Three Perfect Days: Hangzhou
Story by Benjamin Carlson | Photography by Scott Turner | Hemispheres June 2017
Hangzhou is enchantingly two-faced: One side is a classic Chinese painting—all fog-wreathed hills and lyrical lagoons—and the other is a futurescape where cash is dead, luxury cars are everywhere, and the deliveryman is an internet entrepreneur. For centuries, the ancient city has represented an aesthetic ideal for the Chinese. Now, it is the country's e-commerce capital, with all the wealth and ramped-up cool that implies. Hangzhou today has the trappings of a global megalopolis and the temperament of a small town—which is about as happy a contradiction as a city can have.
In which Ben cycles through paradise, contemplates the benefits of being ruled by poets, and encounters his first virtual maître d'
So perfect are the waters of Hangzhou's West Lake that its name has become a byword for beauty. I awake minutes away from this jewel in the Four Seasons Hotel, an extremely agreeable update on the palaces of the Song dynasty. The day starts on my private terrace, with coffee and a green-tea scone, beside a glade of bamboo and plum blossoms. I sit and ponder an old Chinese idiom that says “Above there is heaven; below there is Hangzhou."
On my way out, a young woman at the front desk in a neon-green qipao dress offers me a bike. I cycle out of the hotel driveway and onto a winding road. The bicycle lane is already a clutter of colorful frames—fruits of the proliferation of local bike-sharing apps. To my left, electric buses zip silently by, carting tourists in caps and backpacks. After 10 minutes, the lake is visible through the trees: gray-green, wreathed by verdant hills.
The lake was formed more than a thousand years ago, when the Qiantang River delta became filled with silt, causing a small bay to become a freshwater lake. In the ninth century, the poet-governor Bai Juyi built a dyke, raised a causeway, and gave the body of water its name: Xihu, or West Lake. Over the thousand-plus years since, it has been expanded and elaborated by many hands, with bridges, gardens, and pagodas that have inspired generations of landscape architects across Asia.
A West Lake pagoda
I ride up the lake's western perimeter, past the tomb of Su Xiaoxiao (a “famous sing-song girl" of the fifth century, says a sign), and cross the Bai Causeway. The poet's road is rolling and green; it makes me wonder how much nicer I-95 might be if Emily Dickinson had been involved.
After 10 minutes, I reach an island called Solitary Hill, named for the many scholars and poets who have taken refuge here. Now, it's busy with tourists and retirees doing odd exercises. I see a pair of old men vigorously clapping their hands behind their backs. A white-haired fellow flies by on in-line skates, singing and waving a yellow streamer. A grizzled cyclist blasts Beijing opera from a small speaker. An elderly unicyclist wobbles across the road.
I duck into a mossy courtyard, home to a museum of “epigraphy and sphragistics," the study of ancient seals and inscriptions. Nearby, stone stairs run to the top of Solitary Hill. I decide to climb and take in the view that inspired literati like Bai Juyi. I pant up the first set of stairs to a small landing, where a sign informs me that Su Dongpo—Hangzhou's other poet governor and the namesake of a delicious pork dish—compared the life of man to a goose's footprint in the snow. I pant farther upward. At the top, with the blue lake glinting and an oriole pecking a bamboo stalk, I am moved to construct a verse of my own.
May be spent wondering
What's for lunch
Suddenly ravenous, I rush down the hill, hop on my bike, and race across the causeway, expertly avoiding selfie sticks as I go. Luckily, I have lunch plans close by: On the eastern side of the lake I'm meeting Jingjing Hong at the Green Tea restaurant, a chain specializing in Hangzhou staples.
Jingjing studied fashion in Shanghai, and she looks the part in hoop earrings and a black and pink sweater. A cofounder of a local English-language magazine, she has lived in the city for over a decade and witnessed its transformation from a second-tier backwater to a first-class destination. “Hangzhou is a really strange city," she says when she greets me at the crowded door. I soon see what she means. While the food at Green Tea is classic fare, everything else is newfangled. To book a table, I scan a barcode. A real-time monitoring app opens on my phone. There are 15 people in front of you, it says. Jingjing notes that this is typical Hangzhou: high-tech and trendy, but rooted in tradition. “I don't think there's any other city where in 15 minutes you can go from downtown to the tea fields," she says.
The dining room at the Four Seasons
My phone buzzes. There are five people in front of you. You are next! You are next!
