Abby's Place in Havana

Travel

Nestled in the heart of Cuba

you'll find Abby's Place in Havana

By Lisa Makarchuk
Special to True North Perspective
Image: View of Southward street from the balcony of Abby's Place - opposite to the view of the Malecon. This street boasts of a variety of restaurants, grocery stores, farmers' market, etc. Photo via http://www.abbysplacehavana.com.  
View of Southward street from the balcony of Abby's Place - opposite to the view of the Malecon. This street boasts of a variety of restaurants, grocery stores, farmers' market, etc. Photo via http://www.abbysplacehavana.com.  

A photo of my Cuban friend, Elena, taken more than fifty years ago, hangs on the wall overlooking the stairwell in my condo in Toronto. In It, she is one of an exuberant group of young women at Minas del Frio in the Sierra Mountains of Oriente province in Cuba in 1962. This group of young women was the face of the new world being born then before my eyes as I had wended my way to that same place that year.

The young women were eager to complete their pedagogical courses that would then enable them to take on the teaching duties necessary after the spectacularly successful literacy campaign of the previous year when practically a quarter of the population of Cuba, formerly illiterate, learned to read and write up to the third grade level.

To arrive at Minas del Frio, I travelled by donkey through areas where roads had been washed out and streams had to be crossed. It was only decades later that Elena and I realized that both of us had been there at the same time.

Now, over fifty years later, Elena is a professor at the University of Havana. She had two children and was  learning how to be a good grandmother to several grandchildren. Her daughter, Anna, was able to “permutar”(exchange) for an apartment directly above her mother’s place and, reminiscent of newly arrived immigrants to Canada, she chose to double up her family into her mother’s ample apartment and design the upstairs into a three bedroom apartment as a “cuenta propista” for renting out.

Newly renovated, each bedroom has a private bathroom, beds for two and, in one case for three, a small stocked mini-bar fridge, air-conditioning and windows. Anna rents out either the whole apartment for a negotiated price or each of the bedrooms at 35 CUCs a night. The salon/dining area has a TV, a small balcony overlooking the Malecon and is for the exclusive use of guests staying there. Tropical but usually cool breezes blow off the Gulf for a refreshing sense of relaxation.

But Abby’s Place is more than just comfortable lodging. Upon request, Anna can prepare scrumptious meals, provide snacks and some happy hour cocktails, wine and beer — a calming and serene respite from the hustle of Havana. For those wishing to know more about the changing life in Cuba, Elena is knowledgeable and both, she and Anna, speak English well.

However, location is everything and if you wish to walk to take in the sights and sounds of Vedado, there are many places to visit. Just blocks away are the main thoroughfare, La Rampa; three cinemas; the University of Havana (for your lessons in Spanish); the famous ice-cream parlour, Copelia; grocery stores; farmers’ markets; pizzerias and scores of restaurants for all budgets. Jazz bars and Le Parisien cabaret at the Hotel Nacional are nearby and just around the corner is El Gato Tuerto, a jazz bar where Beyonce and Jay-Z celebrated their anniversary when they visited Havana. El Gato can also mix a fantastic mojito. For a day of sunning, swimming and socializing, the pools at the Hotel Nacional or the Habana Libre, also within walking distance, are available for 15 and 12 CUCs respectively of which two-thirds or more is a credit toward any food or drink you order that day.

New to Havana. Anna would be happy to offer enlightened suggestions as to what you might  do according to your interests. A five minute ride in a taxi could drop you off in Old Havana. Other options are attending the nine o’clock firing of the cannon just as it was done since the days of Spanish rule, the Hemingway Museum, Fuster’s street of murals, the aquarium, or any one of many concerts available or places to dance the evening away. The Eastern Beaches are not far away and very accessible with public transportation if not taxi.

If you wish to know what is happening in Havana, go to www.cubaabsolutely.com and see their monthly calendar. Some of the major events you might consider attending could be the International Book Fair, the International Jazz Festival, or the International Film Festival. Ballet competitions, concerts at various theatres, and conferences on a variety of subjects and themes, international and national, are available for visitors to Havana.

Rub shoulders and talk to Cubans easily, especially on week-end evenings at the city sea wall, called the Malecon, just steps away from Abby’s Place, or engage with the many interesting tourists visiting from all corners of the world. You will find Havana a cosmopolitan, sophisticated city with heart, soul and spectacular architecture often in need of repair. As Elena and I reminisce about the long road travelled in this historical city since the time we were at Minas del Frio, we review, rehash and rework our perceptions to accommodate for a changing world.

Much has changed but the pride in city and country is palpable and its friendliness, tolerance and humanity continue the same as ever.
 
For more information and photographs:

www.abbysplacehavana.com . . . Email abby@abbysplacehavana.com
Direct Tel.#: from Canada: 011 537 832 8232; inside Cuba: 07 832 8232
To contact an Abby’s Place rep in Toronto, phone Bonnie at 416 695 8888 or email: bonniee@sympatico.ca

 

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