Three Perfect Days: The Colorado Rockies
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Colorado Rockies

By The Hub team , February 27, 2017


3PD: 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 While the adventurers remain, pickaxes have been replaced by ski poles, and the riches are associated with experiences rather than material wealth.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.

Day 1 graphic

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 GuidesA 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 AspenThe 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.

Day 2 graphic


In which Sam goes to Vail and earns a massage by skiing Blue Sky Basin and fly-fishing the Colorado River


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 skierChris 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 RiverMike 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 BreckenridgeSki guide Lee Sky takes a breather in Breckenridge


A skier carves up AspenA 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!"

Day 3 graphic


n which Sam goes to Aspen, eats three breakfasts and thaws out at the Hotel Jerome


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 VailDiners 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 MuseumHeidi 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 BreckenridgeSkiers 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.



United Journey

How traveling changed the course of our future

By Kelsey + Courtney Montague
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…Mark Twain knew this, and anyone who travels and gets out of their comfort zone understands this same concept.

This is one of the reasons we love to travel — our perceptions and stereotypes are constantly being challenged. This is also probably why we've built a business that requires us to travel regularly — we create street art pieces in cities around the world.

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But we weren't always like this. Our love of travel first began when our Mom took us backpacking through Europe for a month. At the time, we were both young teenagers who had never been out of the country. We carefully planned our outfits and fit them into one backpack each. Mom carried our Rick Steve's travel guide and off we went. We stayed in shabby hotels across the United Kingdom, France and Spain, visiting every museum we could find, eating every baguette, croissant and paella dish we could get our hands on, and loving every second of it.

We've been addicted to travel ever since.

Kelsey sketches at a street cafe in Paris Kelsey sketches at a street cafe in Paris

I (Kelsey) fell so in love with London on that trip that I grew determined to study there. Fast forward to years later when I graduated from Richmond University in London. That trip changed the course of my life because I learned about and experienced street art during my studies in London. Courtney fell so in love with Paris that she learned French and graduated with a degree in comparative literature from the American University of Paris. That first trip changed the course of our lives forever and opened our eyes to how massive the world was. I don't think our Mom could have given us a better gift than that first trip abroad.

As adults who travel constantly we feel like a MileagePlus® membership is another important piece of the equation and something we've benefitted from tremendously over the years. The various United Club℠ locations are little refuges we escape to in busy and overwhelming airports. Being able to board early, getting upgraded and having nice flight attendants on long haul flights really can mean the difference between arriving well rested and having a good trip, or arriving tired and having a rough trip.

At the end of the day a company is all about the people in it and the kindness we have experienced on United flights has been wonderful. I remember once on a flight, one of our captains wrote a personal note thanking each passenger flying in United First® class for traveling on United. On another, a flight the attendant saw I was not feeling well and hunted down an Airborne (vitamin pack) for me. Still another flight attendant asked about my art (I was sketching on the plane) and when I explained what I do they committed to buying my coloring book. It's these connections that really make flying United so memorable for myself and my sister.

So if you're looking to give your child a gift, take them traveling. And if you're looking for a present for yourself, sign up to enjoy the benefits of a MileagePlus Membership. You won't regret either.

Join MileagePlus to start earning miles from the world's most rewarding loyalty program℠ and share your story with #UnitedJourney.

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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.

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Welcome day brings employees and Special Olympics athletes together

By Matt Adams , July 13, 2018

As part of the weekend's festivities, our CEO, Oscar Munoz, joined a group of employees and retirees in greeting nearly 700 arriving athletes, coaches and volunteers at Seattle's Sea-Tac International Airport (SEA), as well as hundreds more at local light rail stations, all of which were decorated with our Special Olympics superhero campaign banners.

Oscar also had the honor of giving Special Olympics athlete Nikki Jones her first in person look at her superhero alter ego Lane Lightning, a moment that was captured on the video below.

Introducing a more personalized experience on united.com

By Gladys Roman , July 13, 2018

Our united.com homepage is getting some big enhancements. Yesterday, we announced the launch of the new site, which will offer a more modern, user-friendly design, allowing users a more personalized digital experience.

Each one of our customers is unique and has different needs for his or her travel, and personalizing our digital offerings is just another step toward giving our customers the experience and the products that they ask for, said Digital Products and Analytics VP Praveen Sharma. "Our goal with this new homepage is to provide customers with a more seamless experience."

