Travel Guide: Top 5 places to see in Havana, Cuba

Cuba can be a lazy beach holiday if that’s what you’re after, but it’s also a multi-faceted gem of an island, boasting astonishing natural habitats and grand colonial buildings. The largest in the Caribbean, it’s also an island which owns both a complicated past and an exuberant modern-day culture and nowhere is this most potent than in the capital, Havana.

Once home to pirates, poets and gamblers, the city is now known for rum, cigars and a stomping good time. Here are some of the top highlights.

Virgin Atlantic run direct flights from London to Havana. Watch their promotional video:

1. Old Havana (Havana Vieja)

Old Havana, Cuba (c) wikimedia/Emmanuel Huybrechts

At one time this Unesco Heritage Site was a Spanish naval port. This north-eastern section of the city dates back to the 16th century and evidence of its rich history is everywhere you look. Defensive walls still line the narrow streets, left over from pirate raids and its five European-style plazas are overlooked by Cuban Baroque facades – the most striking is the Plaza de la Catedral – and soaring spires, whilst street-level attractions like the book market and numerous cafés continue to bring in the visitors.

2. The Malecón

El Malecón, Havana, Cuba (c) wikimedia/Kirua

Five miles of seawall and esplanade divides Old Havana’s harbour and the Vedado district and is prime walking territory if you want to get a feel for the city through the ages. Pass by the famous pastel facades of the Old Havana sea front and revolutionary monuments of Máximo Gomez and Calixto García to the high-rise skyline of Vedado, traditionally a Russian area. Sunsets out on Havana bay are not to be missed.

3. Capitolio Nacional

El Capitolio, Havana, Cuba (c) wikimedia/Nigel Pacquette

Clearly influenced by Washington’s US Capitol building, the Capitolio is nonetheless imposing with its huge stone steps, classical wings and rising dome. This building was once the seat of Cuban Congress prior to the 1959 revolution but venture inside and you’ll now find a planetarium, the National Library and the Academy of Sciences, along with vast halls and ceilings filled with beautiful Neo-Classical decoration.

4. Parque Almendares and Parque Central

Parque Central, Havana, Cuba (c) wikimedia/Jorge Royan

Along the river of the same name, Parque Almendares is a welcome burst of green and fresh air, a world away from the heady pace of the city. Beneath the Calle 23 bridge, you’ll find abundant plants, a miniature golf course, riverside eateries and an outdoor theatre space if you’re lucky enough to catch a performance. Old Havana’s Parque Central is a local meeting point as well as an attraction and offers some superb people-watching opportunities amongst the exotic landscaped gardens.

5. Ernest Hemingway Museum

Finca La Vigía, Havana, Cuba (c) wikimedia/InZweiZeiten

The world-renowned traveller and writer Ernest Hemingway spent 20 years of his life in Cuba and although his connection to the place went far beyond mere residence, it’s fitting that the home where he once wrote some of his most famous works is now open as a museum. Just outside Havana at Finca Vigia (meaning “lookout house”), you can view the typewriter that produced The Old Man and the Sea, as well as the 8,000 books in his library. Plaques marking the writer’s favourite haunts are everywhere to be found in the main city and harbour areas.

Read also: Secret Havana – discover places only locals know about

Secret Havana – discover places only locals know about

Disclaimer: this article is sponsored by Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic run direct flights from London to Havana.


10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Travelling to Ho Chi Minh City

(c) Hieucd

It is fun, chaotic, noisy, part modern, part traditional, and a bit intimidating but most of all Ho Chi Minh City in Southeast Asia, is  charming.

But, it is also eccentric. Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City are different names for the same city.

I was there for three days and managed to visit the War Remnants Museum, Reunifications Palace, Saigon Central Post Office, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. And it was a joy just to soak in the atmosphere and stuff myself with delicious Vietnamese food.

It was a great experience but I experienced minor setbacks. The mishaps certainly did not stop me from having a good time but they could have been easily prevented with careful planning. And there are things that I missed or almost missed out on either due to lack of time and preparation.

Here are the 10 things I wish I knew before travelling to Ho Chi Minh City.


