Three Perfect Days: Milan

Three Perfect Days: Milan

By The Hub team , September 24, 2014

Story by Clodagh Kinsella | Photography by Susan Wright | Hemispheres, September 2014

Italy's financial hub may not have the historical flourishes of cities like Rome, Venice and Florence, but scratch its famously stylish surface and you'll find a wealth of world-class art, architecture and design

Moneyed, modern and relentlessly chic, Milan can seem a little un-Italian to the first-time visitor. Large swaths of the city were rebuilt after World War II, so it lacks the sheer concentration of historical landmarks found in other Italian destinations. As a local saying has it: “Rome is a voluptuous woman whose gifts are very apparent, while Milan is the shy, demure girl whose treasures are plentiful but discovered in time."

“Shy" might be pushing it, but Milan's businesslike facade does mask a rich past. Founded in 400 B.C., this former capital of the Western Roman Empire has been reshaped by a procession of rulers, from the Viscontis, beginning in the 13th century, to Mussolini in the 20th—influences marked by the Gothic spires of the Duomo and the blunt Rationalism of the Triennale. You'll find many beautiful architectural landmarks as you make your way around Milan—if you can drag your eyes away from the beautiful people.

Mostly, of course, Milan is celebrated for its style—its fashion weeks showcasing storied labels like Armani and Prada, and the Salone del Mobile furniture fair. As one of the “big four" fashion capitals, Milan boasts unrivaled luxury shopping in plush enclaves like the Quadrilatero della Moda. It's not surprising, then, that this multifaceted city is set to host the 2015 Universal Exposition: technology, culture, creativity and tradition are subjects Milan knows well.

DAY ONE | For centuries, the Virgin Mary atop the Duomo dominated Milan's skyline, but from your suite at Palazzo Parigi, you look out on a new kind of iconography: the high-concept skyscrapers of the Porta Nuova business district. Your hotel goes a more traditional route. Situated in a 17th-century palace, it was transformed over the last five years into an imperial property strewn with antique statuary, elaborate chandeliers and acres of Carrara marble.

Breakfast arrives on wheels. You pick at slivers of exotic fruit and a delicate omelet on your private terrace, and then prepare yourself for a crash course in Milanese design. You've opted to get around today on the back of a slick Garibaldi 71, rented from storied bicycle maker Rossignoli. At the company's Brera store, fifth-generation scion Matia Bonato uses a 20-foot pole to pluck the bike from a lofty ceiling rack. “It's not about strength," he says, “but technique."

A streetcar in artsy NavigliA streetcar in artsy Navigli

From here, you judder over cobblestones to Parco Sempione, where you pause to take in the sprawling 15th-century fortification Castello Sforzesco and the 19th-century Arco della Pace. You lock your bike at the foot of Torre Branca, the 350-foot steel-tube viewing tower designed by architect Gio Ponti for the 1933 Triennale. “You know Santa Maria delle Grazie, where they keep 'The Last Supper'?" says the elevator operator on the way up. “My local church."

At the Triennale museum next door, there's more ingenious Italian design on display, including the Olivetti typewriter and the Bialetti stovetop espresso pot. You pay homage to the latter with a coffee overlooking the sculpture garden. Giorgio de Chirico's hypnotic “water-parquet" installation leaves you a little woozy, so you decide to move on to a more utilitarian form of design.

Studio Museo Achille Castiglioni, honoring the inventor of the swooping 1960s “Arco" floor lamp, is less museum than time capsule—its tractor-seat stools, arch-lever files and quirky cutlery left untouched since the designer died in 2002. “I had a terrible childhood," says the designer's daughter, Giovanna, your tour guide. “Because my father loved everyday objects, he always stole my toys." She pulls out a VLM light switch, Castiglioni's ubiquitous design. “He'd carry it around in his pocket. You'd always know where he was by the clicking."

You trade your bike for the metro and emerge in Zona Tortona, a former industrial district that's reinvented itself as a design mecca, home to Armani's head offices and the famous furniture fair. You navigate its narrow, graffitied streets in search of Da Noi In, which is known for its inspired seafood dishes. In a stunning outdoor courtyard, you sample a platter of house-smoked swordfish, tuna and salmon, served with Ligurian olives, followed by aromatic potato gnocchi in a bright basil cream.

Modern designs at the Museo Achille CastiglioniModern designs at the Museo Achille Castiglioni

A postprandial stroll through bohemian Navigli, with its network of canals—the highway system of medieval Milan—makes room for dessert: an apricot gelato from the artisanal chain Grom. From here, you veer north to slow food mall Eataly, where you join shoppers browsing three floors of giant hams, vats of olive oil and chocolate waterfalls, or mainlining piadine flatbread in the eateries along its perimeter. You nurse a prosecco, serenaded by a trio of electric guitarists with gray Afros and a liberal approach to the question of tone.

Next, you stroll down the pedestrian shopping strip Corso Como, emerging into Piazza Gae Aulenti, Porta Nuova's central plaza, which—a plaque informs you—is meant to serve as a contemporary Roman forum. Eyeing the undulating UniCredit Tower, a young man in front of you cries: “I feel nothing!" Judging by the square's many pop-up bars, and the happy chatterers therein, he's in the minority.

