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.
3 under the radar places to travel to in October
For travelers who enjoy cooler temperatures and fall festivals, these are the perfect under-the-radar destinations to check out this October.
Head to Stuttgart in Southern Germany to experience a combination of German culture and a passion for fast cars and innovation. Here, you'll also find the country's second largest beer festival. It's considered the ideal home base for exploring the Black Forest mountain range and its surrounding towns. Throughout the city, historic government buildings coexist with contemporary architecture with green spaces and parks galore. Germany's sixth largest city is also home to the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz headquarters, both of which have impressive automobile museums that are open to the public.
What to do
The main event attracting visitors in October is the Stuttgart Beer Festival. Second in size only to Munich's Oktoberfest, this fairground-style festival presents more activities for all ages. There are still plenty of beer tents for adults, as well as theme-park style rides for kids. Everyone will enjoy the authentic German food stalls, music and dancing.
Stuttgart is also home to two car museums, the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum. You don't have to be a car buff to enjoy their contemporary architecture and elegant interiors, both of which feature impressive collections of pristine historic cars. Visit Market Hall Stuttgart in the city center to peruse booths and stalls from local farmers, restaurants, producers and artisans. Another unique Stuttgart attraction is the Wilhelma zoological-botanical garden, which houses the largest collection of exotic animal and plant species in Europe. Spend a leisurely afternoon strolling through Wilhelma's many gardens and footpaths, which were previously a king's private retreat.
Our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer service to Stuttgart (STR) from multiple U.S. cities, including direct flights from New York/Newark (EWR).
Jazz, food and friendly locals in Ireland's unofficial capital
Often overshadowed by Dublin, you might be surprised by everything that Ireland's second-largest city has to offer. Some even refer to Cork as the unofficial capital of Ireland. The city's smaller footprint makes it easier to navigate, and Cork's genuinely friendly locals are more than happy to rub elbows with visitors at its cozy pubs and restaurants. Cork was even recently named the world's third friendliest city by Condé Nast Traveler, and October is an especially good time to visit. Cork's long-running jazz festival brings international talent and well-known acts to the stage. Lastly, Cork is known as Ireland's food capital thanks to its many world-class restaurants and delicious local specialties.
What to do
The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival held at the end of October gets a little bigger and better every year. The music festival has been running since 1978 and welcomes famous talent and up-and-coming jazz performers alike. It kicks off with a jazz parade that winds its way through the city streets. If you're not a jazz enthusiast, The Fringe Festival runs in parallel with live theater and musical performances from other genres.
The heart of the city's lively food scene is the English Market, an 18th-century covered market that's Ireland's most famous food emporium. Shop for produce, meat and other provisions alongside Cork's chefs on the ground level, or sample traditional Irish fare at restaurants on the second floor. After you've had your fill, make your way to one of Cork's most popular and peculiar attractions — Cork City Gaol — a castle-like building that was once a 19th-century prison. Ireland's famous Blarney Castle (and home of the Blarney Stone) is also just a 20-minute drive from Cork.
United and our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer services to Cork (ORK) from multiple U.S. cities.
An underrated Sonoma destination with rustic charm
Though Sonoma welcomes fewer visitors come October, wine country is a popular year-round destination. Do as the locals do and head to Guerneville for a charming wine country getaway, just a 90-minute drive from San Francisco. This rustic ex-logging town in the Russian River Valley has welcomed several new restaurants, art galleries and shops over the last few years. Spend your time visiting tasting rooms at the many nearby wineries. Stroll underneath majestic coastal redwoods in the 806-acre state park just a few minutes from town, or pop into the eclectic storefronts along Guerneville's Main Street. This casual, unpretentious town is an ideal destination for a couple or a relaxing getaway with a group of friends.
What to do
Guerneville sits in the heart of the Russian River Valley, where pinot noir and chardonnay grow plentifully in the cool climate. More than 50 wineries are within a 20-minute drive. Between established Champagne houses like Korbel to the many family-owned wineries dotting the region, you can easily spend a day or two sampling the region's wines while taking in the valley's scenic vineyards. Beer lovers can make the short trip to Russian River Brewing Company, one of California's most well-known craft breweries.
