On our last night in Cuba, we stayed at Havana's Hotel Nacional.
I have never been in a hotel so grand.
It opened in 1930, overlooking the Malecon in Havana's ritziest neighborhood. The Nacional has hosted world leaders, movie stars, athletes,singers and writers. It has played a part in the coup of 1933 and the revolution in 1958. American gangsters Meyer Lanksy and Lucky Luciano used to run the casino and run their operations out of the hotel. It's built like a small city within the city - it has a post office, a few shops, several bars and restaurants and offices.
There could still be mafia at the Hotel Nacional, but mostly the guests looked like rich foreigners. Like all hotels in Cuba, it's run by the state. Tourism is a necessary evil in Cuba; the government charges high prices in CUCs for hotels but pays the employees in pesos. The government reaps the profits, which are (theoretically) redistributed to the people through public services and subsidies. So the communism survives in part by advocating the same kinds of inequalities the Revolution tried to eliminate.
We could only afford this kind of inequality for one night.
Since the Hotel Nacional staff are all state employees, the front desk staff are grumpy, the waiters disappear when you need them and the food is not very good. Imagine a 5 star hotel run by the people who work at the DMV.
I would guess that the mafia got better service than we did.
- Thanks for coming to my blog. It started as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, and now has become an ongoing project. I'm an American living in Germany and trying to travel whenever I can. I write about my experiences as an expatriate (the interesting ones and the embarrassing ones), and about my travels. There are some recurring characters in this blog, particularly my husband Brian and several of our friends. The title comes from the idea that living in a foreign country means making a lot of mistakes. So the things you used to do easily you now have to try over and over again. Hopefully, like me, you can laugh at how idiotic it feels. If you have happened upon my blog, then welcome. Knowing that people are reading what I write makes me keep going. Feel free to write comments or suggestions for future posts.