Three Perfect Days: Hangzhou
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Hangzhou

By The Hub team , June 02, 2017

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.

Day 1 graphic

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 pagodaA 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.

Man's life

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 SeasonsThe 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.

Group of men walking the streets of Hangzhou

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."

“I know."

“Open your mouth."

“Why?"

“Just do."

I do. Peter leans down on a pressure point. Something unclenches.

“Oh!"

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.

Day 2 graphic

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, galleristOlivier 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.

West LakeWest Lake

“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 LookoutThe 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 ShaDongpo 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.

Day 3 graphic

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 entrepreneurTim 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.

United Journey

How traveling changed the course of our future

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

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

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

We've been addicted to travel ever since.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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United and Special Olympics

Taking inclusion to new heights

Our shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world — and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics.

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Welcome day brings employees and Special Olympics athletes together

By Matt Adams , July 13, 2018

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

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

Introducing a more personalized experience on united.com

By Gladys Roman , July 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Journey

Transcending borders and languages in Tanzania

By The Hub team

Story and photos by Davis Paul

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

Dirt road in Tanzania

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

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

Group of kids in Burundi, Tanzania

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

Davis Paul pictured in Tanzania

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

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

How to experience the best of Prague in 3 days

By Nick Harper

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

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

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Getting into the city

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

Where to stay

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

Old Town in Prague

What to see

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

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

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

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

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

River Vltava in Prague

Where to eat

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

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

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

Prague skyline at sunrise

Where to drink

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

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

When to go

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

Getting there

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

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The 10 best beach vacation destinations in Europe

By The Hub team

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

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

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Mykonos, Greece

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

Mallorca, Spain

Mallorca, Spain Mallorca, Spain | Shutterstock

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

Hvar, Croatia

Hvar, CroatiaHvar, Croatia | Shutterstock

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

Saint-Malo, France

Saint-Malo, FranceSaint-Malo, France | Shutterstock

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

Ibiza, Spain

Ibiza, SpainIbiza, Spain | Shutterstock

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

Sicily, Italy

Sicily, ItalySicily, Italy | Shutterstock

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

The Algarve, Portugal

The Algarve, PortugalThe Algarve, Portugal | Shutterstock

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

Crete, Greece

Crete, GreeceCrete, Greece | Shutterstock

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

Cornwall, England

Cornwall, EnglandCornwall, England | Shutterstock

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

Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia, ItalySardinia, Italy | Shutterstock

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


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

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Rising tide of Special Olympics lifts employee's daughter

By Matt Adams , July 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

Alissa and her dad at one of the surf competitions.

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

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

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

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

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

By Bob Cooper

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

Aerial view of Rio de Janeiro at sunset

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Rio de Janeiro

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

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

Estaiada Bridge in Sao Paulo, Brazil

São Paulo

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

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

Salvador

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

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

Practicalities

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

If you go

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

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