Back in town, enjoy the retro vibe strolling along Guerneville's Main Street. From antiques and used books to clothing and collectibles, you'll find an eclectic variety of shops and boutiques. The Main Street dining scene has many options, including San Francisco-inspired farm-to-table bistros and more casual, laid-back eateries with live music. To see the nearby redwood forest, head north, just a short drive to the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The reserve has many self-guided trails ranging from an easy one-mile walk to a more strenuous nine-mile hike. The Russian River runs right next to Guerneville, where outdoor adventurers will enjoy fishing, kayaking or swimming.
United offers service to San Francisco (SFO) from multiple U.S. cities. Guerneville is a quick 90-minute drive from San Francisco.
United and Special Olympics
Taking inclusion to new heights
Our shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world — and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics.Learn more
What to do in Zurich
Passion Passport is a community-based website that tells meaningful travel stories and facilitates global connections. Our team hails from across the United States and Canada and is always up for an adventure. To learn more about where we're going and what we're doing, visit our website: PassionPassport.com
On the surface, Zurich, Switzerland, is known for banking and finance — but those who dig a little deeper discover just how enchanting the city really is. If you have the opportunity to visit, check out some of our favorite spots in this charming, upscale destination.
Known for its scenic environments and outdoor attractions, Zurich is a perfectly walkable city. The waterfront is also a great location for picnicking and sailing. To refuel after your lakeside adventures, head to one of the area's charming restaurants — we loved Seerestaurant Quai 61 and Fischers Fritz.
After you've refueled, embark on a shopping trip for Swiss goods and souvenirs in Bahnhofstrasse, a thoroughfare that connects Lake Zurich with the city's main railway station. Home to an array of boutiques and department stores, this area presents countless opportunities to soak up the surrounding views.
Since Bahnhofstrasse is a highly popular locale, you'll get a more intimate experience if you venture off of the main thoroughfare and explore the areas of Augustinergasse and Rennweg Street. While they are home to a number of beautiful shops, they also acted as the city's most significant streets during the Middle Ages. Today, the popular areas are filled with boutiques, but photographers will attest that the historic, pastel buildings are now the streets' biggest draw.
For a closer look at Zurich's history, visit one of the city's most famous landmarks: the Grossmünster Cathedral, a Protestant church dating back to 1100. If you climb to the top of one of the building's two towers, you'll be greeted with views of Zurich's lake and rooftops beyond.
Another one of Zurich's famed churches is St. Peterskirche, which also happens to be the oldest in the region. Built in the ninth century, St. Peterskirche is home to the largest clock face in all of Europe, measuring 28.5 feet (8.7 meters) in diameter. The tower also features five bells that date back to the late 1800s. Visitors can explore the stunning clocktower and tour the church's minimal — yet historical — interior, which features remnants of a medieval mural.
Swiss flag along stairwell in Zurch
St. Peterskirche in Zurich
Taste the traditions
No visit to Switzerland would be complete without sampling the country's sweetest delicacy — chocolate. Zurich's famous confectioner Confiserie Sprungli is a dream for visitors with a sweet tooth. With a legacy of over 175 years, the shop's popularity endures with delicious handmade desserts ranging from truffles to cakes.
Another favorite of ours is Zeughauskeller, a locale serving traditional Swiss cuisine and local beer. Built in 1487, Zeughauskeller is also historically significant, as the building was initially used to store weapons in medieval times — though in 1926, it evolved to be a welcoming social spot for hungry patrons. As an added bonus, the menu is traveler-friendly — meaning it's written in eight different languages — and includes Zurich specialities like zürcher geschnetzeltes (sliced veal in gravy) and rösti (Swiss hash browns).
After taking in Zurich's stunning sights, you might want to view them from an entirely different perspective. If that's the case, consider embarking on a Limmat River Cruise. While riding a motorized boat along the Limmat River, you'll pass the quaint features of Old Town and Lake Zurich — so be sure to bring your camera along! A round-trip cruise lasts about 50 minutes and costs 4.40 CHF (roughly 4.43 USD) for adults.
