Three Perfect Days: New York City
Story by Nicholas DeRenzo and Justin Goldman | Photography by Mark Hartman | Hemispheres September 2016
Everyone knows New York City. You've heard the names: the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps. You've heard Sinatra sing, “Start spreading the news," Biggie Smalls rap, “It was all a dream." You've seen King Kong climb the Empire State Building, Robert De Niro steer a taxi down Broadway, Meg Ryan moan in Katz's Deli.
And yet New York, perhaps more than any other city, is impossible to know, because it changes so fast. The last 15 years alone have seen downtown Manhattan rebuild and flourish, Brooklyn become so hip that it's now a cliché to use the borough as a cultural reference point, and the immigrant hub of Queens become lauded as a tourist destination.
Impossible to know? Maybe—but that's just what your humble correspondents have set out to do. We're both children of the outer boroughs (the Bronx for Justin, Staten Island for Nicholas) who spent our adolescent years in sunnier climes (California and Florida, respectively) but were drawn back here as adults. Each of us has spent the last few years rediscovering a city that both is our home and isn't, with the sort of hunger that only an outsider trying to establish himself as an insider can display. Can we call ourselves real New Yorkers? Who knows. But we can share what we've found—what's putting the new in New York—with you.
Manhattan: In which Nicholas and Justin take in the galleries at the new Whitney Museum, stroll the High Line, and drink cocktails in an old opium den
It's early morning, and we're standing under the Washington Square Arch, Manhattan's own Arc de Triomphe. The world's greatest city is at our feet—where to go? We look up Fifth Avenue, at the Empire State Building, then south across Washington Square Park, at the new World Trade Center. Maybe let's start with breakfast.
We cross the park, passing a TV shoot where Paul Giamatti poses for photos with elderly fans. We stop for a bit at the West 4th Street basketball courts to watch an early game, then head up to Christopher Street, past the Stonewall Inn, recently named the country's first national monument to LGBT history. Finally, a couple of blocks up 7th Avenue, we reach Dominique Ansel Kitchen.
The balconies at the Whitney Museum of American Art, above the West Side of Manhattan and the Hudson River
Inside the sunny patisserie, we meet Ansel, the French-born creator of the most talked-about baked good since, well, sliced bread: the Cronut. Three years after its invention, the doughnut-croissant hybrid still commands blocks-long morning lines at Ansel's Soho bakery, but at this year-and-a-half-old West Village outpost the only Cronuts in sight are the ones on the chef's iPhone case.
“I eat one of these every morning," Ansel says, handing us hot-from-the-oven brown sugar DKAs, or Dominique's Kouign Amanns—a caramelized croissant-dough Breton specialty. He follows this up with a warm Applejack-glazed cinnamon spun roll, meant to taste—from end to end—like the center (read: best) part of a regular cinnamon roll.
“I've been in New York for a little over 10 years, so I'm officially a New Yorker!" Ansel says with a broad smile. “New Yorkers are so well traveled, so open-minded, really curious, and not afraid of trying new things. It doesn't matter where they're from or what they grew up eating, they're here to explore, and that's the beauty of New York."
Apothéke, a sultry cocktail lounge in a former opium den
Along with having great taste in food, New Yorkers are famously attuned to the arts; Manhattan alone is home to at least a half dozen world-class museums. The one garnering the headlines lately is the Whitney Museum of American Art, which moved last spring from its stodgy Upper East Side digs to a $422 million, Renzo Piano–designed structure in the trendy Meatpacking District. The current main exhibit,
Human Interest, is a multimedia survey of portraiture from the museum's permanent collection, such as Rosalyn Drexler's Marilyn Pursued by Death and Urs Fischer's eight-foot-tall melting-candle sculpture of Julian Schnabel.
In front of Andy Warhol's Double Elvis, we meet the museum's chief curator, Scott Rothkopf, who tells us about the Whitney's recent move. “We feel like we have not just expanded our museum but have become part of a hugely changing psychogeography of New York," he says. “The way people think about the city has really changed, and the way they move around it and the places they visit."
A few steps from the museum exit, we ascend the steel stairs of the High Line, a park built atop a mile-and-a-half-long stretch of abandoned railroad track, which has revitalized Manhattan's West Side and inspired urban planning throughout the world. We stop into Friends of the High Line co-founder and executive director Robert Hammond's office, a glass box suspended over the edge of the old railway. After waving to a group of schoolkids below, he tells us about the unexpected success of the park that he started working on in 1999 and which opened a decade later.
Robert Hammond, co-founder and executive director, Friends of the High Line
“We hoped it would have 300,000 visitors a year, and we get 7.5 million," Hammond says. “We were ambitious, but we weren't thinking it was going to be one of the top tourist destinations in New York." He glances out at the Standard Hotel, which straddles the park. “The reason the High Line works is it's not an escape from the city. You feel the city, but you're slightly removed. It's a different way of thinking about New York."
