Three Perfect Days: Guadalajara
Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Alexis Lambrou and Jorge Garrido | Hemispheres, April 2016
From mariachi and tequila to contemporary art and gastronomy, Mexicoâs second city offers a tantalizing mix of traditional and modern culture
If Mexico City is the New York of Mexico, then Guadalajara is its Los Angeles—a sprawl of towns and neighborhoods that have been patched together into a metropolis of more than 4 million people. The Jalisco state capital also has perfect weather and a shockingly beautiful population, with a culture that combines modern refinement (art galleries and high-concept restaurants) and spirited tradition (mariachi and lucha libre). Speaking of spirited, Guadalajara also happens to be an hour away from the home of Mexico's most famous export: tequila. Whether you're looking for a cosmopolitan experience or a taste of old Mexico, the Tapatíos, as locals are known, will deliver in style.
In which Justin cranes his neck at macabre murals, experiences the passion of Mexican soccer fans, and eats at the bone church of restaurants
“It's the coldest day of the year," my cab driver says as we pull away from Guadalajara International Airport. “We're all freezing." I check my phone—it's 72 degrees. A half hour later, still shivering, he drops me at the Hotel Demetria, in the city's trendy Lafayette neighborhood. The Demetria is one of those places that is so architecturally incongruous that it somehow makes sense: a 1930s Mediterranean-style house with a concrete, steel, and glass tower tacked onto the back of it. I enter through a glass atrium, stepping across stone slabs set into a pool, like lily pads, and passing a cluster of Romanesque columns on the way to the elevator. In my suite, I find a white cereal bowl of a bathtub next to a picture window overlooking Avenida de la Paz. I'll be back for that tub.
First, I have an appointment. I stroll a few blocks to Palreal, an open-air coffee shop and restaurant where hummingbirds (called chuparosas, or rose suckers) flit among bougainvilleas. I spot contemporary artist Jose Dávila sitting on the patio sporting a blue blazer, circular glasses, and slicked-back hair. At his urging, I order the house special, lonche de pancita, a pork-belly sandwich messily topped with green tomatillo salsa and avocado. As I napkin salsa from my face, he tells me about Guadalajara's place in Mexico's cultural history.
“Mexico City, for obvious reasons, has always been the big center of it all, but there's always been a certain counterpart in Guadalajara," Dávila says. “In the '30s, at the time of the muralists, José Clemente Orozco was from Guadalajara. Luis Barragán, the famous architect, was from Guadalajara. Juan Rulfo, the writer, was from here. Even now, with the three famous Mexican directors in Hollywood—Iñárritu, Cuarón, and [Guillermo] del Toro—del Toro is from Guadalajara."
Jose Dávila, artist
After breakfast, Dávila takes me to his studio, a 10-minute drive (as in Los Angeles, access to a car here is essential) up the wide Avenida Federalismo to the appropriately named Colonia Artesanos. The studio, across a narrow street from a metalwork shop, is a multilevel marvel of abstract sculptures in various stages of completion, with several finished pieces—including a series of rotating metal squares hanging from the ceiling and a large pane of glass suspended from a steel frame—on display in an old wrestling gym. Later, as we say goodbye, I ask Dávila for a museum recommendation. “The Cabañas, where the paintings of Orozco are," he says, “is a must.
I take the short drive to the Centro Histórico and the nearly 200-year-old Hospicio Cabañas, a former orphanage with balustrades and pinnacles that reflect the palaces of France and Spain. Once the largest Spanish-built structure in the Americas, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside, I lean back to take in the macabre Orozco frescoes that adorn the ceilings and the sunlit dome. “This is like therapy for the neck," jokes my guide, Rubén, who explains that the murals depict scenes from Mexico's often violent past: Aztec sacrifices, a robotlike Hernán Cortés carrying a huge sword, Philip II bearing a bloody cross to represent the Mexican Inquisition.
“Guadalajara has been an artists' hub for 15, 20 years. Plenty of international artists around the world come to Guadalajara to produce work. Large works, small works, ceramics, metal, copper—you name it." —Jose Dávila
From here, I walk across the main square, Plaza Tapatía, to the Palacio de Gobierno to see more of Orozco's work. On the ceiling of the palace's stairwell looms a terrifying mural of Miguel Hidalgo (the leader of the Mexican Revolution) wielding a flame, surrounded on all sides by casualties of war.
