Cienfuegos, the Paris of Cuba

Cuba

The taxi driver that I booked came to pick us up in Trinidad and asked if we wanted to take a look at Cienfuegos, since it was on the way back to Havana. We pretty much had him for the whole day and could go wherever we wanted at no extra charge, so why not? Inside my head I was screaming with joy because I had researched about the city before, and it was nicknamed “the Paris of Cuba”.

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Cuba

Cuba

Cuba

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The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 as a Spanish territory but was settled by immigrants of French origin. Since it was a coastal city, it became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. I love that there were so many beautiful buildings with French influence!

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My favorite building.

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Cuba

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There’s always music everywhere you go in Cuba.

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We walked into a random restaurant because we were hungry and wanted a sandwich.

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Cuba

It was just a cheap, simple sandwich with ham, cheese and… tuna?!?! That sandwich ended up to be one of the BEST things we ate on this trip. For some reason it just worked. We should’ve ordered more. It’s called El Palatino, in case you ever want to check it out!

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Back in Havana, we ate at an unlimited buffet place called Ana’s. It was recommended by our host and very affordable ($10 per person). All the meats were dry and salty… but the view of the Malecón was great. I would not recommend it.

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Cuba

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New York to Havana, my Cuba trip (Part 1)

The Basics: 
Non-stop flight from JFK to HAV (back in May 2017): $272.56 USD
Visa: $50 USD

At JFK, there was a level below the general check-in floor just for Cuba check-ins. We paid for our visas there right before our flight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Money Exchange:
– $1=1CUC, but if you use USD to exchange, there’s a 10% penalty. We bought euros from the bank beforehand to exchange.
– US debit/credit cards do not work
– Some places will take USD if you run out of CUCs
– You can exchange money at Cadecas, which we did
– We were planning to exchange money at the airport, but the counter was empty and this well dressed taxi driver approached us and said he would take us to cadecas in the city and then to our airbnb for 30 CUC (=$30). He was helpful and did not kidnap us.
– Be careful when you buy with CUC (the foreigners currency), they might be priced at CUP (the local currency). We also found that some places add 1 cuc to whatever you’re buying for no reason at all so check your change! We didn’t bother arguing for 1 cuc but it was inconsistent. There’s no tax so there’s no reason to pay extra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba

WiFi:
Unless you stay in a fancy hotel, internet will only be available at government sanctioned hotspots, usually public parks (you will see everyone sitting/standing around on their phones together and then you know there’s wifi). To access the internet, you need to buy access cards (1 hour increments) from the kiosks (maximum 2 per person per purchase) You must have ID (passport or driver’s license) to purchase the card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba

We saw buildings like this everywhere in Centro Habana, where we stayed at a casa particular (via Airbnb). The host was great and spoke English, and we were lucky to have working AC which some places did not. We did run out of water for a couple of days because it was being rationed.

 

 

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Cuba

In Havana, you can get around by taking taxi or just walking — taxis are everywhere and easy to catch; just ask for a price beforehand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cuba

 

 

 

 

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Local grocery store.

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Entering La Guarida, a Paladar.

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Food was just ok but the building itself was amazing, beautiful and some parts looked dilapidated, almost felt a bit forlorn.

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Malecón at sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For updated rules and tips on traveling to Cuba as a U.S. citizen, check this site.

 

Travelogue: Valparaíso, Chile (Dec 2015)

We booked a tour through our hotel in Santiago (~$50 USD) to go to Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. Nicknamed “The Jewel of the Pacific”, Valparaíso was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. What I really wanted to see were the street art and wall murals!

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Isn’t he/she cute though?

Our tour guide picked us up with a small van.

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That’s not our tour guide, but it’s too adorable not to post.

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Quinta Vergara Amphitheater — where they hold the International Song Festival every year. It is the largest and best known music festival in Latin America.

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Legend has it that if you take a picture with this clock, you will one day return to Viña del Mar. We had lunch here and walked on the beach.

Without further ado, our next stop: Valparaíso.

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A city built on hills, people use these funicular lifts called ascensores (steeply inclined carriages) to get up and down.

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Colorful houses!

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Every corner there is art.

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We got on a funicular lift.

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Love the downtown architecture.

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Finally got one! It’s called “Mote con huesillos”. There’s a peach in there along with beans… very sweet and refreshing drink (and cheap too!). They sell them all over the streets of Chile.

Travelogue: New Orleans Days 1-2

My first time in NOLA. Of course, we stayed in the French Quarters and did all the touristy things.

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Dinner at SoBou — which stands for “South of Bourbon St.”

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Alligator corndogs.

 

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First gumbo in NOLA.

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There was a rustic yet modern feel.

