Tag Archives: Cemetery

Armenian Road Trip

We generally prefer to get around by public transport when we travel – it’s much cheaper, there’s less to worry about and it can be a good way to learn how locals live and move around.  However, when we were researching Armenia there were several sights that we were keen to see but seemed difficult to link together with public transport without using up more days than we had, so we decided to hire a car for just under a week.

Andrew and rental car

Andrew with our Armenian rental car

After collecting the car in the centre of Yerevan we drove north for about an hour to Lake Sevan, one of the largest freshwater high-altitude lakes in the world.  About 35km to the south along the lakeside road we arrived at the small village of Noratus and one of my favourite sights in Armenia.  The graveyard here is incredible, it dates back to medieval times and contains over 800 khachkars (literally ‘cross stones’) carved between the 9th and 17th centuries. It looked even more magical as the ground was covered in a thick layer of snow and the sun came out just as we arrived.

Noratus cemetery

One of the two small chapels at Noratus cemetery surrounded by khachkars

Walking around we could see how the khachkar developed from the early cradle stones, so called as they mimic the shape of a traditional hanging cradle, into more and more intricately carved crosses.  Khachkars are found all over Armenia, particularly around churches and monasteries, and they seem to have a wider cultural rather than just religious significance. The cross often grows from a representation of the Tree of Life and they can be decorated with carvings of the sun and moon, plants or people.

Khachkars at Noratus

Khachkars at Noratus (clockwise from top left): cradle stones from the 17th century; a row of simple crosses from the 10th-11th centuries; khachkars from the later stages of development; a modern take on the khachkar

The cemetery is still in use, unfortunately we didn’t have much time to look around the modern section as it was beginning to snow and, despite our best efforts, forging our own path through the snow had resulted in wet socks and cold feet.  Nevertheless by the end of that first afternoon we’d already decided that the car hire had been a splendid idea.  

Frozen Lake Sevan

Frozen Lake Sevan from our hotel room. It’s not usual for the lake to freeze, but locals told us that 2016/17 had been a particularly cold winter.

Next morning, we cleared 5cm of snow off the top of the car and set off on the longest drive of the week to Syunik, the southernmost province of Armenia.  During the summer the journey might be a bit shorter, but in early March the most direct mountain pass is still closed by snow and our only option was to take the road back to Yerevan and continue from there along the main highway to the south.

Armenian motorway detour

Armenian roads require a lot of concentration to drive, even when we thought we’d found a smooth stretch of motorway it turned out that bridges were being built and we frequently had to slow down or detour off the main carriageway

By late afternoon, we arrived at another equally remarkable but even older site.  Just outside the town of Sisian, Zorats Karer is also known as the Armenian Stonehenge but is actually even older.  Sited on a plateau surrounded by hills, archaeologists have dated the stones and tombs to 3000BC.  Again the weather was kind, the sun came out and we had the place to ourselves though it was bitterly cold on the exposed hilltop.

Zorats Karer

The standing stones at Zorats Karer

The standing stones are arranged in an oval around a central burial tumulus and sweeping off in two arms to the north and south so that it probably looks a bit like a galaxy from above.  Around 80 of the 223 stones contain holes near their top which are believed to be aligned with the stars making it an ancient astronomical observatory.

Zorats Karer

Zorats Karer (clockwise from top left): the biggest stones stand 2.5-3m tall; many of the stones contain a neatly bored hole close to their top; the burial tumulus in the central oval

Sisian

We spent the second night of our road trip in Sisian, a town which has fallen on hard times since the collapse of the Soviet Union

Next day our target was Goris, just 40km away, but we took advantage of the freedom we had driving ourselves to stop at a few places on the way.

The tower tomb at Aghitu dates to the 7th century and has seemingly been plonked in the centre of an otherwise small and unremarkable village.  We had a good look around and were heading back to the car when we noticed an elderly lady walking down the road giving us a pretty obvious side-eye once over.  We responded to this in our usual way by smiling broadly and calling out ‘barev dzez!’ (Hello!) to which we received the very unusual response of said elderly lady stopping and engaging us in fluent (though clearly not recently practiced) and unaccented English, telling us she was a graduate of the Foreign Languages Institute.  You could have knocked us over with a feather!

Aghitu tower tomb

Aghitu tower tomb

Just a bit further down the road is the monastery of Vorotnavank.  In a commanding position above the river Vorotan the monastery was largely destroyed in an earthquake in 1931 and has been rebuilt.  We enjoyed looking at the carved stone fragments which litter the grounds.