Regardless of what time of year you visit, Zurich always has plenty to offer.
Great places to enjoy a Fall weekend
Just because summer is nearly over, it doesn't mean that the travel season is over. Cities across America continue their efforts to attract autumn tourists wanting to take a trip somewhere new. Here are seven cities that offer plenty of things for you to do over a weekend.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
This region, located on a hook-shaped peninsula, is known mainly for its beaches and busy summer season. While fall is still warm enough to visit the beach, there's even more to do with less crowds and no "Cape traffic". There are plenty of fall festivals to choose from to celebrate the season. From the 6th Annual PumpkinFest to Martha's Vineyard Food and Wine Festival — there is no shortage of events. Additionally, take a free, self-guided walking tour on the 1.6 mile Kennedy Legacy Trail, which celebrates the role the family played in the history of Hyannis and Cape Cod. Or visit the Hyannis HyArts Cultural District, home to local artists, galleries, concerts, theatrical performances and classes year-round. Indulge in the bounty of the sea at restaurants like Hyannis institution Cooke's Seafood, known for its fried clam strips, or Ocean House if you want to enjoy a meal with a view.
The Mile High City has recently become one of the hottest craft brew cities in the country. Be sure to check a few out on the Denver Beer Trail, which covers more than 100 brewpubs, breweries and taprooms. Beer lovers should plan their trip around the Great American Beer Festival that takes over Denver in September with brews from 800 breweries. Take a stroll or a shuttle bus down the 16th Street Mall and indulge in outdoor cafes, shopping and the D&F Tower, a two-thirds replica of the Campanile of St. Mark's in Venice built in 1909. Depending on the venue's schedule, you can also catch a concert at the city's famous Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre or hike the trails around the park which is especially beautiful in the fall. Other must-see places include the Colorado Railroad Museum, Denver Union Station and Punch Bowl Social, a restaurant and entertainment venue that used to house the old Stapleton International Airport's air traffic control tower.
Key West, Florida
Florida's southernmost point — a mere 90 miles from Cuba — is known for its diving, snorkeling and beaches. And visiting during the fall means the humid summer months are over, bringing cooler ocean breezes and refreshing water temperatures making outdoor activities great options. Go on a sunset cruise, take a tour of the island on a wave runner, participate in a pub crawl or rent a moped, a scooter or a bike to explore the Keys. Sunbathe at beaches like Fort Zachary Taylor, an 87-acre state park that is home to a pre-Civil War Fort. And make sure to visit author Ernest Hemingway's home, where he lived from 1931 to 1939 and where he wrote a few classics including the novel, To Have And Have Not.
The tagline for this Southern city is the Home of Blues, Soul and Rock 'n' Roll. You can hit iconic locations covering all three by visiting the Blues Hall of Fame, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Sun Studio, the birthplace of Rock 'N' Roll. Walk down the city's iconic Beale Street, where you can check out bars, restaurants, clubs and shops. Take a cruise on a Memphis Riverboat and indulge in a barbecue dinner at the famous Rendezvous. Cooler temperatures also mean a variety of festivals to choose from, including Gonerfest, — Goner Records' annual music festival —Mempho music festival, Memphis Pride Festival and more. And no visit to Memphis is complete without visits to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. passed away and Elvis Presley's Graceland.
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Located 154 miles north of San Francisco, this region is mostly known for ski resorts like Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. But there are still plenty of things to do in the fall with fewer crowds and off-season specials with lower prices. For example, take a hike along the 1.9-mile Lake of the Sky Trail, ride on the M.S. Dixie II Paddlewheeler or play a round of golf at the Lake Tahoe Golf Course. But the best way to take in all that Lake Tahoe has to offer is to do the 72-mile most beautiful drive in America, where you can take a ride on the Heavenly Gondola, visit the historic Donner Memorial State Park or try your luck at the Crystal Bay Casino.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park is located 124 miles west of Washington, D.C. and one of the best places in the country to enjoy fall foliage along the 105-mile Skyline Drive. View the leaves changing colors and enjoy beautiful scenery by going on a hike in the park — home to 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail along the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Take a guided tour through Luray Caverns, a series of large rooms with 10-feet-high ceilings, stone columns and pools. Go horseback riding or do a tour of the Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop, which showcases the region's wineries, a whiskey distillery, breweries and dining.
