Three Perfect Days: Singapore
Story by Nicholas DeRenzo | Photography by Lauryn Ishak | Hemispheres, April 2017
As countries go, Singapore is still in its infancy. Unceremoniously expelled from Malaysia in 1965 and forced to fend for itself as a new sovereign nation, the island city-state has worked its way up to being a global powerhouse in just five short decades—which is even more remarkable given its size: 277.6 square miles, about the area of Lexington, Kentucky. Having previously been ruled by both the British and the Japanese, the Lion City spent its early years under the paternalistic gaze of its popular founding father, Lee Kuan Yew (tough on crime, tougher on chewing gum). Now, after a period of literal nation-building—land reclamation has increased the country's footprint by 22 percent—Singaporeans seem to be taking a collective deep breath. There has been a renewed interest in history and folk culture among the people here, even as a hypermodern, multicultural metropolis rises around them. The next 50 years should be interesting.
In which Nicholas pays his respects to a celebrity tooth, witnesses the architectural potential of soy sauce bottles, and sniffs out a great cocktail bar
With a diverse populace (and four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil), Singapore stands as Asia's melting pot. I'll be spending the morning exploring the city's ethnic enclaves with guide Anita Sharma. We meet in bustling Chinatown, which, like all of these historic districts, is dominated by rows of shophouses, a Southeast Asian vernacular marked by a five-foot-wide covered walkway (mandated by Governor General Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles' Town Plan of 1822) and a narrow, deep footprint. From those basic building blocks, the variations are endless: ornamental tiled facades, decorative columns, colorful shutters, even Art Deco motifs.
The area used to be known for its opium dens and secret societies. More recently, a Times Square–style cleanup has rendered it tourist-friendly. “Some people say they've cleaned it up too much," says Sharma. In the distance, a group of older Chinese men and women seem to be doing tai chi on fast-forward. A closer inspection reveals they're actually line dancing to Brooks & Dunn's “Only in America." Maybe she's right.
The Supertree Grove and OCBC Skyway at Gardens by the Bay
Singapore's food scene revolves around its no-frills hawker centers, with some stands even earning a star in last summer's inaugural Singapore Michelin guide. Sharma takes me for breakfast at Chinatown Food Street, where we skip Chinese in favor of roti prata flatbread with fiery chicken curry and peanut-topped rojak, a fruit, vegetable, and fried tofu salad with shrimp paste dressing.
“Welcome to durian land!" says Sharma, pointing to the spiked fruits that are so notoriously smelly they're banned from some hotel lobbies and public transit. “Some have described it as eating custard in the toilet, though I don't know how anyone would know how that tastes."
We walk a block to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, an imposing red-and-gold structure that opened in 2007 and is said to contain the Buddha's left canine. Down the street, we remove our shoes under the Sri Mariamman Temple's tiered gopuram tower and step inside Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, founded in 1827 and decorated with a deliriously Technicolor pantheon of stone deities. With its clouds of incense smoke and the pulsating rhythm of the thavil drums and oboe-like nadaswaram, it's easy to fall under the temple's spell. “Women have to cover up," says Sharma with a laugh. “Of course, the priests are seminaked."
We head across town via the outlandishly clean MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)—Sharma points out “no durians" signs—to Little India, a thrumming district of curry houses, henna painters, and stalls selling coconuts, jasmine, and grass to be offered up at Hindu temples (elephant-headed Ganesha gets the grass).
“People think it's too crowded here, but I like that it's disorganized," Sharma says. “Little India is as real as it gets; it's for all five senses." Let's start with taste. We stop at Komala Vilas, which opened in 1947, for pillowy idly rice cakes, which we dip into coconut chutney and tangy sambar lentil stew. Down the street at Azmi, we order chapati flatbread with minced mutton keema. The digs are bare-bones; the flavors are revelatory.
We pick up squares of carrot burfi (sweet milk fudge) at Moghul Sweet Shop and stroll past stalls selling Bollywood DVDs, Sri Lankan elephant dung stationery, and lots of gold. “Chinese, Indians, and Malays love gold," says Sharma. “It's the one thing we all have in common." We stop in front of Sajeev Digital Studio, where the owner takes portraits of locals and sends them back to India or Sri Lanka for arranged marriages. “I should have come to him years ago," Sharma deadpans.
Inside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
From here, we hop into a taxi, and Sharma teaches me to address elders (like our driver) as “uncle" or “aunty," and then we're off to Kampong Glam, the historically Muslim Malay district, which is dominated by the gold onion dome of the Sultan Mosque. Sharma points up at a thin black strip under the dome that is made from the glass bottoms of bottles—an oddly scrappy addition to an ornate temple. “The poor donated bottles of soya sauce," my guide says, “so that it didn't look like it was only built by and for the rich."