Vorotnavank monastery

There’s a fantastic view down the valley from Vorotnavank monastery

After a bit of an adventure trying (and failing) to go up a road which we eventually decided was far too rocky and rutted for our car, we arrived at our final stop, Kotrats Caravanserai.  With nothing more than a signpost pointing away from the road to guide us we trotted off down a snowy track.  Fortunately the ruined caravanserai was quite easy to spot.  A modestly sized building, which could easily have been mistaken for a barn were it not for the inscription in Persian and Armenian over the main entrance, the caravanserai dates to 1319 and the vaulted chambers inside were used as a secure resting place by merchants travelling along the Silk Road.

Kotrats caravanserai

Kotrats caravanserai (clockwise from top): the ruins are in the middle of a field; inside are three vaulted chambers; over the main entrance is an inscription in Armenian and Persian

By the time we got back to the car we were hungry and as we drove the final 17km to Goris the weather turned into a steady downpour, making us very glad to arrive at our friendly B&B, home for the next few nights.

Andrew’s Highlights of Havana

By the time we arrived in Havana we’d been in Cuba for the best part of 4 weeks, having already climbed its highest mountain, swam in the North Atlantic ocean, and made the pilgrimage to Che Guevara’s mausoleum in Santa Clara but we knew that the capital held the majority of the sights and activities in Cuba. We were also looking forward to a bit of culinary variation and excitement as we were getting a little tired of processed cheese and ham sandwiches! We’re planning a post about our experiences of Cuban food, but first here are my highlights of our time in Havana.

The Malecón

Perhaps because we live near the sea in England I couldn’t get enough of Havana’s Malecón – the 8km (and growing) seaside promenade that curves its way along the northern shore. We walked most of it from the Castillo de la Real Fuerza in the east to Hotel Nacional and the Monte de las Banderas in the west.

Havana's Malecón seaside promenade with waves crashing over the sea wall

Dusk at Havana’s Malecón. During the day it’s dotted with local fishermen

It was busiest late in the evenings when locals and tourists alike would congregate at the eastern end near the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta to watch the sunset. As it was just a couple of blocks from our casa we even ventured out to the Malecón during a thunderstorm to try and photograph some lightning!

Lightning over Havana's Malecón

We had fun trying to photograph the lightning, and then getting back to our casa before the rain hit us!

Throughout Havana we often heard a particular song blaring from bicycle taxis and I thought it included the word Malecón, so I looked it up and sure enough, it does!

Havana Vieja

Havana Vieja or Old Havana is the heart of the city and the quintessential image of Cuba; grand restored Spanish colonial buildings surrounding wide open squares.

Panorama view of Plaza Vieja in Havana

Plaza Vieja, the main and the grandest of the public squares in Havana

Havana maintains the laid-back feel of the rest of Cuba. There isn’t as much if any of the heads-down metropolitan rush-hour crush we’ve experienced in almost all other capital cities. I suspect that’s a factor of the heat as it’s just impractical to rush around, and the primary business, particularly in the Old Town is tourism and not on-the-clock office work.

Back street in Havana's Old Town

Most of the streets joining the restored squares have yet to receive the same attention

The 4 main squares are all beautifully restored along with the main destination buildings such as the Capitolio, and work is starting on the buildings in the main connecting streets but there is still a lot to do if the aim is to return the entire city to its former glory. For us, we loved the contrast of completed and complete wreck often just a corner away. We saw a few gorgeous free-standing facades held up by little more than tree roots fronting tumbled-down insides.

Crumbling facade, Havana, Cuba

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

The National Hotel of Cuba sits with an enviable position overlooking the Malecón. It’s the most prestigious state-owned hotel in Cuba, and if you’re a guest of the country this will be your accommodation. It’s also open to mere mortals, albeit those with a larger travel budget than us!

View of the Hotel Nacional from the Malecón in Havana

Looking up at the impressive Hotel Nacional de Cuba from the Malecón

We’d had a quick look around this very swanky hotel, but returned a few days later to take them up on their free guided tour which is usually at 10am and 3pm Monday to Saturday. Our guide was the diminutive, pleasant but slightly scary Estela – think Frau Farbissina from the Austin Powers movies.

Lobby of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba

The lobby of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. The ceiling is painted to look like wood, but it’s actually concrete!

Estela explained the early history of the Hotel to us in the lobby, then we took the lift to the 2nd floor which was booked in its entirety by the American Mafia attending the 1946 Havana Conference. After showing us the suite Charles “Lucky” Luciano stayed in (yours for only $1,000 USD per night, including breakfast), the tour continued in the gardens overlooking the Malecón and the sea, where there are two large coastal cannons preserved from the original Santa Clara Battery that stood here in the late 17th century.