We're starting to feel peckish, so Hammond directs us beneath the tracks to Santina, another glassy Piano-designed space, which is owned by the park but run by the restaurateurs behind über-popular Italian red-sauce joints Parm and Carbone. Murano-chandeliered Santina proffers lighter fare: cecina, or chickpea pancakes, with Calabrian tuna tartare; a show-stopping crudité served in a terra-cotta cauldron; and a crispy sea-bass sandwich with capery tartar sauce.
Feeling contento, we reenter the High Line and stroll uptown, thick prairie grass and flowers on either side. We pass tourists wiggling their toes in a fountain, photographers shooting models for magazines, and Sleepwalker, a sculpture of a somnambulant man in tighty whities that's so lifelike a teenager exclaims, “Is that guy real?" At 17th Street, we perch for a few minutes on the amphitheater-style seating before a large window, looking down on the yellow cabs streaming up 10th Avenue—“like Space Invaders," as Hammond says.
“The High Line is a microcosm of what's happening in New York. It was built as a freight line, then it was wild, now it's back to the public. Why the park really works is it kept some of that industrial history. It gives an authenticity and a connection to the industrial heritage of New York City. The city's always changing, but keeping some of those connections is important." —Robert Hammond
Red-brick apartment buildings and warehouses soon give way to the blue-glassed towers of Hudson Yards, an ongoing $20 billion redevelopment of old railyards. Here, we take the long escalator down into the Hudson Yards subway station—the city's newest, but not its most opulent. That distinction belongs to the Oculus, where we exit after a brief ride downtown. The centerpiece of glossy new transit centers and a high-end Westfield mall, the Oculus is a $4 billion, Santiago Calatrava–designed terminal that looks like a hockey rink wearing the Statue of Liberty's crown. Visible through a long skylight is One World Trade Center, or the Freedom Tower, a 1,776-foot monument to the city's resilience.
Resilience requires energy, which requires sustenance, so we're off to thrumming Houston Street—the pronunciation of which is perhaps the truest test of local vs. tourist—for dinner at Estela, which fed President Obama in 2014 and is one of only three NYC spots on this year's World's 50 Best Restaurants list. Unlike most of the jacket-required establishments on that list, Estela, set above a dive bar, is decidedly unstuffy. But who needs outsized ambience when you've got Uruguayan chef Ignacio Mattos working his magic?
We ask our waitress for a recommendation, and she launches into a monologue: “You must have the cured fluke with sea urchin. You must have the mussels escabeche. You must have the beef tartare. You must have the fried arroz negro. You must have the ricotta dumplings." She grimaces at her last two suggestions: “They're both starches, but I can't imagine coming here and not getting either of them." The preparations are simple, but every dish comes with a surprise. The tartare is leavened with crunchy fried bits of sunchoke; the mussels sit atop a verdant cilantro jus that's bright and refreshing enough to slurp by the spoonful.
Nightfall has locals swarming into theaters. While Broadway gets all the press (and tourist bucks), downtown is full of cool shoebox spaces and experimental companies. We skip Hamilton and head to the hit musical's birthplace: the off-Broadway Public Theater, a city institution since 1954 that runs programs like free Shakespeare in the Park. We enter the theater's cabaret space, Joe's Pub, for performance artist Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, a work-in-progress that will eventually dedicate an hour to each decade from 1776 to today. Mac, who was named a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow, represents the best of new New York: steeped in history but squarely focused on the future.
Museum patrons on a balcony at the Renzo Piano–designed Whitney
For a post-performance drink, we cab it to Chinatown's Doyers Street, a crooked alley once known as “the Bloody Elbow" for the unwholesome activities that took place here. We step through an unmarked doorway and into Apothéke, a sultry cocktail lounge in a former opium den. We order cocktails from the prescription-themed menu: From the “Stress Relievers" section, we get a Siren's Call (Ford's gin, roasted seaweed, cucumber, squid ink, ginger, black smoked sea salt); from “Pain Killers," it's a Catcher in the Rye (rye, amaro Nonino, honey cordial, chamomile bitters, peated scotch mist). They taste so good that we don't notice how strong they are until it's too late.
In need of something to sop up those drinks, we pop next door to Apothéke's Mexican-themed sister bar, Pulqueria, for roasted jackfruit tacos and tuna crudo tostadas. It would have been a great preemptive hangover remedy—except that the restaurant also serves a mean mezcal Negroni. Oops.
From here, it's a 15-minute stumble to our hotel, The Beekman, which debuted this summer in a 19th-century office building on the site of the theater that staged the North American premiere of Hamlet, back in 1761. A few drinks deep, we gaze at the night sky through the pyramidal skylight that tops the hotel's nine-story Gilded Age atrium, which is fretted with ornate ironwork. Shakespeare would have loved this place.
Queens: In which the guys see the city in miniature, munch their way through America's most diverse neighborhood, and meet the new Mets
We start today the way millions of New Yorkers do every day: on a train. Specifically, we ride the 4 up to Grand Central Terminal, where, after a quick glance up at the famed constellation-decorated ceiling, we hop on the 7 and cross under the East River into the booming Queens neighborhood of Long Island City.
