Monday Sessions – Cuba


Our next installment of the Mondays Sessions is to Cuba. This Caribbean Island nation has had a storied past.  Many travelers from Europe and especially Canada have been visiting for years at the numerous resorts found around the island and particularly in Varadero.  There have been some changes in recent years in regards to travel within Cuba. Other areas have become a bit more popular with visitors, which offers a chance to see the more authentic side of this country. My friend Aurora (a French expat in Canada), whom I met last year, visited the tropical locale earlier in 2017.  Let’s hear about her time in Cuba.


WTW:  What may you decide to go to Cuba?

Aurora:  I have been dancing Cuban Salsa for about 10 years now and I always wanted to go! I figured it was best to go as soon as possible to experience the “authentic Cuba” before it changes with the tourism boom.

WTW:  Wonderful! Regarding logistics, how did you get around? What type of accommodations did you stay in?

Aurora:  We wanted to rent a car but there was no availability, so we ended up using buses and private shared taxis to get around the island, the latest ended up being the easiest for only a little bit more than the bus. For accommodation we stayed in Casa Particulares, which are the local B&Bs – it’s the best option if you want to see how locals live and meet them!

WTW:  How was the food? And the rum? (I find the rum quite tasty)

Aurora:  The selection of dishes was limited. Surprisingly, we found that the quality of the food varies a lot even for similar price ranges. The cocktails were also amazing in some places or genuinely bad in others!

WTW:  Good to know that is varies. Which place or area was your favourite and why?

Aurora:  Havana was my favorite place because of its authenticity and eclecticism. The older part of the city is run-down, but I personally found it charming, you get to imagine the colonial times more vividly.

WTW:  I myself  like Havana too. What surprised you the most about Cuba?

Aurora:  It felt like going back in time, nothing has changed much in 50 years, and you feel the socialism spirit everywhere, it was like experiencing history! Also the double currency system is quite surprising, creating a segregation between tourists and locals.

WTW:   That is quite different. What type of activities and sights did you do and see?

Aurora:

  • Havana (visiting the old city, dancing salsa, listening to live bands)
  • Viñales (scenic walks and drives, horse back-riding, cigar plantations)
  • Playa Girón (snorkelling, history)
  • Cienfuegos (touring the city)
  • Trinidad (sightseeing)
  • Santa Clara (Che Memorial )
  • Varadero (white sand beaches)

WTW:  You covered a fair bit of ground! Wonderful. Any tips or suggestions for travelers considering Cuba?

Aurora:  Try to visit beyond the typical tourist destinations for the true Cuban experience. Go visit Centro Havana, get yourself some Cuban pesos, dance salsa with Cubans, and be careful of scams (tourism brings so much money that a lot of people seize any opportunities).

Photos are taken and owned by Aurora and used with permission.

Sunday Special – Zanzibar, Tanzania


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Zanzibar beach – Photo credit: Public Domain

I am a member of several online travel groups. I like to use them for travel tips and inspiration. It was in one of these groups where I learned about Zanzibar, Tanzania. This archipelago lies in the Indian Ocean, a mere 25 – 50km/15 – 30mi off the Tanzanian coast. Historically the island grew spices which continues on today and retains its moniker of the ‘Spice Islands’. It was also a location ideal for traders to make contact for commerce with those living on the Swahili coast. Centuries later the islands fell under Portuguese, Arab, and then British rule. It was in the mid-20th century that Zanzibar sought independence and merged a union with Tanzania, today remaining an semi-autonomous region.

The islands consist of many small ones and two larger ones, Unguja (a.k.a. Zanzibar) and Pemba Islands with its capital of Zanzibar City located on the former. Zanzibar City is considered the heart of Zanzibar and has much to offer. It is divided into two – the modern Ng’ambo and the historic Stone Town.  An interesting tidbit about Stone town is that musician, singer and songwriter Freddie Mercury was born there.

