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Havana, Cuba

Hey, y’all!

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I recently visited Havana, Cuba with my friend Shelby to celebrate her graduation from our alma mater, Centre College. Traveling to Cuba was a bucket list item for me!

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Due to travel embargoes, Cuba has largely been an unexplored land for Americans. However, they have been lessened and you are now able to travel to Cuba under one of twelve categories.

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Before You Go:

One very important thing to note for travel to Cuba: you have to have both a passport and a visa. Do not forget this step!

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Fact:

Did you know that Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean?

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United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization:

If you travel to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this is a destination for you. According to USA Today, “The city of Havana, particularly La Habana Vieja, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, including the district overall and the fortifications within.”

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Hemingway:

If y’all didn’t know, I’m a bibliophile. I love literature with every bone in my body. If you are like me, you are a Hemingway fan. Via USA Today, “The Old Man and the Sea was actually based on his experiences in Cuba. The legendary author lived near Havana in a town called Cojimar. Visitors to Havana can go see his estate as well as the places Hemingway used to frequent in the city. In general, Havana is a great place for book lovers – and not just because of Hemingway’s legacy. The city has an abundance of secondhand book markets, especially the one at Plaza de Armas.”

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Classic Cars:

If you are a fan of classic cars, you will be in awe during your entire Cuba trip! Why is that? To quote NewsWheel, “Castro placed a ban on foreign vehicle imports, making it nearly impossible to buy brand-new, foreign-made vehicles.” This embargo ceased importation, yet led to a classic car culture that is a sight to be seen!

There will be many classic car owners that offer tours of the city; we hired one for an entire day! This is the best way to see everything from a local’s perspective!

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Food:

The Cuban food is, without question, delicious. This is a fantastic guide and is the one that I referenced. I have three words: plantains, mojitos, and lobster. You might be surprised by the third — I was. However, lobster is prevalent for tourists in Cuba; in fact, it has a very interesting backstory. To learn more about that, I recommend this article — fascinating!

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Beaches:

Cuba boasts beautiful beaches; these are not located in Havana, but are certainly worth your time!

Varadero Beach is the most popular – it stretches more than 12 miles, has many all-inclusive resorts, and is simply gorgeous. (Travel + Leisure)

Cayos Coco and Guillermo is stunning and has more shallow water. Perfect for families, paddle boarders, and kayakers. (Travel + Leisure)

Playa Ancón is on the southern shore and has coral rocks to explore. Additionally, according to Travel + Leisure, “about seven miles to the north you’ll find the small Spanish colonial town of Trinidad, where the cobblestone streets and buildings have been preserved from the 1800s.”

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Plazas:

There are multiple plazas in Havana. Much of the culture and life is based in them; whether it be restaurants, live music, drinking, dancing – they serve as epicenters for Cuban life. Don’t miss them! Here are just a few to take note of – however, don’t let this be an all-encompassing list. Explore them all!

  1. Plaza de la Catedral: La Catedral de San Cristóbal is an iconic structure that is sure to please the eye – it is simply gorgeous and serves as the keystone of this plaza. Additionally, most of the surrounding buildings are from the 18th century and have lovely blue accents. According to TravelYesPlease, “Going back even further to 1592, the plaza was where Havana’s first aqueduct (and the first Spanish aqueduct in the New World), the Zanja Real, was located. It was built to channel water from the Alemendares river, providing water to local residents and ships docking in the harbour.”
  2. Plaza Vieja: A must-see in Plaza Vieja is la Casa del Conde Jaruco! Don’t miss it!
  3. Plaza de la Revolución: One of the largest squares in the world, la Plaza de la Revolución is famous for political rallies and gatherings. Fidel Castro was known to address Cubans here.
  4. Plaza de Armas: Originally built for military purposes, this plaza is now a lively, tropical cultural hub. Many people visit this plaza to shop the secondhand book market, a Cuban staple!
  5. Plaza de San Francisco: This plaza is home to la Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis, which was built in the late 16th century. The bell tower is beautiful!

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Cigars:

According to Time, “Cuba’s fertile land and favorable climate allows all three types of tobacco leaves used in a cigar — the wrapper, filler and binder — to be harvested on the island.” While I do not endorse smoking and acknowledge the health risks associated with it, I do think that it is vital to an authentic, well-rounded trip to Cuba.

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Rum:

Havana is known for rum. The Bacardi family based their operations in the city until they left during the Cuban Revolution. The biggest producer nowadays is Havana Club – so good! Cheers!

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Be sure to put Cuba on your travel bucket list – you’ll thank me later!

As always, Happy Eating, Happy Traveling, Happy Living!

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

My best,

JC

FTC: This is not a sponsored post; all opinions are my own.

Key West Travel Guide

Hey, y’all!

There are few places that I love more than Key West, Florida. In fact, it is one of the places here in the states that I repeatedly visit (and will continue to do so). I typically elect to use my travel budget to see new cities, new beaches, new countries – but, it never hurts to have some consistency.

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To quote Key West Travel Guide, LLC: “Laid back, free-spirited, artistic, quirky, and scenic, Key West is one of the most unique places in the United States. Known for its live-and-let-live attitude, tropical climate, and seemingly continuous happy hour, this tiny Florida Keys island has been welcoming visitors seeking a vacation from the normal for two centuries.

