Wednesday, 27 December 2017


13th - 26th Dec 2017

Ho Ho Ho! Christmas Greetings!
Back to Ho Chi Minh City. Not much of the cityscape has changed here so I will not be adding many photos as I have already covered most sights of interest in previous blogs (Mar/Apr 2012, Dec/Jan 2015, Dec 2016).

Something I forgot to mention from the Phuket notes. The 'in' T shirt logos this season out here are 'Anti Social Social Club' (popular with the Japanese) and another I particularly like is; 'Adventure before Dementia'. I tried to find one of these, but failed. This would be a much more appropriate title for my journal.
Also the obligatory greeting of "yoowontaxee" at every street corner is usually followed up by "where you go?". However well meant, this, at first, would appear to be a rather intrusive enquiry. One's  initial reaction is to say "mind your own business", but on second thoughts it is perhaps a very pertinent philosophical question. Something I often ask myself in fact. I occasionally answered at great length  much to the bemusement and irritation of an eventually thoroughly bored taxi driver. They should be careful who they ask.

Regarding Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as it is still often called but which I take to refer to the original French city centre), there are always some ongoing changes, most noticeably the ever increasing number of cars, especially taxis, on the streets. This place is designed for scooters and bicycles, not cars, and as a result major traffic jams ensue. In conjunction with Japanese investors, a metro system is being built, east-west, across the city. This, when finished, will bring about a major improvement but in the meanwhile much of the centre is fenced off and under construction with resulting further traffic and pedestrian congestion.

They are also becoming much keener on the 'Christmas Model'. More and more polystyrene snow, Father Christmases, Christmas trees and tinsel are in evidence. 'We wiss yoo a Merrykeesmah', 'Frarsty the Snowman' amd 'Jinger Bens' are now loudly ringing out of every shop, hotel and restaurant. The staff in most hotels and restaurants all wear Santa Claus hats or reindeer antlers, even in the smartest places like the Sheraton Hotel (left). This is not 'Christmas' to them, it is one word 'merrykeesmah' which they all wish you at every opportunity, with gusto.

There is a Christian community in Vietnam, but most of the locals haven't the vaguest idea what Christmas is really all about and 99.9% have never even seen snow. A 'One Horse Open Sleigh' to them might just as well be a Mars Landing Vehicle and as for reindeer, wise men and 'decking halls with boughs of holly'; you might just as well be speaking in Martian. But who cares, it is a great excuse for a noisy party (and good business) which they so love. Trying to explain it all in a comprehensible way is like trying to explain the rules of cricket to an American. I have trouble understanding it myself sometimes! (not cricket, of course, at which we appear to be being soundly thrashed at the moment by the Aussies).

One of my favourite haunts was, and still is, the 'Saigon Saigon' rooftop bar in the Caravelle Hotel in Lam Son Square. It has always featured an excellent Cuban band with singers and dancers (six days a week; 9.00pm until 1.30am). The bands have changed over the years, but always Cuban with Salsa and Samba etc. and they manage to get lots of people up to dance. Not me, of course.
Left: This well dressed young lady Samba'd, and posed, amongst the customers with great panache.

Referring back to my Cuban blogs; I asked them how they managed to get out of Cuba. Restricted work permits, I was advertise Cuba, and I think Vietnam has quite a cosy relationship with Cuba. And they do it rather well.

Right: An original design for a Christmas tree made out of peasant style Vietnamese hats.

Left: I hadn't seen this before, a large junk called The Eliza converted into a retaurant/hotel on the bank of the Saigon River.

Right: A 'Santa's Grotto' in the Caravelle. Taken late at night and Santa was off duty.

