Robaina's plantation

Sunday 30 April 2017

Ernesto Villanueva (Cuban Artist)

                   I've been seeing this artist's works hanging on walls in Havana for a few years now and after doing a little research it seems that what I've been seeing is from the series of paintings that he did in 2009 called "Summer in my Garden", they're unmistakable. He didn't start his scholastic life with the intent on being an artist, he has a Bachelor's degree in engineering but left that life to pursue this one, eventually graduating from the Higher Technical College Institute José Antonio Echeverría in Engineering and Drawing in 1994. His first solo exhibition named “Bosquejos de Colores” was in 1995 at the Mariano Rodríguez Art Gallery, Villa Panamericana, Havana, Cuba. He was born in Havana in 1970 and still lives there. His abstract paintings have been displayed all over the world but with more frequency in Europe. Below are are pictures of some of his more current works from the "Summer in my garden" collection. He also does sculptures and printmaking.

Villanueva Studio:
Calle Aguacate 254, Esq. Obispo,
Habana Vieja,
Studio. (537) 8632294
Cell. (537) 58913341

Thursday 27 April 2017

Hotel Bella Costa (Varadero)

                    On my last few trips to Cuba I've been spending the last couple of nights in Varadero. In March I spent a week at the Hotel Bella Costa. Anyone who has traveled to Varadero (Cuban All-inclusive resorts specifically) will tell you that the hotels there are a hit and miss (more misses) when it comes to food, quality of hotel and service. Mostly people have come back saying how terrible the food was and a lot of times complaining of things broken in their rooms that either get repaired well into their stay or not at all. The newer the hotel, the least likely all or any of these complaints are likely to be heard. The seasoned Cuba traveler finds the hotel he likes and sticks to that one until things start to change. Varadero is one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean with more than 20 km of white sandy beaches. The first hotel was built in Varadero in 1915 and tourism grew in the early 1930s up until the revolution in 1959. Since the 1990s Varadero has experienced the Hotel boom that we know today and there's at least a construction going on at any given time during the year. Rule of thumb is that the newer hotels will garner the least amount of complaints but that's not a guarantee. One thing most people don't know is that the further out you go on the strip (the newer hotels), the less appealing the beaches are....that is to say that the better beaches are closer to or within the town of Varadero. In my opinion the key is to find one of the older hotels that you can live with and stay there, unless of course you prefer to stay in a newer hotel.
                    Hotel Bella Costa is one of these older hotels closer to the town of Varadero. You don't have to walk half a mile to get to the beach, it's next to the pool. The hotel isn't enormous, so you won't get lost finding the buffet. You're not far from town, so you're only a $5 cab ride away from a change of scenery. The rooms are a little aged, more than the rest of the hotel, but at least there was no smell of dampness or cleaning liquids. The bathrooms were poorly designed and showed their age more than the rest of the room. The furnishings in the room weren't anything special (looked like the original) but we had a flat screen tv that worked, a mini-fridge that was stocked every day and an ironing board and working iron in the closet (the safe was free of charge). The elevators worked and everything (pool, lobby, beach, restaurants) was close by. The staff was pleasant, some more than others and the food at the different buffets was quite acceptable. They treated us to a full roast pig one day, serving it at the evening buffet, and pizza was available most of the day, every day. Besides the lunch buffet outside under the ranchon, a grill was set up next to the pool offering pork, chicken and sausage with buns so you could make yourself a sandwich. Although the a la carte restaurants weren't horrible, they weren't that great either. The service at the a la carte was great but the variety wasn't...the Italian restaurant gave you more choices but it was far from Italian.
                  If you're used to higher end, newer hotels, you're not going to like this place. But if you've been to Varadero and know the bad and the good of it, this place might be ok for you. I didn't go in with big expectations but was pleasantly surprised. It started from the service we got at the front desk when we checked-in and continued throughout the week. The close proximity to the town, the great strip of beach, the decent food....and I forgot to mention the entertainment (animacion) that was ongoing through parts of the day as well as the evening shows. I would come back to this hotel.

Hotel Bella Costa
Carretera Las Americas km. 3 1/2
tel. (53) 4 566 7210

Nightly Entertainment

Main Lobby

No Charge Safe

Italian A La Carte Restaurant

Pizza Guy

Japanese A La Carte Restaurant

Breakfast Buffet

Fuzzball and Ping Pong

Main Lobby

Main Pool

Lunchtime Grill

Lunch Buffet by the Ocean

Monday 17 April 2017

Partagás Maduro No.1 (2015) Habanos Specialist Exclusive (my thoughts)

                   I had the good fortune of smoking one of these before their release and I remember loving them. This 52 x 130mm (5.1") cigar that they call a Robusto was suppose to be released in 2015 but I didn't see any boxes until well into 2016 when I bought one....they come in boxes of 25 cigars.
                    At first glance, the one I had picked out to smoke wasn't very pretty. It was hard to the touch, veiny, bumpy, with a dark wrapper (obviously) and an ugly cap, but looks can be deceiving when it comes to a cigar. The pre-light draw was very woody. Once lit the draw was perfect and it gave the impression of being a medium to strong smoke. The burn was perfect, at least so far, and it had the typical maduro-like flavours, very earthy.
                   When it was around the one inch mark the burn was slightly off and a half inch later the ash fell on it's own. Finally a different flavour profile than what has been the norm lately but after a while this too got tiring as the flavours didn't change throughout the time that I smoked it. Earth overpowered any other flavours and the strength became progressively stronger until at last it was too much to bear and I had to put it down near the end. The burn had straightened itself out before the end but the flavours remained the same throughout...pretty boring. Will it change through the years? I hope it does because it has the potential to be something very nice if that would be the case. Will I have the patience to wait? I guess this will be another one of those boxes that get thrown in the back of my humidor to be forgotten until.....who knows when. I will revisit them in a year or so. The unfortunate thing is that a cigar like this, if it ever becomes good, won't be known until some time down the road. When that discovery is made, it will be too late, none will be found, at least not at their original price.

PS.......forgot to mention the Box Date is Sept.2016