Since its earliest days, individuals have come here to fish, write, carouse, and rejuvenate. From the famous, including Ernest Hemingway, John J. Audubon, and Tennessee Williams – to the infamous, Key West has always been a place where you can be yourself, find yourself, or re-invent yourself.”

Why do I love Key West?

The people. The food. The culture. The easy-going attitude. The acceptance. The sunsets. It’s unlike any other destination!

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Where To Stay:

Marquesa 4-1-4: 600 Fleming St.

Ocean Key Resort & Spa: 0 Duval St.

For my fellow Parrotheads, Margaritaville Resort & Marina: 245 Front St.

For the economy traveler, don’t miss out on deals on Airbnb!

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Where To Eat:

Breakfast (think: pineapple or banana pancakes, lobster benedict) at Blue Heaven729 Thomas St. 

Lobster rolls at DJ’s Clam Shack, 629 Duval St.

Oysters at Half Shell Raw Bar, 231 Margaret St.

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Fish sandwich (and amazing tartar) at Caroline’s, 310 Duval St.

Conch fritters at Key West Conch Fritters, Wall & Whitehead St.

Key Lime Pie at Kermit’s, 200 Elizabeth St., 431 Front St.

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Cuban food at El Siboney, 900 Catherine St.

Upscale dining at Seven Fish, 921 Truman Ave. Latitudes, Located at Sunset Key Cottages. A & B Lobster House, 700 Front St.

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Where To Drink:

The Green Parrot, 601 Whitehead St.

The Rum Bar, 1117 Duval St.

The Porch, 429 Caroline St.

Sloppy Joe’s, 201 Duval St.

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What To Do:

Photo Op: US1 Mile Marker Zero, the end of an interstate running from Maine to Key West. Intersection of Whitehead and Fleming.

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Visit the Hemingway House907 Whitehead St.

Watch a Key West sunset – one of the world’s best.

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Snorkel/dive at The Dry Tortugas, accessible by ferry, catamaran, or sea plane. 70 miles from Key West.

Photo Op: Southernmost point of the contiguous United States. Whitehead and South.

Kayak though the mangrove trees with Lazy Dog, which leaves from Hurricane Hole, Stock Island (4 miles from downtown Key West).

Where To Beach:

To the surprise of many, Key West will not offer the prettiest beaches that you’ve ever been to – especially if you are spoiled from visiting the Caribbean islands; however, your best choice is to go to Ft. Zachary Taylor at 601 Howard England Way!

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Extras:

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The best way to see Key West is by biking or, if you’re like me, by renting a golf cart. It makes everything easier!

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Have you ever been to Key West?

As always, Happy Eating, Happy Traveling, Happy Living.

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

My best,

JCP

FTC: This is not a sponsored post; all opinions are my own.

 

The Best Oyster Bar

Hey, y’all.

The title of this post is quite the assertion from me. My two favorite foods are lobster and oysters on the half. To say that these are the best oysters that I’ve had – and trust, I’ve had a life’s share by age 24 – is serious business.

I recently found myself staying in a condo in Orlando, Florida with my best friend. We are both oyster fanatics and wanted to have some for dinner. We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into — a blessing, if you will.

By way of Yelp, we stumbled into Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar and Seafood House.

To quote their website, “Lee & Rick’s opened in 1950, a 9 stool establishment that served only oysters. Lee & Rick ran the restaurant out front and raised their family in the back portion. Beverages consisted of whatever you brought in to drink, which Lee kept cold for you in her ice box. Today Lee & Rick’s is operated by their oldest son and his family, continuing the tradition of this family run establishment.

Today, the famous concrete shucking bar totals 80 feet in length, seating up to 50 people. Oysters are individually shucked for your entertainment, as well as an assurance of their freshness.

Lee & Rick’s was the first restaurant of it’s kind to be opened in Central Florida. Rick, being a sailor, had seen oyster bars in his travels around the coast of Florida, especially in the Panhandle (where he himself shucked oysters as a child). The restaurant was an instant success – via word of mouth, it quickly became known as “the only place” for fresh oysters.”

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We got a seat at the bar and was assigned the nicest gentleman to shuck our oysters. We ended up having a Centre College connection – which is crazy! Such a small world.

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At Lee & Rick’s, you order oysters by the bucket at the bar. A bucket is roughly 30 oysters; at only $26, it’s quite the steal.

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The fresh oysters are shucked right in front of you. While they were delicious, the experience – a true oyster bar, by my definition – made it even better. I enjoyed learning about our shucker, his life, and his aspirations.

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Shuck ’em if ya got ’em!

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Be right back — drooling all over again.

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I also ordered a lb of peel and eat shrimp, seasoned with Old Bay. This is pretty far up there in terms of my favorite foods, too. These were delicious and well-priced at $15.95.

After eating this, we decided that we needed to split another bucket. Two people, 5 dozen oysters… and when we left, we said that we wished we would’ve ordered one more bucket.

I rarely travel to Central Florida; however, I will go back specifically for Lee and Rick’s.

You can find them at 5621 Old Winter Garden Road Orlando, FL 32811; they can be reached at 407-293-3587.

If you make it in, tell ’em that I sent ya!

As always, Happy Eating, Happy Traveling, Happy Living!

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

My best,

JC

FTC: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.

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