The other day at about noon the snow really started coming down. I was working from home and had to do a little house sitting anyway, so I decided to take a lunch break. My truck was the more obvious choice, but I decided to take the M3 out for a snowy spin.
After bringing in the mail, I decided to make sure the hot tub was working properly.
I was reminded of the proverb: without pain, there is no pleasure. Having a newborn can be a tad stressful at times. I think this was just about the most relaxed I’ve ever been. My favorite cigar, my favorite Scotch, a steaming hot tub, some jazz, and the gentle fall of the snow. I even had a cardinal come keep me company, but to be honest, it was some much appreciated alone time.
I enjoyed a little tree overhang that sheltered me from the snow, and a magical and ethereal view that the above picture doesn’t do justice. I decided the sauna needed a quick check as well.
HB took EF for a walk in the winter wonderland. EF was full of wonderment for about 20 minutes, and then enjoyed a nice brisk nap.
After the walk, HB made some homemade hot coco while EF enjoyed some leche de madre.
That weekend, I thought HB might enjoy some hot tub time as well. I picked myself out another cigar.
Then while HB was soaking, I popped some bubbly and made up some canapés as a quelle surprise.
I’ve got to say, this was a pretty damn good time. The salty fattiness of the caviar, crème fraîche, and blinis was cut perfectly by the dry acidity of the bubbly. The cigar put my olfactories into overdrive and took me back to Havanna. The jazz didn’t hurt either.
Let me wax a little poetic about the champs. This bottle was an impulse buy for new years. Fortunately, we only managed a bottle a person on NYE, and this one was spared the saber. I was aware that Bollinger is a favorite of Bond, and totalwine said it had a high wine spectator score, but that was about it. I was very impressed by this bottle. It was rich and complex with velvety bubbles, and paired perfectly with our accompaniments. Its a very handsome bottle as well. Dark forest green glass, gold accents, and a beautiful pearlescent label that screams that one pair it with caviar.
EF took a pretty long nap, and HB and I got a lot more hot tub time than anticipated (Thanks EF).
After a long afternoon of hot tubbing, we decided to unwind in front of the fire with a little brown (Thanks again to Susie, a true aficionado, for the bourbon – HB loves it). Then we put on some Strikeback and enjoyed some sex for no reason…
by rsiv with
On the morning of day 8, we took a guided walk through the Colon Cemetery. We got to see the graves of some famous and important people, and we saw some Santería rituals. At one grave, people come to pray, some daily, leave an offering, and the back away from the gravesite, not turning their back on the dead.
Then we had a quick stop for pictures at the Plaza de la Revolución. There were some really cool cars parked nearby.
Then we visited the Callejon de Hamel, an alley that has become an art installation, created by Salvador Gonzalez. We learned a lot about Afro-Cuban religions, and toured Gonzalez’s residence.
Next we went to Almacenes de San José, a market where we did some shopping. I’m not usually a big shopper on vacation, but this was not your typical Chinese-made tchotkes emporium. It was mostly art and handicrafts, but with some junk mixed in. Our guide led us to a stand where they sell handmade humidors. These were super high quality cedar humidors with hydrometers and pinned joints, perfect alignment and fit. I bought myself one, and we got one for my uncle. I also bought a painting for my parents, and one for my office. I really wish we’d had more time here, as the value of these items was incredible, and the quality was outstanding. Notice in the second picture below, there was a red bull high dive competition going on nearby.
While we shopped and negotiated fair prices, I enjoyed an H Upmann Mag 50. It was a great cigar, but as for the particulars, I couldn’t really say. Having such a great cigar, in such a cool place was an overwhelming experience. I was also on a high after getting such a great humidor at such a reasonable price. Its something I’ll cherish forever. After shopping, we ate at Sloppy Joe’s. Earlier in the week when I was talking to my Canadian friends at LCDH, they recommended Sloppy Joe’s. Then they proceeded to describe what a sloppy joe actuallly is. When I told them that I had them as part of my school lunch program growing up, they made some cute quip about thats whats wrong with America. I diplomatically held my tongue.
After lunch, I asked for directions to the Bacardi building, and we walked over. Afterwards, we had some time to wander around Havana on our own. It was nice to get a little lost and take our time for once.
The Conde Villanueva is a hotel with a LCDH that was featured in the Cuban documentary by James Suckling that I watched before the trip. I got a few sticks there. We mostly just strolled around and took in the city. After a quick break at the hotel, we went back out for the night. We knew that something special was planned since it was our last full day in Cuba.
The yank tank ride from our hotel to the hotel Nacional was one of the best parts of the trip. I took a lot of video, and while posing for multiple pictures, ended up drinking a lot more of that Havana Club (the bottle was from the Tropicana show) than I sat out to consume. Our car had a keypad that played different notes on the horn. What an experience. After the ride, we got a tour of the historic Hotel Nacional.
