Ms Skinnyfat

A Food & Travel Blog from Singapore

A New York City 3 Michelin stars restaurants list would have been perfect for my blog should i have had things my way. That's if i had all that tummy space, time and money to experience it all. Last trip was meant for Daniel, Le Bernadin and Jean Georges (which we cancelled because we were shopping boo). Out of the 2, i was more impressed with Le Bernadin for their stellar execution of everything fish. They even made this un-fish fan (fish hater seems too harsh) change her mind about having fish as a proper meal (though i still maintain that fish is not meat).
I'm not a food snob in the sense that i don't blindly believe/follow the stars; the food should always precede the reputation. At Le Bernadin, Chef Eric Ripert recognizes and respects that. The use of subtle textures and flavors and sourcing of the freshest ingredients all contribute to the award winning meals that are served at this NYC seafood establishment.
We had the 3 course lunch which cost a mere US$72. This is why i love fine dining overseas at  because it's so much higher in quality and way easier on the pockets. The menu selection is extensive and we had a hard time just picking a starter from the Almost Raw or Barely Touched section. 

We started with the generously portioned Amuse Bouche of Salmon spread, which is the usual salmon mayonnaise but tasted so much better than what anyone could possibly make at home due to the freshness and condiments used.
The Almost Raw Tuna was a layered plate of thinly pounded Yellowfin Tuna, Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette, served simply with shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil. The individual flavors could be tasted separately but they worked extremely well on the whole. The tuna took on an almost beef like taste as a result and the thin baguette gave the dish its surprisingly factor with its wafer like crunch. Love this one.
The Barely Touched Scallop was a new creation, created a month before we arrived. The cute pearly Nantucket Bay Scallops were really sweet and when done carpaccio style with the Finger-Lime, Lemongrass and Lime-Shiso Broth, the dish was a breath of fresh air in the dreary winter. 
The Poached Skate was fantastic with a nice bounciness to the meat. I love eating it along the grain as there's hardly any need to use the knife. Food eating quirks. The Brussels Sprouts-Bacon Mignonette gave the mild illusion of a meat dish without the heaviness.
I love the oiliness and fattiness of a good fillet of Cod. The meat is firm and substantial but still maintained its moisture after undergoing the wrath of the oven. The silky texture tofu strip with sea bean salad and octopus wouldn't have been out of place at a Chinese restaurant so it comes as a surprise that it appeared on a French plate. The dish would have been perfect if were left untouched by the cumin-red wine sauce. I liked the sweetness of the red wine reduction but the cumin added that touch of exoticism that's better left in the Mediterranean.
A good meal should always end on a sweet note and my Coffee dessert was quite perfect. It looks simple and plain with the Caramel Crémeux, Mascarpone Mousse and Coffee Ice Cream but the astronaut-ice cream-ish chocolate pops that almost evaporate upon contact with your tongue make it a pretty cool dish. Plus it's chocolate. How can anyone not love chocolate?
The Black Forest was a little more interesting with the varied flavors of sweet and sour. Special mention to the Belgian Kriek Beer Sorbet which got S really excited. Interesting characters on this plate; Mr. Dark Chocolate Cremeux was a smooth fellow while Ms.Vanilla Kirsch Bavaroise hid a dark skeleton in her closer- a brandy-soaked cherry. Despite the differences, cherries, chocolate and vanilla will always be the perfect love affair. 
Should you have more time and cash to spare, please please please do the Chef Tasting menu ($147). I don't think anyone will regret that.

Le Bernadin
155 W 51st St.
New York, 10019
Tel: +1 212 554 1515
'Chicken Rice' is a must eat street food dish in New York even if you're not a street food fan. It is known by many names; some call it the ‘Platter’, some know it as ‘Chicken & Rice’ or the ‘Gyro Spot. Whatever it is, i'll gladly ditch my Michelin stars just so that i have space for my favorite 'Chicken Rice' in the city. And the only one you should eat at is The Halal Guys on 53rd and 6th in Mid Town (the original).

It's not really chicken rice per se, and certainly not the Hainanese or Singaporean Chicken rice that we are familiar with. This is the American Halal food cart sort. Check it out for yourself.
Now doesn't that look gorgeous? The fluffy long grained Basmati rice can be topped with the plainly seasoned grilled chicken and/or the must have heavily flavored lamb loaf bits. Part of the secret to this delicious meal is in the white sauce which is creamy and really helps in neutralizing the crazy hot sauce that they have. Go easy on the hot sauce, it's FIERCE. The pita and lettuce also help to cool the heat.

