Beautiful Laurentian bike ride through history on Ptit Train du Nord

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If you’re headed up north with bikes for the day, weekend or vacation you must already have heard of the Ptit Train du Nord recreation path that runs more than 200 kms from St. Jerome to Mont Laurier. Indeed, it is part of the Trans Canada Trail that spans the entire country. Our family has enjoyed the trail for years, choosing different segments most weekends. We used to pull the kids in a bike trailer till they finally managed two-wheelers on their own. What a fun family outing, sometimes lugging picnic lunches, other times stopping at the ice cream or sandwich shops along the way.

I had read about a newly paved section and decided to make that our Labour Day outing so we packed up the bikes and headed up the 117 to St. Faustin-Lac Carré.

The St. Faustin train station was built in 1893

The old train stations at each town are a delight to explore. Well preserved and exhibiting old photos of yesteryear, I can just imagine what it was like to take the voyage by train from Montreal, way up into the Laurentian Mountains. On today’s journey, I imagined my dad’s train ride to St. Faustin station in 1940. He vacationed in Lac Carré at Cantor’s Square Lake Inn, for just $15 a week!

Cantor’s Square Lake Inn, St. Faustin, Qc. Samuel Cantor, his wife Rachel, and brother Myer Cantor bought the Inn in 1935 and owned it together until the death of Myer in 1945. When Rachel died in 1961 the Inn was sold. It burned to the ground one year later, never to be rebuilt.

The St. Faustin-Lac Carré station is a meeting point in the town. The grounds are well groomed with outdoor artistic pieces, playground, a petoncle court and even a metal tree with heart shaped red locks with the names of lovers and their important dates (haven’t seen that since Paris). There is a lovely café and a couple of ice cream shops to suit your taste.

We decided to ride from St. Faustin to St. Jovite, aka Centre-Ville Mont Tremblant, a distance of 12.5 km. The asphalt was smooth as can be and most of the northbound ride was slightly sloped downhill so I enjoyed the breeze and sights without pondering the return uphill trip. In 30 just minutes we arrived at our destination. Along the way we saw beautiful views of the Riviere du Nord which hugs the trail much of its length.

There’s wildlife, farms, lovely old homes and places to stop and relax along the way. We saw butterflies and ducks on this trip. Previously we’ve seen deer.

I decided to explore and take pictures on the slower southbound climb. I hope you’ll enjoy my shots and come and see for yourself.

Many thanks to the good folks who maintain the Ptit Train du Nord and to their sponsors who provide the funding for this magnificent, free recreational gem.

Happy Cycling!

Lovely old Quebec homesteads to see along the Ptit Train du Nord
Riviere du nord, as scene from the Ptit Train du Nord, St. Faustin – Lac Carré
Beautiful colours and gorgeous homes along the bike trail
The views while cycling along the Ptit Train du Nord
Judy and Barry enjoying the warm breeze on the trail
Lovers locks in St. Faustin – Lac Carré
The Millette farm, passed down through the generations
Famille Millette farm equipment preserved for younger generations to explore
Old dam wheel to control water levels along the Riviere du Nord
Plenty of distraction for the little ones along the trail
Barry studying all the trail options in the Tremblant area
Step down into Lac Carré
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7 Effective Strategies for Getting into the Best Shape of Your Life

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My brother Barry is an unrelenting work-out fanatic, a seasoned, even professional, travel adventurer and a healthy-lifestyle driven character. He has spent years fine-tuning his control over mind, body and soul. Having dispatched his travel postcards from all corners of the globe for the past decade over 150 friends have repeatedly suggested that he write a book.

After two months of laser-focused effort, he has written and published his first ever book on Amazon, entitled: 7 Effective Strategies for Getting into the Best Shape of Your Life.

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Nicole and Jeremy Nashen with their uncle Barry Nashen on top of Mont St. Hilaire. Nov. 2018.

Good physical health, experiences, and friendships correlate with life satisfaction and overall happiness. However, the population is becoming ever more overweight and sedentary. Barry outlines seven motivators to energize your desire or ambition for feeling great. As you are a unique individual, the motivation that will inspire you may well be different from what will incite your friend. As an illustration, is it goal-setting or music that influences you best? Discover the motivation that sparks your enthusiasm.

“I have written a couple of dozen two-page travel postcards over the past decade. After much encouragement from my readers, I decided that it was finally time to write a book. How much more challenging can it be?”, Barry mused.

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Barry Nashen hiking in Croatia. 2015.

“After two months of concentration during the evenings, I published my first-ever book about motivation, couched in a guide for getting into great physical shape,” he said.

