Three Perfect Days in Mexico City
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Mexico City

By The Hub team , January 05, 2017

Story by Nicholas DeRenzo | Photography by Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock | Hemispheres January 2017

Mexico City is a place defined by its muchness. With its 21.2 million people, the Ciudad de Mexico—or CDMX, as it's been known since early last year, after an official rebranding retired the familiar DF moniker—is part of the Western Hemisphere's largest metropolitan area. It's older than you might expect (founded in 1325 as Tenochtitlán), and higher (a lung-busting altitude of 7,382 feet), and more cultured (150 museums and counting, one of the highest totals in the world). It's also richer, posher, busier, tastier. Yet, despite its many superlatives, Mexico City has had to contend with a host of unflattering misconceptions. To put it bluntly, CDMX comes with a lot of baggage. But, in a weird way, that reputation—the good, the bad, the ugly—works in its favor. Once you leave your preconceptions at the door, you're confronted with a city that ranks among the world's greats—and one that has still somehow managed to stay under the radar.

Day 1 graphic In which Nicholas considers the weight of gold, marvels at a churrero at work, and goes on a spirited tour of Mexican booze

I wake up in Mexico City feeling like royalty, and with good reason: My hotel, the Downtown Mexico, occupies the 17th-century Palacio de los Condes de Miravalle, in the thrumming colonial Centro Histórico. Its minimalist decor (angular blond wood furnishings, leather sling chairs) does wonders for the cavernous, bare-stone rooms, which once housed counts and countesses.

The capital is such a delightfully confusing jumble—of old and new, of rich and poor, of highbrow and lowbrow—that I need someone to help me put it all in context. Who better to work through these complexities than a poet? I'm scheduled to meet writer Tatiana Lipkes, who runs the indie publishing house Mangos de Hacha, for breakfast at Restaurante El Cardenal, which has been going strong two cobblestone blocks away since 1969.

“It's a traditional thing to come here for breakfast," Lipkes says. “It has always been the same." She darts through the sidewalk-clogging crowd to put our name in at the hostess stand.

With a half hour to kill, we wander through the nearby Zócalo, the city's historic central square and the former main plaza of the Mexica (or, as the Europeans called them, Aztec) metropolis of Tenochtitlán—at its peak, the biggest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. The plaza's northeastern corner is dominated by the archaeological site surrounding the Aztecs' main pyramid, the Templo Mayor—a thrilling bit of history, sure, but also a somber reminder of all that was lost during the conquest.

Tatiana Lipkes, poet and publisher, Mangos de HachaTatiana Lipkes, poet and publisher, Mangos de Hacha

We pass the city's Baroque and Neoclassical Catedral Metropolitana, the largest in the Americas, which began construction in 1573, nearly 50 years before the Mayflower set sail. The building is sinking and tilting, due in part to soft soil, but I can't help wondering if the truckloads of gold and carved wood and marble inside aren't also doing their part to weigh it down.

I ask Lipkes, who's of French-Ukrainian heritage, what she finds most inspiring about her hometown. “I love the contrast that you see," she says. “He's Mexican"—she gestures to an indigenous man with a darker complexion—“I'm Mexican. You could be Mexican. It makes everything richer and richer."

Back at El Cardenal, we order chocolate con leche and chilaquiles con pollo, a skillet of deliciously soupy chicken, tortilla chips, and salsa verde. There are so many tables of multigenerational Mexican families that I feel as if I've wandered into a quinceañera.

After breakfast, Lipkes and I stroll east through the old town and then along Avenida Juárez, past the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The Art Deco–meets–Art Nouveau “cathedral of art" is topped with an orange and yellow cupola that calls to mind the sunrise, and its interiors contain fine modernist murals from masters including Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

“I've been living here my whole life, and I always get lost. Mexico City is so big that I discover new places every day—in my own neighborhood, even." — Tatiana Lipkes

As we skirt the Alameda Central park, we pass a couple holding hands and staring into each other's eyes. I give Lipkes a what's-this-all-about look, and she says, matter-of-factly, that it's probably just a man seeking help from his witch—something of a spiritual tune-up.

I raise an eyebrow, and Lipkes laughingly explains: “There's a huge pre-Hispanic culture of witchcraft here. Everybody has a witch. Everybody knows someone that can read your hands or cards. Every Mexican has gone to make a limpia [a spiritual cleansing ritual], with eggs and chants and herbs. It's something from your grandmother that you pass along. Of course you do it. It's a cultural code."

We continue along Avenida Juárez to the copper-domed Monumento a la Revolución, the world's tallest triumphal arch at 220 feet and the final resting place of revolutionaries including Pancho Villa. “I just went up the first time in my life the other day," Lipkes says as we stare up at the glass elevator shaft that rises from the middle of the arch like a straw.

The atrium of the Condesa DF hotelThe atrium of the Condesa DF hotel

“I'm afraid of heights," I admit.

“Me too," she says, grimacing.

We huddle looking at the elevator floor as we ascend, but we gain some kind of adrenaline-fueled confidence as we look out over the colonial eaves and glass-and-steel highrises. “When you come from Mexico City, nothing is really strange to you," Lipkes says, pointing out where different neighborhoods (or colonias) are located. “Downtown here is like Kolkata. Roma is like Europe. Santa Fe is like suburban Houston. You live with this schizophrenia. That's what I love about this city."

