With a few nights in Havana under our belts, we were more than ready to retreat to a more rural setting for the second part of our Cuba trip, and that setting was Vinales; a small, colourful town nestled in a lush green valley.
While it’s pretty, and certainly charming, you don’t come to Vinales to see the town – you come for access to the vicinity, which hosts a wealth of nature related activities and sights. It’s surrounded by tobacco fields, coffee plantations, caves, farms and a whole host of beautiful views, with spectacular beaches in easy reach.
We absolutely loved the four days we spent here – for the dogs, pigs and chickens wandering around seemingly unattended, for the place we stayed, and for views that gave us the constant feeling that a dinosaur might emerge from behind the nearest tree at any moment.
Where we stayed
The Casa Particular we chose for this section of the trip was in the village of Loz Jazmines, which is around 4km away from Vinales Town. The distance was walkable, but the cost for a taxi was a very reasonable 5CUC and, unusually for Cuba, no one tried their luck with us to get a higher price.
As Loz Jazmines is higher up then Vinales, you get really excellent views out over the valley in this areas and it’s also very peaceful, even with the crowing roosters and barking dogs – which started at about 5am every day we were there, so we woke early each day.
The house was a pretty turquoise colour with a pair of rockers on the porch, and our hosts had even built a hide in which they served breakfast every day; it stood on stilts amongst jungley foliage, with a bridge walkway that reached the house. Most excitingly of all, a dog (Chocolate) and a cat (Che) were the other residents besides the family we stayed with.
Our hosts were wonderful; they grew lots of what we ate themselves on their farm, fed us handsomely and were kind enough to help us arrange everything we wanted to do while in the area. Despite not having air conditioning, the early mornings and our proximity to a number of insects (read: they were in the room with us), this was one of our favourites of the trip.
What we did
Our time in Vinales was my favourite mix of adventure and relaxation; hours walking at a time, followed by reading on the porch with a fresh coconut, and full days out ending in long dinners watching the sun go down. Here are the things we filled our time with.
Tour of the Valley: This is the must-do really, the thing that people do when they only have one day in Vinales; tours can be done in a variety of ways (on foot, by bike, on horseback…and we even saw oxen-drawn carts) and it’s really great to have a local guide who can point out the local flora and fauna and tell you more about the region. Most stop by tobacco, coffee and sugarcane plantations and because the area is so beautiful anyway, they’ll all involve great views. Prices depend on the type of tour, size of group and length; we paid 25CUC each but had a whole morning and a guide for just the two of us.
Cayo Jutias: For 20CUC each we took a Collectivo (shared taxi) for the two hour drive to this beautiful beach (and back). Beach entry is free, and there’s a beach bar, kayak and glass bottom pedalo hire, and snorkel hire available. Not that there’s any need to do anything in particular – the beach is stunning, fringed with mangroves (or rather, the mangroves are fringed with beach), so we just swam, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed. There are trees all along the beach which act as a sort of divider between groups, so even when it gets busy it doesn’t feel it – plus unlike Cayo Levitas which is another popular beach choice in the area, there are no hotels here.
Cueva de Santo Tomas: Like the beaches, there are a couple of options for caves to visit in the area, and we chose this one over Cueva del Indio, another popular choice, due to the absence of artificial lights and walkways and lack of human intervention. Entry is 15CUC (the price changed from 10CUC not so long ago, so some guide books may be incorrect) including helmets, headtorches and a guide and they ask for your name, DOB and nationality or a copy of your passport to enter (presumably incase you die). It’s quite physical in places with some scrambling necessary but you don’t need to be an athlete – we had an absolute hero of an 85 year old lady in our group. I’ve seen a lot of caves on past trips but this one is genuinely impressive; it’s enormous, with beautiful formations in places, and houses bats and swallows.
Cueva de la Vaca: An easy walk from Vinales town that leads you through a farm, we visited this small cave on the day we arrived in Vinales, wanting to see something on our first day but with too little time for any of the ‘big’ activities. It’s unlit and has no walkways or hand rails, but is fine to explore yourself without a guide. The torch on your phone (or you know, an old fashioned actual torch) is handy if you want to walk all the way through to the other side. I had an excellent time scrambling about here and there are loads of bats, which is either adorable or scary depending on your bat preferences. Great for sunset, but make sure you’re heading back down when it’s still light.
Finca Raul Reyes: This is the farm that you walk through to get to Cueva de la Vaca, and it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area; its free to visit and not far from Vinales town centre. There’s a bar there (plus hammocks to enjoy your drink in) and they sell cigars, rum and coffee. They’re only too happy to demo cigar rolling for you/let you give it a go and are super chilled and chatty.
It feels impossible to believe (and really quite embarrassing to admit) now, but as recently as a year ago the environmental impact of our collective fast fashion habit hadn’t even crossed my mind. I picked up new things regularly and with little thought; a lunchtime Primark trip here, a ‘pop in’ to H&M on the way to the gym there. I was incapable of passing the brash redness of a sale sign without having a ‘quick look’ and the buzz of buying something new would have me at the tills clutching fistfuls of fabric without a second’s consideration.
Last Autumn, though, I did that thing that hoardes of us did; I watched Fashion’s Dirty Secrets. A fairly predictable awakening, I know, especially given the outrage expressed by well over half of my Instagram feed; but at the time, I didn’t say much about it at all. The internet is the home of performative anger, of course, and I was very aware that loudly declaring the whole situation a travesty because I’d watched a single hour of television without attempting any actual change wasn’t of particular help.
What I’d always thought of as a harmless love of clothes and propensity to shop often turned out to be rather less harmful than I’d imagined, and I resolved then that even if it turned out to be a long and slow journey, I would start making quiet changes.