(c) Northboer

Ho Chi Minh City is not immune to flooding. I went to Saigon in June, during the rainy season, and although it only rained once during my stay, the downpour was heavy enough to cause a bit of flooding. Luckily, a mall was nearby so I stayed there until the rain stopped and the floodwaters subsided.


(c) Graeme Newcomb

It is easy to blow your budget on transportation costs. I made the mistake of hiring a cyclo (a three-wheel bicycle taxi), and was charged 300,000 VND for my city tour.  I was not scammed because I agreed on the price but we only went to 4 sights, which were fairly close to one another. Walking or taking a taxi would have been a better alternative.

3Currency confusion

(c) Amy Wardlaw

The currency in Vietnam is the dong. However different Vietnamese dong notes look similar and one can easily get confused. I was giving a tip to a massage therapist and was meant to give her 60,000 VND but handed her 540,000 VND instead. The girl realized my mistake and handed me back the 500,000 note, which I promptly replaced with a 20,000 note after thanking her profusely.

4Taxi scams exist

A taxi from Tan Son Nhat International Airport to the backpackers’ area in District 1 costs around 6 to 10 USD but I paid 20 USD.  The meter was on but I believe the driver took the longer route. It wasn’t until I chatted with my hostel’s receptionist when I realized that I’d been ripped off.

Top Tip: Only take Mailinh and Vinasun taxi when in Saigon.

5Vendors can be aggressive

I shopped for souvenirs at the Ben Thanh day and night markets and I noticed that vendors are pushy, rude, impatient, and even aggressive. If you are not interested in what they are selling, it is best to take a deep breath and just ignore them.

6Not all hotels have lifts

When booking a room in Ho Chi Minh City, always ask if there’s a lift available. If there’s none, ask for a room on one of the lower floors to save yourself from having to carry your bags up several narrow flights of stairs.

7Massages and pedicures are super cheap in Saigon

During my last night in Saigon, I was walking around Bui Vien Street when a young woman handed me a calling card and told me to visit their spa if I wanted to have a massage or a pedicure. I paid less than 10 USD for a full body massage and a pedicure in a clean and well-appointed environment.

8Vietnamese iced coffee is really good

(c) Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau

Never leave Saigon without trying ca phe sua da or Vietnamese iced coffee. I ordered a glass at a roadside eatery and it proved to be sweet, refreshing, and definitely a highlight.

9There’s life beyond Districts 1 and 3

It would have been great to spend an hour or two in Chinatown in District 5, or have dinner at a riverside restaurant in District 7.

10Three days is not long enough when visiting Ho Chi Minh City

As my time in Saigon was limited, I skipped the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi Tunnels Tour. Shame.

This article was sponsored by Travezl

Researchers map prostate cancer relapse using C-11 Choline PET and MRI

“This study has important implications for men who have a rising prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, also known as biochemical recurrence, after radical prostatectomy for prostate cancer,” says Jeffrey Karnes, M.D., a urological surgeon at Mayo Clinic. “In men with biochemical recurrence, determining where the disease has recurred is quite challenging, especially when the PSA level is low.”

According to Dr. Karnes, in the U.S., approximately 30 percent of patients who have had an initial prostate cancer surgically excised will suffer a recurrence and seek treatment. “Current imaging tests like conventional bone and CT scans are not sensitive enough to identify sites of recurrence, especially when the PSA value is lower than 10,” he says.

Dr. Karnes says the combination of C-11 choline PET scanning and multiparametric MRI, helps physicians accurately identify sites of recurrence at an average PSA of 2. More importantly, he says, “This type of staging allows us to identify sites of recurrent disease that can be potentially treated either surgically or with radiation.”

Dr. Karnes and his team also were able to describe patterns of prostate cancer recurrence. They found that nearly two-thirds of men in the study had recurrence limited to the pelvis, which potentially can be targeted for radiation therapy.