Back on solid ground, we soothe our nerves with a quick beer on the plaza at the hip Crisanta, Cervecería Garage. My Reliquia de Cortés Noche Triste Ale de Maíz Azúl, brewed right here in Mexico City with blue corn, tastes faintly like a tortilla.

I say goodbye to Lipkes and retrace Avenida Juárez, then follow the scent of frying dough down Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas to Churrería El Moro, a churro spot founded in 1935 by Spaniard Francisco Iriarte. In the window, a churrero squeezes long spirals of dough into a fryer with monastic concentration before snipping them into manageable commas. I flag down one of the waitresses, who wear matching white aprons and bonnets, and order churros with chocolate español—they're sweet, thick, and gloriously unhealthy.

From here, I hop in a cab and head to an institution of a different sort: the Museo Nacional de Antropología. We pass El Ángel—the 22-foot-tall, gleaming gold angel atop El Monumento a la Independencia—and continue down the grand Paseo de la Reforma, a Champs-Élysées-inspired boulevard commissioned in the 1860s by Emperor Maximilian I to connect the historic center with his royal palace in the forested park Chapultepec.

The Monumento a la RevoluciónThe Monumento a la Revolución

Named for the Nahuatl word for “grasshopper's hill," Chapultepec, the so-called “lungs" of Mexico City, is the Western Hemisphere's largest urban green space, roughly double the size of New York's Central Park. Its centerpiece, the anthropology museum, is the country's most visited museum, popular with visitors and locals alike. As I enter, two mariachi guitarists in full regalia drop off their instruments at the coat check.

The space is as overwhelming as the Met or the Louvre, with an open courtyard centered on the famous “umbrella"—a 2,000-ton slab of concrete supported by a single pillar. The halls brim with pre-Columbian treasures, such as 25-ton Olmec carved stone heads and Mayan temple artifacts, but like the Louvre, with its Mona Lisa, there's one must-visit artifact. All paths here lead to the back gallery, dedicated to the Aztecs and, in pride of place, the Piedra del Sol (the Stone of the Sun), a nearly 12-foot-tall disc-shaped basalt tablet that was discovered under the Zócalo in 1790. For years, it was thought to be a solar calendar, but archaeologists now believe it was a sacrificial altar. The stone conjures feelings of unease, but also appreciation: We're standing atop the Ancient Rome of the Americas.

I head back to Centro for dinner at the candlelit sister restaurant of the renowned Bósforo mezcal bar. “We don't have a name," says my waiter as he delivers a basket of blue corn tostadas, cooked on the comal (griddle) out front. “They usually just call us 'el restaurante al lado del Bósforo.'" The restaurant next to Bósforo.

I use the charred crisps to scoop up guacamole with chapulines, or grasshoppers, which are as nutty and inoffensive as sesame seeds on a bagel, and follow them up with a complex yet homey rabbit in peanut mole. To pair with the meal, I go on a tour of regional Mexican spirits: mezcal, tequila's smokier cousin; sotol, a grassy liquor distilled from the desert spoon plant; and pulque, a viscous kombucha-like drink made from agave sap. I don't know if Mexicans have their own rhymes about mixing drinks (sotol before mezcal, you'll be OK, pal...), but I'm glad that my bed at the Downtown Mexico is only a few blocks away.

Day 2 graphic In which Nicholas breakfasts with a rock star, drops in at Frida's house, and snacks on ant eggs

After the colonial scrum of the Centro Histórico, the nearby district of Polanco feels like a different city entirely—as posh and polished as Vienna or Milan. This morning, I'm moving my bags over to the design-forward Habita Hotel, which opened in 2000 and helped establish Mexico City as an international art and design capital. Clad in a seaglass-green sheath, the Habita fits in seamlessly with the walled-off celebrity compounds and luxury boutiques on swanky Avenida Presidente Masaryk—Mexico City's Fifth Avenue, named for Czechoslovakia's progressive first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (coincidentally, the subject of my undergraduate thesis).

While it may be easy to see Polanco merely as a playground for the rich and famous, some of that outsize wealth is actually being put to good use. To the north, in an area now dubbed Nuevo Polanco, cultural institutions sprout like weeds. Museo Soumaya, opened in 2011, is billionaire Carlos Slim's vanity project, a blobby cartoon anvil of a building covered in aluminum hexagons that catch the light, while its younger neighbor, the sawtooth-roofed Museo Júmex, houses the contemporary art collection of a Mexican juice and nectar mogul.

After passing by the museums, I head across town to a little Italian spot called Trattoria della Casa Nuova in the charming colonial district of San Ángel. I'm set to meet rocker Diego Solórzano, the frontman of indie band Rey Pila (Spanish for “King Battery," a phrase from a Basquiat painting), who have opened for Maroon 5 and the Strokes. (They're currently recording an album with Julian Casablancas.)

The facade of the Condesa DF hotelThe facade of the Condesa DF hotel

“This is the last rock 'n' roll town—or so I've heard," Solórzano says as he orders us two cazuelas petit cluny, molten casseroles of melty cheese, ham, and tomato sauce, which we sop up with hunks of baguette. “When we tour, we see it in every town: They package style and feed it to you very easily. But this town, with its ups and downs, it's really unique. It really has something special going on."

We finish up and drive 10 minutes south, to the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 for its profusion of modern architectural icons. Just past the looming Modernist slab of the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo—which Solórzano assures me is more “progressive, chill, and forward-thinking" than Slim's attention-grabbing Soumaya—we head out into university land that, dotted with massive sculptural installations such as Mathias Goeritz's 66-foot-tall Corona del Pedregal, is almost postapocalyptic in its wildness.

