How to Camp Without Your Baby

3

Step 1: Leave your baby with your wonderful, doting parents.

Step 2: Enjoy.

So much simpler than camping with one’s baby/toddler. Pete and I were lucky enough to finally have a weekend away, just the two of us. We have both had weekends away separately, but this was our first overnight trip together, sans Little C. And it was so relaxing.

We spent two nights camping in Algonquin Park in early July. Since my previous camping posts seemed to be all about lessons in list form, I’m going to continue with that theme here. Here is what we learned this time around:

1) Algonquin Park is beautiful.
I was lucky enough to spend four summers living and working in Algonquin Park. Even though it can be really busy in tourist season, it’s still such a gorgeous place. It’s easy to forget that when you’ve been away. I did a lot of deep sighing on our trip.

IMG_3377

2) We are old.
I bumped into one of my old co-workers at our campground and while we were chatting, he asked me how long it had been since I worked there. Ten years. It’s been ten years. He replied “Whew, I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m getting old.” Me too, my friend.

3) Resist the urge to call the babysitters.
When Pete and I became parents, we swore that we wouldn’t talk incessantly about our baby when we were able to go on date nights. We wanted to stay connected as partners, not just as parents. An extension of this policy was that we wouldn’t call my parents to check on things while we were away. This was our time to reconnect and be together as a couple. This may not work for everyone, but it’s good for us.

IMG_3366

4) Enjoy the little things.
When you aren’t chasing a little person (or people) around, it’s a lot easier enjoy the serenity. You can really experience the smell of the white pines, the call of a loon, and the sound of the water lapping against your canoe. Try to take it all in.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

5) Appreciate the trip for what it is.
This was something I learned about camping with a baby, and it applies here too. Even though Pete and I were on our own this time, we were still more exhausted than we were before we had C, and ended up asleep in our tent both nights before 10:00pm.

IMG_3361

We also really wanted to do an interior canoe trip, but my parents were nervous about this and asked that we camp in a campground instead. Fair enough. We will be able to go on a canoe trip someday. It turns out that this plan worked well for us anyway. We did some canoeing day trips and between my aching back and Pete’s bad shoulder, we weren’t able to paddle for more than a few hours anyway. See point #2.

IMG_3371

6) Document the experience.
Even if this amounts to taking a lot of photos, do it. As parents, we tend to document our children’s lives at the expense of our own. This is natural, of course, but I think it’s important to remember times like these. When life gets hectic again (for us, that will be around October 27th), being able to relive a relaxing time like this will be invaluable. Well, that and wine.

Advertisements

How Not to Camp with a Toddler

3

IMG_3294
Pete and I took C camping this past weekend. It was not nearly as successful as our trip to Algonquin last summer, when C was a baby. On that trip, we were able to tote our not-yet-mobile ten-month-old around on hiking trips and I was able to enjoy delicious, delicious beer by the campfire at night. Those were the days.

But alas, this time, things did not go so smoothly. Here are some of the things we learned the hard way last weekend:

1) Don’t get sick on a camping trip.

On our first (and ultimately only) night, I started to feel a sore throat coming on, but I figured that maybe it was just a bit raw from sitting around a smoky campfire all night. Oh, no. That was denial. I woke up in the middle of the night with my throat on fire. Soon enough, C was showing signs of being sick as well. Three days later, as I write this, we are both still sick and completely miserable. Why are summer colds the worst colds of all? Ugggghhhh.

2) Don’t let your toddler skip a nap.

I don’t really have any tips on how to prevent nap-skipping, since I employed all of my tricks and C still stayed awake all afternoon. I’m sure there are 22-month-olds out there who can do well without an afternoon sleep but my little lady is not one of them. Bad times were on the horizon.

Helping...sort of

Helping…sort of

3) Don’t let your toddler skip snack time.

After the failed nap, we took C to the beach for some splashy fun. It turns out, the splashing was far too much fun and C would not take a break to have a snack, under any circumstance. This (combined with exhaustion) led to the worst meltdown of her little life (so far!) Luckily, we had her favourite CD (she loves ’50s music, and specifically, my uncle’s band, The Martels) and lots of cheese on hand. Crisis managed.

