This February, Arrangements Abroad organized one in a series of stellar trips to Cuba with a focus on art & architecture for the Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation. Among the travelers was journalist Mitchell Owens, whose article A Design Lover’s Guide to Cuba for the May 2015 Architectural Digest just hit the stands. His short video on Havana, with spectacular images, may be seen here. The accompanying slide show is also terrific!
Tour Director Kate Klorer reflects on the trip:
“The Soane programs draw many architects and interior designers, so we put together an itinerary focusing on historic houses and some of the best 20th-century architecture in Cuba.
The incredible thing about Havana is that the city itself is like a museum, with examples of nearly every architectural style of the last centuries—from dramatic Baroque buildings of Habana Vieja to the Neoclassical villas of Vedado and elegant Art Deco and Art Nouveau structures throughout the city. Even with so many buildings in heartbreaking condition, Havana is one of the most astonishingly beautiful cities—by far the most captivating place that I have ever visited in all my travels across the globe for its architectural heritage.
Image of the Lopez Serrano building by Chas A. Miller, III
It was a lot of fun to be in Cuba with Mr. Owens and lecturer Hermes Mallea (author of Great Houses of Havana) as they pointed out unique architectural details that are distinctively Cuban— like the intricate ironwork that allows breeze to flow through windows on hot Havana days and colorful stained glass that brightens door frames and louvered shutters.”
Mr. Owen’s Architectural Digest video gives a superb glimpse of our week exploring Havana’s great buildings. You can also read the article about his journey here.
Come join us on the next trip! Mr. Mallea is leading a just added Art & Architectural of Cuba program that features the XVII Havana Biennial June 6-11, 2015!
We’ve already received a number of submissions for our Focus on Travel photo contest. Images entered so far range from Borobudur at sunrise to Stockholm at dusk. There are also stunning shots of London, Havana, Egypt, Bolivia and other destinations near and far.
If you have a great travel photograph, there’s still time to enter it in the contest. The winner will receive a new iPad mini. Prizes for the runners-up include a NiteCore Tiny Monster flashlight, a micro luggage scale and more.
You can also vote on the submitted images, which are featured in a gallery that can be accessed through the photo contest tab. The most popular image will receive a People’s Choice Award and a special prize.
To enter or vote, please go to our Facebook page and click on the Focus On Travel Photo Contest icon below our name. It will take you to a new page where you can enter the contest or vote on selected entries (or both!).
Be sure to submit your entry before May 1, 2013.
George Metes and Jean Sanborn report on their favorite experiences during their recent trip to Cuba.
On arriving in Havana we were introduced to “habaneros” at the Sunday Callejon de Hamel Santoria celebration, which was the perfect way to introduce us, people-to-people, to the creativity and energy of the Cubans. On the planned itinerary we visited several artists’ studios, the Ceramics Museum and the large Fine Arts Museum, dancers, singers, and lively kids performing, thus seeing a range of art and learning how the Cuban artists interact with the larger art world.
Informal opportunities to interact with Cubans were plentiful. We had enough free time in Havana to get out and meet people and explore areas off the main tourist track. We already knew the generally cheerful energy of the Cuban people; we discovered how safe and clean Havana is despite the crumbling infrastructure.
The opportunities to eat on our own led us not only to a paladar for a moonlit meal in a beautiful home full of art but also to Los Nardos, the hugely popular national restaurant down the street from the hotel where we got to chat with Cubans also waiting for a table. As in the paladares, we enjoyed wonderful music in the national restaurant. (Contrary to what we had been led to believe, Cuban food is not all rice and beans).
We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the organizers and leaders of this trip; everyone gave their time, their creativity, their energy, their patience, their wide-ranging knowledge of Cuba, and their good humor to make this such a special week.
It has been almost 10 years since we ran the last of approximately 100 programs to Cuba…..and now I am back in Havana. While the purpose of my trip has been an exhausting set of meetings with our ground operator in Cuba, I have also had the pleasure of breakfast and dinner with a series of artists, museum directors, heads of foundations, and other friends from years past who have met with our groups and arranged the local insight and behind-the-scenes access that helps makes Cuba so special.
So what’s new after 10 years? There are nice new hotels and even some of the older ones have been renovated. Though none are up to top international standards, the new Hotel Saratoga is regarded locally as the best hotel in Havana. There are new restaurants and plenty of paladars (private restaurants usually in people’s homes). There are exciting young artists producing interesting work and even a new night club being built as a private investment–something unthinkable 10 years ago. The PC way to express this change is that “market tools are being used to enhance the socialist model”…the expectation and fear of change permeates many conversations.
So what has not changed? Well, Cuba still boasts all of the natural beauty it always has….beauty perhaps ever more precious in this changing world. The best colonial architecture in the western hemisphere continues to crumble slowly in much of the city, though the historic old town is looking fresher than I remember. The visual and performing arts, which infuse so much life into this country, remain vibrant and accessible. But mostly what has not changed are the people. Old friends that were knowledgeable, insightful, involved, and remain the same wonderful people that I remember. Though there have been changes, returning to Cuba is always special when you can reunite with old friends.
As a licensed travel service provider, we are operating more than 25 trips this year for non-profit institutions that hold people-to-people licenses for travel to Cuba (the next is scheduled for October and nearly every week thereafter). Many of our senior staff have spent a lot of time in Cuba and we are all excited to be returning to the Havana we all know, as well as new destinations in the country…easy to get to, relatively inexpensive, and at a turning point in its history….this is a great time to go.