Three Perfect Days: Chengdu
Story by Benjamin Carlson | Photography by Algirdas Bakas | Hemispheres, June 2014
Chengdu has always been known for its easy, some might say lazy, pace of life. Even its nicknames connote a life of leisure: Brocade City, Hibiscus City, Perfect City. Migrants from Beijing and Shanghai quip that the locals don't so much walk as mosey.
Even as an infusion of government investment has caused the city to blossom into an economic powerhouse, drawing Fortune 500 companies deep into the misty mountains of Sichuan, Chengdu has retained its reputation for prizing the finer things in life. People here may work as hard as their brethren in China's frenetic eastern and southern metropolises, but they also make time to while away an afternoon drinking tea, playing mah-jongg or dancing in a park.
Chengdu is best known, however, for its food: the mouth-numbing peppercorns, the blood-red Sichuan hotpot, the streetside “little eats." It's also the kind of place where you can spend the afternoon having your chi retooled at a luxury spa and attend an indie rock show before turning in.
Welcome to the New China.
DAY ONE | Dawn seeps through the shades of your 40th-floor suite at the Ritz-Carlton. Opening them with the push of a button, you gaze out at the city. Below lies Tianfu Square, the heart of the provincial capital. To the north, Chengdu's rambling suburbs vanish into the enveloping fog. You peer through a telescope and see shadowy masses on the horizon, where the basin of Chengdu's valley rises into low hills.
The Ritz-Carlton takes inspiration from Sichuan culture, with a new-money spin. In your room, you sip tea in a calfskin armchair below a three-legged Ding sculpture—an ancient symbol of power and unity. From here, you head for the hotel's sunlit Club Lounge. You'll be plunging headfirst into Chengdu's fiery cuisine today, so you keep breakfast light: muesli, dragon fruit and salmon. Seduced by the lounge's stunning downtown panorama, you linger longer than you intended.
Young monk Long Chen plays ping-pong in Wenshu Temple;
Down below, you hail a taxi to take you to Wenshu Monastery, one of Chengdu's most lovingly preserved places of worship. After a short ride past broad Tianfu Square, presided over by a giant Mao statue, you arrive at the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618–907) temple. Alongside day-trippers and worshippers, you pass through a gate into a maze-like garden that takes you to the major shrine, Manjushri bell tower, which is surrounded by bonsai trees and people snapping smartphone pics. You watch a woman in a pink fur jacket bow four times before a dragon-footed urn, the newly blossomed cherry trees ringing with birdsong.
From here, you enter an inner courtyard where two young monks in robes volley a ping-pong ball under the gaze of an elder. When one hits the ball wide, disturbing an adjacent game of badminton, the stern elder leaps up, takes the paddle and begins spiking the ball at his young charge.
Outside, down a dusty alley ringing with the music of a busker playing a Chinese violin, you dart into a noodle shop famous across Chengdu as the place to sample a local specialty: tian shui mian, or sky-water noodles. The name of the eatery, Dongzi Kouzhang Lao'er Liangfen, literally means “Hole Gaping Mouth Second Son's Bean-Starch Noodles." It's a truly local joint, known for the boisterous social quality the Chinese call “hot noise."
You line up behind several old ladies in caps and slacks who squabble over stools at the communal wooden tables. As you place your order, the server behind the counter smiles and says, “Eat slowly!"—an expression that roughly corresponds to “Bon appétit!" You guzzle a bowl of thick-cut noodles in sweet sauce and chili—one of a dozen specialties any taxi driver will rattle off when asked about his favorite local dishes. At 6 yuan ($1) it's a delectable and impossibly cheap treat.
Sky–water noodles at Dongzi Kouzhang Lao'er Liangfen
You consider a second helping, but think better of it and head down neighboring Jinma Street for some antiques shopping. Beyond stalls selling old paper money and silver coins, there's a wide lot on which traders have spread blankets littered with Buddhist prayer beads, Maoist posters, marble lions, jade bangles, erotic paintings and abacuses strung together with wire. A vendor quotes you 100 yuan for a vintage magazine and you shake your head no.
Next, you continue down Jinma, passing a traditional Chinese medicine shop where a cat swishes its tail next to baskets of gnarled ginseng roots. Next door, old-timers lounge in creaking bamboo chairs and chew sunflower seeds. You weave around a family's mah-jongg table and hail a cab back to the hotel, where you have a very important appointment to make.
How better to spend an afternoon in China's relaxation capital than by having your yin and yang recalibrated at a luxury spa? For an hour, you enjoy a tea-themed therapeutic massage that claims to do just this. Then you have your scalp kneaded amid the fragrance of burning moxa herbs. By now you are feeling very relaxed, very balanced, and also a bit hungry. So you freshen up, waft through the hotel's marble lobby, then take a 10-minute cab ride south to Yunmen Emerald Conceptual Restaurant.
A panda at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Yunmen is known for serving imaginative cuisine, but it's no slouch in the décor department, either. You pass a magazine rack resembling a lamb and enter a private dining room, where a waiter brings Kobe beef with pulverized black truffle and a dish of salmon-papaya mousse accompanied by bubbling sour cream and dry ice. The food is tasty, but it's the presentation that wows you: a mango sliver arrives at your table in a hollow eggshell.
