Robaina's plantation

Thursday 28 May 2020

San Antonio de Los Banos (Tobacco Growing Region) Near Havana

                The Spanish first saw tobacco grown in Cuba in the province of Holguin. Even though tobacco is still grown there centuries later, it's not used in the production of cigars for export. As the settlers moved across the island they realized that tobacco was grown wherever they established themselves and soon picked up the custom of cultivating the plant. Eventually, as they were always on the hunt for a better product, they established themselves in the Pinar del Rio area. It wasn't until the early 1700's but they finally discovered that the soil there produced the best quality tobacco.
                Along the way they had planted tobacco in and around Havana including the area of San Antonio de Los Banos. This area is part of the 'Partido' growning region and is known for it's production of wrapper leaf. It's considered one of the oldest tobacco growing regions that's still producing the plant today.
                I was aware of the fact that that tobacco was grown in and around Havana but didn't know that it was still being planted there today or of the value of it's results. The farm we visited was enormous and very obviously 'State Owned'. It seemed that no expense was spared in comparison to the farms I've visited in Pinar del Rio. Everything was clean and well organized with all the amenities that in some cases were lacking in Pinar.
                Of course, although they might produce a decent tobacco, I don't think it can be compared with tobacco grown in San Luis or San Juan y Martinez. I hooked up with the Habanos group for my visit of a farm in San Antonio de Los Banos and posted a few of the the pictures I took below.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Calle 23 (Havana) 2020

                 Calle 23 (23rd Steet) is one of the busiest streets in the Vedado district of Havana. It begins at the Malecon and ends at the Almendares river. Starting from the Malecon up to the Hotel Habana Libre & the Yara Cinema (5 streets), this strip is known as La Rampa (The Ramp) because it's all up hill. It's total length is just over 2 kilometers crossed by important avenues such as Avenida de los Presidentes and Paseo and is home or near to; several Hotels (Habana Libre, Nacional & Capri), Restaurants, Casa Rentals, Businesses, Several Cinemas, Parks, WiFi Zones, Open-Air Craft Markets, Nightclubs, Performing Arts Theaters, Churches, Art Galleries and the Coppelia Ice Cream Shop. There are attractions along Calle 23 that make it appealing Day or Night and you could easily spend an entire day walking along this street and find enough things to keep you busy for longer than that.
                You wouldn't have Calle 23 if you didn't have the Vedado, the Havana district it runs through. In 1859 the City Council of Havana approved Francisco Frias and Jacott's request to subdivide and sell off his enormous farm named Vedado which of course was located in what is now known as the 'Vedado' district. It consisted of 29 blocks measuring 100 meters per side. This came at a time when the city of Havana needed to expand outside it's original walls. However, due to wars that Cuba fought against the Spanish and the financial crisis that occurred because of them, it wasn't until decades later that the expansion actually went into full gear. Before then it was a place where rich people built their homes. Eventually, to the wealthy people's dismay, all walks of life came to live in Vedado.
                 Here is a list of some of the places you'll find in and around Calle 23:

One block from Calle 23 at Calle 21 & O is the Hotel Nacional which opened in 1930. Although it doesn't have all the amenities that a more modern hotel has, it's patio, the best in the city in my opinion, offers commanding views of the sea and the city. It's a great place to kick back, drink a mojito, smoke a cigar and listen to live band playing traditional Cuban music.

Just down the street at Calle 21 & N is the Hotel Capri which originally opened in November 1957. It was once owned by mobster Santo Trafficante, Jr. of Tampa, Florida. It closed in 2003 and reopened in January 2014 after major renovations.

Located between Calles N and O on 23 is the Jazz Nightclub the 'La Zorra y el Cuervo'. A great place to check out some of the top musicians of the city.

At Calle 23 & N you'll find the Cuban Pavilion (Pabellón Cuba). The modern style building is dedicated to exhibitions, concerts of popular music and cultural fairs.

