Three Perfect Days: Bogotá - United Hub
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Bogotá

By The Hub team , February 04, 2014

Story by Janet Hawkins | Photography by Michael Hanson | Hemispheres, February 2014

From the green mountains that encircle the sprawling metropolis to its blossoming arts and entertainment offerings, Colombia's abidingly beautiful capital city is a place bursting with optimism, energy and life

Bogotá is used to being misunderstood. It's chilly, we hear, and a bit wet. It's true, the city gets a fair amount of rainfall and the mercury rarely climbs above 67 degrees Fahrenheit, but a shower here is as apt to last a few minutes as an afternoon, and the temperature rarely dips below the 60s. Plus, it's the weather that keeps the city green and fragrant.

There's also the misconception, a residue from cinematic crime capers and a history of news reports, that Bogotá is teeming with drug lords. No one would deny that this city of more than 8 million people has had its share of problems, but the crime risk today is pretty much on par with any major urban center. These days, Bogotá is as safe as London or New York.

As intensive public safety initiatives have transformed the city's streets, major redevelopment programs have further heightened Bogotá's appeal as a place to live and visit, helping the Colombian capital to reposition itself as a hotbed of art and architecture, hospitality and nightlife. You can see evidence of this in the leafy facade of its whimsical Bio Hotel, and in the couples sipping mojitos on the patios of upscale bars.

Walking around this vibrant city, you get the sense that even Bogotans are surprised at how much it has changed. Residents who ten years ago left to seek their fortunes elsewhere have returned, and there's a Sí, se puede air about the place that's infectious. Last summer, the city hosted the third annual Bogotá Wine & Food Festival, an opportunity to show chefs from around the world just how it's done in this cradle of diversity.

As it turns out, it's done very well.

DAY ONE | The shutters on the 15-foot windows are closed, the light on the trendy phone switched off, so your sensory input is limited to the brush of a silky duvet and the scent of old money. It's not a bad way to wake up. You hop out of bed and bring up the lights on a room that has a touch of “Downton Palacio" about it. The Orchids Hotel is one of Bogotá's most luxurious properties, and your Midsummer Night's Dream suite takes this to extremes. A butler in a morning coat pours your coffee, which you sip beneath a gilded ceiling before descending to the lobby in a glass elevator, passing a pebbled fountain and emerging into La Candelaria, the cultural nexus of Colombia's capital city.

Whitewashed walls running along the avenue outside are capped at either end with swaths of green—the Monserrate and Guadalupe peaks that shadow you throughout the city. You quickly become lost in a warren of pastel-painted streets lined with dinky shops and homes with doors polished to perfection.

Zipaquir\u00e1 City HallZipaquirá City Hall

Eventually, you stumble across La Puerta Falsa, a tiny family restaurant that has served santafereña cuisine for seven generations. Inside, on a tight balcony above the kitchen, you sip hot chocolate with melted cheese, then grapple with a huge tamale, peeling back plantain leaves to reveal a fat chicken leg in the embrace of carrots, corn, rice, yellow peas and pork grease. Proprietor Mónica Sabogal says she sells 300 tamales, easily, during the week, and another 500 on weekends. You can taste why.

After a short plod you're in Plaza de Bolívar, an expansive square whose disparate architecture aims for grandeur and delivers a lesson in resilience. The neoclassical Palacio Liévano—a replacement for earlier structures destroyed by earthquake or fire—stands along the western side, flanked by the colonnaded Capitolio Nacional and the blocky Palacio de Justicia. “I was 13 when the previous building was leveled. Now, it's hard to imagine," a security guard tells you, referring to a 1985 battle between the army and a guerrilla group. You pass the Bolívar statue and sit on the steps of the Spanish colonial Catedral Primada, surrounded by a small army of pigeons.

Next, you brave the onslaught of articulated TransMilenio buses on the Carrera 7 roadway to find Iglesia de San Francisco, Bogotá's oldest church. Dating back to 1621, it doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside it's a golden cocoon, its congregants praying amid glorious carvings and dim stillness, the only sound the scritch-scritch of a woman hypnotically scrubbing the floor outside.

