Cuba: The squares in Old Havana

The weather turned following our morning in Havana, a torrent of rain suddenly pouring down as we left Habana 61, full and well-fed. Into the car we hopped and round to Almacenes San Jose, a large marketplace near where the cruise ships dock. There are numerous stalls there, yet only about eight variations of what those stalls sell. We emerged, with a hat for Olly and a thimble for me, to no rain, though the streets and squares were flooded. Jumping the puddles we headed to Plaza de San Francisco de Asís to start our afternoon exploring Old Havana.

This square is one of four important squares in this part of Havana, and dates back to the 16th Century. Back then though it was Spanish galleons arriving at the port rather than the cruise ships of today. No day exploring Havana is complete without visiting these squares (plus Revolution Square), so make sure they are on your Havana to-do list. (FYI, if you're visiting from a cruise ship, this square is literally over the road from the port - it's super easy to explore Old Havana on foot from here.)

Look out for the statue of José María López Lledín off the side of the square - it's opposite the pink and blue art gallery, in front of the entrance to the basilica and monastery of San Francisco de Asis. José, also known as El Caballero de París, is a Havana legend - a homeless man who was mentally unwell, but a man who was still kind to all, and generous, despite his hardships. His memory lives on every day in the Cubans who share his story, and the tourists who learn it. If you pose with him - your left foot on his, one hand holding his finger, the other holding his beard - make sure you make a wish!

The next square we headed to down Havana's colourful and crumbling side streets was Plaza Vieja, which translates as Old Square, though originally it was called Plaza Nueva... yep, New Square! This is where you'll find the city's Cámera Obscura (entry 2CUC), an invention of Leonardo da Vinci. Basically, the Cámera Obscura, via the magical combination of two lenses, a mirror and a periscope, lets you see a 360-degree view of Havana in real time. Go up, take a look, and then spend some time seeing Havana from its rooftop. The city has an eclectic mixture of architecture - some buildings ornate and grand, others falling down, but all of them make up the "lost in time" city that Havana is.

The third important square in Havana is Plaza de la Catedral which, of course, is Cathedral Square. You guessed it, there's a cathedral here! The remains of Christopher Columbus were interred in the cathedral for 103 years before they were returned to Spain: Cuba was one of the islands that Christopher Columbus discovered, though he called it Juana back in his day (1492). A stone's throw from the cathedral you'll spot La Bodeguita del Medio, another of Hemingway's haunts. He drank mojitos here instead of the daiquiris he drank over at El Floridita.

The oldest, and final, square in Old Havana is Plaza de Armas, and it's where the governor of the island used to live. Weirdly, the west side of the square has a wooden floor rather than stone. The reason? The governor's wife used to be disturbed by the carriages passing by - changing it to wood meant she wasn't woken up. Our visit to this square was fleeting, which is why I'd recommend spending at least two days in Cuba's capital city. We definitely could have spent more time soaking up more of the little details in Havana, though a whistle-stop tour is obviously better than none!

Our time in Havana was up after we'd explored the squares of Old Havana - far too quickly, if you ask me - so it was back to our shiny red 1952 Ford to drive back to Varadero. Havana is a beautiful city because of its rusticness, but it's also one that is beginning to change as more people start to visit the island - I really hope that as it starts to modernise a bit, it doesn't lose any of its charm. 

Is Havana on your to-visit list? x

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