The app tells me our table is on the fifth floor. I wave down a waitress and ask for a menu. She shakes her head and points to another barcode. I scan it and get an interactive menu. Jingjing helps me pick a few local favorites: green tea–roasted pork with crispy skin glazed in spices; tubular rice noodles in savory egg broth; shaved bamboo shoots with green beans. I send the order. A few minutes later, the dishes arrive. As we eat, Jingjing tells me about the mystifying fame and fortune of the city's vloggers, who livestream their days to hordes of fans. “I went to a birthday party for an internet celebrity. I didn't know who she was, but she was like a third-tier movie star."
At a nearby table, a very pale girl with long, sleek hair holds up her phone and gives a coquettish smile, tilting her head this way and that. I ask Jingjing where I should go tonight if I want to see more of Hangzhou's glamorous side. “Park Hyatt, Forty8," she says. “That's where the posh generation goes."
I pay with a tap of the phone and say goodbye. No cash, no menu, no problem.
In the afternoon, I prowl the business district that runs along the bank of the Qiantang River. At a sculpture garden near the InterContinental, which resembles a giant golden candy apple, I follow tourists from statue to statue: a tower of fish, a girl with a cloud brassiere. A gang of middle-age men is particularly interested in a giant chair made of branches and twigs. “What is it?" A man grabs a leg and pulls. The chair doesn't budge.
“It's metal!" His friend reads a label on the base. “It's called 'Sitting Man.'"
“That's a man?"
“That's not a man," says a little girl walking by with her father.
I take a cab back to the Four Seasons and descend to the spa. My masseur, Peter, has a handshake like a catcher's mitt. Perfect. I
follow him down a cool, dark passage lined with channels of running water. I am reminded of the throne room of the Wizard of Oz. I lie down, and Peter begins squeezing my neck. There is a grinding sound.
“Your neck is bad."
“Open your mouth."
I do. Peter leans down on a pressure point. Something unclenches.
After washing up, I head to dinner at the hotel's celebrated restaurant, Jin Sha, where I dine in a private room. The waiter brings out a fine bottle of red from the highlands of Ningxia Province, and the chef sends out a parade of seafood courses: vermicelli and clams, marinated lobster with Sichuan peppercorns, bamboo shoot salad with fish roe, and a divine pork dish (named Dongpo, after the poet) with abalone in sweet soy sauce glaze. For dessert: Longjing tea-flavored cream pudding.“Within walking distance of seven temples, Amanfayun has the air of a Tang dynasty hamlet."
I waddle out and hail a cab to the Forty8 at the Park Hyatt, per Jingjing's suggestion. In the whooshing elevator, my fellow ascendants are all outrageously elegant, though none appear to be livestreaming themselves. I find a spot at the mottled marble whiskey bar. Behind me is a glass-floor balcony that takes in a panorama from West Lake to the Qiantang River.
A jazz band does a sultry cover of “Just the Two of Us" as Hangzhou's hippest sip lychee cocktails. I order a single malt, then another. Soon, I am chatting up the jazz singer and her bass player during a break. They're new to the city—musicians from Montreal who've played hotels in Seoul, Dubai, Bangkok, Beijing. I offer to buy them a drink, but they decline.
“Time to play, man."
As the band retakes the stage, I grow sleepy looking down at the serpentine river, the golden orb of the InterCon, the brooding lake, and the mountains lurking somewhere in the dark.
In which Ben wakes up in the wild west, drinks his body weight in green tea, and discovers parallels between modern Hangzhou and 19th-century France
I am wakened early by a series of urgent squawks—egrets, perhaps, or cranes. I raise the bamboo blinds. Across the tea fields, on the far bank of a burbling stream, I see the real source of the racket: two slightly hysterical geese.
This is Amanfayun, a resort that's more village than conventional hotel. Spread over 35 acres in a valley just west of the lake—the wild west, as Jingjing called it—the property consists of 47 immaculately preserved tea cottages nestled in groves of osmanthus and camphor. Within walking distance of seven temples, the resort has the air of a Tang dynasty hamlet, but inside the brick-and-earth lodgings, the feel is contemporary luxury, with bronze Lefroy Brooks plumbing fixtures and bamboo furnishings, including a long daybed with a table for sampling Dragon Well tea plucked in the property's own fields
Olivier Hervet, gallerist
It's a fitting way to start the day, as I'll be biking to Longjing, which produces perhaps the most famous and coveted green tea in China. First, I head through the mist to fortify myself at the resort restaurant: a sumptuous spread of currant danish and mascarpone blueberry buttermilk pancakes.
As I walk along the quarter-mile trail to the street, a tree speaks to me: “Have a good day." I step back in alarm, until a valet in muted khaki manifests like a camouflaged agent. He and his compatriots are posted every hundred yards along the trail to guide visitors away from the private lodgings.