It’s that first moment of realisation that came to mind when I heard about Slow Fashion Season. The rules are very simple; three months, no new clothes. I signed up.
It started on 21 June, so we’re over a week in. I presumed I would be saying it’s been easy so far (and truthfully I do think it will be), but unfortunately Zara seem to have co ordinated their sale to start simultaneously with the challenge; I had to go in to return something, and I can’t pretend I didn’t feel the familiar itch to browse the rails.
Saying that, however, and despite having until 21 September still to go, I’m certain I won’t fail, thanks to the slightly more thoughtful mindset towards shopping I’ve been trying to cultivate in myself. In the past nine months I’ve tried to carefully cut back on my shopping, and the number of new things I’ve bought between October and now sits at a grand total of 12.
It’s still not a small number of items, particularly for some people, I’m very aware of that – but I’m sure that it’s significantly lower than the volume I would have acquired if I’d continued buying at my previous rate.
This change so far has been made easier, however, by being in the business of posting photos of myself in clothes on the internet, which adds another layer to an already nuanced subject. I’m lucky enough to be offered gifts on a semi-regular basis, and in the time I’ve been trying to shop more carefully I have still been accepting bits and pieces, albeit on an extremely picky basis (I have to not only love it but also think it either fills a gap in my wardrobe OR it’s something that I know I will wear again and again and again – no ‘I love it and it will look great on Instagram’).
Anyway – this has undoubtedly made the process of cutting back on shopping easier, at times providing the thrill of a new wardrobe addition without having to actually buy anything, so because it feels right to me, I’ll also be forgoing any gifting from fashion brands over the next three months.
You have my word; I will not acquire (either through buying or gifting) new clothes, shoes, or accessories during Slow Fashion Season.
(I have one exception, which I hope I won’t be judged for; I’m a bridesmaid at the wedding of one of my best friends in August, and we don’t have our outfits sorted for that yet.)
Which means – shock horror – for three months I will have my existing wardrobe alone to play dress up with. So what, you may say. You’d be right; it really isn’t a big deal, or a particularly difficult challenge, and what a privileged position I must be in to shop so often that it’s something I consider giving up.
I’m firmly of that opinion too, but I also know that but generally speaking, many of us have more access to more clothes than ever before, and in 2019 it often feels like no sooner have we snapped an outfit for social media purposes than it’s old news.
This mindset – that I’ve been guilty of succumbing to for as long as my love of dressing has existed – is starting to become boring in itself though, and I find myself becoming increasingly aware and uncomfortable about my own – albeit minor – part in perpetuating the neverending ‘new new new’ cycle. Talking about buying loads of stuff, even in the oh-so-relatable ‘oops, couldn’t resist, spent loads of money today’ way, or consistently posting only new in clothes has started to seem somewhat crass, and consuming content from people or publications where excess is actively encouraged feels jarring.
And that’s not a slight on anyone, it’s just to say that in a world where lots of us are taking baby steps and still making many mistakes, I’m really still trying to figure out my approach to the fast fashion problem in the context of my own life.
This is my way of furthering the cultivation of a more mindful approach to consumption in myself. With this three months purchase-free I’ll hopefully have the headspace and time to unpick my relationship with shopping a bit more, along with learning more about sustainable fashion and revisiting my old love for vintage and secondhand.
I’m not sure that this will be the end for me and buying new forever, or even for longer than the three months (although I did only intend to go vegan for one month at the start of 2017, so you never know!) but I do want to make my purchasing a lot more considered even than it has been so far this year.
And hey, I’d also love to save some money, lest I live in a rented flat forever, so perhaps this will help.
I’ll let you know how I get on – but if anyone has any tips, suggestions, articles, questions or similar, I’d love to hear from you.
I appear to have missed the middle of the month again, but if we say that the days between 5th and 25th are the middle of the month in that they’re not strictly the start or end, then this is is fair game and I’m not late, right?
June for me so far has been a long blur of rushing from work to home to appointment to errand to work to gathering, punctuated by lovely weekend occasions, so time to sit down with a keyboard and a blank page in front of me has been in short supply.
It started with my birthday on the first Sunday of the month. An evening with friends the day before (drinking cocktails – and they were real cocktails, not the concoctions I used to make at uni – I mixed in my kitchen and demolishing five share bags of crisps before we knew it) and a family wedding on the Monday meant three days of celebrations in a row.
I’m not good at making plans for my birthday and failed dramatically at pre-planning for this one but it was still such a treat to see so many important people in such a short space of time (multiple times in the case of my family) and the wedding was beautiful.
I’ve also had another exciting occasion this month – the hen party of one of my university housemates and favourite people in the whole wide world. There was a boat, there was a mermaid jumpsuit, there were sailor hats, and there was gin. We stayed in bell tents, played games and danced around a fire pit. It was wonderful.
…and my hair has only just stopped smelling of bonfire.
Anyway – in the time that I haven’t been otherwise engaged enjoying the ‘big’ occasions like birthdays, weddings and hen parties, I’ve been mostly being my usual self, by which I mean saying yes to everything and then whinging about it, being consistently late because I apparently think everything I could ever need to do takes 5 minutes, and using the phrase ‘I’m tired’ three times an hour.
While the lovely occasions have been wonderful, they have meant that I’ve gone straight from working to intense socialising and there’s been very little downtime, and I’m the kind of person who really really needs alone time to decompress. When this happens I should be dropping things like mindless scrolling or posting to Instagram, but because I’m apparently not very intelligent, I dropped exercise, sleep and preparing food for myself instead.