An endless elevated walkway deposits you at Ristorante Berton, Friuli-born chef Andrea Berton's sleek testament to restraint. Surrounded by men in thick-rimmed glasses (a Fashion Week hangover), you polish off six first-rate courses, including a dish of baby scallops and licorice that resembles a Yayoi Kusama dot painting. And that, you decide, is enough conceptual flair for one day. You head back to your hotel and the soothing strains of classical piano drifting through the lobby.

The Triennale's kaleidoscopic tower

The Triennale's kaleidoscopic tower

DAY TWO  | Milan's status as a design capital doesn't just rest on skyscrapers and showrooms; its historic monuments were just as innovative in their day. This classical spirit drives you to the iconic Pasticceria Marchesi, which has been serving up pastries since 1824. Following tradition, you settle up first, then wait as an angelic white-haired lady hands you cannoncini—cream-filled puff pastry horns. At the café's tiny bar, women with la Rinascente shopping bags drown out the clink of porcelain, nibbling their confections with a restraint you can't muster.

Sugar level high, you speed-shuffle down Corso Magenta to Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to “The Last Supper," or “Il Cenacolo"—Leonardo da Vinci's depiction of Christ breaking bread and brokering betrayal. Your guide, Alice, who runs Viator's art tour, steers you through the Dominican convent's hidden cloister. You spot a monk in flowing white robes studying a Bible. “They always tell me I should talk less and pray more," says Alice in a respectful whisper.

Hushed reverence seems the apt response as you stand before the painting. Unlike the fresco opposite, Leonardo's work was applied directly onto dry wall, which is the reason for its fragility (and your 15-minute viewing slot), but also for its celebrated vividness. You note how light from the refectory windows suffuses the painting's edge, seeming to expand the room's dimensions. Alice nods and says, “It's the Renaissance doing 3-D."

Art and religion also intersect at San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, whose low-key exterior belies the splendor inside: a seamless patchwork of luminous 16th-century devotional paintings. Next, you make your way to the dazzling Santa Maria presso San Satiro, off Via Torino, whose sole devotee is a businessman, head bowed, a briefcase at his feet. Your final stop on the tour is San Giovanni in Conca, Milan's last remaining Romanesque crypt, surreally hidden beneath the traffic-clogged Piazza Missori.

Personal shopper Melanie Payge

La Latteria, on Via San Marco, is equally overlooked by guidebooks. Old milk stores of its kind are dying out, but the blue-tiled, eight-table joint—covered in pictures of flowers—overflows. “Congratulations," booms a regular as you take your seat. “You've found Milan's last authentic restaurant!" You try the signature Crudaiola All Arturo Con Burgul, an assortment of market-fresh vegetables with glugs of olive oil and bulgur wheat, and follow it up with ice cream and stewed apples. Given the no-reservations policy, newcomers rush your table as you exit.

As you approach the second hotel of your stay, the Bulgari, you are overtaken by brash supercars racing up its private lane. Beyond the hotel gates, though, you find verdant grounds adjoining the city's Orto Botanico and interiors of oak, bronze and matte black marble. Bulgari's first foray into the hotel field is a surprisingly calming space—not least its plush basement spa, where you enjoy an hour-long massage before dipping into the golden, mosaic-lined pool.

Italians are known for their ability to take it easy, and there's no better example of this impulse than the Duomo. The cathedral, characterized by a mish-mash of styles and influences, took nearly six centuries to complete (locals call it their “never-ending story"). On the roof, amid a forest of spires, you are treated to a view of Milan's equally eclectic skyline, dominated by the Modernist monolith the Pirelli Tower and the bulging, buttressed Torre Velasca, famous for taking Brutalist architecture to new heights.

You see pigeons dive-bombing shoppers as you enter the crucifix-shaped Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which opened in 1867 and is said to be the world's oldest mall. Campari was invented below the mall's glass-vaulted roof, so you order the carmine-colored beverage at Camparino in Galleria, which sets you up for a whirlwind perusal of the futurist art in Museo del Novocento, a quick totter across Piazza del Duomo.

Dinner is at the colorful Giacomo Arengario, located at the top of the museum's Guggenheim-like spiral ramp. You have seared tuna steak served with umami-rich asparagus parmigiano, which you munch while taking in an epic close-up view of the Duomo. Back outside, you are surprised to find yourself alone, gazing up at the astonishingly dense concentration of spires. Happy voices lure you back toward the terrace bars lining the shopping arcade. There's time for one more Campari before bed.

The elegant interior of La ScalaThe elegant interior of La Scala

DAY THREE | You wake on soft cotton sheets in your handsome suite, pad over to the spacious walk-in closet and pluck today's outfit from impressively heavy oak hangers. Suitably attired, you head to the Armani Hotel's Bamboo Bar, with its louvered windows looking over the city's rooftops and women in crisp white shirts downing espressos. Milan may be fashion-obsessed, but food still counts: You kick off your day with slices of robust Culatello di Zibello, the king of Italian cured hams, alongside artisanal rolls and a brut prosecco.

You have more style-watching in store today, much of it overseen by personal shopper Melanie Payge, whose clients have included the royal family of Monaco. You start your journey on chic Via Manzoni, passing a lady in precipitous heels walking four dogs. In two seconds flat, your guide identifies the brand of your sweater (Jil Sander) and then deconstructs a man sporting the classic Milanese look of navy blazer, beige pants and loafers: “Larusmiani," she says, referring to the oldest luxury tailor on the luxe Via Montenapoleone. “That's where they all go."