The FOCSA Building (Edificio Focsa) was the second-largest residential concrete building in the world at the time of it's construction. Today it's still the tallest building in Cuba. Work began in February 1954 and finished in June 1956. It's located at Calles 17 and M and Calles 19 and N. The FOCSA has 39 floors 4 of which are dedicated to commercial use, two floors are for parking. Twenty-eight floors have thirteen residences each and the thirty-fourth floor has six penthouses.  Underneath the building, there is a shopping esplanade with some state-run shops and on the very top floor you'll find the Restaurant 'La Torre' with spectacular views of the city.

The Radiocentro CMQ Building complex was a radio and television production facility & office building at the corner of Calle L & 23. With 1,650 seats, the theater first opened on December 23, 1947 under the name Teatro Warner Radiocentro. Today it's known as Yara, a principal Movie Theater in the city. The national television offices are located in the back of the building.

Across the street is the Coppelia Park with the Ice Cream Shop that opened in 1966. Coppelia is state-run and sells in both Cuban pesos (CUP) and Cuban convertible pesos (CUC). Havana's Coppelia employs more than 400 workers and serves 4,200 US gallons (16,000 litres) of ice cream to 35,000 customers each day. There are always huge lines waiting to grab an ice cream.

Still at the corner of Calle 23 & L you'll find the Hotel Habana Libre. Originally the Havana Hilton Hotel, it was inaugurated in 1958. With 630 guest rooms, including 42 suites, at that time the Habana Hilton was Latin America's tallest and largest hotel. Today it's still one of Havana's largest hotels.

Just south on Calle 27 & L is the University of Havana (Universidad de La Habana). Founded on January 5, 1728, this is the oldest university in Cuba.

At Calle 23 & J, there's a small park featuring a statue of Don Quixote mounted on his horse Rocinante. It was made by artist Sergio Ramírez in 1980.

At the corner of 23 and F is where you will find a small park with a memorial dedicated to the late Martin Luther King Jr.

Between Calles F & E on 23 is where you will find the church the Iglesia "Siervas de María".

The pretty good sized Mariana Grajales park with a statue dedicated to her is located at the corner of D & 23.

The church 'Iglesia y Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena' is located at 25 & Paseo, founded in 1688.

Between Calles 8 & 10 on 23 you'll find the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). It was established by the Cuban government in March 1959 after the Cuban Revolution. The ICAIC is an organization of a film industry to produce, distribute and exhibit films and related work. Its aim is to use film as a powerful mass communication medium to mobilize and educate people, improve the quality level of Cuba films with appreciation among the masses and reach a wide public.

The Centro Cultural Fresa y Chocolate is located between Calles 10 & 12 on 23. The Fresa y Chocolate Cinematographic Cultural Center is a multifunctional art institution, with a modern digital technology video projection room.

Cine Charles Chaplin is another movie theater located along Calle 23 between 10 and 12 streets. It originally opened as the Cine Atlantic but was re-named Cine Charles Chaplin in 1983. It underwent major renovations in 2004 and it is a leading venue for International film festivals. In 2015 it became one of the first cinemas in Cuba to be equipped with digital projection.

One block south of 23, on Calle 12, is Zapata, where you’ll find the main entrance to the Cementerio Colón founded in 1876.

For about 10 years, starting in 2003, the H.Upmann Cigar Factory took over an old cigarette factory on Calle 23 e/ 14 y 16.

             There are a whole bunch of restaurants located on or around Calle 23, too many to mention. I know I've missed a lot of other spots along the route but you get the idea, there's a lot see in this part of the city. The pictures are posted in no particular order.

23 & J statue of Don Quixote

23 & L  Hotel Habana Libre

N and O on 23 Jazz Nightclub the 'La Zorra y el Cuervo'

23 and F small park with a memorial dedicated to the late Martin Luther King Jr.

8 & 10 on 23 Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos & Cine Charles Chaplin

F & E on 23 Iglesia "Siervas de María"

L & 23 Yara Movie Theater with 1,650 seats