I ate and drank merrily, if unwisely. Christmas eve was spent with friends at a top class French  restaurant in the south-eastern Tau Dien area. It is called 'Les Trois Gourmands' and is owned and run with a rod of iron by an old friend, Mme Phuong, who was married to the Frenchman, Gils Broux, a sommelier originally from Nice, who started it many years ago. Gils sadly died a couple of years ago but it has maintained his high standards of food and service. They have kept the same talented head chef, Sep, for at least 15 years They do a very comprehensive and delicious dinner menu. It is not cheap, but I mention it in case any of you happen to want a smart place to eat when visiting Saigon.
Talking of eating to excess and fitness, the Vietnamese take their exercise regime seriously. On the rare occasions I was up and about by 6.00am I saw the usual sight of parks filled with groups and individuals doing their 'exercises' before going to work. The parks are all kitted out with torturous looking exercise machinery and lots of groups doing Tai Chi and elaborate dance cum fighting drills with staves and imitation swords or, (right) fans. It is quite an impressive sight; not something that you would see in British parks!

So, having had a rather debauched time in Saigon I now go back to Thailand where I intend to head north to Chiang Mai for a more sensible period of healthy eating and a bit of exercise myself. My trousers are feeling very tight and I need to shift a few pounds. Here's hoping! 

Saturday, 23 December 2017


5th - 13th Dec 2017
In the event of a Tsunami! There were 'exit' signs.
The town of Phuket is a pleasant place. Decent restaurants, cafés and bars with lots of shops on the main street, Tha Lang, selling batik material and other clothes and bric-a-brac. It is considerably more tasteful than the beach resorts with only a couple of noisy late-night 'clubs' (that I saw).

Much of the architecture has Portugese influence. I'm not sure of the history but it looks colourful and attractive.

Left: Romanee Street in the town centre.

Right: I'm not sure why but this group of students (I presume students) encouraged me to take their photo. Maybe one of them will read this, so I publish it.

Left: There is a very jolly Sunday night market on the main street.

It was crowded and quite difficult to move along the pavement.

As mentioned earlier, there is a significant Muslim community in these parts. Many of the food stalls were manned, or womanned, by Muslim ladies.

....and several musicians and bands performed. This one (left) was made up of children from one of the local schools. I'm not sure what all those curious instruments are that they played, but they were very skilled and made a most enjoyable noise.

Right: Another street view. Really quite tasteful in comparison to the beach towns.

Left: One of the pleasant cafés. This one featured an impressive collection of antique clocks and, of all things, radio sets. It provided excellent coffee of various types.

Right: You can have fun with these backdrops. I wandered into this place by chance. It is better if there is more than just one of you.

Some more examples.

Left: I don't think so!

Anyway, I had a jolly time in Phuket  (apart from the sunburn). Off next to my old stamping ground of Saigon (Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh City).

Right: You can't escape them. Has anyone got a machine gun?

Wednesday, 20 December 2017


5th - 13th Dec 2017

Kata Beach. Phuket
So, to Phuket off the south-west corner of Thailand. It is a large island, about 40 miles long and 30 miles wide, with a road bridge to the mainland to the north. The airport is at the north-west end, the main town, Phuket, is on the east side and the west coast is lined by sandy, and attractive, beaches. Other islands, such as the well know Phi-Phi island, surround it.

I arrived having not done much 'homework' and, not really knowing the lay-out, and was due to go off to the 'peaceful and pleasant' bungalow recommended to me. Unfortunately I hadn't realised it was so far away; about 30 miles north by the town of Kokkloy. There is no bus service going north from the airport and I gathered that there is a bit of a taxi 'mafia' which makes a good living because of this! I was initially quoted a price of £45 for a taxi reduced, after haggling, to around to £25.
It took 40 minutes to get there and, after much searching around with the aid of telephone calls to the lady owner, we found it.

The lady owner, Jai, was indeed absolutely charming. She showed me to a rather basic but perfectly habitable 'bungalow' with kitchen facilities, set amongst three others. It appeared that I was the only guest on site at the time.
It had a small swimming pool and I would be given breakfast in the morning.

Left: By the swimming pool with my 'bungalow' behind. I am very proud of my white legs and the hat and shorts bought at Chatuchak market.

