Three Perfect Days: Colorado Rockies
Story and photography by Sam Polcer | Hemispheres November 2015
From Aspen to Vail, Hemispheres hits the best of the Centennial Stateâs slopes and aprÃpres-ski spots
Since folks began delving into the Rockies for gold back in the mid-1800s, this extravagantly beautiful part of the United States has been dotted with boomtowns, each of them a magnet for adventurers and romantics. While the adventurers remain, pickaxes have been replaced by ski poles, and the riches are associated with experiences rather than material wealth. Today, towns like Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen brim with five-star hotels, sophisticated eateries, world-class museums and buzzing nightclubs. But make no mistake, the biggest draw of all is the mountains—and the unparalleled thrill of hurtling down them. The real treasure, it turns out, was on the surface all along.
In which Sam goes to Breckenridge to test his lung capacity and cry over the beer at Broken Compass
It's always a good idea to make note of what's outside your hotel window. This fact occurs to me shortly after I awake in my room at One Ski Hill Place, the sprawling, bustling lodge at the base of Breckenridge's Peak 8. When I raise the blinds, majestic mountains grazed by the morning sun are revealed, as well as a passing chairlift occupied by ski-schoolers of an impressionable age. Which reminds me, I've booked a lesson with Breckenridge Ski & Ride instructor Lee Sky (yes, his real name).
Over eggs Benedict with smoked trout in the hotel's Living Room Restaurant and Bar, the Aussie ski instructor dismisses my puppy dog enthusiasm at the conditions outside: azure skies, several inches of powder atop a solid base. “Typical Colorado," Sky says with a nonchalant chew. Still, I'm a little breathless at the prospect of getting out there. Or maybe it's the altitude. Breckenridge is one of Colorado's highest ski resorts—9,600 feet at the base. Up here, climbing a flight of stairs feels like an ascent of Everest.
Four turns into the first run of the day, I wonder aloud how common it is for Sky's clients to holler with glee, which is what I do while following him down an untouched run on Peak 8. “Pretty typical," he says, smiling. It's been a while since I've skied, but one thing I remember, aside from how euphoric those first turns on a perfectly groomed trail can feel, is that hardcore skiers often appear to have life's mysteries figured out.
Sky decides to test my limits by leading me to the top of recently expanded Peak 6 to hit a trail marked with a black diamond or two. He nods to a group trudging up higher than the Kensho SuperChair allows. Their progress is slow—half the party seems to be lying down. “Shall we?" Within minutes, I too have collapsed onto the snow for a breather. When we finally summit, I get why the nearby bowl is named “Serenity"—up here, at 12,573 feet, the Rockies spread out before me like an Albert Bierstadt painting. A peek at the vertigo-inducing slope of the bowl below, however, dispels any romantic feelings. Pointing my skis downward at the gentlest entry available, I dip in, and pretty soon I'm whooping again, all the way down. Typical Colorado.
A fat bike tour with Breck Bike Guides
I part ways with Sky at the base, but not before receiving some final words of wisdom: “Look down the mountain, moving forward into the future, not back to the past." Which, I'm fairly sure, is code for “Don't be a wuss." In any event, I see lunch in my future. So, after dropping off my equipment with the hotel's ski valet, I cut through the lobby, ignoring the crash of pins in the property's two-lane bowling alley, and shuttle into town.
I'm eating at Downstairs at Eric's, a kitschy neighborhood beer-and-burger joint that doubles as an arcade. Waiting for me when I arrive is Shannon Galpin, a renowned activist and adventurer, and longtime Breckenridge resident. I order a plate of nachos the size of my head and a side of wings, washing them down with a Breck IPA. Over the din of skee ball, a couple of versions of Pac-Man and several dozen TVs tuned to every manner of sporting event, I tell her about my morning on the slopes. “There's such diversity of terrain here," she says. “And we've got incredible back bowls that are lift-accessible, which is insane—as you found out."
After lunch, I pass on Galpin's offer of a skee ball match, assuming I'll need my energy for our scheduled fat bike tour. A fat bike, for the uninitiated, is essentially a mountain bike with comically large, knobby tires designed to tackle mud, sand and snow—the monster truck of bicycles.
Soon, we're following Nick Truitt, co-owner of Breck Bike Guides, through wooded trails also used by snowshoers, cross-country skiers and anyone with superhuman lung capacity. It's hard work, but Galpin is unfazed. “Fat biking is just giggly," she says. “You can't help but keep laughing." As I topple into a snowbank for the fifth time, she adds, “the downhills are super-fun but sketchy." Falling into the snow is quickly becoming my preferred Rocky Mountain pastime.