Palm-lined Arab Street and the surrounding alleyways offer a delightful blend of the traditional (textile merchants, boutiques where you can design your own alcohol-free perfume) and the eccentrically trendy (halal Swedish cafés, coffee shops that print your selfie onto latte foam).
I say goodbye to Sharma and pop into the nearby design shop Supermama, which sells a dizzying array of souvenirs and household items, each with a story to tell about local culture, including miniature versions of the ubiquitous red chairs you'll find at hawker stands, doorstops modeled after rainbow-hued kueh lapis rice cakes, and stuffed cartoon curry puff keychains. There's also a Lucasfilm-approved series of Star Wars plates, each bearing a hidden Singaporean folk motif.
“When friends came from overseas, they'd either buy food or merlion keychains," says owner Edwin Low, referring to the mythical half-lion, half-fish national symbol, which has been honored with a 28-foot, water-spewing bayfront statue. (“To merlion," by the way, is now Singlish for being violently ill.) “But are we more than the merlion? This is a city of borrowed cultures. Because of this shared history, shouldn't there be a new archetype, a new language of products?"
One of the shophouses of Singapore
In this spirit, another series of plates in Low's shop is decorated with images of HDB (Housing & Development Board) public housing apartments, the high-rise blocks that house more than 80 percent of Singaporeans. “One of the best comments I've ever heard," he says, “was from a man who told me, 'For the first time, I feel proud to live in an HDB.'"
We get to talking about the role of design in a country with a reputation for strictness (see: the country's famous ban on chewing gum). “There's actually a lot of freedom of expression," says Low. “When we started, we were a nanny state. We didn't have a choice—it was for survival. Sometimes I wonder if we've grown too fast, if we robbed our country of its childhood." Judging by this shop, at least, Singapore doesn't seem to be lacking for childlike whimsy.
With my sackful of souvenirs, I head back to Chinatown for dinner at British chef Ryan Clift's ultra-progressive and comfortably chic Tippling Club. “Ten years ago, Singapore had a very different market," says Clift, who made a name for himself in Melbourne's fine-dining world. “It was either high-end or hawker. We were the first to introduce modern gastronomy and quote-unquote mixology, but people here are very quick to accept something new—that's the beauty of Singapore."
Clift doesn't like the word “molecular," but whatever you call it, his tasting menu is a lot of fun—with flavor and technique to back it up. For every perfectly saltwater-poached piece of lamb, there's strawberry cheesecake in the form of a pill. For every expertly seared diver scallop with purple Brittany garlic soup, there's a passion fruit–flavored smiley-face tab to dissolve on your tongue like … well, you know.
After dinner, I head for the attached bar, where the young Mancunian bartender Joe Schofield has devised the wickedly clever Sensorium menu. I'm presented with 12 blotter strips, each spritzed with a custom-made fragrance (Forest, Earl Grey, Leather). The idea: Allow the nostalgic power of scent to guide your order. I'm drawn to the vodka-and-citrus Rain, served with an edible cloud made from dehydrated yogurt sponge and charcoal powder. And then to the dill-and-anise Grass. And then to the marshmallow-topped Campfire…
Before memory-triggering cocktails turn to memory-erasing ones, I retreat a few blocks to my hotel, The Club, a 20-room boutique property occupying a row of early 20th-century Chinatown shophouses. The spacious interior is decorated with midcentury-inflected furnishings and whimsical touches like oversize bird portraits. In my room there's a nightstand reading stack that ranges from Gustave Flaubert to Danielle Steel. But at this hour, after a day of cloying humidity, the only amenity I'm interested in is the air conditioner.
In which Nicholas meets the toast of the town, learns singlish, and gets in the “sling" of things
This morning, I'm set to meet a friend of a friend, Amy Long, who lived in New York, Seoul, and Hong Kong before returning to her native Singapore, where she now works in the oil industry. She's going to show me around the districts of Katong and Joo Chiat. This residential area, east of downtown, is the epicenter of a regional subculture known as Peranakan. The name, which comes from the Malay for “local born," is used for the descendants of local Malay women and Chinese (or other foreign) traders along the Strait of Malacca. Today, the area is known for madly colorful folk costumes and architecture.
We meet at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, an unfussy kopitiam (a ubiquitous Singaporean take on the coffee shop), and order the country's most famous morning meal: soft-boiled eggs with kaya jam toast (here it's a bun instead of the standard sliced bread) topped with butter and a bright green curd made from coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and pandan leaves. The stuff is so addictive I end up bringing home five jars.
“There are different schools of thought about how you eat this," says Long, cracking the eggs into individual bowls and dressing them with soy sauce and white pepper. “You either eat it with a spoon or pick it up and slurp it, which is the old grandpa way." We go with the spoons.