“This is the volcanic rock area, a natural reserve," says Solórzano. “It's got a different vibe from the rest of town." We reach the grandest of the sculptures, the monumental Espacio Escultórico, a ring of 64 concrete wedges jutting out of a field of tezontle volcanic rock, cacti, and wildflowers. “A lot of smart, cool people come here," Solórzano says, gesturing to hipsters snapping selfies and clambering up the tilted monoliths as if this were some Brutalist playground. “It could be Berlin."

We continue on to the main campus, where academic buildings call to mind ancient temples, and walls are decorated with the works of master muralists such as Rivera and Siqueiros. “The architecture is very intense, right?" Solórzano says. “It feels like a pyramid. It's a history that we are a part of. I don't mean to sound patriotic, but that's just how it is! You feel a special moment when you see it."

The “umbrella" at the Museo Nacional de AntropologíaThe "umbrella" at the Museo Nacional de Antropología

The campus's dramatic centerpiece is the Biblioteca Central, a giant building covered in colored stone mosaics by Juan O'Gorman; it bears an uncanny resemblance to a boombox. (Note: It opened in 1956, roughly two decades before the boombox's invention.)

I've worked up an appetite, so I say goodbye to Solórzano and taxi over to Super Tacos Chupacabras, a no-frills spot under a highway overpass (look for the sign with the snarling face of the mythical “goat-sucker") that's known for its namesake taco—a mix of beef, pork, and chorizo said to contain 127 ingredients. From here, it's a quick amble through the villagelike streets of the Coyoacán district to the Museo Frida Kahlo, which occupies La Casa Azul, the vivid blue bungalow where Kahlo was born, lived with Diego Rivera, and died in 1954.

“When you come from Mexico City, nothing is really strange to you. You live with this schizophrenia."

Viewing Kahlo's paintings, it's easy to see why people fall so hard for her. She's a bit like a pop star (though she'd hate the comparison): high on big emotions, brash, accessibly poetic, with the fiercest eyebrows in the game. While the paintings on view are great, the museum's true heart lies in the almost too intimate personal effects: her red-boot-clad prosthetic leg, a body cast decorated with a hammer and sickle, colorful dresses inspired by the matriarchal Tehuana people, the toad-shaped urn holding her ashes. (She called Rivera her “toad-frog.")

After stopping for a selfie with a cat posing on a backyard pyramid Kahlo and Rivera built to display pre-Hispanic art, I venture farther into Coyoacán and grab an icy paleta from the 66-year-old Gloria Helados y Paletas ice cream shop. I choose mamey, a tropical fruit that tastes quite a bit like sweet potato pie, then wander through Plaza Hidalgo, from which conquistador Hernán Cortés brutally ruled his empire in the 1520s, and the Jardín del Centenario, which features a fountain with two bronze coyotes. Apart from the “free wifi" signs affixed to the lampposts, it's easy to imagine Kahlo walking these streets.

The lobby of the Condesa DFThe lobby of the Condesa DF

For dinner, I'm heading back to Polanco, where I've managed to score a seat at one of North America's most in-demand spots, Quintonil, which was recently ranked No. 12 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. Chef Jorge Vallejo, who got his start at the neighborhood's other game-changing restaurant, Pujol, has a light, fresh touch, as evidenced by a tasting menu that includes cactus ceviche with beet and seaweed, squash blossoms with sweet shrimp, sea bass with pineapple and chipotle, turkey in cacao-husk-scented recado negro (a Mayan precursor to mole), and charred avocado tartare with escamoles—the cottage-cheesy larvae of ants harvested from agave roots. It's better than it sounds.

From the world's 12th-best restaurant, I stroll a few blocks to Licoreria Limantour, a cocktail den that in October was ranked a measly No. 13 on Drinks International's 2016 World's 50 Best Bars list. I'm slumming it a bit, but I can't help but relish my nightcap, the Villa de Santa Maria, made with Hennessy VS, Pedro Ximénez sherry, Campari, cherry, and cola—served, as Mayan hipsters have done it for centuries (?)—in a hollowed-out cacao pod.

Day 3 graphic

In which Nicholas sips natural wines, daydreams about his future apartment, and sees the future of Mexican cuisine

I start my morning with an ego boost: At Lalo!, an airy bistro in the hip Roma Norte district, my seat is directly underneath a cartoon octopus by Belgian street artist Dave de Rop, with a speech bubble calling me guapa, or “pretty girl." Hey, I'll take it. I have a guava-pistachio croissant and a catcher's-mitt-size torta de lechón, a pork sandwich that's even more pleasing than the compliment.

Bright, youthful Lalo! fits in perfectly with the new spirit of Mexico City, which is epitomized by increasingly fashionable neighborhoods like Roma Norte and neighboring La Condesa, where I'm staying for the night. The Condesa DF hotel occupies a flatiron-shaped building with a chic triangular atrium and courtyard on a genteel tree-lined street. In these transitioning districts, crumbling old estates are being converted into concept stores and artisanal food halls, and hot interior designers are opening trendy coffee shops and boutiques.

On Plaza Río de Janeiro, which is centered on a bronze replica of Michelangelo's David, I stop into Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo to meet Gustavo Arróniz, who opened his gallery here a decade ago. Like much of the neighborhood, the street calls to mind the more bohemian stretches of Paris or Madrid.