Use of PSA for prostate screening unaffected by changes in screening guidelines, research finds

Revised guidelines from the United States Preventive Services Task Force in 2012 advised against PSA-based screening for prostate cancer, concluding that the potential harms of overtreatment outweighed the possible benefits of early detection. UT Southwestern cancer researchers’ review of electronic medical records showed that this conclusion did not discourage the number of tests ordered, contrary to some other findings.

“We used actual, real-world data and found that changes in PSA use, if any, are likely small,” said Dr. Yair Lotan, Professor of Urology, Chief of Urologic Oncology, and a member of UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Many recent studies have claimed that the task force recommendations against PSA screening have caused a major change in prostate cancer screening. These studies were based on data sources including surveys, which could be subject to significant bias.”

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. men. PSA screening uses a blood test to check for the level of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland, according to the National Cancer Institute. Higher levels can be associated with prostate cancer; however, recent studies have shown prostate cancer can occur when PSA levels are low and be absent when PSA levels are high, leading to conflicting recommendations on use of the test, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Winter Sun Holidays in Barbados

Barbados beach(c) Jon Luty

Why go to Barbados in winter?

When it comes to going on winter holiday we could do worse than follow Sir Cliff Richard’s lead to Barbados because for winter sun, this tiny island is a classic! The hurricane season ends in November after which the island is showered in sunshine for 10 whole hours a day. And this winter, you won’t find bluer skies, balmier days or more beautiful beaches at such good value as is currently available (Thomas Cook Airlines offer return flights from £399.99).

For the young at heart, St Lawrence Gap is the place to party. Nightclubs, reggae clubs and discos throb along this strip into the wee hours. The Ship Inn is a favourite among the locals looking for some RnB. The nearby capital city of Bridgetown, though pretty bland during the day, buzzes with energy after sundown. For a more serene sojourn head for the West Coast where a sleepy ambience combines with heady sunny days and the moist Caribbean air to offer a rejuvenating holiday. Barbados may be tropical, lush and holiday manna, but there are things you may find familiar. They drive on the left, enjoy horse racing, speak English and they don’t like cricket – they love it!

Where to eat

Probably the best eaterie on the west coast is The Cliff, a favourite of Tony Blair. The restaurant is so refined you would feel out of place if you didn’t dress for the occasion. Set on a cliff-top, you can hear the waves kissing the sand and feast your eyes on a superb coastal vista while you enjoy your meal. The Fish Pot, located opposite the Little Good Harbour hotel is a rustic fish restaurant famed for the freshness of its catch. To get there you’ll have to catch a boat that drops you just offshore and then wade through shallow water to get to the restaurant.

Read also:

Travel Guide to Barbados, CaribbeanWhat is there to see and do in BarbadosBarbados in November – Winter Sun Island Paradise

Where to stay

You will find the best hotels and beaches at the West Coast of the island known at the Platinum Coast in the Parish of St James just north of Bridgetown. The glamourous Sandy Lane, much loved by Michael Winner and Simon Cowell on the island tends to trip off the tongue easily when considering luxurious accommodation, but others such as Coral Reef Club and the genteel Cobblers Cove are also top picks. The newer Royal Westmoreland is hot on their heels for popularity and offers air conditioned villas – some owned by celebrities like the Rooneys. Beyond Sandy lane is the more intimate Little Good Harbour, a clutch of 21 away-from-it-all cottage-style suites surrounded by lush tropical gardens.

Getting there

Thomas Cook Airlines have direct flights from the UK starting at £399.99 return!

Disclaimer: this article was sponsored by Thomas Cook Airlines

Researchers pinpoint key regulatory role of noncoding genes in prostate cancer development

Principal investigator Hansen He says the findings published online today in Nature Genetics show how these genes — known as “noncoding RNA” — function in activating the disease process. Dr. He, an epigeneticist, is a Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network. He is also Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto.

“Our research looked at genetic variations associated with prostate cancer and found that about half of these variations may function through noncoding genes rather than the protein-coding genes. In other words, we have discovered that noncoding RNA has a very important function in driving prostate cancer development and disease progression.”

Dr. He says: “In prostate cancer there are more than 100 known risk regions associated with the development and progression of the disease, but for most of them we don’t know how. In our work, we found that half those risk regions may function through noncoding genes.”