We're both flagging, so we grab brews and croissants at Birch Coffee, and then drop our bags at the Boro Hotel. The family-owned property, which opened last summer, plays up the industrial-chic feel of the neighborhood with steel beams wrapping around the building like stylized scaffolding. We pause on the balcony of our 12th-floor corner room to take in the view of the city, from the skyscrapers of Midtown to the low-slung buildings of Queens and the elevated train tracks that cut through them. Time to get back on one of those.
Storefronts in Jackson Heights's Little India
After 40 minutes of watching the world whip by through the 7's windows, we arrive at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. A short walk takes us to the site of the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs. It's already hot, but the mist from the fountains below the Unisphere, a 120-foot-tall steel model of the Earth, offers a cooling respite. Three fellow parkgoers climb right in, but we restrain ourselves.
Just past the Unisphere, we find the Queens Museum, in a building that was constructed for the 1939 World's Fair and underwent a
$69 million renovation a few years ago. The centerpiece of the collection here is the Panorama of the City of New York. Championed by controversial city planner Robert Moses, the Panorama is a detailed rendering of the five boroughs built to a 1:1,200 scale (so the Empire State Building is only 15 inches tall). We circle the glass walkway above the model, pointing out personal landmarks—the Bronx and Staten Island neighborhoods where we were born, our current Brooklyn homes—punctuating most sentences with, “This is awesome."
For lunch, we take a short train ride to Jackson Heights. This is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country—167 languages are said to be spoken here—and with that diversity, of course, come great eats. To help us sift through those offerings, we've enlisted Jeff Orlick, a CBS news production crewman and restaurant beverage director who organizes an annual Tibetan dumpling tasting contest here.
Jeff Orlick, beverage director, Little Tibet; organizer, Momo Crawl
“I moved here because of the food," Orlick says as we stroll along Roosevelt Avenue, his home of nine years. He pauses as a train rattles overhead. “Food is the best way to put yourself into another culture." The first culture we encounter is Filipino, in the one-block Little Manila. We stop at Fiesta Grill, a
turo turo (Tagalog for “point point") counter, named for how you order. First we point at the turon, a sweet banana and jackfruit eggroll, then we point at the bopis. “That's for the adventurous," the guy behind the counter says as he spoons a hash of pig heart and lung into a bowl. It turns out fortune does favor the bold, because the chopped offal is actually delicious.
From there, we pass a clutch of Thai spots and cross Diversity Plaza, the storefronts now bursting with colorful Bangladeshi signs. We grab a jhal muri (puffed rice, chickpeas, spicy mustard oil) from an 87-year-old street cart vendor and eat as we walk, the signage around us changing to Tibetan and Nepali. We eat Tibetan beef dumplings, or momos, while leaning against the Amdo Kitchen food truck, the winner of last year's Momo Crawl, then cross the street to Bhancha Ghar, where we eat sel roti, a sort of cross between naan and a doughnut. “This is like the food you get in Kathmandu," Orlick says. “Meeting the people here inspired me to go there. It was incredible."
Across 75th Street, Spanish signs prevail. Roughly half the people on the street are wearing Colombian soccer jerseys. “During the last World Cup, Colombia was doing well, and the street was going crazy," Orlick recalls. “People were throwing bags of flour and stuff." We stop into the Arepa Lady restaurant, which grew out of an immensely popular street cart, and we have arepas de queso and chocolo, two preparations of the fried corn and cheese staple, which we wash down with the juice of the South American lulo fruit.
“Everyone in the world wants to come to the United States. Where do you go in the States? New York. There's nothing like Queens's Roosevelt Avenue in the world. It's so intimidating. Everyone's speaking a different language, and it's just so much. But the people are really open." —Jeff Orlick
We're done, right? Nope. Orlick steers us into a bodega, and we squeeze down a narrow aisle to a seafood counter, La Esquina del Camarón Mexicano, for shrimp and octopus cocktail in a sweet tomato sauce. Then we all agree to never eat again.
Understandably, we need to sit for a while, and we've got just the place: Citi Field, the Flushing home of the New York Mets. The Yankees may be the iconic local baseball team, but the Mets have recently surpassed the Bronx Bombers in popularity, thanks to their superior stadium—which was inspired by Ebbets Field, the long-ago home of the Brooklyn Dodgers—and their exciting squad, which made it to the World Series last year. Today, the Mets have a Fall Classic rematch with the champion Kansas City Royals, and they win 4-3 behind Noah Syndergaard, a 24-year-old pitcher nicknamed Thor for his long blond locks, 6-foot-6 frame, and 98-mph fastball.
Evening is coming on as we file out of the ballpark, surrounded by happy throngs in blue and orange. We head back to the waterfront and Socrates Sculpture Park, home to a collection of inspired installations, highlighted by Jessica Segall's Fugue in Bb, which transforms an upturned piano into an active beehive.