You enter Gianluca Saitto's Brera boutique to a flurry of baci. “He's the new Armani," whispers Melanie as you explore an array of medieval-style tunics and rock 'n' roll jackets. Roberto Musso's hand-painted Como-silk dresses and Massimo Izzo's baroque aquatic jewelry are just as exclusive. Izzo, a brooding Sicilian, fits a weighty, double-finger seahorse ring onto your hand, and it feels like long-lost treasure dredged from the ocean floor.

Federico Sangalli's Piazza San Babila atelier transports you to the age of haute couture. Here, rows of elderly seamstresses work on pedal-operated machines, using 1950s techniques to create handcrafted clothing for Milanese society ladies. “When I took over the family business, we had perfect technique but an old language," says Sangalli. Then he cuts the lights to demonstrate his latest sartorial innovation: a fiber-optic, glow-in-the-dark silk gown. “When I saw the fabric," he recalls dreamily, “I said, 'I must create a dress.'"

Shoppers in front of a Gucci store on Via MontenapoleoneShoppers in front of a Gucci store on Via Montenapoleone

Your next stop is Melanie's favorite lunch spot, Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone, which occupies the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum's neo-Renaissance courtyard. Gilded youths swap gossip over homemade pasta—for which the restaurant and delicatessen justifiably are famed—while the owner smokes a fat cigar on the sidelines. Transfixed, you consume a generous plate of spinach and ricotta tortellini with butter and sage. Like the venue's supermodel clientele, it's beautifully sleek and light.

You continue your immersion in the good life at Villa Necchi Campiglio, a 1930s residence designed by Piero Portaluppi that now serves as a shrine to the decorative arts. You wander through a series of sublime rooms bedecked in walnut parquet, rosewood and lapis lazuli, their progressive Art Deco lines softened by 19th-century interiors. There is something dreamlike about the place, and you drift around blissfully unaware that you're running short on time for your last stop of the night.

It seems fitting that you'd end your stay in Milan at the iconic Teatro alla Scala—La Scala—the spiritual home of opera, Italy's defining art. The exquisite neoclassical theater opened in 1778 with a performance by Antonio Salieri. Tonight, you'll be seeing “Così fan tutte" by Mozart, the composer who drove Salieri into a downward spiral of pathological jealousy.

The Palazzo Parigi hotel, which occupies a 17th-century palaceThe Palazzo Parigi hotel, which occupies a 17th-century palace

There's little time for dinner before the show, but the Italians have elevated the aperitivo into a compelling substitute—not least at the Bulgari. You sip the hotel's gin- and Aperol-laced namesake cocktail at a secluded garden table, while demolishing a tray of salty focaccia, rich almonds, golfball-size mozzarella bocconcini and prosciutto piadine. That's the body taken care of—now for the soul.

Upon entering La Scala, Stendhal is said to have succumbed to the syndrome named for him—the lavish gilt-and-crimson décor overwhelming his emotions so thoroughly he had a breakdown. While you don't swoon with appreciation at the sight of the theater, it is impressive, more so when the music swirls around the room. Soon, though, you find your attention flitting between the lovers on stage and the mise-en-scène of Milanese socialites at play, unsure which is the more compelling.

Keyed up by the opera and the sudden roar of scooters radiating from La Scala's steps, you walk a hundred yards to the still-lit Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. You're intending to make a final sweep of its elegant naves (and maybe satisfy your newfound Campari itch) but instead stop at the entrance, distracted by two workmen buffing its façade. The curtain has fallen at La Scala, but Milan is already prepping for tomorrow's show.

Antwerp-based writer Clodagh Kinsella has decided to rethink her wardrobe since returning from Milan.

This article was written by Clodagh Kinsella from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The day off: Washington D.C.

By The Hub team

Story by Ellen Carpenter | Hemispheres, December 2018

Politics, finance, tech, no matter: Deals happen in D.C. at every hour. But if you find yourself on a business trip with a rare free day, consider yourself lucky: The city has never been cooler.

9 a.m.

Wake up in your spacious room at the InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf, with floor-to-ceiling views of sailboats gliding down the Washington Channel, and forget for a moment that the craziness of Capitol Hill is just five miles away. Snap a photo of the waterfall chandelier in the lobby before popping next door for a delicious egg and bacon biscuit sandwich at Dolcezza, the first outpost of the D.C. mini-chain to offer a full breakfast menu.

Photo by Mark DeLong

10 a.m.

Hop a cab to the National Portrait Gallery, where you can take a selfie with Barack Obama (well, Kehinde Wiley's depiction of the 44th president) before viewing an entire exhibit on the art of the selfie, Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today, which features works by James Amos Porter, Elaine de Kooning, and more. Afterward, muse on the concept of identity under the undulating glass ceiling in the gallery's stunning Kogod Courtyard.

Photo provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/gift of Dorothy Porter Wesley

1 p.m.

Take the Metro's Green Line up to U Street for a taste of Little Havana at Colada Shop. The small counter spot dispenses flaky empanadas, decadent Cubanos, and the café's namesake—four shots of espresso commingling with sweet Cuban crema. You know you want one.

3 p.m.

Time to hit the National Mall and work off that caffeine injection. Every winter, the fountain at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden becomes an ice rink, where you can take in Alexander Calder's Cheval Rouge and Louise Bourgeois's Spider while practicing your triple lutz.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

5 p.m.