The hotel was beautiful. One of the most interesting part of the tour was the response to a question about why we didn’t stay at the Hotel Nacional. Our guide told us that the Hotel Nacional has issues with power outtages, hot water, and the rooms are very small. Its very telling about our current culture that rooms used to be small, and public spaces grand, but now its the opposite. People are more private, and less social. While thats pretty much true of me, its sad, and I hope to change that about myself after thinking on it. Its also one of the cool parts about the A&K trip. Generally, one travels with family, and doesn’t meet many others. With A&K, you meet a lot of different people, but they’re all well traveled and interesting. You end up spending a lot of time with your fellow travelers. I really like that about our trip. Its something I usually don’t get to experience when I travel. After the tour, we were treated to a private concert.
The appetizers, mojitos, cigar, and music was incredible. I’m generally not a superlative person, but on this trip you really just couldn’t imagine how the next musicians could be better, but they were. My dad got up and danced with the performer who was visibly impressed by his dancing. I have a lot of video from this part of the trip I hope to put up soon. After a great time at the Hotel Nacional, we went to our farewell dinner.
We had another amazing dinner. After dinner, they brought out a box of cigars that looked to be someone’s personal collection. There was a huge variety. I went with a limited edition Punch. After dinner we went back to La Zorra Y el Cuervo, since we did not want the evening, or the trip to end. After we enjoyed both drinks included in our two drink minimum and I had smoked my cigar, we found a cab. After a quick negotiation, and about 10 minutes of mechanical tinkering, we were on the road headed back to the hotel.
Behike, Cuba Libre, Jazz. What a combo. There was a really good trumpeter at the club that night (which is why we didn’t check out the other popular jazz club). We were exhausted, but I’m so glad we went out. If you could only have one experience in Cuba to get the gist of what Cuba is all about, this would be it. An amazing cigar, a good rum drink, and some of the best musicians in the world jamming out. Another giant of a day, and one I’ll never forget. We headed home late, and I wondered how I’d ever have an experience like this again, and how I was going to drink all the rum and smoke all the cigars I still had with just a morning in Cuba left.by rsiv with
Today we explored Pinar Del Rio and Vinales. The day started out just like any other, amazing breakfast, packed the essentials (rum and cigars), and headed down. However, I did wake to a nice birthday note from our guide. It was very thoughtful, and got the day off on the right note.
We got on the bus and headed out through Miramar, which has lots of beautiful old houses, embassies, and ambassadors’ homes. We had a quick pit stop.
Then we continued into the countryside, and on to the Donatien cigar factory. Photography was not allowed inside. I assume this is because the trained eye might be able to ascertain too much information about brand specific blends, etc. Fortunately, a fellow A&K traveler, Lynn, snapped a few outside and in their cigar store.
I asked about some Trinidad Fundadores, but they were out. I figured you only live once, so I asked about their Behike’s. The joy you see on my face is mostly about the price. I think it was about 20 CUCs per. I was shocked. I picked up a few. You can see another of my selections in my hand, HU Mag 46. After stocking up, we headed out to the country, and had one more pit stop.
After the respite, we headed to Casa de Confianza in Vinales. Its an organic farm and restaurant perched high on a hill overlooking the landscape. We had a truely epic lunch on a trip full of amazing lunches. I expected mostly vegatables, but it turned out to be a full pig roast. Words don’t begin to do this lunch justice, and the pictures barely begin to tell the story.
I pulled out my trusty SpanishDict app, and then said, “Senior, la oreja, por favor.” He cut me the fattiest most delicious piece of meat. I had already had some cheek, and this might have been better. Crispy, oily, fatty, and amazing. The Cubans thought it was awesome that a gringo ate the ear. My fellow traveling companions were less impressed. After a huge and amazing meal, way too much rum, and a great time, we checked out the kitchen. How they got all that incredible food out of that sparse kitchen is beyond me. Very impressive. Then we took a tour of the organic farm. It was an interesting tour. They said that organic farming used to be the only option available. Now its more of a tourism decision, as Cubans care more about size and cost when it comes to produce.
Then it was time for the tobacco farm. We got to meet Benito and his family. He was quite a character. The tobacco had already been harvested, and corn was in its place, so we went into the barn.
Benito asked if there were any cigar smokers in the group. The group yelled my name in unison (guess I had a reputation). Benito rolled me the pure ligero cigars he enjoys, and I lit up. Very flavorful, and very intense. Also, very young tasting, but a great experience none the less. Then he passed out some more home rolled cigars to the rest of the group that had some more age. I had one of these later, and it was also very enjoyable. Benito put out some drinks, and we got to talk. I showed him a picture of my tobacco on my phone, and he was very excited to talk tobacco with me. It was a great stop, and while most people probably had their fill, I could have stayed all day. Back on the bus, we got a surprise for the long ride home.
