As we reclaim our normal lives after a long period of isolation, we will soon rejoice in our abilities to travel and see the world again. We invite you to join Project Por Amor and Habana Light & Neon for an extraordinary trip to Havana, Cuba, October 7–11, 2021.
We will experience the interesting, grass-roots, urban development of a city that is rediscovering its love affair with neon. Over the last five years Havana has rekindled its vintage neon lights through our own public art program called Habana Light Neon + Signs which has already restored over fifty signs in the capital city and revived a neon district that had been dark for decades. We will spend several days discovering its historic signage and hear the stories of the places they promoted. We will also explore 500 years of architecture and delve into the history of the city. We will ride classic cars around town, explore Colonial architecture, listen to excellent Cuban music, visit artist studios, and eat at some of Cuba's most interesting restaurants.
Day 1: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 7
Arrive in Havana. Board bus and en route to hotel, stop at Plaza de la Revolución. One of Havana’s most dramatic examples of modern civic monumental architecture is the Plaza de la Revolución José Martí. Measuring nearly 24,000 sq. meters, surrounded by modern construction, and featuring the enormous obelisk monument to Cuba's national hero Jose Marti, the plaza is built on the highest ground in Havana. Originally built in the 1950s, it has been repurposed in the period of the Cuban Revolution as the main gathering place in the city.
Check in to Hotel Riviera. We will be staying at the Iberostar Hotel Habana Riviera, a historic resort hotel located on the Malecón waterfront boulevard in the centrally located modernist neighborhood of El Vedado in Havana. To check in you just need to go to the front desk and give them your passport. The hotel, which is now managed by the Spanish Iberostar chain, was built and owned in 1957 by mobster Meyer Lansky and still maintains its original 1950s style. It was a casino that could avoid the rule of U.S. law and the F.B.I. and was intended to rival the comfort and contemporary luxury of any Las Vegas hotel of the era. At the time it was considered the epitome of resort construction, designed by architect Igor Boris Polevitzky, one of the deans of Miami Modern architecture. Lansky hired two of Cuba’s great artists, muralist Rolando Lopez Dirube and sculptor Florencio Gelabert, who designed the white marble sculptures of an intertwined mermaid and swordfish that fronts the entrance porte cochere, and "Ritmo Cubano" (Cuban Rhythm), a large lobby sculpture that depicts twirling male and female dancers rendered in bronze. In its heyday, the hotel was frequented by Ginger Rogers, Ava Gardner, Steve Allen, and Nat King Cole.
7:00 pm ~ Orientation and familiarization. We will take a few moments to offer an orientation to the city and familiarization of the neighborhood around your hotel which has lots to see including the world famous malecón seawall and a variety of shops, theaters, boulevards, and cafes.
7:30 pm ~ Welcome dinner at Atalier Paladar. Atelier is a contemporary space in an idiosyncratic Havana mansion. It is run by Niuris Higueras, who has long nurtured her passion for exciting food: The food changes every day, every week, hence he has handwritten menus.
11:00 pm ~ Late night Jazz. For great live jazz music you can visit the Jazz Café across the street or check out what's playing at the Bar Elegante in the Hotel Riviera, and other venues in the neighborhood (optional--cost not included).
DAY 2: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8
Breakfast buffet at the Hotel. We will eat breakfast at the hotel every morning. Enjoy a generous spread of eggs made to order, coffee, tropical fruits, cheeses, fresh juices, pancakes, potatoes, breads and pastries. This full-buffet is open daily from 7:00 - 10:00 am.
9:00 am ~ Old Havana four plazas walking tour. Tour Old Havana on foot, walking between the four main plazas that comprise Cuba’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Start at Plaza de Armas, the site of the oldest Spanish fortress in the Americas, the 1519 locale of the first mass in Cuba, and the massive Baroque seat of government, known as Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. Continue to Plaza de San Francisco de Assis and Plaza Vieja, where we will visit artists galleries and historic buildings and get a sense of the structure of the colonial city. Wind through historic streets spanning 5 centuries of historic architecture and end at Plaza de la Catedral and see the Baroque cathedral. We will have a running commentary about signs and signage during this and every part of the city we visit.
11:30 am ~ Taller de Grafica. This public center for local artists was established by Pablo Neruda and Che Guevara at the beginning of the Revolution as a place where artists living and visiting Havana can work on printmaking. Over the years they have developed an inventory of prints by unknown artists as well as more celebrated artists. This is an excellent time to purchase art gifts for yourself and others at great prices.