Gustavo Arróniz, gallerist and owner, Arróniz Arte ContemporáneoGustavo Arróniz, gallerist and owner, Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo

“We focus on my generation of Latin American artists, artists between 30 and 40," Arróniz says of his gallery. The current show is made up of installations by Colombian artist Icaro Zorbar, whose nostalgic musings include two record players reaching their arms out across the void to play each other's vinyls and a cassette-tape ribbon sounding eerie melodies as it blows through an electric fan. The show strikes me as poignant and poetic.

Outside, as we pass a succession of Porfirian buildings (a late 19th-century, Paris-inspired architectural style that combined Art Nouveau and Neoclassical motifs, named for the president at the time, Porfirio Díaz), Arróniz comments on Roma Norte's changing face. “This area in the '70s was super, super hard and dangerous," he says. “With gentrification, you have good things and bad things. We're losing the old spaces more and more, but you can still find the mix. These spaces," he gestures at a new condominium squeezed between aging facades, “are just eating them up."

We stop into the stylish Tierra Garat café for a chiltepín fría, a spicy iced chocolate drink made with allspice, achiote, and pequín chilies. Arróniz points across the street at a facade with an exposed patch of bricks, uncovered perhaps during the devastating 1985 earthquake, or simply in the inevitable settling of foundations (this whole city, after all, was built atop a lake).

“Contrast is everywhere—it's a word that defines Mexico City. In this area, you never lose inspiration." —Gustavo Arróniz

“What I love about Mexico City is that, of course, I find art everywhere," Arróniz says. “Unintentional details, like those bricks, look great. This idea of living the passage of time is very in vogue now. It comes from the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi, the beauty of objects in the passing of time."

For lunch, Arróniz drives us five minutes to the neighboring colonia of Juárez, which is fast becoming the capital's next great neighborhood thanks to forward-thinking spots like wine bar Amaya. We order an assortment of Tijuana-raised chef Jair Téllez's light contemporary Baja Californian snacks, such as scallop ceviche and beef tartare with sardines, caper mayo, and crunchy potatoes, as our waitress schools us in the basics of natural wines, which are produced without chemicals and with minimal intervention. We sip Bichi, which is produced at Téllez's family vineyard, about an hour outside of Tijuana, and boasts a yeasty, sour-beer-like funk. “It's almost better not to think of this as wine," she says. “You're expressing a lot more of the terroir, the soil, the water, the altitude, capturing natural yeast out in the environment. It's kind of spiritual in a way."

Inspired by the city's artsier side, I take a 20-minute car ride south, to the edge of Chapultepec, where I join an intimate tour of the house and studio of the late Mexican architect Luís Barragán, who won the second-ever Pritzker Prize in 1980. (You might also recognize his name from a recent New Yorker article about a contemporary conceptual artist who had Barragán's ashes compressed into a diamond, which she then tried to exchange for access to an architectural historian's private archives. Yikes.)

The aluminum facade of the Museo SoumayaThe aluminum facade of the Museo Soumaya

Appointments are a must here, and rightfully so: No room in Barragán's garden-facing urban retreat, finished in 1948, can hold more than a small huddle of guests at a time. The Modernist masterpiece's interiors—an ascetic blend of Mediterranean, pre-Hispanic, and North African influences—contain some of his most recognizable motifs: Catholic icons, horse statues, mirrored balls, cantilevered stairways to nowhere (they make good bookshelves), and peaceful Moroccan water features. But perhaps his favorite tool in the design box is the simplest: light. Sunlight streams through yellow glass, gilding an entire room. It bounces off a single bright pink wall and paints the space. It drapes corners in moody chiaroscuro shadows. This brush with Mexican architecture makes me daydream about south-of-the-border real estate. How do you say pied-à-terre en español?

Back in Roma Norte, I'm set to have dinner at Nudo Negro, a new restaurant from chefs Daniel Ovadía and Salvador Orozco. I begin with a walk up the staircase to the mezzanine open kitchen. The entire staff shouts “¡Buenas noches!" in unison and then makes me an amuse bouche of a duck skin gordita with fresh cheese, Sriracha, ancho and guajillo chilies, and cinnamon—quite a production for a single bite of food.

“We want people to remember their history, because in this city, it's easy to forget."

I head back downstairs for an onslaught of dishes that remix Mexican flavors using international preparations inspired by Ovadía's world travels: creamy pig's-head pozole appears in a xiaolongbao soup dumpling; wasabi mayo and Indonesian sambal liven up a chargrilled oyster topped with crispy beef shoulder and bone marrow; Michoacán-style mole tops a grilled octopus yaki onigiri.

“With Nudo Negro, we wanted to break everything," says Ovadía over a tabletop grill with Mexican Wagyu beef searing on a bed of smoldering avocado leaves, like some nouveau take on a fajita. “At the beginning, everybody thought I was betraying Mexico by combining, say, mole with something Chinese or Vietnamese. We used to cook for the critics—now we're cooking for ourselves and the customers." It's not lost on me that Queen's “I Want to Break Free" is playing over the stereo.