A barista at The Lot Radio
We watch the sun dip behind Manhattan's snaggled skyline, then head off to break our halfhearted fast. Dinner is at Long Island City's Mu Ramen, a 22-seat space that reflects the area's avant-globalism. South Korean–born, Orthodox Jewish–raised, Per Se–trained chef-owner Joshua Smookler tweaks the noodle-bar formula on his menu, which includes foie-gras-and-brioche-stuffed chicken wings and cornmeal and scallion “okonomiyaki" with smoked trout, tobiko, and foie maple syrup. Under wooden slats that call to mind the ribs of a ship, we tuck into bowls of oxtail-and-bone-marrow broth served with corned beef and addictive “crack kimchi," washed down with a few green-tea-and-wasabi-infused Baird Wabi-Sabi Japan Pale Ales.
In search of a nightcap, we walk across Long Island City to Dutch Kills, a speakeasy from the team behind Milk & Honey, the now defunct lounge that spurred the city's cocktail revolution. Outside, there's simply a sign that says “BAR." Inside, it's all atmospheric candlelight and dark wood booths shrouded by heavy red curtains. As we're ordering Tiger Chilled Coffees (rum, cinnamon syrup, allspice liqueur, cold-brew coffee, whipped cream, absinthe) we notice that the menu offers meat pies from M. Wells, the acclaimed Québécois steakhouse nearby. We've already consumed 10,000 calories today, so what are a few more? Bring us the pies.
Brooklyn: In which the guys see the city's bridges from above and below, yuk it up with an SNL cast member, and find a bar at the end of the world
We shouldn't have had the pies. Lumpenly, we make our way across the Pulaski Bridge and down into the world's trendiest neighborhood: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Our first stop is the William Vale Hotel, a 22-story angled white tower that opened this summer. Situated across the street from Brooklyn Bowl and the Brooklyn Brewery, two early harbingers that “cool" could cross the river, the hotel is a symbolic final step in the Manhattanization of the neighborhood. But it's hard to find fault with this when you're standing on the hotel rooftop, with no other building to obstruct your view, the whole of the city at your feet.
To get our wheels turning, we walk along the edge of McCarren Park to the most “Brooklyn" coffee shop imaginable. The Lot Radio is a black shipping container plunked down in a flamingo-studded, triangular gravel lot. One side of the container sells coffee from Brooklyn roaster Luft; the other has a booth where a rotating cast of DJs spin records.
The East River Ferry passes under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges
For breakfast, we head up Bedford Avenue and cross into Greenpoint, a Polish neighborhood that has seen its own cool quotient rise in recent years. (HBO's zeitgeisty Girls films here.) At the corner of Manhattan Avenue, across from a graffiti mural of The Simpsons sax player Bleeding Gums Murphy, we find Frankel's Delicatessen. The restaurant is the work of two Jewish brothers from the Upper West Side—one a chef, the other an indie pop musician—who wanted to recreate the classic New York Jewish deli. They've certainly got the look right: The storefront recalls the restaurant from Seinfeld, and the back-lit signs inside are a tribute to Lower East Side mainstay Russ & Daughters. And the food? Oy gevalt! We split a pastrami, egg, and cheese sandwich; an everything bagel with pastrami-cured salmon and scallion cream cheese; and mini latkes with applesauce and sour cream. As we eat, co-owner Zach Frankel comes out from behind the counter to tell us why Jewish delis matter.
“There's a grittiness to the Jewish deli that resembles New York," Frankel says. “People of every single race and religion have a relationship with this food. It's not just white Jews from New York. I get black dudes who grew up going to Katz's with their dads, Asian dudes who grew up eating this food. Being able to provide that to another generation makes me really happy."
A short stroll takes us to the condo-lined Williamsburg waterfront, where we board the East River Ferry. Alongside sailboats and jet skis, we cruise beneath the steel Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges and the stately stone Brooklyn Bridge. There's something magical about seeing the city from out here, but it's short-lived. Within minutes, we're stepping off at the Fulton Ferry Landing and into 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park, which opened in 2010 with a mission to revitalize a blighted stretch of East River piers. The park is filled with visitors snapping shots of the bridges, but it's the locals that are out in droves today. Kayakers skirt the rocky banks. Pickup ballers shoot hoops on the repurposed piers. Climbers scale artificial rock walls. Kids ride the restored 1922 Jane's Carousel. At the park's southern end, we stop at Martin Creed's 25-foot-tall rotating red neon Understanding sign, then reward ourselves for a walk well done with cones from Ample Hills Creamery, a local mini-chain that takes its name from a poem by long-ago Brooklyn resident Walt Whitman—who might be the only self-conscious-artist type who can honestly claim that he was into the borough before it was cool.
Sasheer Zamata, comedian, Saturday Night Live
In search of something a bit more substantial, we retrace our steps to cobblestoned Old Fulton Street and one of New York's best pizzerias, Juliana's. Patsy Grimaldi's place is the product of one of the city's most bitter feuds, sparked when he sold his longtime restaurant, Grimaldi's, and then, years later, after it moved next door, opened Juliana's in the original space. Nowadays, tourists line up for Grimaldi's, but locals go to Juliana's. Under a white brick wall adorned with Sinatra kitsch, we try a prosciutto-and-arugula-topped pie. It's hot, crunchy, and wafer-thin, and goes great with our Brooklyn-brewed Sixpoint ales. “So," says our waiter at the end, “you'll be back tomorrow, right?" Considering that the
Hemispheres office is right down the street, yeah, probably.