The upshot of all this is that I ate crap for about two weeks straight, kept up a weird and pointless ‘presence’ on social media for no reason and now I feel like a slug who is simultaneously shrivelled and engorged.
Oh wow, I don’t think I’ve written anything that accidentally disgusting in a while.
Do not fear though, because while I may not have caught up on sleep yet, I have been prioritising feeding myself anything green this week despite it being yet another plans-every-weeknight situation. This weekend, however, will be two days of zero social engagements, which feels very freeing.
As for the rest of the month, I’m hoping to get all my ducks in a row, so to speak. The same thing I’m hoping to do every month, in other words – isn’t it strange how adulthood is just a massive to do list that you never get to the end of because things never stop being added to it?
I’m certainly learning that I’m not very good at dealing with that particular aspect of growing up, but perhaps the next part might be accepting that and rolling with it anyway rather than having multiple breakdowns over the apparent stress of it all every month.
It’s the week of the Norfolk Show, which is always pretty busy for us at work, but I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to attend as a guest of intu Chapelfield on the Thursday which should be lots of fun. I’ll be ‘style spotting’ for the best dressed competition – so if you happen to be going along and feel like your outfit is a *lewk* then make sure to say hi (and stop by the judging area in front of the RNAA offices at 2:50pm).
And for the final weekend in June I’ll be celebrating the first birthday of my niece, who I obviously cannot believe is one already because no one can ever believe that the children in their life have been subject to the passage of time. Alas, they are, and she is one, and yes, it is very surprising.
I like this post, because it helps me figure out my focus for the rest of the month, and I guess aside from the aforementioned plans and ducks-in-a-row arrangement, I guess I have two other focuses.
The first is to book a holiday, because Cuba seems a very long time ago now. The place we’re thinking of is somewhere I’ve been hoping to go for a very long time, and somewhere that I’m particularly excited to see given recent television events, so I’ll let you know when we’ve booked it.
The second is to take on something of a personal challenge, which is something I hope I’ll learn a lot from. I’ll explain in more detail in my next blog post (and link it here when that’s up), so I won’t spend time going into it now, but essentially it’s three months without buying anything new. Difficult for some people I’m sure, and probably so easy as to seem stupid for others, but we can explore that next time.
How’s June been for you so far? What are your plans, big or small, for the rest of it?
What I’m wearing
Dress – River Island (C/O via Intu Chapelfield) | Shoes – Superga | Bag – Topshop
I don’t think there are many people for whom the idea of ‘Havana’ doesn’t evoke something; it’s the kind of destination that everyone seems to have an impression of already, the word itself imbued with warm, colourful energy and sounds.
Despite that, I’ve found it quite difficult to describe Havana to anyone I’ve spoken to since. It’s a true cacophony, not just of noises and music but of sights and people and feelings, and it was simultaneously as I expected and not.
This seems fitting, really, as juxtaposition pervades Cuba’s capital – I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere that’s at once so opulent and so dilapidated. It’s also, at times, overwhelming, and we essentially ended up repeating our first day twice after the city got the better of us on the first attempt.
I now think that probably the best way to approach Havana is to accept that you won’t see everything and just enjoy the things you do see; get lost wandering crumbling streets and sit outside eating and drinking whenever you feel like it, because while it’s a place full of energy, it’s also a great place to take a laid back approach and go with the flow.
As we flew into and out of Havana, we spent time there on two separate occasions, so our five days were disjointed and as a result this post may well be in parts too – sorry about that!
Where we stayed
Two stints in Cuba’s capital allowed us two accommodation choices, so we made the most of that by choosing to stay in different neighbourhoods and in two very different places. Most destinations in Cuba have a choice of Casa Particulares or state-owned hotels, but in Havana you’ll find a few more options outside of this. We booked both of ours on Airbnb.
Our first one was a castle. Obviously, of course, what else!
La Villa de Teresa is a beautiful old property decked out in colonial décor, full of antiques and utterly gorgeous. It’s also extra af, because clearly, and situated in a residential area quite a distance to the old town on foot; we did walk it once, which was a real insight into Havana life outside of the areas we were spending time in, but otherwise took taxis arranged by the lovely housekeeper.
Our room had its own terrace and rockers, but there‘s also a communal roof terrace which offers truly amazing 360 views of Havana, where some of my favourite time from our first few days in Cuba was spent.
Our second base in Havana was an apartment in Vedado. We knew that this would be our last two nights in Cuba so decided to opt for our most expensive accommodation of the trip, figuring that we would have just spent two weeks living in other people’s houses, getting up early and taking long uncomfortable journeys.
Our host – a young accountant who had renovated the apartment and lived in another one close by – was a really important part of our experience for these last couple of days, driving us into town, giving us the best advice and tips, and taking us to the airport on our final day. The apartment was full of little details that reflected his personality and tastes, and despite the fact that we weren’t living in the same house as him like the other Casas we stayed at, his insight into Cuban life felt all the more relevant for him being closest to our own age.
What we did
We spent a LOT of time in Havana just wandering around; it’s rather enormous, but excellent exploration fodder. Our time roaming the city was mostly spent in three of Havana’s main neighbourhoods; Habana Vieja, Centro, and Vedado. These districts are where many of the sights and attractions are, but they’re also things to do in their own right; I’ve given a quick run down of them and some of the other things we did and saw here.
Old Town: The original city of Havana is understandably the most tourist filled area, but with good reason – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, utterly charming, and a sensory overload. We spent a long time wandering without purpose here, but also did a talking tour from the Lonely Planet book one day to make sure we’d covered most of the main squares and points of interest; the cathedral, notable streets and various squares. It’s architecture central with colourful restored buildings, but does involve dodging the advances of ‘jineteros’ (which means “Jockeys” in English) to explore, so we got our ‘I know where I’m going/what I’m doing’ faces out and enjoyed it for what it is.
