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10 things to do in Cuba

June 16, 2017 • By

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I had always dreamed of visiting, tropical Cuba!  Much is said about this country that has been ‘frozen in time’, and also where salsa and daiquiris were born.  Here are 10 things I recommend doing in Havana, Cuba and a few helpful tips when traveling to the country so that you make the most out of your trip!

1. Go cruising in a classic car down the Malecon. Take a ride down the infamous Malecon and watch the waves crash against the seawall. Most of the Taxi drivers there have classic cars and you can find many of them lined up in Parque Central. Find a colourful convertible that took guests to the Chanel resort presentation last year, they are proud to have the logo on their window!

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(Photos from my taxi drive, the Malecon coast and cars in Parque Central)

2. Visit a Museum. I had a chance to visit a few, my favorite was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – Arte Cubano, which is spread over two campuses, the Bellas Artes is arguably the finest art gallery in the Caribbean, and displays purely Cuban contemporary art.

3. Eat dinner at La Guarida. Cuba’s most charming and famous restaurant and the set of the Academy Award-nominated film Strawberries and Chocolate. Go during sunset and enjoy the spectacular views of the city.

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(Photos from La Guarida Restaurant)

4. Smoke a Cigar –  It’s something that has to be done! Although don’t smoke or inhale, you should ‘puff’ on a cigar.  The reason is because Cuban Tobacco is very strong and can cause you to have a headache if inhaled. Also don’t buy Cigars from street vendors, most are known to be counterfeit or fake.

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(Photo of Cuban street woman smoking a cigar)

5. Drink a Mojito – And make sure they contain the authentic Havana Club Rum for a true experience. Top places to enjoy a Mojito include the Hotel Nacional de Cuba – where the likes of Churchill, Al Capone, Sinatra, Ava Gardner and Nat King Cole supped the good stuff with a beautiful view of the harbour, the sea wall and the city. 304 O’Reilly, and La Fontana are other great places to enjoy a Mojito or two.

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(Photo of Hotel Nacional de Cuba)

6. Go to a show.  A latin burlesque kind of show full of song, salsa and colour.  The Parisian, Tropicana or Buena Vista are the most famous.  As time was limited, we went to Tropicana, it was lovely and something you have to see when in Havana, another tip, don’t be shy and ask to switch seats if you don’t like where they put you!

8. Have a beach day.  If you are in Havana, you have to go to the beach for at least 1 day. There are not too many beaches in the town, most are a bit further away, but I was able to find one that was about 25 minutes from Havana called Cayo Santa Maria. Taxis go there for around 8 Cuc or less. You can also catch a bus there from Parque Central for 5 Cuc.  It’s a beautiful beach with restaurants, so you can really enjoy yourself.
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(Photo of Cayo Santa Maria)

9. Walk around Havana Vieja. Havana Vieja translates to “old Havana”, even though it’s one of the most newly renovated areas. It’s what I would call the “touristy area” because it has a lot of new hotels, restaurants, landmarks, etc. You can see the famous capitol building, that looks almost identical to the U.S. capitol, walk around the cobblestone streets, and check out one of the many restaurants or little souvenir shops that are on every block.

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(Photos of Havana Vieja)

Shop my look, the Tala Dress 

10. Explore the rest of the country.  Cuba is more than La Habana and there are plenty of stunning places to visit such as Vinales, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Buenavista, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba which I’ve heard are all beautiful.  I ended up taking a bus tour to Vinales for 67 CUC which I highly recommend. They took us to a rum factory, cigar farm and a boat ride through a cave. Although it’s a very touristy thing to do, I think it’s worth going if it’s your first time visiting. You can set up bus tours at any hotel in the Parque Central, or you can take a Taxi.

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(Photos of my visit to the Rum factory, boat ride through the cave, and Vinales view point)

Shop my look, Yasmine Star Embroidery top  and pair with the Jessie Short

Some helpful tips before you go:

  • Manage your expectations.  I had heard a lot about Cuba, but being there and experiencing it is a different story.   However, there are several commodities modern-life has that look like they should be there but their existence is a mere illusion!
  • Take cash (not $ though!).  Loads.  Even to pay your hotel bill as many hotels simply won’t accept credit cards.  Don’t bother taking dollars as you will be taxed 13% on the exchange, they gladly take euros. To avoid the tax, I exchanged my US dollars to Canadian currency and exchanged to CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) when I entered the country. You can exchange to CUC at any hotel but keep in mind they charge a commission, so to get a better rate try to find a Cuban bank in your area.
  • Cuba is overall very safe. What many people do is “friend you” and try to either sell you something or take you somewhere where they can receive a commission for your purchase.  Cubans are wonderful, honest people. However, those who approach you out-of-the-blue are looking to hustle you! Don’t be afraid to say no to them.
  • What to wear. Fashion is very casual, wear things that are comfortable and not too revealing. People are catholic and although you can walk about wearing shorts and a tank, make sure they’re not ‘too much’. Depending on when you go, think about the tropical weather, pack lightweight loose clothing, comfortable shoes and don’t forget your umbrella!
  • Negotiate before hand.  Overall, Cuba can be quite cheap, but tourism being the primary source of wealth for many makes you the target for over zealous street vendors. However, be kind, understand this is how they make their living and in a way you’re almost doing some charity by helping them out.  They are in a difficult situation and just trying to make the best of it in difficult times.
  • Wifi/Internet. WiFi hotspots can be found in every town at the squares/parks. In addition there are also WiFi hotspots in the bigger hotels. You can easily see if a square/park has WiFi or not – everywhere people will be starring into their phones. These networks are provided by the government communication provider ETECSA.  A internet prepaid card for 2 CUC will give you 1 hour internet access. Don’t forget to logout once you you’re done using it, or your credit runs out. Don’t expect the internet to be stable, really fast or the login to work smoothly. Its Cuba!