Now, when I was told this place was 'quiet and peaceful' I hadn't realised just quite how quiet and peaceful it would be. It really is in the middle of nowhere. The only shops are 10 miles away in Kokkloy. There was a 15 minute walk down a road to the beach; a perfectly pleasant unspoilt beach of golden sand and sea, but bugger all else! The road had a few stalls and rustic 'cafés' set alongside it, so I thought I might be able to sit at one of these with a book and a refreshing beer. No such luck; this is a Muslim area (as some of the south west of Thailand is) therefore no alcohol on sale. Ah! Big Problem!! Or at least it is for someone who enjoys vast quantities of the stuff and doesn't drink Coca-Cola, fruit juice, or even water unless desperate (or diluted by whisky).

Right: The beach. I suppose I could have played at being Robinson Crusoe. The only footprints were mine. Not even a Man Friday.

The only oasis within striking distance was a very smart hotel complex, Coco Beach, 30 minutes walk on down the road, again in the middle of nowhere, but I did notice 'developments' were in progress in the area. This boasts a beautiful stretch of beach, a stunning 'infinity' swimming pool, upmarket bars and a good restaurant (left). Unfortunately it has prices to match.

Jai kindly drove me to Kokkloy the next morning and I stocked up on some emergency beer supplies. Interestingly, shops (or supermarkets in towns anyway) in Thailand are not allowed to sell alcohol until 11.00am so we had to wait around. I thought it was only UK on Sundays (and possibly North America) that imposed this pointless prohibition. 
Anyway, I felt that more than a couple of days here would be time somewhat wasted. I'm not quite that 'monastic'. So I made a tactical, and hopefully tactful, withdrawal back to the island. There is, fortunately, a cheap bus service from a stop on the main road (driven there by the kind Jai again) which, for £2, takes you on the hour long journey to Phuket Town.

Nothing booked or planned I walked to the first vaguely respectable accommodation I saw. It was the curiously named 'Feelgood@Journeys Hostel' (right). It was excellent, with a very modern, clean and comfortable single room available, charming staff plus a small help-yourself breakfast. It is close to the town centre and great value at £15 per night, cash.
Talking of 'good value', I was interested to discover that if you booked this place on the internet via or similar they were advertising 'Great Cut Price Value and a % reduction etc.' for a single room at £29 pn! These booking agencies must be making a fortune out of their 'best price guaranteed' deals. What nonsense! The best price is when you walk in off the street and pay cash. Even if this place had been fully booked there are, as I discovered, more guest-houses/hostels and hotels in the town than you can shake a stick at. There would have been no problem in finding accommodation at a decent price. OK, I am travelling alone so easy for me. I expect if you are travelling as a family booking in advance is preferable, but don't let them fool you; you are paying a premium for the convenience. I remember finding a smart hotel in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, in 2011. It had lovely chalets on the beach. There were hardly any customers visible; Trincomalee had not yet by then recovered its tourist trade. They told me it was $I50 per night; way over my budget. On walking out they called me back and asked how much was I prepared to pay! To cut a long haggling story with much wobbling of heads short, I got a chalet for $40, cash. Better that for them than nothing.
Continuing the subject, when at home I get bombarded by expensive glossy brochures advertising 'unique' luxury cruises (I must be of that age now) all offering 'specially reduced' prices and %s off. Reduced from what? A figure they pick out of the air, or sea, no doubt. The price is the price; it's what you have to pay, it's not reduced from anything! The same applies to wines in the supermarket. Bottles 'reduced' from £10 to £6.99p, 'save 30%' or whatever. If I put a bottle of wine on a shelf and advertised it as "Great Savings! Reduced from £50 to £2.50' would people be naive enough to believe it? Perhaps some would. These ridiculous cut price and best value 'deals' are nothing but bullshit, but I suppose they must pull in the punters.

I discovered that staying in Phuket town was a good option. Firstly, it is a pleasant and relatively quiet place with some decent restaurants, bars and shops. Secondly, it is the hub for local bus ( they are mostly open-sided camions actually), routes to the outlying beaches. There is no bus service down the coast between the various beaches and using taxis would be, due to the taxi mafia, extortionately expensive if travelling alone. I suppose if you are a beach fanatic it might be preferable to stay at a particular beach, but I wanted to compare a few. They are all rather similar but with varying degrees and types of entertainment. I visited Kata, Karon and the infamous Patong beaches. Para-sailing (above), banana boats, snorkelling, jet-skiing and kite-surfing provide the common forms of nautical entertainment. Hundreds of tour offices compete to offer other amusement such as scuba diving, trips to outlying islands, sea canoeing, zip wires and even bungee jumping (done that in NZ so no need to again!). It is a very tourist orientated island.