Dr. He says that integrating this new knowledge about genetic variations and the function of noncoding RNA moves the science closer to developing a clinical biomarker to advance personalized cancer medicine for patients by being able to predict who will develop prostate cancer and whether or not it will be aggressive.

The research team collaborated with the Princess Margaret Genome Centre and delved further into the genetic variations associated with noncoding RNA PCAT1, which is already known to be highly expressed in prostate cancer patients, to zero in on how the noncoding genes function.

Three Days in Bonnie Loch Lomond

I had taken the high road and was about to explore the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond which were all mine for the next three days.

Loch Lomond under a sunny Autumnal sky © Aneta Domagala

This is Great Britain’s largest inland stretch of water and the surrounding national park, which is situated just 40 minutes on the train north of Glasgow, boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in northern Europe.

It’s a haven for anyone who has even a passing interest in the outdoors. Cyclists, walkers, wildlife enthusiasts and those looking to indulge in a spot of fishing can all fill their boots.

Arriving in late October, we fully expected a carpet of cloud and daily downpours. Alas, you’ve got to make the most of it. Get your waterproofs on and get out there and enjoy it.

But we hit the jackpot. Tee-shirt weather in Scotland, in late October. Not a cloud in the sky and warm enough that I returned home (I live in Southern Spain) with more of a tan than I had left with.

We started off at the picturesque village of Drymen, a popular overnight stop for hikers on the West Highland Way and about 8km inland from our intended Lochside destination of Balmaha.

Our path led us though some diverse scenery. Look one way and you’re presented with a tundra-like landscape that brings to mind the wilds of Alaska, look another and there’s the reds, golds and fading greens of autumnal conifers upon the rolling hills that surround the lake.

We walked for about 5km, enjoying the rich tapestry of landscapes on offer before rising up Conic Hill’s sharp little summit and taking in dramatic views of the Loch and its many islands.

A row of lush, verdant islands, glistening like jewels in the early afternoon sun. I imagined I was in Fiji, Australia’s Whitsundays or somewhere else equally tropical. But then, my partner handed me a can of Irn Bru (a local fizzy soft drink) and I knew I was far from the tropics. I was most definitely, without question, in Scotland. And I was loving it.

Conic Hill (right) and the verdant row of islands stretching across the Loch © Aneta Domagala

The next day we returned to Balmaha where we hired a rowing boat and made the short voyage to the “enchanted” island of Inchcailloch.

That’s the description on the official website. And, while the tourist board may well have been playing fast and loose with the dictionary, there was something a little bewitching about this 50 hectare entanglement of trees and earth.

The island receives around 20,000 visitors a year, but when we arrived it was eerily quiet.

We walked along a rickety jetty and proceeded down the narrow woodland path which took us deeper into the arms of the forest until we reached our first point of interest – an ancient burial ground belonging to the legendary McGregor clan, kin of the beloved Scottish folk hero Rob Roy.

Burial ground on Inchcailloch belonging to the McGregor clan, relatives of the legendary Rob Roy © Aneta Domagala

The information board at the gate also revealed the origin of the island’s Gaelic name ‘Inchailloch’, which translates to “Isle of the old woman”. The old woman in question was Saint Kentigerna, who was in part responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a creature shot past me at breakneck speed. I reeled back in shock, caught a fleeting glimpse of the beast and was relieved it was just a deer.

Roe deer have been roaming Incahilloch since the time of Robert the Bruce when the island was used for hunting. But they’re not the most curious residents on the Loch, not by a long stretch.

Neighbouring Inchconnachan is actually home to a colony of wallabies. A quirk of history, the colony was introduced by local aristocrat Lady Colquhoun in the 1940’s and has since grown to become one of the few populations of wallabies outside Australia.

While there were no antipodean anomalies to be seen bounding around Incahilloch our mini excursion was proving worthwhile. We had soaked up a little history, got acquainted with the local wildlife and there was still time to head to the shore and enjoy the sunset before returning to the boat.