My first stop of the day is the National Tea Museum, which lies off a winding road among lush green fields and irrigation ponds lined by flowering cherry and magnolia trees. The small but excellent museum traces the origins of tea from its earliest cultivation in southwestern Sichuan province 3,000 years ago, when the trees stood 30 feet tall. Its leaves were eaten, drunk, and boiled in soup. In the Tang dynasty, monks embraced the drink because it allowed them to meditate all night. One room shows dazzling varieties: white, green, black, red, oolong. Some of these can be sampled at a tasting station.
I continue on toward the village. The road rises past burbling springs and rockeries garlanded with vines and moss. I stop to catch my breath at the Longjing Temple, where garrulous ladies play a card game called dou di zhu (“beat the landlord") at cane tables and sip from thermoses of green tea. I look around for a cup, but the soda vendor shrugs and points farther uphill.“In some ways, Hangzhou is the most Chinese city in China. It has everything traditional Chinese culture has to offer—tea, art, temples, mountains, and lakes—next to the country's most innovative companies." -Olivier Hervet
At last, I arrive in Longjing village, and a second after I've parked my bike a petite old lady with a pixie cut and swift step taps me on the arm. “You want to try tea? Come to my sister's house." I follow her through a scattering of white-tiled farmhouses and tea shops dotting the misty hillsides. As we walk, she tells a story about dragons—or at least I think it's about dragons; her accent is thick. She leads me up a steep staircase to a red-brick house surrounded by green tea shrubs. Her sister sits me at a table and pours three tall glasses of tea.
“This one is last year's harvest, the cheapest. This one is good quality. And this one is fresh picked—the best." I drain all three glasses and she pours me another round. “Do you like them?" she asks. I tell her I do, and buy a tin of the good stuff.
The ride downhill is swift, and soon I reach the China Academy of Art, where I'm meeting gallerist Olivier Hervet for lunch. Impeccably dressed in a fitted blazer, Oxford shirt, and scarf, Hervet is easy to pick out of the crowd. The fact that he has brown hair and is French also helps.
“Here, this place is very nice," he says, leading me across the street to the Yuexiu Spring restaurant. We take a table by the window and start ordering: Dongpo pork, pork soup dumplings, and glass noodles in savory broth. A longtime resident of China, Hervet moved to Hangzhou in 2013 after touring the country scouting places to open a gallery. “We went through quite a few cities, and I must say, I fell for Hangzhou," he recalls. “The fact that it's an old cultural capital means they are much more sensitive to art."
After opening HDM Gallery, which focuses on contemporary Chinese art, he found his first client at the Academy's graduation exhibition. The artist's work sold out within two hours. “I think it's one of the most, if not the most sophisticated city in China," Hervet tells me, dipping a dumpling into rich sauce. “People are wealthy, but they don't flaunt it. They like Grand Cru, not monogrammed clothes." He stops short. “You don't eat cartilage?" He eyes a pile I've hidden under a napkin and, with panache, picks a morsel from the serving dish and pops it into his mouth.
After lunch, we wander among the Bauhaus-inspired buildings of the Academy. Hervet is a great champion of China's artists. He believes they are more dynamic, universal, and technically adept than their counterparts in the West. “Chinese painters are more idealistic. I won't say they don't care about money, but they don't care as much. The greatest art comes from countries in times of great social change. Look at the U.S. in the '60s, France during the time of Romanticism. Now, it's happening here."
The view from the Baoshi Mountain Lookout
I say goodbye to Hervet and head for the nearby crafts gallery 101 West Lake, where I pick up a hand-painted, thimble-size china tea cup and flip it over to see the price: $100. I place it back gingerly.
Not far from here, in a park by the lake, 50 senior-citizen couples twirl in a grove of linden trees. A man sings through a tinny sound system while musicians scrape two-string erhu violins and bang woodblocks, and another, serious-faced man in pressed trousers claps his hands and stamps to demonstrate a tango step for a woman in a flowing skirt. “Watch how I do it. One, two, boom! One, two, boom!"
Farther along the shoreline, I see a woman in a wedding dress perched on a narrow railing over the water, her veil billowing in the stiff lake breeze. In the distance, a three-story-tall dragon-shaped boat floats menacingly behind a small junk.