The predominant tourist at these beaches seemed to be Russian. The languages displayed were in Thai, English and Russian. I don't really know any Russians but they somehow give the impression of being rather a grumpy and demanding lot who don't often use the words 'please' and 'thank-you'. They may have many admirable qualities (ie lots of money) but good manners is not high on the list. They even lack the charm of the typical sunburnt drunken British tourist. Right: A Bathing Belle on Kata beach.

Behind the beaches are lines of food stalls, and most serve good Thai food too. Behind that there are numerous bars, restaurants and tour offices. The quantity and quality varying on the location.

Patong Beach is noted for its nightlife. The town is probably one of the most tacky and debauched looking places I have had the privilege to visit. There are line upon line of bars, all very similar and advertising 'Happy Hours' between 9.00am and 8.00pm. After that I don't suppose anyone cares. I didn't stay for the nightime activities but could imagine it. Ghastly I expect!

Raunchy nightclubs and bars were everywhere. They really did look much the same but with different names such as 'Cowboy', 'Glitz', 'Sizzlers', 'Tiger' or 'Rocks Off' and similar. The town has made sleeze an art form. I believe the Russians like this sort of stuff. 

Left: A typical Patong bar, before it gets busy. They all had these little bar stools which were wobbly and I suppose designed to dump those who had overindulged on the deck.

Kata and Karon were more subdued.

It was on Kata beach that I decided to join the Hoi Polloi and do a bit of sunbathing, and even go for a swim. I duly removed my jacket, tie, shirt, long trousers etc. and thereby clad only in shorts (those bought at Chatuchak market) ventured forth. The problem, if you are alone, is where to leave your clothes, kit and valuables securely when going for a swim. I had a towel with me plus money, specs, watch, credit card etc. I decided to wrap all my stuff up tightly in my trusty plastic bag, dig a hole and bury it, cover with sand and lay my towel on top, and carefully note the position of all this, marked with a rock. It all went fine. I had my swim and returned to my towel. I then lay around for a bit in the sun. It was only that evening when the sunburn hit me. I was in serious agony for a day or two. OK, I've been in hot climates often enough to know better. I've binned the shorts and cancelled any future sunbathing plans; a grossly over-rated pastime in my opinion. I'm staying properly dressed from now on.

The Muslim ladies had the right idea. They sensibly cover themselves up, even in the water. Wearing a burka or similar when swimming and sunbathing would seem very sensible. I must look into it.

Talking of dress, there are many Indian tailors at these beach resorts offering to build you a suit in 10 minutes or so. I noticed this rather dapper looking pin-striped ensemble on display somewhere in Karon I think.

On closer inspection it was not quite as it had first appeared. How would this go down in the City?

.........and of course there were the traditional Thai Irish Bars.

It was boiling hot down here. So leaving you, temporarily, on this note.

Friday, 15 December 2017

CHREXIT - 2017

30th Nov 2017 - 4th Dec 2018

Ho Ho Ho and a bottle of.....!
Well, the 'Festive' season is upon us and I'm off to anywhere with limited renderings of 'Rudolph the Blasted Red Nosed Reindeer', 'Frarsty the Snowman' and all the irritating 'Ding Dong Merrily' stuff. It is impossible to avoid it altogether except perhaps at the North and South Poles and, I happen to know, North Korea (one of its major selling points). So, initially to Thailand then back to good old Vietnam.
Of course even in these, essentially non-Christian, places lip service is paid to Christmas; its good for business with western tourists after all. Big hotels and shops in places like Bangkok and Saigon display Christmas trees plus lots of polystyrene snow with reindeer towing sleighs, 'Santa Clauses' and a few Jingle Bells etc., but the locals don't take it seriously. Naturally, few of them have ever experienced snow, or the chaos which goes with it (as though it were unexpected) in countries like UK where, as per when the temperature rises above 30ºc, Nanny State issues dire warnings about not venturing outside unless absolutely necessary and none of trains seem able to cope. It's pathetic.