Amy Long, businesswoman
Long is impeccably stylish. (Her converted shophouse even appeared in the New York Times real estate section.) I, on the other hand, am a puddle of sweat, a victim of the oppressive humidity, a condition exacerbated by the dearth of napkins at kopitiams.
“Lee Kuan Yew was asked what the greatest invention of the 20th century was," she says of the first prime minister, as we duck into a convenience store, just as the locals do, to buy packs of tissues and cooling scented alcohol wipes, “and he said the air conditioner. We call ourselves 'the air-conditioned nation.' It's a metaphor. We created this environment; we're in this bubble."
To aid in the cooling off, we stop into Island Creamery, which makes locally inspired ice creams and sorbets with flavors such as Tiger beer and pulut hitam (black sticky rice with coconut milk). I order a scoop of chendol—based on a regional dessert made with shaved ice, coconut milk, pandan-leaf jellies, and gula melaka palm sugar caramel—and we continue our walk, past bike repair shops and a Malay wedding procession.
As we stroll, we chat about Singlish, the name for the local patois. “It's a hodgepodge—nominally English with Chinese grammatical structure and Malay words," says Long. “Ten or 15 years ago, people were ashamed of Singlish. It's a very low language, but I love it. It's like a secret code you're tapping into. Everyone has this dual, triple identity, and you slip into and out of it all day." She might use it to order at a hawker stand. In the boardroom? Probably not.
“When I came back to Singapore, it felt like a totally new city. The pace of things has really started to pick up. There's a lot more recognition that we have to loosen the strings so people want to live here." —Amy Long
We say our goodbyes, and I finish up in the neighborhood by walking down Koon Seng Road, which has a lovely row of sherbet-tinted yellow and pink and green and blue Peranakan shophouses that call to mind San Francisco's Painted Ladies.
I head back downtown, where I check into Raffles Hotel, a crisp-white ode to British colonialism that is celebrating its 130th birthday this year with a top-to-bottom renovation. I walk past the famed Sikh doormen—white-turbaned, military-garbed—and into a lobby straight out of Rudyard Kipling (who stayed here), though it's another former guest, Joseph Conrad, who's the namesake of my grand suite for the night.
Before I venture back out to explore, I pay my respects to the hotel's—if not the country's—greatest contribution to global culture: the Singapore Sling. Bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created the dangerously drinkable concoction—gin, cherry brandy, Dom Bénédictine, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice, grenadine, Angostura bitters—in 1915 to look like fruit punch, allowing British women to tipple without attracting disapproving attention. It's unclear, though, how they disguised the fact that this potent drink made them quite merry quite quickly.
For lunch, I'm having a Peranakan high tea at the National Kitchen by Violet Oon, an elegant dining room helmed by “the Julia Child of Singapore" and tucked away on the second floor of the new National Gallery of Singapore. Opened in 2015, the museum occupies two former hubs of British rule, the domed Supreme Court and the colonnaded City Hall, which sit on the sprawling Padang Cricket Ground. After polishing off a three-tiered tray of delicacies—including a beef sambal pao steamed bun, a hae bee hiam spicy dried shrimp floss finger sandwich, and doilylike roti jala pancakes—I head into the galleries. Many of the halls contain nods to colonialist mythmaking, such as an 1860s woodcut of an incident (probably apocryphal) in which road surveyors were attacked by a tiger.
The Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay
One of my favorite pieces is Malaysian artist Wong Hoy Cheong's playful yet searing 2002 installation Re: Looking, which reimagines history through a specific lens: What would have happened if Malaysia had colonized Austria? Guests step inside mock judge's quarters, built from architectural elements salvaged from the original court, where they can examine maps of the fictional Malaysian Empire or watch an imagined documentary on disenfranchised Austrian migrant workers forced to take manual labor jobs in Malaysian cities. It's a head trip.
“Singlish is like a secret code you're tapping into."
Next, I walk 10 minutes to the bite-size Peranakan Museum, which occupies a former primary school in the shadow of hilltop Fort Canning Park. The building brims with colorful artifacts: carved household altars, floral porcelain dinnerware, kingfisher-feather wedding headdresses, and a tablecloth made with one million tiny glass beads.
Dinner tonight is at the world's first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut, up on Dempsey Hill near the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where I sample homey plates like wing bean and prawn salad; braised Duroc pork cheek pongteh stew with preserved soy bean gravy; and buah keluak chicken, cooked with tarry Indonesian black nuts (which contain cyanide if not prepared correctly). For dessert, I opt for that much-maligned fruit, the durian, which appears here as a soup, an ice cream, and a puree. The flavor is sweet, funky, a little oniony—but it's hardly as offensive as I've been led to believe.