Centro Havana: Havana’s Centro district is separated from Old Havana by one long road, across which dilapidated buildings become more frequent, the streets become dirtier and noisier and a more gritty, authentic Havana emerges. With far less tourist traffic and far more real life, Centro is a travel photographer’s dream.
Vedado: Quieter still is the neighbourhood of Vedado, an area well worth escaping the crowds of tourists to. That’s not to say that there are no tourist attractions here, but is generally far more sprawling, without the need to dodge people every 6 seconds. It’s a more modern part of town, with long streets of large mansions, bars and restaurants, and Havana’s university.
Malecon: The Malecon is essentially the promenade along the seafront. The walkway itself isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing, but the enormous waves that break against the wall here are well worth seeing, especially when they’re so high that they cover the cars driving along the road that runs parallel (and people, if you don’t move quick enough, which I’m pleased to say that I did).
Paseo de Marti: A grand boulevard that essentially cuts between Habana Vieja and Centro, Paseo De Marti (most commonly known by its old name Paseo del Prado or just ‘Prado’), is the first avenue located outside the old walls of the city. It’s home to El Capitolio (the National Capitol Building) and you’re guaranteed to find yourself on at some point exploring Havana. We lingered a while here, since there are people coming and going all day so it made for great people watching.
Plaza de la Revolution (and the Jose Marti memorial): As city squares go, this is a BIG one, and while it may not be the prettiest square in the world it’s certainly important. Concrete blocks which house many important government offices line the edges and Che Guevara’s face, one of the country’s most iconic images, adorns the side of one of them, as well as Camilo Cienfuegos. On the opposite side is Havana’s tallest structure, the Jose Marti memorial tower. I wish I had known that for just 2CUC you can go to a lookout point within it for supposedly excellent views. It also houses a museum which we’d decided to skip since it was late in the day.
Great news, everyone: I’m yet to get a parking ticket or a passive aggressive note from my neighbours this month!
That won’t make any sense unless you read my April edition of this post, which feels simultaneously very recently and a lifetime ago. I’m always quite fascinated by the different rates at which time feels like it’s passing, and this particular month has seemed to swing wildly between speeding up and slowing down every week, day and hour.
So, what have I been doing in May?
Obviously, the usual; going to work, coming home, failing to stay up to date with household chores and life admin, and feeling like a tired hamster running in a stupid wheel that I can’t get off but doesn’t go anywhere either. I’m writing this on a Saturday afternoon, hair wet from the shower, dungarees on and alone in the flat, and it feels like the first hour I’ve had to myself in too long.
Last night I had a few drinks at an event which was lovely, and I woke up with a vaguely sore head this morning – nothing that an extra hour of sleep and a lot of water couldn’t deal with – feeling like I just needed to sort my life out. You know when you have plans after work and at the weekend for too many days in a row? I’m not good at dealing without some decompression time, so I’m trying to take advantage of it now. Hopefully the latter half of the month will include a few more evenings at home, if only so that my ironing pile doesn’t start to occupy an entire room.
And on the subject of being at home, will you judge me if I say that a decent chunk of my headspace during May has been occupied with Game of Thrones? I’m sorry if you hate it or you don’t watch it and watching people talking about it on the internet is making you want to gouge your own eyes out (a reaction that wholeheartedly fits with the vibe of the show, incidentally), but I’m an avid watcher and reader of the books and the return of it to our screens has awoken my obsession from its slumber.
I have lots of opinions on the way the last series has played out which probably aren’t all that interesting to go into in depth here, but you still won’t catch me abandoning it, and it’s got me reading theories galore, watching various clips of moments from past seasons on repeat, and greedily consuming this hilarious power ranking as soon as it’s online each week.
Another thing that I’ve been quite taken by this month is Pinterest. I know, late to the party and definitely not fashionably so. I feel like I never quite *got* the whole Pinterest thing until a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s somewhere I’ve been genuinely turning for inspiration in a way that I used to do with Instagram before Instagram only liked the same iphone photo of a slim and conventionally attractive girl wearing some new in clothes on repeat.
Anyway, part of the reason I turned to Pinterest was that I was feeling tendrils of new inspiration slowly start to grow within me for the first time in ages, and I thought it might be a good place to explore what it was that I actually liked visually.
It worked, and I’m starting to get a clear idea about imagery and posts that feel very ‘me’ rather than what I feel like I should be doing; the vision in my head for the kind of things I want to write, shoot and create excites me. The only issue, as I’ve covered at length and mention approximately every other sentence, is time, so I’m hoping for the luxury of that over the rest of the month to put my ideas into practice.
Aside from that, the rest of the month looks like more work (when will four days become the default working week? I remain convinced that there are too many things to do in order to exist to spend nearly enough time doing the things you want to do) and our final precious bank holiday weekend. I have no specific plans for it just yet, but I’d love for it to involve a lie in, some sun, friends, and getting creative – in any order.
And then somehow it’s going to be June, which means two things. Firstly, we’ll be basically halfway through the year, which is nothing short of baffling. Secondly, it’s my birthday – the 2nd, just in case you want to diarise it – and I’ll be entering my twenty ninth year. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about this and usually just make assenting noises when one of the ‘can you believe we’re nearly 30 it’s crazy’ conversations comes up, so I don’t predict any age related meltdowns next month, but you never can tell can you.
How is May going for you?