Shop a few of my other favorite looks for Cuba on velvetheart.com

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Events, Health & Well-Being, Life's Challenges

You Only Have One Heart … Treat It Kindly!

February 2, 2017 • By

VH-hearthealth-tee-graphic-exampleFebruary: the month devoted to matters of the heart: Love and … health. Yes, heart health. We all know that Valentine’s Day falls on February 14th, but did you know that February is also National Heart Health Month, dedicated to both raising awareness of heart disease and raising money for heart health research? Proclamation 3566 was formally dedicated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Join us on Friday, February 3rd, National Wear Red Day.  All around the nation, including here at Velvet Heart, women (and men) are wearing RED to support Women’s Heart Health. Learn more here ….

velvet-heart-goes-redand when you shop VELVET HEART on-line we will donate 10% of all full price orders during the month of February to the “GO RED FOR WOMEN” campaign, and purchases over $150 will receive a FREE “Live Each Day with a Strong Heart” tee! VH Heart Strong Tee

Learn the FACTS:

  • FACT: Heart disease strikes women regardless of ages or socio-economic class. For this we need only remember the recent death of Carrie Fisher , due to heart disease less than two months ago. carrie fisher heart hollywood blvd

Give yourself the perfect Valentine’s Day gift this year. Commit to “Live each day with a strong heart” by taking just a few simple steps:

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  • Step 3: Eat Right: Click here for tips from celebrity chefs for heart-healthy cooking.

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  • Step 4: Laugh each and every day!  The expression “laughter is the best medicine” is nothing to laugh about! It’s true! Research shows that there is a decrease in stress hormones, a reduction in artery inflammation and an increase in HDL, or the “good” cholesterol when we laugh. Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, cardiologist and director of women and heart disease at the New York City Lenox Hill Hospital said,  “Once you start laughing, it forces you to feel better,” said Dr. Steinbaum, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement. An added bonus: the positive effects of a good chuckle have been found to last 24 hours. Now that’s the kind of medicine we love!

Health & Well-Being, Life's Challenges, Resolutions

I Resolve to (try to) Keep My Resolutions!

January 9, 2017 • By

Start on January 1

Okay … we’re two weeks into the New Year ! Are your resolutions still holding? Well, if not, don’t kick yourself. It appears that only 8% of those who make promises to themselves actually keep them! So how do they do it? Why do some succeed while so many of us fail?

Studies show (yes, there are actually studies done on the “keeping of resolutions”) there are four steps to success:

  1. Keep it Simple
  2. Make it Tangible
  3. Make it Obvious
  4. Keep Believing You Can Do It

KEEP IT SIMPLE: Set small, reasonable goals that can be achieved one step at a time. This time honored “kiss” will remind you:

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MAKE IT TANGIBLE: Your goal/s should be based on rational targets. Not “I’ll lose weight,” but rather “I’ll lose 10 pounds.” Not “I’m going to write my book,” but rather break a larger goal into steps: Step 1: “I’m going to prepare the outline for my book” … and when you reach your first goal, set Step 2: “I’m going to write the introduction or chapter one,” etc. According to John Norcross, Professor of Psychotherapy at the University of Scranton, “We say if you can’t measure it, it’s not a very good resolution because vague goals beget vague resolutions.”

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MAKE IT OBVIOUS: Post a chart of your progress as a daily reminder. Or, like blogger Julia in the movie, JULIE AND JULIA and the original blog: Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, make your pledge public. Use social media and let friends and family know your goal … they can help you keep on track. We all need support from time-to-time and your BFF may be that perfect someone who can keep you from slipping.

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KEEP BELIEVING YOU CAN DO IT: Have faith in yourself! Willpower can carry you through … but here’s something you should know about willpower. Psychological studies show that willpower, a “mind-body reaction to choice,” can get depleted. Fatigue can set it. “A growing body of research shows that resisting repeated temptations takes a mental toll. Some experts liken willpower to a muscle that can get fatigued from overuse.” On the positive side, willpower is a renewable resourse. You can essentially “re-boot” it.  Essentially, if you believe you have the strength to reach your goal, you will. I’m reminded of a quote I learned as a child:  “If you will it, it is no dream.”

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Wishing you all a healthy and happy 2017, and success in keeping your resolutions!


Health & Well-Being

You have only ONE HEART!

February 4, 2016 • By

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February, the month of  Valentine’s Day, love and hearts, is also the month dedicated to raising awareness about heart health, and therefore it’s the perfect time to focus on your own heart. Yes, the one inside your chest that you take for granted, even though it’s the hardest working muscle in your body.

Did you know heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and the leading killer of women worldwide? While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease. And young women are not immune.  Lifestyle-related factors that increase heart disease risk are increasingly common among girls, teenagers, and young adults.

But all is not doom-and-gloom. According to the American Heart Association,  from 2003 to 2013, the death rate from heart disease  has fallen about 38 percent, but numbers are still too high. What can we do to make sure these number continue to drop? It’s simple really. Take charge of your heart and follow what the AHA calls Life’s Simple 7®  the “seven factors and behaviors” that have the largest impact on heart health. These are:

  1. Lose weight / maintain a healthy weight
  2. Eat better
  3. Move! Get active
  4. Manage your blood pressure
  5. Reduce your blood sugar
  6. Stop Smoking
  7. Control your cholesterol

So if you haven’t already made a resolution for 2016, add these “Lucky Seven” to your list. And note: simply making a positive change in any one of these areas can make a difference in your overall health. If you can lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, you can reduce your risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Small changes matter. Take baby steps. You’re worth it.

For more information , check out the Go Red for Women campaign .