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How to Pack Like Photographer Heidi Hollinger

We caught up with the Montreal photographer before her flight to Havana, where she lives part-time.

Heidi Hollinger

Nearly 30 years ago, Montrealer Heidi Hollinger, then a modern languages student, made her first trip to Havana, and she was hooked. Between stints shooting political portraits in Moscow and hosting the TV show Waterfront Cities of the World, the photographer has always returned to the Cuban capital. Now, she’s compiled her decades’ worth of insider intel (and accompanying original shots) into a travel guide, 300 Reasons to Love Havana. We caught up with her before she flew back to Havana, where she lives part time.

How would you define your packing style?
I’m a last-minute over-packer.

What was it like putting the book together?
There’s so little information about Cuba available online, so if I wanted to verify something, I’d either have to physically go there – I covered the entire city on my bike multiple times – or, from Montreal, I’d call a friend on the ground who would check for me.

What are your top three musts for a Havana first-timer?
Go to Fábrica de Arte Cubano, an art gallery, performance space and club in an old cooking oil factory – order a mojito and explore it all. Next is the restaurant TocaMadera. Chef Enrique Suárez is extremely creative, which you have to be in Cuba, because you don’t know what’s going to be available. Some days there’s just no butter or milk in the city. Try the truffle risotto if you can. And go for a walk in Central Havana, where you’ll get a better sense of daily life than in touristy Old Havana.

You lived in Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Any similarities between that city and Havana?
In Moscow, it was difficult to find things in the shops, just like it is in Havana. And there are similar words used in both places. In Russia, it is lavirovat, which means to maneuver around the rules to make ends meet. In Cuba, it’s resolver: we’re all in this together and we will find a way, no matter what.

What's in the bag of Heidi Hollinger

A feng shui master at a New Year’s Eve party told me I should travel with rose quartz because it has a calming energy, so now I do. Russians are very superstitious, and I think it rubbed off on me when I lived there.

I find a bike rental in every city I go to, but I prefer to wear my own helmet. This Giro one is light and easy to pack in my carry-on or checked luggage.

I’m a snack master; I never leave the house without a healthy one. I started eating these Crickstart bars, made with cricket powder. They’re delicious – they don’t taste like crickets – and a great source of protein.

These slip-ons by Apostrophe look stylish, but are comfortable for long treks through airports.

This is from Clandestina, a design store in Havana, and a great spot for souvenirs that aren’t wooden maracas or statuettes. Barack Obama talked about wanting to buy T-shirts for his daughters when he visited in 2016.

I’m currently reading The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura, the most renowned contemporary Cuban writer. He wrote a detective series called Havana Quartet, which was turned into an incredible Netflix series, Four Seasons in Havana.

I listen to my son Luka’s (a.k.a. It’s Luka) album, Second Floor Feelings. It’s rap and reggaeton. He’s 17 and lives in Havana now. I know I’m his mom, but I love the lyrics.

My other son, Antoine, bought me this little glass Buddha from Renaud-Bray bookstore. I bring it to remind me of him.