The new website will provide personalized content based on a customer's MileagePlus® status as well as upcoming, current or prior trips. It will also include a new display that will be fully responsive for optimal viewing on desktop and mobile devices. Later this year, the site will include a travel section that will provide customers with curated content from destinations United serves.

We began rolling out the new homepage in April and continued expanding it to more users while we added more functionality throughout the phased rollout. The site will be live to all customers in early August.

These efforts are part of our commitment to improve our customers' travel experience through every step of their journey. Earlier this year, we updated our mobile website, adding a more optimized display, additional flexibility to adjust flights throughout the site, Japanese language translations and more.

Our new homepage will also appear on our mobile website, creating a more seamless experience when customers are managing travel and bookings across multiple devices.

United Journey

Transcending borders and languages in Tanzania

By The Hub team

Story and photos by Davis Paul

I have been very fortunate to travel the world telling stories with a camera for the last decade. Being a United MileagePlus® member for many of those years has absolutely opened the world and eased my ability to get around. And, it enabled me to authentically document the way in which different people and cultures do life, which has now become an obsession. How can you make someone feel what you witnessed despite not being there?

Dirt road in Tanzania

The world is full of amazing stories and incredible lessons that can transcend borders and languages. I believe every location is uniquely beautiful on it's own, we just need to see it for what it is and not in comparison to others. Bangladesh can be just as beautiful as Tahiti if we remove expectation and appreciate the uniqueness each location has to offer.

However, of all the trips I have ever taken, out of every project I have embarked on, from X Games to Real Madrid, there is one that hit me in a very different way. That was my trip to Tanzania to work on the border of Burundi out of two Refugee Camps. I was contracted to help train and build soccer programs within the camp as well as create content that would provide impactful insight into the circumstances taking place throughout the region as well as to connect the outside world with these amazing people fighting for their lives. I had zero preparation for the trip, having only booked my flight a week in advance. I had never traveled to Africa, let alone a refugee camp that couldn't be more difficult to get to. In fact, it was roughly 38 hours of travel by myself including having an 8 hour drive on something that barely resembled a road. Because it was so last minute, I actually wasn't able to secure a driver to take me to the town of Kibondo which meant once I landed, I had to find any local with a car who would be willing to take me the distance. Luckily, I found a man named Frankie who had a Toyota Corolla which consequently broke down within the first hour of our journey.

Group of kids in Burundi, Tanzania

Once I arrived, I had never witnessed life in this manner. Hundreds of thousands of refugees all piled together within 2 square miles. Mud huts, tarps, tents, anything and everything to sustain life was being used. Almost everyone in this camp had lost a loved one to violence yet I had never seen so much hope and joy. It completely changed my perspective on life to live amongst these people for 3 weeks. I ate with them everyday in the camp, eating the local food with my hands. To hear their stories, to see how they live and to dream with them on the brighter future they all hope exists was truly humbling. I'll never forget the lessons I learned within this camp and from these people — their love and optimism despite having experienced unimaginable tragedy was uplifting. When I asked if there was one message I could bring back to the United States, they simply would say, "we just want people to know we exist". I hope that my time and efforts there at least provided that. Although I tried to make the biggest impact I could while there, it is safe to say I was the one impacted the most and I will be forever grateful for that. I just hope I can help in half of the way they helped me.

Davis Paul pictured in Tanzania

I'm never sure where the next story will exist, but I can guarantee you'll find me on the ground, always laughing with a camera in hand. Traveling is a gift that allows us insight into both our differences and similarities, and the more you travel, the more you realize we all share in the same struggles, same hopes and same dreams. I believe that despite bad things happening, the world is full of good — we just need to seek it in every situation.

Join MileagePlus to start earning miles from the world's most rewarding loyalty program℠ and share your story with #UnitedJourney.

How to experience the best of Prague in 3 days

By Nick Harper

Every bit as historic, as beautiful and as culturally enriching as the European heavyweights of Paris, London or Rome, Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic has emerged over recent decades to be a jewel in the continent's crown.

The city escaped significant bomb damage during World War II and its historic center remains magnificently intact, with a maze of cobbled lanes, quiet courtyards, chic cafés and ancient chapels just waiting to be discovered. To see enough of the city, we suggest visiting for at least three days.

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Getting into the city

Upon arrival, regular and reliable buses and trains will get you into the center of the city within 20 minutes. Unless you're heading outside of Prague, you shouldn't need to rent a car. The center of Prague is compact and easily to explore on foot, with excellent and cheap trams, buses and the subway if you don't want to walk.

