Three Perfect Days: Xi'an
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Xi’an

By The Hub team , March 20, 2016

Story by Benjamin Carlson | Photography by Jasper James | Hemispheres, March 2016

Even in a country as steeped in history as China, Xi'an is mindbendingly old. National capital for 13 dynasties, city of eight names, anchor of the Silk Road, an ancient metropolis one and a half times the size of Rome, Xi'an has more than 3,000 years under its belt. In the 13th century, one visitor wrote of the city's “noble, rich, and powerful" past—and Marco Polo wasn't easily impressed. Xi'an is a city both blessed and burdened by memories of greatness. Residents still speak of the Tang dynasty as if it ended yesterday (as opposed to AD 907). Every dingy noodle shop boasts of recipes dating back a century or more. Subway construction has hit repeated delays as diggers encounter crypts and other relics beneath the streets. But Xi'an isn't just for history buffs. It's also a loud, teeming city that captures all the glories and growing pains of contemporary China. The contradictions between an illustrious past and the sometimes awkward ambitions of the present are readily apparent: Cranes and concrete towers clutter the skyline beyond the ancient city walls; peasant folkways wend alongside roaring highways. But it's this—the clash of ageless tranquillity and breathless dynamism—that makes Xi'an such a fascinating, exciting place.

Day 1 Graphic

In which Ben tries (and fails) to decipher calligraphy, climbs the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, and grapples with one of the “Eight Strangenesses of Shaanxi": chili

In China, power radiates from the center. So, like other Chinese capitals, Xi'an was built outward in rings. Even as it has grown into a city of 8 million, the heart of Xi'an beats inside the huge city walls that enclose an area of about 14 square miles, and the Sofitel Legend People's Grand Hotel sits at the heart of the heart of it. The building, a 1950s Sino-Russian edifice, has two stately wings extending from a cylindrical tower. It was the first grand hotel in modern China, and it remains an anchor of the downtown, with a theater, museum, and serene garden.

I awake in a sumptuous suite and head to breakfast. My butler, a cheerful young woman named Lizzy, who is dressed in a little black tux with swinging coattails, offers me newspapers in French and English. As I tuck into shaved salami on toast and a red currant Danish, caterers hang garlands of green in the gardens outside in preparation for a wedding party.

But I'm not here to luxuriate. I'm here to plumb the depths of Chinese civilization, starting at the Tangbo Art Museum. My cab driver—husky-voiced, chain-smoking—drops me off in the southeast of the city, outside the walls. On the way there, we pass spectral blocks of unfinished apartments, peddlers hawking cabbages, and a dozen aunties waving their hands over their heads as if they were at a luau.

I'm met at the museum by Lei Ling, a graceful curator in a maroon wool coat. The small museum specializes in folk crafts and traditional arts, much of it from the Shaanxi province around Xi'an. Lei, a native of the city, shows me shadow puppets made of donkey skin and posters bearing Cultural Revolutionary slogans (“Smash 1,000 years of chains!"). I ask her about a set of clay statues depicting a family eating and arguing. Lei explains that they relate to the “Eight Strangenesses of Shaanxi," which include squatting while eating, marrying locally, shouting opera, and consuming heroic quantities of chili.

She seats me at a long wooden table, picks up a calligraphy brush, and asks me to guess the meaning of an ancient character she draws. Dragon? “No, that's a woman." She draws another: a 57-stroke character that takes up a whole sheet, made of elements that mean knife, moon, cart, word, distance, and heart. “You cannot find this in the dictionary," she says. “This is the most complicated character in Chinese."

“What does it mean?"

“It's biang biang, a sort of noodle."

Lesson over, Lei takes me to meet the owner of the museum: Ren Jie, a 50-something man in a puffy jacket. He welcomes me into his small, smoky office behind the galleries. Cheerful, with a gravelly laugh, he pours pu-erh tea into small ceramic cups. He founded the museum 15 years ago, he says, because of his passion for the traditional arts of Shaanxi province.