On our way back into town, we pass through Wellington, a quaint neighborhood of colorful Victorian cottages housing a preponderance of Olympic athletes. “A lot of people feel driven to these mountains," Galpin says as we pass a trio of huffing cross-country skiers. “I think it's partly the fact that you can train right outside your door. Like, Denver and Boulder are optimal Ironman conditions, at 5,000 feet, but it's urban running until you get to the trails. Here, to be able to wake up and look at the mountains every morning and know that that's where you're going to play on your lunch break—that's irreplaceable."
The inviting living room at the Hotel Jerome, in Aspen
We've earned an après drink, so we drive 10 minutes north to the repurposed chairlift benches at Broken Compass Brewing, where Chicago-born co-founder David “Ax" Axelrod brings out a flight of samples that skew to the hearty end of the microbrew spectrum. Running a brewery at this altitude has its challenges, Ax says, but he seems to have managed. Every pour is outstanding, and after a pint or three I'm nearly brought to tears to hear that their brews, including a glorious rum barrel–aged coconut porter, are draft-only, so I won't be finding them in the fridge at my local bodega anytime soon.
If brewing up here is a challenge, so is drinking. With our need for food approaching crisis proportions, we cab it back to the town center for dinner at the sleek, low-lit eatery Relish, where chef-owner Matt Fackler's Colorado-inspired cuisine has been earning accolades for a decade. As I tuck into an Asian-inflected dish of lavender snapper crusted with wasabi peas and nori, I remark how this is the sort of place generally associated with upscale Aspen. “Oh, Breckenridge has the amenities," Galpin says with a laugh. “Just not the attitude."
Right now, the amenity I'm most interested in comes with pillows and a Do Not Disturb sign, so I hop into my private shuttle to Vail. An hour later, I check into the Sebastian under cover of darkness, retire to my room and hit the hay, but not before taking a quick look out my window at the shadowy peaks looming beyond the chalet rooftops.
I am a little disoriented when I awake. It turns out the designers at the Sebastian, a recently renovated boutique hotel in Vail Village, deviated from the lodge and chalet playbooks, which deem that each guestroom must meet the minimum requirements of one antler chandelier, one vintage ski competition poster and one moose photograph or cowboy watercolor. Here, they've gone so far as to incorporate blue—blue!—into the decor, and I've nearly forgotten what I came for.The sensation continues as I head downstairs: Oversize contemporary paintings, metallic sculptures and art books clutter the cathedral-ceilinged seating areas off the rustic-chic lobby. Ambient music pulses softly from hidden speakers. Every other guest is speaking Spanish or Russian.Breakfast is a two-minute stroll away, in the glassed-in terrace of Ludwig's, at the chalet-themed Sonnenalp Hotel, which has more than enough exposed timber to reset my compass. I'm seated across a table from Chris Anthony, a longtime pro skier and star of many Warren Miller ski films, who's agreed to give me a few pointers for my stay in Vail, starting with the meal at hand. “This place isn't publicized a lot," he says. “But the buffet is spectacular."Chris Anthony, professional skierThree spectacularly stacked plates later, Anthony tells me that Vail is “a big resort with the personality of a small village." As a waitress in lederhosen checks on us, he elaborates: “It's easy to get lost in the Disneyland effect, but there are these families who live here and own businesses, and they'll take you to another level of service. You create a bond with them. This place, the Sonnenalp, is owner-operated. The key is to seek out those special places. Find out who's really invested."
I consider filling another plate, but I'm supposed to be hitting the mountain, not trying to look like one. And what a mountain it is, topping out at 11,570 feet, with more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain. I zigzag to the top, hurtle down toward the ant-size skiers on China Bowl and settle into a tuck all the way to the Skyline Express lift, which takes me up to the glades and secret powder stashes of the outlying Blue Sky Basin. At the top of the basin is Belle's Camp, where burgers and brats are thrown onto gas grills amid expansive vistas of the Sawatch Mountains and the Ten Mile Range. One of the greatest views in Colorado, I've been told. It is a fine view, but I'm having difficulty tearing my eyes away from the plates in front of the feasting families around me. Time to head down to Vail, where lunch awaits.