Cab over to the Kennedy Center for the free 6 p.m. show at Millennium Stage, offered every single night as part of the cultural hub's Performing Arts for Everyone initiative. Whether it's modern dance, West African blues, or experimental theater, it'll broaden your horizons.

Photo by Teresa Wood

7:30 p.m.

Give in to your carb cravings at the Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat, a relaxed yet polished restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Toss back the complimentary shrub (tart!) and then dive into the red fife brioche (topped with chicken liver mousse, blueberry marmalade, and wood sorrel) and goat lasagna with tomato, anchovy, and salsa verde.

9:30 p.m.

Catch a ride to Blagden Alley—a historic area that used to house the stables and workshops behind stately row houses—for a cocktail at Columbia Room, a lounge that has topped every best-of list imaginable. Score a seat in the leather- and mahogany-lined Spirits Library and order a Maryland, made with rye, applejack, and chartreuse. Then get another.

Photo by Karlin Villondo Photography

3 under the radar places to visit in December

By Betsy Mikel

With the end of the year approaching, it's time to utilize those unused vacation days. If you're not traveling for the holidays, take an excursion to one of these under-the-radar destinations. Treat your family to fun in the sun in Florida, kick back on an island in Mexico that takes relaxation seriously, or take advantage of the slow season at a popular Arizona national park.

Isla Holbox, Mexico

For a leisurely vacation to relax on uncrowded beaches

Seeking a destination where you can unplug and sink your toes into the sand while surrounded by natural beauty? Isla Holbox is the spot. This laid-back island sits on the northwest tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It boasts spectacular beaches with endless turquoise ocean views.

What to do

Pack your flip-flops and beach reads for a seriously laid-back trip to Isla Holbox. Come here to sit on the beach (or in a hammock) while you kick back and relax as you've never relaxed before. Enjoy spectacular beaches without crowds.

Isla Holbox is small — just 26 miles long and one mile wide, with only 2,000 full-time residents. Bright colors and painted murals throughout the area evoke a bohemian vibe. Instead of cars, most people get around by golf cart or bike. (In fact, its taxi cabs are actually golf carts.) Isla Holbox won't give you the lively nightlife of popular tourist destinations like nearby Cancun, but there are plenty of beachside bars serving cocktails, food vendors and restaurants serving fresh Mexican fare.

Go on a wildlife excursion to spot whale sharks, crocodiles or flamingos. Head to the Yum-Balam Nature Reserve to see other exotic animals.

Getting there

The closest airport is Cancun (CUN). From Cancun, head to Chiquila, where you can take the ferry to Isla Holbox.

St. Petersburg, Florida

A family-friendly beach destination for fun in the sun

With award-winning beaches offering 35 miles of sand along Tampa Bay, calm waters and plenty of sun, St. Petersburg is quickly gaining momentum as a warm-weather destination for families. Downtown is home to many shops, restaurants, bars and unique attractions, such as an impressive Salvador Dali museum.

What to do

St. Pete beaches are known for their calm, warm and shallow waters. Add 360 days of sunshine per year and an average temperature of 73 degrees, and it's surprising that this sunny beach city still flies under the radar. Keep it laid back by relaxing on the shore, or bump up the action by parasailing, windsurfing or kiteboarding.

After a day of R&R, head downtown to enjoy the lively St. Petersburg culture and nightlife. There are 35 local craft breweries to choose from and many seafood restaurants ranging from casual fare to upscale. The most extensive collection of Salvador Dali's artwork outside of Europe resides in The Dalí Museum. You can even meet a local celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium — Winter the dolphin starred in the Dolphin Tale movies and is famous for her prosthetic tail.

Getting there

United offers direct service to Tampa / St. Petersburg (TPA) from many U.S. cities.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

To have one of the most magnificent national parks (almost) to yourself

Though the weather is crisp and the temperature a few degrees chillier, the sun shines all month long at Grand Canyon National Park. Traveling here during the low season means fewer visitors will crowd your panoramic views of one of the world's largest canyons and most magnificent natural wonders.

What to do

From scenic drives to backcountry hiking, visiting in the winter makes for a more tranquil and peaceful adventure. The South Rim remains open all year round. The national park offers many trails to view the Colorado River snaking through snow-dusted temples and buttes. Try to catch at least one sunset or sunrise, and be sure to arrive with enough time to stake out a good vantage point. The visitors center and park website have recommendations for the best spots.

Ride the Grand Canyon Railway and travel back in time. A 64-mile stretch of railroad has been transporting passengers from the South Rim to the small town of Williams, Arizona, since 1901. The historic train has an observation dome car to catch the spectacular scenery and even has Wild West-themed entertainment aboard. Every evening in December, the Grand Canyon Railway transforms into the Polar Express and makes a stop at the North Pole where Santa boards the train to greet everyone.

Getting there

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is the closest major international airport to the South Rim. United offers service to Phoenix (PHX) from multiple U.S. cities.

For details and to book your trip, visit united.com or use the United app. Don't forget to share your story on social media with the #MyUnitedJourney hashtag once you arrive.

Evolving our brand design

By The Hub team , December 05, 2018

The United brand is heading in a new direction as we evolve the colors and patterns we use. Where did these new colors come from, exactly? Check out the video below to learn about the research, logic and thoughtfulness that went into this evolution as we took inspiration from the spaces around us, the environments we work in, our heritage, the United globe and much more.

Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Riviera Maya

By The Hub team

Story by Jordan Heller | Photography by Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock | Hemispheres, December 2018

There is some dispute as to how Playa del Carmen, the metropolitan heart of the Riviera Maya just 40 miles south of Cancún, got its name. Some say it's after Our Lady of Carmel, the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelites. But the more compelling story is the one told by locals.

Search flights

As legend has it, in the 1970s and '80s, when the area first became a destination, tourists traveling by boat from neighboring Cozumel would disembark in Playa—then known as Xaman-Ha—on their way to the ruins of Tulum. A local Maya woman named Carmen would happily invite these travelers into her modest home for a traditional meal of fresh-caught seafood. She may not have had any experience with immaculate conception, but when it comes to Playa, this Carmen is definitely a matron saint. Today, her spirit can be felt throughout the Riviera Maya, which also includes the village of Tulum, the ruins of Cobá, and a number of small Maya communities on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán Peninsula where, if you're lucky, a woman not unlike Carmen will happily invite you into her home for a meal.

Day 1

Exploring a Maya temple, befriending a butler and feasting on cochinita pibil

I eat grasshoppers for breakfast. No, this is not my way of saying I know how to handle a subordinate. I'm literally eating toasted grasshoppers sprinkled onto a dish of huevos rancheros with green tomatillo salsa, hoja santa, and goat cheese. I've just woken up at Playa del Carmen's Rosewood Mayakoba, which is perhaps the most luxurious resort I've ever stayed in (and I'm a travel writer). There's a private heated plunge pool outside my back door looking over a secluded lagoon, a spa Forbes rated one of the best in the world, and Tavo, my personal butler, who is at my beck and call through a Rosewood messaging app.

The sikil-p'aak tomato salad at La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen

A bottle of tequila and some toothpaste?

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Despite all this luxury, I'm eating bugs—albeit with a Bloody Mary at a beachside restaurant overlooking the Caribbean. The toasted grasshoppers are crunchy (like perfectly burnt popcorn), incredibly delicious, and an appropriately indigenous start to a morning in which I'll be exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization.

After traveling inland to the village of Cobá, I trade my rental car for a “Maya taxi." It's the Yucatán version of a rickshaw—a padded bench fashioned atop the front wheel of a bicycle with a beach umbrella protecting me from the rain. My driver, Gustino, is transporting me through a mile of jungle and more than a millennium back in time, to the Late Classic (AD 550–830) Maya ruin of the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. The dirt path bustles with all manner of tourists riding Maya taxis, pedaling rented beach cruisers, or walking, excitedly talking about the sites of this ancient city in English, Spanish, German, Russian, and who knows what else.

As Gustino struggles to pedal through a particularly rough patch of mud, I ask him what nationality of tourist is the hardest to transport.

The Ixmoja pyramid at Cobá

“The Germans," he says. “It's not that they're overweight. They're just a very sturdy people. Americans are preferred: very easygoing and friendly people. Everybody wants an American fare."

When we arrive at Nohoch Mul, the panoply of tourists is suddenly speaking the same language: speechless. At 138 feet tall, the sheer scale of this temple is rivaled only by the gleaming hotels going up on the coast. But out here in the Cobá jungle, after I break the canopy and reach Nohoch Mul's summit, it's nothing but green as far as the eye can see, under which is apparently some 30 square miles of ancient city, most of it still obscured by the jungle. I'm told that just 5 percent of Cobá has been excavated since the project started in the 1970s.

"Today, if you come early in the morning, you find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."

“And what did they do with this little platform?" I ask Diego Viadero, my knowledgeable Tours by Locals guide, who's been schooling me on all manner of Maya history.

“Ah, yes," he says. “That's where the rulers would offer sacrifices to the gods, in hopes that they could avoid a collapse of the city."

“You mean like in the movie Apocalypto, where they chopped off the heads?" I ask.

“Just like in Apocalypto," says Viadero, doing his best to hold back an eye-roll. “Today, if you come early in the morning, you'll find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."

“Do you think it's enough?" I ask, making the comparison to the more (ahem) substantial offerings of yore. Let the eye-rolling commence.

The Rosewood Mayakoba's Sense Spa

Next, Viadero takes me to Nojoch Keej, which is Mayan for El Venado Grande, which is Spanish for “The Big Deer." It's a sanctuary for endangered animals run by a Maya man named Manuel Poot Dzib out of his back yard in the village of Nuevo Durango. Poot Dzib started the sanctuary in 2005, after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the habitats of many local animals. He now looks after bees (which produce honey that's said to have healing qualities), white-tail deer, paca, curassow, and ocellated turkeys, which he aims to repopulate in areas that are protected from hunters. From the looks of these turkeys, I think ocellated must be Mayan for peacock. They're vibrant, multicolored, and beautiful to look at.

"Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my cocktail to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon."

Poot Dzib asks us to stay for lunch, which is great, because I'm starving. “We're having cochinita pibiles muy delicioso," he adds, giving off some of that Carmen spirit.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that cochinita pibil is not Spanish for ocellated turkey. It's achiote-marinated pork that's been cooking with banana leaf in a hole in the ground in Poot Dzib's front yard since 8 this morning.

“They normally only do this for the Day of the Dead or other special occasions," Viadero says as we watch Poot Dzib remove the dirt and corrugated metal covering his subterranean oven.

A home-cooked meal, Maya-style

“We used to cover it with banana leaf instead of metal, but that's a much harder and longer process," says Poot Dzib. “This is more modern."