In order to impact the most people as possible with his effort, he has made his book available to download for a mere US$2.99 (or CAD $10.99 in paperback).  “If you enjoy my book leave a heartfelt review,” Barry said. “And it is completely free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers!”

The book is only 20 pages, you can easily read it in a half hour.

In Canada:
https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07P8KNW7T/ref=sr_1_1…

In the USA:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07P8KNW7T/ref=sr_1_1…

 

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Barry Nashen captures his first Spartan Beast in 2015

“I am certain you will enjoy reading my book,” Barry told me. “It is full of fun facts! And please re-post this request to your FB friends? Imagine if all your out-of-shape acquaintances become fit and healthy thanks to your re-post!”

And what’s next for Barry? “With your encouragement, I am planning on writing another, maybe a mystery novel!”

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Barry Nashen hikes and bikes the Portuguese coast in 2018

Farewell 2018. Hoping for a healthy, peaceful 2019.

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Sunset on the Atlantic. Cape St. Vincent, Portugal. Oct. 25, 2018.

 

As the sun sets on 2018 I chose this photo I shot just eight weeks ago at the southwestern most tip of Europe, Cape St. Vincent, in Portugal.

At this very point, 500 years ago, explorers set out into the unknown as family members waved goodbye, not knowing if they would see their brave, loved ones ever again. Off they went into the cold, rough ocean, not knowing what lay ahead, not quite sure on their course, nor their destination. They saw this exact same setting as we see today.

So too do we head off into the unknown: 2019. We don’t know quite what lies ahead and our destination is not assured. But just like the explorers of centuries ago, we are steadfast and resolute in our direction. We’ve plotted a course for a good year, a healthy year, a peaceful year. We have hopes and dreams just like they did.

Here’s wishing you well in all that lies ahead on your journey, wherever you may be headed. Happy New Year.

Glenn J. Nashen

Portuguese Merry Christmas

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Wishing my friends and neighbours a season of peace and love. Here are some photos on my recent trip to Portugal which suit the season.

Sé Cathedral, Lisbon. Oct. 25, 2018.

 

Monument of Christ the King looms over the rooftops of Lisbon. Oct. 27, 2018.

 

Jeronimos Monestary, Belhem. Oct. 27, 2018.

 

11th century Silves Cathedral. Silves. Nov. 3, 2018.

 

Our Lady of the Rock Chapel looms over the sea at Alporchinhos in the Algrave. Nov. 2, 2018.

Air Transat brings the Israel experience a lot closer

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Celebrating Air Transat service to Tel Aviv with Robert Presser, Glenn J. Nashen and Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman

A whole lot of Quebecers are about to get an incredible experience travelling directly to Israel aboard Air Transat. The Montreal-based airline kicked off its Trudeau to Ben Gurion non-stop service as a sort of birthday bash, marking its 30 years in business and highlighting Montreal’s 375th anniversary. 150 years of Canadian federation, as well as 100 years of Federation CJA.

The event took place in the ultra-modern Montreal Science Centre at the Old Port. There was an interesting mix of politicos, business leaders, young entrepreneurs and community who’s who. English, French and Hebrew-speaking, Kosher or not, young and less young, the audience reflected the multicultural, hip crowd of would-be travelers that Air Transat is targeting.

Airline prez Jean-Marc Eustache, lead off the formalities by saying that they weren’t looking to become mere transporters. The airline’s strategy is to build travel experiences with local partners in Israel to offer excursions, lodging and tours to meet the needs of Quebec couples, families and singles alike. And, publicity will soon begin to promote Montreal and Quebec as a hot tourist destination for Israelis.

Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman was beaming with excitement at the prospect of tens of thousands of Quebecers seeking a taste of Israel. Whether it’s for the food, the wine or the music, for exploring or for religious travel, Israel has it all, said the coolest diplomat Israel has sent to Montreal in modern times. The Israeli Consul for Tourism, Uri Steinberg, said that the relationship between Israel and Air Transat would flourish, like a romance, as they become closer and closer, falling in love with one another. Quebecers will love Israel, he said.

Glenn J. Nashen, Sandy Sparkman and Robert Presser at the Air Transat kickoff of bi-weekly direct service between Montreal to Tel Aviv

Montreal City Councillor and Executive Committee member Lionel Perez said that Montrealers will benefit from being five or six hours closer thanks to the direct flights and that Israelis will come in large numbers to enjoy Montreal’s flair, sites and culture. And we have great religious sites to share with them such as the St. Joseph’s Oratory, the Notre Dame Cathedral and eventually a downtown Expos stadium!