Frank Sinatra's room at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Frank Sinatra was a guest at the same time as the American Mafia’s Havana Conference. He stayed in the room next to Charles “Lucky” Luciano and, according to our guide, there was a door joining the two rooms so they could meet in private

Cannons of the Santa Clara Battery, Hotel Nacional de Cuba

The massive sea-facing cannons of the former Santa Clara Battery which stood on the site of the hotel

Just past the cannons are a series of bunkers and walled tunnels underneath the gardens that were constructed during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis as part of Havana’s defences. Now they contain a small museum with details of the lead up to the Soviet Union’s support to Cuba which was a completely unexpected twist to the usual hotel tour and a very enlightening display.

Cuban Missile Crisis Museum

Estela explaining the events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

Revolution Square

Quite by accident we found ourselves in the capital during a national holiday, just like we’d done for Victory Day in Moscow. The 1st of May is Worker’s Day and is celebrated in Havana by a long march through Revolution Square.

Revolution Square, Havana

Revolution Square on the 1st of May Worker’s Day celebrations. Where did everyone go?

We asked our host Olga about it and she immediately turned on the TV where we saw president Raul Castro waving at a river of people from the giant José Marti statue and mausoleum in the square so we gathered our stuff and headed for the action.

It took us about an hour and half to walk across Havana, only to find that we’d completely missed the party! In a heretofore unexperienced show of speedy organisation, the entire event had finished, the road hosed down and stage, scaffolding and seating was all but dismantled.

We honestly couldn’t believe our eyes – this place was packed less than 2 hours ago!

Us in Revolution Square, Havana

Having utterly failed to join the party, we took lots of photos and some selfies instead. Oh well!

Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón

Yes, another cemetery! Julie covered it in our Cemeteries of Cuba post but I wanted to mention it in my highlights too.

La Milagrosa, Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón, Havana

The outpouring of gratitude was lovely to see at the grave of La Milagrosa in the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón

Daiquiri with Hemingway in El Floridita

There are a couple of famous bars in Havana, the most famous is unquestionably La Bodeguita del Medio which we didn’t visit, followed closely by El Floridita which we did, and is the birthplace of the frozen daiquiri. Frequented by Ernest Hemingway which the establishment, perhaps, mentions a little too often, we were passing by one hot afternoon and a daiquiri seemed like a splendid idea..

Frozen daiquiri's with Ernest Hemingway in El Floridita, Havana

Frozen daiquiris at El Floridita – cool, refreshing, but the life-size bronze Hemingway isn’t much of a talker

Museo de la Revolución

We put off the capital’s Revolution Museum for a rainy day that thankfully didn’t come, but also because we kind of felt that as we already had a pretty good grasp of the Cuban Revolution, the fairly steep 8CUC (£5.60) entrance fee wouldn’t be worth it. I’m glad to say that we were wrong, if only for the section right at the end that detailed the Revolutionary Government in power in the years following 1959.

Museo de la Revolución, Havana

The Revolution Museum is in the former Presidential Palace and like many buildings in Havana (and indeed Cuba), it’s currently being renovated. Incidentally, this is the view from Casa Elda where we were staying

View of one of the exhibition rooms inside the Revolution Museum. Glass display cases line the walls

The formula of glass-cases with an artefact, photo or two and explanations in Spanish with a smattering of English was a bit wearing after the 3rd or 4th room. We hope they too will get a little renovation attention that adds some variety

While the rooms covering the history of the Revolution filled a few gaps we had about the timeline of events, the claims of aggression from a Communist-fearing U.S.A. and the details of the rationing during Cuba’s Special Period were fascinating. For that reason I’ve included it in my highlights!

Ration book from the Special Period,  Museo de la Revolución, Havana

A ration book from the Special Period. The section of the museum about the post-revolution history really made the museum worthwhile for me

Olga

For my final highlight, I’m going to pick our host Olga who took an instant shine to us and my quirky sense of humour especially. Thanks for taking such good care of us Olga!

Our lovely host Olga using her phone to help translate our conversation

Our lovely host Olga using her phone to help translate our conversation

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

A magician and a rasta walk into a bar…

Santiago de Cuba has a special place in our hearts. Our host Margarita arranged for a classic American car to pick us up from the coach station which was our first ride in one, as well as being one of the best casa chefs of our trip.

1956 Plymouth Belvedere Sedan, Santiago

Our chariot awaits.. a lovely 1956 Plymouth Belvedere Sedan greeted us on our arrival in Santiago – what a welcome!