Where to stay

Central Prague is broken down into 10 districts, with most visitors staying in Prague 1, the heart of the city. Here you have two good options: The Old Town or the Lesser Town – linked by Prague's most celebrated landmark, the Charles Bridge. The Old Town is at the heart of everything, full of historical sites, bars and restaurants but can be overpriced and often considered 'touristy' as a result. The Lesser Town is still close to the heart of everything but with a more tranquil atmosphere that's particularly good for families.

Old Town in Prague

What to see

There's too much to see in a single visit, however, one of the absolute essentials has to be Prague Castle, which is literally unmissable. The largest castle complex in the world, it dates back to the 9th century and is also home to the presidential palace, the vast St. Vitus Cathedral and Golden Lane — an original 16th-century street of tiny cottages that was home to Franz Kafka. The lookout tower of St. Vitus Cathedral gives you a bird's eye view of the city, as does Petrin Lookout Tower at the top of Petrin Hill, which climbs 206 feet to look down on the city.

From there head to the Old Town Square, which is the medieval center of Prague, surrounded by cobbled streets awash with cafes and restaurants. It's home to the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock, the Rococo Kinsky Palace and the stunning Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn. If you visit in December, it also hosts the city's largest Christmas market.

Also close by, Klementinum is a series of historic buildings worth visiting just to see what is arguably the most beautiful library in the world. If you're looking for a world-class collection of historical artifacts, minerals and zoological specimens, the National Museum ticks all of the boxes. It's located at the top of Wenceslas Square, which is not actually a square but a boulevard – and one of Prague's most popular shopping streets.

Kampa Island is a great alternative to the National Museum. Literally an island located beneath Charles Bridge, you'll find the museum of modern art, The John Lennon Wall and giant, slightly unnerving sculptures of crawling babies. Speaking of Charles Bridge, it is one of Prague's most popular and photographed sites for good reason. You'll no doubt use it to cross the Vltava River, but for the best photographs, visit at dawn, before the crowds arrive.

And if all this walking gets to be too much, see the city from a different perspective, floating gently down the Vltava on a river cruise.

River Vltava in Prague

Where to eat

Restaurants to suit every taste and budget dot the center of Prague. Great breakfast options include Coffee Room, Mezi Srnky and the always-popular Café Savoy, which is also great for lunch or dinner.

In a city full of carnivores, the Real Meat Society's porchetta sandwich is a lunchtime highlight, Dish is a stylish little burger joint full of fashionable people, while Lokál Dlouhááá offers a beer hall feel and Czech classics of pork, sauerkraut and dumplings washed down with beer.

The city's only two Michelin-starred restaurants are Field and La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, the latter creating modern takes on old Czech recipes using the highest quality local produce. Both restaurants require a reservation. Highly recommended 'Bib Gourmand' restaurants within easy reach of Charles Bridge include Sansho, Divinis and Maso A Kobliha, where the salty caramel pie may elicit happy tears.

Prague skyline at sunrise

Where to drink

In the number one beer-drinking nation on the planet, the locals refer to it as 'Liquid bread.' Prague is home to many of the nation's finest bars and ale houses, many of which brew their own beers. Two of the most historic are U Zlateho Tygra, which President Clinton visited in 1994, and U Cerneho Vola, which stands in the shadow of the castle. Letná Beer Garden offers an outdoor setting where you can enjoy a beer and views of the Old Town below.

And keep an eye out for 'tankovna' – tank pubs – where the beer is not pasteurized, as most beers have to be to be transported around the globe. In tank pubs such as U Pinkasu, the beer is probably the freshest you'll ever taste. But if pilsner is not your preference, head to Hemingway Bar, one of the world's finest cocktail bars. You may have to wait in line as it is a popular with both locals and tourists alike, but it's well worth the wait.

When to go

Prague is the warmest and busiest during the summer months, from April until October and peak season starts in July through August. The longer nights of spring and summer will give you more time to explore, while the celebrated Beer Festival fills the city's Letná Park in May. Spring and autumn are generally quieter and can be less costly than the summer months. If you can cope with the colder temperatures and darker days, winter is a magical time to be in the city.

Getting there

United, together with many of its Star Alliance partner airlines, offers service from multiple cities in the U.S. to Prague. To explore all that Prague has to offer and to book your trip, visit united.com or use the United app.

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The 10 best beach vacation destinations in Europe

By The Hub team

These spots offer the perfect beach day with a side of art, history and nightlife.