The Transat folks created a true Israeli atmosphere, raffling off two free flights for two to Israel, serving spicy, tasty hors d’ouevres and five kinds of humus provided by Alan Serour of Beso Catering. A 5-piece orchestra belted out Klezmer tunes and Israeli wine flowed freely.

Glenn J. Nashen and CSUQ President Henri Elbaz discussing their next trip to Israel aboard Air Transat

It was great to see my old JGH boss Henri Elbaz and his physician wife Dr. Sandy, CIJA chief Eta Yudin, Senator Marc Gold, Hamsptead Mayor Bill Steinberg and his wife Doris, Outremont City Councillor Mindy Pollak, Israel Day Rally impresario Amos Sochaczevski, Israeli commuter-in-chief Dado Ben Brit, community activists Sandy Sparkman and Robert Presser and former news anchor Pascale Dery. CSL Insurance and Travel Professional Ruth Cohen will be plugging Air Transat service from her Cavendish Mall headquarters,

Good luck to Air Transat in finally bringing back direct service to Ben Gurion airport after a decades long gap. Here’s to falling in love with Israel!

Shalom Cuba: a smaller, thriving Jewish community

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When you think of Cuba you probably envision beautiful sandy beaches, royal palm trees, Latin rhythm and jazz, rum, cigars, Fidel, communism, old cars and so on. And you’d be right. But would you imagine a small, but thriving Jewish community that once numbered close to 20,000 members, five synagogues, Rabbis and kosher food flown in from Mexico or South America?
This is the short story of my family’s visit to Jewish Cuba a few weeks ago.
Many Jews arrived in Cuba with Christopher Columbus in 1492 and Jewish presence has remained there ever since.
In my post-university years, following Leadership Development training at the Canadian Jewish Congress, I was actively involved in heading up the local committee first for Jews in Arab Lands, and subsequently the Cuban Jewry Relief Committee. This latter group always left me with the desire to visit this intriguing, and somewhat mysterious, community. So my trip to Cuba was essentially a decades long mission on my bucket list sandwiched in between six days at a lovely resort.
As happenstance would have it, while walking through Old Havana, we passed by the old Orthodox Shul. Squished between nondescript, run down buildings, gated and locked, one could easily pass right by, none the smarter. But being the curious types we wanted to know as much as possible about anything and everything that had a hint of Jewishness. We had questions and and we wanted answers.

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Inscription adorning the Sinagoga Ortodoxa Adath Israel in Old Havana (Feb. 2017)

Although the Synagoga Ortodoxa Adath Israel was locked up, an old man wearing a very noticeable Magen David (Star of David) stood outside, answering questions for any curious tourists passing by. For Montrealers, it was like standing in front of Zaida’s or even great-grandfather’s shul on the Main, St. Lawrence Boulevard.
There we met two Jewish Cuban expats, who introduced themselves as ‘Jewbans’. Visiting from Orlando, Florida, on a Family Reunification visa, they were most excited to visit the synagogues of their grandparents and their grave sites in the Jewish cemetery. Their Cuban Jewish patriarchs went back seven generations.
The ‘Jewbans’ told us that their uncle and father had been Bar Mitzvahed in the synagogue we stood in front of, and the one we were about to visit.

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The Nashen Family visiting Temple Beth Shalom, the Grand Synagogue of Cuba (Feb. 2017)

Temple Beth Shalom is also known as the Gran Sinagoga de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba, located in the posh neighbourhood of Vedado. Beth Shalom Synagogue, known by Jewish Cubans as the ‘Patronato‘, is Cuba’s major Jewish community centre.
Designed by famed architect Aquiles Capablanca and founded in 1953, the Gran Sinagoga maintains its striking facade with the symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel and a modernist arch rising to the heavens. In recent years, the Patronato has become a crossroads for Jews from all over the world.
In the absence of any antisemitism in Cuba, the doors were wide open and we walked in freely without any questions by anyone. What a great feeling.
Workers were busy renovating the bima (the podium from which the Torah is read) and other areas of the sanctuary. The Shul used to be Orthodox but in recent years became Conservative.
Ernesto Hernandez Miyares approached us and offered to show us a round and answer any questions. Ernesto is the hi-tech expert and secretary of the Shul and didn’t hesitate to proudly show off his unique and lively centre.

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Nearby the Orthodox Synagogue in Old Havana we stumbled upon this gated, closed parkette with a large, brass Menorah. There was no sign or description anywhere? Do you know the story behind this? If so, please leave a comment.