I need some light after all that gloom, so I walk around the corner to sunny Plaza de Armas, where I settle under an ornate gazebo. Kids play by a fountain, old men in cowboy hats lounge under shade trees, and teenagers snap selfies. Across the street is the city's centerpiece, the Catedral de Guadalajara, a Spanish Renaissance church with twin neo-Gothic bell towers that was completed in 1618 (though it's been rebuilt several times due to earthquake damage). I step inside and watch from the rear as penitents knee-crawl down the long middle aisle toward the radiant stained glass windows in the gilded dome.
One more stop in the Centro: I enter Mercado San Juan de Dios, a three-story warren of stands selling jewelry, candy, mariachi suits, lucha libre masks, even caged birds, their songs mingling with the sounds of competitive commerce. Retailers hawk their wares aggressively here—witness the guy who lifts a horse saddle off a counter and shakes its leather tassels in my face.
Chivas moves up the field at dusk
The market's second floor is a maze of taco stands, so many that I can't make a choice. So, in the classic fashion of the indecisive traveler, I go somewhere else. A short drive down Calzada Independencia leads me to one of Guadalajara's most pleasant areas, Las Nueve Esquinas (The Nine Corners), a tangle of cobblestone streets that's home to several restaurants proffering a Guadalajaran specialty: birria, or goat stew. I take a seat in the open-air, blue-tile Birrieria Las 9 Esquinas, where I watch a woman hand-press tortillas as I'm served a bowl of the spicy, hearty stew. The meat, spooned onto those tortillas and topped with creamy refried beans and fiery salsa, is divine. I finish it off with a sweet little egg custard called a jericalla.
Pleasantly stuffed, I head back to the city center for a quick digestif at Guadalajara's most venerable dive bar, La Fuente, sometimes called “The Bicycle Bar" due to its decorative centerpiece: a bike that a drunk patron abandoned here back in 1957, and which the owner then mounted on the wall. I kick back a couple of Pacificos and consider the bike, coated with 50 years of dust, trying not to think about all the things I've left in bars over the years.
Consider those chelas (beers) a tailgate of sorts, because my next stop is Estadio Omnilife, home to CD Guadalajara, or Chivas, Mexico's most popular soccer club, in part because it's the only team that exclusively fields home-grown players. I'm a sports fan, but the passion here is unlike anything I've ever seen. Behind one of the goals, supporters cram themselves into a standing-room-only section where they wave flags and chant throughout the game and jump all over each other in an orgy of thunderous joy when Chivas scores. Late in the game, when the opposing team scores to earn a tie, these fans also employ some of the most colorful profanity you'll hear in any language.
An Orozco mural at the Palacio de Gobierno
After crawling through an epic post-game traffic jam, I pop back into the Demetria to change clothes. A few blocks from here is Hueso (Spanish for “bone"), a two-year-old restaurant with an all-white interior that feels like a brightly lit version of a Gothic bone church, its walls cluttered with cow skulls and assorted animal bones. The food, served at a long communal table, is more, um, lively. Courses of seafood (scallop ceviche; mussels and shrimp in squid ink; gravlax with avocado sauce) and meat (rack of lamb with mole, short rib topped with thin-sliced roast beef) pair with an excellent Pies de Tierra red wine from Baja California.
“On the ceiling looms a terrifying mural of Miguel Hidalgo wielding a flame, surrounded by casualties of war."
After the meal, chef Alfonso Cadena—who, with his long hair, bandanna, and pointy goatee, has a Jim Morrison air about him—steps out of the open kitchen to say hello. “For me, 'bone' means flavor," he says. “The challenge was, how are we going to make the perception of something repulsive, like a skeleton, into something pretty? It was kind of risky for Guadalajara, which in some ways is very conservative. But you can find a lot of artists, musicians, architects, and I think it's an advantage to have a restaurant here, because I truly believe that Jalisco has this global connection. Jalisco talks about the Mexican culture itself."
By the end of the meal, I'm a little buzzed, more than a little full, and about ready for bed. My waiter has other ideas. He brings me a carajillo, a shot of espresso poured over a sweet Spanish liqueur, Licor 43, on the rocks. I'm suddenly light and bouncy on my feet, so I walk up Avenida Chapultepec and over to the Black Sheep, a popular bar affixed to a backpacker hostel on a small pedestrian plaza. After shooting a few games of pool, I take a seat on the streetside patio, where I sip Don Julio 70 and eavesdrop on the multilingual crowd around me, reflecting on chef Alfonso's words: There truly is a global spirit here.
