professional. Don’t think, though, that this much body contact means that the locals are trying to hook you up when you dance with them. It can be the case, of course, but a lot of flirting, touching and contact is a big part of their culture here, so just accept it and don’t freak out.
  • I like it here, like it a lot. And the people are part of an amazing experience, too. But I would recommend not to trust them. Especially the guys who are flirting with you (and they do that even being 80 years old). They may whisper as many sweet things as you had never heard before in your ear and they are professional at looking reliable, but always keep in mind that the culture here is very different from any western culture; people are being brought up with it being a social norm to be sneaky. They do lie a lot here, show off and just in general have a very different point of view on what’s good and what’s bad. You can become friends with the Cubans, definitely, they are very nice and extremely interesting people. But never forget that they all see foreigners as the key to escape from the country. And most of them desperately want that, even though they will never tell you as it is not accepted to express your point of view here. All Cubans say they are extremely happy here and they love their country. You will never know what they truly think, never. Enjoy it here, but don’t try to understand.
  • absolute majority of population and their parents and grandparents have never been abroad. Even though it became legal for them to travel couple years ago, no regular local can afford it. They are not allowed to even get close to boats, on top of that. When there was a sailing excursion, the Cuban guide wasn’t allowed on board. They would be constantly asked for their documents in the streets if they walk with tourists, too. Happens to us every single day. And the foreigners would be asked questions concerning their reasons of walking next to a Cuban, too. I learnt a lot of crazy stories of how somebody started dating a Cuban and would be chased by police, but I don’t think it would be correct to share the details on the web. Just be aware that the locals live a completely different lifestyle that any foreigner would have here.
  • they love Russians. Even adore them, I would say. So feel free to say «soy rusa/ruso» anywhere! If you speak good English, you might be mistaken for an American, which is sometimes not very pleasant here, as the tensions are still strong. So if you want good service and friendly attitude, make sure they don’t take you for a «gringo»
  • all of the above strongly depends on a person, of course. The locals are very interested in foreign cultures, they ask a lot of questions and really want to know as much as possible about you. Some would greet the Americans I was hanging out with very friendly, too. But we did have some unpleasant incidents with attitude to the Americans, too.
  • what I find very impressive is how people learn English on the streets. They are not taught at the universities or in some other way common for us. They indeed do learn languages from each other. And a lot of people in Havana speak more than decent English! Sometimes German and Italian, too. Older people can speak Russian sometimes, too, as they used to travel to the Soviet Union back in the days. No idea what the problem of Russia with learning English is, if even isolated people with no way to learn it speak so well.
  • you probably know that the Internet is not a common thing. It exists in certain areas and you can buy cards to get online, but it’s mostly accessible only for foreigners. The locals aren’t admitted to the hotels (I think government tries to do as much as possible to prevent Cubans mixing with other nationalities and leaving the country, so no locals are allowed in the areas where tourists stay) and it’s also not affordable for the most of them. If a teacher makes $22 a month, he is not gonna go spend $3 on an hour of using the Wi-Fi. But you still see a lot of young people gathering around hotspots. Since just few years they are allowed to purchase cellphones here, but satellite data isn’t possible, they are just for calling. Which is surprisingly not even that much needed I would say! People just somehow get to meet each other without texting as we would do to organize whatever! Everyone knows where to find whoever he needs; certain people go to the same places to hang out, so somehow it all works out. Like it used to 20 years ago for us, I guess. I run into the people I got to know here almost every day, for example.
  • even though it is very easy to meet people here, I wouldn’t recommend staying just by yourself, It is simply less fun. Even if you are traveling with friends, you won’t experience as much as if you overlap with other foreigners living here as well as with the locals. I am staying in the hostel, but only with the members of the program that I am doing in Cuba. And it is just so much fun! We are a little family here; there is always a lot to do and someone making plans. This hostel is the best experience ever, I love having met every single person who stayed here! It is called Hostal Leonel, I highly recommend it if you need an affordable and cozy place to stay in Habana Vieja! Btw, the program I came to Cuba with is called Jakera, and the guys indeed are doing a good job! I am enjoying it here every single day.
I think this is it for now as another trip is already ahead of me – tomorrow I am flying to Mexico! But next week I will be back to Havana and will share a lot of things to see/do/experience/avoid on this astonishing island. Have an amazing weekend, everyone! Happy autumn!


