Tickets to London

Charlie and I will be heading to London this fall.

Our tickets are on British Air direct from Baltimore to Lodon’s Heathrow.

I have some ideas of what we’d like to see.

Charlie doesn’t like heights but I think I can convince him to hop aboard.

In the city we’d like to visit: the London Eye,

In 2018 the tours end on September 30th.

Buckingham Palace,

Hoping to catch a service, not just a tour, at Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul’s,

We’d like to see the Egyptian exhibit in the British Museum.

and the British Museum.

Stonehenge — morning or late afternoon?

Out of town we’re planning a day (or two) trip to Stonehenge

Windsor Castle

and Windsor Castle.

Don’t worry, pub stops will be included.

What have we missed?  What is a must see? In what part of London should we plan out accommodations?


Prepping for More Travel

Sug recently returned from a mission trip to Guatemala where she breezed past the security screening because she had been pre-screened.

Personal questions are part of the online questionnaire.

When we heard how it expedited the trip we decided to do the same.

UPDATE:  I canceled my appointment because the Global Entry program supersedes and includes the TSA Pre-check. 

I’ll be interviewed tomorrow.

The online questionnaire took about 5 minutes after which I was directed to schedule an interview at a local office. Tomorrow I have a face-to-face interrogation at which I’ll be finger-printed and pay $85.

I’m ready to travel.

Actually Sug’s pass is called Global Entry which I have now also applied for. This is a little more involved and costs $100.  I’ll make a report after my interview is complete.

Do you use expedited travel documents? App

While Charlie and I were in Cuba I became familiar with an iPhone app called It was invaluable.

After downloaded the app can be zoomed.

I downloaded the Cuba map.

Route from Havana airport to Casa Marta.

I opened it after we hired a cab at the Airport to take us to our first casa particulare.

The blue arrow head pinpoints where in the world I am.

The blue arrow pinpointed where we were and showed us that the route we were following was actually taking us to our expected destination.

I could mark destinations of interest.

The best part of is that it uses no data and does not need wi-fi; it works on GPS.

You can plan a route by car, walking, bus, or bike.

I could plan trips even if someone else was driving as was the case when riding from Havana to Viñales and back again in a taxi collectivo.

I have downloaded my local map and also our next trip: London.

Do you have a favorite app?

Trip to Cuba: Havana Airport

Havana Airport (HAV) is also known as José Martí International Airport.

Terminal 2 has sufficient services and is far away from the rest of the airport.

There are 5 terminals which are not connected. Most flights from the U.S. come into Terminal 3, the international terminal.

Terminal 2 viewed from the tarmac. Arrivals on the left; departures o the right.

However Charlie and I arrived aboard Southwest Airlines at Terminal 2 which is known as “the charter terminal” but now accommodates scheduled flights as well. In addition to Southwest we saw Delta agents and planes.

The front of the stand where Cuban travel cards are distributed.

So when we arrived we first went through immigration and one at a time presented our passports and Cuba travel card (which we had picked up at the desk near our departure gate in Fort Lauderdale).

We were told to take a photo of the sample travel card because we would have to purchase another one if we made any mistakes.

Passports and travel cards were stamped and returned. We were screened through a security station and then we walked passed the guards under the status of “nothing to declare”.

The area in front of Terminal 2 connects the arrival and departure gates.

I had been told that we could only change money at Terminal 3 but we simply walked next door from the “arrivals” building to the “departures” building to a CADECA window where we exchanged currency.

Some currency exchanges have a sign like this one.

We were off on our week-long adventure.

Everyone waits outside the arrival area until airline employees fill the ticket desks.

When we were ready to head back to the airport at the end of our stay, people with more experience than we had tried to convince us we would not be leaving from Terminal 2 because of its reputation for being “charter only”.

Flights leaving from Terminal 2 are listed on the board.

That was not true but our taxi driver waited for us just in case we needed a ride to a different terminal. We arrived 3 hours before our scheduled flight. I went back to the same CADECA to change my Cuban money back to Euros (they did not have British pounds and U.S. dollars have a 10% additional fee).

The Southwest desks inside the departure area of Terminal 2.

We lined up at the Southwest desk to check-in and check our luggage.

Our passports were stamped.

Once more we entered into the immigration cubicle one at a time where our passports were stamped and our travel cards collected. This time they were not handed back to us.

The waiting area was large and more or less full of people which subsided as the day progressed.

We went through a security screening and into the waiting area.

This CADECA was never open during the 5 hours we spent in the departure area. We used the one prior to immigration when leaving.

There were restaurants, Duty Free shops, souvenir stores, bathrooms, and even money exchange windows which didn’t seem to be open.

We had already purchased rum, cigars, and souvenirs which were packed in our checked luggage.

I had read that none of these things existed at Terminal 2.

Our plane was hours late taking off. I was notified by the airline by email which I could not access in the airport.

Our flight left hours after it was actually scheduled but at last  we boarded our flight headed for Fort Lauderdale.

What do you do when the information you need is not available or erroneous?

Trip to Cuba: Lodging – Days 4 and 5

When I left the story of the details of Cuban lodging Charlie and I were on our way back to Havana from Viñales in a taxi collectivo.

We rode in the front of this 1952 4-door Ford station wagon.

We road for 111 miles in a red 4-door station wagon with 5 other people. Our luggage was packed onto the roof rack.

Calle Crespo near the Malecón in Havana.

