Hemingway's La Finca Vigia

I'm gearing up for another trip (more on that later) and I still haven't posted everything from my last trip! Here's another wonderful memory from Cuba...

Ernest Hemingway had a long and storied relationship with the island. He first arrived in 1932 for the marlin fishing, and rented room #511 the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana until 1939. This is where he began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In 1940, he used the royalties from that book to purchase Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”), a quiet villa in San Francisco de Paula about fifteen miles east of Havana.  He shared it with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn (with whom he worked as a journalist reporting on the Spanish Civil War - the subject of the book); she was very impressive in her own right - this is a great book about her. He later shared it with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh

Hemingway lived and worked here for over 20 years, writing Islands in the Stream, Across the River and into the Trees, A Moveable Feast, and The Old Man and the Sea. When news of his suicide back in the US reached Cuba in 1962, the property was turned into a museum (whether taken by the Cuban revolutionary government or gifted to the people of Cuba by Mary Welsh is a subject of debate), complete with much of his original furniture, artwork, and personal memorabilia. 

Today, the restored home and grounds look much like they did when occupied by the famous author, with one exception: when visitors reach the end of the long, secluded driveway they are greeted with tourist amenities like fresh pressed pineapple juice and a Cuban band:

Pineapple juice


But leaving the driveway behind and heading up to the main house is like stepping back in time to a white washed villa so full of personal artifacts and period pieces that you half expect to hear Papa Hemingway hammering away at his typewriter behind one of the heavy wooden desks inside.

Main house


Visitors cannot enter the house; instead, you follow along the outside walls where most of the windows are open (no screens), allowing great visibility into each room. And a little black dog who had dug a hole near the foundation in which to escape from the midday heat:


Every room is adorned with hunting trophies from Hemingway's African safaris:

Living room

  Front hall



Sitting room


And the books! There are over nine thousand of them in his personal collection here; I would have loved to have gotten closer to investigate.









The furniture, tile floors and art are exquisite; besides personal photos and several Spanish tapestries depicting bullfights, there is also this ceramic plate by his friend Pablo Picasso:


And on a wall in the bathroom, hidden behind the door, you can see where Hemingway diligently recorded his weight every day...ranging from 200 lbs. to a high of about 240 lbs.



Also in the bathroom, a dead lizard sits in a glass jar of formaldehyde. The story goes that one of Hemingway's many cats got a hold of this fellow, and the lizard put up a fight to the end. Amazed by the lizard’s bravery, Hemingway decided to preserve it as a tribute to courage and dignity.


Alongside the main house is a tower, originally conceived as a writing retreat, although Hemingway preferred to work in his bedroom.


Here is a vintage shot of Hemingway on the steps:


And the main room inside the tower...


...which provides sweeping views of Havana:


Back on ground level, there is a small patio and trellis, with a long, winding path leading down to the pool area.




Garden path

The grounds are lush with flowers and ancient trees:



And at the far end of the property sits Hemingway's pool, where Ava Gardner went skinny dipping back in the day, after which Hemingway ordered his staff never to empty the water 😋


A small pool house serves as an art gallery full of personal photos of Hemingway and his celebrity friends.


Out back sits a pet cemetery (!).  Hemingway had ~50 cats in his lifetime (!) and some of them are resting here.

Pet cemetery

But the pièce de résistance is Hemingway's fishing boat, the Pilar. Besides using it for fishing in the Florida Keys, during WWII he used the Pilar to patrol the waters north of Cuba on the lookout for Nazi submarines that might attack sugar ships headed for the Allies.



The boat - and the entire property - is a fantastic piece of history, well worth a visit if you are ever in Havana.

Cocotaxi - Part 2

A very full life has kept me from the blog lately, but there are many more pictures and stories from Cuba that I'd like to share...so here goes:

Picking up from where we left off - my Cocotaxi tour along the Malecon - I had the driver loop around Old Havana and take me back to the hotel via an inland route, in order to see more of the city. And there is so much to see! I feel like I only scratched the surface, but what a fascinating surface it was...

Colonial style architecture:

Along the Malecon

Monuments to war heroes. This one is of General Maximo Gomez, commander of the military in Cuba's War of Independence from Spain (1895–1898):

General Maximo Gomez

A quaint Ferris wheel in Old Town:

Ferris Wheel

The ubiquitous revolutionary street art:

Street art

Museo Nacional de la Música/The National Music Museum. Built in 1905, this was originally home to a wealthy merchant and later transformed into a museum celebrating the history of Cuban music from the 16th to the 20th century. Look at that detail!