Europe is home to some of the world's most-celebrated seas — the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, the Aegean — and its cultural mosaic makes it a top choice for beach lovers looking to mix sun, fun, art, history and nightlife. Windsurf in the morning, visit ancient ruins in the afternoon, shop for the season's hottest beachwear before enjoying sunset cocktails and then partying until dawn. Sound good? Read on to discover the 10 best beach vacation destinations in Europe.

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Mykonos, Greece

Few places do charm and decadence better than Mykonos. This sunny Greek island's calling cards are almost-anything-goes beaches (expect plenty of skin), Instagram-worthy Cycladic architecture (whitewashed buildings with brightly hued shutters and cascading flower boxes), 16th-century windmills (a must-see at sunset) and legendary discos and dance clubs in Mykonos Town. As for the beaches, check out Ornos Bay for pretty views and excellent windsurfing, chic Psarou for celebrity spotting and Paradise and Super Paradise for hedonistic sun-worshipping and dancing until sunrise.

Mallorca, Spain

Mallorca, Spain Mallorca, Spain | Shutterstock

This beautiful Mediterranean oasis, the largest of the Balearic Islands located off the east coast of Spain, is a hot spot for northern Europeans, who flock here in summer to enjoy long days of sunshine and fresh air. Once you get beyond the urban sprawl of the capital, Palma, mountainous, bay-fringed Mallorca delivers some of the region's most amazing azure water and soft-sand beaches — there are more than 250, from popular 3½-mile Playa de Muro to secluded Cala Mesquida. The view from the water is pretty incredible, too: centuries-old hilltop villages constructed of golden stone backed by peaceful olive groves and vineyards.

Hvar, Croatia

Hvar, CroatiaHvar, Croatia | Shutterstock

In between swimming, sunning and windsurfing, visitors to this summer-resort island, located in the Adriatic off of Croatia's coast near Split, can tour a 13th-century fortress and cathedral, go wine tasting (if you haven't tried Croatian wine, you should) and in June and July, inhale the heavenly aroma of lavender, which grows in abundance here. Hvar's beaches are known for their intense scenic beauty — many are set in serene bays surrounded by cliffs and pine forests — and tempting options include Dubovica, Zavala and Ivan Dolac.

Saint-Malo, France

Saint-Malo, FranceSaint-Malo, France | Shutterstock

If it's seaside drama you seek, consider Saint-Malo, a walled city in France's Brittany region where the cobblestone medieval streets of Old Town are surrounded by a series of sandy beaches, some of which are only walkable at low tide and offer access to rocky islands (timetables tell you when to visit). When the tide's high, tour the Cathedral of Saint-Vincent (constructed between the 12th and 17th centuries) and the city's landmark fortress with its four round towers. Or you can always kick back and relax on Plage du Sillon, a vast beach that stretches for almost 2 miles along the English Channel.

Ibiza, Spain

Ibiza, SpainIbiza, Spain | Shutterstock

It helps to be young to enjoy the 24/7 frenzy that is Ibiza — the wildest isle in the Med thanks to its world-famous clubs blasting dance music. Should you be awake when the sun's shining, top activities on Ibiza, which is also one of Spain's Balearic Islands, include music festivals, beach-going (Cala D'Hort has a view of the distinctive Es Vedra rock formation or hop over to neighboring island Formentera, known for its white sand) and scuba diving, since visibility here is superb.

Sicily, Italy

Sicily, ItalySicily, Italy | Shutterstock

If you're a fan of old-school destinations — scenic, slow-paced and filled with tradition — you can't go wrong with Sicily. This Italian island, the largest in the Mediterranean, is home to stunning beaches, yummy treats such as ricotta-filled cannoli and meat-filled rice balls called arancini (both invented here) and ancient Greek and Roman ruins dating back several millennia. It also boasts Europe's most active volcano: Mt Etna. Book a beach resort for maximum access to sun and sand, or stay in charming hilltop Taormina and day trip to beaches such as Isola Bella or Giardini Naxos.

The Algarve, Portugal

The Algarve, PortugalThe Algarve, Portugal | Shutterstock

The hot Iberian sun shines along the southern coast of Portugal 300 days a year — and in summer, the region receives very little rain — so it's no surprise that the Algarve ranks among the top beach destinations in Europe. It's also incredibly pretty and quite affordable, with a variety of hotels, rental apartments and homes located in cities and villages stretching from Sagres in the east to Villa Real in the west. In between are more than 150 beaches, with Praia da Falésia near Albufeira, Praia da Camilo near Lagos and Praia da Marinha near Lagoa featuring photogenic limestone cliffs.