What I’m wearing
Blouse – C/O Rokit Vintage | Jeans – Marks & Spencer | Shoes – New Look | Bag – Mango
I’ve written twice specifically about perfectionism before, referenced it many more times, had it creep into multiple blog posts in various other guises, and failed to write anything at all on account of it more than I can count, so I guess you could say it’s something of a defining feature of mine.
For a while, the way it prevented me starting anything brought a strange touch of the meta to everything I put out online; I couldn’t help but be constantly self-referential, writing about wanting to write things and posting about my struggles to produce things good enough to post.
Realising this, I deliberately tried avoid the subject; every time I brought it up I fell into using its effect on my blogging as an example of the effect it was having on me, but although it’s a natural thing to do, I’m actually not hugely keen on blogging about blogging or instagramming about instagramming, so I stopped bringing it up altogether.
Side note: there are some exceptions to this, of course. If someone is really an expert, that’s great and clearly useful to their audience, and anything to do with the blogging or social media world in relation to our cultural landscape is also almost certainly going to have me clicking to read immediately. What I mostly mean, however, is just that I would prefer to hear what people have to say about life, love, their latest vintage find or their favourite ever trip.
Anyway; myself, moaning about the fact that I can’t keep up with writing blog posts because I’m scared they’re going to be rubbish and in my mind being rubbish at something is a cardinal sin? That’s boring, particularly when you have already covered it in great detail (hey, what can I say – I like long form).
And so I made a conscious effort to stop. The only effect this has had is that I’m still barely posting, and even less so now that I’m not treating the internet to my gratuitous whinging about my personality faults.
So recently when two thoughts presented themselves to me, I revisited the self-imposed ban on talking about perfectionism. The first of those thoughts was that the feedback I got from those posts, the lovely messages and the discussions I had with people who felt similarly paralysed by the thought of not being anything short of wonderful were some of my favourites from all of my time on the internet.
And the second was that writing it out is and has always been one of the greatest therapies, and despite the fact that in lots of ways it does become self-indulgent waffle, tapping it out onto digital pages at least meant that I was tapping out something.
When I wrote about perfectionism, and self doubt, and all those feelings that stop us from doing what we really want to be doing, as I put that part of me out into the world, I harboured it less within myself, and the next week I would be able to turn myself to writing about or doing other things with a freer mind.
So here we go – let’s talk about my relationship with perfectionism some more, the 2019 edition. Verdict: it’s definitely still here.
It still presents itself frequently as procrastination; putting things off for ever-expanding periods of time because the idea that the end result might not meet my own impossible standards means it’s easier just not to start. I have, however, made great strides with this at work; not in the sense that I don’t feel all of the related feelings of dread and stress and the temptation to avoid important tasks, but in the sense that I can more often than not talk myself round, and those feelings rarely have an effect on my day to day work life as much as they did.
Conversely in many other areas of life I seem to have let the procrastination side of it run riot. If I thought I was struggling with writing when I first broached the subject of perfectionism, I have no idea what I would think of myself now. To counter this I introduced my monthly catch up posts, which have had the desired effect of removing pressure to say something ~important~, and fashion and travel posts aren’t too stressful an undertaking. Those think pieces, though, everything I was so sure I had to say? Yet to materialise, as you may have noticed – but alive, albeit still in their infancy and stowed away in various folders.
Hopefully they will surface at some point.
And other ambitions of mine, beyond my day job and this space? It will take a fair bit of perfectionism fighting to get close making any progress on them, but I guess that’s where I’m hoping to head.
It’s one of my intentions for the rest of this year; to apply the thoughts that have helped me push through the temptation to just not try to the things that currently I’m just not trying on.
Another is to ward off my habit of dwelling on situations I deem myself to have ‘performed’ less than perfectly in. I can think, off the top of my head, of at least 3 incidents recently where I’ve made a tiny mistake, and subsequently gotten tunnel vision, shoving all other thoughts aside in favour of focusing only on that one thing for days afterwards and holding on to the thought for weeks or even months.
I’m still thinking about one stupid thing I said to one person nearly a year ago and whether someone thought the way I held a baby 4 months ago (just not clarify, not like by its ankles or anything) wasn’t quite right.
What I have made progress on – and perhaps this is related to the times I’ve also managed to avoid perfectionists’ procrastination – is my former tendency to regard everything as either A) perfect and wonderful, a standard I could never reach or B) utterly terrible, the only other option and therefore the thing that everything I did was.
There are now things I’ve done, that I’ve published, submitted or delivered that I think were good. Not perfect, or brilliant, or what I wanted them to be, but not therefore immediately horrible. Just good, or okay (or, of course, sometimes bad too), but for someone whose primary fear was not being perfect, that feels like taking a step in the right direction.
Let’s see how I get on with taking a few more shall we?
What I’m wearing
Skirt – New Look | Boots – Dorothy Perkins | Bag – Zara | Top – H&M | Necklace – C/O Lisa Angel
The process of planning a visit to a new country does tend to bring with it a host of questions – especially if you are as indecisive and uncertain a person as I am – but Cuba is one of the trips I’ve had the most about prior to going.
For this reason, and seeing as I now know the answer to all the things I’d wondered while packing and prepping and even while away, I thought I’d write them all down (along with my thoughts on a few things that people asked on Instagram). For one thing, if I go again I’ll have a record of any of the logistical things I’ve inevitably forgotten, and perhaps it might be helpful if you’re planning to go or if you’re just wondering if a trip there is for you.
Hopefully it will also avoid having to go off on too many operational tangents when I write travel diaries of each of the destinations we visited, because some of the key points regarding travelling to Cuba as a whole will be covered here. Let’s get cracking!
How much money will I need?