You end the evening at the Ritz-Carlton's Flair bar. From a perch on the 27th-floor terrace, you nibble seaweed-wrapped crackers and crispy red pepper. Your cocktail arrives: a concoction of chrysanthemum gin and hibiscus syrup garnished with an orchid. In the distance, the Sichuan TV tower—glowing blue, green and indigo in the misty Chengdu night—seems to be sending you a message: bed, bed, bed.
DAY TWO | No visit to Chengdu would be complete without pandas. To catch them, however, you need to rise early. Wakened by a call from your butler (heh), you take a brisk three-minute walk from the hotel to the Uno Mall, where you buy a large cup of joe and a warm blueberry muffin at the new Pacific Coffee—a popular Hong Kong chain reliable for the strength of its brew.
Feeling marginally less comatose, you take a taxi 40 minutes into the northern suburbs, home to some of the cutest animals on the planet. Though cab drivers here, as everywhere, make a habit of moaning about the traffic, Chengdu's expensively assembled infrastructure makes driving a breeze compared to the crushing congestion of cities like Beijing, and you arrive at your destination right on schedule.
Saturday tai chi practice in People's Park
With 80 percent of the world's 1,500 wild pandas living in Sichuan province's misty bamboo forests, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has established itself as one of the leading institutions of its kind. You arrive to the sound of distant peacocks hooting “Hello! Hello!" A woman at the information desk points you down a winding path. “Hurry!" she says, and you're about to discover why.
You come to an enclosure, a grove of arcing bamboo plants containing four pandas, who are just about to dig into breakfast. One tubby little fella sits on his haunches plucking bamboo and quietly munching. A baby panda lolls on a tree branch, seemingly unable to control its limbs. As it squirms, a male visitor shouts, “What are you trying to do?" Another cub rests in the crook of a ficus bough like a furry loaf of bread. “I've never seen them so active!" coos a woman.
Walking on, you enter the red panda enclosure, where the raccoon-size animals roam freely, coming so close to one woman that she scampers away, yelping, “I'm scared!" You crouch down, staying very still as the diminutive but big-clawed creature struts past your leg.
Thoroughly content, you head back to town, where you'll be eating at the century-old lunch spot Chen Mapo Tofu. Taking a seat beneath hanging red lanterns amid a clatter of chopsticks, you order liang mian (cold noodles) and one of Chengdu's signature dishes, mapo tofu. As you order, a nearby local man gives you an approving thumbs-up. The tofu comes to the table sizzling in an iron pot, smelling of spring onions and earthy peppercorns, accompanied by a pile of crushed Sichuan chilis. You order an extra bowl of rice.
A vendor prepares sweet steamed cakes
Reeling happily from the fire in your belly, you make a beeline for the delightfully boisterous People's Park, where throngs of locals are engaged in various activities: running, stretching, kite flying and even synchronized waltzing. To your right, you marvel at the scene of elderly parents seeking mates for their adult children. Like an analog OkCupid, they hawk sheets of paper advertising the heights, weights, blood types and Zodiac signs of their unmarried sons and daughters.
You stop at the park's Heming Tea House, which has a nice view of a small lake, and order a glass of jasmine blossom tea with rock sugar and dates. On impulse, you wave down one of the numerous roving ear cleaners, who goes to work on your canals with long metal tongs and cotton swabs. As the cleaner probes, you decide this is perhaps an experience you need to endure just once.
It's time to brush up on your local history, which you'll be doing at the Wuhou Shrine—famous for its monuments dating back to the Three Kingdoms period (A.D. 220–280). At the end of a gingko-lined promenade, you are greeted by a statue of a benevolent-looking Liu Bei, an ancient king, and the master strategist Zhuge Liang, who holds a feather fan and has frighteningly long fingernails.
From here, you enter Jinli Ancient Street, a winding, tourist-heavy thoroughfare lined with stalls selling Chengdu snacks (skewered quails and, for real, fried rabbit heads). The aroma of the aptly named stinky tofu drives you down an alleyway crammed with bars and coffee shops. Here, you slip into the popular restaurant Se Xiang Wei Little Eats for that most local of local snacks—dan dan mian, or “street vendor's noodles." You get a bowl of thin springy noodles served with chili, pickled onions and savory ground pork—a favorite across China. Mindful of your next stop, you leave some room.
Zi Fei garden in the afternoon
Dinnertime brings you to a new wing of the historic Jinjiang Hotel, where the Michelin-starred chef Christophe Dufossé offers haute French cuisine to spice-numbed local palates at Jinyue. Inside, smooth waiters greet you with “Bonsoir" and you settle down to an extraordinary dinner of codfish, creamed pumpkin and pear tart encased in a caramel-colored chocolate shell.
After bidding the waiters “Bonne nuit," you return to the Ritz-Carlton and pause for a post-dinner whiskey at the Lobby Lounge. As a local singer warbles Ella Fitzgerald covers, you look over at the distant hills and imagine, for a moment, that at the top of every one is a sleeping panda. You drink up and head off to the second hotel of your stay, the new Diaoyutai Boutique Hotel, where you too are soon asleep.
DAY THREE | You wake up in a sumptuous suite to a glorious view over Kuanzhai Alley, Chengdu's most beautiful and atmospheric street. Outside is a landscape of clay-tiled roofs and upturned eaves. It looks like a scene from the time of the Qing dynasty, and in a way it is—though heavily renovated, Kuanzhai preserves the atmosphere of the 18th century.