Splashy fun

Splashy fun

IMG_3298

4) Don’t believe weather apps.

We were supposed to get 1-3 mm of rain on Sunday morning. Instead, we were trapped inside our tent all morning during a torrential downpour. Getting trapped in a tent on a rainy day used to be fun when I was a carefree lady in my twenties with some friends and a box of wine. Subtract the wine and add a toddler and things get real.

This recap definitely makes our trip sound like a disaster, but it was mostly enjoyable. The meltdown passed and C was back to her happy little self. We went for a stroll around the campground in the evening and read books in the dining tent. She fell asleep easily at bedtime and then Pete and I had a quiet evening to ourselves.

S'more o'clock

S’more o’clock

We were both sad to leave early, since Arrowhead really is a beautiful park, but Pete and I consoled ourselves by looking forward to the trip we’re taking in July to Algonquin (a trip we taking alone – thank you grandparents!)

Pity Party for an Anglophile

2

Pete has been travelling for work a lot lately.  It’s unfortunate that his business travelling has picked up now, since we have a toddler and I can’t easily tag along with him.  At his last job, he travelled overseas quite a bit, but when we met and he started working for a new company, there were no travel opportunities.  He would make the odd trip to Montreal and that was about it.

But in the last three months, he has gone to Europe three times.  The first trip was to the UK and that was in late February/ early March, and it was for NINE DAYS.  That was far too long.  The second trip was in April, and that time Pete spent six days in Munich and the UK.  And now he is back in England for five days.

I wasn’t very envious the first time he went away.  He was travelling in winter, and the weather was terrible (both at home, and in England).  I was a little jealous that he got to tour Oxford and to see Lincoln Cathedral, but I got over it quickly.

The second trip, I felt a little more envy.  I’ve only ever been to Berlin, and I would have loved to see Munich.  But it turns out that Pete’s Munich hotel was terrible, and since it was adjacent to a strip club the noise would likely have kept Little C up all night.  Plus, the few days he spent in England were in Slough, a suburb of London made famous by The Office (UK version, of course).  Not a place I’m dying to visit.

But this time, Pete is staying near the picture-perfect town of Arundel, in southern England.  He’s close to the sea.  It’s late May.  I’m imagining flowers in bloom and swans in the river.  I’m wishing I could be taking a tour of Arundel Castle and visiting the cathedral.

via www.existentialennui.com

Arundel, UK

Pete and I did actually consider going together, with C, to England this time.  He wasn’t travelling with any colleagues, and it seemed possible for us to come along.  But when we considered the logistics, we decided against it.  Touring a castle with a 21-month-old would probably be a disaster.  Pete would be in meetings all day and I would have to keep C fed, amused and happy all day alone in a strange town.  Having to put a toddler to bed at 7 pm every night in a tiny hotel room didn’t sound like much fun.  But despite our decision, I’m feeling sorry for myself.

As I’ve written here before, I love travelling.  I love England.  I’ve pored over history books and I’ve told Pete all about the significance of Arundel and its castle (his summary: the Duke of Norfolk is the dukiest of dukes).

My parents have assured me that someday, when our kids are a little older, we’ll be able to travel again.  It still won’t be the same sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants travelling we used to do, but it will be possible.

In the meantime, I’m consoling myself with upcoming summer plans.  They’re less impressive than a trip overseas, but they will likely be more relaxing.

The first will be a bachelorette trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake (Ontario’s wine country) in June.  My lovely friend Anna is getting married and we’ll be celebrating with her at a cottage by the lake.

via www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com

Niagara-on-the-Lake

In July, Pete and I are taking a babymoon of sorts, in Algonquin Park.  Even though we had a great time camping with C there last year, we’re hoping to have a little alone time before the new baby arrives.  So we’ll be leaving her with her grandparents and heading up for a relaxing weekend of paddling and hiking.

via www.siskphoto.com

Algonquin Park

 

And now, a question for parents out there.  Have you managed to travel with little ones?  Share your wisdom!