For dinner tonight, I'm meeting longtime expat Tim More at La Pedrera, a popular Spanish restaurant inspired by and named after Antoni Gaudí's famous Barcelona building. (Its exterior is all tiled curves, mosaicked lizards, and undulating walls.) A serial entrepreneur, More has a shaved head, a lingering New York accent, and four cell phones. For 10 years, he owned and operated one of Hangzhou's most popular bars, before the government shut it during renovations for last year's G20bconference. Now, he runs an empire of
magazines that cover China's second-tier cities.
Dongpo pork at Jin Sha
We order a bottle of La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca, tapas of grilled foie gras and pineapple compote, beef and egg yolk tartare, pork neck, and a squid-ink paella with squid, razor clams, and Argentine king prawns. As we eat, More tells me his story, the Hangzhou chapter of which begins in 1994. I ask how Hangzhou has changed since then. He swallows a morsel, thinks a second, and stares. “It's gone from taking taxis everywhere to taking your own Ferrari. It's gone from people buying three beers for 10 yuan to people buying a cocktail for 80. It's gone from cheap hamburgers to stuff like this." He jiggles a cube of foie gras for emphasis.
After dinner, we walk through the drizzle to a nearby bistro-cum-bar, Provence. A mixed crowd of French- and English-speaking patrons leaps up to greet More. We sit at a corner table where two Americans are chatting. “I don't want to sound crazy, but I don't trust banks anymore," one of them says. He shows me a plastic card he's invented to store and spend Bitcoins. Not to be outdone, his companion pulls out a piece of whitish wood from his bag. “That's made from hemp. I invented it."
I gulp a mouthful of Merlot and try to think of things I've invented, but the conversation turns to other matters: African safaris, a stolen Ferrari, methods for shipping live Chesapeake crabs around the world in a chartered jet. “One shipment, and you'd be a millionaire," says the hemp-wood inventor. For me, the idea conjures images of thousands of little crabs wearing seat belts. Might be time to call it a night.
In which Ben flirts with local aunties, enjoys his umpteenth serving of Dongpo pork, and gets philosophical during a sax solo
I wake to the scent of lemongrass and incense. Last night, in a rare bout of post-bar foresight, I lit several of the candles and joss sticks provided in my room at the Banyan Tree Resort. The result is invigorating, even (ahem) sobering. I open the silk brocade curtains and see a stone bridge curving over green water. Falling back for a minute onto a lacquered divan, I somehow lose another half hour. In the restaurant, my breakfast—a tall glass of Prosecco paired with a heap of fried taro root—draws stares.
The resort, 15 minutes from the city center, is on the grounds of another natural wonder: the Xixi wetlands, China's first such national park. A 10-minute golf-cart ride takes me and a few other guests to the docks. Our party includes a young boy who drops his Mickey Mouse doll as we zip along, forcing us to stop. His mother notices me and instructs him to say hello to the foreigner. He does, and drops the doll again.
Upon arrival, we hire one of the dozen or so wood-bottomed boats that take tourists out on the water. A young guide points out birds native to the wetlands—egrets, doves, cranes—but her speaker is no match for a woman bellowing lunch plans into her phone. “Not Sichuanese!"
Tim More, publishing entrepreneur
The ride itself is more tranquil: White cranes flap languidly and disappear into thickets of bamboo and willow. Fishermen cast and reel their lines. Pink-black plum trees wink in the breeze. At the next stop, I get off and wander through an old silk-weaving village. When I return to the boat, the only seat left is with a retiree tour group from Henan province. I am easily 30 years younger than any other passenger.
My seatmate introduces herself as Ms. Guo. “We have been traveling for 400 days. We went to Shanghai, Korea, Japan…" Suddenly the passengers around me burst into deafening song: “Mao Zedong's Thought is the soul of the Chinese people!"
After the anthem's rousing conclusion, Ms. Guo asks whether I like China or America. When I tell her I like both, she grins and pats my knee. A passing auntie with a bouffant announces, “We all think you're cute!"
On the way out of the park, I eat a bowl of green-tea noodles in clear broth at a restaurant whose name translates as “Male-Female Park," and then catch a cab to Hefang Jie, an old-fashioned (but extensively renovated) boulevard. Vendors sell stinky tofu, coconut milk, and cucumber face masks. A mustached man plays a klezmer-style solo on a wooden instrument his sign identifies as a “Chinese saxophone." Nearby, an elderly couple wait patiently for their turn to sit on a gold-plated Buddha. “Hurry, sit down," the wife says, patting Buddha's thigh. In a nearby shop, two boys sing a lusty tune as they beat peanuts and corn syrup into a thick sheet. My phone rings.“The Hangzhounese are like no other people I've met in China. Though I've been to 30 cities in the country, I can say that here, they all like their leisure time—not to mention their moneymaking time…" -Tim More
“Ben, do you know where to go?" The voice, deep like a radio host's, belongs to my dinner companion, Denis Xu. Fluent in English and French, Denis is a bon vivant and language teacher who instructs students over WeChat, China's most popular messaging app.