After a swift breath test, I catch a cab back to Chinatown for a nightcap at Crackerjack, a new bar by San Francisco transplant Joe Alessandroni, whose nearby speakeasy, 28 Hongkong Street, ranked 14th on last year's World's 50 Best Bars list. “The ethos of craft cocktails is to pay attention to local flavors," says Alessandroni, handing me a highball of pineapple, rum, lime, and Angostura bitters. While the menu offers a slew of tropical flavors—tamarind, coconut—I find myself drawn to the Ballgame, made with Johnny Drum bourbon, caramel corn syrup, and bitters, with a “baby beer" chaser. This “multicultural crossroads," as Alessandroni calls Singapore, really does have a way of making you feel at home.
In which Nicholas falls in love with an onion, goes garden-hopping, and marvels at a merlion
In need of a caffeine boost after last night's activities, I've planned to explore the city's newest obsession: single-origin, third-wave coffee shops, like the ones you find in Brooklyn or Portland. I'm set to meet Bernice Lee, a member of the contemporary Javanese-inspired company Maya Dance Theatre. We meet at Chye Seng Huat Hardware, a coffee roastery in the new hipster enclave of Jalan Besar, just north of downtown.
Over velvety nitro cold brew coffee and green pandan pancakes—served with kaya jam, vanilla ice cream, and gula melaka palm sugar syrup—we discuss the country's multiculturalism. “Our identity has always come first from our national point of view," says Lee, noting that while someone in the U.S. might call herself, say, Italian-American, here the Singaporean part always comes first. The government, meanwhile, is so committed to the melting-pot model that HDB housing is designed specifically to mix different ethnicities and prevent groups from sticking to their own kind. “We're all tribal in some ways," Lee says, “so it makes sense to acknowledge that and work against it."
But, as I saw yesterday with the revival of Peranakan folk culture or with Edwin Low's reverence for folk motifs, there is also an increasing emphasis on tradition—“an effort to reclaim our narratives," as Lee puts it—especially among the youth. A whimsical expression of this impulse sits just across the street, at the Thekchen Choling Tibetan-style Buddhist temple, which contains a beatific cardboard cutout of the Dalai Lama standing behind a spangly Buddha-ful altar (I count dozens).
Jason Tan, chef, Corner House
My next stop involves a tradition that never went away. In 1963, Lee Kuan Yew publicly planted a tree to initiate a plan to make Singapore a “Garden City," but the local love of plants is much older. A case in point is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a 10-minute drive from downtown, which was named the country's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Founded in 1859, the gardens are spread over 183 wooded acres. Hidden among them is the National Orchid Garden, and within this is the VIP Orchid Garden, a collection of hybrid flowers named for dignitaries: the white Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana, the stylishly speckled Papilionanda Vanda William Catherine (named for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), and the Dendrobium Margaret Thatcher, which has petals shaped (appropriately?) like screws.
It's a quick uphill ramble to lunch at the Corner House, which occupies a black-and-white 1910 bungalow tucked among the lush vegetation. I grab a seat on the veranda and dig into chef Jason Tan's French-inspired tasting menu, which earned him a Michelin star last year. While the succession of dishes is filled with luxe ingredients—Japanese A4 Toriyama beef, foie gras, Kristal de Chine caviar—it's the humblest of ingredients that get starring roles. A salad of more than 40 herbs, vines, flowers, roots, and tubers is served on a pea-green leaf-shaped plate, while Tan's signature dish is a celebration of the unappreciated onion.
“When I first started, there weren't enough great restaurants. We all have to improve together to keep up. For me, the Michelin guide doesn't change anything." —Jason Tan
A former veg-o-phobe, Tan tried the super-sweet Cévennes onion, from the hills of Southern France, and liked it so much he changed his entire approach to cooking. Four and a half pounds of the onions are required per diner for his signature four-part “The Onion Revealed": a whole baked onion filled with onion puree and confit, a sous-vide egg, sea salt, chives, and black truffles; a tart; a dehydrated chip; and an Earl Grey–infused onion tea. The dish is such a knockout that I look out the window and make can-you-believe-this eye contact with a bright green pigeon plucking berries off a tree.
“Every cuisine uses onions," Tan says, “but they're always just a garnish, a condiment, or in a stock—never a true hero. Singaporeans still look at menus and want luxury premium ingredients, so a lot of people were like, 'Are you sure? Onions?' But if you do it right, anything can shine." He claims to have converted all but one onion-hater (who found the dish too sweet). His next project? Carrots.
I'm off now to Gardens by the Bay, a futuristic representation of the Garden City idea that opened in 2012 on 250 acres of reclaimed land. I wander through two undulating glass conservatories, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, which encompasses a 115-foot artificial mountain swathed in orchids and bromeliads (as well as the world's tallest indoor waterfall). James Cameron would love it here.