First, by GulfAir via Bahrain to Bangkok for a few days. I quite enjoy Bangkok in limited quantities. A vibrant city, still happily choking to death on fumes from the jam-packed traffic with plenty to see and do and a shopper's paradise. Apart from the 'restrained and tasteful' Patpong area of Silom where, amongst all the packed stalls selling 'genuine' Rolex watches and Gucci handbags, there are elegant bars and clubs in which charming and very friendly young ladies perform interesting and innovative dances, there are pleasant parks to wander, decent restaurants, glitzy hotels plus many interesting temples and palaces, if you are into that sort of thing. The universal Tuk-Tuks still patrol the streets, but they have been neutered. The engines have been changed from those smoky old things which made the characteristic 'tuk-tuk' noise and are now more 'eco-friendly' with cleaner engines and make hardly any noise at all. They should reinstate the noise please!
From the universal Cuban salutation of 'tacsee saynyor' I now had to get used to the traditional Thai greeting of 'yoowan massaah'.

I was last in this city a year ago. As I remarked then and confirm now, the shape and size of the average Thai is changing. They are getting fat; something that was unknown 20 years ago. Of course this is directly attributable to the inexorable spread of (mostly American) fast food outlets, and possibly not helped by the internet. Street-side stalls selling healthy local food still exist but there is an increasing number of Burger Kings, Kentucky Fried Chickens, Starbucks and, of course, the dreaded MacDonalds. I expect, because the Asian metabolism does not cope so well with sugar, fat and alcohol (two drinks and they are under the table), there is a corresponding increase in diabetes. I don't suppose MacDonalds would care to sponsor research in that direction!

I used to frequent an amusing Irish Bar, Murphy's, at the top end of Silom Road. They did a good breakfast apart from anything else. I went there on the first morning for a reviving plate of bacon and eggs. It was closed; in fact it was behind a corrugated iron fence and was being pulled down. What a blow! I expect it is being replaced by a Yankee junk-food outlet.

One of the places I enjoy visiting here, as I did last year (with photos on blog if you are interested), is the Chatuchak Weekend Market in the north of the city. To travel around the city is easy due to the excellent, cheap and very modern Metro system. There is an interconnecting Skytrain (BTS) and Underground (MRT) and one of the northern stations is Chatuchak.

Left: On the trains there is a useful illuminated route diagram which shows you exactly where you are and where you are going labelled in both Thai and English. No silly unnecessary announcements, as per the London Underground, just a lady's voice telling you what the next stop is in both Thai and good English. It is quiet and efficient. The only thing to be aware of are the entry/exit turnstiles  onto the platforms. You buy a token, or card, and insert it or scan it as per most turnstiles but you have to be quick. Any delay passing through and the waist-level barrier slams shut on you, sometimes with painful ball-crushing consequences. Don't even try to take a suitcase through. You are left one side and your case the other. There are, however, always polite and helpful staff on hand to help (you should use a gate at one end for baggage) and even offer sympathetic words, if not assistance, as you massage your injured parts.

Chatuchak Market is, I find, a most intriguing place and covers a big area. There are several ranks of covered lines of stalls over an area about 1km long and 500m wide. You need to by a map which shows what, in general, is on sale where, but you will still get disorientated and lost. There is everything from antiques to electronic gismos via tons of clothing and pots and pans; anything you can think of really, and more. It is popular and crowded so you move along the little alleyways in enforced slow time. There are regular massage boutiques and lots of food and drink outlets. One of the nice things here, unlike several outdoor markets, is that the stall-holders don't pester you to buy things. You can browse in peace and prepare for some serious haggling. Good bargains to be had. I bought a pair of shorts and a hat. More about them later.