Yesterday's rich, spicy food is still very much with you, so you skip a sit-down breakfast and knock back a chocolate croissant from the in-house bakery. Munching, you pass through the Diaoyutai's courtyard—a fusion of sleek French design and classical Chinese flourishes—and head outside to hail a cab to take you to your first stop of the day, located 30 minutes away in Tianfu New District.
Sichuan opera at Shu Yun Li Yuan
Opened last summer, the New Century Global Center is billed as the largest building in the world. Glistening and curvaceous, it looks as though it should be the largest building on Mars. So large is the mall, in fact, it takes you 15 minutes just to locate an entrance. Eventually you find one and are immediately confronted by a dizzying array of amenities: a skating rink, a water park, an IMAX theater and a faux beach with a 500-foot cinematic sky.
You ride up a 200-foot escalator, arriving at the top in time to see a poodle lifting its leg on one of the mall's artificial palm trees. You cross a plexiglass bridge, upon which a bunch of teens tell each other to “Go on! Fall!" Others cling to the handrail and shuffle their feet across the transparent floor. A macho middle-aged man stamps on the plastic to show off for his friends.
Your senses thoroughly assaulted, you leave the mall and head south for a stroll through the serene Tiexiang Temple Riverfront, a model of attractive urban development that contrasts with the concrete apartment blocks that surround it. On the riverfront, you find A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, the hub of Chengdu's thriving contemporary art scene, where you take in the stunning paintings of Qi Lan, one of which alludes to Cézanne's famous haystack obsession with a flurry of chaotic brushwork.
For lunch, you return to the Diaoyutai, whose KZ Restaurant and Grill has tables in a sunlit courtyard, where you settle down for a meal of excellent sushi. The Filipino chef whips up wasabi two ways—runny and thick—and adds dashes of numbing spice to the tuna roll. Warned in advance to save room, you sample the Sichuan beef and chili loaf, a crispy and pungent bread best eaten with the red chili spread.
A Thousand Plateaus Art Space
Next, you return to Kuanzhai—meaning “broad and narrow"—Alley for deeper exploration. Hearing the clang of a hammer, you pause to watch a silversmith beat a bracelet on the sidewalk. Cantilevered roofs and vine-covered brick walls form a backdrop for vendors selling silks, opera masks, feather fans, shadow puppets and Zodiac figurines of rats, rabbits and snakes.
From here, you head to Shu Yun Li Yuan, the city's oldest tea-house theater, to take in a Sichuan opera. A waitress guides you to your seat and takes your order: a cup of green bamboo tea. Onstage, a woman in red robes plucks a lute as mist shrouds the stage. True to 18th-century tradition, the show includes such features as a bearded clown, women with peacock headdresses, elaborate dance routines, stylized masks and lots of falsetto singing. The show is mesmerizing and confusing in equal parts, and you thoroughly enjoy it.
Afterward, you make the short walk to Zi Fei, a restaurant specializing in dishes that allude to Chinese sayings, folklore and symbols. You enter through a long corridor lined with Zodiac-themed statues, then sit down to a meal that starts with an actual tree branch adorned with flowers made of savory dough, accompanied by beef and green beans. The waitress explains the dish's symbolism, but you are too busy being bemused to take it in. The food, incidentally, is delicious.
Jinli Ancient Street at night
It's your last evening in Chengdu, and you decide to go out with a bang. To do this, you head for the city's popular entertainment district, Lan Kwai Fong. Here, you duck into a low-key bar thick with cigarette smoke called the Nuremberg Germany Brewery. Onstage, a dreadlocked bass player is joined by a head-banging female singer who proceeds to belt out a grungy cover of Maroon 5's “This Love." Using a combination of hand gestures and grins, a trio of locals invites you to share their watermelon and mango platter, which strikes you as both weirdly random and very sweet.
Leaving the bar, you walk along the Brocade River, the surface of which reflects sweeping searchlight beams of blue and white. This makes you think: The restless search for the good life that consumes much of China seems different here, less furious, as if you don't have to look so hard. Near the hotel, you stop and chat with a man who says he plans to make a journey through Southwest China but keeps putting the trip off until tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
“I like being stuck in Chengdu," he says.
Benjamin Carlson, a Beijing-based writer, categorically denies that he smuggled a baby panda home in his suitcase.
Independence Day celebrations in 5 countries
Every country celebrates a birthday, and some celebrations are bigger than others. Here are five of the biggest birthday celebrations, which also happen to occur in the summer months in places worth paying a visit, birthday or not.
Canada Day – Canada
July 1 in Canada has a lot in common with its southern neighbor's celebration three days later. Many Canadian cities stage concerts, carnivals, parades and fireworks to celebrate the British Empire's 1867 recognition of the Dominion of Canada. Canada Day festivities in the capital city of Ottawa are the most robust, as the city center shuts down for the day for an acrobatic air show by the Snowbirds (the Royal Canadian Air Force's version of the Blue Angels), 10 hours of free concerts, a big fireworks show and a speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Even the color scheme is similar: red and white, but skip the blue.
Independence Day – USA
July 4 was the date in 1776 when colonists declared their independence from England—and Americans have been commemorating it since 1785 in Bristol, Rhode Island. That's the site of the oldest and longest celebration—three weeks of events that climax with a big parade and fireworks over Bristol Harbor. America's most-watched pyrotechnic spectacle is the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Show, best viewed from Manhattan's Lower East Side (or on NBC). The Fourth is also celebrated with a massive fireworks display in Washington, D.C., where crowds pack the National Mall to see them illuminate the monuments, and in Chicago where they're admired from Navy Pier as they dazzle over Lake Michigan.