12:30 pm ~ Lunch at Ivan Chef Justo. The style of the place is thoroughly Cuban-Mediterranean, located on the second and third floors of a building that is over 200 years old. The head chef used to be Fidel Castro’s personal cook. The food is nothing short of spectacular.
3:00 pm ~ Walking tour of El Prado. This is one of the most exquisitely designed major avenues in all of the Americas and home to the quintessential structures that define Havana, ranging from Colonial to Baroque to Neoclassical to Art Deco. Designed in 1772 by French landscape architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, El Prado runs for many blocks from the dramatic fountain, La Fuente de la India, to the iconic Malecon, marking the boundary between Habana Vieja and Centro Habana. El Paseo, a marble promenade lined with a natural canopy of trees, marble benches and bronze lions was chosen by the House of Chanel for one of the most dramatic runway shows in the history of fashion. It is home to El Capitolio (1929): El Gran Teatro de La Habana (1918), home to the National Ballet of Cuba; The Bacardi Building (1930), a testament to Art Deco and dozens of other structures immortalized in photography and film for decades. Havana’s Central Park, is home to first statue of Jose Marti in Cuba. El Prado encompasses all of the cultural wealth that Havana has offered from the 17th to the 20th Century. We will see an interesting mix of signage from the very newest hotel at the foot of the malecón to the Twentieth Century Capitolio. Within that span you will also see some restored and soon to be restored neon projects and discuss the restorations during this walk.
4:30 pm ~ Welcome reception. This afternoon we will be joined by Havana Artist Kadir Lopez and Adolfo Nodal in a discussion of the neon history and future of Havana at Havana’s one and only neon shop. Kadir will also present the neon restoration project that aspires to return neon light to the Havana skyline.
6:30 pm ~ Dinner and evening on your own. Tonight’s dinner is in a paladar of your choice from a list of the hottest foodie scenes in the city. The tour guide can make recommendations and reservations. You will take a taxi to the restaurant that we will find for you (cost not included).
DAY 3: SATURDAY, OCTOBER 9
Breakfast at the hotel. We will eat breakfast at the hotel every morning. Enjoy a generous spread of eggs made to order, coffee, tropical fruits, cheeses, fresh juices, pancakes, potatoes, breads and pastries. This full-buffet is open daily from 7:00 - 10:00 am.
10:00 am ~ Walking tour of Tropicana Night Club and Gardens with coffee at Cafe Rodney. The Tropicana was the most famous nightclub in the world from 1939 to 1959 and the precursor to the glitzy Vegas floor shows of the 1950's. Built in the gardens of an early 20th century residence, it contains one of Cuba’s most significant modern buildings, the Arcos de Cristal (1952), a thin-shell concrete structure by architect Max Borges Recio. The club continues to operate and is the only one of Havana’s famed clubs to survive the revolution. You will see the gardens and the theatre nightclub, which is based on the 1950s cabaret era history. Tropicana is also a place full of neon with a variety of signs and wall treatments. Right in the heart of the glitz and nightlife, Tropicana has a masterwork of Googie Architecture in its Cafe Rodney which will remind you of American cafeterias of years past. We will stop and have a refreshment.
11:30 am ~ Hemingway's house. Visit the hilltop house of American writer Ernest Hemingway where he lived from 1940 – 1960 with his wife, Martha Gellhorn, and their children. Cuba was Hemingway’s most frequented country where he wrote the Old Man and the Sea, To Have and Have Not, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway donated his Nobel Prize to the Cuban people. His home in San Francisco de Paula has recently been the subject of a massive preservation effort by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. At this farm you will see his sport fishing boat, the Pilar. The Finca Vigia estate and the fishing village of Cojimar are considered the most significant locales for those interested in Hemmingway’s history.
1:00 pm ~ Lunch at Ajiaco Cafe. We will have lunch in Cojimar, the fishing village where Hemingway kept his boat, the Pilar. After lunch we'll have a tour of this famous town that inspired the book The Old Man and the Sea.
3:30 pm ~ Leisure time at the hotel. Take the late afternoon to relax, take a swim, connect to wifi, or explore Havana on your own.