The 13-story Little Wild Goose PagodaThe 13-story Little Wild Goose Pagoda

“You've got to practice the art yourself to understand," he says. “In the West, people get tattoos using Chinese characters, but they make no sense. Those people have no idea what they mean." He is also eager to share his advice on food, urging me to load up on lamb soup with hand-torn bread. “Why do we break the bread ourselves? Because that way we have to sit with our friends a long time. You break bread, you talk. Every day it's like that. That's the Xi'an lifestyle."

As I prepare to leave, I ask Ren what else sets Xi'an apart. “Shanghai is a young city compared to us—Beijing too," he says. “Xi'an, we were the New York of the ancient world. Over a million population in the 8th century."

Despite my increasingly urgent craving for noodles, I decide on a pre-lunch trip to the Xi'an Museum, located on the grounds of the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, just south of the city walls. I start on the lower level, which displays a huge scale model of 8th century Xi'an (then known as Chang'an), when it was the greatest city in the world. Nearby, next to a display case containing the figures of 12 plump Tang dynasty ladies, a little girl in pink silk robes theatrically recites historical details.

“In the Tang dynasty we were the most advanced and populous country in the world," the girl says with the poise of a beauty pageant host. “Many foreigners came to trade and learn from us." She is wearing a sash that says, “Little Explainer."

From here, I pass through a small park to the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, a 13-story tower of tawny brick with a viewing station at the top. Up here, the contrasts of Xi'an are on vivid display: the candy-cane smokestack, the huge 14th-century Drum and Bell towers in the distance. Below, a vendor sells red slips of paper for visitors to write their wishes on. Hundreds hang from a branch. Mine says: biang biang.

My wish is fulfilled just inside the city walls, near the South Gate, down a winding street of bars. I step into a clean, bustling shop called Lao Wan, or Old Bowl, and tuck into a huge portion of noodles the width of a belt, garnished with green onion, white garlic, bok choy, and ample quantities of that most challenging of the Eight Strangenesses: chili.

To work off a few noodles, I ascend the wall near South Gate. Visitors can rent bikes to wheel around the top of the 14th-century structure; one of the largest and most complete city walls left in China, it runs for eight miles, stands almost 40 feet high, and is wide enough for two trucks to drive side by side. A few minutes in, I stop to watch a group of young men wearing flat caps and girls in denim overalls, all standing completely still. A moment later, in silence, the group breaks into a hip-hop dance routine. As a cameraman walks around filming them, a female bystander remarks to no one in particular, “It's weird without the music."

I make my way back to the Sofitel and, after a large Scotch at the lobby bar, head for dinner at the hotel's Dolce Vita Italian restaurant. I opt for the sea-themed menu: a whirlwind of pan-seared octopus over fluffy potatoes and lasagnette ai frutti di mare, followed by a tiny jar of exquisite tiramisu. Up in my room, I gaze at the bamboo-and-ox-hair brushes hanging over the desk, trying to picture the 57 strokes of biang biang. I don't get beyond the knife and the moon before I am asleep.

\u201cShanghai is a young city compared to us\u2014Beijing too. Xi'an was the New York of the ancient world. Over a million population in the 8th century.""Shanghai is a young city compared to us—Beijing too. Xi'an was the New York of the ancient world. Over a million population in the 8th century."

Day 2 Graphic

In which Ben tries (and fails) to decipher the species of a peddler's statuette, navigates the Muslim Quarter, and attends an arm-wrestling contest

No matter where you are, there are few better ways to start the day than immersed in a deep tub pungent with Hermès bath salts. I follow my dip with an equally restorative order of dragon fruit with toast in the hotel café, fortifying myself for a shopping spree at the antique market of the Temple of the Eight Immortals, the biggest Taoist temple in Xi'an, located east of the city walls.