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Cuba: Arrival

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetHello from Havana!

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This is my first post from Cuba so I want to stick to the events and try to keep the plot away from emotions, but typing the second sentence it already seems impossible. Ohhh this place is something! Honestly, I think it is going to be the most amazing traveling experience of my 23 years of life. And I have had some!
It’s been 10 days since I came to Cuba and I don’t even know how to describe even a tiny part of what a hurricane has been happening in my head since the very first second I left the aircraft.
Well, if trying to stick to the facts, the unusual experience started even before boarding in Paris. Entering Cuba is tricky. Far more tricky than I had thought. As a Russian, you need absolutely nothing to enter the country and stay here, only your passport. But it is not the case for the rest of the world, and the problem is that the regulations are being changed so fast by the Cuban authorities that nobody knows for sure what you need to be admitted. I was flying with a bunch of Europeans who need travel cards or whatever to enter the country. They were used to be provided by the carrier airline. But not anymore. Which not everyone knew about. Now if you need one, you have to obtain it yourself in advance at the embassy or travel agency. All websites still say completely the opposite so a lot of people on my flight just weren’t allowed to board because they didn’t have those and they couldn’t be issued anywhere. I was one of those people who would be kept from boarding not possessing those. AirFrance don’t know the regulations. It took a lot of time and patience to prove that I need damn nothing to come to Cuba. I was eventually allowed to board but I was literally crying at the gate not knowing what to do. Make sure you know your rights and the up-to-date Cuban regulations, I’d recommend to have those particular ones applying for you printed as well.
The flight itself was fine. The sun was shining extremely bright the whole time as we were traveling west so I didn’t really sleep, so I appreciate AirFrance for at least serving you as much wine as you need. As always, I met alcoholic people on the plane and it ended up being fine, 12 hours flew fast. Funny how they don’t care much about security and not even all flight attendants wore uniforms. I guess you see that only flying to Havana!
Talking about bureaucracy again, in general, better have hard copies of everything you can think of. The Internet in Cuba is another tricky thing. It is becoming more available for the tourists. You have to buy a card that contains login and password and will grant you 1 hour of surfing. Those are being sold at special offices and cost 2CUC there, but I yet have not bought a single one there because the line is enormous. I get those unofficially which is possible, too, but they cost starting from 3CUC then. The connection itself is available only at several hotels where you have to come already having a card, the aren’t sold at the reception as many think. The locals can not enter hotels for the tourists, though. As well as any other tourist areas. It is in general not welcomed to be hanging around with foreigners for them, so whenever Cuban guys are with us, they are constantly being stopped by the police who would check on their documents and ask a lot of questions why is a conversation a case at all. You as a tourist talking to a local can be asked, too. So, if you are dark and you speak good Spanish and can be mistaken for Cuban, carry your ID with you. I don’t have the problem, but I have another one – I am being starred at by basically anyone. Kids, women, dogs – whatever. They are nice here, though, but they really want to draw foreigners’ attention, so be ready for whistlers. They won’t touch you, but a lot of action around you is guaranteed. Just take it easy, they really mean no harm.
It is very dirty and smelly in the area where I am staying, Habana Vieja. It is though not dangerous anywhere. The only thing that can happen to you if you are not attentive is that you can be tricked with money. There are two currencies in Cuba: CUC (convertible pesos you get when you exchange your money) and CUP (the currency locals use). Just be careful and check the change. And be aware that US dollars are a subject to 10% tax while exchanging and American credit cards are not accepted. Other than that, everything is quite straight forward and you shouldn’t worry much ebout being robbed or anything like that, knock the wood. But it’s anyway incredibly beautiful. Снимок экрана 2016-08-24 в 1.15.05
Back to my arrival. It all depends on the terminal you arrive to, of course, but for me it took about 3 hours to get out of the airport. The customs are very harsh. They check on anything, open everything and make you fill in tens of declarationish papers. Just be patient.
Immediately as I got out I felt an extremely positive vibe. The people are so sweet, so is everyone who arrives here and feels this optimistic energy. I got to know 2 locals and 2 tourists right a way; we took pictures together and had a ride in a cool car from the 50s.
I think that’s enough for today. Honestly, I just want to enjoy the view on the ocean and another daiquiri which are incredible here! Will try to write soon about my Cuban experience itself.

God bless the Internet!