Modern? I'm not so sure, but I grant Poot Dzib that it's certainly an update. In any event, when put on a handmade tortilla with pickled onions and habanero, this cochinita pibil is definitely mouthwatering.

I say “Taakulak k'iin" (“See ya later" in Mayan) to Poot Dzib and his ocellated turkeys and head back to the Rosewood, where Tavo the butler awaits with that bottle of tequila, plus some fresh lime juice and agave nectar for mixers.

Gracias, Tavo!

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my drink to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon. Just one cocktail, however, as I'm hopping onto my complimentary beach cruiser (every guest gets one) to take a spin around the property, where geckos, iguanas, and even a tarantula skitter into the mangroves as I come rolling down the jungle path.

Appetite sufficiently worked up, I'm off to the Rosewood's La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen, where executive chef Juan Pablo Loza serves a communal dinner of Maya-inspired dishes with a contemporary touch. Seated at a long wooden table with 17 other guests, I ask the chef what he's learned from the local Maya villages, which he visits often to pick up cooking techniques.

“My top lesson from the Maya is less about food than it is about perspective," he says, before recounting a delicious meal he had with one family. “The woman who cooked for me had referred to her neighbor as poor. I found it an odd comment, because the assumption in a Maya village is that nobody is exactly rich. 'Why do you say your neighbor is poor?' I asked. She said because she has no family and no garden. If you don't have a garden, you can't get food from it, and if you don't have a family you have nobody to share it with. For them, having a family and a connection to nature is what it means to be rich."

“And now you have this beautiful garden," I say, pointing to his planters of lemongrass.

“And a family, too," he replies. “Including a daughter named Maya."

And then we feast. There's grilled octopus with black recado and burnt lime vinaigrette, zarandeado-style lobster, roasted plantains, and a k'úum salad of squash, arugula, orange, oregano, and ocosingo cheese, finished off with fresh fruits in guava honey and lemongrass.

Tavo, I'm stuffed! Turn out the light and have a pot of coffee waiting for me in the morning, please.

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Day 2

Scaling ruins, swimming in cenotes, and taking a turn on the karaoke mic

Gran Cenote

In the small village square outside Tulum National Park, the Voladores de Papantla are performing their ancient fertility ritual, or rain ceremony—named an “intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO. Five men in traditional bright red pants and flowing white blouses with multicolored adornments sit atop a 90-foot pole. The man in the center taps an adagio beat on a simple drum and blows a gentle bird-like tune on a wooden flute while the other four men tie ropes around their waists. When the musician ups the tempo to allegretto, the other two men fall backward, like scuba divers dropping into water, and slowly descend upside down in a merry-go-round fashion, the spinning top ceding rope like a reel feeding line to a fish. It's absolutely beautiful.

On a path cutting through the mangroves and almond trees on the way to the park entrance, a guide shares a mnemonic device that will be helpful should I run into any venomous coral snakes: “red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack." I assume I'm a Jack.

"The water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly out of the cave floor."

Thankfully, there are no snakes to be seen in the ancient Maya city of Tulum, an open patch of manicured lawns and stone ruins protected by walls to the north, west, and south, and an ocean reef to the east. Or so it was protected until around 1500, when the Spanish came ashore. This beachside community, established circa 1200, was populated by a few hundred of Tulum's elite (and the sea turtles that still come ashore to lay their eggs), with thousands of people living outside the walls. It wasn't until the 20th century, when archaeologists began studying the region's various Maya sites, that we began to understand how advanced their civilization was—especially in the area of astronomy. As I walk the city's white gravel paths, I can imagine a well-heeled society covered in jade and obsidian jewelry enjoying the same ocean breeze and studying the same night sky. One glance at the view, and it's clear the Maya knew something about real estate. This plot right here, with a lighthouse perched on the cliff, would go for a boatload of jade and obsidian.

Maya ruins at Tulum

After fortifying my stomach with a few al pastor tacos (don't forget the guacamole) at Tropi Tacos in Tulum Pueblo, I meet back up with Diego Viadero for a drive out to Sistema Sac Actun (White Cave System), one of the world's largest underground cave systems, a 164-mile maze of freshwater flowing through subterranean limestone. This afternoon, we're exploring just one mile of the system. The rain-conjuring Voladores de Papantla must be in top form lately; the water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly (less than 10 centimeters every 1,000 years) out of the cave floor and reaching up toward stalactites hanging like icicles from the cave ceiling. It's like the setting of a science fiction movie, so otherworldly I try to prolong my stay by floating as slowly as the calcium deposits are forming in front of me.

“Be careful," says Viadero, as I get a little too close to a stalagmite that's been a million years in the making. “You wouldn't want to break it."

IK Lab

“I certainly wouldn't want that on my conscience," I agree.

After emerging from a cenote (a natural sinkhole where groundwater is exposed to the sky), I offer an adiós to Viadero and make my way to Tulum's Route 15—the narrow street that cuts through the jungle, parallel to the shore, and is lined with trendy restaurants, bars, and “eco-chic" (their word, not mine) hotels. Twenty years ago, this strip wasn't much, but now there's not a speck of beachfront that isn't occupied by an Instagram-ready boutique property. (The number of rope swings is astounding.) In recent years, Route 15 has played host to Demi Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Gina Rodriguez, Reese Witherspoon, and, after today, me. I'm staying at Sanará, a stylish wellness hotel that attracts young and hip sunworshippers from around the world who like partying and yoga in equal measure.