Museo Nacional de la Música

Museo de la Revolución. The former Presidential Palace (1913-1959) decorated by Tiffany & Co. out of New York, and boasting a Room of Mirrors modeled after France's Palace of Versailles. It was converted to a museum in the years following the Revolution, and that's an SU-100 Soviet tank destroyer parked out front (behind the white van):

Museo de la Revolución

The Granma Memorial sits across from the museum, and houses the yacht that carried Fidel Castro and 81 other revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 with the goal of overthrowing Fulgencio Batista. The memorial is also surrounded by other various vehicles and tanks, including the engine of the a U.S. U-2 spy plane shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Granma Memorial

 More classic cars! know I've already shared tons of photos on this front, but they are so beautiful!

Cars in Old Havana

Cars in Centro Havana

More heroes of the Revolution:

Heroes of the Revolution

The emblem of the Young Communist League: "Study, Work, Rifle"

Young Communist League

Gran Teatro de La Habana/"Great Theater of Havana" - a theater, concert hall, art gallery, choral center, and home to the Cuban National Ballet. While the original building dates back to 1837, it's current incarnation is the result of a remodel in 1907 and includes wonderful sculptures by Giuseppe Moretti, representing allegories of benevolence, education, music and theater. Gorgeous!

Gran Teatro de La Habana

El Capitolio, the National Capitol Building in Havana, was the seat of government until the Revolution in 1959. Its design borrows heavily from the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and it now houses the Cuban Academy of Sciences:

El Capitolio

El Floridita is a historic restaurant in Havana dating back to 1817 and later frequented by Ernest Hemingway during his stay in Cuba. Its bartenders were known for their cocktails made with fresh fruit juices and rum, leading to the popularization of the daiquiri (two versions in particular: the Daiquiri Floridita with maraschino liqueur, and the Hemingway daiquiri – or papa doble – with two and a half jiggers of white rum, juice of two limes and half a grapefruit, six drops of maraschino liqueur, no sugar). Unfortunately the restaurant wasn't yet open for the day and I didn't get to go inside (where there is apparently a lot of memorabilia on the walls); another reason to go back!

El Floridita

Moving further inland into Centro Habana, the urban landscape becomes much more congested and the glorious old buildings begin to lose their luster:

Centro Habana

Centro Habana2

But there's some cool street art:



And you can still see how beautiful this area must have been in its heyday:

Centro Habana3

  Cuban woman

Havana really is such an interesting place; I wish I had more time to explore its streets and hear its stories.

Next up, we'll visit Ernest Hemingway's home just outside of the city.

Along the Malecon

One morning I woke up early and hopped in a Cocotaxi (a three-wheeled, two-seater taxi that is like a moped with a fiberglass roof) in order to explore Havana. 


It was a nice way to go, because as you can see, it is open-air so I could enjoy all the sights and sounds, and my driver pulled over whenever I wanted to snap a photo. Which was often.

We headed down the Malecon, a broad walkway and seawall that extends 5 miles along the harbor from my hotel in the Vedado District down to Old Havana. It's very popular among locals, who you often see strolling, jogging, socializing, or fishing along its path.


There are several points of interest along the Malecon, many marking historic military figures and events, like this status of a Cuban General on horseback:

Cuban general

Another one, commemorating General Antonio Maceo y Grajales (an early guerrilla fighter in the war for Independence):


And even a monument to the 261 Americans killed by the explosion of the USS Maine, an armored cruiser sent to Havana Harbor in 1898 to protect U.S. interests there during the Cuban revolt against Spain. In all these years, no one has ever come forward to accept responsibility for the attack, which claimed three quarters of the ship's crew. Apparently, there used to be an eagle on top of this monument, but it was removed as too overt a symbol of American Imperialism.

USS Maine

Speaking of which...the nearby José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform opened in 2000 as a place for the government to hold rallies and showcase some spectacular propaganda like a billboard that proclaims, "we will never surrender."  

Anti imperialist

It's no coincidence that the platform is located right next to the U.S. Special Interests Section, our de facto embassy since diplomatic ties between our two countries were severed after the revolution.

US Special Interests

In 2006, US diplomats displayed messages on a scrolling digital billboard in the windows of their top floor - things like, "In a free country you don't need permission to leave the country. Is Cuba a free country?" and a quote from George Burns, "How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis or cutting hair." This so incensed Fidel Castro that he erected 138, 20-meter tall flagpoles carrying black flags with single white stars that obscured the messages. The flags have since been taken down, but the flagpoles remain, separating the platform from the Special Interests Section building:


The next stop along the Malecon was the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a large Art Deco building opened in 1930 and host to a who's who of '30s and '40s era celebrities, including Errol Flynn, Meyer Lansky, Winston Churchill, Fred Astaire, Buster Keaton, Lucky Luciano, Rita Hayworth, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Nat King Cole and Walt Disney. It became the site of Castro's 26th of July Movement during the revolution.