Outside the temple, peddlers display an array of baseball caps, incense burners, screwdrivers, and sweet potatoes. I inspect a decorative clay object and am practically charged by a wrinkled old man, who claims it is from the Yuan dynasty of AD 1271. I nod and move on. I ask another vendor the price of two iron tiger statuettes, and she corrects me: “They're unicorns." Nearby, a young woman is involved in a heated conversation with a pipe-smoking man in a military coat.

“Are these yours?" she asks, holding up several “Certificates of Merit" given to comrades for good work.

“My brother's."

“How can you sell them?"

“They're no use to me. He's not around anymore."

“You shouldn't sell them."

“Eh, all right."

Inside the Eight Immortals, where Empress Cixi fled in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, worshipers put bundles of incense into iron urns and bow three times. I follow them into a hall where a Taoist priest with a mustache and a black hat listens to a loud audiobook while visitors kneel upon pillows. Nobody else seems bothered, and I wonder if this isn't some kind of test. Isn't Taoism all about accepting contradictions? I leave the temple, passing a food cart selling five spice dog meat. A few feet away, a Chihuahua in a pink vest snoozes on a blanket.

“That's Haohao," his owner says.

I bend to greet Haohao and he bares his teeth, growling until I back away from the pile of onions he seems to believe belong to him.

My next stop is in the South Gate area, at the Forest of Steles, a repository of stone tablets founded in 1087. Housed in the city's Confucian Temple, it contains 3,000 steles that are considered masterpieces of the calligrapher's art—the characters delicately chiseled into the stone—including several complete books written by emperors. By the entrance, four elderly masters demonstrate calligraphy for small crowds of mostly older men. One man yanks a small boy away after he repeatedly bumps a master's elbow with a toy truck. “I'm helping!" the boy cries.

“Foreign goods and ideas traveled along the Silk Road, bringing fruitful infusions of the outside world."

You don't have to know the language to appreciate the wildly diverse styles on show at the museum: some swooping, others dashing, or, in the case of one master called Crazy Zhang, erupting in wild, drunken arcs. In one gallery, I find the Nestorian tablet of 781, a record of Christian pilgrims' first encounters with China. It's a testimony to Xi'an's cosmopolitan past, when foreign goods and ideas traveled along the Silk Road, bringing fruitful infusions of the outside world into Chinese culture and cuisine.

Appropriately, I'm about to visit a real hotbed of cultural fusion: the Muslim Quarter, a sprawling area within the city walls. I've arranged to meet two longtime expat residents: Matt Allen, a San Franciscan entrepreneur married to a local woman, and his friend Marcello, an Italian-Venezuelan guitarist. Matt gives me a bro-bump, then plunges into the crowd.

“Something that doesn't get nearly enough attention is how long Muslims have been a part of Chinese culture," says Matt. “This is a scene that's been humming along 24 hours a day for centuries, and it's gorgeous and humming all day long."

I struggle to keep up as Matt and Marcello dodge vendors selling peanut brittle, walnuts, dates, and deep-fried persimmon cakes. Plumes of smoke swirl around hickory lamb skewers. Matt appears from the crowd to hand me a cup of pomegranate juice. They're in season, so the price is good. “My Muslim friends, they all know the price of, like, six commodities at once," he says over his shoulder. “It's all still Silk Road trader stuff."

Stone tablets at the Forest of Steles.Stone tablets at the Forest of Steles.

It's a dizzying scene. Bikes honk. People shout. The three of us surface at a popular shop called Old Sun's Family Beef Lamb Porridge, which serves a dish known as yang rou pao mo. We sit and tear discs of soft, dense bread into tiny pieces to fill a bowl, which will then be ladled with hot, savory lamb or beef stew. Matt points at my crudely torn bits and turns to Marcello. “Man, he is going to have some terrible soup."

Finally, I get it right. The cook, wearing a square white hat, swirls steaming broth into my bowl, adding bok choy and chilies as he goes. As we eat, I ask Matt what makes Xi'an so special. “I love how smart everyone is here without any education," he responds. “All the men can fix everything, and the women can all make 100 soups. The whole country is jerry-rigged, and I feel like this is where that started."