Parque Céspedes, Santiago de Cuba

Parque Céspedes, the main square in Santiago de Cuba from the roof of Hotel Casa Granda

An eminently walkable city where the main pedestrian walking street and its parallel to the south links all of the parks, squares and central attractions, we found Santiago to be packed with loads of different things to see and do.

Walking around the city

On our first afternoon we took the Lonely Planet’s walking tour as a guide and headed out to get our bearings. Being just around the corner from the main Parque Céspedes we obviously went there first. Restored like so many main city squares in Cuba, the balcony of the white and blue Ayuntamiento that overlooks this square is where a certain Fidel Castro announced to his country and the world that the Cuban Revolution had succeeded.

Ayuntamiento, Santiago de Cuba

The ‘Ayuntamiento’ in Santiago, which means local council. It’s here that Fidel announced the Cuban Revolution’s triumph

Just a block away is the Balcon de Velazquez which wasn’t at all what we’d imagined. I guess it’s called the balcony because it looks over the old French quarter of the city and down towards the bay and was once a small fort. We decided to forgo the small fee for taking photos until we’d taken a look first (which is free), and we’re glad we did as the views are likely better from any of the casas or private restaurants that have added 3rd or 4th floor rooftop dining areas that sadly obscure the view.

Balcon de Velazquez, Santiago de Cuba

The Balcon de Velazquez. We’re glad we didn’t pay for the privilege of taking photos from the balcony itself as the view isn’t as interesting as the balcony building itself

Hotel Casa Granda

One rooftop view that would be difficult to obscure is the one from the Hotel Casa Granda which is also famed for its mojito making prowess, well, we didn’t need much more convincing than that to see for ourselves..

View from the Hotel Casa Granda, Santiago de Cuba

Great views from theHotel Casa Granda’s rooftop bar of the square and the Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Can you spot the impending rain in the background? We did!

About half-way down our drinks we saw dark clouds on the horizon and although it felt like the wind was blowing south and out to sea, the rain came east at us across the bay and everyone moved tables to shelter from the downpour. There wasn’t anything we could do but order another drink and sit it out. Oh well!

Mojito, Hotel Casa Granda, Santiago de Cuba

The rain meant we just had to stay put for another mojito. Happy days

Castillo del Morro

To give it its full name, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro is a large fortification that was originally designed to protect the bay and city from the ravages of pirates, but by the time construction of the first fort was completed piracy was in decline so it never fulfilled its intended purpose. Subsequent alterations increased the size, and before its current incarnation as a museum it was used as a prison.

Castillo del Morro, Santiago

We enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies of the labyrinthine Castillo del Morro

It’s about 10km south of the city and getting a taxi would have been easy, cost us about 15CUC (~£10), and have been boring. Instead, as we’d seen the large American trucks operating as private busses and found that the main station for them is on Avenue de Los Libertadores, we opted for adventure and it didn’t take long for one to stop that was heading about 1km shy of the fort. We did end up paying 10 times the local’s rate, but at 1CUC (70p) each it was still cheaper than a taxi.

Camion (truck in Spanish) to Castillo del Morro. Picture of the truck and a picture of the inside - two long bench seats and people holding onto the roof rails

The ‘camion’ or truck form of privately run public transportation in Cuba

The uphill 1km turned out to be a nice walk, though we needed to stop for a refreshing (and overpriced) lemonade in the tourist-tat gauntlet run before exploring the many levels, rooms and defensive walls of the Castillo. The latter offered some amazing views out across the Caribbean, back towards Santiago Bay and we could even see the international airport but the best views were looking down over the fort itself.

Us at the Castillo del Morro

Us at the Castillo del Morro

We’d just about finished our exploration when the coach parties arrived, so we decided to take a shortcut to avoid the tourist stalls and ended up at the cove beach just north of the fort as another camion was about to leave. Not only were we able to flag it down, they charged us the local’s rate to return to town too!

Cementerio Santa Ifigenia

Julie has already written about the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia in our post about the cemeteries of Cuba. I’ll add here that it was one of our favourite sights in Santiago.

Moncada Barracks

A young and ideological Fidel Castro concluded that the corruption of Batista’s government couldn’t be eradicated through legal or populist support alone and decided on direct action. Specifically, a simultaneous assault on the two largest military barracks in the eastern Oriente region would allow room for a Revolutionary movement to gain support and work its way west towards Havana. Planned for the 26th of July 1953, the day after the annual street carnival to catch Batista’s army off guard, but as they were significantly outnumbered and outgunned, the rebels lost and ultimately most of them were killed or captured.