Look at me go, starting with the bigun. This is a question that I’m never sure about when I travel anywhere, but since receiving a few DMs about budget for this trip and some others I took last year, I thought it might be handy for anyone considering visiting Cuba if I just come out with what we spent.
Our accommodation varied from between £14 a night between the two of us (a casa particular in Cienfuegos – with a private terrace!) to £75 a night between the two of us (a whole apartment in Havana where the host, who lived next door, drove us to his favourite local restaurants and into the city and gave us a phone with a Cuban sim to contact him at any time). The vast majority of casas are priced around the bottom end of that scale, but we treated ourselves for the last two nights.
While in Cuba we spent around £500 each over a 16 night trip on all food, travel and activities (so this doesn’t include flights and accommodation, which we booked before leaving). Travel between destinations – so not local taxis around a place – made up just under £100 of this as we were moving about in that time. We ate breakfast in the casas (usually 5CUC) and dinner either in the casas, or in restaurants that the casa owners had recommended. We didn’t miss any activities we wanted to do on the basis of price. As unhelpful as it is, how much you will spend depends entirely on what you are doing; some days we spent barely anything at all and others we’d find we’d spent £100 in a day if we were doing day trips and booking onward journeys.
Particularly in Havana because of its size, the amount you spend can also depend on where you’re staying vs where you’ll want to spend your time; our first time there we were staying in a residential area around 15/20 minutes drive from the Old Town, and ended up taking a lot of taxis which really added to our spend while there. If you have the opportunity to, do loads of research before you go so you have any idea of what you want to see or do and how close you are to it.
What’s the currency?
There are two; CUP (Cuban Peso) is used by locals and CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) is used by visitors. 1 CUC is worth just under £0.80 or thereabouts and CUP is worth much less than CUC. We took sterling with us and changed it in banks or Cadecas as well as withdrawing from ATMs a couple of times (which I would avoid if possible). Always take your passport with you when changing money in Cuba – it will be asked for every time.
We had heard that it was useful to get hold of some CUP, although even in local places we didn’t find this essential.
Should we tip?
We tended to tip 10% in restaurants and occasionally gave an additional few CUC to guides when they had been really great. This seemed to be okay, although I still don’t fully understand the etiquette; on the one hand, I was told tipping is not a Cuban thing and unnecessary, and on the other, at times we were outright asked for tips as though they were mandatory (Viazul luggage handlers I’m looking at you).
Do I need a visa for Cuba?
UK passport holders will need a tourist card, which is valid for 30 days and for a single entry. You can obtain these by posting a completed form to the Cuban embassy in London but we bought ours from this site which I couldn’t recommend more despite it admittedly looking potentially sketchy – they arrived in 2 days and were £24 each.
Will the language barrier be a problem?
Cuba’s national language is Spanish, and although I can’t honestly say the language barrier was a problem as such for travelling around, it was more of a barrier than the majority of other places I’ve been and meant finding real connection with people we met along the way was more difficult. If you’re wonderful enough to be multi-lingual and Spanish just happens to be one of those languages, you’ll be in a good place. If not, and you have a decent amount of time before you visit, I couldn’t recommend more trying to at least learn some basic phrases (as is a great thing to do whatever country you’re visiting).
Is the internet situation really that difficult?
Yes and no. It’s a pain, that’s for sure, but it’s Cuba – it is what it is.
Few Cuban homes have wifi – bare in mind that 1 hour of wifi costs around a twentieth of an average monthly salary, and to install it in a home could be a years worth of earnings – and we didn’t encounter many restaurants with it either (at least not where it actually worked!). The country has only had public Wifi hotspots for four years and to connect to them you’ll need an ETECSA card; ETECSA being the government-owned telecommunications service. These are available in ETECSA booths in 1 hour or 5 hour form, and queues can be long so it pays to buy a few at a time.
To connect, find a hotspot – that’s why you see large groups of people all loitering around on their phones in a lot of squares and parks – select the ETECSA network, then enter the username and password on the back of the card. It’s not always speedy, but you can do most things – just don’t idle your time away scrolling, do what you need to do and then disconnect so you don’t waste your minutes. I essentially took a break from everything internet and was glad of it.
Do not rely on being able to do any research while in the country; a guide book is well worth bringing (the Lonely Planet one is fab). The app maps.me was a godsend, we just downloaded the Cuba map so it was available offline.
The first of April was a Monday, which was supposed to be a very satisfying way for a month to begin.
Let me tell you how mine went.
I’d arrived at the gym after work and changed into exercise clothing, then promptly realised that I had forgotten something (look, you opted to read this, I can’t be held responsible for your inevitable boredom now). The forgotten item was a locker token, and I couldn’t really leave my bag in an unlocked locker; it had my work laptop in it, and I couldn’t be bothered with explaining to someone from IT that I’d allowed company property to be stolen.
I left, thinking that I’d just walk home then go for a run. Half an hour later I arrived on my road to find a nice big parking ticket on my car windscreen, having forgotten to move it from the previous day when I couldn’t find a permit space and left it in one of the offensively expensive pay and display ones instead.
Having a residents permit doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to find somewhere to leave your car you see, because the council has given out around 17 times as many permits has they have spaces, which seems like a really logical thing to do.
I know: my bad, my fault, totally deserved it. Doesn’t make it less annoying.
Obviously, I got into the car to begin the arduous process of trying to locate a space that wasn’t already occupied, when a man I’ve never met knocked on my window to inform me of the location of the permit spaces, since everyone could see that the owner of the car with the ticket must be new and confused.