We end the afternoon jostling along alleyways toward the Great Mosque, one of the largest and oldest in China. While the buildings have the graceful eaves of Chinese temples, the vertical inscriptions along the doorframes are written in Arabic script. As we stroll through the mosque gardens, my companions talk hip-hop. A few years earlier, Matt tells me, he and a friend achieved some notoriety with a video of them rapping, in Chinese and English, a piece titled “We Livin' in Xi'an."

After a spritz and snooze at the hotel, I head for the contemporary Spanish eatery DUO, opposite Nanhu Lake. While I chow down on suckling pig croquettes, Galician octopus, and vacuum-cooked codfish, the city's only flamenco band—composed of two locals and a Scotsman—accompany a stomping Chinese woman in a red dress.

My phone buzzes. It's Matt, telling me there's an arm-wrestling competition taking place in a pirate-themed barbecue restaurant across town. I leap into a cab and head over. A smoky room of long tables is filled with beer steins, burly men in Speedos, and girls in red bunny outfits. How they kept the Strangenesses here down to eight, I'll never know.

Day 3 Graphic

In which Ben tries a “Chinese hamburger," marvels at the magnificent Terracotta Warriors, and samples a local take on “American" craft beer

I awake in a sleek crimson room at the Gran Melia, a chic Sino-Iberian hotel in Qu Jiang New District, a booming zone of parks and malls. I sit at a booth at the hotel's Red Level lounge, nibbling on a savory rou jia mo, a local pork sandwich sometimes called a “Chinese hamburger." In the perfumed lobby, a concierge calls me a car. Minutes later, a red-gloved attendant opens the door, and we are off to Xi'an's premier attraction: the Terracotta Army, located 45 minutes east of the city.

After living several years in China, I have learned to be wary of certain “marquee" tourist sites. Sure enough, the park that surrounds the warriors is jammed with souvenir stalls and selfie sticks. But then, as I step into the hangar-size hall where thousands of terracotta warriors stand uncovered or lie buried in soil, I am overcome.

Dating back to the third century BC, the site consists of three pits containing as many as 8,000 clay soldiers, along with hundreds of statues of horses, scholars, and officials. These are the guardians of the tomb built by (and for) Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first ruler to unify what we now recognize as China, in 221 BC. He created the title of emperor, built the first Great Wall, created national roads, and ordered the construction of a vast city of the dead.

Each warrior has slightly different eyebrows, cheekbones, and proportions. It wasn't until 1974, when farmers went to dig a well on this land, that anyone even knew these marvels were here. Six thousand soldiers still lie buried. What else lies beneath the surface of this city?

Leaving the pits, I pass a girl with dyed red hair pretending to play mandolin as friends take her picture. A stylish woman pauses to spit in a trash can. I am firmly back in the present.

Xi'an's premier attraction, the Terracotta ArmyXi'an's premier attraction, the Terracotta Army

The lunch options are iffy among the trinket stalls surrounding the site, so I opt for a noodle stand in the lot where cabbies wait for their fares. A man under a sign that says “Farm Family Little Eats" pulls bands of dough into thin noodles. He smiles when I pull up a stool and order a bowl. It's savory, fortifying, and cheap.

A cab takes me down the road to Emperor Qin Shi Huang's tomb, which looks like a large, pleasant park, because Chinese archaeologists have been waiting for technology to develop that will allow access to the tomb without damaging its contents. According to legend, the emperor rests amid rivers of mercury. (Probes have confirmed that mercury levels are 100 times the norm.) Above ground, people do normal park things: stroll, snooze, eat. It's a strange place.

For dinner, I am meeting a guide from Lost Plate, which organizes food tours to tiny shops around the city. The founder, Ruixi Hu, is a transplant from western China. “There are so many travelers in Xi'an who come, and all they do is see the warriors and go back to their hotel," she says. “They don't get to experience all the awesome food, which is the best part of the city. So we take people off the beaten path, where locals eat."