Moncada Barracks, Santiago de Cuba

The former Moncada Barracks is a huge and imposing building

Fidel Castro, a qualified lawyer, stood trial and used his defence as the stage for his revolutionary message with a famous four-hour speech outlining his vision for an independent Cuba that ended with the line: “La historia me absolverá” – History will absolve me. Other factors such as the mistreatment of the rebel prisoners by the army, public pressure and interventions by a judge and the Catholic Church led to lenient sentences for all involved, and Fidel was given a 15 year prison sentence.

Detail of the attack damage at the Moncada Barracks, Santiago de Cuba

The museum is set up in the rooms attacked by Fidel’s rebels, though the scars of the fighting are reconstructions as the building was repaired and repainted shortly afterward

The following year, Batista’s government won an unopposed election that was criticised as fraudulent, and some politicians suggested that an amnesty for the Moncada perpetrators would be good for publicity. Batista agreed and in 1955 they were freed. How history could have been so very different.

The museum is nicely laid out, gave us a very good understanding of the Cuban Revolution, and at the same time tested our Spanish as very few of the explanations are in English. There’s a lot of emphasis on the mistreatment of the rebels by Batista’s troops accompanied by some pretty gruesome photos and supposed implements of torture, and the timeline pretty much stops at the Revolution’s triumph in 1959.

Gran Piedra and Cafetal la Isabelica

On a recommendation from our lovely hosts in Bayamo, we arranged a day trip to the Gran Piedra which literally translates as ‘large stone’. Our souped-up Lada taxi needed a few rest stops on the way to cool down from the hilly, poorly maintained roads, which meant we had chance to admire the scenery and stretch our legs.

Overheating Lada, Santiago

Our souped-up Lada needed a couple of breathers to make it through the mountains to the Gran Piedra

The path that leads up to the Gran Piedra was through a pretty nice looking but empty hotel at the top of a hill that then has the ‘large stone’ perched on top of it! It’s easily the highest point for miles around and an easy walk along well maintained paths and steps – not at all as arduous as hiking up Pico Turquino!

Birds of Cuba spotted on the walk to the Gran Piedra

We spotted a lots of birds on the short walk to the Gran Piedra

View of the Gran Piedra or large stone from the footpath in Santiago, Cuba

The Gran Piedra, or ‘large stone’ – how are we going to get up there?!

View from the top of the Gran Piedra, Santiago

Made it! We weren’t expecting two shopping opportunities at the very top to accompany the spectacular views all the way to the Carribean.

View from the Gran Piedra, Santiago

How spectacular? How about this!

The Gran Piedra is the first stop on a recommended circuit that took us down a dirt road to the UNESCO recognised Cafetal la Isabelica, a restored two-storey mansion that was built by French slave-owning coffee growing emigrants from Haiti. The ground floor housed workshops for the creation and maintenance of the various tools the plantation required, while the top floor was home to the French owners. We didn’t pay for a guide, but as we were the only visitors there a bored one started contributing bits of history and information about the house, its restoration, and the layout of the plantation and it really added to our experience as there weren’t any explanations.

Cafetal la Isabelica, Santiago

The drainage for the drying beds and water storage systems for the house were innovative for their time

Little details like the raw coffee was stored in the roof of the house away from the kitchens as the cooking smells affect their flavour brought the place alive for us.

Two cups of coffee on a silver tray from beans grown at the Cafetal Isabelica, Santiago

They still grow a little coffee at the museum and as well as selling it as beans or grounds, they make a cup that rivals an Italian ristretto for strength!

Oh yes, the magician and the rasta.. there are any number of scams and annoyances targeting tourists to Cuba and Santiago is home to two colourful characters that saw us trying to write up our diaries in a bar and thought we might make for a couple of quid. The first was a magician, dressed in a smart tuxedo that looked 2 sizes too big for him, accompanied by a slightly inebriated sway reminiscent of the great Tommy Cooper. After a few card tricks and other sleight of hand tricks that were well done, he was adamant that his fiery finale would only work with a 10CUC note (~£7). Our point-blank refusal and the trio of small coins we gave him was easily worth the disdainful stare we got before he stood up and made an almost straight-line for the exit.

10 minutes later his seat is taken by a cheerful round rasta with a little English who claimed to play percussion in a band around the corner. During the next 30 minutes we learned his catchphrase of ‘peace and love’, his daughter’s name is Julia (what a coincidence!) and it’s her 9th birthday. Fascinating. He finally worked up to asking for money to buy balloons for his daughter’s party. Apparently, balloons are really expensive in Cuba. Well, we hope your birthday party wasn’t ruined without a contribution towards balloons Julia, if that’s your real name, if you exist at all.

Cemeteries of Cuba: a photo essay

We find cemeteries to be fascinating places to visit – they give an insight into a country’s religion and cultures as well as often containing sculpture and interesting architecture.  All of which makes them great places to take photos.