The poor bloke undoubtedly had good intentions, but this really only served to make me even more angry, especially because I didn’t particularly enjoy the idea that the Clio with the parking ticket had been the talk of the day amongst the people who loiter about on our road (of which there are several, all of whom behave like self appointed corridor monitors, except that we’re adults and this is a real life street).
I sound like a dickhead, I know, and a terrible neighbour. Anyway – I was nice, I promise, although I did, of course, make sure to stress that I’ve actually lived here FOR TWO YEARS NOW AND KNOW WHERE THE PERMIT SPACES ARE (I just can’t ever manage to get into one, apparently).
Upon bidding my new acquaintance goodbye I spent forty five minutes driving in circles trying to park, and obviously, by the time the whole sorry affair was concluded, I was hungry, angry, unexercised and poorer.
(Just days later, parked in a different spot, someone left a note on my windscreen to call me an ‘inconsiderate human being’ for not leaving my front wheels out of the bay so that another car could share. I cried, which is admittedly quite a pathetic reaction to such a thing, but the last time I parked like that I got another parking ticket for not being wholly in the space, so apparently I can’t win either way. If you’re reading this, kind neighbour; you might have £50 per day to spend in fines for the pleasure of parking only half your vehicle in a permit space that you’ve spent an excessive amount of time searching for anyway, but I categorically do not.)
Phew. Can you tell I’ve been stewing about that? And can you believe I just included the most boring 500 word ‘story’ ever in an actual blog post? Me neither.
Still, considering April has been very run of the mill so far, you could almost call those happenings the highlights. All I’ve really done (parking debacles aside) is get my head back into work after two weeks off and sort of float through everyday life. Socialising has been fairly minimal, although I did go for some after work drinks that got quite out of hand at the weekend, so April also brought me the worst hangover of my life.
The rest of the month is looking distinctly more fulfilling. Not only have I woken myself up from a little bit of a two week stupor, partially through writing this and partially through giving myself a talking to over the past couple of days, that most prized of occurrences stretches before us; a bank holiday. The best one too – the lesser spotted four day weekend, bookended by four day working weeks which are treats in themselves too.
And in contrast to my no plans start to the month, I seem to have back to back plans for nearly the entirety of the next four days. Frankly, with all that social interaction I’ll need another four days to recover, but much of it involves people I have missed over the past few weeks (and in some cases, a lot longer than that) so I’m looking forward to it nonetheless. I’ve got drinks, birthday parties and family lunches lined up, and between those things I have a couple of life admin bits and deadlines that I absolutely need to get sorted for.
There’s plenty else to be cheerful about, too. My camera is back – fully functioning – in my life, for one thing, which is a relief because not having it was starting to get frustrating. I guess I’ve learnt that I actually like photography, even if it’s not something I have a natural ability at. They even cleaned the sort of grubby bit around the shutter button where my greasy little mitts had made their mark, which is kind. Game of Thrones is back on. The weather – finally – resembles spring. I just did a hair mask and was still in pyjamas at 9am, a rare occurence. A nice new dress arrived in the post this week and I’m looking forward to wearing it.
And, as I said, bank holiday and chocolate eggs. Mine is going to properly get underway very soon and it starts in a beer garden. What’s on the cards for you?
Happy Easter to everyone except parking enforcement officers, bye!
What I’m wearing
Shacket – Zara (C/O via intu Chapelfield) | Top – Zara | Jeans – Zara | Shoes – C/O Dorothy Perkins | Bag – Vintage
‘Oh! Vilnius! That’s…where is that again?’ said around three quarters of the people I told I was going to Vilnius.
Lithuania’s capital was added to my travel wishlist several years ago when the flights came up as a cheap option during one of those must-go-somewhere-anywhere searches, and a google image search showed it to be very aesthetically pleasing, but in all honesty I didn’t know a huge amount about it.
A good while after it first came onto my travel radar, the opportunity to visit presented itself in the form of a winter weekend trip that needed to be as affordable as possible. And now, having been, I can confirm that not only is it a really low-cost city break, and indeed aesthetically pleasing, it’s also hugely interesting, full of history and, if I may say, very cool – in a totally unpretentious way. This post is my travel diary of our two nights and two and a bit days there, and will hopefully demonstrate why I thought it was such a great option if you’re in the market for a European weekend destination.
It will also inevitably include an overuse of the words ‘we did’, ‘we went’ and such – I visited with one of my closest friends and a long-time travel partner of mine, just to clarify who I’m referring to!
Where we stayed
It will be of no surprise for me to announce, as I always do, that we stayed in an Airbnb (if you want to check it out, it’s here). A delightful, tucked away gem of an Airbnb; nestled amongst a ramshackle collection of buildings in a courtyard, quiet but just off a main street in the Old Town. Not that that means much, because Vilnius might be a vibrant capital city but it’s not particularly loud or overbearing, something that was particularly appealing during the festive period, when most things seem to be both.
The city is brilliantly walkable – I don’t think we took any public transport at all except for to and from the airport – and it was a luxury, in temperatures under zero degrees, to be able to pop back into the apartment throughout the day to warm up, add another sock layer or snack on bars of chocolate we’d picked up at the supermarket.
And warm up we did, thanks to a heated floor, a cosy bed and all the other essentials contained within a ground floor apartment comparable to a very chic hobbit house (but virtue of it’s beautiful curved ceiling, which makes the whole place feel like a sort of underground sanctuary). I’ve had lots of great Airbnb experiences but this was certainly up there with the best of them.
What we did
Aside from the late afternoon and evening of our arrival, which involved a wander in the fading light, ensuring we knew the whereabouts of the nearest supermarket (extremely important) and going out to eat and drink (if you’re a rum fan, Rhum Room is a really beautiful, atmospheric bar option), our time in Vilnius began with a walking tour.