In need of another post-gorge constitutional, we take a cab down Flatbush Avenue to Grand Army Plaza. We hop out and walk under the Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch—Brooklyn's answer to the Washington Square Arch—and into Prospect Park. The 585-acre greenspace was designed in 1865 by the fathers of Manhattan's Central Park, one of whom, Frederick Law Olmsted, is rumored to have called the wilder Brooklyn version his masterpiece. The meadows are packed with picnickers, so we head for the quieter Brooklyn Botanic Garden, along the park's eastern edge. Standing on a footbridge watching carp swim in the Japanese garden's pond, it's easy to forget that the horn-honking chaos of Flatbush is barely a stone's throw away.
“The way New Yorkers speak is very funny, because it's a lot of honesty and also, like, no time. None of us has time, for whatever reason. We're all very busy and have to go, so everything is succinct and to the point. It's very truthful, and you get right to the heart of whatever you're saying." —Sasheer Zamata
We skirt the northern border of the park, past the Beaux-Arts Brooklyn Museum, and stop to admire the 40-foot gateway of the Brooklyn Public Library. We compete to see who can identify the Art Deco bronze reliefs that decorate the entrance—Moby Dick, Tom Sawyer, Poe's Raven—then continue along Vanderbilt Avenue and into the tree-lined neighborhood of Prospect Heights, where we grab happy-hour Champagne cocktails at subway-tiled Weather Up.
Prospect Park's famous designer lends his surname to the borough's buzziest new restaurant, just a few blocks down Vanderbilt. At Olmsted, chef Greg Baxtrom turns the farm-to-table model on its head, bringing the table to the farm. We start in the backyard garden, which features such rustic trappings as a quail coop and a crawfish-filled bathtub. As we snack on tempura-fried fiddlehead ferns, our dreadlocked waitress pours glasses of Azienda Agricola Denavolo Catavela, a white wine from Emilia-Romagna that boasts a barnyard funkiness that fits the surroundings. “'Grandpappy's boot' is a hard descriptor for some," she says, smiling, “but I love those skunky, funky, suitcase-and-rubber-band wines."
Back inside, we grab seats next to the open kitchen, where we chat with literary-minded line cooks about Richard Price and Jonathan Franzen as they prep radish-top gazpacho with smoked trout, dry-rubbed scallop skewers with creamed corn and green garlic, and guinea hen served two ways—roasted and confited—with morels and ramps.
From this eco-friendly spot, we take a short taxi ride to an infamous Superfund site. While the Gowanus Canal has tested positive for unimaginably foul pathogens (seriously, don't Google it), a major cleanup is now underway, and the neighborhood named after the industrial waterway has become a spawning ground for creative endeavors. One of these is the Bell House, a comedy club and music venue set in a 1920s printing warehouse. Inside, we meet Sasheer Zamata, a Saturday Night Live cast member who lives nearby, in Fort Greene.
Crashing the board at the West 4th Street basketball courts
“I'd been doing comedy in Brooklyn for years before I got on
SNL, so it feels like a nice routine," she says as we settle in backstage. “Also, I love days that I don't have to leave the borough." And, because Brooklyn is such a ripe source for comedy, she really doesn't need to. “There's a man who rides a bike with a cat on his head and holds the leash in case it falls or something," Zamata says with a chuckle. “Just the other day, I went to the park and a man brought a fake tree to put in the ground so his two parrots could perch on it."
Zamata takes her leave to complete her pre-show ritual: reciting a sonnet from Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. We join the sellout crowd, and soon she and an all-star cast of local comics—Broad City's Ilana Glazer, Horace and Pete's Liza Treyger, The Daily Show's Roy Wood Jr.—have us howling in our seats.
As our fellow comedy fans wander off to the trendy bars of Gowanus, we hail a cab, because there's really only one place for this night, this story, to end. We ride into the isolated waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook—under the highway, through a housing project, over cobblestones—to Sunny's Bar. The watering hole was once a haunt for the stevedores who plied Red Hook's long-forgotten docks, and it later became an unlicensed social club for artists and weirdos. Sunny Balzano, the bar's beloved owner, died earlier this year, and it's now run by his widow, Tone Johansen, who hosts a raucous bluegrass jam in the back. After we sing along to a klezmer-inspired, minor-key version of “This Land Is Your Land," we step outside to see the Statue of Liberty shining in the harbor. New York may be changing faster than ever, getting newer all the time, but this old bar and that old statue are here to remind us that this city was made for you and me.
Like most New Yorkers, Hemispheres editors Nicholas DeRenzo and Justin Goldman often talk about moving to a calmer town. But they never will.
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Porto: Portugal’s surprising second city
“Second cities" or those that rank #2 in population often surprise world travelers. And second doesn't mean second-rate. Porto is Portugal's second city — so off-the-radar that many world travelers haven't even heard of it. Yet, Porto and nearby spots in northern Portugal can be delightful destinations even if you don't visit the more well-known city of Lisbon.