I take a cab to Little Southland Restaurant, on a narrow street of seafood eateries housed in elegantly refurbished industrial plants. Denis greets me upstairs. Wearing fatigues and combat boots, and with close-cropped hair, he has the look of an affable soldier. We enjoy a meal of “beggar's chicken" (a local dish in which the bird is wrapped and baked in clay), fermented fish, pork kidney and tofu, and yet more Dongpo pork. Afterward, Denis leads me and a group to 7 Club, an underground hangout with a wall covered in calligraphy. “My friend made that," he says. “Calligraphy painters make a lot of money now, selling over WeChat. They paint three an hour; one sells for 4,000 yuan ($580). That's good money."
We down our Tiger beers and head out to nearby You To Bar, a smoke-filled joint where a slender, goateed guitarist is belting out a ballad. The manager shakes Denis's hand and sends over a mini-keg of beer.
After that, time seems to swim. Denis tells stories about Tunisia; I am proposing a world of poet-governors. A saxophone player blasts a killer solo as lights slice through the swirling smoke. “This is the real, Chinese local place," Denis yells above the din, which is about as big a compliment as you can give in Hangzhou.
Benjamin Carlson, a Beijing-based writer, is seriously thinking about patenting his safety device for Chesapeake crabs.
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Weekend inspiration: Sydney
Sydney continues to be one of our favorite cities in the world – vibrant, stunning, with an amazing foodie scene and genuinely nice people. Each year we try to schedule a few street art jobs in Australia so we can spend the Northern Hemisphere's winter in the summer sun of Australia. If you're in town for a few days, here are some of our favorite spots.
If you're looking for places to stay, we recommend anywhere near or on Sydney Harbour. If you can swing it financially, our two favorites are The Pier on Sydney Harbour and the Park Hyatt. Both are majestic hotels set out on the water with equally magnificent views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
We find that we crave comfort food after a long flight, and there's no better place to enjoy it than Kindred. It's a warm cozy space with pasta and bread made in-house. The lasagna and the burnt butter triangoli can't be beat, and be sure to order a loaf of homemade sourdough with dinner.
Wake up early for a full day of exploring the city. Take a short cab or Uber ride to Lorraine's Patisserie – their croissants are warm and buttery and their coffee is strong.
After breakfast, head over to The Rocks Market where they have a stunning array of locally crafted art, jewelry, house ware and beauty products. The homey, cozy cobblestone lanes lead you to some of the best local artisans that Sydney has to offer. Be sure to also take a moment to pose with our Magic Wand street art piece on Atherdan Street.
We recommend The Glenmore Hotel's pub for lunch. This pub, built in 1921, has incredible views of the harbour from their rooftop. Grab one of their Australian Brewery Session IPA's, play a game of pool and end up on the roof with a Glenmore Burger in hand.
Following lunch, grab your swimsuit and take a 30-minute Uber to Bondi Beach – Sydney's most iconic beach. There's more to Bondi than just a beach, beyond is a village full of cafes, restaurants and shops worth exploring.
Bring a towel and start off with a cold swim at the Instagram-worthy Icebergs Club swimming pool. When in need of some warmth, lay in the sun on the white sand beach while watching the surfers – you can even take surfing lessons if you'd like.
If you have time, there's a wonderful walk between Bondi and Coogee Beach. This walk takes you along the rocky coast to hidden beaches and swimming holes. It's a beautiful walk that will get your heart pumping.
For dinner walk up the hill to the trendy Bondi Trattoria for great local eats. If you're still awake when you get back to Sydney and looking for a drink, we highly recommend stopping by the Sydney Opera House Bar.
Head over to Paramount Coffee Project to grab some caffeine and breakfast. Take a moment to check out the workout schedule for the recreation club on the roof to see if there is a class that interests you.
If you're looking to pet a wallaby or hold a quokka (quite possibly the cutest creature you have ever seen) we highly recommend signing up for the Featherdale Wildlife Park Mammal Encounter. It's about an hour drive from Sydney, but it's definitely worth it.
When you get back to Sydney check out Ribs & Burgers on The Rocks for a hearty lunch. In the afternoon, check off two essential experiences by booking an Opera House Tour and, if you're not afraid of heights, the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb. Both offer stunning views and completely unique experiences.