From here, you stroll through Parque Santander, with its skateboarders and dodgy benches, ending up at the Parque de los Periodistas, a timeworn public square near Universidad de los Andes. You're taken with a mural of three enormous ladybugs and a life-size bear close by. This area is renowned for its graffiti—there are said to be 3,000 street artists in Bogotá—and tours are devoted to the art. Later, you will book yourself a place on one.

Corn at the Plaza de Mercado de PaloquemaoCorn at the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao

You're lunching across the way, at Sant Just Traiteur, a French café popular with the university crowd. Perched on a high stool, you watch owner-chef Eric Noirard toiling in the tiny open kitchen. You have the salmon, served on a bed of quinoa and beetroot, accompanied by roasted veggies. In true Gallic style, Noirard aims to marry flavor and nutrition in everything he creates, right down to the apple pie sprinkled with amaranth and topped with a dollop of vanilla and passion fruit ice cream.

Fortified, you head to the Museo del Oro to take in a few thousand years of precious metalwork by pre-Hispanic Colombians. There are 30,000 gold pieces on display here—from animal figures to breastplates—many of which were once regarded as expressions of the soul. One piece depicts a chieftain standing on a raft, ready to toss his riches into a lake as a harvest offering. The Spaniards, crazed with visions of El Dorado, unfortunately did untold damage retrieving such artifacts.

After a short cab ride back to the hotel and a refresher in your capacious bathroom, you head out to the nearby Macarena district, an area of trendy galleries and restaurants clustered around the Plaza de Toros de Santamaría, the city's striking but controversial bullfighting ring. The taxi makes its way along narrow streets, passing a series of illuminated tableaus—guitar-strumming troubadours, glass-clinking celebrants—so close you could almost reach out and touch them.

Sightseers check out La Plaza de Bol\u00edvarSightseers check out La Plaza de Bolívar

You're dining at Donostia, a restaurant with exposed beams and whitewashed walls that sits at the forefront of the cocina de mercado (“market kitchen") movement here. You order hearty breads with a coulis of pepper and tomatoes, cheese ravioli with diced sausage, grilled octopus with paprika and rosemary potatoes and Catalan caramel cream, all accompanied by a couple of glasses of spectacularly good wine.

Your last stop is Quiebra Canto, a renowned salsa club near the hotel. Here you have your first taste of aguardiente, the sugarcane liquor with a light anise flavor that, as a bystander informs you, “will make you happy and want to dance." It does. After a while, the sensual strains of salsa give way to the Afro-Latin beats of a band whose 10 members swarm the stage and fill the room with marimba and clarinet, conga and rain stick. Many fist-pumps later, you head outside and point a cab in the direction of your gold-plated retreat, the streetlights seeming to dim as you pull away.

DAY TWO | With nearly 2,000 miles of coastline, thick jungles and fertile plains, Colombia is home to a dizzying array of species—many of them edible. So it's fitting that you start your day at the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, Bogotá's bustling central marketplace. You head there with Andrei, your guide from ToursByLocals, to gape at swinging sides of beef, heaps of wide-eyed fish and stupefying quantities of fruit—spiky green guanabanas, bright orange lulos and luscious little uchuvas, perfect for snacking. You buy some for later.

Breakfast is at a modest counter in the middle of the marketplace. You examine containers of colorful liquids and pick jugo de mora—a heavenly blackberry juice—then order arepa con queso, a cornmeal flatbread stuffed with a traditional mild white cheese. Afterward, with a wave of his arm, Andrei signals that it's time you hit the road for the Catedral de Sal at Zipaquirá, 30 miles away.

Friendly folks have a chat outside AbastoFriendly folks have a chat outside Abasto

The city gives way to verdant savanna hemmed in by hills. Soon, the car starts on a steep climb toward the storied salt cathedral. From the hilltop, you descend a concrete slope into dark passageways dug out of halite rock. The tunnels are lined with recesses bearing blue-lit crosses. After a while, you emerge into several cavernous, rough-hewn chambers filled with pews and religious carvings. Crystals of salt cascade down the walls, alongside pick and chisel marks. Created in the 1950s as a chapel for workers in adjacent salt mines, the cathedral was reengineered in the 1990s and now claims a top spot among Colombia's tourist attractions, drawing tens of thousands of visitors a month.