It's a given that you'll do a wine tasting or two in this world-famous region, though keep in mind that during fall months, wineries tend to close by 5 pm so plan to start early. And even if wine tasting isn't for you, witnessing the fall foliage while driving on the Silverado Trail from Napa to Calistoga is worth it. Or indulge yourself by visiting one of Calistoga's wonderful day spas, play a round of golf at the Vintner's Golf Club in Yountville or take a sunrise hot air balloon ride. There are no shortages of delicious restaurants — the valley is home to six Michelin-starred restaurants, including Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry. Or you can scout out the next generation of dining talent at the Culinary Institute of America's The Restaurant at CIA Copia. If you're looking for a unique wine experience, consider doing the Art in the Afternoon tour at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, which pairs a tasting with a tour of its world-class collection.
We view New Jersey's success and ours inextricably linked
As a proud resident of the New Jersey and New York area for the past thirty years, I know firsthand how vitally important Newark Liberty International Airport is to the success of the communities and families throughout the state – the jobs it creates, the economic activity it generates and the businesses and people it connects to markets around the globe.
We are one of the top ten employers in the state, with 14,000 employees as part of the United family and are Newark Airport's largest airline, together with our Star Alliance partners, account for more than two-thirds of both total flights and passengers. It's obvious that keeping Newark competitive requires a competitive United Airlines.
That's why we've invested more in Newark Airport than any other airline, making both our service and the airport better. We've committed $2 billion in unsubsidized airport investments since 2000 and nearly $400 million over the past two years alone.
Not only are we giving back at the airport, but we are also supporting the communities we call home. This July, we announced two new partnership grants totaling $1 million for the cities of Newark and Elizabeth supporting the Community Foodbank of New Jersey and Urban League of Essex County. These grants will greatly expand opportunities in each city, helping hundreds of young people and adults on the path to meaningful carriers and economic mobility. This commitment complements our longstanding support across New Jersey, from schools to local shelters, to vital community anchors such as the Newark Museum, the Liberty Science Center and New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
We view New Jersey's success and United's as inextricably linked, which is why the negative tone that's been adopted recently has been extremely disappointing. I am determined to get us back on the right track.
Case in point: the discussion regarding our recent decision to transition some of our operations from ABM Aviation to United Ground Express (UGE) has been unfair. Let me clarify a few things.
The current contract held by ABM was up for renewal and we began a competitive bidding process in order to improve our customers' experience at Newark Airport. After our review, we determined that UGE was the right vendor to achieve this for United's passengers and in turn, our overall operation at Newark airport.
To date, we've hosted seven job fairs and received hundreds of applications, many from current talented ABM employees and, we expect our employment figures to remain where they were before the transition to UGE. These newly created jobs will be represented by IAM, one of our union partners.
As a company we believe it's appropriate for the state to determine the minimum wage and as a good corporate citizen we continue to observe and comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. We remain committed to treating all of our employees fairly, providing them with competitive compensation and benefit packages which feature a progression wage scale, paid time off (PTO), double-time holiday pay and company subsidized health care plan for full-time employees. Under UGE, employees also receive United flight benefits, which is a notable and unique addition to our employees' overall compensation.
United is important to the region. Without United's continuing investment in the airport, not only would jobs be lost, but also it would be a major blow to the state's economy and to the New Jersey taxpayer. We pay local taxes; the Corporate Business Tax (which was increased earlier this session); and the jet fuel tax and in addition, we pay more than $400 million a year in rates, charges and fees to the Port Authority to fund operations and infrastructure development at Newark airport. All told, United pays our fair share and creates nearly $16 billion in economic output in New Jersey and we're very proud to be doing our part to drive the New Jersey economy.
The stakes are too high for this issue to be turned into a political football and subject to overheated, misleading rhetoric.
We care deeply about our employees, our customers and our state and take our responsibilities as a good corporate citizen very seriously. We're determined to remain competitive so we can continue offering the service and standards our customers and this community deserve. United is proud to call Newark home, I hope you'll support our efforts to continue investing and growing in the great state of New Jersey.
Introducing Better Boarding
The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".
Better Boarding consists of three key improvements
Less time in line:
By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.
Simplified gate layout
Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today
Group 1 will board through the blue lane.
Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.
Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.
Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.
We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.
Be in the know about boarding
Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).
Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.
Balanced groups and better recognition:
United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx
Improved premier customer recognition
We're happy to make them happy
Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.
The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience
Towns in the U.S. with unusual names
You don't have to travel to Timbuktu or Dull, Scotland to check out a uniquely named place — there are plenty in the United States. It's true that you might not find much to do in Boring, Oregon, or anything peculiar about Peculiar, Missouri — and who wants to go to Hell, Michigan? But there are even more places with strange names worth seeing.
Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, Massachusetts
And you thought “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" was a mouthful. The 45 letters in the name of this lake in Webster, Massachusetts, makes it America's longest-named place. The lake's name means, “English knifeman and Nipmuck Indians at the boundary or neutral fishing place." Hundreds of pricey homes on its shoreline can be seen during a ride aboard the Indian Princess, one of America's last authentic paddle wheel boats. For those looking to do more than laze along the shorelines, unique fishing spots and a range of water activities are popular attractions in this town. The nearest airports are Boston and Hartford/Springfield (Bradley), each a 75-minute drive away.
This easternmost town in Virginia, with a name derived from its Native American name, is the southern gateway to Assateague Island National Seashore, best known for its wild horses. About 150 Chincoteague ponies, which stand only four-and-a-half feet tall, roam the island where visitors also can tour Assateague Lighthouse, a candy cane-striped 1867 national landmark that stands 142 feet tall. The nearest airport to Chincoteague is Norfolk, Virginia, approximately a two-hour drive away.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra's “(I've Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo" was the #1 hit song of 1942, putting the Michigan town on the map. How can you not like a song with lyrics like, “I liked her looks / when I carried her books / in Kalamazoo"? Even now, it's performed by the Western Michigan University marching band at football games. The college town is also known for being home to prestigious Kalamazoo College, many brewpubs, the nearby wine village of Paw Paw and the Gilmore Car Museum. United flies to Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport.
Mammoth Lakes, California
Mammoth Lakes was named after the Mammoth Mining Company, which brought it into existence as a gold rush boomtown. It's a fitting name because it also describes the mammoth-sized Sierra Nevada mountains that surround it, including the famed granite rock faces of nearby Yosemite National Park. Mammoth Lakes has emerged as one of America's leading destinations for trout fishing, hiking, mountain biking — and most of all — snowboarding and skiing. The Mammoth Ski Museum is a big draw. United flies into Mammoth Yosemite Airport from San Francisco December through April.
It's not a tech company or an expression of joy. Wahoo is a town named after the native eastern wahoo shrub. The town of 4,500 is best known for being named “home office" of the David Letterman Wahoo Gazette Top-10 List after town boosters bribed Dave with a wall clock made of cow dung and free checkups at Wahoo Medical Center. Wahoo Creek feeds into the town's biggest attraction, Lake Wanahoo, where you can hike, kayak, fish and camp. The nearest airport is in Omaha, Nebraska, a one-hour drive away.
This spot in the Mojave National Preserve is last on any alphabetical list of places and not far behind on any list of Southern California hotspots (except literally in the heat of summer). Many drive past Zzyzx Road on road trips from Las Vegas to L.A., but few know what's at the end of the road or the history behind the small town. Today, the only thing you'll find there, after taking Zzyzx Road off I-15, is the California State University-run Desert Studies Center on the land of a former hot springs resort. But the hiking is a treat if you like desert-mountain solitude. The nearest airport is an 80-minute drive away in Las Vegas.