After a somewhat exhausting day we love when we can come back to a hotel and dine there. Park Hyatt offers wonderful dining options, including The Dining Room, which is their signature restaurant. Finish your weekend with stunning harbour views and elegant food.
The reimagined United app: What you need to know
Starting on January 24, customers will be able to access the updated United app. With useful enhancements that provide intuitive assistance every step of the way, the United app still includes the features you know and love. And now, thanks to dynamic messaging, the updated app provides useful information throughout your journey whether at the airport or on the go.
How to install the updated app
If you've enabled automatic updates, the United app will automatically update. Otherwise, you'll need to manually update the app to see the updated version. Once you've updated the app, you'll no longer be able to use the previous version. If your phone is set to auto-update, the app will automatically appear on your device and stay. Otherwise, you'll have the previous mobile experience until you manually update.
The United app will now display the most useful and relevant information throughout your journey. For example, 24 hours before departure, the home screen on the United app will prompt you to check-in. Once checked in, an option to get your boarding pass will populate right on the home screen so you'll no longer need to access it via the boarding pass tab on the current version of the app.
Locating your boarding pass
If you're signed in to your MileagePlus® account, access to your boarding pass will appear on the app's home screen along with other details about the flight. If you're not signed in to a MileagePlus account, you'll need to go to "My Trips" on the bottom navigation bar. (Please note that mobile boarding passes are available for flights departing from all U.S. airports and select international airports.)
Accessing your profile and United Club℠ card
All this information will now be accessible from a "My Profile" section, so you can see everything in one place. You can find the "My Profile" section by selecting the icon of a person in the top right corner.
New options on the navigation bar
The new bottom navigation bar provides quick access to the most popular and helpful features. Find information about upcoming flights under the "My Trips" section that houses important information like your boarding passes and flight details. You'll also find an inbox icon section that stores important and useful information including gate changes, flight status updates and boarding alerts. You can also easily toggle back to your home screen from the bottom navigation bar.
Personal device entertainment
If personal device entertainment is offered on your flight, you'll see a tile titled Inflight Entertainment within the "Just for you" section on the home screen. The "Just for you" section will also give you access to other features such as how you can locate a United Club or how to earn award miles. You can also select "Wi-Fi & entertainment" from the More menu, located at the upper left hand of the app's home screen.
Finding the seat map
You can access the seat map for your flight via Flight Status on the bottom navigation bar or within Trip Details — when you have an upcoming flight there will be an option to view the seat map.
How to add or remove flights from your Flights Status list
Any upcoming flights will be displayed in the Flight Status section of the app. There is no option to remove a flight as the Flight Status section will be automatically update itself two days after your travel is completed.
Changing the image on the home screen
There is no way to change the image on your home screen manually. Instead, the image will update once a day based on the destinations most commonly searched for by our customers.
Porto: Portugal’s surprising second city
“Second cities" or those that rank #2 in population often surprise world travelers. And second doesn't mean second-rate. Porto is Portugal's second city — so off-the-radar that many world travelers haven't even heard of it. Yet, Porto and nearby spots in northern Portugal can be delightful destinations even if you don't visit the more well-known city of Lisbon.
Old city by day
The best place to get oriented, as in most European cities, is in the old city center. Porto's Old City is so well-preserved that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 12th-century cathedral and the 15th-century Church of St. Francis, notable for interior wood carvings gilded by hundreds of pounds of gold, are mixed in with a rich collection of imposing granite, red-roofed Baroque buildings. Add 225 stairs and a stirring view to your walking tour by ascending the 250-foot-high Clérigos Church bell tower, built in 1754, which dominates the Porto skyline. Historic bridges over the Douro River and Soares dos Reis National Museum, an art museum housed in a palace, are also excellent sites to see.
Food and music by night
Porto's youthful population has turned it into a lively city after dark. You might start off the evening in the Old City at Abadia do Porto, a 1939 restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese dishes like roasted lamb and grilled octopus, or at Astoria, with its modern Portuguese fare served inside a former palace. Whether you choose a Portuguese, French or fusion restaurant, seafood is likely to be highlighted, drawing on Porto's proximity to the Atlantic and the Douro. Then, you can head to the large collection of bars and nightclubs in the nearby Galerias district, which includes Radio Bar, inside a former court building, and Gare, a disco in a tunnel that stays open until 6 a.m.