The skyline-dominating Marina Bay Sands resort and casino
I challenge my fear of heights by climbing the 72-foot-high, see-through OCBC Skyway, which weaves through some of the gardens' showstopping Supertree Grove. These 18 vertical gardens look like alien steel baobabs, standing up to 164 feet tall and covered in 162,900 plants, such as ferns and flowering climbers. Aside from being an Instagrammer's dream, these structures serve many other purposes: They collect rainwater to irrigate the park, harvest sunlight to convert into solar energy, and regulate heat in the domes. They look a bit sci-fi, but that's the point. The future, after all, is green.
As I stroll out of the gardens and along the sidewalk that skirts Marina Bay, I have a front-row view of the city's changing face: the 541-foot Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, which opened in 2008; the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum, which followed in 2011; and the skyline-dominating Marina Bay Sands resort and casino. When it opened in 2010, the 656-foot behemoth was the most expensive resort ever built, at $5.7 billion. It looks like an immense surfboard balanced atop three towers, or an alien rendition of Stonehenge.
To continue the forward-thinking theme, I take a cab to Wild Rocket, chef Willin Low's “Mod Sin" spot, which ranked No. 38 on this year's S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna Asia's 50 Best Restaurants List. The vibe here is pure Japanese—the space is modeled after a traditional chashitsu teahouse—but the flavors are all Singaporean.
Onion four ways at the Corner House
I sit at the counter for an omakase tasting menu with sake pairing, and each dish is a playful deconstruction of a local staple. Low's bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) trades out pork for lightly torched chopped tuna belly atop glass noodles cooked in pork fat. A pomelo and prawn salad is dressed with a scoop of savory ice cream made with coconut milk, fish sauce, and chilies. Black truffles liven up a posh take on the hawker classic, Hainanese chicken rice.
“While chef was studying in the U.K., he would see 'Singapore fried noodles' on Chinese takeaway menus," says my server, Yane Goh, as she sets down a plate. “But there's no such thing in Singapore! So he took ownership of the name." His version is a spin on Hokkien mee noodles cooked with ebi miso (made with fat from prawn heads), sea kelp kombu, lobster oil, and prawn stock, and topped with a massive king prawn and a tiny calamansi lime. Throughout the meal, chatty servers keep bringing over a laptop to show me images of the original dishes, so I'll fully understand the scope of Low's inventiveness. A pre-dessert snack tops pineapple sorbet with mint sugar, chili flakes, and soy sauce salt, the crystals that form along the edge of the vat when soy sauce is brewed the traditional way.
As I begin to notice the first signs of a food (or, more accurately, sake) coma, I head toward my bed for the night at the grand Fullerton Hotel, a fortresslike former post office building that was erected in 1928 near the spot where city founder Sir Stamford Raffles first set foot on land. Before turning in, I take the hotel's underground walkway out toward the bayside Merlion Park, which is centered on that famous water-spouting statue.
Inspired by the city's fishing-village past and the tale of a mythical Malay prince who encountered a lion, the Merlion statue serves the same role in Singaporean culture as Copenhagen's Little Mermaid—part point of pride, part tourist trap. With the glitzy bayfront skyline before me and the hulking remnants of British colonialism behind, I can't help but feel this hybrid creature is a perfectly apt metaphor for the country itself: an invention, sprung fully formed from the heads of 20th-century nation-builders, cobbled together from diverse parts, powerful, and utterly fantastical.
Hemispheres executive editor Nicholas DeRenzo is seeking seed money for his new artisanal kaya jam company, The Toast with the Most.
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Naples: The gateway to the Amalfi Coast
There's a good reason the Amalfi Coast tops so many travel wish lists. All along this 30-mile stretch of rugged Italian coastline, small villages sit atop cliffs. Sun-soaked pastels, vibrant blue water and jagged mountains contrast magnificently. Pristine beaches and spectacular ocean views provide a scenic backdrop, while the climate remains mild and sunny throughout the year. Because of its natural beauty and unique landscape, the Amalfi Coast has even earned a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. It's simply picture perfect.
With United's new route to Naples (NAP) launching May 22, 2019, you now have direct access to explore the lively villages, dramatic coastline and stunning scenery of the Amalfi Coast. Start your stay in Naples, then add a few coastal villages to your trip.
Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples Italy
Though the Amalfi Coast may be the main reason for your trip, be sure to spend time in Italy's third-largest city. Naples is a bustling metropolis with lots of local flavor. It's also a good home base for exploring the nearby ruins of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, which are some of Italy's most popular attractions. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., it covered the city in a sea of ash that kept Pompeii extremely well preserved until it was discovered by archeologists nearly 2,000 years later.
From visiting centuries-old historical attractions to sipping espresso on an outdoor terrace, there are many opportunities to get a taste of what Naples has to offer. Your time in Naples can include browsing boutiques with wares made by Italian artisans, walking through the pedestrian-friendly old town or taking in artwork from Renaissance masters. And, it's the birthplace of pizza. It's extremely easy to find fresh, expertly prepared Neapolitan pizza almost anywhere. By some counts, Naples has the best pizza in the world.
Enjoy a change of pace on your first stop on the Amalfi Coast. Sorrento's breathtaking views of the sea have long made this resort town a popular favorite among international travelers and Italians alike.
Even if you're not staying at a high-end luxury resort, you can still enjoy a spa day at one. Dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant where seafood and shellfish are Sorrento's must-try dishes. Along the main shopping street of Corso Italia, peruse artisanal shops for authentic Italian leather goods or pick up a bottle of Limoncello to bring back home. Enjoy the gardens and fountains of Villa Communale Park, which sits at the top of a cliff. See the entire Bay of Naples below and soak in the panoramic views. Not far from the city, the Baths of Queen Giovanna are tucked away in a hidden cove; it's an excellent spot to sunbathe, swim or watch the sunset. More active travelers will enjoy a coastal hike on Sorrento's nearby trails and nature reserves.
Nicknamed the vertical town, Positano is perhaps one of the most precariously perched Amalfi Coast villages. It seemingly teeters on the cliff jutting out into the sea. Wander the steep, narrow streets and take in the magnificent pastel-colored buildings. Positano is also a go-to destination for upscale shopping. A thriving fashion scene offers locally made lace, handmade leather sandals and hand-painted ceramics.
Everything about the sunny island of Capri is idyllic. The elegance and beauty of the Amalfi Coast are well represented in its landscape, where white mountainous cliffs plunge sharply into the bright blue sea. You'll find not only gorgeous beaches, but also a lively nightlife scene and upscale shopping. Take an excursion to the nearby Blue Grotto, a cave where the water glows an electric blue.
Sitting below the Amalfi Coast cliffs, Amalfi is a more accessible town for some travelers. It's the largest town along the coast and offers some of the most historic attractions. Get beach time and explore famous monuments. White buildings and homes have earned it the name the Pearl of the Amalfi.
Ravello village, Amalfi coast of Italy
Feeling touristed out? It's a little less crowded in Ravello, but none less beautiful. The medieval village has many elegant gardens and terraces that overlook the sea, making it a perfect stop along the coast to settle in and relax.
Visiting as many towns as you can squeeze in isn't necessarily the way to go. Though this stretch of coast is compact, the narrow, winding roads can become dense with traffic. It may be more leisurely to spread your time out over fewer destinations.
United and many of its Star AllianceTM partner airlines offer service from multiple cities in the U.S. to Naples. Specifically, United announced a new summer nonstop service between New York/Newark and Naples, beginning May. 22, 2019 thorugh October 4, 2019. Visit united.com or use the United app to book your trip.
Sustainable biofuel plant announced near Chicago
Fulcrum BioEnergy, one of our partners in producing sustainable aviation biofuel, announced on December 13 that it has selected Gary, Indiana for the location of its Centerpoint BioFuels Plant, which will convert municipal solid waste (MSW) into low-carbon, renewable aviation fuel. This fuel has a greater than 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis.
We're proud to have partnered with Fulcrum since 2015 and are excited about furthering our commitment to sustainability.
As we announced in September, we're committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2050, nearly 99 percent of which is from jet fuel. Our partnership with Fulcrum BioEnergy will reduce our carbon footprint, divert waste from landfills and create 160 full-time permanent jobs and 900 construction jobs at the Fulcrum facilities located in and around Chicago.
"We're thrilled by Fulcrum's continued progress towards producing sustainable biofuel," said Environmental Strategy and Sustainability Senior Manager Aaron Robinson. "We look forward to their future contribution towards our goal of halving our greenhouse gas emissions."
Construction for this facility is expected to begin in 2020 and take approximately 18-24 months to complete. Once operational, the Centerpoint plant will divert and process approximately 700,000 tons of MSW from the greater Chicago area. MSW is an ideal feedstock to produce renewable fuels. The organic material found in our household garbage is rich in hydrogen and carbon, the building blocks for jet fuel and diesel. Using a proprietary thermochemical process, Fulcrum's Centerpoint plant will produce approximately 33 million gallons of fuel annually, nearly half of which will be jet fuel.
5 fun facts about our holiday operations
This holiday season, get closer to the North Pole or ring in the New Year twice. With over 145,000 flights in the month of December, we're celebrating with five fun facts about our operations. Read on to discover something new, and if you're traveling on one of our seven flights that depart on December 24 and land on December 26, MileagePlus® members will receive 2,500 bonus award miles.