In Cuba we found cemeteries to be peaceful, hassle-free places to explore, though be warned if you want to follow in our path, there’s rarely any shade and the heat can be brutal in the middle of the day.

Here’s a selection of my favourite photos from the Cuban cemeteries that we visited.

Santa Ifigenia cemeteryThe first cemetery that we visited was Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba, a sea of white marble and palm trees against the blue Caribbean sky

José Martí MausoleumSanta Ifigenia cemetery is the resting place of José Martí, Cuba’s national hero (writer, poet, independence fighter)

Inside José Martí MausoleumInside José Martí’s mausoleum, the casket is draped in a Cuban flag and catches daily shafts of sunlight in response to a line in one of his poems about being buried with his visage facing the sun

Changing of the guard at José Martí MausoleumThere is a twice hourly changing of the guard ceremony at José Martí’s tomb. At 8.30am we were the only ones there, by 10.30am the audience lining the path was large.

Military memorialAll the cemeteries we visited had mausoleums for soldiers killed during the revolutionary fighting, this one honours those who lost their lives during the Moncada Barracks attacks

Santa Ifigenia tomb detailMost of the gravestones at Santa Ifigenia cemetery were white marble but there were a few exceptions like this metal canopy with a cross

Compay Segundo graveCompay Segundo, guitarist and singer in the Buena Vista Social Club is buried in Santiago de Cuba

Baracoa cemeteryThe cemetery in Baracoa was much less grand than the one in Santiago but it had a beautiful setting overlooking the sea

Baracoa cemetery nichesEvery cemetery we visited had huge blocks containing square niches, presumably for ashes (there was usually a crematorium building hidden in a back corner as well). Some were simply decorated with the deceased’s name either handpainted or scratched into the wet cement while others had professional plaques, flowers or other decorations

Camagüey cemeteryThe cemetery in Camagüey was one of my favourites and with barely any other visitors (and no other tourists) we were free to have a good look around. These grand tombs are close to the entrance near the Iglesia de San Cristo de Buen Viaje (Church of St Christopher).

Camagüey cemetery dilapidationFurther into the cemetery more dilapidation was obvious such as this fallen cross

Camagüey cemetery gravePlots often seemed to contain whole families with a crowd of plaques on top of the grave, each carrying a different name

Camagüey cemetery columnsColumns that look as if they’re about to fall apart in Camagüey

Che Guevara MausoleumIn Santa Clara we didn’t visit the cemetery but the city is home to the most famous mausoleum in the country which contains the remains of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and 16 of the 37 fighters who were killed alongside him in Bolivia. Underneath the statue is a peaceful room of remembrance and an interesting museum documenting Che’s life.

Che Guevara Mausoleum DetailFresh flowers are placed below the statue of Che each morning.

Necropolis Cristobal Colon GateThe Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus cemetery) in Havana is enormous and worthy of this imposing entrance gate

Milagrosa plaquesThe most famous grave in the cemetery belongs to Amelia Goyri, also known as La Milagrosa or miracle-worker. She died in childbirth in 1901 and was buried with her son. The story goes that when the grave was opened some years late Amelia’s body was uncorrupted and the baby was found not at her feet but in her arms.  Since then locals have prayed for her to help with their hopes for children, new houses, etc and now several nearby plots have been overtaken with thank you messages from thoses whose wishes have been fulfilled.

Modern graves, Necropolis Cristobal ColonWe enjoyed some of the modern graves in the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón (clockwise from top left): a modern take on the Pietà by sculptor Rita Longa; according to the internet (!), Juana Martin died while playing dominoes; the glass doors on the pantheon of the Baró family were designed by Lalique; tomb of Nuñes Gálvez

Marble statue, Necropolis Cristobal ColonBut there is plenty of beautiful white marble as well

Mausoleum of Japanese Colony of CubaThere were a number of mausoleums for societies like this one for the Japanese Colony of Cuba. Inside are walls of square niches.

Tobías GalleryThe Tobías Gallery is a 100m long underground gallery. We couldn’t enter but from what we could see from the doorway it looks to be piled high with small boxes like these which presumably contain bones or ashes

Trinidad cemeteryWe visited the cemetery in Trinidad mainly to have a destination away from the tourist-filled city centre. We were rewarded with this tropically apocalyptic view.

Dried flowers on grave, TrinidadFlowers dry out very quickly in the hot Cuban sun and many graves had fake rather than fresh flowers.