Love and Mourning in Zagreb

4

This will be the last post about our Croatian honeymoon in 2010.  I’m almost wistful about this.  It’s been so nice reliving the trip.

Pete and I had the good fortune of arriving in Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, in time for All Souls’ Day.  We found out about this while waiting for a bus in Plitvice, when a park employee let us know that the next few days in the capital would likely be very busy due to the holiday.  This information would come in handy.

When we arrived in Zagreb we walked from the bus terminal to the train station (it’s a long story) and we were greeted by this amazing sign.

Croatia - Hvratska 276

Croats do not appreciate handguns or ice cream on their trains.  They are serious about this.

We spent a night in a hotel near Zagreb’s downtown core and the next morning we wandered into the city centre.  It was a stunning, sunny, 15-degree day.  This was such a relief after our chilly few days in Plitvice.

Croatia - Hvratska 280

We were told by the man in Plitvice that the Dolac fruit and vegetable market would be full of people buying flowers for their departed loved ones.  Everyone in Zagreb would then travel to Mirogoj cemetery, north of the city, to pay their respects together.

Croatia - Hvratska 284

We were also told that we should absolutely visit Mirogoj cemetery, which is often called the most beautiful in Europe, but that we should be prepared to walk, since the buses would be packed.  Again, invaluable advice.  There were long lineups for all the buses, which were all crammed full of people clutching flowers and candles.

So we walked there and we were not disappointed.  Mirogoj cemetery is breathtaking.

Croatia - Hvratska 334

It was also a much more celebratory atmosphere than what we had been expecting.  People were milling about, talking together, buying items to lay on gravestones and eating roasted chestnuts.  They were taking pictures, and even having picnics and lunches among the graves.

Croatia - Hvratska 336

Croatia - Hvratska 338

Croatia - Hvratska 339

Croatia - Hvratska 341

Croatia - Hvratska 349

Croatia - Hvratska 350

In all, we spent three days exploring Zagreb.  Both of us were completely taken with it.  I’ve been to a lot of European capitals, and so has Pete.  Zagreb has a lot going for it.  It has a lot of what we were looking for in a European city without being enormous or completely crowded with tourists.

It has a gorgeous town square.

Croatia - Hvratska 288

It has a clean, efficient transit system.  In fact, tram rides within the city centre are free.

It has beautiful achitecture reminiscent of what you would find in Vienna.*

Croatia - Hvratska 294

It has an impressive art gallery, with a collection donated to the city by a very, very wealthy benefactor.

Croatia - Hvratska 297

Croatia - Hvratska 302

A benefactor who had this incredibly creepy death mask made of himself.

Croatia - Hvratska 298

It has beautiful parks with equestrian statues.  There are a lot of really gorgeous green spaces that we really enjoyed, especially after being so cold for the previous few days.

Croatia - Hvratska 309

Zagreb also boasts St. Mark’s Church, a 13th century building with Zagreb’s coat of arms on its roof.

Croatia - Hvratska 316

And, nearby, there is the Museum of Broken Relationships.  A perfect place to visit on a honeymoon!

Croatia - Hvratska 362

Also, there are these impressive mutton chops.

Croatia - Hvratska 310

The world’s shortest funicular.

Croatia - Hvratska 312

Nikola Tesla.  I’m so sorry, Croatia, that I always thought Tesla was Czech.

Croatia - Hvratska 314

Europe’s tiniest bathroom.

Croatia - Hvratska 328

And last but not least, giant, delicious kebabs.

Croatia - Hvratska 324

So, Pete and I spent our last day soaking in these sights and wishing we had booked a longer honeymoon.  A week is definitely not enough time.

Croatia - Hvratska 359

Croatia - Hvratska 368

We were thrilled to discover, after a few days of terrible food in the nearly-abandoned hotel we stayed at in Plitvice, a great little brew-pub in Zagreb’s old town.  If I could remember its name, I would share it with you.  But I can’t, for the life of me, remember what it was called.  I do know that it was on Tkalčićeva street, which is a very charming and chic part of town.  They had good food, at a very reasonable price, and their beer was so, so good.