This walking tour, to be precise; one of the tip based free ones that you can find in most European cities. I’m so pleased we opted to do this one – there was so much about the history of Vilnius I would never have learnt otherwise and it’s a really cost and time effective way to get a good feel for the city, it’s inhabitants and it’s culture from the mouth of a resident.
The tour began outside the town hall (very close to our apartment) and took us through the pebbled streets of Old Town via many a church – Vilnius is full of churches in various styles and colours – and on to Uzupis, a bohemian artists’ district and self-proclaimed ‘Republic’. In other words, the kind of place I find endlessly fascinating. It even has its own wonderful constitution including such wisdom as ‘Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat’ (‘the cat’ being a fat ginger one who is the official ambassador of the republic, of course) and ‘Everyone has the right to understand nothing’.
We ended at Cathedral square, where, to my delight, some sort of dog owners meet up was taking place. These types of places are nearly always lovely but the addition of 50 French bulldogs barrelling around the place is welcome in any situation, no? This is also the location of the Stebuklas tile (Stebuklas meaning ‘Miracle’ in Lithuanian), the end point of the Baltic Chain. Apparently if you spin around clockwise on the tile and make a wish it might come true, so I dutifully obliged. I’ve now forgotten what my wish was so I can’t be sure how it’s going.
After scouting out some lunch we spent the latter half of the day in Uzupis again, taking in the streets in a slower way and exploring all the weird and wonderful sculptures and works on the river banks. Plus, of course, I wanted another good look at that constitution (I’m considering using it for the self-proclaimed Republic of my house).
Uzupis is far from the only place in Vilnius to find art, however – and the prevalence of it on the sides of buildings and down little streets was one of my favourite things about the place. Literatu street, which we’d seen on the walking tour, is covered in mounted artworks dedicated to Lithuanian literature or world writers who have influenced it, and we paid another visit to the street to see it lit up in the evening.
There are also plenty of urban murals, which we saw more of on our second day when we spent a little more time outside of the city gates in the area around the train station. We actually went to the train station to store our luggage (this is super cheap and easy to do, so if you have a late flight like us its no bother) but close by is the Putin/Trump mural, and there’s plenty more street art in the area.
My apologies – I’m not sure why I typed that, but it’s probably something to do with having spent most of March so far in a Spanish speaking country.
I wasn’t actually sure I was going to do one of these posts this month, although at one point I had visions of myself sitting in a rocker on a porch in Cuba, sipping a mojito and happily tapping out March’s post on my Ipad, which I hate using, but would make an exception for given the situation. It wasn’t to be; the rocker, porch, mojitos, Ipad and working hands were all present, but wifi certainly was not, so in the end it seemed futile to write anything.
I filled my would-be writing time with reading instead (one of the things that I sacrifice most frequently to the digital to do list, but one of the things that benefits me more than anything on said list ever will) and they were truly some of my favourite moments spent away. Not that there was an abundance of these moments – our visit was definitely more of a trip than a holiday, and we’ve arrived home exhausted.
I will of course be writing about Cuba (a post for each destination, and an overall one answering the questions I had before travelling there, so let me know if there’s anything in particular you want to know), so I won’t go too much into it from the travel point of view.
What I will say is that it’s certainly a very interesting country – frustrating at times, in fact, although for reasons that are too complex to go into especially considering I don’t believe I’m well read on the political history enough to be the ideal person to do so – but completely beautiful. In our time there we explored cities, villages, beaches, mountains, waterfalls and valleys, walked mile after dusty mile, spent a few nights on a farm hearing the crows of more roosters than I ever want to sleep in close proximity to again, and learned a whole lot about the place.
And now, with a broken camera and a backpack full of filthy clothes (a grimy mix of iron-rich earth, suncream, sand and sweat) and feeling as though I’ve been absent far longer than mere weeks, I’m back.
This weekend has been spent, predictably, on washing and tidying and sorting, and this short and probably meaningless post is my last ditch attempt to procrastinate further from opening my email inbox, which hasn’t been touched since 6th March and is in a rather sorry state. We are, however, going to have a roast – a roast! – which, after a Cuban food journey that I would probably describe as ‘varied’ in quality (if not in content), is set to be a real treat.
The rest of the month will likely pass in the shadow of a travel hangover – a return to the day-to-day amplified in strangeness by its difference to what was happening a week ago and a backlog of chores, administrative tasks and communications to contend with. There are just seven days of it left, so I think I can comfortably predict five days of work, an easy return to the gym but a painful return to my Thursday night bootcamp class, and a load of Cuba photos posted on Instagram.
Speaking of which – I’m finding Instagram so terribly dull and uninspiring at the moment that I’m not quite sure where to go from here. Being unable to use it via forced digital detox by virtue of the rigmarole involved in connecting to wifi there was actually a relief; I missed taking the photos (there were obviously lots of photo opportunities, but I wasn’t always keen to be a subject) far more than I missed posting them. Bit of a conundrum, since I don’t think abandoning it would be wise – as we all know, you’re only a success if you’re a success on Instagram (ha).
Still, I’m sure I’ll work it out when I have the headspace. For now, it’s getting back into a routine, and scouting out a Mother’s Day card, another thing I can comfortably predict to feature in the rest of my March. Afternoon Tea is on the agenda for the day itself, and the pleasure to be found in scones and miniature cakes is not to be underestimated.
How’s it been for you?
What I’m wearing: my outfit for our second day in Havana
Dress – Zara | Sandals – Primark | Hat – H&M | Bag – Topshop | Scarf – C/O Accessorize