Grave decorations, TrinidadThis grave is topped with a statue of Babaluaye, one of the orishas from Santeria, the religion fused from African animisism and Catholicism. It also holds what I think is the remains of a cigar

Cherub tomb decorationA forlorn and battered cherub tops a tomb in Morón

Food tour of Rome, Italy

Similar to our experience in Istanbul, organised food tours in Rome are expensive but their itineraries are well documented so we pieced together a few of the highly recommended ones and made our own. We knew we’d be missing out on the introductions, stories and explanations, but the food isn’t too unfamiliar to our British palates as, say, Vietnamese..

Breakfast – Cappuccino and Cornetto

After heading to the Testaccio area of Rome (Metro: Piramide), where most of the foody tours seems to operate, we joined the locals in Cafe Barberini to start our day with a working Italian breakfast of a cappuccino and a cornetto.

Cornetto, Cafe Barberini, Rome, Italy

A typical Italian working breakfast of cornetto, a croissant filled with Nutella or custard, washed down with either a cappuccino if you have time, or a caffe (espresso shot) if you’re running late

Cafe Barberini is also known for its hand-made chocolates, so of course we had to try one. Or two..

Handmade chocolates, Cafe Barberini, Rome, Italy

Cafe Barberini is also a chocolateria. It was difficult to choose just one, but as this isn’t the first time we’ve eaten our way through a city we knew we had to pace ourselves..
Julie chose a tiramisu in a chocolate cup (left), and I picked a cream and fondant-filled white chocolate number topped with flakes of coconut

Tasting – Volpetti’s Delicatessen

Just a few doors down from Cafe Barberini is the family owned Volpetti delicatessen.

Volpetti's delicatessen, Testaccio, Rome, Italy

Volpetti’s delicatessen, we could spend hours in here, and hundreds of Euros too.. and we wouldn’t regret a cent!

Inside, it’s a mouthwatering Aladdin’s cave of tastiness, as much a feast for the eyes as for the palate. Every conceivable surface is overflowing with delicacies. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Volpetti's delicatessen, Testaccio, Rome, Italy

A close up of the cured meats and charcuterie section. Yum!

We could have bought two of everything. The owner’s son – a large man in typical whites and every bit the stereotype of a jolly butcher – offered us a taste of the sweetest, most mouthwateringly flavourful prosciutto we’ve ever tasted. The kind of ham that would convert vegetarians on the spot. Then another slightly smoked variety that I preferred. Who am I kidding, I’d have bought both!

When we eventually tore ourselves from temptation, we reflected that it was fortunate we weren’t staying nearby, otherwise we’d completely blow our budget as we wouldn’t be able to resist popping in every day.

Interlude – Testaccio Market

You may have realised by now that we love markets – we have 15 posts about them!

Fruit and Veg stall, Testaccio Market, Rome, Italy

A typical fruit and veg stall in Testaccio market. We love the fresh produce in Italy – it tastes as good as it looks!

Originally located in Testaccio Piazza, this local market recently moved to a redeveloped block a few streets away. Most of the stall owners moved, some didn’t, and some new ones opened, though we understand it was quite the controversy at the time. It looked like almost all of the units were occupied though not all were open, but we enjoyed the variety. As usual for all markets in Italy, we found plenty of vegetable stalls, but also butchers, fishmongers, bakers, general dealers, two street-food and sandwich shops and a couple of household goods and clothing shops too.

Brunch – Pizza

Now we’re talking!

Pizza by the slice, Pizza Volpetti, Rome, Italy

Pizza in Rome is quite different to Naples. It’s pre-baked in long strips like a Roman circus (the shape of a chariot racecourse) and then cut width-wise into slices, usually with scissors

I keep trying it, but the pizza in Rome just isn’t as nice at the pizza in Naples. Oh well, the search continues :o)

Pizza by the slice, Pizza Volpetti, Rome, Italy

Our pizzas being prepared. Julie chose a Rome specialty of sliced potato, and I went with the classic cheese and cherry tomato. They also had a Pizza Bianca (front) which just looked like plain pizza bread

Interlude – Through the keyhole

One of the top-rated attractions in Rome isn’t closed on Mondays, doesn’t have entry fees, and has but a few minutes queueing time if any..

Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy

The grand but otherwise innocuous looking door of the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta. Still the reserve of the more off-the-beaten-path tours of Rome as it’s a little out of the way..

What’s all the fuss about? Why do private cars and taxis pull up, handfuls of people empty out and then peer through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta’s door?

Peering through the keyhole, Rome, Italy

Even though we knew what to expect, it was worth the little uphill climb for the view..

View through the keyhole, Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy

It’s the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica! Perfectly framed by a tree-lined path. Nice, huh?!