Under a warm sun, you descend from the hill into Zipaquirá, described by Gabriel García Márquez—who went to high school here—as a “frozen town." (Originally from the tropical coast, the author couldn't abide the cooler Bogotá climate.) In a central plaza bordered by white stucco, blue balconies and red roof tiles, you enter the towering 19th-century cathedral, whose intricate, domed interior is bursting with worshippers. A few old dogs lie on their sides in the aisles, enjoying mass along with the throng.

Heading back to Bogotá, you stop for lunch at Andrés Carnes de Res in Chía, a restaurant known for its flea-market décor and all-night dance parties. You sit beneath a metal cage that contains naked mannequins, inhaling the scent of sizzling steak. You choose the chicken kebab with onions, peppers and bacon-wrapped prunes, which comes with potatoes the size of grapes and three traditional sauces. You favor the picante, which you apply liberally. As an antidote, you order a Pony Malta, a soda with a deep molasses flavor so good you worry it might be habit-forming.

Smoked tuna with wasabi mayonnaise, avocado, fennel and dried apple at MatizSmoked tuna with wasabi mayonnaise, avocado, fennel and dried apple at Matiz

It's midafternoon and drizzling as you reenter the city, but you decide to scale Monserrate anyway. You're dropped off in Candelaria and trek up the hill to a cable car station. A few minutes and a couple of ear pops later, you're at the summit. At 10,341 feet above sea level, Monserrate has its head in the clouds; they cling to the peaks and drift across the rooftops before tumbling down toward Bogotá, which extends in its entirety before you. You climb the steps to the monastery, whose sharp white spire keeps vigil over the city, and gaze for a while in wonder, the murmur of the wind and thescent of ozone lulling you perilously close to sleep.

The return to street level brings you back to your senses. You grab a cab and direct the driver to the B.O.G. Hotel, in the stylish Zona Rosa district, famed for its nightlife and swank malls. Bogotá's first Design Hotel, B.O.G. is a kind of geometric artwork, tinted with emerald and gold (a nod to the country's natural resources). Your room, with its muted tones and downy pillows, does not make it easy to embark on a night on the town, but you need to eat, which you'll be doing tonight at Central Cevichería, a 10-minute walk away.

A lively place of patios and wood accents, Central has a lot more up its sleeve than marinated raw fish. You have a grilled octopus salad, sea bass with yellow potatoes and creamy (yes, creamy) ceviche with sweet plantains, accompanied by plenty of mojitos and topped off with coconut flan. You have a look at the pretty little fish market next door before heading back to your hotel, seafood occupying your thoughts and your stomach, to swim into that pile of pillows.

DAY THREE | You present yourself at Taller de Té—an atelier/café in a converted 1950s garage on a quiet street in the Chapinero Alto district—with a bit of a groggy head (the altitude, you think). Owner Laura Cahnspeyer makes you a cup of coca tea, then warms an empanada stuffed with leeks, carrots and quinoa and serves it with olive oil and crushed chili, followed by more tea: milky Masala and complex Assam. You feel much better.

Having learned at the hands of the masters in Darjeeling, Cahnspeyer has dared to peddle tea in the land of Juan Valdez, and locals have been lapping it up. Formerly a pastry chef at the Four Seasons in London, she now works with Bogotá's trendiest bars and restaurants to concoct tea infusions for fruit drinks, cocktails and desserts. “Before I work with a restaurant," she says, “the owner has to come here and have tea with me."

Mount MonserrateMount Monserrate

Reluctantly, you relinquish your cup and cab it to Bogotá's Jardín Botánico José Celestino Mutis, nearly 20 acres of lush foliage near Parque Simon Bolívar. There are magnolia blossoms here the size of cabbages, elephantine palm trees, beds of lemongrass and mint and rue. It's a splendid place to rehabilitate, but you've reserved a spot on the Bogotá Graffiti Tour, which leaves from central Candelaria. You join a small cluster of backpackers and follow Aussie expat Christian Petersen, the tour's founder and an artist himself. “Street art in Bogotá is prohibited, not illegal," he says, describing a rather murky distinction that has nonetheless allowed the practice to thrive.