Crete, Greece

Crete, GreeceCrete, Greece | Shutterstock

As Greek Isles beaches go, Crete has some of the best. But Greece's largest island is also its most geologically diverse — so beaches here range from sweeping and tranquil to compact and crowded. For the former, head to Balos Lagoon near Kissamos on the west coast or Elafonisi Beach, also in western Crete, with its pink sand. For the latter, there's Vai Beach near Sitia in the northeast, which is backed by Europe's largest natural palm grove, and Matala Beach on the south coast, where you can follow your swim with a seafood lunch at a local taverna.

Cornwall, England

Cornwall, EnglandCornwall, England | Shutterstock

There are hundreds of beaches along this rugged peninsula on the Atlantic in southwest England, some ideal for surfing, others for beachcombing and others for seaside shopping and dining. It's all incredibly wild and moody, the kind of setting that's equally inspiring to artists and adventure-lovers. For pure visual delight, it's hard to beat the beaches around St. Ives, especially Porthmeor, while Kynance Cove seduces at first sight with its unblemished natural beauty. Add in fishing villages such as Mevagissey and Polperro and you'll discover how Cornwall charms visitors with a raw authenticity that's ever harder to find these days.

Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia, ItalySardinia, Italy | Shutterstock

On this vast Italian island, the second largest in the Mediterranean, it's possible to be a jetsetter or a backpacker, to step back in time while strolling tiny villages or channel the 21st-century while sunning on a modern mega-yacht, to visit ancient temples or enjoy the latest youth-enhancing spa treatment. Long celebrated for its talcum-soft beaches and clear aquamarine water, Sardinia's alluring Costa Smeralda has been a summer hot spot since the mid-1960s. Yet the island also has a harsh interior landscape that has shaped the local mindset and cuisine (fava beans, sheep's milk cheese and lamb with artichokes compete with seafood and pasta on many menus). But it's Sardinia's coastal beauty that has made it envied the world over.


This article was written by Donna Heiderstadt from Islands and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Rising tide of Special Olympics lifts employee's daughter

By Matt Adams , July 10, 2018

A dark green wave rises and crests, spilling over into a froth of white foam as it picks up steam and propels Alissa DiDomenico toward the shores of Fernandina Beach, north of Jacksonville, Florida. With her arms outstretched, Alissa kneels on her surfboard, eyes focused in concentration, and shifts her weight with the momentum, settling in for the ride as the water flattens over the hot sand.

Alissa's father, United's Jacksonville International Airport General Manager Paul DiDomenico, watches from nearby as she comes to a stop. Hopping to her feet, Alissa flashes a wide grin at her dad then turns, her board under one arm, and paddles back out to do it again.

It's late June, and Alissa, 18, is in the thick of competition season as she seeks to represent Nassau County at the Special Olympics Florida State Surfing Championship in Cocoa Beach this September. If she's successful, it will be her fourth consecutive state finals appearance, where she was a gold medalist in 2016 (the contest was cancelled in 2017 because of Hurricane Irma). Paul, a native Midwesterner more comfortable in the snow than in the sand, is nevertheless a fixture at all of Alissa's events and weekend practices, joined by his wife, Marta, in the cheering section.

The water is Alissa's sanctuary, the place where she feels most at home, like "a little mermaid," Paul says. Pool therapy helped her build her strength when she was young, and by the time she began riding waves in 2014 she was already an accomplished swimmer. When Nassau County Special Olympics introduced surfing, Paul encouraged her to give it a try and Alissa was immediately hooked, drawn to the speed and grace inherent to the sport.

Alissa and her dad at one of the surf competitions.

Apart from bringing her enjoyment, swimming and surfing have also had a transformative effect on Alissa as a person, helping to draw her out of her shell. She's on the autism spectrum and has difficulties speaking, but the look on her face when she's in the water says more than words ever could. Without Special Olympics, Alissa – and countless other children – wouldn't have these kinds of experiences, which is why Paul is so glad to see United expand its partnership with the organization, which includes flying nearly 700 athletes to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle and sponsoring the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago.

I see it as an opportunity for her to step out and do something that's out of the ordinary, but also ordinary at the same time, because every kid plays sports, says Paul. "This is her opportunity to play and socialize."