This December, United® will operate more than 145,000 flights
Here are 5 favorite facts about these flights…
7 flights take off on the 24 th and land on the 26th
United MileagePlus® customers on these flights will receive 2,500 bonus award miles
Double New Years
2 flights take off on Jan. 1
and land on Dec. 31 st
First flights to
leave in 2019
- Domestic: Seattle
12:05 AM Local Time
- International: Mumbai
12:15 AM Local Time
of hot cocoa
served per day at
United Club℠ locations
Flights closest to the North Pole
Warmest wishes from #UnitedForTheHolidays
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Tel Aviv: Miami of the Middle East
Tel Aviv is called the “Miami of the Middle East" by many of the Europeans who flock to the Israeli city for beach holidays. The nickname is puzzling to North Americans who are unaware of not only its fine beaches, but also its other similarities to Miami, like the vibrant restaurants and nightclubs packed with young, diverse, progressive locals. While other parts of Israel are known for their ancient holy sites and trouble spots, Tel Aviv is modern and quite safe.
You'll just need your passport when traveling to Tel Aviv. While Hebrew and Arabic are both official languages here, English is also widely spoken. The weather is mild year-round (similar to San Diego). Once you've arrived, a 20-minute shuttle-bus ride will whisk you to your Tel Aviv hotel, and once you're in the city, it's easy to get around in taxis or on foot. Most hotels and restaurants are located within a few blocks of the Mediterranean beaches.
Hit the beach
Your first day can begin with a beach stroll to shake off the jet lag. The seafront promenade lines the Mediterranean for more than three miles, with restaurants and bars overlooking a string of beaches. Some have breakwaters where you can swim in the seawater while others draw surfers. The scene changes from one beach to another, offering plenty of options for visitors.
Seeing the sights
Once you've had your share of relaxing at the beach, you can switch over to exploration mode. Northeast of the beaches, the Museum of the Jewish People, Eretz Israel Museum and Israeli Museum examine themes surrounding Israel and the Jewish people. Elsewhere are museums devoted to Israeli art and Bauhaus architecture (Tel Aviv's White City cluster of Bauhaus buildings is a UNESCO Heritage Site). Or you may be more interested in bargaining at the bustling open-air markets (shuks), including Carmel Market and nearby Nachalat Binyamin Market in central Tel Aviv and Jaffa Flea Market located in the ancient Arab port town on Tel Aviv's southern border.
Where to eat
Nosh across the city
Sightseeing works up an appetite, so now it's time to eat your way through Tel Aviv. Mediterranean and contemporary Israeli restaurants are found all over the city, as are falafel and shawarma cafes. But you can literally taste the city's international flavor in the exotic combinations found in the fusion cuisine at French/Mediterranean and kosher North African spots. A new wave of vegan restaurants and seafood restaurants that capitalize on the city's seaport location are especially popular in Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv after dark
When restaurants start to empty out, nightspots begin to fill up. Wine bars, pubs, sports bars, underground bars and rooftop bars are all popular, but the city's DJ club scene is world famous. Music throbs from dozens of dance spots. Hangar 11, a converted warehouse, and Haoman 17 are legendary concert venues where world-class DJs perform. Then there's Spicehaus, the city's largest cocktail bar, where bartenders dress like pharmacists and serve drinks in beaker bottles.
To Bethlehem and beyond
Israel is best known worldwide as the nexus of world religions — and the country is small enough that you can venture out to see many of the historic places tied to the origins of Christianity, Judaism and Islam on bus-tour day trips. These visit all the sites in and around Jerusalem and Bethlehem, only one hour away, including Jerusalem's Old City, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Nativity Church, Mount Zion and the City of David. Longer trips to northern Israel visit Caesarea, Mount Carmel, Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.
United Airlines is the U.S. airline with the most flights to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, including nonstops from Newark and San Francisco, and will be the only airline to fly there from Washington, D.C., beginning on May 19, 2019. 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 to Tel Aviv.
Holiday magic lands in Cleveland
December 1 was a day filled with holiday cheer for dozens of children who came to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for a magical trip to the "North Pole." We invited children from the Cleveland Clinic, A Kid Again and Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital to participate in our Fantasy Flight, which every year offers families raising kids with life-threatening illnesses an unforgettable trip to the "North Pole."
Once guests arrived to the "North Pole," they entered a magical winter wonderland and enjoyed Christmas carols, festive food and even received gifts from the wish lists they shared with their parents. The day wouldn't be complete without Santa Claus, and of course the children had a chance to meet him and take photos with him and Mrs. Claus.