Havana Club Anejo Especial was first. This was what A&K/the Melia gave us as a welcome gift, and I was carrying around. It was quite good, but it was no HC 7, which was next. Then we moved on to my favorite HC Seleccion de Maestros. After that, Santiago de Cuba as the grand finale. Very very good. But not my favorite (but my 2nd favorite). The rum tasting was a great idea, and made the time fly. I had already been over served at lunch (by yours truly), and notice the amount of rum in my cup in the pictures. Apparently, I was drinking for three, since our guide knew my pregnant wife was not imbibing, and my cup always seemed to be fullest (thanks again Ridlon). We enjoyed the scenery going into Havana (including the double rainbow), and soon, we were back (thanks again, Havi).
That night, we had dinner on our own. Our guides had made us reservations at Dona Eutimia. We took a cab over to La Floridita, of Hemingway fame, and grabbed some pre-dinner daiquiris.
I was in a frat. I’ve been known to enjoy a drink or two. After La Floridita, I was feeling it. Not so much drunk, but worn out and exhausted. The promoters trying to entice you into their paladars did not help while we took a beautiful walk down Calle Obispo. I’ve heard Hemingway still holds the record for Papa Doble’s, 17 in one night, corroborated by his letters to Harvey Breit, letters of those that were with him, and several articles that can be found online. The modern doble reportedly contains 2 jiggers, or 3 ounces of rum. At the time, Hemingway says it was 4 ounces, and that he had 68 ounces total that day. I like to imagine Hemingway had felt about the way I did wandering down Obispo, which he also loved to do. It was a great moment, and a lovely walk (for more info, and the papa doble recipe, check out to have and have another). After dinner, we hoped an old cab and headed to La Zorra Y El Cuervo, a highly recommended jazz bar.
After finding the old phone booth, which is its entrance, we descended into the smokey lounge, paid a cover, and got a table. I lit up a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1, and my dad lit up a No. 2 (my current favorite cigar, bar none). It was an unforgettable day, and an unforgettable night. This was easily one of the best days of my life.by rsiv with
Day 4 in Cuba started out with a buffet, and amazing cafe. After a great meal, we headed down to a conference room in the hotel. We met with a former Cuban Foreign Services Scholar, who brought the group up to date on Cuba – US relations from the colonial period to present times. I had just read Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba, which is as much a history of Cuba as the Bacardi family and company, but from a capitalist perspective, so it was interesting to notice the discrepancies between the two accounts. For instance, the speaker implied that business owners fled the country out of guilt/fear prior to the revolution, and failed to talk about the confiscation of their assets. However, when directly asked, he provided an account that was more inline with what I had read in the book. There was lots of talk about, “Terrorist groups in Florida.” He also said that Cuba was not changing from Socialism to Capitalism, but something new. He said, “Cuba has to adapt.” He thought that it would be a slow process, but Cuba has to change. A member of our group suggested that when the embargo is lifted, people will get rich, everything socially and otherwise will change. He presenter said, “we accept this challenge…we have been preparing for this.” Later he added, “Cubans need to work harder to have more.” “We are going to face new realities, and I’m optimistic.” The presenter kept talking about Cuba embracing at least some degree of capitalism, but he never once used the word capitalism unless someone else used said word in their question. I got the impression that Cuba will try to hold on to its socialist ideals for quite some time. I think that longer term, it will likely look more like Canada, or perhaps a Sweden. Controlled capitalist, but with strong social concern, for instance socialized medicine, nationalized industries, etc. That said, it may be hard to resist the fast money that American tourism will offer.
After the foreign services presentation, we got on the bus. After hearing that we had another giant of a day, our American guide introduced our Cuban guide. “She’s your guide, shes our guide, shes Ms. Cu-baaa!” Nilda told us about the day’s activities as we headed to the Muraleando neighborhood community project. The manager of this project was very genuine and very enthusiastic. His passion was contagious. He described some of their art as, “tangible poetry.” He definitely did not need a translator. The project is called El Tanque, because they petitioned the government to take an old water tank in a trash heap, and turn it into an art gallery. They cleared out a junkyard, and now they have a beautiful community center. They’ve also beautified and improved the entire neighborhood. The female singer pictured below had just won a caribbean talent show. I have her CD, so I’ll try to update this post with more details about her later. The statue is of a local character, who we got to meet. The teeth are real dentures. The bench is dedicated to an old woman who used to sit there daily, waiting on her love (it is assumed that she was referring to a potential future love).