Bastille Day – France
July 14 is the day when the 1789 “Storming of the Bastille" is celebrated. The rebellious act to free seven political prisoners was the flashpoint for the French Revolution, which ended the monarchy of Louis XVI. Celebrations in Paris conclude with fireworks that gush dramatically from the Eiffel Tower, best viewed from the adjacent Parc du Champ-de-Mars or from one of the nearby bridges over the Seine. A morning military parade on Champs-Elysees is also a Bastille Day tradition. Fireworks and other celebrations are enjoyed in many other French cities, too, including a big pyrotechnic show in Marseilles over the Mediterranean Sea.
National Day – Switzerland
August 1 was the date in 1291 that the Swiss Federal Charter was signed, uniting the three original cantons (states) of the Swiss Confederation that would become modern-day Switzerland. The Swiss only began observing the occasion on the 600th anniversary in 1891, but it's become a big deal. Parades, carnivals, traditional folk music performances and fireworks enliven many Swiss cities and towns on National Day, as do special brunches in many restaurants, public bonfires and the ringing of every church bell from 8:00 to 8:15 p.m. Festivities in Zurich are the biggest, although celebrations in Geneva, Bern, Lausanne and Basel are also exuberant.
Independence Day – Mexico
September 16 is Mexico's Independence Day—not May 5, the date of a heroic battle and the excuse for so many Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. It was on September 16, 1810, when the rebellion that eventually toppled the Spanish colonial rulers began. The holiday is observed most heartily in Mexico City, where the biggest celebration, following a speech by President Enrique Peña Nieto, takes place in the massive Zócalo Square. But there are also celebrations in every part of the city and in every city in Mexico, typically featuring a parade, street parties and fireworks.
If you go
United Airlines offers numerous flights to all of these countries. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room and rental car once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to celebrate the birthday of a country.
United offers Star Alliance flight status information
We're expanding the availability of flight status (FLIFO) information for our customers and employees. On June 14, we began offering access to flight status information for all Star Alliance member flights within the United app, and through Google Home and Amazon Alexa (e.g. "Alexa, ask United to check the status of my flight on Lufthansa").
We're committed to providing our customers and employees with the tools they need to ensure a seamless journey when connecting with our partners," said Alliance Partner Operations Senior Manager Katie Russell. "These enhancements will allow our employees to make real-time decisions for customers with connecting flights and provide our customers with easy access to information from partner carriers without requiring them to use another app.
While onboard United flights, customers can even check the most current status of their connecting Star Alliance member flight utilizing our complimentary access to the United app through United Wi-Fi℠, available on all mainline and two-cabin regional aircraft.
After a tragic accident, a father's lessons resonate with his daughter
As far as fatherly wisdom was concerned, there were a few things that Ramp Service Employee Allen Gullang was determined to pass along to his daughters, Heather and Amanda.
Under his guidance, they learned the importance of hard work and the virtue of putting the needs of others first. They also developed a love of the outdoors and of travel that bonds them as a family to this day. But it's what they learned from their dad when he didn't think they were looking that made the biggest impact of all.
On a snowy March afternoon 12 years ago, Allen and two of his ramp colleagues were driving home from their shift at O'Hare International Airport when a car drifted over the center line and hit them head on. The next thing Allen remembers is waking up in a hospital bed weeks later, lucky to be alive but left with permanent disabilities.
Heather, who was 10-years-old at the time, watched as her father fought his way through a year-long rehabilitation, re-learning how to walk and talk, slowly regaining his memories and putting his life back together, piece by piece. Though his frustrations mounted at times, his will never waned, a lesson in perseverance that Heather has not forgotten. It's one of the attributes that she brought with her when she joined United herself last December, realizing a life-long dream of following in Allen's footsteps.
In honor of Father's Day, watch the video above to hear the Gullangs' story of how a single moment forever changed their family, leading Heather to a greater admiration for the man she not only calls Dad, but also her colleague.
A final farewell to the Queen of the Skies
Have you ever wondered what happens to an aircraft after the end of its useful life? Well 13 lucky MileagePlus® members and two of our employees got to find out after winning an Exclusives auction.
The auction prize was a behind-the-scenes trip to Universal Asset Management's (UAM) facility in Tupelo, Mississippi, where our last four Boeing 747s are being disassembled and the parts prepared for recycling. It also included a champagne toast onboard N118UA, our last 747, and dinner under the stars with the Queen of the Skies.
As we arrived at the facility, adjacent to Tupelo Regional Airport, several of us were a little emotional when we saw the aircraft in different stages of disassembly. But in the company's lunch room — decked out with Malaysia Air first class seats, airplane art and a table made from a stabilizer — Keri Wright, UAM's CEO was firm about her company's mission. “We don't tear down or scrap aircraft. We focus on recycling," she stated. “Think of it like organ donation. These parts can help other aircraft continue to fly. And you are among the few people in the world to see all of this from behind the scenes."
We then headed to the facility's Global Distribution Center warehouse. The lobby of the facility featured our first class seats and galley carts, along with a tire rim-and-glass coffee table and a credenza/bar made from the window section of a 737 fuselage.