A waitress at Churrería El MoroA waitress at Churrería El Moro

After dinner, I work off the dozen or so forms of carbs—which also included Buffalo-style pig ears, oxtail bao buns, and duck, almond milk, and oyster mushroom dumplings—with a 15-minute walk north to Juárez. The unmarked subterranean Xaman Bar, recently ranked the best-designed bar in the Americas, is an ode to ancient shamanic culture. Upon entering, I face a sleek cabinet of curiosities—bonsais, terrariums, mummified baby crocodiles. The air is thick with the smoke of thyme, cinnamon, and rosemary, as bartenders shake and stir cocktails made with chilacayote squash, copal tree resin, oregano-like epazote, and sal de gusano (Oaxacan agave worm salt), served in hand-carved onyx cups or hollow gourds. Over my El Curandero—mezcal, dry curaçao, Aperol, lemon juice, fresh cilantro, agave syrup, tonic, and Tajín chili salt—I strike up a conversation with Indian-French bartender Abyshan Karuna.

“We want people to remember their history," he says, “because in this city, it's easy to forget." This old-meets-new vibe seems to seep into every facet of contemporary Mexican culture, and this bar perfectly captures that ethos: looking backward at its rich pre-Hispanic history, looking outward at global trends, looking inward at what makes Mexico City and its people tick. I'm a bit moved by it all. Or maybe that's just the mezcal talking.

Hemispheres executive editor Nicholas DeRenzo is still catching his breath from walking around in the super-high Mexico City altitude.


Independence Day celebrations in 5 countries

By Bob Cooper , June 22, 2018

Every country celebrates a birthday, and some celebrations are bigger than others. Here are five of the biggest birthday celebrations, which also happen to occur in the summer months in places worth paying a visit, birthday or not.

Toronto skyline

Canada Day – Canada

July 1 in Canada has a lot in common with its southern neighbor's celebration three days later. Many Canadian cities stage concerts, carnivals, parades and fireworks to celebrate the British Empire's 1867 recognition of the Dominion of Canada. Canada Day festivities in the capital city of Ottawa are the most robust, as the city center shuts down for the day for an acrobatic air show by the Snowbirds (the Royal Canadian Air Force's version of the Blue Angels), 10 hours of free concerts, a big fireworks show and a speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Even the color scheme is similar: red and white, but skip the blue.

Independence Day – USA

July 4 was the date in 1776 when colonists declared their independence from England—and Americans have been commemorating it since 1785 in Bristol, Rhode Island. That's the site of the oldest and longest celebration—three weeks of events that climax with a big parade and fireworks over Bristol Harbor. America's most-watched pyrotechnic spectacle is the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Show, best viewed from Manhattan's Lower East Side (or on NBC). The Fourth is also celebrated with a massive fireworks display in Washington, D.C., where crowds pack the National Mall to see them illuminate the monuments, and in Chicago where they're admired from Navy Pier as they dazzle over Lake Michigan.

Aerial view of Paris

Bastille Day – France

July 14 is the day when the 1789 “Storming of the Bastille" is celebrated. The rebellious act to free seven political prisoners was the flashpoint for the French Revolution, which ended the monarchy of Louis XVI. Celebrations in Paris conclude with fireworks that gush dramatically from the Eiffel Tower, best viewed from the adjacent Parc du Champ-de-Mars or from one of the nearby bridges over the Seine. A morning military parade on Champs-Elysees is also a Bastille Day tradition. Fireworks and other celebrations are enjoyed in many other French cities, too, including a big pyrotechnic show in Marseilles over the Mediterranean Sea.

National Day – Switzerland

August 1 was the date in 1291 that the Swiss Federal Charter was signed, uniting the three original cantons (states) of the Swiss Confederation that would become modern-day Switzerland. The Swiss only began observing the occasion on the 600th anniversary in 1891, but it's become a big deal. Parades, carnivals, traditional folk music performances and fireworks enliven many Swiss cities and towns on National Day, as do special brunches in many restaurants, public bonfires and the ringing of every church bell from 8:00 to 8:15 p.m. Festivities in Zurich are the biggest, although celebrations in Geneva, Bern, Lausanne and Basel are also exuberant.

Fine Arts Palace - Mexico City, Mexico

Independence Day – Mexico

September 16 is Mexico's Independence Day—not May 5, the date of a heroic battle and the excuse for so many Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. It was on September 16, 1810, when the rebellion that eventually toppled the Spanish colonial rulers began. The holiday is observed most heartily in Mexico City, where the biggest celebration, following a speech by President Enrique Peña Nieto, takes place in the massive Zócalo Square. But there are also celebrations in every part of the city and in every city in Mexico, typically featuring a parade, street parties and fireworks.

If you go

United Airlines offers numerous flights to all of these countries. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room and rental car once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to celebrate the birthday of a country.

United offers Star Alliance flight status information

By The Hub team , June 18, 2018

We're expanding the availability of flight status (FLIFO) information for our customers and employees. On June 14, we began offering access to flight status information for all Star Alliance member flights within the United app, and through Google Home and Amazon Alexa (e.g. "Alexa, ask United to check the status of my flight on Lufthansa").

We're committed to providing our customers and employees with the tools they need to ensure a seamless journey when connecting with our partners," said Alliance Partner Operations Senior Manager Katie Russell. "These enhancements will allow our employees to make real-time decisions for customers with connecting flights and provide our customers with easy access to information from partner carriers without requiring them to use another app.

While onboard United flights, customers can even check the most current status of their connecting Star Alliance member flight utilizing our complimentary access to the United app through United Wi-Fi℠, available on all mainline and two-cabin regional aircraft.

After a tragic accident, a father's lessons resonate with his daughter

By Matt Adams , June 16, 2018

As far as fatherly wisdom was concerned, there were a few things that Ramp Service Employee Allen Gullang was determined to pass along to his daughters, Heather and Amanda.