In which Justin views mind-bending art, listens to an all-female mariachi band, and ducks flying lucha libre wrestler
I wake up feeling a bit crudo, as they say here. Fortunately, I've got a driver—I don't think I could handle the streetfight that is driving in a Mexican city today. Apprised of my condition, Vicente Rangel, of tour company Sin Fin de Servicios, takes me to the nearest Tortas Toño, a chain that serves the Tapatíos' favorite hangover cure: the torta ahogada, a pork or chicken sandwich on crusty French bread that you dress to your liking with nuclear reactor–level red chile sauce. In my enthusiasm for the life-restoring properties of capsaicin, I go a little overboard with the pepper sauce. Seeing me sweat, Vicente passes along another remedy: a mini Corona.
Revived, I ask Vicente to take me across town to Tonalá, a suburb on the southeast side of the city, to see its famed tianguis, or open-air market. The main thoroughfare, Tonaltecas, is lined with handicraft shops, and twice a week these shops put up booths on the sidewalk to show off their wares: wood carvings, glass sculptures, tequila sets, flowers, tacos at five for 10 pesos (less than 60 cents). The market stretches most of the length of the town and is even more crammed than the Mercado San Juan de Dios. I can't turn around without bumping into a hanging display of jewelry or a Jesus statue—my last collision causing a child riding on his father's shoulders to point and laugh.
Sensing that I'm not handling the human crunch all that well, Vicente leads me onto a side street, to Galeria Bernabe, a ceramics shop that makes hand-painted tableware (a 94-piece set takes three months to make and costs $12,000). As I browse, Vicente gleefully recaps the previous night's soccer match with Javier, one of the owners (they're fans of Atlas, Chivas's intracity rival). “I think I might be sick," Vicente tells me. “I'd rather see Chivas lose than Atlas win." As a Giants fan, I tell him, I feel the same about the Dodgers.
Sculptures at Galeria Sergio Bustamante in Tlaquepaque
From Tonalá, we head to the neighboring suburb of Tlaquepaque, which features an upscale pedestrian ramble of art galleries. We stroll Calle Independencia, stopping at Galeria Sergio Bustamante to marvel at the paintings and sculptures; with their triangular heads, oddly stretched features, and lurid colors, Bustamante's figures resemble characters from a Tim Burton nightmare. We also poke our heads into the Galeria Rodo Padilla, with its ceramic depictions of Mexican folk symbols, and Carlos & Albert, which features in its entryway a beautiful Día de los Muertos Catrina skeleton.
On the street in front of Restaurante El Patio, we encounter an all-female mariachi band playing to a crowd of photo-snapping tourists—some of whom pose amid the musicians midsong. We follow the band into El Patio and sit on the, um, patio as they serenade tables with songs ranging from the traditional “Malagueña" to a mariachified “New York, New York." Afterward, I buttonhole Mayra Casillas and ask her about becoming a mariachi.
“Mariachi is a fundamental part of our culture," she tells me. “When you hear a mariachi, you say, 'Mexico!' My uncles and my father liked to sing, and they gave me the love of Mexican music, but none of them studied it. I was the only one who became a musician."
Inspired by Casillas, we walk a few blocks up to El Parian, a large patio ringed with cantinas. We grab seats and watch as roving mariachis and música norteña (another form of Mexican folk music) players—I count at least 10 bands—go from table to table, singing for tips. After a few songs, I'm ready to order food, but Vicente stops me. He has something special in mind.
“This is not a fancy restaurant," he tells me as we head back across town, “but it's real Mexican seafood, like they make in Nayarit," his home state, Jalisco's neighbor to the north. After about 30 minutes, he pulls onto a small street in the suburb of Zapopan and parks next to El Zarandeao. The warehouselike space is utilitarian, but the food? ¡Dios mío! We start with cups of shrimp soup, then plow through a plate of tender ceviche topped with chunks of avocado, followed by shrimp empanadas, a fillet of fish smoked over an open fire, and finally a plate of grilled shrimp that we eat shell and all—without a doubt, the best camarones I have ever tasted.