Snack – Trapizzino®

Sometimes there are inventions that as soon as you see it or it’s explained to you, you just think “that’s genius”. Trapizzino is one such culinary bathtub eureka moment – a fusion of freshly baked pizza dough corners filled with classic Roman stews put to use like sandwich fillings.

Trapizzino®, Rome, Italy

The Trapizzino® – anything that starts with pizza is alright in my book, but then filling it with stew and topping it with cheese – genius!

There were about 8 or 9 fillings available, including many Roman staples that involve offal or sweetbreads of some kind. Hmmm, where have I heard ‘sweetbreads’ before? We opted for the safe-sounding aubergine and parmigiana and it was very tasty indeed.

Lunch – Pasta

Testaccio sits on the Tiber river that runs through Rome, and has a long history of river trade. For reasons historians don’t yet understand, clay amphorae or vessels that were once full of olive oil were disposed of as part of this trade and formed an artificial hill near the riverbank. They weren’t just thrown down or randomly discarded – although most lay broken, they were neatly stacked and today the hill is encircled by bars, clubs and pasta restaurants.

Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

Another destination of the organised food tours is Flavio al Velavevodetto, famous as much for its excellent traditional Roman pasta dishes as for the backdrop of Testaccio Hill

Suppli', Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

We were happy to see suppli’ on the starters as we’d been looking out for it all day. It’s the Roman version of the Sicilian arancini – a filled rice-ball coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Fortunately it wasn’t as big as the Sicilian ones as we were starting to feel the pinch of our waistlines..

Tonarelli cacio e pepe, Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

Julie ordered tonarelli “cacio e pepe” – pecorino cheese and black pepper

Rigatone alla matriciana, Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

And I ordered the rigatoni alla matriciana, a classic Lazio pasta sauce made from guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato

While we found somewhere to put it all, we wished we’d ordered half-portions or got one to share as we were stuffed!

Interlude – Protestant Cemetery

Time for another break, and just inside the old city walls is the Protestant Cemetery, also known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. From their website..

Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery contains possibly the highest density of famous and important graves anywhere in the world. It is the final resting-place of the poets Shelley and Keats, of many painters, sculptors and authors, a number of scholars, several diplomats, Goethe‘s only son, and Antonio Gramsci, a founding father of European Communism, to name only a few.

John Keats' grave, Rome, Italy

The grave of John Keats (left) which doesn’t actually bear his name, just the inscription “Young English Poet … Here Lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”

It’s a narrow, walled, claustrophobic cemetery pushed up against the old city walls. We were surprised how many different nationalities we spotted – it seemed like anyone who happened to die in Rome (and wasn’t Catholic) ended up here. We spotted the graves of an Indian ambassador to Italy, a Japanese man who passed away recently, and the grand-daughter of the King of Afghanistan among many others.

Besides the historically famous, there were quite a few graves with elaborate headstones or statues, such as the one for Emelyn Story, whose husband was a sculptor..

Angel of Grief, Rome, Italy

Angel of Grief by W.W. Story (1819-95) for his wife, Emelyn and himself

When the perimeter of the city walls were extended, they incorporated this marble-clad pyramid as one-half of a city gate, which, fittingly is also a grave – that of Gaius Cestius. Constructed in 18-12 B.C., far outside the centre of Rome it was lost to undergrowth, shrubs and trees.

Pyramid tomb of Gaius Cestius, Rome, Italy

The tomb of Gaius Cestius. Sadly it’s not open to the public, but it’s amazing that the marble cladding is still intact given the materials pilfering that befell much of ancient Rome

Dessert – Gelato

The final course – there’s always room for ice-cream! Giolitti’s is a particularly noteworthy gelateria, as all of the ice-cream is properly made (i.e. not whisked up from powders) and we’d read that they’ll refuse your combination of flavours if they’re deemed to be un-complementary!

Giolitti's ice cream, Rome, Italy

Wearing 3 layers of clothing, we felt it was appropriate ice-cream weather. I chose coffee and pistachio, and Julie chose chocolate and cherry. We were also offered a healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream too

We agreed that the cherry and pistachio were the best flavours, and our combinations passed the test! Phew!

Supper – Prosciutto and Gorgonzola

When we got back to our apartment we needed a few hours to recover, kind of like that feeling you get after a really good family Christmas lunch. Similarly, later that evening we just wanted a little, light something to eat for dinner – then we remembered the prosciutto!

Parma Ham and Gorgonzola

The amazing prosciutto and gorgonzola we bought from Mr Volpetti earlier – a delightful note to end on

I’m still wondering what I can ditch from my pack to make room for a whole leg of Parma ham..