For $6, you get a huge tray of rice with meat. S and i would usually shared a tray and even so we can never finish it all at once. The convenient packaging makes it easy for us to pack it back as supper. The gyro is much tastier than the chicken, which tends to be a little dry. The picky me can never decide if i only wanna do gyro alone so it's always mixed for us.
Make sure that you get it from The Halal Guys because there are other food carts that pretend to be them. So here is how you make sure you get the right one. 1. The Halal Guys currently brand their bags, shirts, and carts with the slogan "We Are Different." 2. Their to-go bags are yellow 3. Their logo features a gyro log on a spit (as shown above).
Check out the video to see for yourself how popular The Halal Guys are. Trust me when i say this is THE STREET FOOD of New York City. Eat it like the locals do here. It's just next to Hilton in Mid Town and they now have a few carts all in the same area.

The Halal Guys
53rd St & 6th Ave “Original Location” (in front of Hilton) / 7pm to 4am
53rd St & 6th Ave (across 6th Ave from above location) /10am to 5am
53rd St & 7th Ave / 10am to 5am
Nobu New York is one of the best known restaurants in the Big Apple and depending on which list you refer to, it is among the top 40 eating spots. However, given all the media attention and hype that this flagship  restaurant of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa has generated since 1994, i found that new style (or innovative if you insist) Japanese food here hardly lived to its reputation. I mean.. it wasn't bad but it wasn't mind blowing as i expected it to be. And i would expect it to be fantastic given its perennial popularity and how reservations needed to be made way in advance. Thankfully our concierge gets us top tables even at short notice if not i would be damn annoyed.
The interior is inspired by the Japanese countryside and warm wooden tones and stone textures were employed to create a relaxing atmosphere for dining.

The Lunch Omakase is very reasonably priced at US$65/75 and that allows you a taste of their signature dishes. We did that and added 2 other dishes for sharing between the 2 of us and we were quite full at the end. A la carte prices are listed for your reference.
The Omakase started with the Bigeye & Bluefin Toro Tartar with Caviar ($32) which was a rather refreshing dish due to the wasabi sauce that it sat on top of. The dish is eaten with a little spoon and you'll definitely get some spicy sauce that is guaranteed to clear any congested nose. Interesting presentation.
Next was the Yellowtail Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa Dressing ($24). This dressing was created by Nobu to make sashimi more appealing to the salad eating Americans. The base was a light vinegar soy with hints of sesame oil and caramelized onions.The fish was so so but it was lifting on the whole with the shredded daikon, pumpkin and cucumber.

Rock Shrimp Tempura with creamy spicy sauce ($21) is one of my favorite dishes at Nobu. I loved the crunchy and light batter which coats the bouncy shrimp bites. This is a snack that i'll always order even if i dine at Nobu all the time. I love it as much as i do Sushi Tei's Hanasaki Ika Tempura (a little insulting but that's pretty good too).
The perfection that is the Black Cod with Miso ($32) was every bit that i have imagined and better. This is a dish that many chefs replicate around the world but Nobu still does it the best. The fish is marinated in the sake-miso sauce for 2-3 days before baking to give it sweetness. I must say this is THE perfect match for the plump fish fillet.
The thing that Nobu does terribly is sushi and sashimi. My assorted sushi was so bad i couldn't bear to finish it. The rice was lacking in flavor and didn't hold well due to its dryness. The fish didn't taste particularly fresh and the texture was just off.
Our side order of the Nobu Special Donburi Chirashi ($34) was also too meh for me to wanna describe it. My regular sushi places in Singapore do better chirashi than Nobu. I kid you not.
The Anago Eel ($6.5) fared a little better with its slightly creamy but powdery texture. Of course I've had better ones in Tsukiji but this was bearable.
Our meal ended with the plain Bento Box ($12) which is a warm Valrhona chocolate soufflé cake with shiso syrup, white chocolate sauce and green tea ice cream. Little thought went into this one. The cake wasn't all that molten and the green tea ice cream lacked the intensity of the matcha.