“I have learned to be wary of 'marquee' tourist sites. But as I step into the hangar-size hall where thousands of terracotta warriors stand or lie buried in soil, I am overcome."

Upon her arrival in Xi'an a little over a year ago, Ruixi bought a map and began exploring, scoring every restaurant she visited on a 10-point scale, compiling a list of ultra-local restaurants worth visiting. “I think I ate at least 50 types of noodle in Xi'an," she says. “I gained 10 pounds, for sure."

She sets me up on a tour with one of her guides, a young university student named Lu, who immediately asks if I want a beer from the cooler. I like this guy already. As we putter off to our first stop in a tuk-tuk, I tell him about my visit to the tombs. “The first time I stood in front of the warriors I, like, felt something," he says. Lu's English is excellent, and conspicuously Americanized. “Oh, I watch a lot of American shows," he explains.

The tuk-tuk winds through the alleyways on the fringes of the Muslim Quarter. Our first stop is a shop where gruff, stocky brothers roll out disks of dough and fling them on top of a tall stove. These honey-coated loaves are then stuffed with radish, carrot, egg, cabbage, pickles, and something called “tofu flower," which is fished from a dark red broth that Lu tells me is “28 years old."

“What?"

“The fire has been going for 28 years. They never let it go out."

“Why?"

He shrugs. “They say the flavor is better."

A band plays at the \u201cAmerican-style" Xi'an Brewery.A band plays at the "American-style" Xi'an Brewery.

The rest of the evening is a blur of tuk-tuk rides, on-the-go beers, and delicacies from unassuming shops: lamb skewers garnished in cumin and chili; soup dumplings and sweet “eight treasure" porridge with osmanthus, hawthorn, jujube, and lotus seeds; and a finale of spinach noodles served with Ice Peak orange soda (“the Xi'an Fanta," Lu says).

Our last stop is Xi'an Brewery, a brewpub by the South Gate of the city. The place is supposed to be American-style, but the customers are mostly local, the decor is Shaanxi-themed (masks and redheaded cranes), and games of dice are going at every table. A Chinese house band plays pop standards.

A kid at the bar has, for some reason, dyed his hair gray. Owner and brewer Jon Therrian, who hails from Ohio, takes me upstairs to a karaoke room where people are playing cards. I shake the hand of his co-owner, a Xi'an native named Lei.

“My parents' generation all drank baijiu,"

Lei says, referring to a hard grain liquor that's popular in northern China. “But our generation, we all are ready for something new."

They serve up a sampling of their wheat beer, seasoned with coriander and orange peel, along with milk stouts and Kölsch, all unpasteurized and unfiltered. “We try to make it in style, but we also try to make it suit local tastes," Therrian says of his beer, which balances the stronger flavors of foreign beer and the Chinese preference for lower alcohol content. I meet the editor of the monthly English magazine of Xi'an and, suffused with beery warmth, ask him what brought him to the city.

“People say, 'I came for the culture,' or 'I heard the food was amazing'," he says. “I even had a guy who said, 'I want to live in a city that starts with X.' But I had no good reason for coming, and it ended up being a good decision. It sounds lame, but Xi'an has a sense of realness—real China—that people always talk about. It's charming and in your face. We're a lot more down and dirty, and that's cool."

Cheers to that, I say, taking another swallow of stout tailored to suit the traditional tastes of the local population, which seems a fitting way to end the day.

Beijing-based writer Ben Carlson has devised a 78-stroke character to describe the feeling of having a piece of biang biang stuck in one's tooth.


This article was written by Benjamin Carlson from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Discover Kansas City: The City of Fountains

By The Hub team

To those unfamiliar with the Missouri metropolis, Kansas City might call to mind a few associations: Barbecue. Jazz. The fact that there's another, smaller Kansas City in Kansas (it's all part of the same metro area…yeah, we were confused, too). And while it absolutely has all those things, it also boasts wide boulevards, world-class art and really good tacos. Here's everything you need to add to your agenda on a visit to the vibrant Midwestern hot spot.