As the morning session draws to an end, Alissa bobs in the water on her surfboard. A line of waves swell as they near the shoreline and she readies herself in a crouch. Before she can find her balance, though, her feet are swept out from under her, sending Alissa splashing into the Atlantic.

In an instant she's back on her board, waiting for the next set of waves to roll in, and with them, her next chance. Before long, she's gliding toward the beach once more, exhausted but happy, in a way that looks effortless. Competitions and medals are the farthest thing from Alissa's mind as Paul meets her with open arms, her smile matched only by his. In that moment, she's already won all there is to win.

Brazil’s big three: Rio, São Paulo & Salvador

By Bob Cooper

Brazil is nearly as large, populous and diverse as the United States. So where does a tourist begin? In the U.S., the answer might be to visit New York City, Chicago and L.A., each with its own personality. In Brazil, the best answer is Rio de Janeiro for its festive vitality, São Paulo for its cosmopolitan culture and Salvador for its history and beaches.

Aerial view of Rio de Janeiro at sunset

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Rio de Janeiro

The world came to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics and left with a big grin. The energy of the city, the splendor of the beaches and the spirit of the people — including a passion for sports — made the games the global success story of the year.

From the Lapa district's samba clubs to the beaches, Rio de Janeiro is a colorful city where the party never ends. Copacabana Beach's two miles of sand are routinely packed with tourists and locals alike while adjacent Ipanema Beach is more sedate, located alongside the Ipanema and Leblon neighborhoods' upscale shopping streets and restaurants. Two steep, iconic mountains tower over the city, letting you see it all from high above. Take a gondola ride to climb to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, or a cog train to ascend up to Corcovado Mountain's 130-foot-tall Christ the Redeemer statue.

Estaiada Bridge in Sao Paulo, Brazil

São Paulo

With 12 million people, São Paulo is the Western Hemisphere's most populous city, boasting more residents than New York City and even Mexico City. But that's not the only reason to visit. It's a must-see global city because of what the diverse, relatively affluent population has built — many of South America's finest museums, architecture, culture and more.

Several museums are found in the old city center. Walking distance apart are a neoclassical Brazilian art museum (The Pina), a neo-Byzantine cathedral and a Belle-Epoque covered marketplace. Elsewhere in the city are the São Paulo Museum of Art, boasting the largest collection of Western art in the Southern Hemisphere, and Museu Paulista, a colossal history museum surrounded by Versailles-inspired gardens at the University of Sao Paulo. Every Saturday, live samba music is played in many of the city's bars, but the place to experience this is at Bar Samba in Vila Madalena. And when you're hungry, it's good to know the restaurants are the best in Brazil, especially in the Jardins district. Among them are countless sushi spots and pizzerias, thanks to a vast population of Japanese and Italian immigrants and descendants.

Salvador

Among the major cities on Brazil's northern coast, none offer as much to visitors as Salvador, the original capital city of Brazil. This city of three million has stunning beaches, superb restaurants and bars, plus an historic city center (Pelourinho — a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site) that dates to the 16th-century dawn of the city.

Similar to Rio, almost everything worth experiencing in Salvador is on the water or close by, starting with beaches on the Bay of All Saints and Atlantic Ocean — ideal for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. Also found near the shore is the Elevador Lacerda (the world's first elevator—now a tourist attraction) and many museums devoted to South American, modern and decorative art. Also found in the Old City nearby are more museums, six cobblestone squares and a 17th-century cathedral. Many of Salvador's restaurants serve Afro-Brazilian food, a relic of the city's past.

Practicalities

All three of these Brazilian cities are closer to the equator than Miami, so expect balmy year-round temperatures that almost always hover in the seventies and eighties. The only months to avoid are the rainy season: December to February in Rio and Sao Paulo; April to June in Salvador. Transportation in all three cities is easy via Uber, buses and subways. Don't bother with pricey taxis or rental cars. And while in Brazil, be sure to try the national beverages — Brazilian coffee by day, caipirinhas by night.

If you go

United Airlines offers flights to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo from numerous U.S. cities, including nonstop flights from Houston Intercontinental to Rio de Janeiro and nonstop flights from Chicago O'Hare, Houston Intercontinental, New York/Newark and Washington Dulles to São Paulo. Salvador is served by Star Alliance partner Avianca Brasil, with frequent flights from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. You can also get to any of these three cities via one of our partner airlines, Azul Brazilian Airlines. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room. In addition, before you go make sure to submit the proper documentation to receive a tourist visa. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your Brazilian adventure.

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