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Stayed at the bar. The bartenders were welcoming and knowledgeable. There’s a metallic baby in that drink.

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Creative small bites. Yellowfin tuna tartare cones with basil avocado ice cream.

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Foie gras burger: Pan seared Hudson Valley foie gras, sunny side up yard egg, duck bacon, & foie gras mayo on a caramelized onion brioche bun served with pork cracklin’ & a mini Abita root beer and foie gras ice cream float. The ice cream float was my favorite. It comes in a separate glass and didn’t taste like foie gras at all, but I loved it!

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Crispy oyster tacos.

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Crispy chicken on the bone.

The great thing about NOLA is that if you don’t finish your drink at the bar, you can ask for a sippy cup to go.

We ended the night early because we had to get ready for the next morning’s bike tour — a drinking one, nonetheless.

I found Confederacy of Cruisers Bicycle Tour on Yelp. They have tours for eating, drinking, and just plain bike tours around town. They’ll take you away from the French Quarters to other areas that are not as touristy.

 

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Our tour guide was so cool.

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She took us to a local pub. 5 drinks are included in the tour.

We got to the riverfront.

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These are backpedal bikes, which led to my fall -_- We didn’t get to finish the tour because of a little accident… BUT I would still recommend the tour to anyone who is even slightly more agile than I am.

We had to hit up the #1 tourist spot in the French Quarters — Acme oyster house.

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Their chargrilled oysters were highly raved about, but I found them to be extremely anorexic in size although tasty.

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Seafood etouffee with fried crawfish was good, but not worth the price tag.

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Walking around NOLA, you find a lot of balconies that are decorated with beads and shiny balls.

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Love the architecture here.

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Walk east and you’ll find yourself at the French Market. The farmers’ market is not exactly what it sounds; there are vendors that are restaurants selling dishes of food. The flea market is exactly what it sounds like.

 

 

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Selling soaps.

 

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Tshirts.

 

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It’s New Orleans — of course they would sell alligators…

 

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You could find these masks everywhere. I already have one at home from years ago when my friend went to NOLA.

 

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The “farmers’ market” had lots of these little storefronts that sold food.

Next, we stopped by Cafe Du Monde for their famous cafe au lait and beignets.

 

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We didn’t want to linger around and fight for seats, so we stood in line to get them to go. Even THAT took about 20 minutes…

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We passed by Jackson Square, a National Historic Landmark and perfect photo opportunity.

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On the way back, we found many stores that sold pralines and candy. Souvenirs galore!

 

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There are many art galleries on Royal St. Very interesting window displays…

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I ate the beignets when we got back to the hotel. I thought they were overrated but good enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. They’re kinda like fried zepoles in New York.

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I also got a fried oyster po-boy from Verte Marte, a deli on Royal St where you can get anything on your sandwich. It’s very popular and gets crowded. There’s no seating so it’s just a grab-and-go.

After that po-boy, I passed out from walking all day (and eating all day).

Travelogue: Chicagoland Day 4 (Intelligentsia, Hot Doug’s, Xoco)

I decided to give Portillo’s another try. Got their chicagodog and chili dog. Chili wins.

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It was still rather disappointing, but later on we redeemed ourselves with better hot dogs… (keep reading)

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We walked downtown to Intelligentsia.

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Got a coffee flight of 3 different coffees.

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Latte. The most perfect latte I’ve ever had.

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Coffee from Peru.

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Their baristas were all friendly and professional. Such a hipster coffee place.

We then took a cab to Hot Doug’s. It was about 20 minutes away from downtown, and we wanted to make it there in time. You can also take the trains but it would take 45 minutes.

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Hot Doug’s Cassoulet: Saucisse de Toulouse with Fresh Herb Mustard, Great Northern Beans and Duck Confit

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Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel

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Bacon Cheeseburger Sausage with Coca Cola BBQ Sauce, Caramelized Onions and Maple-Smoked Cheddar Cheese

We took the trains back to downtown area, where we met up with a friend and ate more at our hotel rooftop lounge. Then we went to Xoco for dinner…

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Amazing guac. They give you so much avocado!

 

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Suckling pig torta – it was filled with shredded/pulled pork, which I didn’t really like.

 

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The caldo had pork belly in it, which I enjoyed but was not the best.

 

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For seating, you line up at the cashier and there is a dude who finds available tables for you and tells you a number. It’s very casual. The one thing that I did like about this place was BACON POPCORN that they sell in packs. Their hot chocolate was also good, very thick and dark.

After all this food, we took a walk along the river.

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The one thing I love most about Chicago is its architecture. Bridges and lamp posts make this scene memorable for me.

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Even the Starbucks are pretty. (No, you don’t go to Chicago for Starbucks.)