After lunch, we head to the center of Zapopan, home to a couple of Guadalajara's signature attractions. We start at the 17th-century Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopan, a huge, dual-towered church that looks more like a fortress than the convent that it was originally built to be. At the church gate, campesinos sell beaded jewelry, a simpler rendition of the mesmerizing beadwork inside the Museo Huichol, attached to the basilica. In the exhibit hall, I stop to consider a bright green-and-red frog—if I licked him, would I hallucinate? A stern look from an attendant discourages me from trying, so I scamper a couple of blocks away, to the Museo de Arte de Zapopan, a boundary-pushing museum for contemporary artists. At the moment it's exhibiting performance pieces by Czech artist Jiří Kovanda. My favorite is a video of Kovanda at London's Tate Modern offering a kiss to each passing patron.
There's been a lot of walking—and eating—so I'm ready for siesta. Vicente drops me back at the Demetria, where my plan is to grab a quick nap and then a soak in the tub before dinner. But when I lie down I feel myself sink deeper and deeper into my cloudlike bed, and by the time I wake, a bath is out of the question. Sigh.
“Masked wrestlers hurl each other around as vendors prowl the crowd offering white pork skins and Coronas."
A short cab ride away, on a frontage road along the railroad tracks, is i Latina, one of Guadalajara's best-loved restaurants. The place has a sort of found-object decor—every wall painted a different color and bearing a different style of art, no two tables alike. The food too is eclectic. Appetizers include fried-shrimp-and-mango tacos served on thin slices of jicama instead of tortillas. For an entrée, I opt for duck confit terrine in a peanutty mole sauce, washed down with a tamarind margarita. Early in the meal, the room is relaxed, Dolly Parton's “Jolene" playing on the stereo, but by the time I'm finished, the place is filled with stylish people, and the music has switched to bumping David Bowie.
I could imagine a restaurant like i Latina in America, but my next destination could exist only in Mexico: the Arena Coliseo lucha libre ring. Lucha libre is a hopped-up version of the WWE, with far more rabid fans (the cheap seats are literally behind a chainlink fence). Masked wrestlers hurl each other around as vendors prowl the crowd offering white pork skins (no, thanks) and Coronas (yes, please). In some ways, it's a family environment—kids crowd the edge of the walkway to high-five the wrestlers—and in other ways, it's very much not. (To call the ring girls scantily clad would be an understatement, and spectators hurl insults that would make a Chivas fan blush.) At least once, a wrestler wades into the crowd to do battle with mask-wearing fans.
After the last match, the crowd pours out of the arena, a mass of humanity clogging the narrow street. Grinning men stop for photos with ring girls, smoke rises from mounds of carne asada on taco-stand grills, kids in brand-new lucha libre masks dash by, their parents close behind. It might not be the kind of scene you'd find in a guidebook, but this, right here, is Mexico.
In which Justin tours the world famous blue agave fields, tastes fine tequila, and dances past the break of dawn
I'm going to need a good base for today's activities, so I start at La Cafeteria, a popular brunch spot in a lovely old stucco house nestled among French mansions on Avenida Libertad. The specialty here is chilaquiles—nachos drowned in spicy tomato ranchero sauce and topped with crunchy chicharrón—which I devour as I sit on the shaded patio, enjoying the perfect morning weather.
Now I'm ready to get acquainted with the spirit of Mexico. Juan Pablo Ramírez, a guide for Jose Cuervo who goes by J.P., has agreed to take me and my friend Matt—an Angeleno in town on business—to the town of Tequila, an hour northwest of Guadalajara, for a tour of La Rojeña. The oldest distillery in the Americas, it has produced Cuervo tequila since 1758.
J.P., a former rock musician, grew up in Guadalajara but moved to Tequila because he liked the small-town feel. “Also, the tequila," he adds with a laugh. From Guadalajara, we take the historic Ruta del Tequila, passing the 9,580-foot Volcán de Tequila, roadside tequileros, and the sprawling, 145-year-old Herradura distillery in Amatitán. We descend into a valley, crossing railroad tracks where migrant laborers wait to jump the train to the States, and cut through fields of blue agave.
We pull onto one of the tracts, tires crunching on the parched, rocky soil. Between rows of spiky blue agave, sprouting waist-high from the earth like alien tentacles extricating themselves from shallow graves, we find Ismael Gama, a fourth-generation jimador who has worked these fields for nearly 50 years. He doffs his white cowboy hat, then selects a good-size agave plant—one with a piña, or pineapple-shaped heart, of about 130 pounds, which will produce about seven liters of tequila—and takes his machete to the leaves. In a matter of moments, he has uprooted the heart, which he splits so we can taste the fibrous, jicamalike center.