Under his guidance, they learned the importance of hard work and the virtue of putting the needs of others first. They also developed a love of the outdoors and of travel that bonds them as a family to this day. But it's what they learned from their dad when he didn't think they were looking that made the biggest impact of all.

On a snowy March afternoon 12 years ago, Allen and two of his ramp colleagues were driving home from their shift at O'Hare International Airport when a car drifted over the center line and hit them head on. The next thing Allen remembers is waking up in a hospital bed weeks later, lucky to be alive but left with permanent disabilities.

Heather, who was 10-years-old at the time, watched as her father fought his way through a year-long rehabilitation, re-learning how to walk and talk, slowly regaining his memories and putting his life back together, piece by piece. Though his frustrations mounted at times, his will never waned, a lesson in perseverance that Heather has not forgotten. It's one of the attributes that she brought with her when she joined United herself last December, realizing a life-long dream of following in Allen's footsteps.

In honor of Father's Day, watch the video above to hear the Gullangs' story of how a single moment forever changed their family, leading Heather to a greater admiration for the man she not only calls Dad, but also her colleague.

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A final farewell to the Queen of the Skies

By Benét J. Wilson , June 15, 2018

Have you ever wondered what happens to an aircraft after the end of its useful life? Well 13 lucky MileagePlus® members and two of our employees got to find out after winning an Exclusives auction.


The auction prize was a behind-the-scenes trip to Universal Asset Management's (UAM) facility in Tupelo, Mississippi, where our last four Boeing 747s are being disassembled and the parts prepared for recycling. It also included a champagne toast onboard N118UA, our last 747, and dinner under the stars with the Queen of the Skies.

As we arrived at the facility, adjacent to Tupelo Regional Airport, several of us were a little emotional when we saw the aircraft in different stages of disassembly. But in the company's lunch room — decked out with Malaysia Air first class seats, airplane art and a table made from a stabilizer — Keri Wright, UAM's CEO was firm about her company's mission. “We don't tear down or scrap aircraft. We focus on recycling," she stated. “Think of it like organ donation. These parts can help other aircraft continue to fly. And you are among the few people in the world to see all of this from behind the scenes."

We then headed to the facility's Global Distribution Center warehouse. The lobby of the facility featured our first class seats and galley carts, along with a tire rim-and-glass coffee table and a credenza/bar made from the window section of a 737 fuselage.

Wright, along with Senior Manager, Fleet Transactions Jim Garcia walked us through the warehouse and explained how parts were tracked and cataloged. Among the items we saw were two wrapped helicopters, Boeing 777 landing gears, 747 tire rims, thrust reversers and a cowling from the center engine of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10.

MileagePlus members walking around the last 747

When the warehouse tour ended, it was back to the airport facility. We went out on the tarmac and took pictures of the 747s, including the star of the show — N118UA. Though, all four jets' engines had been removed already.

After a series of photos, we climbed the air stair onto N118UA, where we were able to walk around. I had the honor of being on the last United 747 flight in November 2017, so I grabbed a glass of champagne and sat in my seat — 8C — one last time. We all joined in a final champagne toast to the jet, then deplaned for dinner.

One of the lucky winners was Eric Chiang, an economics professor at Florida Atlantic University, who brought his friend Vicky Chiu, who flew in from Hawaii. “We've been friends for years and we love to travel. I was onboard a flight to London and read a short newspaper article about this auction," he recalled. “We were about to take off and I called Vicky and asked her to bid on this event. I bid 168,000 miles, but got it for less.

Chiang and Chiu are both 1K flyers on United. “I expect to do around 15 international trips this year. I love United because they're able to reach more global destinations than any other airlines," said Chiang.

They both appreciated the chance to attend such a unique event. “Experiences like these are different. We really appreciate the chance for this behind-the-scenes event," said Chiang. “It was also a great chance to meet United executives and share feedback on what's going on at the airline."

MileagPlus members at the Exclusive event

John Ikeda, a United Global Services member who is approaching two million miles, brought his partner Michael Phelps to the event. He also read about the event in a newspaper article, but he also had a special reason for wanting to attend the 747 farewell.

At the last MileagePlus® Experiences auction, I won an altimeter that was on an older 747, and I wanted to see if I could trace where it came from," said Ikeda. “Jim Garcia was able to trace it for me. I was thrilled that I was able to see other parts from that same 747 in the UAM warehouse.

The event exceeded Ikeda's expectations. “I thought it would just be a warehouse tour, a walk on a plane and not much else," he said. “It was great to hear Keri and Jim discuss this side of the business. It was fascinating to learn that this place wasn't about scrapping aircraft, but giving them new life."

Although this event has passed, it's not too late to bid on hardware from N118UA, including single window and American flag cuts out and tail numbers. Join the MileagePlus® Exclusives email list to stay in the know on the hardware auction and other future events.

Bay Area youth surprised with spots in Warriors championship parade

By Ryan Hood , June 15, 2018

San Francisco-based Customer Service Manager O'Morris Adams has volunteered at local Boys & Girls Clubs for more than 20 years, so it wasn't a surprise when he stopped by one of the Bay Area clubhouses Monday afternoon.

This visit was about more than just spending time with local youth, though. O'Morris knew he would be in the Golden State Warriors championship parade on Tuesday, since as the official airline of the Warriors, United would have a float in the parade. So this particular visit to the club was to let two of its kids know they'd be joining him and two dozen of his United colleagues on the float, in the parade. Coolest field trip ever.

