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How Much Will Cuba Change?

President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba later this month has its many detractors both here in the U.S. and in Cuba. Normalizing relationships is beneficial for both countries, for the region, and especially for ordinary Cubans, but Cuba will no doubt change. I wonder what will be lost.

I visited Havana in 2009 so I could see it as it is before America, with its fast food and chain stores, returned and reduced everything to bland sameness. Here are a few things I hope won’t disappear.

Callejón de Hamel

Located between Calle Arumburu and Calle Hospital and about 10 minutes’ walking distance from the US Interest Section (now the consulate) in Vedado, Callejón de Hamel pulses with Afro-Cuban music starting at about 11 a.m. on Sundays. The rhythms, the vibe uniquely Cuban.  

Havana Callejón de Hamel

Callejón de Hamel

All around are murals by well-known local artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalon.

Havana Callejón de Hamel

Mural at Callejón de Hamel

Mural, Callejon de Hamel

Mural, Callejon de Hamel

Centro de los Orishas, Regla

Located about 20 minutes’ drive from Havana, the Centro de los Orishas in Regla is an open-air museum with wooden sculptures that depict the santería gods, Obbatala, Yemaya, Chango, Ochun, Babalu Aye, Eleggua and Ochun.

Havana, Shango and Ochun

Change (red) and Ochun

Havana, Yemaya


Billboard Free Cuba

Probably the first thing you’ll notice in Cuba is that there is no commercial advertising, no billboards hawking products. Instead, there are murals and signs extolling the revolution, and the country’s achievements. 

Havana mural

We I found this 300m mural on Mercaderes Street, across from the Marqués de Arcos mansion. Created by the artist, Andrés Carrillo, along with the architect Jaime Rodríguez, sculptor Nicolás Ramos Guiardinú and students from the San Alejandro Art Academy, the mural is made up of 52 panels that depict 67 outstanding historical and artistic figures in Cuba.  

Havana Libre

Vivo en un pais libre

Translated, this mural proclaims, “I live in a free country.” I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on the Cuban people.

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

I found this etching of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the Argentine-born doctor, guerrilla leader and a major figure in the Cuban Revolution on a sidewalk.

Havana Che

And this one across from Plaza de la Revolución (if you’ve ever seen video of Fidel Castro speaking to a multitude of people, that’s where they’d gather). Interestingly, it almost faces the statue of José Martí, another important historical figure.


José Julián Martí y Pérez

There are several memorials to José Julián Martí y Pérez, a poet, journalist, revolutionary and national hero who was born in Havana more than 160 years ago and is revered as the father of the revolution.  

Statue of Jose Marti

Statue of Jose Marti

However, to me, this one shows Martí’s humanity.

Jose Marti

The inscription at the base reads, “to timely prevent with the independence of Cuba that is spreading through the Antilles the United States and fall with that additional force over our American lands. All I have done so far, and will do, is for that.” – Jose Marti, May 18, 1895, hours before dying in combat.

Havana’s Classic Cars

You’ll see these classic American made cars all over Cuba. Some, like this one, are surprisingly in pretty good condition. I wonder how quickly their Cuban owners will exchange them for much needed cash (and if the government will allow it). 

Havana car

Havana car

Classic Car taxi

Classic Car taxi 

Black Flags

One thing that, thankfully, has disappeared are the Black Flags. On February 6, 2009, the Cuban Government hoisted 138 black flags, each with a star, to commemorate the lives that were lost during the Bay of Pigs and other tragic events that the Cubans have attributed to the U.S. Government. Although the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Cuba since 1961, it maintained a presence in Havana.  

This photo doesn’t show it but the U.S. Interest Section is to the left of the flags. The building is several floors high and on the outside, near the roof, which lined up near the top of the flags, was a crawling informational sign with news and political information (Cuba controls information its citizens are exposed to). The thinking is that the government placed the flags there to obscure the crawling sign. The flags were removed in 2011 so the president will not see them when he arrives in Cuba later this month.

Havana's Black flags

Black Flags, Havana Cuba

Change is inevitable, even in a communist country like Cuba. The challenge for the government is to manage the change as well as the expectation of its citizens, many of whom are like my friend, Emilio, who’s happy to establish relations with the U.S. As Emilio said, “La gente esta muy contenta por el restablesimiento de las relaciones entre los dos paises.”

Linking with Travel Photo Thursday

Budget Travelers Sandbox

Rocking Down Electric Avenue, Brixton

Electric Avenue is the Brixton, South London street that gave its name to the song that was No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1983. I know the song and started humming it immediately after I spotted this sign above a row of stalls in Brixton Market last summer. However, I did not know about the street. 