If you do go to Nobu, just stick to their signature dishes and NEVER do their sushi and sashimi. Overall it's an a-ok experience. Just a little disappointing because i was expecting the wow factor.
Nobu New York
105 Hudson Street (at the corner of Franklin)
Tel: +1 212 219 0500
Mon - Fri: 11.45am - 2.15pm
Daily Dinner: 5.45 - 10.15pm
Ippudo is a well known brand for its Tonkotsu (pork based) Hakata ramen from the Fukuoka region. Since its humble beginning in 1985 with a small counter seating of 10, Ippudo has expanded to 43 shops throughout Japan, with outlets in New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Ippudo NY is Shigemi Kawahara's first overseas venture and probably the best overseas outlet. 2 hour queues are the norm at this no-reservations restaurant and even in the bone chilling winter. The Singapore pales in comparison to the rich and flavorful broths over here at the 4th Ave branch in NYC.
We were ravenous after that terribly long queue and proceeded to order immediately after being seated. Start with the appetizers, which are no way less attractive than the ramen. Hot favorites include the Hirata Buns- a slab of braised pork belly (of course) or chicken sandwiched between Ippudo's original spicy buns sauce and mayo (2pcs, US$9).
I highly recommend the fried Chickens Wings (3pcs, $7) which were marvelously crisped on the outside andglazed with Ippudo special black pepper sauce that is umm umami.
The Tofu and Nasu Agedashi ($10) was satisfying as well though the tofu wasn't the silkiest. I like that the dashi broth isn't too bland like how some restaurants serve it. Honestly if i wanted something lighter i would order chilled tofu instead of fried ones don't you think? The scallions and wasabi provided a refreshing dimension and i loved the eggplant tempura that is served as well.
My choice of ramen was the Akamaru Modern ($15). This is the original silky "Tonkotsu" (pork) soup noodles topped with Ippudo's secret "Umami Dama" miso paste, pork chashu, cabage, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. And boy, that had me slurping non stop for the next couple of minutes. The flavors are rich and creamy without being heavy, which is what a good Tonkotsu ramen should be. Noodles may be a little on the softer side but not overly soggy. Your liking really depends on your preference.
I'm not too big a fan of the Karaka Miso Ramen ($16). The soybean based Tonkotsu soup with the Ippudo special blend of hot spices would have been fine but once that bolus of ginger paste was happily stirred in by S (who isn't even a ginger fan), the soup tasted like the Singapore Chicken Rice Chili sauce. Too much ginger spoiled the broth.

Top up your ramen with the delectable toppings. You gotta have the Nitamago (Seasoned boiled egg with running yolk, $2), Kakuni (braised pork belly, $4) a melt in your mouth stewed fatty pork and b ($3).
Is it Ippudo NY worth the queue? Definitely. Absolutely delicious ramen that even chefs are willing to queue for on their free nights. I should be eating there just as you read this. ;)

Ippudo NY
65 Fourth Avenue (Between 9th and 10th Street)
New York, NY 10003
Tel: +1 212 388 0088
Mon - Thu: 11am - 3.30pm, 3- 11.30pm
Fri - Sat : 11am - 3.30pm, 5pm - 12.30am
Sun: 11 am - 10.30pm
If you want a quiet brunch in town, Nassim Hill Bakery,  does a good job of satisfying an egg craving. The outpost at the hidden part of Tanglin Post Office is nowhere to be seen from the main road. You have to get in, head up and navigate through the butchery and out to find it. I thought they were closed when i was looking for the place. The easiest way is to drive up Nassim Road and it's just next to the Post Office entrance. 
The place wasn't too packed on a Saturday afternoon. I don't think 1pm is too late for brunch. I hope it stays this way, though i've let out on this secret. Bistro and Bakery by day, Nassim Hill Bakery does a wholesome breakfast food for egg crazy people like me. At night, she transforms into a bar serving unique cocktails and the aromatic Grimbergen draught beers (A Belgian abbey beer first to debut in Asia and exclusive to Nassim Hill and 1128). A dinner menu is also available.