Old city by day
The best place to get oriented, as in most European cities, is in the old city center. Porto's Old City is so well-preserved that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 12th-century cathedral and the 15th-century Church of St. Francis, notable for interior wood carvings gilded by hundreds of pounds of gold, are mixed in with a rich collection of imposing granite, red-roofed Baroque buildings. Add 225 stairs and a stirring view to your walking tour by ascending the 250-foot-high Clérigos Church bell tower, built in 1754, which dominates the Porto skyline. Historic bridges over the Douro River and Soares dos Reis National Museum, an art museum housed in a palace, are also excellent sites to see.
Food and music by night
Porto's youthful population has turned it into a lively city after dark. You might start off the evening in the Old City at Abadia do Porto, a 1939 restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese dishes like roasted lamb and grilled octopus, or at Astoria, with its modern Portuguese fare served inside a former palace. Whether you choose a Portuguese, French or fusion restaurant, seafood is likely to be highlighted, drawing on Porto's proximity to the Atlantic and the Douro. Then, you can head to the large collection of bars and nightclubs in the nearby Galerias district, which includes Radio Bar, inside a former court building, and Gare, a disco in a tunnel that stays open until 6 a.m.
Head west to the beaches
The closest Atlantic beaches to central Porto are at Foz do Douro (mouth of the Douro), just 20 minutes away by city bus. But why settle? In a rental car you can explore Atlantic beaches and beach towns that extend for hundreds of miles along Portugal's coastline. Two of the best are Foz do Minho, the nation's northernmost oceanic beach that's just across the Minho River from Spain, and Quiaios, a dune-fringed paradise of sand south of Porto. Many beaches in northern Portugal are cradled in coves protected by rocky promontories, similar to northern California and Oregon beaches.
Or east to the wine country
The Douro Valley wine region is another World Heritage Site and one of the world's best and most scenic wine regions. It's up the Douro River from Porto by boat or 90 minutes by road. Namesake port wines and other fortified wines are the region's signature beverages, which can be sampled at tasting rooms on the Douro along N-222, a wine road that's been called the world's most scenic drive. While you're in the area, check out the wine and anthropology museums in the wine towns and yet another World Heritage Site — Coa Valley Archaeological Park — known for its prehistoric rock carvings.
Portugal's Mediterranean climate and coastal breezes bless it with mild weather year round, as the average temperature ranges from 57 degrees (and rain) in January to 78 degrees (and a little rain) in August. Whenever you come, there's no need to learn Portuguese as English is spoken even more widely than elsewhere in Western Europe. Once you arrive, rent a car only if you don't mind ridiculous drivers. The trains are more relaxing — light-rail and subway trains crisscross the Porto area and funicular cable cars climb its steepest hills. There's even a scenic train that follows the Douro nearly to Spain, with a roundtrip fare of only about $30.
Portugal requires that visitor passports don't expire until at least three months after the arrival date, so check that. Next, buy some Euros (for a great exchange rate) and reserve a flight. United Airlines flies nonstop from New York/Newark to Porto and MileagePlus® award miles can be redeemed to cover accommodations and Hertz rentals. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.
United 787-10 Dreamliner launch
Story was contributed by: Jennifer Lake | Photography: Alicia of Aesthetica
It was a typical Monday morning. I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking coffee, reviewing my to-do list for the week. All around me, heels are clacking through the office and phones ring intermittently. However, this particular Monday morning was different. Ultimately, I would receive an offer from my favorite airline for a collaboration to participate in the United 787-10 Dreamliner launch from Los Angeles LAX to New York/Newark EWR. Read the full story here featured on Style Charade.
Fit for the runway: We begin testing new uniforms
Last year we announced new partnerships with Tracy Reese, Brooks Brothers and Carhartt — best-in-class fashion and apparel designers — to help reimagine uniforms for more than 70,000 of our employees. Focusing on high quality fabrics, improved breathability and overall enhanced fit, our goal is to design and develop a more cohesive collection that looks good, feels good and enables employees to perform at their best on behalf of our customers.
United employees can learn more on the uniform designs by visiting Flying Together.
An insider's guide to Boston
Boston is a pack-it-all-in kind of place. Founded in 1630, one of America's oldest cities does many things well. Boston's many claims to fame include many of America's oldest historic landmarks and one of its oldest ballparks. It's a destination for history buffs, culture vultures, foodies, sports fans, families and more. No matter who your travel companions are or what they're interested in, everyone will find something to pique their interest in Beantown.
Getting there & around town
Fly direct to Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) from many U.S. cities — visit united.com or use the United app to book your flight. Flights are 90 minutes from New York, two hours from Cleveland and five to six hours from California. From Logan International Airport, it's easy to hail a taxi, use ridesharing apps or take public transportation. If you want to take the scenic route, take a water taxi across Boston Harbor directly into downtown.
Downtown Boston is easy to navigate. It's walkable and taxis are plentiful. The MBTA, Boston's public transportation system, offers affordable access to Cambridge, many attractions and the suburbs. Keep in mind it's one of the oldest transportation systems in the country, so expect a few bumps. Because the city is dense, parking can be expensive or hard to find, so avoid driving if you can.