One of the most popular food bars was this one (right) where a Spanish chef performed non-stop production of these vast colourful paellas. It was not just cooking, it was indeed a performance! He played to the crowd, throwing vegetables and things into the pans from over his shoulder, and over seated customers who happily caught the occasional raw prawn or clove of garlic. Salt and seasoning was thrown into the air and went everywhere, including onto the paellas. He posed for photos with giggling tourists and did impressive conjuring  tricks with disappearing handkerchiefs.

It was all most amusing. He is obviously a bit of a character and great showman and did it all with a most infectious smile. He had two boards which he occasionally held up. This one (left) and another with his caricature portrait on. Us tourists loved it. He was not averse to putting his arms around a pretty female spectator and having his photo taken by the willing victim's friends. He would probably be arrested for 'inappropriate  behaviour' if he did that in UK as well as breaking numerous 'elf 'n safety' food regulations.
I've never seen a happier looking chef. He may have an unhappy home life for all I know. As it happened I wasn't particularly hungry and didn't try the delicious looking paella. Just watched.

I spent four days in Bangkok staying at a very smart and comfortable hotel, the Narai, on Silom Road. I managed this due to a 'good deal' which offered a jolly nice room for £30 per night. Entertainment in the bar there consisted of a Thai guitarist who performed Country & Western songs. He was actually very good and seemed to have a remarkably extensive repertoire. Asking customers for requests, he was rarely caught out. He had, as he told me, been doing this for over 30 years!
Otherwise I just wandered around and seeing more sights and probably eating too much.

Off next to the southern resort island of Phuket. Never been there before, but had been given a recommendation for a place to stay, just north of the island on the west coast near the town of Kokkoy (not mentioned in my Lonely Planet). It is owned by an old lady Thai aquaintance of my friend and is, according to him, delightfully peaceful and charming. A place to relax away from the hurly-burly of  modern life and Christmas excess.

Bah Humbug!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017


11th - 13th Nov 2017

Dressed as a Taíno Indian. There are none left.
The original inhabitants of Cuba were the Taínos Indians. They were enslaved by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and either killed off by them in battles or, the majority, died of imported European diseases, notably measles. They are extinct. Their houses were all made of mud and wattle and so nothing left of them either. The present Cuban population of just over 11 million is approximately (I read), 60% white (from the Spanish colonists), 15% black (from African slaves) and 25% mixed race. 

I was sitting in a pleasant bar, El Patio, in Catédral Plaza when I saw this old guy sporting an unfeasibly large cigar. Unfortunately he saw me taking this photo.......

 he came over, plonked a Che style beret on my head, issued me with a large dud cigar and  insisted that I have my photo taken with him giving the traditional 'revolutionary' salute. Who was I to disoblige him.
I believe he is a well known 'character' in the area. 

As mentioned previously, there are noble ongoing efforts, supported by UNESCO funding, to restore many of the old buildings and streets to their former glory. It will be a very long process.
Left: Mercaderes Street in the east of the Old Town which now looks neat, tidy and prosperous. It has a couple of very smart cigar shops which sell very smart, and expensive, cigars. opposed to the majority of streets which are more like this (right).

While wandering around the Old Town I saw what I took to be an interesting statue (left). I am familiar with those often annoying 'human statues' which do something silly when you give them some money, but this one looked remarkably solid and did so for some considerable time......... 

.........until, of course, a passer-by put a coin in the suitcase. He was just a very good human statue.

Left: A couple of colourfully dressed ladies in Plaza Vieja.

Right: Every time I attempted to take a photo of this band at the Hotel Inglaterra (I had just given up on the erratic internet), the jolly maraca-shaking lady launched herself at me. It seemed to amuse the rest of the band.

On my last evening, a Sunday, I went by smart taxi (left) to the swanky Hotel Nacional in the Vedado district. It had to let me off at the bottom of the driveway so as not to embarrass the hotel staff. The clientele of this iconic building seemed to be predominantly wealthy North Americans. There is quite a pleasant outside bar area. I was amused by an unexpected and dramatic, albeit brief, storm which hit the area sending glasses and table-cloths flying and portly cigar-puffing guests scurrying for cover.