Juan Pablo Ramírez, guide, Jose Cuervo
We continue into Tequila, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, over cobblestone streets, past an 18th-century church, to La Rojeña. J.P. leads us through the gates of the yellow-walled hacienda, past a tall statue of a black bird (cuervo is Spanish for “raven"), and into the production facility. All around are heaps of harvested piñas; the air is full of the sweet, bready smell of fermentation. By the stills, where the agave wine that's extracted from the plants is distilled into tequila, we stop to taste a 110-proof blanco, then continue into the barrel room, where we sample reposado (aged six months) and añejo (aged a year or more) tequilas to see how the wood mellows the agave and imparts oak and vanilla notes to the liquor.
“I like it in Tequila because it's a really calm life. It's not as fast as Guadalajara. It's growing a lot, but the essence of the town is still calm."—Juan Pablo Ramírez
“What I look for in tequila is the taste of the plant," J.P. says. “When I drink the añejos, I taste the wood, so I prefer the blancos."
Next, J.P. takes us down to the La Reserva de la Familia Cellar, home to bottles of 100-plus-year-old blancos and barrels of the three-to-seven-year-old Reserva, one of the world's finest liquors. (“It's the cognac of tequilas," J.P. says.) I ladle myself a glass straight from the barrel. “This must be what magic tastes like," I say to Matt. “This is the best thing that's ever happened to me," he replies.
Tour finished, we cross the plaza to La Antigua Casona, the main restaurant in Mundo Cuervo's Solar de las Ánimas hotel. After a much-needed three-course meal—a tuna-poke tostada with avocado sauce and cucumber, beef tenderloin in mole sauce, and a fluffy slice of chocolate cake—I feel as if I've reinfused some blood into all that tequila in my veins.
Jimador Ismael Gama uproots a blue agave to harvest the piña
After lunch, J.P. arranges for a friend to give us a ride back to the city. I'm still a bit bleary when I walk into the Demetria, but everything gets clear when I lock eyes on that tub. It's time. After a long soak and a quick snooze, I go upstairs to the hotel's rooftop pool and pass some time on a lounge chair looking down on the tree-lined streets of Lafayette and Chapultepec. A few laps to work up an appetite, and I'm ready for dinner.
A short cab ride brings me to the upscale Providencia neighborhood. I'm reuniting with Matt at La Tequila, a two-story brick restaurant that offers high-end takes on traditional Mexican fare—and lots of its namesake spirit, as evidenced by the bottles on the walls. We sit on the upstairs patio, where we watch a pickup soccer game going on across the street. The drink menu has 11 pages of tequilas, mezcals, and sotoles (another spirit distilled from agave), but that Cuervo Reserva was so good that we can't help but order it again. We're a little more adventurous with our appetizers: chapulines (chopped grasshoppers) and escamoles (ant larvae), which look like lentils and serve as a salty tortilla topping. For an entrée, Matt has a molcajete, a stone mortar filled with steak, shrimp, sausage, avocado, and nopal (cactus strips), while I opt for suckling pig that's been slow-roasted in dried chiles and pulque, a traditional fermented beverage.
“Spiky blue agaves sprout from the earth like alien tentacles extricating themselves from shallow graves."
It would be easy (and almost certainly advisable) to call it an evening, but it's my last night in Mexico, and I ain't going out like that. So: ¡Carajillos!
We hop a cab to Avenida de las Américas, a busy strip of shiny malls and office towers, disembarking at Evva, the city's trendiest club. Inside, the sounds of Ricky Martin, J. Lo, and Pitbull (“Pitbull's some kind of god here," Matt tells me) pump across the dance floor and the rooftop pool, causing insanely good-looking men and women—seriously, the most attractive people I've ever seen—to shake it. We find a table and watch through the neon light as waiters parade by bearing champagne in ice buckets, sparklers shooting into the air. A friendly local guy comes over and photobombs one of our selfies, then pours tequila in our mouths.
When the lights come on, we head down the escalator to find the sun creeping over the tops of the palm trees on the avenue. I turn to Matt, smile, and say, “Who's ready for a fourth perfect day?"
Hemispheres managing editor Justin Goldmanknew he would love Guadalajara—after all, his favorite hot sauce is Tapatío.