Wright, along with Senior Manager, Fleet Transactions Jim Garcia walked us through the warehouse and explained how parts were tracked and cataloged. Among the items we saw were two wrapped helicopters, Boeing 777 landing gears, 747 tire rims, thrust reversers and a cowling from the center engine of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10.
When the warehouse tour ended, it was back to the airport facility. We went out on the tarmac and took pictures of the 747s, including the star of the show — N118UA. Though, all four jets' engines had been removed already.
After a series of photos, we climbed the air stair onto N118UA, where we were able to walk around. I had the honor of being on the last United 747 flight in November 2017, so I grabbed a glass of champagne and sat in my seat — 8C — one last time. We all joined in a final champagne toast to the jet, then deplaned for dinner.
One of the lucky winners was Eric Chiang, an economics professor at Florida Atlantic University, who brought his friend Vicky Chiu, who flew in from Hawaii. “We've been friends for years and we love to travel. I was onboard a flight to London and read a short newspaper article about this auction," he recalled. “We were about to take off and I called Vicky and asked her to bid on this event. I bid 168,000 miles, but got it for less.
Chiang and Chiu are both 1K flyers on United. “I expect to do around 15 international trips this year. I love United because they're able to reach more global destinations than any other airlines," said Chiang.
They both appreciated the chance to attend such a unique event. “Experiences like these are different. We really appreciate the chance for this behind-the-scenes event," said Chiang. “It was also a great chance to meet United executives and share feedback on what's going on at the airline."
John Ikeda, a United Global Services member who is approaching two million miles, brought his partner Michael Phelps to the event. He also read about the event in a newspaper article, but he also had a special reason for wanting to attend the 747 farewell.
At the last MileagePlus® Experiences auction, I won an altimeter that was on an older 747, and I wanted to see if I could trace where it came from," said Ikeda. “Jim Garcia was able to trace it for me. I was thrilled that I was able to see other parts from that same 747 in the UAM warehouse.
The event exceeded Ikeda's expectations. “I thought it would just be a warehouse tour, a walk on a plane and not much else," he said. “It was great to hear Keri and Jim discuss this side of the business. It was fascinating to learn that this place wasn't about scrapping aircraft, but giving them new life."
Although this event has passed, it's not too late to bid on hardware from N118UA, including single window and American flag cuts out and tail numbers. Join the MileagePlus® Exclusives email list to stay in the know on the hardware auction and other future events.
Bay Area youth surprised with spots in Warriors championship parade
San Francisco-based Customer Service Manager O'Morris Adams has volunteered at local Boys & Girls Clubs for more than 20 years, so it wasn't a surprise when he stopped by one of the Bay Area clubhouses Monday afternoon.
This visit was about more than just spending time with local youth, though. O'Morris knew he would be in the Golden State Warriors championship parade on Tuesday, since as the official airline of the Warriors, United would have a float in the parade. So this particular visit to the club was to let two of its kids know they'd be joining him and two dozen of his United colleagues on the float, in the parade. Coolest field trip ever.
Watch the surprise and the unforgettable day that followed.
3 under the radar places to travel to in July
July is a popular travel month, which means you may be sharing your vacation with scores of fellow travelers if you choose to travel to a popular destination. This summer, expand your horizons and travel to these under-the-radar destinations for a more off-the-beaten-path experience.
When you think of Sweden, Stockholm and Gothenburg might be the first cities to come to mind, but Malmö is an underrated gem. Sweden's third-largest city blends medieval Scandinavian charm with modern urban appeal. Malmö sits on the southeast coast and is a 45-minute train ride or drive from Copenhagen, connected by the iconic Øresund Bridge.
This picturesque beach-side town was first established in the 13th century, but Malmö has undergone a massive revitalization over the last two decades. Walk along the cobblestone streets and take in beautiful old buildings and centuries-old statues alongside cutting-edge architecture, public art and plazas. The city has an abundance of greenery and parks, including five public beaches. Ribersborg Beach is the most visited beach and is a leisurely walk or bike ride from the city center.
Some of the city's most popular attractions include Malmö City Square, which you'll find in the heart of old town (Gamla Staden); St. Peter's Church, the oldest building in the city; and Malmöhus Castle, a 16th-century fortress and the oldest castle in Sweden. Explore the history of the castle and Renaissance art in the Malmö Art Museum inside the castle. The nearby Moderna Museet Malmö and Malmö Konsthall house permanent collections and exhibitions.
Malmö is also a worthwhile destination for foodies. National Geographic named it one of the best places to visit in 2018 thanks to its global food culture. From casual cafes and food carts to a few Michelin-starred restaurants, you can sample a variety of cuisines during your stay in Malmö.
Many flock to experience the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, but the high traffic of visitors is threatening the sustainability of the site. For those who want to visit an ancient marvel that's less trodden with tourists, Chachapoyas fits the bill. Archaeological and natural wonders abound in this region once inhabited by a pre-Incan civilization. Chachapoyas stands for “The Cloud Warriors," who called this region home about 1,500 years ago.
The town of Chachapoyas serves as a home base to explore several breathtaking sites of ancient Peru. This town is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Andes Mountains and a cloudy forest in northern Peru, and offers an opportunity to explore waterfalls, archeological ruins, burial sites and even a mummy museum.