All breakfast sets comes with a basket of bread, all freshly baked by Freshly Baked (read review here), one of my favorite bakeries! Head Baker Audrey takes charge of the bakery section and supplied Nassim Hill Bakery with the same breads that is ever so perfect and familiar. The bread basket includes the fluffy white ciabatta, the yeasty and malty Grimbergen Ambree bread, fluffy Walnut raisin bread and cereal rye bread.
The Hearty Scrambled Eggs ($20) was creamy and runny and it was served with Swiss cheese, French Rosette de Lyon salami or prosciutto with our signature Grimbergen Ambrée beer bread.
Lovely Eggs Benedict ($20) on the airy white ciabatta pillows. Perfectly poached eggs with chunky succulent and sweet smoked ham, creamy hollandaise sauce with the right amount of acidity, what more can i ask for in a Benny? I reluctantly swapped a half of my benny with S's Hot Reuben, which i ordered for him because i wanted to try. Haha. 
I did not regret exchanging our dishes at all. Seriously, this is the star attraction at Nassim Hill. The Hot Reuben ($18) is a massive sandwich of sliced corned beef with melted emmental cheese, saurkraut, onions and Russian dressing on their signature Grimbergen Ambrée beer bread. This sandwich is absolutely appetizing and no one flavor overpowered the other. The malty aroma in the bread could be tasted in every bite. This is definitely my must-order from now on. 
Their coffees ain't quite impressive and neither were their iced teas. The mocha was way too sweet, even for the boy with the sweet tooth. Chocolate syrup=meh but i love the ginger snapps that came with it. Yums.

Adding to my list of yummy brunches in town!

Nassim Hill Bakery
56 Tanglin Road
Tanglin Post Office #01-03
Tel: +65 6835 1128
Tue-Sun: 8am - 8pm
I know that the famous Michelin Star dim sum Tim Ho Wan has arrived in town. But if you are unwilling to beat that looooooooooooong queue at Plaza Singapure, may i suggest another comfortable alternative- Bosses at Vivocity.

While it may not be 1 star quality, prices are affordable, location is convenient, ambience isn't too shady and the dim sum are generally quite consistent. I was first introduced to it by a girlfriend because the 30% discount at tea time seemed quite appealing to us. Available from Mon to Sat from  2.30pm to 5.30pm, this is a pretty good deal for what is usually priced at $4-6 per box of little bites. And we were not disappointed. I've eaten here a couple of times following that first visit and it satisfies this hungry tummy.    
Appetizer of fried fish skin. I know it looks eeeky and all and i have always avoided this dish until my recent trip to Bosses. The auntie server convinced me that it's great with the sweet chili and well.. it didn't turn out as bad as i've imagined. It's just like keropok aka fish crackers. 
One of my usual orders at Bosses is their Salted Egg Yolk Custard Bun or Liu Sha Bao. The skin of the steamed bun is soft and fluffy and the golden sauce inside was of the right level of saltiness and viscosity. There was also a light coconut perfume that i can never seem to place but anything goes as long as it's tasty. This is one of the better ones around in Singapore.
Fat juicy and flavorful prawns in my Har Gow. I would like the prawns to be a little bouncier but i wouldn't say that the mix is too powdery. My twin's seafood/prawn craving was satisfied.
 The meat dumplings, Siew Mai, was also topped with pretty butterflied prawns. I love how the meat wasn't too minced up that they lose their chewiness. Very substantial unlike the regular steamed siew mais in lesser establishments. The meat was also well marinated and fragrant. 
The steamed gyoza or dumpling was quite good too even with all that vegetables in them. :P

Not sure what's this. I forgot what it was, only that it was quite delicious. I believe it's some beancurd skin with stuffed prawns and then wrapped with the the thin sheets of chee cheong fun (steamed rice flour rolls). Like i said before, the prawn filling never fails to satisfy and this is one cool alternative to the regular chee cheong fun. 

If you happen to be shopping in Vivocity, Bosses is a good option for a late lunch or tea. 

1 HarbourFront Walk
#02-156 / 157 Vivocity
Tel: +65 6376 9740
Mon - Thu & Sun: 10am - 10pm
Fri - Sat: 10am - 10.30pm
The famed Malecon 
Cuba is an enigma that draws people in with its exotic charm and then puzzles, and sometimes annoys them with her ways. Broken things are never quite fixed thoroughly and mended only superficially or ignored. We were left to the conclusion that Cubans are either passionate about something or they are simply uninterested. Honestly, that sounds like a pretty damn good way of living your life, unless you're at the receiving end of that crap.