We were dropped off around 4 p.m. at the door of our new casa particulare, La California, on Crespo near the eastern end of the Malecón in old Havana. We rang the bell and were shown to our room.

A double staircase took us to the second floor Colonial room in La California at 55 Crespo.

We climbed a long staircase to the second floor.

The room was large and cool with a television and period furniture.

Our room was the largest we had since we arrived in Cuba.

The entrance to the bathroom. The toilet and shower are to the right of the sink.

The en suite bathroom was was also the most modern and largest one we had while in Cuba.

La Prada, a main avenue through old Havana, where government buildings are prominent.

We were within walking distance of the capitol building and the old part of the city.

The breakfast at La California was abundant and leisurely.

The next morning for 5CUC ($5) each were were served an enormous breakfast in the downstairs dining room.

Much of the artwork in our room and throughout building was very strange and disturbing.

I had arranged for our living accommodations through AirBnB months before.  We stayed for 2 nights at the rate of $33 per night.

Our taxi was an authentic VW bus.

As before our hostess and waitress arranged for a taxi to take us back to Jose Marti Airport to catch our flight back to the U.S.

We toured Havana by taxi. Our driver was proud to show us his city.

We had a great week in Havana.

Where’s your next trip?

Trip to Cuba: Excursion on Horseback — Rum and Coffee

Charlie and I, our wrangler William, and two other riders began our excursion through The Viñales Valley with a stop at the tobacco fields.

Sugar cane and coffee are grown in the same fields because coffee bushes need some shade to mature properly.

Combined sugar cane and coffee fields were next on the trip agenda.

Coffee beans are grown on bushes with shiny leaves.

Each stop along the way a guide was provided to tell us pertinent facts about the crops and  how they are processed.

Obviously coffee beans make coffee. Did you know sugar cane makes rum?

The guides are also supposed to sell us some of the finished products that can only be purchased on the plantations.

We were served a tiny sip of rum in a bamboo tasting cup of a brand, La Occidental Guayabita del Pinar, that is only available at the plantation.

While we succumbed to cigars we did not buy and rum nor coffee at this point in our journey.

This man went from table to table playing his Fender guitar and “singing”.

While we were waiting to be served a small tasting of rum a roving minstrel with a guitar serenaded us with a very aggressive song. A young lady in our party translated for us a suggestive love song of sorts.

This Fender guitar had an unusual stringing pattern.

When finished our musician laid a tip saucer on the table.

El Valle del Silencio

Then the five of us mounted up again to ride to the Valley of Silence where there was a small open-air cantina and a lake for swimming if one was so inclined.

Our silence was bombarded with a loud drunk who had evidently spent the day at the cantina and was now lying in the dirt yelling at the top of his lungs non-stop.

I think our wrangler thought I wouldn’t make it.

Since it was late in the day we did not swim.  The last leg of our journey, about 25 minutes, took us back to the stables.

We found a lot of inexpensive souvenirs at the market in Viñales.

We walked through town to return to our casa particulare stopping at the open-air market in the middle of town where we promised to return the next morning to make some souvenir purchases.

What’s your pleasure: rum, coffee, cigars?

Trip to Cuba: Excursion on Horseback — Tobacco

The Viñales Valley, National Monument since 1979, was the first cultural landscape recognized by UNESCO throughout the Americas, declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 and National Park in 2001

Viñales Valley

“Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating – Cuba is a country of indefinable magic.”  Lonely Planet Travel Guide

This was our door-to-door taxi in Viñales.

Charlie and I took a 3 and a half hour horse ride through Viñales National Park for a fee of 25 CUC ($25) each which included being picked up at our casa particulare in a horse-drawn taxi. The tour was arranged by our hostess the day we arrived in Viñales.

Unlike the mule ride on the rim of the Grand Canyon we were on and off these horses 3 times.

Our tour started at William’s stables. He assigned a horse to each of us — we were 4 plus William who was our guide and wrangler.

There are restored vintage cars all over Cuba.

Our first stop was a tobacco plantation where we saw men cutting the plant in preparation for drying.  It was explained to us how the tobacco grows and is readied to become the famed Cuban cigars — Cohibas, Monte Cristos, or Romeo y Juliets.

Our guide at the tobacco field spoke great English and explained everything about growing, harvesting, and using tobacco.

It is dried in barns then rehydrated in an herbal bath to make it pliable enough to roll.

Charlie is trying a Monte Cristo cigar at the plantation in Viñales.

Each of us was given the opportunity to smoke.  I declined but Charlie was happy to give it a try after our tobacco expert dipped the end that goes in the mouth in honey.

The veins are removed from tobacco used in cigars and sent to cigarette factories.

Our presenter showed us how he takes the vein, the part that holds most of the nicotine,  out of the tobacco leaf.

The trimmed leaves are rolled into a natural cigar.

Charlie smoked his cigar as we watched the creation of a hand-rolled cigar.

All Cuban cigars are handmade.

As the cigar-maker stacked the leaves he also rolled them.

The final leaf is glued together with honey.

Then he trimmed a leaf to become the outer wrapper. At this point the cigar was firmly wrapped but limp due to the rehydrating of the leaves.  It will be dried again before it is sold.

We purchased this banana-leaf humidor filled with enough Cohibas to share with friends.

Ninety percent of the tobacco grown on this farm goes to the Cuban government.  We were allowed to buy and bring back to the U.S. unmarked Cohibas from the farm in a natural humidor.

To be continued .  .  .

Do you have a trip planned?