Want to check out Zanzibar? Well this is what I found about its activities and sights:

  • Historic Stone Town is good for wandering its storied streets, seeing quaint shops and visiting cafes. Time spent at Forodhani Market is a must.
  • There are amazing beaches with stunning sunsets
  • Snorkeling and diving at Mnemba Atoll for a fun adventure
  • Visit Prison Island for a somber trip to the Slave Museum and to see giant turtles at the turtle sanctuary
  • Visit Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park to get back to nature and see some monkeys
  • Take a spice tour to learn more about this important trade

These are just a handful of sights and activities that await you in Zanzibar. I can say these islands have moved high up on my bucket list, that is for certain! 

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Market in Zanzibar’s Stone Town – Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Taken and owned by Alex Petrenko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Red Colobus monkeys in Zanzibar’s Jozani Forest – Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Taken and owned By Olivier Lejade from France (P8200036.JPG) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Sunday Special – Montreal


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View of Montreal from Parc Mont Royal – Photo credit: Taken and owned By John Lian (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today we will check out the city which I think is the coolest in all of Canada and that is Montreal.  This fun city is the largest city in the province of Quebec and the second largest in Canada after Toronto. Not only that, this city is the second largest predominantly French-speaking city on the planet, just after Paris. Additionally it was recently ranked as the world’s best city to study abroad by Quacquarelli Symonds. Finally, Montreal is celebrating its 375th birthday this year. Which if you don’t know, makes it older than Canada (which turns 150 on July 1).  Montreal wa founded on what was Hochelagaa St Lawrence Iroquois village in the 15th century, though First Nations peoples inhabited the area for centuries longer. It was part of New France until the mid-18th century.  Today Montreal is a vibrant and social landscape that has a bit of a European feel to it. It has been far too many years since I visited though I do recall enjoying the vibe of the city a great deal. Perhaps another visit is due.

  • Visit historic Old Montreal and take in various sites such as Bonsecours Market, the Old Port of Montreal, and the picturesque Notre-Dame Basilica. Or perhaps you’d like to wander its cobblestones streets via food tour?
  • Take in a pretty city view from Parc du Mont Royal (Mount Royal Park) or visit the Jardin Botanique de Montreal (Montreal Botanical Gardens) in Parc Maisonneuve?
  • Foodies rejoice – Montreal has some great restaurants and dining of all ranges, though do try the Montreal-style smoked meat, the bagels and of course poutine!
  • Sports fans take in all manner of games to watch:
    • Montreal Candiens NHL hockey
    • Montreal Allouettes CFL football
    • Montreal Impact MLS soccer
    • Auto racing
    • Boxing
    • Women’s hockey
    • Tennis
  • Music and comedy festivals abound

I don’t think my list has done this city justice though I hope it inspires you check out Montreal at any time of year. 

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Vieux-Port Montreal (Montreal Old Port) – Photo credit: By Joanne Lévesque (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Montreal-style bagels – Photo credit: By Garyperlman at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Montreal-style smoked meat – Photo credit: By chensiyuan (chensiyuan) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday Special – Mexico City Centro Histórico (Historical Centre)


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Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City – Photo via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

I have been to Mexico 5 times. All of those have been to resort destinations. I enjoyed all my vacations as I was able to unwind and get a tan. That being said, I do claim that I have never really seen Mexico as I have only encountered that one particular aspect out of all that this country has to offer. For today’s feature I thought focusing on North America’s largest city would be the place to start to learn more. Mexico’s capital has plenty of history so let’s begin on “where it all started”, so to speak.

The oldest area in Mexico City is the neighbourhood of Centro Histórico (or Centro). It dates back to the Aztec town of Tenochtitlan (1325 CE) prior to the Spanish conquest. The heart of the Centro is the 240 m / 787.4 ft Plaza de la Constitución, commonly called the Zócalo. One of the world’s largest squares it is home to numerous concerts, fun events, demonstrations and the popular Festival de Mexico. Adjacent to the Zócalo is the stunning Metropolitan Cathedral – the largest one in the Americas with its twin bell towers housing 25 bells each. To the north-east of the square is the Templo Mayor, a large museum built on a former Aztec temple and showcases many of its ruins. These few places barely scratch the surface of what this single area of Mexico City offers. With copious amounts of history, churches, museums, architecture, food, stores, and vendors I would say it is evident that the Centro is a place where one can wander for a couple days.

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Mexico City’s Zocalo – Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Photo taken and owned By Flickr user schlaeger (http://www.flickr.com/photos/schlaeger/51220620) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons