Thursday, May 31, 2012

FRIDAY, 25 MAY 2012


The schedule this morning called for a walking tour through Old Havana. Jim had mentioned he would like to visit a tobacco factory, since Cuba is famous for its cigars. We asked Annie if it would be possible to visit one. She and Ale' arranged for the four of us and two other couples on our bus to visit the largest tobacco factory in Havan. Unfortunately, no cameras allowed, so not pictures. It was very interesting to watch the workers (mostly women) slaving in the hot factory...the first floor we visited had women pulling the main vein out of the dried leaves and sorting them according to size. The next floor had many workers sitting and rolling the cigars by hand. The next floor we saw them wrapping labels on the cigars and boxing them. The top floor had a small number of workers assembling the boxes by hand. The shocking news? The workers make $1-$2 a day for working 8 hours. We figured the beggars on the street make a lot more.

The bus picked us up and took us back to Old Havana to meet up with the rest of the group. The heat and humidity were stifling. I had to buy a visor because I forgot to bring mine.

Art is a big business in Havana, so the first top was a studio. Next we walked the streets for awhile, and once again saw some interesting people.

We stopped at a senior center, then made our way to a restaurant for lunch. they offered chicken, pork, or fish, along with rice and french fries, and...mojitoes!

We had some free time from 1500 until 2000. We were all exhausted from the heat and decided to rest for a few hours. At 1830 we took the hotel shuttle back to Old Havana for some evening pictures. 

After making our way to the Capitole we hired a couple of Cuba Coco taxis to take us to the Habana Cafe at Hotel Melia Cohiba. 

As we rounded the corner onto the main street along the watrfront we were greeted with a beautiful sunset!

The Habana Cafe has a dinner and cabaret show and more mojitoes!



We got up at 0400 in order to catch the 0500 shuttle to the airport. Once we got to the airport and saw the long lines and experienced the slow check-in process, we understood why the need to check-in four hours early. There were two lines-one to make sure our visas were in order and the second to check baggage and get boarding passes. After grabbing a few Krispy Kreme donuts, we headed for the TSA line. Our boarding passes were hand written (what century is this?). When Jim got up to the TSA agent he told Jim he had to get another boarding pass because his said he was traveling from HAV to MIA. When he got the new pass the TSA let him in at the front of the line, so he was only about five minutes behind us. All in all, it took us two hours to get to the gate.

We boarded at 0820 and pushed back at 0845. The flight was only about half full. The forty minute flight took us over the northwest coast above a lot of farmland. We landed just before 1000. Insyte Cuba was the tour company and our guide, Annie, was waiting for us. It took everybody an hour to get through customs and loaded onto the bus.

Hank was enthralled with all of the old cars. Our guide, Alejandro "Ale'", told us most of the old car are taxis and most of them have diesel engines. 

It took about an hour to get into Havana. We stopped for lunch in Old Havana and had our first taste of mojitos, the national drink of Cuba. Mojitos are a lime drink with rum and a sprig of mint. We were assured the rum would be added at the table, so there would be an opportunity to refuse it. They were very refreshing, especially considering the fact it was very hot and muggy. Ale' told us we were allowed one additional drink, so Hank, Linda, and I ordered another mojito, and Jim ordered a cola. One sip of the second mojito brought an increased sweetness to our palates. Hank realized they all had rum in them! OOPS! We gave them back and asked for more with NO RUM! Lunch was a tasty pork dish accompanied by beans and rice. 
The restaurant was located on a square that had some interesting people hanging out.

The bad news about being with a guided tour group is we had to follow our itinerary and be herded around like cattle with slower, older generation people. Meals are always long and drawn out. AARGH! The one bit of good news is there are only 17 people in our group, but still...

Next on the agenda was check-in to the hotel and a four hour break before dinner. Jim took off wandering with his camera, and I took a nap, as well as the Fortneys.
Quinta Avenida de Habana, our hotel

Dinner was at a restaurant on the waterfront. They served a fish that was moist, but is was oversalted. 

After dinner the bus took us through a tunnel under the bay to La Cabana Fort, the biggest one ever built by the Spanish in the Americas, for the Cannon Firing Ceremony. Beginning at the end of the 17th century, Havana residents got used to hering two cannon shots that would become part of their daily activities: the first rang out at 4:30 in the morning, and the other at 8:00 at night. The shots served as a reminder of theopening and closing of the bay and the doors to the city walls. During the Spanish-American War (1898-1902), only one shot was fired daily, at 9:00 at night, and this has become a tradition for Havana natives.

Havana skyline




Hank let us know when we were on the ferry to Holland MI that the big mystery trip was going to be to Havana, Cuba! I was speechless when he told is one place I never imagined I would be able to go. One way Americans are allowed to go to Cuba is if they are on an "educational" tour. 
Our flight to Havana leaves at 9 AM tomorrow. We were told we have to be at the airport four hours before, so we flew to Miami today and stayed at the Marriott by the airport so we can get to the airport at 5 AM...UGH!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

MONDAY, 21 MAY 2012


Today held the first mystery trip Linda and Hank gave to Jim and I. We left late morning to drive to Chicago and dropped Kim off at O'Hare, had lunch at Schaumburg, then drove into the city. The mystery???? The Beach Boys 50th anniversary concert, with a "meet and greet" before hand. It was AWESOME. 
Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, David Marks

They don't allow any photography inside the Chicago theater, but everybody was taking pictures, including Hank.
 Brian Wilson consented to join the group again. He looked pretty feeble, but hung in there and was able to sing several songs, even though he can't hit the high notes as he once could.

David Marks, Brian Wilson, Mike Love
David Marks, Mike Love, and Al Jardine

Brian Wilson

Mike Love

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

FRIDAY, 18 MAY 2012


On the way back to Freeport Linda and Hank took us to South Bend, Indiana to see the beautiful University of Notre Dame Campus.

The library faces the football stadium. This mural has been nicknamed "Touchdown Jesus." I'd never heard about it, but evidently I am in the minority!

After lunch at a Chinese restaurant with the most friendly owner ever and a yummy meal we headed for home. We stopped in Rockford at 5 PM and watched an hour of Ryan's game, then drove to Freeport and went to Colton and DeLaney Jo's kindergarten graduation. It was a great trip!
We will have a few days of rest and then mystery trip number 1 will be Monday, and number two will be Wednesday! Should be exciting!



It is another beautiful day today. Before returning to the USA we stopped for a few more pictures in front of Horseshoe Falls. 
Debbi Davis and Kim Jameson
It was so interesting to me when I realized that the Canadian side looks like Vegas, whereas the American side has no hotels/motels.
American Falls on the USA side

View of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Regardless of the commercialism, Niagara Falls is beautiful!
Kim Jameson, Hank and Linda Fortney, Deb and Jim Davis

Niagara Falls
Deb Davis and Hank Fortney

Our next destination is Kirtland, Ohio, another LDS church site. 

The Community of Christ Church owns the Kirtland Temple...the only way to see the inside is to pay for an hour long guided tour. Time was limited so we settled for just seeing the outside.

The LDS church has restored and rebuilt several of the buildings owned by early church leaders and members.
The Mill

People would bring their ashes to the Ashery and sell them where they would be processed into potash.

This sister missionary is one of Jim's former students who is serving her mission here. She recognized Jim after we were done watching the movie. We frequently run into his students when we are on vacation.
Kirtland is near Cleveland, and we were hoping to have time to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it was closed by the time we got there. After dinner at a nice seafood restaurant we drove to Toledo, Ohio and spent the night.