Watch the surprise and the unforgettable day that followed.

3 under the radar places to travel to in July

By Betsy Mikel , June 15, 2018

July is a popular travel month, which means you may be sharing your vacation with scores of fellow travelers if you choose to travel to a popular destination. This summer, expand your horizons and travel to these under-the-radar destinations for a more off-the-beaten-path experience.

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Sunset in Malm\u00f6, Sweden

Malmö, Sweden

When you think of Sweden, Stockholm and Gothenburg might be the first cities to come to mind, but Malmö is an underrated gem. Sweden's third-largest city blends medieval Scandinavian charm with modern urban appeal. Malmö sits on the southeast coast and is a 45-minute train ride or drive from Copenhagen, connected by the iconic Øresund Bridge.

This picturesque beach-side town was first established in the 13th century, but Malmö has undergone a massive revitalization over the last two decades. Walk along the cobblestone streets and take in beautiful old buildings and centuries-old statues alongside cutting-edge architecture, public art and plazas. The city has an abundance of greenery and parks, including five public beaches. Ribersborg Beach is the most visited beach and is a leisurely walk or bike ride from the city center.

Some of the city's most popular attractions include Malmö City Square, which you'll find in the heart of old town (Gamla Staden); St. Peter's Church, the oldest building in the city; and Malmöhus Castle, a 16th-century fortress and the oldest castle in Sweden. Explore the history of the castle and Renaissance art in the Malmö Art Museum inside the castle. The nearby Moderna Museet Malmö and Malmö Konsthall house permanent collections and exhibitions.

Malmö is also a worthwhile destination for foodies. National Geographic named it one of the best places to visit in 2018 thanks to its global food culture. From casual cafes and food carts to a few Michelin-starred restaurants, you can sample a variety of cuisines during your stay in Malmö.

Road between the mountains in Chachapoyas, Peru

Chachapoyas, Peru

Many flock to experience the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, but the high traffic of visitors is threatening the sustainability of the site. For those who want to visit an ancient marvel that's less trodden with tourists, Chachapoyas fits the bill. Archaeological and natural wonders abound in this region once inhabited by a pre-Incan civilization. Chachapoyas stands for “The Cloud Warriors," who called this region home about 1,500 years ago.

The town of Chachapoyas serves as a home base to explore several breathtaking sites of ancient Peru. This town is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Andes Mountains and a cloudy forest in northern Peru, and offers an opportunity to explore waterfalls, archeological ruins, burial sites and even a mummy museum.

There are also numerous treks for experienced hikers, including the Chachapoyas' mountaintop fortress Kuelap, built 600 to 900 years before Machu Picchu. Kuelap has largely flown under the radar because this region is so remote and it's difficult to cover much ground by foot or car. But cable cars installed last year make it possible to cover about 2.5 miles of Kuelap in just 20 minutes. When you disembark the cable car, you can explore the vast complex and the remains of hundreds of structures, homes, buildings and other remnants of the ancient Chachapoyas civilization.

Other attractions close to Chachapoyas include hiking to the Gocta Waterfall. It's one of the tallest waterfalls in the world and was only made known to the public in 2005. The Leymebamba Museum is also well worth a visit, housing mummies and other remains from the civilization that once thrived here.

Dusk over Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont

Best known for its vibrant fall foliage and top-rated ski resorts, Vermont can be easily overlooked as a summer destination. But there's still plenty to experience in July, especially in and around Burlington. Vermont's largest city is also home to the state's largest university. Visiting in July means you can expect fewer students crowding restaurants and bars, but no lack of shopping, entertainment and festivals. Burlington serves as an excellent hub for outdoor activities in the region.

The center of downtown Burlington is Church Street Marketplace. The open-air pedestrian-only mall spans four blocks and has over 100 major retailers, boutiques and restaurants with events and live entertainment. July's events include free concerts sponsored by Burlington City Arts, a farmer's market every Saturday, fitness classes and the month's biggest event for craft beer drinkers: The Vermont Brewers Festival, which features breweries from all over the state.

Nearby beaches include the beautiful sandy Blanchard Beach, the secluded Oakledge Cove and the picnic-perfect Leddy Beach with its grassy picnic areas, grills and tables. North Beach is Burlington's largest beach and the only one with active lifeguards on duty. You can also rent kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards at North Beach.

Getting there

United Airlines offers service from U.S. cities to Burlington International Airport. To travel to Malmö, it's more direct to fly to Copenhagen than Stockholm. Lima is the closest international airport to Chachapoyas. United and our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer service to Copenhagen and Lima from multiple U.S. cities. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your vacation to one of these under-the-radar destinations this July.

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Guide to Singapore: An island apart

By Bob Cooper

Singapore is about the size of New York City, and like The Big Apple, it's a small place surrounded by water, but packed with people, intriguing attractions and great restaurants.

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Gardens by the Bay at dusk.

Garden City

Singapore is more densely populated than New York City with 5.6 million people packed on the island, but tucked in the shadows of its 4,300 high-rises are two world-class gardens that have helped Singapore earn its nickname of “The Garden City." The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 200-acre oasis of green established in 1859 where the revered National Orchid Garden is one of dozens of unique gardens. In 2015, it became one of only three gardens to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An equally impressive contemporary take on botanic gardens is Gardens by the Bay, a waterfront collection of gardens, massive glass conservatories and the awe-inspiring Supertrees.