Electric Avenue Brixton

What a happy coincidence, I thought as I stopped to take this photo. I looked forward to sharing my find with family and friends when I returned home.

A few days later, as I walked down Electric Avenue with one of my cousins, a history buff and a child of Brixton, he pointed to the sign and waving his hand towards the street, announced quite proudly, “This is the first market street in all of Britain to get electricity, that’s why it’s called Electric Avenue. It doesn’t look like much now but can you imagine how it would have looked then?”  I couldn’t but he had my attention. 

Electric Avenue runs between Brixton Road and Atlantic Avenue. It has had electricity since 1888. Old photos show an elegant, gently curved street of Victorian row houses with distinctive iron canopies.

Electric Avenue, 1912

Electric Avenue, 1912 from urban75.0rg

Now part of Brixton Market, Electric Avenue is a bustling area of street and indoor markets with restaurants, coffee shops, and stalls selling clothing, household goods, meat, fish, vegetables, and produce from Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean.  Except for the canopies, which were removed in the 1980s because of damages they had sustained from World War II bombs, Electric Avenue looks much like it did in 1912. The row houses are still there though they’re now partly obscured by vending stalls.

By the time the British Guyanese singer, songwriter and producer, Eddy Grant’s eponymous song became a hit (in 1982 in Britain, 1983 in the US), Brixton had been home to thousands of Caribbean and African immigrants who began pouring into the area in 1948.

With few jobs and poor housing, crime spiraled. In 1981, the police instituted the ‘sus law’ that allowed them to stop and search anyone they suspected of criminal activity. A riot broke out causing hundreds of injuries, damage to property and scores of arrests. Although there is no mention of the word ‘riot’ in Electric Avenue (the song), and no rioting on Electric Avenue (the street) , it is this riot that Grant references.

Electric Avenue is easily accessible from the Brixton Underground and several London bus routes, including the 109, 250, 333 and 415.

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales, and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations


Budget Travelers Sandbox

Top Five Budget Destinations for 2016

For those seeking a memorable holiday that won’t break the bank, in this piece we’ve selected 5 budget destinations for 2016. These fabulous locations offer value for money while ensuring you get some indulgent luxury on your holiday.

With some of the most affordable beach resorts in Europe, sun-kissed Bulgaria may not remain a well-kept secret for long. The famed resort town of Sunny Beach offers a hedonistic mix of nightlife, beachside restaurants and luxury resorts. It’s all available at half the cost of the more popular coastal hangouts of Spain, Greece and Italy. Aside from beachside bliss, visitors can travel further inland for adventurous pursuits from skiing to rock climbing and caving.

El Castillo @ Chichén Itzá
Travelling to a far flung paradise may seem like a costly option but the great value all-inclusive resorts of Mexico remain an exception. In the lively region of Cancun, you can stay in luxury without the price tag and there are plenty of nearby attractions to enjoy. Swim with dolphins at Mexico’s largest eco park, admire the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and scuba dive the crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Whether you’re planning a family vacation or seeking a romantic retreat, Portugal’s rugged coast is guaranteed to impress. The Algarve is home to a selection of resorts with something to cater for all budgets. In a region famed for its endless days of sunshine, it’s a great choice for fans of the outdoors. Hiking the many coastal paths promises stunning scenery that won’t cost you a penny.

Few places in Europe offer the scenic beauty and romantic allure of the Greek Islands. Although you’ll be spoilt for choice, Corfu remains one of the more affordable options and there are plenty of secluded places to stay. San Stefanos on the north of the island remains quiet throughout much of the year and features hidden coves without the crowds of tourists. Alternatively, those who enjoy some nightlife should stay at the town of Kos where megaclubs regularly host international DJs.

Spain’s Costa Del Sol which translates to ‘Coast of the Sun’ is a holidaymaker’s haven. With scores of boutique hotels and sprawling resorts to choose from, prices remain competitive throughout much of the year. For an authentic taste of the region, travel to Estepona which has kept its traditional charm intact. The winding streets of this coastal town are home to stunning historical architecture and some of the best tapas restaurants in the region.

Travel to one of these destinations on your next adventure, save some money and create some lasting memories. A trip to any of these destinations can be organised quickly and easily online. Once you go, you’ll never look at budget holidays the same way again.

Images by Redeo and Μanu used under Creative Commons License.

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On Location in New York City

Several times a month, especially in the summer, I see ‘No Parking’ signs like these taped to utility poles in my neighborhood. I always stop and read them.