“Our kids are getting drowned in the technology of entertainment rather than playing in the real world, being physical. When you go outdoors, your body has to adapt, your mind has to adapt. And what better way to do that than putting on a pair of skis?" —Chris Anthony
Once I've managed to pry my feet from my ski boots at the Sebastian's Base Camp valet service, I walk a couple of blocks to Mountain Standard, the casual offshoot of legendary eatery Sweet Basil, which sits above. Any regrets I may have had about missing the high-altitude barbecue go up in the smoke rising from the open wood fire. I quickly dispatch a platter of wild king salmon, the froth of an Upslope Brewing Company stout on my upper lip. It's a burly scene—men with beards and tattoos tend the flames; bartenders in flannel shirts pour tumblers of whiskey—but the fish is delicate and juicy, served with avocado puree, watercress, pickled vegetables, mustard seed and radish.
I'm picked up outside by another hardy-looking type, this one decked out in waders and an unironic trucker hat. His name is Mike Geisler, and he's a guide for Gore Creek Fly Fisherman. It's time to go fishin'—which doubles as an opportunity to enjoy the Rockies without gasping for breath.
An hour's drive northwest brings us to our launch point in Rancho Del Rio, or, as Geisler quips, “a sunny spot for shady people." Geisler tells me he ended up in Vail because, years ago, that's where his truck broke down. Now he has a family and, when he's not teaching people how to read a stream, he runs a restaurant with his wife in the nearby town of Red Cliff.
Mike Geisler of Gore Creek Fly Fisherman casts into the Colorado River
He's also extremely patient. In cold water like this, the trout we're after meander along the bottom, their metabolisms slowed, wary of the bugs that appear out of nowhere in the dead of winter. Bites are hard to come by—and that's before you factor in the complete lack of skill I've brought to the river, despite a few casting lessons from Geisler. The next hour or so goes like this: Geisler [urgently, pleadingly, pointing at the bobbing bobber attached to my line]: “There!"
Me [yanking on the rod, too late]: “Whuh?"
But catching fish isn't really the point, or at least not the whole point. We're standing in this peaceful place, surrounded by snowy pines and amber brush, the river's rippled surface vivid in the light of the low-hanging sun. “Still, I have to tell folks not to talk politics sometimes," Geisler says. “It's like, 'Come on, we're fishing!'"
Just then I stumble, and he gives me a wink: “This is the Colorado River, bruh—you fall in here, we'll pick you up at the Grand Canyon."
As exciting as that sounds, it's time to pack it in, get back to the hotel for a change of clothes and pop over to the village of Lionshead for something even more relaxing than being outwitted by fish: the “Sports Enthusiast Body Recovery" treatment at the Arrabelle at Vail Square spa. My casting arm (and skiing quads and biking calves) needs tending to. I'm subsequently exfoliated, heated, stretched and kneaded to the edge of unconsciousness. I might need a recovery from my recovery.
Ski guide Lee Sky takes a breather in Breckenridge
A skier carves up Aspen
I leave the spa and wobble uncertainly toward dinner. I'm eating at the Game Creek Restaurant, located midmountain and requiring a gondola and snowcat ride to access. Night is falling, along with a fair amount of snow, which, whipped by the wind and seen in the 'cat's headlights, lends the journey a suspenseful edge. Upon arrival, I enter a cavernous, glowing red dining room. The place has a ceremonial feel to it, and I'm tempted to ask the waiter where I can pick up my robe. Instead, I order the tasting menu: a sculptural arrangement of chicory, apple, walnut, blue cheese and duck confit; tender, slow-cooked elk with achiote, hominy grits and maitake mushroom; and a lingonberry bavarois for dessert.
Back down the hill, there's time to meet up with Chris Anthony for a mudslide at the Sonnenalp's Bully Ranch. Sitting beneath an elk-antler chandelier, I notice that there are “truffle tots" on the menu and wonder if maybe I should order some—but it's late, I'm full of elk, lingonberries and vodka, and I have an early start tomorrow. I ramble back to the Sebastian, passing a party of Argentines gathered in the lobby, about to start their night out. I tell them there's a spot up the street that serves tater tots sprinkled with truffle oil. “Yes," says one of them, looking mildly alarmed. “Goodnight!"
I am half-dozing in the passenger seat of a shuttle, headed to Aspen, a hundred miles southwest. The striated walls of Glenwood Canyon, glowing softly in the predawn light, tower over the highway and the Colorado River below. At the town of Glenwood Springs, we stop at Sweet ColoraDough for a sugar cinnamon crumble doughnut, then turn south to follow the Roaring Fork River. Mountains crowd in, then open up to a valley dotted with well-tended horse ranches and, in the distance, the twinkling lights of civilization.We pull into Aspen's smart downtown grid as the sun rises. It's a walking town, so I polish off the rest of my doughnut, hand my luggage to a cowboy-hatted bellman at the Hotel Jerome and stroll a block to stare up at the rust-colored, cubic Aspen Art Museum, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Shigeru Ban. Sheathing its 47-foot-tall exterior is a striking wood lattice. In a state crawling with daredevil climbers, I wonder, has anyone given this thing a go?The museum's director and chief curator, Heidi Zuckerman, is waiting for me in its airy top-floor café. She's dressed in an all-black boho-chic getup, having just come from yoga. “You should have the matcha latte," she tells me. “I've already had one today. Please forgive me—I'm kind of known for matcha proselytizing." I order one, along with a kale Waldorf salad (an attempt to seek redress for my breakfast of fried dough).Diners clink glasses under an elk-antler chandelier at Bully Ranch, in Vail“I overheard something this morning," I say, chewing my superfood, “that in Aspen, the millionaires have been chased away by the billionaires."
“Well, people are bemoaning that everywhere these days, not just here," she replies. “That said, one of the reasons I agreed to move here was that we have a Prada store. We have, like, 150 restaurants. So while it is a small town, it's also profoundly cosmopolitan. I'll walk through the museum, and I'll hear four or five languages in 10 minutes."Zuckerman continues in this vein as we explore the museum's six galleries, which host mainly contemporary exhibits, ranging from commentaries on consumerism (think 10-foot-tall enlargements of receipts) to Abstract Expressionist retrospectives. “It's an anomaly to have this kind of culture in the middle of nowhere," Zuckerman says, pausing before a statue depicting a demonic-looking Assyrian god, its tongue thrust out between fangs and a scowl on its face.Culture box ticked, it's back to the hotel to grab some gear, followed by a short ride to the base of Aspen Mountain, one of the four areas operated by the Aspen Skiing Company. Aspen is relatively small, as far as top-tier Colorado ski hills go, but a dense and diverse network of trails and ridges makes it feel larger. And, from the top, the view of Snowmass, the biggest of the four areas, reminds me that there's more to this operation than immediately meets the eye.Heidi Zuckerman, director, Aspen Art MuseumAfter a few more rolling groomers and a stop for my third half-meal of the day—an oversize oatmeal pancake at Bonnie's, a midmountain spot popular among those who are savvy enough to wait until after their first tracks for breakfast—I carve my way down Spar Gulch and descend into town.
Passing Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores, I walk to Hallam Lake, a nature reserve run by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, where marketing director Eliza Greenman leads me on a tour. A bird blind sits beside a lake. Animal tracks—coyote, fox, bear—extend in every direction. Downtown can't be more than a couple hundred feet away, but clusters of pine trees hide the streets from view. As beautiful as it is here, Greenman insists that I'm seeing only half the story. “There's a saying in Aspen," she says. “Come for the winter, stay for the summer. That's what happened to me."
“We're at such a high elevation that the color of the sky is really different than anywhere I had ever been before. It's got this real purply, deep blue color. When I first got here, I was really struck by a clarity of vision, being able to see everything against that blue." —Heidi Zuckerman
It's feeding time for the curmudgeonly great horned owl, which involves a wriggling mouse being dropped into the bird's waiting maw. The spectacle reminds me that I'm peckish myself, so I swing by the downtown restaurant and farm shop Meat & Cheese, to snack on a selection of cheeses and cured meats, highlighted by an exquisitely delicate and salty duck prosciutto.
I head back to the Hotel Jerome, where I claim a spot by a crackling fire in the lounge, an inviting and uncanny harmony of disparate design elements—Le Corbusier chairs, Art Deco sconces, a Navajo rug, black-lacquered columns. Hotel GM Tony DiLuca plies me with a Bourbon Banshee, a potent blend of Bulleit, crème de cassis, vanilla, rooibos tea, lemon and bitters. Glowing now, I browse the bookcase, then settle down on a plump sofa for a nice, relaxing read. Zzzzzz.
Next thing I know, it's dinnertime. My reservation is at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, but getting there isn't so simple: “Would you prefer to cross-country ski or take a horse-drawn sleigh ride to dinner, sir?" Feeling bold, I opt for the former.
Skiers ride a chairlift at snow-covered Breckenridge
Seated in the cabin-like restaurant beneath—yep—antler chandeliers and exposed beams, I'm rewarded for my strenuous uphill trek with wild-game Nepalese dumplings, known as momos (the restaurant's owner, expedition filmmaker John Wilcox, has a fondness for the Himalayas, so he hires Nepalese chefs), and a juicy slab of buffalo tenderloin with a decadent gruyere-and-bacon tartiflette.
Following an equally strenuous downhill trip, I'm back in Aspen, where I find Belly Up, a popular local club. A DJ commands a stage swirling with psychedelic projections. Beanie-hatted twenty-somethings bob about chugging cans of PBR. I sit at the bar near two men dressed in goofy orange-and-powder-blue tuxes, recalling the duo in the Aspen-set Dumb and Dumber. I ask a young woman clad in head-to-toe fluorescent yellow about the music we're listening to. “Dubstep, some tech house, breaks, trap," she says. “You know, that kind of thing." Oh-kay.
The party's raging, but a combination of exertion, overindulgence and mountain air has done me in. After downing a can of Pabst's finest, I step outside to find that a fresh snowfall has turned the town into a postcard. Streetlamps and holiday lights glaze the streets orange, but the moonlight is more than enough to see me home. I shuffle on toward the hotel, making sure to fall into at least one snowbank on the way.
SamPolcer, a writer, photographer and former editor at Hemispheres, knows that his Brooklyn apartment won't accommodate an antler chandelier, but he still wants one.
Around the web
Weekend inspiration: Sydney
Sydney continues to be one of our favorite cities in the world – vibrant, stunning, with an amazing foodie scene and genuinely nice people. Each year we try to schedule a few street art jobs in Australia so we can spend the Northern Hemisphere's winter in the summer sun of Australia. If you're in town for a few days, here are some of our favorite spots.
If you're looking for places to stay, we recommend anywhere near or on Sydney Harbour. If you can swing it financially, our two favorites are The Pier on Sydney Harbour and the Park Hyatt. Both are majestic hotels set out on the water with equally magnificent views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
We find that we crave comfort food after a long flight, and there's no better place to enjoy it than Kindred. It's a warm cozy space with pasta and bread made in-house. The lasagna and the burnt butter triangoli can't be beat, and be sure to order a loaf of homemade sourdough with dinner.
Wake up early for a full day of exploring the city. Take a short cab or Uber ride to Lorraine's Patisserie – their croissants are warm and buttery and their coffee is strong.
After breakfast, head over to The Rocks Market where they have a stunning array of locally crafted art, jewelry, house ware and beauty products. The homey, cozy cobblestone lanes lead you to some of the best local artisans that Sydney has to offer. Be sure to also take a moment to pose with our Magic Wand street art piece on Atherdan Street.
We recommend The Glenmore Hotel's pub for lunch. This pub, built in 1921, has incredible views of the harbour from their rooftop. Grab one of their Australian Brewery Session IPA's, play a game of pool and end up on the roof with a Glenmore Burger in hand.
Following lunch, grab your swimsuit and take a 30-minute Uber to Bondi Beach – Sydney's most iconic beach. There's more to Bondi than just a beach, beyond is a village full of cafes, restaurants and shops worth exploring.
Bring a towel and start off with a cold swim at the Instagram-worthy Icebergs Club swimming pool. When in need of some warmth, lay in the sun on the white sand beach while watching the surfers – you can even take surfing lessons if you'd like.
If you have time, there's a wonderful walk between Bondi and Coogee Beach. This walk takes you along the rocky coast to hidden beaches and swimming holes. It's a beautiful walk that will get your heart pumping.
For dinner walk up the hill to the trendy Bondi Trattoria for great local eats. If you're still awake when you get back to Sydney and looking for a drink, we highly recommend stopping by the Sydney Opera House Bar.
Head over to Paramount Coffee Project to grab some caffeine and breakfast. Take a moment to check out the workout schedule for the recreation club on the roof to see if there is a class that interests you.
If you're looking to pet a wallaby or hold a quokka (quite possibly the cutest creature you have ever seen) we highly recommend signing up for the Featherdale Wildlife Park Mammal Encounter. It's about an hour drive from Sydney, but it's definitely worth it.
When you get back to Sydney check out Ribs & Burgers on The Rocks for a hearty lunch. In the afternoon, check off two essential experiences by booking an Opera House Tour and, if you're not afraid of heights, the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb. Both offer stunning views and completely unique experiences.
After a somewhat exhausting day we love when we can come back to a hotel and dine there. Park Hyatt offers wonderful dining options, including The Dining Room, which is their signature restaurant. Finish your weekend with stunning harbour views and elegant food.
The reimagined United app: What you need to know
Starting on January 24, customers will be able to access the updated United app. With useful enhancements that provide intuitive assistance every step of the way, the United app still includes the features you know and love. And now, thanks to dynamic messaging, the updated app provides useful information throughout your journey whether at the airport or on the go.
How to install the updated app
If you've enabled automatic updates, the United app will automatically update. Otherwise, you'll need to manually update the app to see the updated version. Once you've updated the app, you'll no longer be able to use the previous version. If your phone is set to auto-update, the app will automatically appear on your device and stay. Otherwise, you'll have the previous mobile experience until you manually update.
The United app will now display the most useful and relevant information throughout your journey. For example, 24 hours before departure, the home screen on the United app will prompt you to check-in. Once checked in, an option to get your boarding pass will populate right on the home screen so you'll no longer need to access it via the boarding pass tab on the current version of the app.
Locating your boarding pass
If you're signed in to your MileagePlus® account, access to your boarding pass will appear on the app's home screen along with other details about the flight. If you're not signed in to a MileagePlus account, you'll need to go to "My Trips" on the bottom navigation bar. (Please note that mobile boarding passes are available for flights departing from all U.S. airports and select international airports.)
Accessing your profile and United Club℠ card
All this information will now be accessible from a "My Profile" section, so you can see everything in one place. You can find the "My Profile" section by selecting the icon of a person in the top right corner.
New options on the navigation bar
The new bottom navigation bar provides quick access to the most popular and helpful features. Find information about upcoming flights under the "My Trips" section that houses important information like your boarding passes and flight details. You'll also find an inbox icon section that stores important and useful information including gate changes, flight status updates and boarding alerts. You can also easily toggle back to your home screen from the bottom navigation bar.
Personal device entertainment
If personal device entertainment is offered on your flight, you'll see a tile titled Inflight Entertainment within the "Just for you" section on the home screen. The "Just for you" section will also give you access to other features such as how you can locate a United Club or how to earn award miles. You can also select "Wi-Fi & entertainment" from the More menu, located at the upper left hand of the app's home screen.
Finding the seat map
You can access the seat map for your flight via Flight Status on the bottom navigation bar or within Trip Details — when you have an upcoming flight there will be an option to view the seat map.
How to add or remove flights from your Flights Status list
Any upcoming flights will be displayed in the Flight Status section of the app. There is no option to remove a flight as the Flight Status section will be automatically update itself two days after your travel is completed.
Changing the image on the home screen
There is no way to change the image on your home screen manually. Instead, the image will update once a day based on the destinations most commonly searched for by our customers.
Porto: Portugal’s surprising second city
“Second cities" or those that rank #2 in population often surprise world travelers. And second doesn't mean second-rate. Porto is Portugal's second city — so off-the-radar that many world travelers haven't even heard of it. Yet, Porto and nearby spots in northern Portugal can be delightful destinations even if you don't visit the more well-known city of Lisbon.
Old city by day
The best place to get oriented, as in most European cities, is in the old city center. Porto's Old City is so well-preserved that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 12th-century cathedral and the 15th-century Church of St. Francis, notable for interior wood carvings gilded by hundreds of pounds of gold, are mixed in with a rich collection of imposing granite, red-roofed Baroque buildings. Add 225 stairs and a stirring view to your walking tour by ascending the 250-foot-high Clérigos Church bell tower, built in 1754, which dominates the Porto skyline. Historic bridges over the Douro River and Soares dos Reis National Museum, an art museum housed in a palace, are also excellent sites to see.
Food and music by night
Porto's youthful population has turned it into a lively city after dark. You might start off the evening in the Old City at Abadia do Porto, a 1939 restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese dishes like roasted lamb and grilled octopus, or at Astoria, with its modern Portuguese fare served inside a former palace. Whether you choose a Portuguese, French or fusion restaurant, seafood is likely to be highlighted, drawing on Porto's proximity to the Atlantic and the Douro. Then, you can head to the large collection of bars and nightclubs in the nearby Galerias district, which includes Radio Bar, inside a former court building, and Gare, a disco in a tunnel that stays open until 6 a.m.
Head west to the beaches
The closest Atlantic beaches to central Porto are at Foz do Douro (mouth of the Douro), just 20 minutes away by city bus. But why settle? In a rental car you can explore Atlantic beaches and beach towns that extend for hundreds of miles along Portugal's coastline. Two of the best are Foz do Minho, the nation's northernmost oceanic beach that's just across the Minho River from Spain, and Quiaios, a dune-fringed paradise of sand south of Porto. Many beaches in northern Portugal are cradled in coves protected by rocky promontories, similar to northern California and Oregon beaches.
Or east to the wine country
The Douro Valley wine region is another World Heritage Site and one of the world's best and most scenic wine regions. It's up the Douro River from Porto by boat or 90 minutes by road. Namesake port wines and other fortified wines are the region's signature beverages, which can be sampled at tasting rooms on the Douro along N-222, a wine road that's been called the world's most scenic drive. While you're in the area, check out the wine and anthropology museums in the wine towns and yet another World Heritage Site — Coa Valley Archaeological Park — known for its prehistoric rock carvings.
Portugal's Mediterranean climate and coastal breezes bless it with mild weather year round, as the average temperature ranges from 57 degrees (and rain) in January to 78 degrees (and a little rain) in August. Whenever you come, there's no need to learn Portuguese as English is spoken even more widely than elsewhere in Western Europe. Once you arrive, rent a car only if you don't mind ridiculous drivers. The trains are more relaxing — light-rail and subway trains crisscross the Porto area and funicular cable cars climb its steepest hills. There's even a scenic train that follows the Douro nearly to Spain, with a roundtrip fare of only about $30.
Portugal requires that visitor passports don't expire until at least three months after the arrival date, so check that. Next, buy some Euros (for a great exchange rate) and reserve a flight. United Airlines flies nonstop from New York/Newark to Porto and MileagePlus® award miles can be redeemed to cover accommodations and Hertz rentals. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.
United 787-10 Dreamliner launch
Story was contributed by: Jennifer Lake | Photography: Alicia of Aesthetica
It was a typical Monday morning. I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking coffee, reviewing my to-do list for the week. All around me, heels are clacking through the office and phones ring intermittently. However, this particular Monday morning was different. Ultimately, I would receive an offer from my favorite airline for a collaboration to participate in the United 787-10 Dreamliner launch from Los Angeles LAX to New York/Newark EWR. Read the full story here featured on Style Charade.
Fit for the runway: We begin testing new uniforms
Last year we announced new partnerships with Tracy Reese, Brooks Brothers and Carhartt — best-in-class fashion and apparel designers — to help reimagine uniforms for more than 70,000 of our employees. Focusing on high quality fabrics, improved breathability and overall enhanced fit, our goal is to design and develop a more cohesive collection that looks good, feels good and enables employees to perform at their best on behalf of our customers.
United employees can learn more on the uniform designs by visiting Flying Together.
An insider's guide to Boston
Boston is a pack-it-all-in kind of place. Founded in 1630, one of America's oldest cities does many things well. Boston's many claims to fame include many of America's oldest historic landmarks and one of its oldest ballparks. It's a destination for history buffs, culture vultures, foodies, sports fans, families and more. No matter who your travel companions are or what they're interested in, everyone will find something to pique their interest in Beantown.
Getting there & around town
Fly direct to Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) from many U.S. cities — visit united.com or use the United app to book your flight. Flights are 90 minutes from New York, two hours from Cleveland and five to six hours from California. From Logan International Airport, it's easy to hail a taxi, use ridesharing apps or take public transportation. If you want to take the scenic route, take a water taxi across Boston Harbor directly into downtown.
Downtown Boston is easy to navigate. It's walkable and taxis are plentiful. The MBTA, Boston's public transportation system, offers affordable access to Cambridge, many attractions and the suburbs. Keep in mind it's one of the oldest transportation systems in the country, so expect a few bumps. Because the city is dense, parking can be expensive or hard to find, so avoid driving if you can.
When to visit
Summer and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Summer is prime time to enjoy Boston's many parks, outdoor eateries, open-air concerts and baseball games at Fenway Park. Mild fall weather, beautiful autumn foliage and Halloween festivities in nearby Salem, Massachusetts make October one of Boston's busiest months. The city also sees an influx of visitors for the Boston Marathon in April. You'll find smaller crowds and more affordable prices in winter, but brace yourself for the cold.
What to do
There's so much to take in just by walking through Boston's cobblestoned streets. Downtown is quaint, compact and easy to explore by foot. The small city is packed with historic sites, New England's finest food, proud sports fans and friendly locals.
As the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston's historic sites are an attraction in themselves. Walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to visit 16 of them around the city, including Revolutionary-era museums, churches, buildings and an impressive warship. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is on the trail, too, and is one of Boston's top attractions, with plentiful shopping, dining and live music. Not much of a walker? Boston Duck Tours operate land-and-water historic tours on World War II-inspired vehicles, which transform from truck to boat mid-tour.
Many museums and sites are tucked along Boston Harbor. The waterfront is always bustling with activity year-round. The harborwalk is the perfect place to meander and explore without a strict agenda. Plan to visit a major attraction or two, but leave time to enjoy the scenery or to pop into a café for a coffee and sweet treat (award-winning Flour Bakery + Cafe is a local favorite).
Deemed the “Athens of America," Boston boasts not only some of the country's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings, but also a thriving arts and culture scene. You could spend your entire trip touring its dozens of world-class museums. Take in classical music at the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra, or take a leisurely stroll through Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, the city's most well-known public parks. Riding the giant Swan Boats through the Public Garden lagoon is a kitschy, yet delightful experience, especially for kids.
What to eat
What must you absolutely eat in Boston? In short, everything. Long ago the city was nicknamed Beantown, allegedly after slow-cooked molasses baked beans served to sailors and traders. Today, Boston continues its reputation as a great eating city. From clam chowder to cannoli, the most popular dishes here are often hearty and decadent. Boston is also known for fresh lobster rolls, roast beef sandwiches and, of course, Boston cream pie.
Ask any Bostonian where to find “the best" of anything, and everyone will recommend a different spot. Cannoli from Mike's Pastry, Boston cream pie from Omni Parker House (where it was invented) and the roast beef 1000 sandwich from Cutty's frequently top the must-try lists. If you make it to a ball game at Fenway Park, Fenway Franks are a Boston staple.
Our role in ‘Spider-Man™: Far From Home’
In Columbia Pictures upcoming release in association with Marvel Studios, "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," our web-slinging hero finds himself – yep, you guessed it – far from his home in New York City. And since flying is one of the few superpowers Spider-Man doesn't possess, we gave him a little help, meaning United is featured in the film.
The scenes of Peter Parker and his pals traveling to Europe take place on one of our Boeing 777s with the all-new United Polaris® business class, and several of our employees – including members of our Tech Ops, Inflight, Flight Operations and Airport Operations teams – served as actors and production support during shoots at New York/Newark (EWR) and London-Stansted (STN).
London-Heathrow (LHR) Customer Service Representative Manjit Heer and LHR Cargo Warehouse Operations Manager Richard Miller were background extras on board, and multiple flight attendants had a role, including San Francisco (SFO) Flight Attendant Tammy Harris.
"It was extremely surreal," said Tammy. "I was in my element because I was on the plane in uniform, but not really, because I'm not an actor."
Tammy said she hit her mark and delivered her line with gusto, and she's excited to see if she made the final cut when "Spider-Man™: Far From Home" hits worldwide theaters this summer.
"Hopefully, I'll have my two seconds of fame and all will be well," she joked.
Los Angeles (LAX) Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor Fernando Melendez is a veteran of several film shoots but said this one was his favorite. When the production went to London, he was one of five members of LAX Tech Ops who went over to look after our airplane and make adjustments to its interior based on the filmmaker's needs.
"When we parked the plane at Stanstead, there were lights and cameras surrounding us. It was like the plane was the star of the movie," he said. "Each day, we would work with the assistant director; he would go through and say, 'Okay, for this shoot we need these seats, or these panels removed,' so they could get the camera angles. Pretty much, the airplane was our responsibility; we opened it in the morning and closed it at night. We were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every day."
Fernando said the actors were all very gracious and engaging, and said the whole experience was fantastic from start to finish. It also earned him a little cooler cred with his 18-year-old son, who is a massive Marvel fan.
Leading up to the film's premiere this year, there will be plenty of ways for employees and customers to get into the Spidey spirit in anticipation of our cameo. Stay tuned for more details.
Peter Parker returns in "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," the next chapter of the Spider-Man™: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter's plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!
Directed by Jon Watts, the film is written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film is produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Thomas M. Hammel, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Stan Lee, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach serve as executive producers. The film stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.
"Spider-Man™: Far From Home" makes its way to North American theaters on July 5, 2019.
What to expect from our improved app
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
Check out our newest destinations
Watch our most popular videos
Neighbors, coworkers, parents, protectors, heroes. All of these labels and more encompass the men and women whose devotion to our country serves as the truest embodiment of the American spirit. We're talking about Veterans. Join host Phil Torres as he heads to our nation's capital to learn more about these heroes and to explore just how many United employees are veterans on this Big Metal Bird.
From players and personnel to thousands of pounds of equipment, it takes not only a game plan, but a team to get the San Francisco 49ers to their next game and back all within 24 hours. This process is a little thing in the airline business we call chartering. Learn more about how our Charter team gets professional sports teams to their away games and back on the newest episode of Big Metal Bird.
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.