There are also numerous treks for experienced hikers, including the Chachapoyas' mountaintop fortress Kuelap, built 600 to 900 years before Machu Picchu. Kuelap has largely flown under the radar because this region is so remote and it's difficult to cover much ground by foot or car. But cable cars installed last year make it possible to cover about 2.5 miles of Kuelap in just 20 minutes. When you disembark the cable car, you can explore the vast complex and the remains of hundreds of structures, homes, buildings and other remnants of the ancient Chachapoyas civilization.
Other attractions close to Chachapoyas include hiking to the Gocta Waterfall. It's one of the tallest waterfalls in the world and was only made known to the public in 2005. The Leymebamba Museum is also well worth a visit, housing mummies and other remains from the civilization that once thrived here.
Best known for its vibrant fall foliage and top-rated ski resorts, Vermont can be easily overlooked as a summer destination. But there's still plenty to experience in July, especially in and around Burlington. Vermont's largest city is also home to the state's largest university. Visiting in July means you can expect fewer students crowding restaurants and bars, but no lack of shopping, entertainment and festivals. Burlington serves as an excellent hub for outdoor activities in the region.
The center of downtown Burlington is Church Street Marketplace. The open-air pedestrian-only mall spans four blocks and has over 100 major retailers, boutiques and restaurants with events and live entertainment. July's events include free concerts sponsored by Burlington City Arts, a farmer's market every Saturday, fitness classes and the month's biggest event for craft beer drinkers: The Vermont Brewers Festival, which features breweries from all over the state.
Nearby beaches include the beautiful sandy Blanchard Beach, the secluded Oakledge Cove and the picnic-perfect Leddy Beach with its grassy picnic areas, grills and tables. North Beach is Burlington's largest beach and the only one with active lifeguards on duty. You can also rent kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards at North Beach.
United Airlines offers service from U.S. cities to Burlington International Airport. To travel to Malmö, it's more direct to fly to Copenhagen than Stockholm. Lima is the closest international airport to Chachapoyas. United and our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer service to Copenhagen and Lima from multiple U.S. cities. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your vacation to one of these under-the-radar destinations this July.
Guide to Singapore: An island apart
Singapore is about the size of New York City, and like The Big Apple, it's a small place surrounded by water, but packed with people, intriguing attractions and great restaurants.
Singapore is more densely populated than New York City with 5.6 million people packed on the island, but tucked in the shadows of its 4,300 high-rises are two world-class gardens that have helped Singapore earn its nickname of “The Garden City." The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 200-acre oasis of green established in 1859 where the revered National Orchid Garden is one of dozens of unique gardens. In 2015, it became one of only three gardens to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An equally impressive contemporary take on botanic gardens is Gardens by the Bay, a waterfront collection of gardens, massive glass conservatories and the awe-inspiring Supertrees.
The National Gallery Singapore opened in November 2015. The gallery holds the world's largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art displayed inside two stately buildings that previously served as City Hall and the Supreme Court during Singapore's British colonial days. A few blocks away on the waterfront are two iconic contemporary landmarks: the bowl-shaped ArtScience Museum (part of the $8-billion Marina Bay Sands casino and resort that opened in 2010) and Singapore's honeycomb-like performing arts center, Esplanade Theatres on the Bay.
Fusion of flavors
Singapore has a long history of colonization, occupation and trade with European and other Asian countries, which is reflected in the variety of cuisines expertly presented in its best restaurants. Of 37 Michelin-star restaurants in the city, five serve Japanese fare, eight serve Chinese food and, oddly enough, eight serve French cuisine. Surprisingly, none of the restaurants on the list serve uniquely Singaporean food, although you can get a taste of local favorites like Bak kut teh (pork rib soup) and Wanton Mee (noodles with pork dumplings) at the city's open-air street food markets.
For a place that's so compact, Singapore offers a wealth of outdoor-activities. Most are found at the 10-mile-long, beach-hugging East Coast Park, where you can choose to hike, bike, swim or wakeboard. Further inland, you can take advantage of Singapore's distinction as one of only two cities in the world with a significant rainforest inside its boundaries. Hike the trails in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to reach the island nation's highest point, 537-foot Bukit Timah. Although there are more than 50 Singapore skyscrapers that are taller than this hilltop, taking the elevator to a top-floor bar just isn't the same.
The island of Singapore has many of its own islands and islets, and the small islands of Kusu and Sentosa just off its southern shore have a lot to offer. Kusu, which means tortoise in Chinese, can be reached by ferry in one hour — the perfect day trip to escape Singapore's urban buzz. Kusu is known for its swimming lagoons, quiet beaches, Malay shrines and a tortoise sanctuary. Sentosa is quite different — a buzzy resort island accessible by monorail or a pedestrian bridge. It has its own beaches, spas, a world-class golf course and several adventure-oriented theme parks.
Singapore's equatorial location ensures warm weather year round as the average highs range from 86 to 90 each month. The monsoon season from November to January brings the most rain with about 11 inches per month compared to 6 inches the rest of the year. Singapore is also known for safety, and Tokyo is the only city worldwide that's considered safer. Hotel prices are comparable to New York City and London, and English is one of the official languages. Most Singaporeans speak English as their primary or secondary language, so no need to worry about anything being lost in translation.
If you go
United Airlines offers flights to Singapore from numerous U.S. cities, including nonstops from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and from cities worldwide. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your Singapore vacation.
Tips for traveling with children
Flying with kids can be a source of anxiety for parents. In addition to all the details you have to remember for yourself, you're also responsible for tiny travelers whose schedules and comfort zones can be disrupted when they take a trip.
We welcome families with children, and we do our best to make the experience smooth and comfortable. But, as many of our employees who travel with kids can attest, a little information goes a long way. We've outlined a few of our policies on child and infant travel here.
Ticketing and seat assignments
When you're looking at United's reservation system or policies, an infant is any child under two years old. Children under two can travel on an adult's lap without a seat assignment.
You'll need to add all children to your reservation regardless of their ages, but whether or not your infant gets a ticket depends on your itinerary. If you're traveling within the U.S., Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, your infant will not be a ticketed passenger; for all other destinations, you'll purchase an infant fare.
As soon as your child turns two, the child must have a ticket and occupy a seat. That means if you leave for your vacation before your child turns two, but return after the child's second birthday, the child will require a ticket for the return portion of your flight.
Another reason your young child might need a seat? Only one infant is allowed to sit on each adult's lap during the flight. That means if you're the only adult traveling with two or more children under two years old, you'll need to purchase seats for all but one of the children.
For all families that want to sit together, we recommend booking in advance and either choosing a fare category that lets you select seats, or purchasing advance seat assignments if you're flying on a Basic Economy ticket.
FAA-approved child restraint systems, child safety seats, and car seats manufactured after 1985 are safe to use, and necessary if your infant is traveling in his or her own seat. Booster seats, belly belts attached to adult seat belts, and vests or harnesses that hold an infant to an adult's chest cannot be used for safety reasons.
Traveling with strollers, breast pumps and other necessities
In addition to your normal baggage allowance, you can check a stroller free of charge. Some travelers prefer to use their strollers in the airport and check them at the gate, but be sure your stroller is collapsible. Strollers can't be carried onto the aircraft — you'll be able to pick up your stroller at the aircraft door in your connecting or destination city.
Nursing mothers are welcome to breastfeed or pump on United aircraft or in our facilities. In fact, many of our airports have dedicated rooms and Mamava nursing pods. Breast pumps are also allowed in addition to your normal carry-on baggage allowance.
Staying comfortable during the flight
Changing tables are available on many of our larger aircraft. Your flight attendant will be able to direct you to the correct lavatory.
On international flights, a complimentary bassinet may be available for use in flight, when the seatbelt sign is off. You can request bassinets by calling the United Customer Contact Center, which we recommend doing early since there are a limited number available.
For more on our policies, visit https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/special-needs/infants.html
The comparisons between New Zealand and California are inescapable. Both are long and narrow with Pacific coastlines that seamlessly combine cliffs and beaches. Both boast some of the world's most spectacular national parks in the mountains and some of the most prized wine regions in the hills and valleys.
Some similarities are flip-flopped, because NZ straddles the 38th parallel south of the equator while California is on the 38th parallel north. That's why New Zealand's North Island shares Southern California's warm, dry climate and the South Island shares Northern California's cooler, wetter climate. That may also be why New Zealand's two largest cities (Auckland and Wellington) are in the sunny north, while California's (L.A. and San Diego) are in the south.
There are differences, too, and they favor New Zealand. Although it's about two-thirds the size of California, NZ is only about one-tenth as crowded (4.5 million compared to 40 million people). And NZ is surrounded on all four sides, not just one, by the Pacific.
But don't take our word for it — visit New Zealand to make your own comparisons and with new nonstop service between Auckland and Chicago, New Zealand is even easier to get to. Starting November 30, Air New Zealand will operate nonstop service between Auckland and Chicago, and vice versa three times weekly on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. And beginning in April 2019, we will extend our service between San Francisco and Auckland to year-round with service three times weekly on the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft between November and March, and on the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft between April and October. Now that you have your travel plans set, read on for what to do while you're there.
From the 1,076-foot-high Sky Tower that dominates the Auckland skyline, you'll behold a city bordered by bays and peppered with parks. Locals take full advantage by sailing in the city's two harbors (Auckland is the “City of Sails") and participating in almost every other type of water and land sport — especially rugby, cricket, golf and tennis, all imports from the British who founded New Zealand.
Auckland's literal high points besides the Sky Tower include Mount Eden, Mount Victoria and One Tree Hill, three of the dozens of small dormant volcanoes with 360-degree views that punctuate the city. Another is Auckland Harbour Bridge across Waitemata Harbour, where you can climb the span or bungee off. Additional Auckland attractions include the Auckland Museum and Auckland Art Gallery; the family-friendly New Zealand Maritime Museum and Sea Life Aquarium; and sprawling Cornwall Park, where cricket enthusiasts share the grass with sheep.
Wellington and Christchurch
These two coastal cities south of Auckland are each about a quarter of the population of Auckland, making them favorites of visitors who prefer compact cities. In the capital city of Wellington, most attractions are along the waterfront promenade, always teeming with walkers and runners, while others are in the steep hills. Be sure to visit the Museum of New Zealand and ride the Wellington Cable Car. Christchurch is still recovering from the big 2011 earthquake, but the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park are still lush and lovely, and Quake City at the Canterbury Museum is both educational and moving as it chronicles the devastation of the quake and the rebuilding efforts.