Head west to the beaches
The closest Atlantic beaches to central Porto are at Foz do Douro (mouth of the Douro), just 20 minutes away by city bus. But why settle? In a rental car you can explore Atlantic beaches and beach towns that extend for hundreds of miles along Portugal's coastline. Two of the best are Foz do Minho, the nation's northernmost oceanic beach that's just across the Minho River from Spain, and Quiaios, a dune-fringed paradise of sand south of Porto. Many beaches in northern Portugal are cradled in coves protected by rocky promontories, similar to northern California and Oregon beaches.
Or east to the wine country
The Douro Valley wine region is another World Heritage Site and one of the world's best and most scenic wine regions. It's up the Douro River from Porto by boat or 90 minutes by road. Namesake port wines and other fortified wines are the region's signature beverages, which can be sampled at tasting rooms on the Douro along N-222, a wine road that's been called the world's most scenic drive. While you're in the area, check out the wine and anthropology museums in the wine towns and yet another World Heritage Site — Coa Valley Archaeological Park — known for its prehistoric rock carvings.
Portugal's Mediterranean climate and coastal breezes bless it with mild weather year round, as the average temperature ranges from 57 degrees (and rain) in January to 78 degrees (and a little rain) in August. Whenever you come, there's no need to learn Portuguese as English is spoken even more widely than elsewhere in Western Europe. Once you arrive, rent a car only if you don't mind ridiculous drivers. The trains are more relaxing — light-rail and subway trains crisscross the Porto area and funicular cable cars climb its steepest hills. There's even a scenic train that follows the Douro nearly to Spain, with a roundtrip fare of only about $30.
Portugal requires that visitor passports don't expire until at least three months after the arrival date, so check that. Next, buy some Euros (for a great exchange rate) and reserve a flight. United Airlines flies nonstop from New York/Newark to Porto and MileagePlus® award miles can be redeemed to cover accommodations and Hertz rentals. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.
United 787-10 Dreamliner launch
Story was contributed by: Jennifer Lake | Photography: Alicia of Aesthetica
It was a typical Monday morning. I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking coffee, reviewing my to-do list for the week. All around me, heels are clacking through the office and phones ring intermittently. However, this particular Monday morning was different. Ultimately, I would receive an offer from my favorite airline for a collaboration to participate in the United 787-10 Dreamliner launch from Los Angeles LAX to New York/Newark EWR. Read the full story here featured on Style Charade.
Fit for the runway: We begin testing new uniforms
Last year we announced new partnerships with Tracy Reese, Brooks Brothers and Carhartt — best-in-class fashion and apparel designers — to help reimagine uniforms for more than 70,000 of our employees. Focusing on high quality fabrics, improved breathability and overall enhanced fit, our goal is to design and develop a more cohesive collection that looks good, feels good and enables employees to perform at their best on behalf of our customers.
United employees can learn more on the uniform designs by visiting Flying Together.
An insider's guide to Boston
Boston is a pack-it-all-in kind of place. Founded in 1630, one of America's oldest cities does many things well. Boston's many claims to fame include many of America's oldest historic landmarks and one of its oldest ballparks. It's a destination for history buffs, culture vultures, foodies, sports fans, families and more. No matter who your travel companions are or what they're interested in, everyone will find something to pique their interest in Beantown.
Getting there & around town
Fly direct to Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) from many U.S. cities — visit united.com or use the United app to book your flight. Flights are 90 minutes from New York, two hours from Cleveland and five to six hours from California. From Logan International Airport, it's easy to hail a taxi, use ridesharing apps or take public transportation. If you want to take the scenic route, take a water taxi across Boston Harbor directly into downtown.
Downtown Boston is easy to navigate. It's walkable and taxis are plentiful. The MBTA, Boston's public transportation system, offers affordable access to Cambridge, many attractions and the suburbs. Keep in mind it's one of the oldest transportation systems in the country, so expect a few bumps. Because the city is dense, parking can be expensive or hard to find, so avoid driving if you can.
When to visit
Summer and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Summer is prime time to enjoy Boston's many parks, outdoor eateries, open-air concerts and baseball games at Fenway Park. Mild fall weather, beautiful autumn foliage and Halloween festivities in nearby Salem, Massachusetts make October one of Boston's busiest months. The city also sees an influx of visitors for the Boston Marathon in April. You'll find smaller crowds and more affordable prices in winter, but brace yourself for the cold.
What to do
There's so much to take in just by walking through Boston's cobblestoned streets. Downtown is quaint, compact and easy to explore by foot. The small city is packed with historic sites, New England's finest food, proud sports fans and friendly locals.
