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Cuba Libre

Cuba - By Preston Shurley

Cuba is authentic.  It’s authentically beautiful, sad, amazing, inspiring, historic and powerful all at once.   That is the best way to describe this incredible country.  I’ve never been to another country that holds on to it’s tradition and culture so brilliantly.  The most incredible part is that Havana is only a 45 minute flight from Miami, but it seems like you travel back in time 50 years.  I think Lonely Planet described Havana better than I ever could have:

“Habana is a one-off. Sitting pretty as the Caribbean’s largest and most vivacious city, its romantic atmosphere and infectious energy are the stuff of legend. Where else do you find vintage American cars running off Russian Lada engines, ration shops juxtaposed against gleaming colonial palaces, and revolutionary sloganeering drowned out by all-night parties?”

Outside the UN

Cuba is a place that has been on my bucket list for quite some time.  I was only able to go because of some very pioneering UGA grads and friends that founded a non-profit that does leadership trips across the globe.  They arranged for special visas from the US State Department.  As one of the inaugural ADDO Ambassadors to Cuba we laid the foundation for programs working with local Cuban children who are fighting the battle against cancer, down syndrome and HIV/AIDS.  As ambassadors we also had the opportunity to meet with the United Nations Development Programme.  Our group collaborated with officials from the UN about Cuban development in the future and sustainability for the Caribbean’s largest island.

After all the diplomatic meetings and programs we spent most of our time crisscrossing the island touring famous sites and checking out some of the world’s most pristine beaches.  One of Cuba’s biggest supporters over the years was Ernest Hemingway.  He wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea at his estate outside of Havana.  The house has a tropical charm that is hard to find anywhere else.  It’s easy to see how it could inspire great works of art.

Buena Vista Social Club

My single favorite night of the trip had to be a concert from the world renowned Buena Vista Social Club at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.  The walls of the hotel are lined with pictures of famous guests from years past ranging from Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Winston Churchill to the likes of Robert de Niro, Arnold Swarchenegger, and Mohamed Ali.  The rum was flowing, cigars burning and the big band blasted the night away as professional dancers kept the crowd in awe with their island moves.

Cuba is an absolutely incredible place that remains untouched from American consumerism.  It will be interesting to see how the potential lift of the embargo in future affects its economy, people, and culture.  Regardless I am definitely glad that I got the opportunity to check it out before any radical changes takes place.  The authentic Cuba will live in my heart and mind for years to come.

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Ballin’ on a Budget: Barcelona!

Barcelona busted my budget.  After experiencing how cheap Europe could be in Prague I got a nice reality check in Spain.  But I loved every minute of it.  The restaurants, beaches, bars, clubs, and historical sites were all great.  Everything in Barcelona is uniquely Catalonian.  The culture of the people is unlike anywhere else in Spain.  Catalan pride is almost palpable.

Barca is the type of international city people dream of living in.  It has all the touristy attractions you want in a big city, mixed with local pride and flair.  Not to mention it’s just a short (and cheap!) flight away from Madrid, Paris, Rome and London, just name a few cities.  I’d absolutely love to live here someday.  I’ve just got to brush up on my Spanish and try to figure out Catalan.

Gaudi Architectue: Antoni Gaudi eis easily the patron saint of Barcelona (besides Picasso!).  You find his works and influence all over the city.  His world famous architecture is known for its unique and distinctive flair.  The distinguishing color and design of his work left an impression on the city that remains unrivaled.

La Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s crown jewel (even though he left it unfinished).  You can’t go to Barcelona and not stop by to check it out.

Park Guell – Probably one of the most interesting (and hardest places to find from the metro…) parks I’ve ever been to.  The design is distinctly Gaudi and one of a kind.

Casas – You’ll undoubtedly see several of the houses he was commissioned to build around the city in your EuroTrip.  They make for an interesting mix with the modern European architecture of the rest of the city.

Arc de Triomf

Cheap Dates: 

Museo Picasso – The Picasso Museum offers free admission on the first sunday of every month.  The line looks deceptively long but it’s completely worth the wait to check out some of his best work.  You’ll also see some familiar sites from around Barcelona in his paintings.

La Rambla – This main street in town is Tourist Central but nevertheless it’s still a pretty interesting spot to people watch and grab some souvenirs.

Barceloneta Beach – It’s always good to take of break from the hustle and bustle of busy city life by relaxing at the beach.  While this beach in the heart of the city isn’t the prettiest, the beautiful coeds from all over the world make up for it and then some.

It’s hard to find reasons not to love Barcelona.  It is a world class city in an amazing location with so much culture and passion.  I’ll definitely be back one day soon…

LOW:  That I could only spend a few days in such an amazing place.

HIGH: Meeting up with friends and doing the Bike Tour of Barcelona! Great way to see the sites!

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House at the Lake

I’ve always been a beach house kinda guy but after a few days at the lake I definitely could see why you’d vacation there.  I spent a weekend in the mountains at Lake Rabun in north Georgia and it was fantastic.  You really have the feeling that you’ve escaped from the world.  Not having a computer or phone (thanks AT&T) was actually really freeing.  Getting away from the hustle and bustle  of college life was a good for a weekend.

I decided that I should end every blog post with ‘Highs’ and ‘Lows’ from the trip/experience.

HIGH: I got to meet some of the amazing people I’m going to be spending the summer with in Europe.  The LEAD Greece crew is legit, to say the least and I’ll be jetting off there in less than 3 weeks!

LOW: These little black dots are popping up on my pictures.  I might need to call Canon about this…

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