A shop on Tulum's Route 15

I check into my beachside room (furnished with my very own yoga mat and dream catcher), flop down on the bed, and open up the “Wellness Menu." On offer are a Pudzyah Mayan Healing that “transforms pain to love at the cellular level … It harmonizes your DNA by applying fractal geometry energy"; a Multivibrational Massage and Chakra Balancing; and a Solar Plexus Healer. I opt for the complimentary “Sound Bath" of light yoga and didgeridoo before balancing out my chakras with a burger, a beer, and some fresh ceviche at Clan Destino.

This laid-back spot is all about the ambience: a wooden deck with chandeliers hanging from the jungle canopy and a cenote smack dab in the middle of the club, should you need refreshing after one too many cervezas. The bar offers a free shot of mezcal for those who take a turn on the karaoke mic (“Suspicious Minds" for me, thank you very much); after accepting my applause and draining my shot, I turn the glass over on the bar and take the plunge.

Day 3

Floating down a canal, swimming in the Caribbean, and eating gelato on the beach

A cabana at Mía

At The Real Coconut, Sanará's beachside restaurant, I dig into a light breakfast of coffee and avocado toast (piled high like Nohoch Mul with a squirt of lime and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes). It's a deliciously healthy start to a morning that's going to include traipsing through the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve and swimming in Laguna Chunyaxché.

At Sian Ka'an—a protected area of tropical forest, marshes, and lagoons about a 40-minute drive from my hotel—I follow my guide, Joaquin Balam of Community Tours, down the narrow boardwalk of Sendero Muyil, which cuts through a forest of zapote and ficus trees. I'm told there are jaguars, pumas, and howler monkeys about, as well as some 330 species of birds.

“Are those the howler monkeys?" I ask of a muted rumbling in the distance.

"We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling."

“Oh no," says Balam. “When you hear them, you'll know it."

The closest we get to this array of wildlife, however, is some jaguar claw marks on a ficus tree. By the looks of the marks, I'm happy that we're strolling alone.

Baby back ribs at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club

At the end of the path, we reach the sandy shoreline of Laguna Chunyaxché, a bright body of water that reflects both the green wetlands and the blue sky above. We cross the lagoon by boat, to a shoreline of mangroves and seagrass, and step onto a dock at the entrance to a canal.

“Take your life vest off and wear it like this," Balam says, putting his legs through the arm holes of the vest, as if it were a diaper.

“If you say so."

Balam jumps into the canal and I follow, and I immediately understand the Baby Huey getup. We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling as our seemingly weightless bodies travel down the canal. Cue the opening horns of the score to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Back on Route 15, I stop in at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club for baby back ribs rubbed with chili and tamarind, washed down with a glass of Château Gloria St Julien Bordeaux from the restaurant's wine cave—the biggest collection of fine wines in Tulum. It's as decadent as the beachgoers lazing in the sun not far from my table.

Head still swimming in that lovely Château Gloria, I decide to take the rest of my body for a little dip. The Caribbean is bathwater warm and crystal clear—in other words, perfect. I walk out for what seems like half a mile, and the water still only comes up to my waist.

Gelato at Origami

Refreshed and sun-dried, I'm ready to trade in the historical and ecological sights of the last few days for the fashion runway of Route 15. The women wear bikinis and sarongs, the men wear linen shorts and loafers, and everybody wears designer shades, brimmed hats made of straw, and suntans of golden bronze. Origami, a beautifully designed gelato shop, is the perfect place to have a seat and watch the catwalk. I have a Ferrero Rocher and crunch on the hazelnuts drenched in icy chocolate and cream while the fashion models play street chicken with Vespas and the delivery trucks distributing tanks of fresh water to the five-star eateries

If Route 15 is for the well-heeled, then Calle Centauro Sur is for the flip-flop set. It's a strip in the center of town, about two miles inland from the beach, where the more casual tourists and locals congregate. Call it the Brooklyn to Route 15's Manhattan. At Batey—a hip, open-air bar and music venue decorated with paintings of Miles Davis and the Beatles—I take a sidewalk seat and listen to a Mexican Elvis impersonator singing Simple Minds' “Don't You (Forget About Me)." As I sip on a Don Julio Reposado, a patchouli-scented parade of 5 o'clock shadows and hot pink hair dye ambles by.

“Are you going dancing tonight?" a young man in a tank top, cut-off jean shorts, and tattered Chuck Taylors asks a friend sitting at the table next to me.

The bar at Mur Mur, in Tulum

“Are you?"

“I'm dressed and ready to go."

Back on Route 15, the revelers are stepping out as if their outfits are going to be scrutinized by bouncers holding clipboards and manning red velvet ropes. Thankfully, no such velvet ropes exist as I enter Rosa Negra for an indulgent meal of burrata, besugo sashimi with black salt and citrus, soft-shell crab tacos, and Pescadores—a fine craft beer made right here in Riviera Maya.

The food is as comely as the patrons, who are bopping their well-coiffed heads to a drum-and-bass DJ. But before I have a chance to pass judgment on an ambience that may appear a touch too buttoned-up, a live conga player steps in front of the DJ.

A rat-a-tat tat, bop ba-da ba-bop, dup du-duh dup du-dup!

The congas add a touch of that Carmen spirit—their organic vibrations reminding me that despite all the Manolo Blahniks and slinky black dresses, my T-shirt and flip-flops are welcome at the party. I shimmy my shoulders, take a swig of my Pescadores, and nod to the beat as I dig into my tacos.