Hotel nacional

The Parque Nene Traviesa is a mosaic wonderland created by ceramicist and painter José Fuster, who's designs have completely overtaken his hometown of Jaimanitas to the north of Havana.


Here, too, we passed the sherbert-colored buildings and classic cars that have become iconic Cuba:

Green car

Side street

Red car

But moving further into Habana Centro, the buildings become much more fragile, congested and run down. Some are clearly - if astonishingly - still inhabited, while others are literally just shells for their former selves that could crumble at any moment.

Habana centro

Despite the decay, there is a hint of their glory days in the pastel colors of their peeling paint, and the Moorish design of their broken tile work.


Tile work

This area is also home to some impressive street art:

Blue car





It isn't until you get closer to Havana Vieja at the eastern end of the Malecon that the buildings have been fully restored. And it is at this end that we encounter Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro (Morro Castle), a fortress built in 1589 to protect the port of Havana (and the ships docked there that were loaded with New World goods bound for Spain) from pirates or other enemies.

Morro castle

This is essentially where the Malecon ends. I had the Cocotaxi take me inland for the return trip to the hotel, and will save those photos for another post.


Puerto de la Habana

After exploring the Plaza de San Francisco, we headed over to the Port of Havana to check out the Almacenes de San José craft market.


The market is housed in a giant steel warehouse dating back to 1885 and is now home to local artisans selling leather goods, baskets, ceramics, wood carvings, linens, and lots and lots of paintings.





Outside, young men played chess (a common site here...if not chess, then dominoes which seems to be wildly popular in Cuba!)



A quick walk around the block afterwards showed this to be a somewhat grittier neighborhood than we'd seen so far (typical for the dock area in any city, I would imagine), but still boasting some fabulous street art and flashy cars.





I also stumbled upon the Cervecería Antiguo Almacén de la Madera y el Tabaco (Former Lumberyard and Tobacco Warehouse Brewery), which enjoys a beautiful spot on the wharf formerly occupied by the Havana Central Railroad.


Inside people sit at tables with tall "tarros" at the center - glass towers that hold up to six jugs of beer! Each has a spigot at its base so diners can serve themselves (while enjoying the house special, "chuleta de puerco a la cerveza," - pork chop with beer). Yum!


Later in the week, there was a British cruise ship in the port (remember, only US tourists have been prohibited from traveling here...other countries have been vacationing in Cuba for years).





Plaza de San Francisco

The Plaza de San Francisco borders the Havana port area, and was originally a commercial center thanks to the nearby ships transferring goods to and from Spain. It is comprised of the old customs house, Aduana General de la Republica (1914), and the old stock exchange, Lonja del Commercio (1908). On the top is a statue of Mercury, the god of commerce.

Lonja del Commercio

To the right of the building, in the distance, you can see Cristo de la Habana, a 60-foot tall white marble statue of Jesus in the fishing village of Casablanca, which is right across the Bay from Havana Vieja. It was commissioned by President Batista's wife in 1958, just 15 days before Fidel Castro initiated the Revolution.

Carriage y Cristo

Plaza de San Francisco

On the southeast corner of the square is the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis, from which the square took its name. Built in 1580 as the home of the Franciscan community, it is now a concert hall for choral and chamber music.


Next to the basilica is a statue of Fray Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar who conducted missions in Southern California (then New Spain) to convert the native population in the 1760s. A Juaneño Indian boy is depicted alongside him.

Fray Junipero Serra with Juaneño

From Wikipedia:

Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988 and Pope Francis expects to canonize him in September 2015 during his first visit to the United States.This has been controversial with Native Americans, who criticize Serra's brutal treatment of their ancestors and associate him with the suppression of their culture.


Lastly, the cruise terminal Sierra Maestra sits between the Plaza and Havana harbor.

Terminal Sierra Maestra

And of course, the terminal/plaza wouldn't be complete without an image of Che:


In and Around Plaza Vieja

Happy Easter! Here's a timely photo from our walking tour through Plaza Vieja in Old Havana:

Cruz Verde

This green cross, Cruz Verde, at the corner of Amargura and Mercaderes is one of twelve that existed along this road in early colonial days. Each Easter, Cubans would make a pilgrimage along the Via Cruces (Way of the Cross), from Plaza San Francisco to Plaza del Cristo. The building now contains apartments and the Museo de Chocolate - a cafe where everything on the menu contains chocolate! 