Spending a week in Iceland
Passion Passport is a community-based website that tells meaningful travel stories and facilitates global connections. Our team hails from across the United States and Canada and is always up for an adventure. To learn more about where we're going and what we're doing, visit our website: PassionPassport.com
Iceland is a place of incomparable beauty. We recently visited some of the country's most popular destinations and explored the stunning landscapes that it is most known for. If you have the opportunity to travel to this country full of otherworldly views, be sure to check out some of our favorite places.
Visit the capital city
Reykjavík may not be a large city, but it still offers plenty to do and see. The capital's relatively small size makes it easy to visit its most notable attractions on foot or by bicycle. Architecture enthusiasts should stop by Harpa Concert Hall to marvel at the iconic glass building, while music lovers should check out the hall's events and enjoy its array of shows, such as Iceland's Symphony Orchestra performances.
For great photo opportunities and gravity defying architecture, seek out Hallgrimskirikja, the largest church in all of Iceland. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937 and inspired by the shapes that emerge when lava cools, the church can be spotted from almost anywhere in the city. Visitors can also climb to the top of its tower for the best views of the city below — so don't forget your camera! Once you've seen this architectural beauty, explore the city center on foot. If you're looking for a place to shop, visit Laugavegur Street, Bankastræti, Skólavörðustígur, and Lækjargata.
If you want a truly Icelandic experience, visit one of the many swimming pools in the Reykjavík area. Located behind Hallgrimskirikja, Sundhöll Reykjavíkur is the country's oldest public bath. Or, take some time to relax at Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, located just 30 minutes from the capital city by car — though, if you're not looking to rent a car, you can also take a bus from Reykjavík to the spa. The locale is open year-round, and the water in the large lake is always warm and beautifully hued. Experience the seemingly magical powers of geothermal seawater at this natural spa and enjoy a mask bar, a massage, an in-water bar, and a sauna and steam room. Note: this is a popular activity, so be sure to book in advance.
Travel along the Golden Circle
If you want to road-trip around iceland, the Golden Circle is the perfect route for you. It features three of Iceland's most popular destinations: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. There are also many Golden Circle tours to choose from, if you prefer to sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery without the hassle of driving.
Your first stop will likely be Thingvellir, which became a national park in 1930 and later, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to Thingvellir's fascinating geology and unique history, visitors are often enchanted by its proximity to tectonic plates, lava rocks, and surrounding volcanoes. Interestingly, the land was once used as a meeting place for the parliament of the Viking Age commonwealth (its name actually means "the fields of parliament"). Today, the park is also a popular draw for those interested in bird-watching, diving, snorkeling, and viewing the Northern Lights (come winter).
The second stop along the route is Gullfoss Waterfall, a stunning waterfall located in an ancient valley. The two-tiered fall is beautiful during both the winter and the summer, offering cascades of ice in cold weather and an abundance of rainbows just after the spring thaw.
From here, Geysir Hot Springs Area is just a short drive away and a 50-minute trip from Thingvellir. Although the geysir is a famous hot spring, it isn't the only geyser in this geothermal area. Keep an eye out for the region's most active, Strokkur, which sprouts hot water approximately every few minutes. Have your camera ready and keep a safe distance from the boiling eruption.
Immerse yourself in beauty
Stunning vistas are not uncommon in Iceland. It seems like everywhere you look, there are natural wonders to observe and photograph. One of Iceland's most beautiful destinations is Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, an area filled with blue waters dotted with glistening icebergs. What's more, this particular location is also popular among those aspiring to spot the Northern Lights. If you want to get up close and personal with the frozen landscape, the lagoon hosts amphibian boat tours, which allow you to sail alongside the icebergs. You might even spot some seals leading the way. While the lagoon is nearly six hours from Iceland's capital, it's a beautiful drive, which offers roadtrippers the chance to observe a range of Icelandic scenery along the way.