7 winter wonderlands around the world
Rather than heading to a beach destination this winter to avoid the cold, try something completely different by embracing winter with a trip to a winter wonderland. Whether you want to take part in some winter sports, attend a snow festival or just make a snowman with the kids, here are seven cities perfect for welcoming winter.
Sun Valley, Idaho
A-list celebs and Olympic champions have been flocking to Sun Valley for generations for the big-vertical-drop skiing — and so have snow sports enthusiasts of all ability levels. They also come for the natural beauty of the Sawtooth range and the mountain-town culture of Sun Valley and adjacent Ketchum. Activities from heli-skiing to snowmobiling and sleigh rides offer something for everyone. A Nordic-skiing festival (January 31-February 3) and symphony series (February 19-24) are among numerous upcoming special events.
Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City is a dreamy destination all winter, with abundant winter activities in and around the city, from fat biking to dog sledding. Twenty minutes away at Village Vacances Valcartier is a sprawling winter playground with 35 snow slides and North America's only ice hotel. During Carnaval de Quebec (February 8-17) — among the world's largest and oldest winter festivals — night parades are staged, a colossal ice palace is unveiled and contests range from snow sculpting to ice-canoe racing.
Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in the Alps, means “White Mountain" in English as its summit is topped by a year-round dome of ice and snow. The peak is clearly visible from Geneva, a lovely French-speaking city of 200,000 at the southwestern tip of Switzerland, and the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc ski slopes are only an hour away. While in low-elevation Geneva, it's easy to get around to visit the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum or take part in a variety of winter activities.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
Minneapolis and St. Paul boast the fittest residents — and coldest temperatures — of any U.S. metro area. That odd combination is possible because residents of the Twin Cities celebrate rather than dread winter. Mississippi River recreation paths are plowed and lakeside hiking trails become Nordic-skiing trails. And there is no bigger celebration of winter in the U.S. than the St. Paul Winter Carnival (January 24-February 3), which draws about 400,000 people to admire its multistory ice palace, cavort in its snow park and watch its parades.
As one of the most northern major cities in the world Stockholm is the best winter destination for combining outdoor winter activities and the indoor attractions of a cultural capital. Outdoor ice rinks are found in the city center and five ski areas are within an hour's drive; Stockholm is a finalist for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games and hosted the same competition in 1912. Indoor enticements include the Nobel Museum, with a Martin Luther King, Jr. exhibition through September 2019, and the Vasa Maritime Museum, the most visited museum in Scandinavia.
Apart from its ramen restaurants and Sapporo beer (with free tours at the brewery), Sapporo is best known for its winters, which bring 20 feet of annual snowfall. Not only the site of the 1972 Winter Olympic Games, this city on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido is home to one of the world's largest winter festivals. The 70th Sapporo Snow Festival (January 31-February 11) features hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures, offers snow slides and snow rafting, and attracts 2 million annual visitors — the population of the city itself.
Reno/Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Depending on which direction they head from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, winter visitors have plenty of options. They can go to North Lake Tahoe for major ski areas like Northstar, with its charming base village, or Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. They can venture to South Lake Tahoe for great skiing at Heavenly (North America's fifth-largest ski area) or Kirkwood (North America's third-highest snowfall). Or for those who are content admiring snow-covered mountains without skiing them, they can stay in Reno for the restaurants, casinos, and nightlife.
If you go
United Airlines flies to all seven of these cities, where MileagePlus® Rewards points can be redeemed to cover accommodations and Hertz rentals. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your winter wonderland getaway.
The day off: Washington D.C.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
"Many years ago at an air show, I saw a T-shirt that said 'Chicks fly,'" said Orlando-based Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and Chix Fix team coach Laura Spolar. "And I told my husband, 'Chicks can fly, but chicks can also fix!' A lot of people don't know that women are aircraft mechanics."
Laura didn't know it at the time, but that conversation would serve as the inspiration for the team name of our history-making, all-female team of technicians that competed in the
2018 Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC). Of 69 teams at this year's AMC, only three were made up entirely of women, and Chix Fix was the only one representing a commercial airline.
"It's so important for us to show young girls and women that this is a career option for them," said Airframe Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bonnie Turner, the Chix Fix team captain.
Chix Fix is made up of technicians from five stations. As a group, they only practiced together three times before the competition, but they bonded instantly.
"I feel like I've known these women my whole career," said Denver-based Line Technician Janelle Bendt. "It's been a lot of fun getting to know them and learning from them."
"As a team we just communicate really well; we all respect each other," said San Francisco-based Base Technician Katrina Oyer. "The biggest thing I've taken away from this experience is confidence. Working with these ladies is an eye opener. We really can do anything."
Watch the video above to learn more about Chix Fix and their journey to the AMC.