Croatia - Hvratska 331

Croatia - Hvratska 378

We ate there a few times, and made sure we sampled all their varieties of beer.  Just to be thorough.

On our last night, in a mostly empty restaurant near the airport, we drank mistletoe rakija and toasted to a wonderful trip.  If you ever get the chance to go to Croatia, then absolutely go.  But maybe skip the mistletoe rakija.

Croatia - Hvratska 384

*Please note: I know nothing about architecture.

The Cascading Waterfalls of Plitvice

3

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest parks in Southern Europe.  Situated near the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is a large preserve in a mountainous region, dotted with crystal-clear lakes connected by streams and waterfalls.

Plitvice waterfall

The park was the site of the first conflict in the Croatian War of Independence, the Plitvice Lakes Incident.  At the time, the region was home to a large number of ethnic Serbs.  In March of 1991, Serb rebels, backed by Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav People’s Army, took over the park in a violent conflict that left two people dead.  The rebels declared the park a part of an autonomous Serbian region and occupied it for the duration of the war.

There are a number of lodges and hotels in the park, and during the conflict, these were used as barracks by the Serb forces.  A number of buildings were burned down and areas of the park were mined.  The park was re-taken by Croatian forces in 1995, but not before a large number of Croats were ethnically cleansed from the region.  When the war came to an end, the park was de-mined as part of an effort to restore what UNESCO had declared a World Heritage Site in Danger.  Today, a visitor would never suspect the park’s violent history.  It is a serene and beautiful place.

Pete and I took a bus to Plitvice from Split and as we approached the park, the surrounding countryside went from soggy to snowy.  We got confused about where to get off of our bus and ended up disembarking too soon and wandering around the park, pulling our suitcases behind us through the snow.

Pete pretending that he knows where he’s going

After wandering around aimlessly, trying to follow confounding signs, we eventually found a hotel.

As someone who has seen The Shining approximately 386 times, it was a little eerie staying at a large, nearly empty hotel boasting ’70s decor.  We were visiting Plitvice at the very end of the tourist season, and there were perhaps three other groups of people there with us.  There were no other guests staying in our wing of the hotel.

Even the “Do Not Disturb” signs were creepy

When we ate at the restaurant, there were two staff members, Pete and I, and rows upon rows of empty seating.

Croatia - Hvratska 243

It creeped us out a bit, but it was nice to have the park nearly to ourselves.  In summer, Plitvice is so packed with tourists that the boardwalks are pedestrian traffic jams.

No traffic jams today

In October, you get the ferry to yourself

Croatia - Hvratska 253

We spent two days hiking around the cascades and waterfalls and trying to keep warm.  Our first day, it was quite overcast and we didn’t bump into any other tourists.  The second day was cold but sunny and beautiful.

Pete enjoying the sunshine

That second day, we encountered a group of elderly Japanese tourists stopping by the park on a bus tour.  It was sunny, but it was still quite cold, so Pete and I were wearing nearly all of our clothes.  Long-johns, rain pants (to cut the wind), toques, mittens: the works.  Some of these tourists weren’t even wearing hats.  They must be made of tougher stuff than us.  They put these two Canadians to shame.

After two days of hiking and exploring, and getting lost, thanks to vague Croatian signage, we were ready to move on to Zagreb.

?

Plitvice is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen, and I hope to go back one day.  If you ever have the chance to visit, please go.  You’ll be glad you did.

Split: Rain and Bed Bugs

4

Split, Croatia, is a balmy, picturesque tourist haven in the summer months.

What Split looks like in summer, not that I would know.
Photo via Cunard

Unfortunately, Pete and I travelled there on our honeymoon in late October and got drenched.

We got a lot of use out of our raingear

We arrived at the tail-end of the tourist season.  Many museums and attractions were shutting down a few days later.  So we expected to have cooler temperatures.  The rain put a damper on our time in Split, but we enjoyed the town nonetheless.

Inside Diocletian’s Palace

The main attraction in the city is Diocletian’s Palace.  In the fourth century, Roman Emperor Diocletian built himself a very large and very fancy palace in Split.  Today, the site takes up a large part of downtown Split, with restaurants, shops, and apartments inside the walls of what was once a massive pleasure palace.