Prior to leaving for Cuba, we had the stereotypical view that it is all about music, rum, cigars and vintage cars (read my previous post here). Well, it kind of appeared to be so, just like in the movies but without the soundtrack (i take reference from Buena Vista Social Club). However, it's not just that. The stereotype pretty much stays in Habana and the bigger cities and the smaller cities are just like any others in developing/ latin american cities/countries minus the connectivity. Deja vu of India and even Malaysia.
Honestly, i can't tell you how it feels like to be there in Cuba. Nothing beats experiencing it for yourself because we write our own stories. Even after coming back from a trip, you may still develop dimensions/understanding of a place that you didn't before. That's the power of travel. So here is me helping you get there so you can create your own memories. Some background and tips next for your planning consideration.
The busy Paseo de Marti 

Safety and Health
Cuba is generally very safe but like any other country, be vigilant and exercise caution and common sense (e.g. not take quiet dark alleys late night, take drugs and the lots). Strict and prominent policing makes it unwise for people to commit crimes. Police presence is seen and felt in the touristy area of Havana Vieja, but once out of the zone, you hardly see any police on patrol.

Scams however, are prevalent in Havana. Single men or couples asking about the time, tempting you with salsa festivals, cheap cigars, cheap drinks, locals learning English and wanting someone to practise with and the list goes on. Politely decline and walk away. Entertain them a little if you're bored, but don't let them take you for a ride. It kinda sucks because Asians really stand out in Cuba and we're the obvious targets for scams. Watch your belongings as well.
A funky modern pharmacy with a traditional facade in Havana 
Healthcare is well provided for in Cuba and the pharmacies are extremely well stocked (trust me, we checked). In fact, medicine is one of their biggest exports and doctors are held in high esteem there.

Playa Ancon, Trinidad
Being in the Caribbean, Cuba experiences a moderate average temperature of 21°C in Jan to 27°C in Jul. We enjoyed a cool, dry and sunny break in Cuba in between our wintry NYC trip in Dec 2012. The dry season is from Nov to Apr. Rain comes in from May to Oct with hurricanes causing disturbances in Sep-Oct. Some areas like Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos and many others were badly hit by Hurricane Sandy and many homes were destroyed and basic necessities disrupted. Safety and sanitation were on the top of our minds and we had no choice but to reorganize our itinerary. The original plan was to travel east to Baracoa but we had to do a U-turn at Santa Clara.

Getting there
Visa is required for many countries including Singapore and you can apply at the Cuban embassy. The nearest one to Singapore is in Jakarta (O great.) and they insisted that we have to send them our passports (NO WAY!) Many other visa application websites required the same even though it was stated clearly that only a photocopy of your passport. Like no way. and it's not necessary AT ALL. Read the next paragraph carefully.

For tourists, book your air tickets through a travel agency/airline that flies direct to Cuba and they would provide you with tourist card (included in the price of the ticket). We only realized that after all the scrambling and then Air Canada Vacations told us it was already included. Thank god.

It is also possible to buy the tourist card at the airline desk (through the country which you are traveling to Cuba from e.g. France, Canada, Mexico etc). It costs about US$25. If you lost this tourist card, you can get a replacement for another 25CUC (Cuban Convertibles) but i'm not sure about this procedure. Just DON'T LOSE IT. Period.

Also, do not worry that you will be barred from entering US if you have a Cuban chop on your passport. Singaporeans do not require a separate passport unlike if we travel to Israel. In fact, i didn't get any Cuban chop in my passport. It was stamped on the tourist card instead and taken back when we departed Cuba.

Cuba uses 2 currencies- Cuban Convertibles (CUC) for tourists and the Pesos (MN) for the locals. The exchange rate is 1CUC=25MN. Both currencies are only available upon arrival in Cuba. Euros, Pounds and Canadian dollars get you better rates than USD. There is a 10% exchange commission for the first 3 and 20% for USD (the govt has a love hate relationship with US). For easy reference, 1CUC is about 1 Euros after all that double/triple exchange and commission. 

Tourists can only exchange for CUC at the banks but you can exchange that again for MN at the local money changers (Cadecas). That's when we felt a lot richer because 1 CUC can get us a rather decent meal of sandwich and rice for the 2 of us. SCORE. The locals accept any form of money as long as it's 1.Cuban and 2. It's real.
Huge Cuban Pressed Sandwich for 10MN
The best places to stay at in Cuba are the Casa Particulars (private homestays) but they aren't the easiest to book (especially on short notice or for 1 night stays). The locals open their homes to tourists for some extra cash and in exchange you get a safe and cosy home with authentic Cuban meals  thrown in for cheap.
A typical living room in a Cuban home/casa 
The 2 websites that I would recommend are Cuba-Junky and B&B Vinales. I did most of my booking using the latter and their recommended casa did not disappoint me. Prices range from 20CUC (low season) to 25/30CUC (high season). This is way cheaper than the hotels in Havana which absolutely ripped us off at 80 Euros a night. Hotel Los Frailes was the worst with some screw up with the agent and we ended up paying 110 Euros a night. What pissed me even more was that it wasn't even my top choice hotel.  
To avoid that situation, just book the casas in advance. The more established ones will not screw you over and situations like over booking will not happen. For hotels, i noticed that the final booking always goes through Cuba Travel Network so you might as well just use their site to check the prices. For 1 night stay, it'll be easier getting a hotel room.