Ernesto is the son of Jewish emigres from Turkey. His wife comes from generations of Russian Jewish lineage. Their 18 year old son was to be making Aliyah in a matter of days. The couple hope to visit him on their first visit to Israel next year. Coincidentally, their son will go to Beer Sheva, Jewish Montreal’s twin city.
In 1959, there were more than 15,000 Jews in Cuba, Ernesto explained. Now, 800 remain in Havana alone, 1500 in all of Cuba.

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The Jewish Federation of Cuba

The Patronato houses the Jewish library, and regular festivals in their communal hall downstairs. Upstairs, they house a small pharmacy for community members and a room outfitted by ORT.  Shabbat services are held every week.

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Cuban Jewish Community President Adela Dworin with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following the funeral of Fidel Castro, Nov. 2016. This photo hangs in the Patronato in Havana. (Glenn J. Nashen, Feb. 2017)

Wonderful photos of celebration and VIP visits decorate a wall. There, one particular shot jumped out at me. It was a portrait of our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau alongside the Cuban Jewish community president, Adela Dworin.
Ernesto, and Vice-President David Prinstein recounted how Trudeau made a special visit to the Jewish community during last year’s visit for the funeral of Fidel Castro. I didn’t recall any publicity around such a meeting and took some pride in learning about this.
We thanked our hosts for this special visit and received a nice souvenir for my son, a bracelet displaying “Shalom Cuba”. How fitting.
We were invited to come back and visit again, Next time with Justin Trudeau.
Shalom from Cuba!

Which century is Cuba in?

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LOOKING FOR AN EXPERIENCE
I took my family on a vacation to Cuba two weeks ago. Looking for more than just the pool and beach I wanted the kids to have a higher level experience, something educational and memorable. Experiential. My solution?  A side trip to Havana.

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Classic 1950s American cars are everywhere in Cuba

Barely two hours from the paradise of Varadero, a trip to Havana is a trip back through time. Locked in the 20th century, the capital city of Cuba is a glimpse into the grandeur and opulence of its rich colonial past. The vibrancy of its heyday in the 1920s through the 1950s is everywhere, from the impressive architecture to the grand American classic automobiles. Latin rhythms waft from balconies and at touristy street corner bodegas. You can feel the wealth of culture and society of a bygone era.
Close your eyes and imagine the rich and famous strolling down the narrow streets during the Jazz Age , Ernest Hemingway at his favourite watering hole, the Bodeguita del Medio in the ’30s, Fidel Castro addressing his people in the ’50s, and Russian everywhere in the ’60s.
With the blink of an eye you switch back and forth between the centuries: 2017 Havana is a juxtaposition between dilapidated buildings and broken cobblestone roads mixed with charming cafes and floral displays on decorated balconies. The Old City is slowly being restored with private funding inching its way into the Communist economy and significant UNESCO investment in buildings rich in heritage and history.

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Streets in Old Havana are narrow with very few cars. Life flows out into the street with local smells and sounds – a photographer’s paradise, as it was for me.

WHERE ARE THE AMERICANS?
Tourists abound from Europe, South America, Russia and mostly Canada. Nary an American is to be found with the 55 year old US embargo still in place restricting US travel (save for those who qualify for a visa based upon family reunification, non-governmental work or religious travel).
Surprisingly, tourism is only the second largest source of revenue for the tiny island nation. The first industry is actually exportation of trained workers. Doctors, engineers and a host of professionals are permitted to leave for up to 8 years and to earn real world wages while sending back sizable amounts as tax to the government.

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Old Havana’s public spaces are wide open and generally car free. Many surrounding buildings offer impressive architectural facades, extraordinary balconies and beautiful colours.

Until recently doctors earned a paltry $30 per month, but with changes in the economic grip of Castro’s regime this amount has gone up tenfold now enabling the professionals to bring in an incredible $300 each month. Of course, those working abroad can earn many times more, and they do.
EQUAL AND RESPECTFUL
While 10% of Cubans are black, owing to the slave labour imported centuries earlier from Africa, 65% are white descendants of Europeans who arrived with Christopher Columbus in 1492. What’s more 1% are Chinese and the remaining 24% are mixed. Amazingly, there is no racial divide on the island. All Cubans are considered equal and respect one other. Perhaps this stems from the symbols emblematic in their flag, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, a civic philosophy borrowed from the French.

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I love to capture the expressions of the locals when I travel. Some will extend an arm and ask for a handout. Kids are inquisitive and engaging and generally will smile as did this beautiful little Havana resident.