Via Wikipedia

Our first night in Split, we stayed in a little stucco hut that was in the old part of town, just outside of Diocletian’s Palace.  To get there, we had to wander around labyrinthine streets and alleys occupied by packs of feral cats.  Our hut had a bedroom, a kitchenette and a bathroom only separated from the living quarters by a shower curtain.  Romance.

I had trouble sleeping that night.  At one point, when I was lying in bed trying to read, I noticed a little black speck running across the mattress.  We had bed bugs.  I didn’t know much about bed bugs at this point but I knew they were evil little bloodsuckers who were nearly impossible to eradicate.  I woke Pete up in a panic and showed him the bed bug I had squished.  There were little specks of blood.  Ew ew ew.

Via Wikipedia

We moved out the next morning and found a nicer (albeit teeny tiny) place to stay.  We did our best to de-infest our luggage before moving and hoped we hadn’t brought the bugs with us.  We did our first (of many) mattress checks in our new hotel.

Via howtodetectbedbugs.org

We spent the rest of our trip periodically worrying about the bed bugs.  When we arrived home, we left all of our luggage and clothes outside before going in.  Yes, all of our clothes.  Our neighbours got quite the show.

After consulting the internet we put nearly everything in the washing machine and dried all of our clothes at the hottest temperatures our poor, old dryer could muster.  We left a suitcase outside in our shed for the entire winter, hoping that the cold temperatures would kill any bugs we couldn’t launder to death.

Even though we avoided an infestation, we’re now completely bed bug phobic.  Check out this highly scientific map of bed bug presence in North America:

Via bedbugregistry.com
AHH! They’re everywhere!

We’re now completely paranoid whenever we go to hotels.  We do systematic bed bug checks.  I would suggest that you do the same, if, deep-down, I didn’t think that these checks are kind of futile.  They’re going to get to us eventually.

Despite this icky turn of events,  we do have some fond memories of Split and we would definitely go back, *in summer*.  The city is beautiful, historic, and charming.

Dubrovnik in October

5

I’m continuing to blog about past travels because Pete is steadfast in his refusal to travel with a baby.  This is my method for dealing with my travel bug.

We went to Croatia on our honeymoon in October of 2010.  We chose Croatia because:

a) I wanted to go to Europe

b) we wanted to go somewhere warmish

c) we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had been before.

Croatia was an easy decision.  I had always wanted to see Dubrovnik, and Pete had been to neighbouring Slovenia and really liked it.  We had a winner!

Croatia was an easy decision. Look at the gorgeousness.

We travelled the last week of October because I was teaching college at the time, and that was my Reading Week.  We spent a week there, and saw as much of the country as we could in that very short time.

After a three-hour layover in Vienna where we ate some chewy airport strudel and attempted to nap, we landed in Dubrovnik.

Airport strudel is never a good choice

It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  We had left snow behind in Canada and arrived to temperatures in the mid-twenties.  Just warm enough for short sleeves without being too hot.  Heavenly.

T-shirt weather! In late October!

We had made arrangements to stay in private accommodations we found through our Lonely Planet guidebook.  Our host, Marija, was warm and friendly, and took us to her home on the side of the hill overlooking the walled city.  Her house was similar to a B&B, but we had a separate entrance and we had the use of her gardenside outdoor kitchen.  Note to self: our next house must have an outdoor kitchen.

That first day we wandered (in our jet-lagged stupor) around the city and enjoyed some beer on a patio, which was outside Dubrovnik’s city walls, overlooking the Adriatic.

Beer on a patio overlooking the Adriatic

As we soaked up the sun and the view, we saw a cruise ship* begin to pass.  We patio-dwellers were snapping photos of it while the cruisers were snapping photos of us.

The Costa Serena sailing toward Italy

The next day, Pete and I woke up to much colder temperatures, cloudy skies, and drizzle.  Not a big deal, except that this weather stuck around for the rest of the trip.  Bye bye t-shirts!  Thanks, sister, for lending me your rain pants!

Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street

Despite the weather, we really enjoyed exploring Dubrovnik.  What really struck me about the city is that although it is a picture-perfect walled city, it is a living city.  Often, cities this beautiful are full of tourists but few residents, due to the cost of living, or to inconvenience (think Venice).  But Dubrovnik is a vibrant place.  Walking along the city walls, you can see into apartments and rooftop terraces.  There are schools, playgrounds and soccer fields for the children.

Basketball court within Dubrovnik’s city walls

Dubrovnik’s vitality is all the more stunning considering how badly it was shelled during the civil war.

A photo displaying the damage Dubrovnik suffered during the civil war

I won’t linger too long on the topic of the civil war here, because it has been well covered elsewhere, but Pete and I did visit museums detailing the impact of the war.  I highly recommend War Photo Limited, a war photography museum in the old city.  It is curated by a former photojournalist and it is excellent.  It is a difficult museum to visit, but it is moving and will leave you impressed by the strength and resilience of the Croatian people.

View of the harbour from the city walls

After taking in the museums and historical sites, we spent time wandering around the city.  Although it was a cool evening, the city is absolutely breathtaking at night.  We got lost more than a few times in the labyrinthine alleys of the old town.

Our honeymoon was off to a lovely start.

Happy travels, everyone.

* I later realized that this ship was the Costa Serena, the sister ship of the ill-fated and now infamous Costa Concordia.

A Cabin in the Woods…With a Five-Month-Old…In February

14

Last February, Pete convinced me to go on a cross-country ski excursion to a cabin in Quebec.  I say “convinced me” because I wasn’t ready, with a five-month-old, for a trip like that.  But looking back, I think it’s something I could do (with an older baby, of course) and I’m ready to share some of the lessons I learned on that adventure.

The cabin in Quebec’s Reserve faunique Papineau Labelle

Some backstory: Pete’s friends live in Ottawa, which is about a six-hour drive from us.  His friends, who had two little ones at the time, aged almost-four and eighteen months, had done this trip before and had made it an annual event.  Pete was really looking forward to seeing them and getting away for a long weekend.

Cross-country skiing across a lake in Quebec

The long drive to Ottawa was followed, a few days later, by another long drive to the park in Quebec, which was then followed by a long cross-country ski into the cabin.  It was only accessible by ski or snowmobile.  The park delivered some of our luggage by snowmobile (and a park warden stopped by once a day to check on us) but we towed some of our gear, and kids, by chariot.

The cabin was on a beautiful lake, and it was fairly remote.

C being towed behind Pete while cross-country skiing.

There was no hydro or running water.  We had water filters and propane for lights, so we weren’t roughing it too much.  There were wood stoves for heat.  And although I had to run out to the outhouse in the middle of the night (in February, in Quebec, brrr…) I will admit that I’ve never seen such beautiful stars as I did on those nights.

A beautiful February night

We stayed for two nights, and here are some of the lessons I learned:

1) Don’t push yourself.  This is a good, general parenting rule.  I’ve learned not to push myself too much.  Sometimes I try to do too much, and I always pay the price.  For new parents, it can be hard to accept your new limits, especially if you were very active or very social.  It can be hard to accept that you can’t travel as much or be as spontaneous as you once were.  But things change so quickly with little ones and soon you’ll be able to do more of those things again.

Snuggling in the cabin

2) Travel once your baby is eating solid food.  This is just a personal rule I’m going to follow myself, and it’s related to point number one.  I found it stressful to be the sole source of food for my baby on a trip like this.  I wasn’t ready for it.  I find, now that C eats snacks, that it is so easy to keep her happy and full in a pinch.

Pete filtering lake water while C sleeps in her baby carrier

3) Follow your own schedule.  As a new parent, I found routines comforting, and C depended on them.  Even at five months, our baby had a fairly regular routine.  By travelling with others, we really upset that routine and that meant that our baby (who was exclusively breastfed at the time) went too long without eating, and that stressed both me and her out.