Update on Tropical Depression Florence
September 17, 2018
Today, we've resumed normal operations at all impacted airport locations with the exception of Wilmington (ILM), which is expected to reopen Thursday, September 20 once power is restored.
See below for a full list of our current operations:
|Airport||Monday, 9/17||Tuesday, 9/18|
|Asheville, NC (AVL)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Columbia, SC (CAE)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Charlottesville, VA (CHO)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Charleston, SC (CHS)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Charlotte, NC (CLT)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Charleston, WV (CRW)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Fayetteville, NC (FAY)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Greensboro, NC (GSO)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Greensville, SC (GSP)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Wilmington, NC (ILM)||No operations||No operations; |
Expected to resume on
|Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Norfolk, VA (ORF)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Raleigh/Durham, NC (RDU)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Richmond, VA (RIC)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Roanoke, VA (ROA)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Savannah, GA (SAV)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
|Shenandoah Valley, VA (SHD)||Normal operations||Normal operations|
September 16, 2018
We continue monitoring the latest weather forecasts, airport conditions, road closures and other activities as a result of Hurricane Florence which has been downgraded to a tropical depression. We are resuming normal operations at all stations today, with the exception of Myrtle Beach (MYR), where we expect to resume service Monday and Wilmington (ILM) which is expected to reopen Tuesday. A travel waiver is in place for customers traveling to, from or through locations impacted by the storm, offering additional flexibility to change or cancel their travel plans, and waiving baggage and pet-in-cabin fees.
Our thoughts are with all those impacted by the storm. We continue to encourage customers to check their flights on united.com or the United app for the latest flight status prior to leaving for the airport.
Stay tuned for more information as the storm progresses.
Check out our newest destinations
Watch our most popular videos
Five magnificent stops between Honolulu and Guam filled with spectacular scenery along the way, and then back again. Join Big Metal Bird host, Phil Torres, as he explores our unique Island Hopper route, and discovers what the route means to the people of Micronesia.
It was an unusual sight: a flame on a plane -- but that's exactly what passengers on a flight from Boston to Chicago witnessed as we transported the very special cargo on July 18. The flame was enclosed in a secure lantern and accompanied by a Special Olympic athlete and two Guardians of the Flame – members of a group of more than 100,000 law enforcement officers whose role is to protect and ensure the delivery of the Special Olympics Flame wherever it travels.
This wasn't just any flame, however; it was the Special Olympics' Flame of Hope, the flame which lit the Eternal Flame of Hope to kick off Special Olympics' 50th anniversary celebration Friday morning.
CEO Oscar Munoz, General Counsel and EVP Brett Hart; and Community Affairs VP Sharon Grant, along with many employees and customers, greeted the Flame upon arrival to O'Hare International Airport, where it was presented to local Guardians of the Flame.
We didn't just transport the Flame of Hope on board one of our flights, said Oscar. "That flight symbolized how we are taking the values of inclusion and respect, which that Flame represents, fully on board as a company."
From O'Hare, the Flame traveled to Soldier Field, the site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games 50 years ago, and where the Law Enforcement Torch Run® took place the morning of Friday, July 20. More than 100 employees participated in the event, a four-mile course along the lakefront in downtown Chicago, along with hundreds of law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes from throughout Illinois and the world.
I saw people from all over the world come together for a great cause, said Global Catering Operations Projects and Performance Manager Yana Strutz, who participated in the Torch Run, "It is wonderful to see my colleagues take time out of their busy schedules to ensure that Special Olympics athletes get the time and attention they deserve."
The run concluded with the lighting of the Eternal Flame of Hope monument, a flame that symbolizes the eternal hope that Special Olympics provides to athletes and their families. The flame will stay forever ignited inside the permanent, 30-foot monument outside of Soldier Field.
United will go beyond just flying the Flame of Hope on one flight, we will 'carry the torch' everywhere we fly and spread the light of this inclusion revolution. We intend to be ambassadors for this movement everywhere we operate, said Oscar.
Our partnership with Special Olympics represents our continuing effort to break down barriers and further build on Special Olympics' remarkable legacy of inclusion by engaging our employees around the world.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 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.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.