As the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston's historic sites are an attraction in themselves. Walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to visit 16 of them around the city, including Revolutionary-era museums, churches, buildings and an impressive warship. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is on the trail, too, and is one of Boston's top attractions, with plentiful shopping, dining and live music. Not much of a walker? Boston Duck Tours operate land-and-water historic tours on World War II-inspired vehicles, which transform from truck to boat mid-tour.
Many museums and sites are tucked along Boston Harbor. The waterfront is always bustling with activity year-round. The harborwalk is the perfect place to meander and explore without a strict agenda. Plan to visit a major attraction or two, but leave time to enjoy the scenery or to pop into a café for a coffee and sweet treat (award-winning Flour Bakery + Cafe is a local favorite).
Deemed the “Athens of America," Boston boasts not only some of the country's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings, but also a thriving arts and culture scene. You could spend your entire trip touring its dozens of world-class museums. Take in classical music at the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra, or take a leisurely stroll through Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, the city's most well-known public parks. Riding the giant Swan Boats through the Public Garden lagoon is a kitschy, yet delightful experience, especially for kids.
What to eat
What must you absolutely eat in Boston? In short, everything. Long ago the city was nicknamed Beantown, allegedly after slow-cooked molasses baked beans served to sailors and traders. Today, Boston continues its reputation as a great eating city. From clam chowder to cannoli, the most popular dishes here are often hearty and decadent. Boston is also known for fresh lobster rolls, roast beef sandwiches and, of course, Boston cream pie.
Ask any Bostonian where to find “the best" of anything, and everyone will recommend a different spot. Cannoli from Mike's Pastry, Boston cream pie from Omni Parker House (where it was invented) and the roast beef 1000 sandwich from Cutty's frequently top the must-try lists. If you make it to a ball game at Fenway Park, Fenway Franks are a Boston staple.
Our role in ‘Spider-Man™: Far From Home’
In Columbia Pictures upcoming release in association with Marvel Studios, "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," our web-slinging hero finds himself – yep, you guessed it – far from his home in New York City. And since flying is one of the few superpowers Spider-Man doesn't possess, we gave him a little help, meaning United is featured in the film.
The scenes of Peter Parker and his pals traveling to Europe take place on one of our Boeing 777s with the all-new United Polaris® business class, and several of our employees – including members of our Tech Ops, Inflight, Flight Operations and Airport Operations teams – served as actors and production support during shoots at New York/Newark (EWR) and London-Stansted (STN).
London-Heathrow (LHR) Customer Service Representative Manjit Heer and LHR Cargo Warehouse Operations Manager Richard Miller were background extras on board, and multiple flight attendants had a role, including San Francisco (SFO) Flight Attendant Tammy Harris.
"It was extremely surreal," said Tammy. "I was in my element because I was on the plane in uniform, but not really, because I'm not an actor."
Tammy said she hit her mark and delivered her line with gusto, and she's excited to see if she made the final cut when "Spider-Man™: Far From Home" hits worldwide theaters this summer.
"Hopefully, I'll have my two seconds of fame and all will be well," she joked.
Los Angeles (LAX) Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor Fernando Melendez is a veteran of several film shoots but said this one was his favorite. When the production went to London, he was one of five members of LAX Tech Ops who went over to look after our airplane and make adjustments to its interior based on the filmmaker's needs.
"When we parked the plane at Stanstead, there were lights and cameras surrounding us. It was like the plane was the star of the movie," he said. "Each day, we would work with the assistant director; he would go through and say, 'Okay, for this shoot we need these seats, or these panels removed,' so they could get the camera angles. Pretty much, the airplane was our responsibility; we opened it in the morning and closed it at night. We were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every day."
Fernando said the actors were all very gracious and engaging, and said the whole experience was fantastic from start to finish. It also earned him a little cooler cred with his 18-year-old son, who is a massive Marvel fan.
Leading up to the film's premiere this year, there will be plenty of ways for employees and customers to get into the Spidey spirit in anticipation of our cameo. Stay tuned for more details.
Peter Parker returns in "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," the next chapter of the Spider-Man™: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter's plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!
Directed by Jon Watts, the film is written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film is produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Thomas M. Hammel, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Stan Lee, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach serve as executive producers. The film stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.
"Spider-Man™: Far From Home" makes its way to North American theaters on July 5, 2019.
What to expect from our improved app
The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".
Better Boarding consists of three key improvements
Less time in line:
By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.
Simplified gate layout
Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today
Group 1 will board through the blue lane.
Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.
Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.
Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.
We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.
Be in the know about boarding
Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).
Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.
Balanced groups and better recognition:
United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx
Improved premier customer recognition
We're happy to make them happy
Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.
The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience
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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.