When to visit
Summer and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Summer is prime time to enjoy Boston's many parks, outdoor eateries, open-air concerts and baseball games at Fenway Park. Mild fall weather, beautiful autumn foliage and Halloween festivities in nearby Salem, Massachusetts make October one of Boston's busiest months. The city also sees an influx of visitors for the Boston Marathon in April. You'll find smaller crowds and more affordable prices in winter, but brace yourself for the cold.
What to do
There's so much to take in just by walking through Boston's cobblestoned streets. Downtown is quaint, compact and easy to explore by foot. The small city is packed with historic sites, New England's finest food, proud sports fans and friendly locals.
As the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston's historic sites are an attraction in themselves. Walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to visit 16 of them around the city, including Revolutionary-era museums, churches, buildings and an impressive warship. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is on the trail, too, and is one of Boston's top attractions, with plentiful shopping, dining and live music. Not much of a walker? Boston Duck Tours operate land-and-water historic tours on World War II-inspired vehicles, which transform from truck to boat mid-tour.
Many museums and sites are tucked along Boston Harbor. The waterfront is always bustling with activity year-round. The harborwalk is the perfect place to meander and explore without a strict agenda. Plan to visit a major attraction or two, but leave time to enjoy the scenery or to pop into a café for a coffee and sweet treat (award-winning Flour Bakery + Cafe is a local favorite).
Deemed the “Athens of America," Boston boasts not only some of the country's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings, but also a thriving arts and culture scene. You could spend your entire trip touring its dozens of world-class museums. Take in classical music at the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra, or take a leisurely stroll through Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, the city's most well-known public parks. Riding the giant Swan Boats through the Public Garden lagoon is a kitschy, yet delightful experience, especially for kids.
What to eat
What must you absolutely eat in Boston? In short, everything. Long ago the city was nicknamed Beantown, allegedly after slow-cooked molasses baked beans served to sailors and traders. Today, Boston continues its reputation as a great eating city. From clam chowder to cannoli, the most popular dishes here are often hearty and decadent. Boston is also known for fresh lobster rolls, roast beef sandwiches and, of course, Boston cream pie.
Ask any Bostonian where to find “the best" of anything, and everyone will recommend a different spot. Cannoli from Mike's Pastry, Boston cream pie from Omni Parker House (where it was invented) and the roast beef 1000 sandwich from Cutty's frequently top the must-try lists. If you make it to a ball game at Fenway Park, Fenway Franks are a Boston staple.
Our role in ‘Spider-Man™: Far From Home’
In Columbia Pictures upcoming release in association with Marvel Studios, "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," our web-slinging hero finds himself – yep, you guessed it – far from his home in New York City. And since flying is one of the few superpowers Spider-Man doesn't possess, we gave him a little help, meaning United is featured in the film.
The scenes of Peter Parker and his pals traveling to Europe take place on one of our Boeing 777s with the all-new United Polaris® business class, and several of our employees – including members of our Tech Ops, Inflight, Flight Operations and Airport Operations teams – served as actors and production support during shoots at New York/Newark (EWR) and London-Stansted (STN).
London-Heathrow (LHR) Customer Service Representative Manjit Heer and LHR Cargo Warehouse Operations Manager Richard Miller were background extras on board, and multiple flight attendants had a role, including San Francisco (SFO) Flight Attendant Tammy Harris.
"It was extremely surreal," said Tammy. "I was in my element because I was on the plane in uniform, but not really, because I'm not an actor."
Tammy said she hit her mark and delivered her line with gusto, and she's excited to see if she made the final cut when "Spider-Man™: Far From Home" hits worldwide theaters this summer.
"Hopefully, I'll have my two seconds of fame and all will be well," she joked.
Los Angeles (LAX) Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor Fernando Melendez is a veteran of several film shoots but said this one was his favorite. When the production went to London, he was one of five members of LAX Tech Ops who went over to look after our airplane and make adjustments to its interior based on the filmmaker's needs.
"When we parked the plane at Stanstead, there were lights and cameras surrounding us. It was like the plane was the star of the movie," he said. "Each day, we would work with the assistant director; he would go through and say, 'Okay, for this shoot we need these seats, or these panels removed,' so they could get the camera angles. Pretty much, the airplane was our responsibility; we opened it in the morning and closed it at night. We were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every day."
Fernando said the actors were all very gracious and engaging, and said the whole experience was fantastic from start to finish. It also earned him a little cooler cred with his 18-year-old son, who is a massive Marvel fan.
Leading up to the film's premiere this year, there will be plenty of ways for employees and customers to get into the Spidey spirit in anticipation of our cameo. Stay tuned for more details.
Peter Parker returns in "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," the next chapter of the Spider-Man™: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter's plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!
Directed by Jon Watts, the film is written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film is produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Thomas M. Hammel, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Stan Lee, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach serve as executive producers. The film stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.
"Spider-Man™: Far From Home" makes its way to North American theaters on July 5, 2019.
What to expect from our improved app
20 million miles and counting...
On November 7, while flying from Newark Liberty International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport, United customer Tom Stuker made history when he reached 20 million miles flown on a single airline. We were fortunate enough to capture the milestone he reached with us.