After saying our goodbyes, we took a walking tour though Old Havana with a local architect. Both he, and his wife, were architects in Havana trying to save and restore old buildings, so it was a very enjoyable and informative walk. It was also our first chance to wander the streets, so even without the great commentary, it would have been a great time. I don’t recall the architect’s name, but I thought of him as a Javier (Bardem), perhaps you can see why.
First, notice the box of Virginia apples. I do know that they don’t grow apples on Cuba, so perhaps it was some kind of aid? I didn’t get to ask about it, as that pic was taken during our free time wandering. Next, notice the shotguns. Does your grandpa ever tell you that Obama/Clinton/etc is going to take away your guns? In Cuba, they really did. This museum displays the shotguns confiscated by the government. I saw a bunch of Browning A-5s. I was with our Cuban guide at this point, who is from Pinar Del Rio (the country), which makes her a guajira (country girl). I thought she might know about hunting. She said that it is difficult to get a permit to own a shotgun, but some Cubans do. However, most harvesting, of say boars, is done by trapping. The interwebs shows me that there is quail hunting in Cuba, but I couldn’t tell you if Cubans are allowed to do it. The architect was particularly candid about his thoughts on Cuba. He said his grandparents were for the revolution, when it was still about getting rid of Batista. When it became communist later, they regretted it, as they were a wealthy family. Eventually, his grandfather took his own life. The architect also said that he would not be able to live as well as he does without his two brothers sending clothes and money from Miami. He was a very interesting guy, and I wish we had more time with him. The picture of stone above is so you can see the coral in it. The cigar is a Romeo y Julieta #2. These were my walking around sticks while I was in Cuba, as they were 3.4 CUCs (less than $4 American), and easily found in Tubos for portability. I never had a draw or construction problem, and the flavor was great. Maybe a little one dimensional, but they were prefect for my purposes. I really just grabbed a few by chance, but ended up having one whenever I had 30-45 minutes.
We hit Cafe Del Oriente for lunch. Apparently, its the place to see and be seen, as the Castros can often be seen there, and other high level officials. The welcome cocktails and food were great, but the atmosphere and music were just incredible. It was a nice respite from the heat and the walk.
After lunch, we had a tour of Casa De Africa, with an Afro-Cuban religions specialist, and then saw a show. The actors were excellent, and as always, we were blown away by the quality of the production, and that it was just for our small group. However, some school children wandered over, as the museum is right on the street, and they joined in the dancing. The dancer in blue is the Yorùbán/Santerían orisha Yemaja. I thought she stole the show. She pulled me up to dance with her. My wife thought it was fitting as she is the patron deity of women, especially pregnant women. After Casa De Africa, we headed to a hotel for lessons in making mojitos, and dancing salsa.
I lost the mojito contest, but I had lots of rum, and maybe instead of the loser, we can say I was runner up. Then we learned Cuban style salsa, which involves a different count and a post. Or at least thats what I remember. I’m not a great dancer, but I learned the basics, and had a great time.
We drove back to the hotel along the Malecon, and with a few hours to burn, I opted for another Romeo y Julieta #2. I also tried Bucanero Malta, which at first I thought was malt liquor, but when I saw our bus driver Havi drinking it, inquired, and found out its more like sugarcane root beer. It had an interesting and very unique flavor I can’t quite describe. I thought it went well with the cigar, and was a welcome change of pace from the 14 or so rum drinks I had that day. I also threw in a bonus bathroom cigar selfie. How often does one get to enjoy a bathroom cigar?
We had dinner at Cafe Espanola. It was a good meal in a very interesting place. Afterwards, we enjoyed some jazz in the lobby, and called it a night.by rsiv with
When I was young, I played alto sax. I’m not sure why I chose the sax. I imagine my parents thought alto sax was cool, and wanted me to be cool. I think I played the sax before Slick Willy’s first term, but I’m not sure, maybe that had something to do with it. In any event, I bring it up because despite playing a jazz instrument, I did not like jazz as a young man. I liked Pep band and symphonic band music well enough, but I never listened to jazz. I wasn’t into any music the way a lot of my friends were. Flash forward about 20 years, and I’m very much into music. Recently, I’ve gotten into jazz. I’ve made a short playlist for this blog. Hopefully it peaks some interest out there. If you like it, maybe light a cigar and pour a few fingers of brown.
If you find an artist you like, maybe just pull some of his stuff up on spotify. I’ll admit, some of the tracks I’ve included below are a little out there, but with enough variety, hopefully everyone can find something they like.
If you don’t use spotify, I’d look into it. My brother in law got me a subscription to the mobile version (the desktop verson is free), which I now don’t know how I lived without (thanks again Chris).by rsiv with