8:30 pm ~ Dinner at Tierra. Tierra is just as much about the Havana arts scene as it is about food. Built into the VIP section of the Cuban Art Factory, this paladar pushes the limits of private industry and government cooperation in an atmosphere offering landmark views and enthusiasm for a variety of mediums.
10:00 pm - Fabrica de Arte Cubano. Get ready to experience Cuban Culture 2.0 as you explore this impressive arts center that presents all of the art disciplines in a dynamic new way. This cavernous old salad oil factory is now one of the hottest art programs run by artists in the world. There will be a concerts, design, visual art, and a fantastic Cuban audience that will see the country's great future. You can stay at FAC until the wee hours of the night or come home with us after a couple of hours.
DAY 4: SUNDAY, OCTOBER 10
Breakfast. We will eat breakfast at the hotel every morning. Enjoy a generous spread of eggs made to order, coffee, tropical fruits, cheeses, fresh juices, pancakes, potatoes, breads and pastries. This full-buffet is open daily from 7:00 - 10:00 am.
10:00 am ~ The Cuban Political Economy with Marc Frank. The Cuban economic and political system is designed to have almost nothing in common with the US economic system. This morning we begin our final day with an insider discussion about how Cuba’s planned economy works and doesn’t work and what changes the state is working on for the future with their brand-new constitution. Marc Frank is a well-known American author and journalist who has been living in Cuba with his family since 1993. He is the economic correspondant to Cuba for Thomson Reuters.
11:30 am ~ Visit to the Homes of Afro-Cuban Spiritual Leaders. Meet Afro-Cuban religious practitioners in this authentic and once-in-a-lifetime invitation to go inside the homes of a “palero” (Palo del Monte) and a “babalawo” (Santería). As sacred Congo and Nigerian worldviews combined with Catholocism, new belief systems emerged in Colonial Cuba. Members of these religious traditions will share their altars that are made to communicate with the dead, the saints, and a pantheon of African deities. The journey will take place in Cayo Hueso, beginning in Parque Trillo and ending at the Callejón de Hamel. This is an opportunity to discuss and photograph religious practices that continue to have great importance in Cuban culture.
1:00 pm ~ Lunch at La Guarida. Anyone who has been to La Guarida will find it difficult to disagree that Enrique and Odeisys have managed to create their own magical home restaurant. The building, which is also the home to many Cuban families, was originally known as La Mansión Camagüey. It shows its former grandeur from the magnificent wooden entrance door through the marble staircase up the two flights of stairs to the restaurant itself. It was the setting for Cuba’s most iconic film, “Fresa y Chocolate” (on your film list), an Oscar nominated movie about homosexuality. La Guarida was the first upscale paladar to gain international fame. It remains a landmark on the Cuban culinary scene, against which all others are measured. Make sure to stop on the first floor and wander a bit for some amazing photos.
2:30 pm ~ Afternoon free for exploring the city. Take the afternoon to explore many of Havana's charms on your own. We recommend the Colón Cemetery, Clandestina, Coppelia, Hotel Nacional, La Rampa, National Museum of Fine Arts, San José Artisan Market, or walk the streets of this photogenic city.
6:00 pm ~ Convertible car ride. You will be picked up by a fleet of classic American convertibles and driven around Havana to dinner.
7:00 pm ~ Farewell dinner at the home studio of Kadir Lopez Nieves. We will visit Kadir’s home, gallery, and studio which includes a neon shop and studio for the neon sign restoration. It will be a home cooked Cuban meal in a magical setting in the tree-filled Kohly neighborhood of Havana. We will celebrate our last night and conclude our discussion on neon, some of the restoration projects in the city, and the efforts to restore the post war heritage of Havana.
11:00 pm ~ Late night noir. After dinner we will visit some of Havana’s most interesting bars and music venues with an emphasis on showing you some of the out of the way dives that give the city its grit and sense of Noir (optional--cost not included).
DAY 5: MONDAY, OCTOBER 11
7:00 am ~ Breakfast at the hotel. We will eat breakfast at the hotel every morning. Enjoy a generous spread of eggs made to order, coffee, tropical fruits, cheeses, fresh juices, pancakes, potatoes, breads and pastries. This full-buffet is open daily from 7:00 - 10:00 am.
Check out of hotel and transfer to airport. You will be escorted to the Havana International Airport to arrive at least two hours before your departure time.