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RELATED: The Best (and Most Wallet-Friendly) Places to Travel in October

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Make a wish at one of the many, many fountains

If you notice an abundance of water features around town, that's because K.C. has, oh, 200 of them. (Its official nickname is The City of Fountains.) Among the most notable are the equestrian-themed J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain (built by a French sculptor in 1910) and the Henry Wollman Bloch Fountain in front of Union Station, whose 232 concentric water jets put on an ever-changing display.

Don Ipock/Courtesy of Visit KC

Get artsy

Spend an afternoon wandering the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, notable for, among other things, distinctive architecture, an extensive Asian art collection and a sculpture garden that includes four giant badminton shuttlecocks. The nearby Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art houses more than 700 works from artists like Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler and Frank Stella. You'll find an extra dose of culture throughout the city through October 28, thanks to Open Spaces, the city's newly inaugurated biennial arts festival.

Courtesy of Boulevard Brewing

Drink like a local

Fun fact: Kansas City famously said “nah, we're good" to Prohibition, so drinking is effectively part of the city's cultural fabric. Take a tour at Boulevard Brewing; beer geeks should be sure to sample the complex, extra-boozy pours from the Smokestack Series. If spirits are your jam, head to J. Rieger & Co., a legendary pre-Prohibition distillery that was resurrected in 2010 (with help from a descendant of J. Rieger himself), for whiskey, gin, vodka and Caffe Amaro (a bittersweet coffee liqueur).

Brian Paulette/Courtesy of Visit KC

Soak up the city's jazz past (and present)

Thanks in part to its unique, nightclub-friendly status in the '20s and '30s (see above), and heavyweights like K.C. native Charlie Parker, the city boasts a rich musical history, much of it centered around the 18th and Vine neighborhood. Pay homage at the Charlie Parker memorial and the American Jazz Museum, then catch a live show at the Blue Room (inside the museum) or the Green Lady Lounge.

Courtesy of Visit KC

Check out City Market

There are farmers' markets, and then there's this massive institution, which has been operating as a hub for local vendors since 1857. Along with a bounty of produce and flowers from nearby farms, you'll find dozens of eateries ranging from Ethiopian to Brazilian. It also shares the space with a surprising tenant: the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which showcases 200 tons of artifacts salvaged from an 1856 shipwreck in the Missouri River.

DAVID D. MORRIS/COURTESY OF VISIT KC

Eat barbecue

Anthony Bourdain called Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que one of the 13 places you need to eat before you die. The legendary spot—located in a gas station—is famous for its burnt ends and Z-man sandwich (brisket, Provolone and onion rings). For a new-school take on smoked meat, check out Q39, where the chef taps both his classical culinary training and years on the barbecue competition circuit to perfect dishes like a burnt-end burger and house-made chipotle sausage.

Zach Bauman/Courtesy of Visit KC

…And not barbecue

Feast on globally influenced small plates (think gochujang-dressed cauliflower and duck confit with za'atar) at The Antler Room, opened by a husband-and-wife team who brought their far-flung restaurant training back to their hometown. If the weather's nice, grab a seat on the patio at Gram & Dun for creative cocktails and comfort food with a twist like Asian pig “wings" with sake-soy glaze or loaded baked potato gnocchi. Also of note? The town's serious Mexican food scene. Order a whole wood-fired chicken at El Pollo Rey or walk into any of the great taquerias clustered around Southwest Boulevard.

Courtesy of Visit KC

Take a stroll in Swope Park

At 1,805 acres, the city's largest green space is more than twice the size of NYC's Central Park, and houses the Kansas City Zoo, a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater that presents Broadway shows and concerts, a zip-line adventure course, soccer pitches (where both the men's and women's pro teams train), a wildlife rehabilitation center and miles of hiking trails and picnicking spots.