The reason for my visit was to go to a performance at the adjoining 'Cabaret Parisienne'. Not cheap at CUC 45 but, hey-ho, I'm  only here once. The auditorium is elegantly laid out with some tables at the front set for dinner, others dotted around the floor and a further upstairs gallery, all with good views of the stage. The entry fee included a Mojito cocktail (yuck) whether you wanted it or not. Smartly dressed waiters bustled around efficiently supplying food and drink. I got there at 9pm when the doors opened. The main show starts at 10pm, every night of the week. The place filled up quite rapidly, so obviously a popular event. After a warm-up performance by a small band the show started in earnest. Again I had stupidly chosen not to bring my camera. Most of the rest of the enthusiastic audience had brought theirs (or used smart-phones). It was an extraordinary and exuberant 2 hour performance by a 50 strong (difficult to count exactly) cast, sometimes mid-audience, featuring song and dance with immaculate and original choreography, a clever illusionist doing amazing things with walking canes, strong-men lifting each other into gravity defying positions and at the end a brilliant and hilarious bongo-drummer. The costumes, involving frequent rapid costume changes, were incredibly colourful and elaborate. They must have a large warehouse at the back to house them all. It was something I doubt can be done in any other country and another very skilfully performed life-enhancing experience. One left with a spring in one's step and a smile on one's face. I'm so glad I went.
Fortunately I found someone with whom to share a taxi for the return journey to Habana Vieja.

My flight home was not due to leave until the next evening (9.50pm) so I had another day to play. I decided on doing the Havana Bus Tour, another of the hop on-hop off services, with commentary in English (sort of). It took us through all the Havana districts. In retrospect I think I should have done this at the beginning of my stay.

Right: We passed this large cruise ship in the port (well, where else I suppose). It is the favoured way for tourists, including many Americans, to get a whistle-stop tour of Havana. Apparently the visa requirements are taken care of.

Most of the tour took us to places that I had already seen plus many hotels which were of no interest. One place I hadn't seen was the Plaza de la Revolución (left). This vast and rather drab square in Vedado is surrounded by austere Government ministry buildings. The monument at one end is, at 138.5 metres, the tallest structure in Havana (we were told). At the base of it is a 17m high marble statue of a seated, yes, you've guessed it, José Martí in a pensive 'Thinker' pose.
The square is used for large political rallies and in january 1998 one million people crammed in here to hear Pope John Paul 2 say Mass.

It was a long tour, 3½ hours, and to be frank I was a bit tired and nodded off for some of it. I therefore got a bit disorientated. I remember passing the vast Necropolis which covers several acres in Vedado. There must be hundreds of thousands buried there in often very elaborate tombs. Difficult to get a photo of that.
Right: We passed this impressive building at some point, and I can't remember where or what it is. One of the many museums I suspect. I think I had become a bit 'touristed out' by this stage.

Left: Somewhere else on route. Quite prosperous looking houses let down by the wreck of the family car parked outside. 

Right: The tour route diagram. I post this merely to remind myself.

I must make mention of the several Casas Particulares I stayed in. They were all, in one way or another, delightful, and cheap. Definitely the way to stay on a journey around Cuba. In particular I would commend the excellent Casa Niñita, on Cuba Calle in Old Havana. She, and her staff, were particuarly kind and helpful. Normally (in UK) I would avoid B&Bs like the plague and especially having to share a dining table at breakfast with other guests. On these occasions meeting other tourists, of several different nationalities and areas of interest, was most useful and frequently amusing. I remember fondly the American lady, Betty, and her son on my first morning in Havana. They provided me with much useful info and were good company, and spoke Spanish.

Left: At breakfast at Casa Niñita. She in the centre flanked by a very amusing couple; Francesco and his partner Lizet. Francesco, born in Spain now living in Germany, had been an engineer and a carpenter before setting up (by accident he told me) a very successful company making ice-cream, which he sold, and now has  enough money to travel the world. There's nothing he doesn't know about ice-cream.
Also here was Alain, a French scuba-diving instructor, who had to leave very early to get to the Mecca of Cuban diving off La Isla de la Juventud. Just a few examples of the sort of person I bumped into.