Cruz Verde2

We saw many shades of green in this particular area, like the trimming on this building at the corner of Calle Mercaderes:

Calle Mercaderes

This wall with the famous image of Che Guevara:

Che Guevara

And this shuttered window:


I just love the colors of these old buildings - it's like the patina on oxidized copper.

Te Amo Mucho

Cafe Express

One building did have these framed, blue Delft tiles hanging outside; I'm not sure what the back story is there:

Blue Delft Tiles

There are also some magnificently ornate buildings on the square, like the Gómez Vila Building below, which houses Havana's Camera Obscura on the top floor (the only one of its kind in Latin America and the Caribbean). If you're not familiar with camera obscura ("dark chamber"), it's a method of photography whereby light is reflected through a pinpoint hole in a darkened room - in this case, images of the Havana streets below are projected on the room's walls. I first learned about it via the work of Abelardo Morell (he's Bowdoin class of '77 and was born in Havana!).

Gomez Vila Building

Then there is the grand, baroque styling of the Hotel Raquel, originally built in 1908 as textile storage warehouse and renovated into lodging around 2003. "Raquel" is Hebrew for "innocent," and the hotel is dedicated to Jewish art, cuisine, and heritage (it is near a Jewish neighborhood in Havana). The hotel's exterior:

Hotel Raquel

And the stained glass dome over its interior:

Hotel Raquel Dome

Outside, there are women selling sweets:


And men selling sweets (giant coconut orbs!):

More sweets

Children playing soccer:


The ubiquitous bicycle taxi:

Bicycle taxi

And lots of folks just strolling around the square. Another beautiful walk in Havana.

Plaza Vieja

El Taller Experimental de Gráfica

There is a thriving art community in Cuba, which I love because I always try and bring back small, original works from local artists when I travel.

So I was thrilled to visit El Taller Experimental de Gráfica ("Experimental Graphic Studio"), a cooperative graphic print shop in Old Havana.

El Taller Experimental de Gráfica

It was established in 1962 by by mural artist Orlando Suarez with the support of then Minister of Industry, Che Guevara.

Orlando Suarez

There is a group of artists working and studying there that preserve old print making techniques; you can see some of the presses in these photos:


Printing press

From the Global Studies: Cuba blog:

Grabado (printmaking) is a very important traditional art form. The handmade quality and aesthetic value along with the fresh smell of ink and the high quality paper (things that are rare in Cuba) make Grabado very sought after.

Printing press2

Here is one of the artists performing his craft:




I bought two small etchings here and was able to meet one of the artists; sadly, I can't recall or make out his name on the art itself, but I think I have it in my notes/receipts somewhere and will update if I can find it.

Cuba Libre


Graphic Artist


Paladar Moneda Cubana

Right near the Plaza de la Catedral is Paladar Moneda Cubana, a family-run restaurant that was founded in 1924 by an avid coin collector (hence the name, "The Cuban Coin").

Paladar Moneda Cubana

We stopped here for lunch after our walking tour of Old Havana, climbing up a narrow staircase from the street to find a bright, open-air top floor space. The vaulted ceiling at the top of the stairs had a stained glass mediopunto and flags of the world - including the U.S.!

Paladar Moneda Cubana entrance

The Colonial-styled dining room was richly decorated with dark woods, burgundy curtains, China figurines, and Leonardo da Vinci replicas on the walls, including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. French doors opened up to balconies on either side, and a beautiful breeze cooled us.

Paladar Moneda Cubana dining

As usual, we started with complimentary mojitos (kicked up a notch thanks to Franklin's personal stash of Angostura bitters), followed by shared appetizers (crackers with a sort of ceviche on top), bread, and a delicious entree of chicken, potatoes and veggies (tomatoes, peppers). And, like most of the paladars we dined in, a band serenaded us with Cuban music.


Another popular item in Cuba: ice cream! Here, we had a dish of vanilla with strawberry sauce, jimmies, a sprig of mint, and a sugared rim.

Ice Cream

After downing that delicious treat (which I basically ate every day in Cuba!), I went out on the balcony to investigate the view. What great timing! Some Cubans in Carnival gear just happened to be strolling by.


Another fun, colorful experience in La Habana Vieja!

Plaza de la Catedral

Plaza de la Catedral2

Plaza de la Catedral is one of the main squares in La Habana Vieja; it dates back to the 16th century and is dominated by the gorgeous Baroque facade of the Catedral de San Cristobal (note the asymmetrical bell towers).