South Island Mountains
New Zealand may be best known for its mountain hiking, known to the locals as tramping. The highest peaks are in the Southern Alps, topped by 12,218 foot Mount Cook, but surely the most famous hike is the Milford Track — so popular that reservations are required to tackle the 33 mile hut-to-hut walk through glacially carved mountain passes, fjords, majestic waterfalls and rainforests in Fiordland National Park. But you needn't hike at all to appreciate the beauty of New Zealand's mountains. Driving past them or through them, such as the drive to Milford Sound where the Track begins, or to Mount Cook Village, does the trick.
Beaches and volcanoes
Stellar surfing and sunbathing beaches are found throughout the country, even in Auckland, although keep in mind that “beach weather" is more likely on North Island. NZ's Volcanic Zone, however, is concentrated in one North Island region, not far from Auckland. It's there, especially in Tongariro National Park, that you'll discover recently erupted volcanoes, lava flows, steaming geysers and hissing ponds — plus thermal pools, springs and baths in the towns of Rotorua and Taupo. You may recognize some of this region's mountains, where the hiking is nearly as splendid as on the South Island, from scenes in “The Lord of the Rings" movies.
Towns, villages… and sheep
Sheep are everywhere in New Zealand, even in the cities. You can even observe them being herded and sheared at SheepWorld near Auckland, but mostly you'll see them in the countryside while driving between cities and national parks, such as on one of NZ's 10 themed highways. You'll also go past farms, vineyards, mountains, coastline and dense wilderness. But don't drive straight through. Your fondest NZ memories after the trip may be of conversations with locals at a village café over coffee or a country pub over a Double Brown beer.
New Zealand's 14 wine regions blanket the east coast of both islands, but the Marlborough region near Blenheim at the top of South Island has the most wineries, including dozens that offer tastings. This region's Sauvignon Blancs are internationally acclaimed. While you're in the area, you should also stop by the charming town of Nelson and visit Abel Tasman National Park, a marvelous mix of rainforest paths and beaches.
Sauvignon Blanc pairs nicely with fish — and that's a good thing, because New Zealand fishermen operate in the sixth-largest fishing zone in the world, making seafood a NZ specialty. While myriad fish choices fill menus in coastal restaurants, expect a wide variety of cuisines (often broadly called “Pacific Rim cuisine") in the cities. That's especially true in Auckland, where nearly half of residents are non-natives from China, India, Fiji, Samoa and elsewhere. Wherever you dine, the food was probably grown or raised locally because importing ingredients is expensive — the nearest continent, Australia, is 1,300 miles away.
Besides New Zealand's two main islands, smaller islands off their shores are a treat to visit. The largest (about the size of Maui) is Rakiura/Stewart Island, a one-hour ferry ride from the southern tip of South Island, where a national park occupies 80 percent of the land. NZ's most populous small island (pop. 9,000) is Waiheke, a 45-minute ferry ride from Auckland, which features forest trails, beaches, restaurants and wineries.
Don't forget that the seasons are reversed in New Zealand, so their “summer" starts in December. Plan a trip between November and April to enjoy mild temperatures and to avoid too many rainy days. When you arrive, driving a rental car is the best way to see the country. (You'll soon get used to driving on the left side.) And driving won't be tortuous within the country because there are no “boring" stretches of road — and a scenic, 3 1/2-hour Interislander or Bluebridge car ferry connects Wellington and Picton, letting you travel freely between North and South Islands.
If you go
Service between San Francisco and Auckland operates three times weekly with year-round nonstop service launching in April of 2019. Starting November 30 of this year, Air New Zealand will operate service between Auckland and Chicago, and vice versa three times weekly. Air New Zealand code share service will be offered on around 100 flights across the U.S. for convenient connections to Auckland via Chicago. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.
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If a United beverage cart could talk, it would tell you how we select the brands we serve in the sky. But since they can't talk, host Phil Torres will have to spill the proverbial beans. Join him as he visits an illy Caffè and the family behind Colby Red wine.
"Many years ago at an air show, I saw a T-shirt that said 'Chicks fly,'" said Orlando-based Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and Chix Fix team coach Laura Spolar. "And I told my husband, 'Chicks can fly, but chicks can also fix!' A lot of people don't know that women are aircraft mechanics."
Laura didn't know it at the time, but that conversation would serve as the inspiration for the team name of our history-making, all-female team of technicians that competed in the
2018 Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC). Of 69 teams at this year's AMC, only three were made up entirely of women, and Chix Fix was the only one representing a commercial airline.
"It's so important for us to show young girls and women that this is a career option for them," said Airframe Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bonnie Turner, the Chix Fix team captain.
Chix Fix is made up of technicians from five stations. As a group, they only practiced together three times before the competition, but they bonded instantly.
"I feel like I've known these women my whole career," said Denver-based Line Technician Janelle Bendt. "It's been a lot of fun getting to know them and learning from them."
"As a team we just communicate really well; we all respect each other," said San Francisco-based Base Technician Katrina Oyer. "The biggest thing I've taken away from this experience is confidence. Working with these ladies is an eye opener. We really can do anything."
Watch the video above to learn more about Chix Fix and their journey to the AMC.
On March 8 we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusivity with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. Through our expanded relationship, we are proud to be a part of the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle and we're excited to also engage with local programs in our key markets and around the world.
Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than five million athletes and one million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Working to break down barriers and promote inclusion begins with offering the best possible service to all of our customers. We will work together with Special Olympics to ensure new employee training recreates real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when they travel. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will participate in new training modules that reflect Special Olympics' insights as United takes steps to lead in inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.