A rat-a-tat tat, ba dop ba-da ba-dop, dup du-buh dup bu-dup!

Search flights

For Oscar, United's turnaround is a journey

By The Hub team , November 30, 2018

Our CEO, Oscar Munoz, sat down with Texas Inc. to discuss our turnaround strategy, stating it's a journey. Read the full interview here featured on the Houston Chronicle.

Ankit Gupta honored with Crain's 40 under 40 recognition

By Matt Adams , November 29, 2018

Network Planning and Scheduling VP Ankit Gupta can talk airline business for hours without losing steam. Just don't ask him to talk about himself; that's when he clams up. You'd think after being named to this year's prestigious Crain's Chicago Business "40 Under 40" list he'd be a little more inclined to wax poetic about his life and career, but no such luck.

Read more about why editors selected Ankit by visiting the Crain's website here. The full list of this year's honorees can be found here. The 40 Under 40 issue hits newsstands on December 3.

Security and technology in the air

By United Airlines

Podcast produced in partnership with CSIS

This week on the Smart Women, Smart Power Podcast, Beverly Kirk is joined by Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer at United Airlines for a conversation on the transformation of technology in the airline industry and more on security in the digital age.

The best National Parks to visit all year round

By Bob Cooper

National parks can be a refuge from the noise and hectic pace of everyday urban and suburban life — America's special places in nature. But during the summer peak season, they can be as busy as cities. Smart travelers visit between November and March when most parks are less crowded and accommodation choices are discounted. These national parks are especially worthwhile to visit and they're all close enough to major airports to make a three-day weekend getaway possible.

Yosemite, California

Fall and winter visitors to Yosemite National Park are treated to autumn leaves in the fall, snow-capped granite landmarks in the winter and replenished waterfalls in the spring. Tent camping can be cold, but hotel rooms in and around Yosemite Valley are widely available and Yosemite's historic lodge, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee), hosts two big events in November and December: the Grand Grape Celebration and the Bracebridge Dinner (a recreation of Christmas in Olde England). Airport: Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Everglades, Florida

Many summer vacationers are among the one million annual visitors to Everglades National Park, but the best time to come is in late-autumn or winter. Southern Florida's temperatures are milder, it's far less humid, hurricane season is over and summer flooding of the prairies has receded — letting you see more fish and reptiles. You can also see more birds in the winter via airboat tours through the Everglades, America's largest tropical wilderness. Not to mention this “river of grass" is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and a wetland of International Importance. Airport: Miami International Airport.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Another world lives beneath Kentucky in the world's largest network of caves known as Mammoth Cave National Park. You will walk beneath massive crystallized formations inside the caverns and may spot one of the eight species of bats that thrive in this environment. The caves are about 54 degrees inside year-round, as if regulated by a thermostat, so they are protected from the hot humid summers and freezing winter nights above them, making them a perfect place to visit any time of the year. Visitors to this southern Kentucky park will also benefit from this climatic predictability while taking any of eight cave tours. While cave tours should be at the top of your list of things to do here, this park also offers hiking, camping, horseback riding, kayaking and more. Airport: Louisville International Airport.

Haleakala, Hawaii

Your visit to Haleakala National Park may include a number of experiences, but witnessing the sunrise or sunsets are a must. Many visitors wake up early to drive to the Summit Visitor Center to view one of the best sunrises. But make sure to plan accordingly because the National Park Service now requires a reservation for vehicles to view the sunrise from the Summit District. Other activities on the 10,023-foot mountain include hiking one of the nine trails, guided horseback rides and bike rentals post-hike to coast most of the way down. An added bonus: Humpback whale watching season stretches from December to March in Maui. Airport: Kahului Airport.

Saguaro, Arizona

Saguaro, a type of giant cacti, serve many functions for desert wildlife — but they don't cast much shade. That's why winter is the best time to hike among them where they populate hillsides by the thousands in Saguaro National Park. The park is split in two, straddling the western and eastern boundaries of Tucson, with 165 miles of hiking trails. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a museum, zoo and botanical garden, is a must-see attraction on the edge of Saguaro NP West. Airport: Tucson International Airport.

Joshua Tree, California

The namesake of Joshua Tree National Park is an odd-looking tree that fits in well with the weirdly wonderful rock formations adored by photographers in this high desert park. Located between Palm Springs and the L.A. area, the park encompasses two major deserts and a mountain range, offering a profoundly contrasting appearance due to the two varying ecosystems. This park can be explored by car or by foot on one of the 27 hiking trails. A bonus to visiting in the winter is the desert wildflower blooms between February and April. Airport: Palm Springs International Airport.

Biscayne, Florida

Famous lighthouse at Key Biscayne, Miami

Most of Biscayne National Park is on water, not land, so the best way to see its coral reefs (among the world's largest) and the abundance of marine life (highlighted by manatees and sea turtles) is by renting a boat or taking a boat tour. Several marinas are found at the park's edges where you can do just that, as well as rent snorkeling or diving equipment for a closer look underwater, where you'll discover diverse and colorful aquatic life and multiple shipwrecks. Kayaking and fishing in Miami-Dade County are also popular. Airport: Miami International Airport.

If you go

United Airlines flies to airports within a two-hour drive of all of these national parks. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your accommodations. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your national park getaway.

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