“ Address: Calle 23 y L, esq, Vedado, Cuba „
So in my opinion you might as well go a bit crazy when you are in such a random place as Havana and start your day with some ice cream. The Coppelia in Vedado (Havana's modern part surrounding the hotel Havana Libre) is allegedly the largest ice cream parlour in the world serving up to 30000 portions of creamy deliciousness a day. A favourite with locals and tourists alike we did prepare ourselves for long queues even though we went rather early in the morning. As expected we did have to queue but it was all well worth it. Not only did we get to experience the real Cuba there but we also got a lesson in the way things work here. Oh and ice cream, cannot forget the awesome ice cream served in a Space Shipy looking building!
The Space Ship/Ice Cream parlour is located in a small park right opposite Havana Libre; there was no way we could miss such a random building in a city characterised by old, crumbling colonial buildings. We joined the astonishing large queue consisting of Cuban families with loads of hyper excited children and the occasional other traveller. Surprisingly the crowd consisted mainly of locals as most foreigners choose to buy their expensive CUC ice cream outside instead of waiting to get in. For a few seconds we did contemplate it but no, we wanted a true cultural experience so waiting it was. Once inside we found a free table in the very futuristic interior. Round walls and psychedelic glass panels everywhere mixed perfectly with Fidel Castro quotes and the obligatory Che Guevara shirts most people were wearing.
After what felt was an eternity a waiter arrived asking us if we wanted strawberry or vanilla ice cream. I asked for chocolate to which he only answered "No, strawberry or vanilla". We then tried for both but getting the standard "No, strawberry or vanilla". Right then, vanilla please. Choice is clearly not something rated overly high here. I just imagined taking my spoiled niece for an ice cream and giving her only two flavours to choose from - she would go crazy. We on the other hand loved it as it meant more time enjoying the ice cream instead of worrying what to get. After the waiter left quite a while passed again with us getting more and more confused. Had they forgotten us, had we done something wrong, had we even chosen the wrong flavour and therefore failed a secret test? When the ice cream finally arrived we realised that we must have passed the test with flying colours - the portion we got was massive! Four scoops of creamy deliciousness topped with a sticky sweet sauce, chopped nuts and cookies. What more could we ask for? The ice cream was stunning with a rich, natural flavour if a bit runny in the Cuban heat. Absolutely worth the wait and we were seriously considering seconds. The atmosphere in the room was amazing with huge families sitting around the tables getting three/four servings and topping them up with shop bought sundries like chocolate sprinkles and cake.
When it came to paying we were in for another surprise. Four CUC sounded quite alright for two massive portions of ice cream but the waiter just handed me my notes back to me and asking for CUP - Cuban Pesos National. So four CUP equated to around 10 pence. I mean, what in this world can you actually buy with 10 pence in the UK? Certainly not eight scoops of ice cream with toppings and if they were to offer it for that price it would almost certainly not be as tasty as the one in Havana. This price did explain the massive splurging done by the Cuban families. Not that we came back every day for the rest of our stay in Havana at all.
The Coppelia is a place that should be on every traveller's itinerary in Cuba. For me it was a true highlight and a cultural experience that was so similar to the way things seem to work in Cuba. If you want to save money you'll have to wait, wait, wait, take what you get given and enjoy it. If you have the money you can skip the cues but you are also missing out on the great community spirit that Cubans seem more than willing to share with foreigners.