Tranquil views from the shore at Inchcailloch © Aneta Domagala

Several locals had informed us that the village of Luss, situated on the western banks of the Loch, was the loveliest in all of Scotland.

Unable to resist the opportunity to visit a place described in such glowing terms we ploughed through a full breakfast, hired a couple of bicycles and embarked on the 15km or so ride that would take us there.

On the way we stopped off at the tiny hamlet of Aldochay situated on the very edge of the Loch and opposite one of its larger islands Inchtavannach.

Covered in a rich carpet of oak trees, Inchtavannach boasts twin summits rising in excess of 200 ft and a large solitary house visible through a clearing in the forest.

The poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth visited in 1803 and I’m sure it provided them with plenty of romantic inspiration. Still, as impressive as it was, I was drawn to the far smaller islet that couldn’t have been more than 25 metres from the shore.

The man-made Islet, or ‘Crannog’, had been created by Iron Age dwellers as a safe haven from predators.

Views of Inchtavannach (centre) and an Iron Age ‘Crannog’ (right) from Aldochay © Aneta Domagala

My thoughts turned away from the Iron Age as I studied the cottage next door. One of only three residences in the area, it was filled with around 50 garden gnomes and all manner of cutesy sculptures from miniature bunny rabbits through to a family of ornamental ducks.

And then I realised what it is that makes this part of Scotland so likeable. A cottage daubed in eye-watering chintz can stand just feet away from a site of ancient historical significance and not even look the tiniest bit out of place.

The strength of the region’s heritage became even more apparent as we arrived in Luss, a village so quintessentially Scottish that it has its own kilt-maker and bagpipe works.

The village is composed, almost entirely, of charming, near identical, 18th and 19th century cottages, that were once home to the workers at the nearby slate quarry and built by one of the few philanthropic companies that actually cared for the welfare of their staff.

Identical cottages in the village of Luss © Aneta Domagala

The cottages now operate as convenience stores, coffee shops and homes for the locals, but they look almost exactly as they did 150 years ago. The care taken when they were first built has clearly continued to the day.

Luss is exceptionally easy on the eye with Ben Lomond, the most southerly Munro (a mountain with a height over 3000 feet), dominating the view north over the Loch and the Luss Hills rising to the west.

And that, apart from a small souvenir shop selling shortbread and whisky, pretty much sums it up. There’s no fanfare and not even a hint of tackiness – just a solitary signpost declaring Luss as ‘Scotland’s loveliest village’.

Clearly, there’s no need to make a song and dance about things in this part of the world.

Luss, like the whole Loch Lomond region, is special because so much of what makes it remarkable has been carefully preserved. And why would you want to change it? It’s more than lovely enough just as it is.

Legal and ethical factors that affect NFL players’ health

The newly released report, nearly 500 pages long, is based on analysis performed over two years by researchers from The Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, and is unprecedented both in scope and focus. This is the first comprehensive analysis of the legal and ethical obligations of various stakeholders that influence the health of NFL players. While clinical interventions are essential, players’ health is also affected by the environment in which players work.

The report reviews and evaluates the roles of 20 relevant stakeholders, including the NFL, NFL Players Association (NFLPA), players, and Club (team) doctors.

In total, the report makes 76 recommendations.

Highlights of the key proposals are summarized below:

Conflicts of interest: The current arrangement under which a team’s medical staff, including doctors and athletic trainers, have responsibility both to the players and to the club presents an inherent structural conflict of interest. A division of responsibilities between two distinct groups of medical professionals is needed to minimize such conflict and ensure that players receive medical care that is as unbiased and uninfluenced by competing interests as possible. Care and treatment should be provided by one set of medical professionals, called the “Players’ Medical Staff,” appointed by a joint committee with representation from both the NFL and NFLPA. The evaluation of players for business purposes should be conducted by a separate set of medical personnel, known as the “Club Evaluation Doctors.” Player health and adversarial collective bargaining: The NFL and NFLPA should refrain from making improvements to player health policies a “bargaining chip” in labor negotiations, to the extent that this is not already the case. Players should never be asked to trade their healthcare for other benefits in the collective bargaining process.