Plaza de la Catedral
Plaza de la Catedral


Construction of the cathedral began in 1748 under Jesuit priests, but was completed by Franciscans in 1777 after the Jesuits were driven out of Cuba by the Spanish crown. It is made of coral rock from the Gulf of Mexico, and while I didn't see them, marine fossils are apparently visible in some spots. According to popular belief, the relics of Christopher Columbus were housed here (hence the name) before being moved back to Spain after the Revolution, although no official historical record confirms it. Pope John Paul II also held mass here in January of 1998.

Catedral de San Cristobal
Catedral de San Cristobal
Catedral de San Cristobal2
Interior of Catedral de San Cristobal

By the time we finished touring the cathedral they had closed the front doors for the day. As they ushered us out through a side door, two tiny orange kittens darted in from outside and hid in the transept! They looked terrified, and their mother was outside in the alley calling for them :(


Adjacent to the cathedral (left of it in the above picture) is the Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras, built in the 18th century and home of one of the last titled nobleman to live in Cuba, it currently houses a paladar.

Palacio de las Marqueses de Aguas Claras
Exterior of the Palacio de las Marquesas de Aguas Claras

Across from this is the Palacio del Conde Lombillo which housed families of some of the first settlers in Havana and is now occupied by the historic society, and the Palacio de los Marqueses de Arcos, home to the father of the first Marquis of the dynasty, later a post office and now an art gallery.

Palacio del Conde Lombillo
Palacio del Conde Lombillo

I spotted this woman on the edge of the plaza, and took a few photos of her in exchange for a couple of pesos (CUCs).

Cigar lady

The plaza is also home to the famous bar La Bodeguita del Medio ("little shop in the middle"), birthplace of the mojito and frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Nat King Cole, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Marlene Dietrich among others. I didn't get a chance to go inside and see the various photographs, drawings, graffiti and autographs from its illustrious visitors over the years. I must go back!

Plaza de Armas

On our second morning in Havana, we met with a representative of the city's Historian Office who talked about their efforts to preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of the area. She then took us on an walking tour of the 18th century plazas of Old Havana.

Plaza de Armas sign
Street signs from a tile factory in Portugal

Plaza de Armas, which dates back to the 1600s, is lined with cobblestone streets, Baroque buildings, and lots of tropical vegetation.

Calle Obispo
Calle Obispo
Plaza de Armas
Secondhand book market in Plaza de Armas
Bird Bath
Bird bath, Plaza de Armas

There's also a huge second hand book market with newspapers, magazines, and books from the 1940s and 1950s. Lots of Revolutionary materials, as you can imagine.

Book Market
Book market, Plaza de Armas

Book Market2

Used Books, Plaza de Armas

The buildings around the square are beautiful examples of Spanish Colonial design, like the Hotel Santa Isabel, with its mediopunto windows -  half moon, stained glass created in the 18th century to protect houses from the glare of the tropical sun.

Hotel Santa Isabel

And El Templete, the spot where the city of San Cristobal de La Habana was founded in 1599. Inside are 3 large canvases by Jean-Baptiste Vermay depicting scenes from the history of Havana.

El Templete
El Templete, original site of the city of Havana.
Bronze pineapples - Queen of the tropical fruit - at El Templete

Transportation options are queued up on the square: take your pick from horse drawn carriages or classic cars.

Horse and carriage
Horse drawn carriage, Plaza de Armas
The Malecon
Classic cars along the Malecon

Like most tourist areas, there were also lots of entrepreneurial people looking to make a fast peso: people dressed in traditional Cuban and Colonial garb who charge 2-3 Cuban Convertible Pesos for a photo (of course I did it!), men anxious to create pen and ink drawings of you on the spot, and many musical performers.

Street Performers
Just one of the girls.
Street Artist
Drawing your portrait...for a price.
King Fernando VII
Woman in Colonial garb, in front of Statue of King Fernando VII

Another curiosity in the square: Calle O'Reilly, marking where an Irish-born, Spanish military officer came ashore in Havana:

Calle O'Reilly
Calle O'Reilly
Calle O'Reilly2
"Two Island Peoples in the Same Sea of Struggle and Hope: Cuba and Ireland"

But my favorite sighting this day was the dogs lolling about in the sunshine. There are tons of stray dogs in Cuba (and sadly, I heard rabies is a problem), and while many of them are in tough shape, the ones around the Plaza de Armas looked content.

Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty

The reason is that some museums in Havana have taken it upon themselves to shelter the stray dogs, like this lucky fellow who's name tag reads, "My name is Aparicio. I live in the Museo de Orfebreria, and I have been neutered!"

Aparicio, outside the Museo de Orfebreria

I'll leave you with one more classic car picture...because there are tons to share :)

Classic Car