This article was from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
Around the web
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
20 million miles and counting...
On November 7, while flying from Newark Liberty International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport, United customer Tom Stuker made history when he reached 20 million miles flown on a single airline. We were fortunate enough to capture the milestone he reached with us.
To mark the special occasion, we hosted a celebration in Mr. Stuker's honor at the United Polaris lounge at O'Hare International Airport on Saturday. The celebration was delayed a couple of months, so Mr. Stuker could celebrate the event with his family.
The party included a room full of employees, media members and Mr. Stuker's friends and family enjoying food, cocktails, stories and laughs. To thank him for his long-standing loyalty to United, we also presented Mr. Stuker with gifts made specially for him.
"United makes my dreams come true," Mr. Stuker said to the room full of people.
He also praised United's MileagePlus program, the United Polaris lounges across our system and Oscar's leadership of the airline but, most of all, he praised the service he receives from our employees.
"My favorite part of United is the people. United is such a big part of my life…you are a family to me," he said addressing the United employees. "It would take me days and days and days to say thank you in the right way to the right people. They all know me by now and know how much I care about them as people, how much I care about this airline and its success, and how much I care about the greatest leader this airline has ever had, Oscar."
Bora Bora: The most beautiful island in the world
Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.
By Chicago-based United Club Customer Service Representative Amile Ribeiro.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I know it can be very subjective but, once you set your eyes on it, I'm sure you'll agree with me: Bora Bora is the most beautiful island in the world.
There are very few things that can get me out of bed early in the morning, and airplanes are one of those things. We were already in Tahiti and woke up at the crack of dawn to catch our quick flight to Bora Bora. After checking in at the airport and getting a quick breakfast, we headed over to the gate to line up for our flight. Air Tahiti has an open seating arrangement, and we wanted to make sure we got the best possible seats. We were able to secure two windows seats. Travel tip: Sit on the left side of the plane when landing in Bora Bora. We took off from Papeete and within minutes we were flying over Mo'orea. Then we flew around Ra'i ātea and Taha'a, and finally arrived in Bora Bora, the island that Polynesians call "First Born." Pora Pora is the actual local pronunciation, but the first explorers misunderstood it and 'Bora Bora' stuck. Though after setting foot on the island, I've come to call it "Paradise on Earth."
At the airport we were met by a representative of our resort, given flower leis and directed to our high-speed boat. I couldn't believe the color of the water; it was as if Paul Gauguin himself had painted it. After a thrilling ride, we reached our hotel's dock, where a local playing the ukulele welcomed us. We were then given a tour of the astonishing property and were taken by golf cart to our overwater bungalow. We have stayed in many beautiful properties around the world, but when we opened the door of our bungalow our jaws dropped. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that all should have at least once in their lifetimes. And worth every penny. The view of majestic Mount Otemanu is something right out of a fairy tale. After the sun set, the nighttime dance show was equally enchanting.
We had planned to be in Bora Bora during the final leg of the famous Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe competition, which happens to be a major event in the cultural life of French Polynesia and has the reputation for being the toughest canoe race in the world. The center stage was at the island's most beautiful beach, Matira. We stood in awe as the winners reached the finish line after several hours (and days before that) of frantic paddling from island to island, showcasing the power of human strength and endurance. Besides being an incredible sporting challenge, it is also a colorful spectacle that filled the beach with flower-clad women and the air with the pulsating beat of drums. We were also able to celebrate and dance with them later that night at the local ball in Vaitape (Bora Bora's largest city). It was a marvelous way to get a deeper understanding of another culture!
Besides having the time of our lives at the resort's infinity pools, inner lagoons and beach, we also went to the Turtle Center and had a chance to feed these amazing creatures while they're being rehabilitated to go back into open waters. From there, we took a boat tour of the main lagoon and went swimming with stingrays and sharks. Few things scare me in life, and sharks are on the very top of that short list, but I mustered the courage and what a thrill it was! To commemorate my bravery on the last day of our trip, I got my very first tattoo: a hammerhead shark. Polynesians believe that such sharks act as guardian angels to humans and protect us from the Great White. My husband got a Polynesian design that was custom made just for him, and it represents travel, freedom and courage. We also got a set of matching Polynesian wedding bands. Since the art of tattoo originated in Polynesia, this is the most enduring souvenir one can get from such an amazing culture, but I'm sure the memories of our trip will also stay with us forever!
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.