Cultural landmarks

The National Gallery Singapore opened in November 2015. The gallery holds the world's largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art displayed inside two stately buildings that previously served as City Hall and the Supreme Court during Singapore's British colonial days. A few blocks away on the waterfront are two iconic contemporary landmarks: the bowl-shaped ArtScience Museum (part of the $8-billion Marina Bay Sands casino and resort that opened in 2010) and Singapore's honeycomb-like performing arts center, Esplanade Theatres on the Bay.

Bak kut teh

Fusion of flavors

Singapore has a long history of colonization, occupation and trade with European and other Asian countries, which is reflected in the variety of cuisines expertly presented in its best restaurants. Of 37 Michelin-star restaurants in the city, five serve Japanese fare, eight serve Chinese food and, oddly enough, eight serve French cuisine. Surprisingly, none of the restaurants on the list serve uniquely Singaporean food, although you can get a taste of local favorites like Bak kut teh (pork rib soup) and Wanton Mee (noodles with pork dumplings) at the city's open-air street food markets.

Cool adventures

For a place that's so compact, Singapore offers a wealth of outdoor-activities. Most are found at the 10-mile-long, beach-hugging East Coast Park, where you can choose to hike, bike, swim or wakeboard. Further inland, you can take advantage of Singapore's distinction as one of only two cities in the world with a significant rainforest inside its boundaries. Hike the trails in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to reach the island nation's highest point, 537-foot Bukit Timah. Although there are more than 50 Singapore skyscrapers that are taller than this hilltop, taking the elevator to a top-floor bar just isn't the same.

Singapore's small island of Kusa.

Offshore islands

The island of Singapore has many of its own islands and islets, and the small islands of Kusu and Sentosa just off its southern shore have a lot to offer. Kusu, which means tortoise in Chinese, can be reached by ferry in one hour — the perfect day trip to escape Singapore's urban buzz. Kusu is known for its swimming lagoons, quiet beaches, Malay shrines and a tortoise sanctuary. Sentosa is quite different — a buzzy resort island accessible by monorail or a pedestrian bridge. It has its own beaches, spas, a world-class golf course and several adventure-oriented theme parks.

Practicalities

Singapore's equatorial location ensures warm weather year round as the average highs range from 86 to 90 each month. The monsoon season from November to January brings the most rain with about 11 inches per month compared to 6 inches the rest of the year. Singapore is also known for safety, and Tokyo is the only city worldwide that's considered safer. Hotel prices are comparable to New York City and London, and English is one of the official languages. Most Singaporeans speak English as their primary or secondary language, so no need to worry about anything being lost in translation.

If you go

United Airlines offers flights to Singapore from numerous U.S. cities, including nonstops from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and from cities worldwide. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your Singapore vacation.

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Tips for traveling with children

By The Hub team , June 12, 2018

Flying with kids can be a source of anxiety for parents. In addition to all the details you have to remember for yourself, you're also responsible for tiny travelers whose schedules and comfort zones can be disrupted when they take a trip.

We welcome families with children, and we do our best to make the experience smooth and comfortable. But, as many of our employees who travel with kids can attest, a little information goes a long way. We've outlined a few of our policies on child and infant travel here.

Ticketing and seat assignments

When you're looking at United's reservation system or policies, an infant is any child under two years old. Children under two can travel on an adult's lap without a seat assignment.

You'll need to add all children to your reservation regardless of their ages, but whether or not your infant gets a ticket depends on your itinerary. If you're traveling within the U.S., Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, your infant will not be a ticketed passenger; for all other destinations, you'll purchase an infant fare.

As soon as your child turns two, the child must have a ticket and occupy a seat. That means if you leave for your vacation before your child turns two, but return after the child's second birthday, the child will require a ticket for the return portion of your flight.

Another reason your young child might need a seat? Only one infant is allowed to sit on each adult's lap during the flight. That means if you're the only adult traveling with two or more children under two years old, you'll need to purchase seats for all but one of the children.

For all families that want to sit together, we recommend booking in advance and either choosing a fare category that lets you select seats, or purchasing advance seat assignments if you're flying on a Basic Economy ticket.

FAA-approved child restraint systems, child safety seats, and car seats manufactured after 1985 are safe to use, and necessary if your infant is traveling in his or her own seat. Booster seats, belly belts attached to adult seat belts, and vests or harnesses that hold an infant to an adult's chest cannot be used for safety reasons.

Traveling with strollers, breast pumps and other necessities

In addition to your normal baggage allowance, you can check a stroller free of charge. Some travelers prefer to use their strollers in the airport and check them at the gate, but be sure your stroller is collapsible. Strollers can't be carried onto the aircraft — you'll be able to pick up your stroller at the aircraft door in your connecting or destination city.

Nursing mothers are welcome to breastfeed or pump on United aircraft or in our facilities. In fact, many of our airports have dedicated rooms and Mamava nursing pods. Breast pumps are also allowed in addition to your normal carry-on baggage allowance.

Staying comfortable during the flight

Changing tables are available on many of our larger aircraft. Your flight attendant will be able to direct you to the correct lavatory.

On international flights, a complimentary bassinet may be available for use in flight, when the seatbelt sign is off. You can request bassinets by calling the United Customer Contact Center, which we recommend doing early since there are a limited number available.

For more on our policies, visit https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/special-needs/infants.html