To mark the special occasion, we hosted a celebration in Mr. Stuker's honor at the United Polaris lounge at O'Hare International Airport on Saturday. The celebration was delayed a couple of months, so Mr. Stuker could celebrate the event with his family.
The party included a room full of employees, media members and Mr. Stuker's friends and family enjoying food, cocktails, stories and laughs. To thank him for his long-standing loyalty to United, we also presented Mr. Stuker with gifts made specially for him.
"United makes my dreams come true," Mr. Stuker said to the room full of people.
He also praised United's MileagePlus program, the United Polaris lounges across our system and Oscar's leadership of the airline but, most of all, he praised the service he receives from our employees.
"My favorite part of United is the people. United is such a big part of my life…you are a family to me," he said addressing the United employees. "It would take me days and days and days to say thank you in the right way to the right people. They all know me by now and know how much I care about them as people, how much I care about this airline and its success, and how much I care about the greatest leader this airline has ever had, Oscar."
Bora Bora: The most beautiful island in the world
Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.
By Chicago-based United Club Customer Service Representative Amile Ribeiro.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I know it can be very subjective but, once you set your eyes on it, I'm sure you'll agree with me: Bora Bora is the most beautiful island in the world.
There are very few things that can get me out of bed early in the morning, and airplanes are one of those things. We were already in Tahiti and woke up at the crack of dawn to catch our quick flight to Bora Bora. After checking in at the airport and getting a quick breakfast, we headed over to the gate to line up for our flight. Air Tahiti has an open seating arrangement, and we wanted to make sure we got the best possible seats. We were able to secure two windows seats. Travel tip: Sit on the left side of the plane when landing in Bora Bora. We took off from Papeete and within minutes we were flying over Mo'orea. Then we flew around Ra'i ātea and Taha'a, and finally arrived in Bora Bora, the island that Polynesians call "First Born." Pora Pora is the actual local pronunciation, but the first explorers misunderstood it and 'Bora Bora' stuck. Though after setting foot on the island, I've come to call it "Paradise on Earth."
At the airport we were met by a representative of our resort, given flower leis and directed to our high-speed boat. I couldn't believe the color of the water; it was as if Paul Gauguin himself had painted it. After a thrilling ride, we reached our hotel's dock, where a local playing the ukulele welcomed us. We were then given a tour of the astonishing property and were taken by golf cart to our overwater bungalow. We have stayed in many beautiful properties around the world, but when we opened the door of our bungalow our jaws dropped. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that all should have at least once in their lifetimes. And worth every penny. The view of majestic Mount Otemanu is something right out of a fairy tale. After the sun set, the nighttime dance show was equally enchanting.
We had planned to be in Bora Bora during the final leg of the famous Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe competition, which happens to be a major event in the cultural life of French Polynesia and has the reputation for being the toughest canoe race in the world. The center stage was at the island's most beautiful beach, Matira. We stood in awe as the winners reached the finish line after several hours (and days before that) of frantic paddling from island to island, showcasing the power of human strength and endurance. Besides being an incredible sporting challenge, it is also a colorful spectacle that filled the beach with flower-clad women and the air with the pulsating beat of drums. We were also able to celebrate and dance with them later that night at the local ball in Vaitape (Bora Bora's largest city). It was a marvelous way to get a deeper understanding of another culture!
Besides having the time of our lives at the resort's infinity pools, inner lagoons and beach, we also went to the Turtle Center and had a chance to feed these amazing creatures while they're being rehabilitated to go back into open waters. From there, we took a boat tour of the main lagoon and went swimming with stingrays and sharks. Few things scare me in life, and sharks are on the very top of that short list, but I mustered the courage and what a thrill it was! To commemorate my bravery on the last day of our trip, I got my very first tattoo: a hammerhead shark. Polynesians believe that such sharks act as guardian angels to humans and protect us from the Great White. My husband got a Polynesian design that was custom made just for him, and it represents travel, freedom and courage. We also got a set of matching Polynesian wedding bands. Since the art of tattoo originated in Polynesia, this is the most enduring souvenir one can get from such an amazing culture, but I'm sure the memories of our trip will also stay with us forever!
The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".
Better Boarding consists of three key improvements
Less time in line:
By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.
Simplified gate layout
Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today
Group 1 will board through the blue lane.
Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.
Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.
Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.
We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.
Be in the know about boarding
Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).
Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.
Balanced groups and better recognition:
United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx
Improved premier customer recognition
We're happy to make them happy
Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.
The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience
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Neighbors, coworkers, parents, protectors, heroes. All of these labels and more encompass the men and women whose devotion to our country serves as the truest embodiment of the American spirit. We're talking about Veterans. Join host Phil Torres as he heads to our nation's capital to learn more about these heroes and to explore just how many United employees are veterans on this Big Metal Bird.
From players and personnel to thousands of pounds of equipment, it takes not only a game plan, but a team to get the San Francisco 49ers to their next game and back all within 24 hours. This process is a little thing in the airline business we call chartering. Learn more about how our Charter team gets professional sports teams to their away games and back on the newest episode of Big Metal Bird.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.