On Location in New York

No Parking sign, Harlem 

Which movie or television show will they be filming?

According to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment’s website, New York City had a supporting role in 46 television series and 256 movies during the 2014-2015 season. The industry contributed $8.7 billion to the local economy.

With this much filmed entertainment, it’s not surprising to spot a star or two. But the city, with its many iconic locations, is without doubt, the real attraction.

Late last year, I took the When Harry Met Seinfeld Tour, which On Location Tour organizes. Starting from 55th Street near 8th Avenue, the bus tour winds it way around the Columbus Circle area into Upper Manhattan revealing 30 spots that were featured in classic and contemporary movies or television shows.

Tour guides are local actors and actresses who know all about the City’s rich movie history and share them eagerly.

As the tour got underway, our guide (sorry, I neglected to note his name) asked us to share where we were from. There were people from Toronto, Tokyo, Australia, Brazil, the Midwest, California and other parts of the US but I was the only person from New York.

The first location our guide pointed out was the Soup Man. You might remember it from Seinfeld. About the size of a New York deli, I had passed it without even noticing.

On Location in New York

Soup Man

Towards Columbus Circle, our guide drew our attention to the statue of Christopher Columbus, which can be seen in several movies, including Ghostbusters.

On Location in New York

Lincoln Center fountain (photo taken prior to the tour)

Leaving Columbus Circle, we headed to the Upper West Side and Lincoln Center’s famous fountain. It’s really an impressive sight, especially at night. We didn’t stop but if you get a chance, go see it or look for it in Moonstruck, Glee, Sweet Home Alabama and Pitch Perfect.

At 69th Street and Columbus Avenue, we found the location, now an organic cleaners, of Meg Ryan’s bookstore in You’ve Got Mail.

We stopped for photos of Tom’s Restaurant at Broadway and 112th Street. Seinfeld fans will recognize it as Monks.

On Location in New York

Tom’s Restaurant, Monk’s in Seinfeld

Still on the Upper West Side, we cruised pass Café Luxemborg, which you might remember from When Harry Met Sally, then stopped at long enough at Café Lalo for those who wanted to could get coffee. Café Lalo is where Tom Hanks attempted to meet Meg Ryan for their date in You’ve Got Mail.

On Location Cafe Lalo

Cafe Lalo

If you’ve seen Manhattan, with Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, you might have seen Zabar’s on 80th & Broadway. Carmine’s on 91st was in Keeping the Faith with Ed Norton and Ben Stiller.

Central Park has played supporting roles in movies like Home Alone II, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Smurfs, Friends with Benefits, Angels in America, Elf, Kramer vs Kramer, and The Avengers.

On the Upper East Side’s Museum Mile, you’ll find the Museum of the City of New York where the star of television’s Gossip Girl goes to school; the Guggenheim Museum where Isaac and Mary meet in Manhattan; also Men in Black, When in Rome, and other movies.

On Location in New York

Carmine’s – Keeping the Faith

Further down Fifth Avenue is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, our last stop. Who doesn’t want to sit on the graceful Met Steps, like the Gossip Girl did? The Met was also the setting for I Am Legend, When Harry Met Sally, Hitch and Maid in Manhattan.
The Carnegie Mansion was the backdrop for films like Arthur, Working Girl and Marathon Man.

We passed by these other Upper East Side locations before returning to 55th & 8th Avenue: the Lutheran Church featured in the Devil’s Advocate, the New York Armory in Boardwalk Empire (television show), the Met Life Building in Superman, Barney’s in Will and Grace, the Pierre Hotel in Scent of a Woman and the St. Regis Hotel from Miss Congeniality.

Current shows that are filmed in New York: the Blacklist, Blue Bloods, Elementary, Good Wife, Law & Order SVU, Limitless, Madam Secretary, Mysteries of Laura. Morning and late night shows such as Saturday Night Live, the Today Show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Good Morning America, Live with Kelly & Michael, The View, The Chew, the Rachel Ray Show.

Also filmed in New York: Bridge of Spies, On the Town, On the Waterfront and West Side Story.

When Harry Met Seinfeld Tour Particulars

Duration: Approximately 2 hours
Cost: $37 (adults), $21 (children)
You meet the tour bus at McGhee’s on 55th between Broadway and 8th Avenue

The When Harry Met Seinfeld Tour was complimentary; this recap my own.


Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Ruth at Tanama Tales, Jan at Budget Travel Talk and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations.

Budget Travelers Sandbox

9Also linking to Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Albom Adventures, Reflections Enroute, TheCrowdedPlanet, ContentedTraveller, Safari254, Families Go! and Malaysian Meanders.