What sort of food blogger am i if i do not at least give you a preview to the food that we had in Cuba. Home cooked Cuban meals (also served in restaurants) included the following- Salad, Rice (with or without beans) with choice of meat (chicken/pork mostly) or seafood (fish, shrimp, lobster), Cuban Roots (kinda tapioca-like, less starchy than potatoes) and then desserts (always desserts). One thing to bear in mind is that they are always huge in portions and impossible to finish (at least for us).
Grilled Lobster at Casa in Trinidad 
Cordon Bleu at El Alba, Santa Clara 
Our best meals were served in the casas that we lived in. Yuda makes the best lobster dish in Trinidad and they are HUGE. We only paid 8CUC for a 4 course lobster dinner which also included coffee/tea. Needless to say, we ate at home every night. In Santa Clara, visit Hostal Florida Center for a good lobster and camarones set. My Cordon Bleu at El Alba (a Peso restaurant) was less than 2CUC and was fabulous as well.
Sundae with choice of biscuit, cake and syrup
I don't think everyone can beat the Cubans in terms of their passion for ice cream (not even the Italians). Coppelia, the nationalized ice cream chain, is practically in  every city. Just follow the queues and you'll be at the cavernous structure in no time. The ice cream is by no chance good but for an 8 cents Euros sundae, you shouldn't be complaining. It's artificial, very sweet and it melts in no time but it's an experience that you've got to try. The first time we did in Havana, we paid 2CUC and subsequently we found the peso queue. Remember, you only pay that kinda money for imported ice cream such as Nestle.

Oh and the Cubans don't just stop at 1 Sundae (or 2 for S), they do like 5 sundaes each and they pack the unfinished ones home. Yes the melted ones and all. Amazeballs.
That's what we call a well stocked bar/supermarket
Drinks can be bought on the cheap, never more than 3CUC for a strong (or poisonous) Mojito or Pina Colada. Or visit the liquor store and knock yourself out with the crazy selection of rum and all.

Getting around
We usually do car rentals for our trips so that it'll be easier to visit the various cities and that also gives us more flexibility in our schedule. However, i would advise against that for Cuba. The roads are no good and signs are absent along the way. Forget about 3G because data roaming will kill your bank account. You'd be lucky to even get Wi-Fi. GPS isn't allowed into the country unless you smuggle them in.
Your best bet? Buses for intercity transfers. Viazul provides reliable and comfortable bus travel. Buses are new (and from China). The schedules are available online and the buses come on time as well. Online booking was suspended for a while but resumed before we flew so we got all our tickets beforehand. Prices are in USD (surprise!) and you pay online.
The first experience at the bus station was chaotic with no signs or clear indication of our bus' arrival/departure. They have a ridiculous system of attending to passengers (or not) so go early with your reservation printout and exchange for another ticket to board the bus. Soft copies are not accepted (yes they were very stubborn). Tag your bags at the bag counter (show them your boarding ticket) before leaving them under the bus. Do not pay more than 1CUC for 2 bags (it's a rip off really). You will experience the first time traveler anxiety but good news is, once you get past the first time, you'll be breezing in and out of the station like a pro.

Our newly made Israeli friends used the Transtur service which is also quite good. We've also seen British tourists on that as well.
If you are more adventurous or on a budget and if you know Spanish, you could travel like the locals do in truck buses. A backpacker that we met said that these standing tickets costs a couple of Cuban Pesos.
My pseudo backpacking experience
To sum it all up, Cuba is not a place for everyone and it will scare the hell out of you if you're an amateur traveler (those who go on packaged tours are in this category btw). The tips here should help a little with the anxiety issues. Sadly there they weren't available to me when i was doing my planning (but we survived!). Feel free to drop me a message if you have questions on Cuba or if i have left out any important sections. If you're looking for an adventure, consider Cuba before the US embargo lifts and the destruction of the simple life.