- a clean room
- a decent supply of hot water
- a reliable internet connection
Ok, well we can scratch the last of those because this is Havana, but I had the first and to be honest was hot enough without needing to overdo the second.
My attitude towards them is pretty functional; they’re a place to get your head down, a base to operate from, and so long as the area has other places where you can eat or drink not much else matters.
In Havana things are slightly different. One of the first questions that the locals will ask you is where you are staying, which they then use as a benchmark to assess your spending power before asking you to make a contribution in some way that will alleviate your poverty. The trouble is that their perceptions are probably based on history rather than the reality. No matter how grand the exterior, or what star rating the establishment has been awarded, its likely to be a state controlled operation with the mindset and level of investment that that implies.
That doesn’t mean that their history should be ignored. There are some stories to be told.
Sited just a stones throw from the Capitol, Hotel Inglaterra is the oldest in the city and hosted Winston Churchill when he was in Cuba as an observer in the struggle for independence from Spain at the end of the 19th Century. To my eye it retains a fin de siecle style.
Head further east into the Vieja district and you find the unmistakeable salmon pink statement that is the Ambos Mundos (Both Worlds) notable for it’s rooftop cocktail bar that you can reach using the original cage lift. It also trades heavily on the fact that Hemingway stayed here.
Head west to Vedado district and there’s the Habana Libre, formerly the Havana Hilton. Opened with great pomp by Conrad Hilton in 1958, just a year later it became Castro’s HQ and was nationalised a couple of years after that. For the last 20 years it has been managed by a Spanish hotel group who have restored some of the original features, including the huge blue mural by artist Amelia Peláez over the main entrance.
My own HQ for my trip was the nearby Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Once the most glamorous destination in town, it was the first choice of stars from the worlds of sport and entertainment, visiting politicians, and mafiosi, who took a stake in its ownership to benefit from one of the most successful casinos in the world. All of that changed following the revolution when the hotel’s main purpose was to house visiting diplomats, and so began years of neglect though it retains many original (if non-functioning) features. It’s main asset now is its location overlooking the Malecon and the Santa Clara Battery in its grounds which have given it the status of a world heritage site.