The journey home involved another CUC 25 taxi ride back to José Martí (yes, him again) International Airport. It boasts probably one of the worst departure lounges in the world. One scruffy 'fast food' stall selling sandwiches (ham and cheese of course) and tins of drink, but no cups or glasses. I had been advised to keep CUC 25 for a 'departure tax'. I ended up carrying about CUC 40. As it transpired, they had done away with the 'departure tax' in the past month, so I had to get rid of my CUCs somehow because I doubt they could be exchanged in UK. I bought a couple of Che Guevara T-shirts (I've lost one of them already) and then hit on the brilliant idea of spending CUC 20 for access to the 'VIP' lounge where I proceded to fill myself with all the food and drink freebies that I could manage. After consuming a vast quantity of wine I boarded the Iberia flight to Madrid and promptly fell asleep, and remained in that state for a large part of the 9 hour flight. Money well spent I feel.

Right: A poor photo (from my Lonely Planet guide book) which attempts to show, circled, the places I visited. Not sure if you can enlarge this by 'clicking on'.

My amateur impressions of Cuba:

1. Lovely weather. The sort of weather when it occurs in UK throws the news media into paroxysms of panic amid dire warnings of dehydration, melting roads and imminent death if you venture out of doors without suitable protection. The sort of weather during which the London Underground system, and granny State, feels it is necessary to tell you to drink lots of water, as if we are incapable of realising when we are thirsty! Its the sort of weather that people leave the UK to experience, for Heavens sake.

2. Lovely people. Despite their dependance on a 'benevolent' but restrictive socialist State, their relative inability to leave the country and lack of luxury goods we take for granted, they appear content with life (they don't have much option) and are most hospitable, especially to tourists.

3. Music and dance. Amazing, with countless talented musicians and dancers (apart from in Guanabo).

4. Cars. A living museum. 

5. Taxis. My 'bete noir'. Same the world over; they will try to rip you off. Use the ropey ones and haggle (before you get in). And don't forget; taxi drivers never have change.

6. Cigars. Famous for them and on sale everywhere, but I can't tell if they are any good because I don't smoke them.

7. Drink. Rum in abundance and of many different varieties and quality. A bit similar to Scotland's selection of whisky perhaps. I wasn't that keen on any of the 'trendy' rum cocktails. The local Cristal beer is perfectly acceptable and cheap. Wine, mainly from Chile and Argentina, fine.

8. Travel. Despite being told that the roads are a bit dodgy, I found that travelling by bus was comfortable, reliable and relatively cheap on decent roads with little traffic. The only hiccup was that some (not many) of the bus stations are inconveniently out of town, vis a vis Viazul, Havana. 
There is a comprehensive rail system, cheap but entirely unreliable. In fact I never saw a single train, either moving or static, anywhere.

9. Accommodation. I have waxed lyrical about the Casas Particulares. The big hotels are expensive and not good value for money. Their idea of 5* is not quite ours. Some are useful for WiFi hotspots.

10. Internet and Phones. At least they now have a very basic, if non-user friendly and expensive, internet service. Phone calls out of the country are hideously expensive.

11. Food. Unless you have a particular liking for basic pork, chicken, beans, rice and on the coast 'fish', oh, and sandwiches containing processed cheese, you would not go to Cuba for a culinary adventure.

I was going to mention, unfavourably, the sending of post-cards. I sent off 10, some from 27th October. None had arrived by 3rd December and I was beginning to think that they just peeled off the stamps and re-sold them. Bingo! I've just heard from 4 people to say that their's have arrived! OK, 6 weeks later, but the system seems to work. Maybe they use the Cuban trains to deliver them to the airport. 

So thats about it. There's lots I've probably missed out but this should provide me with enough memories to keep me entertained when I am senile and immobile in the Sunnylands Home for the  Elderly and Confused.

Travellin' Uncle Matt planning his next trip.

Next on the agenda is the Far East, again, for my annual 'Chrexit' escape.
Bah Humbug to you all.