With Petersen leading the way, you wend your way up steep alleys and calles, passing the works of artists with names like Stinkfish and Toxicómano, along with bars, jewelry shops and tattoo parlors. At the top of one alley is the circular Plaza del Chorro de Quevedo, with its famous fountain, and the Callejón de las Brujas (“alley of witches") with its murals of many-eyed monsters and painted Madonnas. The group stops before a candy-colored work by Barcelona native Pez: a trio of wide-eyed, smiling backpackers in the forms of a rabbit, a reptile and a pig. Looking yourself and your fellow travelers over, you think he pretty much nailed it.

Suitably edified, you head north to Usaquén, an area of cobblestone streets and upscale shops that in previous times provided a rural backdrop for the haciendas of the rich. You're having lunch at Abasto, near the old plaza, a restaurant renowned for its elegant simplicity. You sip uchuva juice and order an antipasto of roasted vegetables and local cheeses, which includes paper-thin slices of zucchini and tiny onions caramelized with raw sugar. Before you leave, you visit the bodega in back and buy a jar of exotic fruit jam to take home.

The magnificent interior of the Iglesia de San FranciscoThe magnificent interior of the Iglesia de San Francisco

Your next stop is the Hacienda Santa Barbara, an expansive mall housed partly in an old Spanish mansion. Your inner conquistador leads you to L.A. Cano, which sells fine reproductions of pre-Colombian jewelry. You also stop at Acuaró Arte & Artesanías, with its striped sombreros, and Colcraft, where exquisite Wayuu bags, crocheted by the tribe of that name from the arid North, employ a muted palette suited to modern wardrobes.

Next, you catch a cab to Calle 79b in Zona Rosa, a narrow street of antiques shops selling everything from large weathered doors to delicate crystal. You've come to see Bolívar Old Prints, with its profusion of musty maps and books and pricey Simon Bolívar prints, to which clerks Christelle and Camilo allow you to get dangerously close. They open a priceless book and let you touch its pages, thin as butterfly wings, and take you in the back to see a stunning, half-finished drawing of Bolívar by an artist of some renown. It's one of your favorite things in the whole city.

Tonight you're dining at Matiz, in the leafy, boutique-y neighborhood of Parque de la 93. You try the tasting menu of chef Nicolas Quintano, who introduces each course with a movie-star smile. There are little piles of sea scallops in garlic and chili, tuna tartare with plantain, caramelized carrot ravioli with warm pickled lemon, and short ribs that have been cooked for two days. The Shiraz and the Malbec are magnificent, but the small mounds of banana soufflé, jellied fruit and sherbets take you over the top, and you stumble a bit heading back to the hotel.

Before turning in, you nip up to the rooftop bar for a last look at the city. Warmed by the flames of gas heaters, bathed in the blue reflections of a long, sleek pool, you watch a smiling couple sip cocktails with Bogotá twinkling in the background, and get the sense that history may have finally made peace with this abiding, abidingly beautiful place.

Janet Hawkins is a New York–based writer, editor and teacher, and a frequent visitor to Colombia. She misses having a personal butler.

This article was from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Reflecting on Veterans Day: a message from our CEO Oscar Munoz

By Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines , November 11, 2019

Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.

When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.

They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.

I want them to look no further than United Airlines.

That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.

They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.

That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.

We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.

We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.

We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.

As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.

Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.

They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.

Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.

Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.

Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.

But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.

We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.

It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.

On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.

Humbly,

Oscar

United named a top workplace for veterans

By The Hub team , November 10, 2019

Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.

"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.

"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."

Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.

Mission Accomplished

By Matt Adams , November 06, 2019

The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.

Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.

Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.

Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.

"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."

When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.

For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.

Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.

That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.

"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."

The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.

About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.

"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."

When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.

"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."

On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.

"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."

For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.

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