TRYING TO GET AHEAD
Our guide Luis, 50 years old, was a teacher and voracious learner. While guiding several days each week in impeccable English and German, he supplements his earnings by privately teaching the English language to locals. He describes his fourth language, Italian, as a little rusty. Not being connected to the Internet his studying comes from books that he is able to come by locally. Luis has never driven a car and has no permit to do so, similar to most Cubans. Owning a car is cost prohibitive for most here.

Our guide Luis (right) and driver Julien (left) were outstanding. You can find them for your next side trip from Varadero to Havana at Cuban Trip Compass, the top rated tour company on TripAdvisor.

Our guide Luis (right) and driver Julien (left) were outstanding. You can find them for your next side trip from Varadero to Havana at Cuban Trip Compass, the top rated tour company on TripAdvisor.

The whole system works very slowly. No one goes hungry (anymore). Luis recounted how he and his wife would share a hard-boiled egg for lunch every day in the mid 90s when lengthy power outages were the norm. But, everyone has a home (even the homeless are housed in yesteryear’s mansions) and the government provides monthly rations of sugar, flour, soap, tooth paste, chicken and so on but North American standards are light years away despite its distance of barely 90 miles to the Florida keys.

LOOK AT THOSE CARS
Speaking of cars, the island is known worldwide for its pristine typical 1950s American classics. Anywhere you turn you’re guaranteed to see a brightly painted, shiny chrome vehicle with whitewall tires reminiscent of the Hollywood set of Happy Days. These beauties have been maintained for more than half a century and now sport modern horn sounds, LED lights and are used as taxis, rental cars or private vehicles.
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The yellow iconic Coco taxis, essentially motorbike with a rickshaw seat for two, are everywhere, however the US State department warns these are dangerous vehicles, prone to accident.

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Coco taxis are popular with the tourists but may not be as safe as you think

Smoking was everywhere! Yuck. There are no smoke-free zones. I thought we left these behind in the 20th century, but not in Cuba. There is smoking in restaurants, in stores, in the airport, in and around hotels. Everywhere. Between the cigarettes and famous Cuban cigars it’s no wonder that lung cancer is prevalent among Cubans.
LOOKING AHEAD
It was fascinating to learn how locals live and go about their lives through the eyes of Luis and his hopes and aspirations for his 19 year old  daughter now studying tourism at Matanzas University. He expressed concern about the work ethic of the next generation entering the labour market. He was hopeful that his daughter would have a better life and have more opportunity and experiences.  Seems like Cuban parents have very similar concerns to Canadian parents.

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Old Havana is a mix of bright colours of renovated buildings next to dilapidated ones. Amazingly this old cars has stood the test of time (and dodged a few falling bricks).

A SYSTEM WE’RE NOT USED TO
Everything, almost, is government-owned and controlled. While Luis carefully describes this setup as socialism rather than communism the omnipotence of the Castro regime is everywhere. And Soviet influences are fading very slowly, even 27 years after the fall of USSR.
Nonetheless, Luis is a very happy person and he describes Cubans, in general, as having a high degree of happiness. It would also seem that most Cubans have never left their country, internet is not widely available and news outlets and television programming are state controlled. Censorship is the norm.
Hotels chains are owned 51% by the government and the buildings will revert to full government ownership after a number of years. Hotel staff are employed by the state. It would seem that there is no incentive for improvement or quality. This helped us to understand why we had to call and visit the front desk multiple times to resolve basic requests such as to receive extra towels or to fix an air conditioning problem.

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Beautiful balconies on every street. Imagine how many different people opened these shutters through the centuries to look out upon those scurrying about below?

To be sure, hotel staff are very obliging and friendly. Many were outgoing and remembered our names and our nationality. However, lagging basic renovations, be it for plumbing, electrical or other issues, would wait for another day. Sadly, this malaise would turn an otherwise 5-star modern and luxurious Iberostar resort into a 3.5 star under-achiever. Don’t get me wrong, I’d stay here again and again. And I’ll definitely be back for a visit. The people are friendly, happy and engaging.

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Content, proud and secure, at home, in Old Havana

TWO HOURS IN A ’53 CHEVY
For 50 Cuban tourist dollars (CUC) our driver, Unido, was happy to tour us around Varadero city in a ’53 Chevy, taking us to see the two “shopping malls”, the Dupont mansion overlooking the Caribbean Sea, and the biggest of several flea markets, on 15th street at the corner of Main Street. There are 64 streets intersecting Main Street in the town centre which only runs two or three blocks wide on the 22 kilometre peninsula beach resort.
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My next post on Cuba will feature our visit to the Jewish community.

Ernest Hemingway’s regular hangout

I spotted this photo of our PM, Jean Chretien, with Fidel Castro, hanging in the bar at the Hotel Nacional in Havana

 

Music everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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