All in all, I would say the trip was a success.  We all survived, Pete got to visit with some great friends, and we all learned to properly appreciate indoor plumbing.

Pete cooking our dinner over the campfire

Ten Things I Love About Havana

15

I think Pete and I have been doing a good job of keeping up with our lives and interests while figuring out this parenting business.  But do you know what I haven’t been doing lately?  Travelling.  And I probably won’t be doing much of it for a while.  Pete is completely averse to travelling with a baby.  In the meantime, I’ve decided to cope with my travel fever by blogging about some of our trips.

Pete and I fell in love with Havana when we went there two and a half years ago. I had been to Cuba before, but never to Havana.  Big mistake.  Havana is magical.

Great Theatre of Havana

Here are some reasons why:

1) The people.  I know this may seem cliche, but I really mean it.  Cubans are friendly, warm and welcoming people.  And when they are sure no one is listening, they’ll tell you what they *really* think of the brothers Castro.

2) Cheap, delicious pizza.  Cuba is not known for its food.  But in Havana, we found a little pizza place (which was someone’s house with a little window open to the street) where we could buy yummy little personal pizzas for the equivalent of thirty cents Canadian.  I think that was the moment Pete fell for Havana.

Mmm…so affordable.

3) Safety.  I’ve never felt as safe in a large city as I did in Havana.

Typical Havana scene

4) Old Havana.  It’s simply gorgeous.  But of course, if you only see Old Havana, the very well-preserved and tourist-friendly portion of the city, you’re really missing out.

Cathedral of Havana

5) Cristobal Colon Cemetery.  When we toured the cemetery, we were the only ones there, which made it seem even more peaceful and serene (or creepy, according to Pete).

Colon Cemetery

6) Revolution Museum.  The museum is housed in the former Presidential Palace, which was stormed by the revolutionaries who ousted President Batista and installed Fidel Castro.  It’s hard to describe the Revolution Museum in a quick blurb, but I’ll try.  The museum will leave you in no doubt that the former regime of Fulgencio Batista was terribly corrupt and brutal (his jewel encrusted gun sums it up nicely), but the museum’s efforts to convince you that the current government has fostered nothing but happiness and prosperity are unconvincing, to put it diplomatically.

Also, just in case you aren’t aware, the Cuban government is not a big fan of Ronald Reagan.

The Revolution Museum has a “Wall of Cretins”

7) Mob history.  Before we went to Cuba, Pete gave me a book called Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost it to the Revolution.  It details the role of the mob in Havana before the Revolution.  I highly recommend it.  If you’re interested in the mafia, in the Cuban Revolution, or are a fan of The Godfather (especially Part II), you’ll love it.

8) The Russian Embassy.  How menacing is this building?  In a completely over-the-top, Cold-War sort of way, of course.  We had a view of the embassy from our hotel and Pete thought it looked like an angry Transformer.

Some Cubans think the Russian embassy looks like a syringe. I can see it.

9) Cheap pizza.  Pete insisted that I put this in here twice.  That’s how much he enjoyed the delicious, homemade, 30 cent pizza.

10) Tie! Revolution Square and  La Cabana Fortress.  Sorry about the tie, but it became necessary when I was forced to mention the pizza twice.  Revolution Square, with its giant statue of national hero Jose Marti and famous portrait of Che Guevara, can’t be missed.

The 18th century La Cabana Fortress is the largest fortress complex in the Americas.  It boasts a beautiful view of the city and a lot of interesting exhibits, including one focusing on Che Guevara’s place in the fort’s history.  He oversaw tribunals and executions during the Revolution.

Every night at 9:00 pm, there is a ceremony re-enacting the old tradition of firing a cannon to signal the closing of the city walls.

View from the fortress

Honourable Mention: Pete wanted me to mention that we took a cab into the city centre one day and when the cab driver opened up the glove compartment, there was a half-empty mickey of rum inside.  It’s the little (slightly terrifying) things that remind you that you’re not in Canada anymore.  Pete apologizes for the lack of photographic evidence.  He wasn’t quite quick enough with the camera.

* I apologize for the lack of proper accents in this post.  My keyboard is not cooperating.