Courtesy of Visit KC

Explore the Crossroads Arts District

Creatives flock to this historic neighborhood, filled with galleries, design shops and buzzy restaurants. If you can, time your visit for the first Friday of the month, when you'll find pop-up parties at galleries and shops, live performers on every corner and food trucks galore. Also in the area is the gorgeous Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts, should you wish to cap your evening off with some ballet, symphony or opera.

RELATED: 20 Cities Where Travelers Get the Best Value


This article was from PureWow and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Where to eat and drink in Salem

By The Hub team

While Salem, Massachusetts will be forever famous for its 1692 witch trials—and the associated spooky attractions that always make the streets quite crowded this time of year—its culinary scene is starting to become an attraction unto itself. Here are the beverage spots, bakeries, and restaurants to check out next time you're in town.

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The Roof at Hotel Salem

Aerial view of food at The Roof Salem Today is the day. We will be open 2-11! #wayup \Roof Salem

When the mid-century modern Hotel Salem opened recently, it had a draw for locals, too: Salem's first-ever roof deck, with views of the harbor, church steeples, and historic rooftops for miles around. Open at least through the end of October (request a blanket from a host if you get chilly), the open-air lounge keeps the warm weather vibes going with a mostly Mexican-inspired food and drink menu, including margaritas and tacos. In colder months, retreat downstairs for a double burger from the open-concept lunch and dinner bar, Counter.

Kokeshi

Fried chicken wings at Kokeshi Fried chicken wings... one of four courses offered during the first ever Ramen Mile this Thursday. What's a Ramen Mile? Check the link in our profile for info and sign ups. 🍗 \Kokeshi

With its flashy atmosphere (graffiti-lined walls, more than a dozen colorful paper umbrellas hanging from the rafters) and bold Asian street food menu, Kokeshi is nothing if not vibrant. Head here for surprising starters like an octopus hot dog sprinkled with daikon slaw and comforting bowls of rice noodles and ramen, including the Colonel Sanders, topped with fried chicken. If you're more in the mood for pizza, take note that the owners also serve perfectly crispy-chewy Neapolitan pies at their other spot, Bambolina.

Ledger Restaurant & Bar

Wood fire grilled carrots, house made herbed ricotta, maple, urfa, toasted pecans, chervil. One of the favorites from last summer is back on the menu. Wood fire grilled carrots, house made herbed ricotta, maple, urfa, toasted pecans, chervil. \Ledger Restaurant

A circa-1818 former savings bank found new life recently when chef-owner Matt O'Neil oversaw its thoughtful renovation into a gleaming restaurant space. Rustic touches like exposed original brick, a wall of repurposed deposit boxes, and a long, wooden communal table sit alongside more polished elements, including a sweeping open kitchen with a custom wood-fire grill and a dramatic, oversized chandelier over the bar. The menu has a new-New England vibe, with seasonal, locally sourced sides like cornbread and succotash, and hearty mains like a Berkshire pork chop with marinated peaches.

Life Alive

The Thinker salad mindfully composed exquisite red bell pepper tahini dressed baby kale with paper thin Winter Moon Root radishes pistachios green olives & marinated mushrooms.Life Alive Organic Cafe

Long before “plant-based" was a buzz-phrase and juice bars were popping up by the minute in downtowns everywhere, Life Alive was spreading its version of veggie love in the Boston area in the form of nutrient-packed smoothies, salads, and grain bowls (try the Goddess, with ginger shoyu sauce and sprouted legumes). Now four shops strong, including an outpost in Salem, this casual, organic cafe serves up the type of clean eats you'd expect to find at pricey yoga retreat.

Far from The Tree Hard Cider

It's on! 1 case limit per person. \Far From The Tree Cider

When you need a break from the witch museums and haunted graveyard tours, retreat to Far from the Tree's decidedly more mellow taproom. Pull up a stool in the rustic indoor space or perch on a picnic table on the patio outside, and sample hard ciders that run the gamut from off-dry heritage blends and Citra-hopped versions to out-there creations such as the limited edition Ecotoplasm, a bright green sipper spiked with jalapeno and green pepper out just in time for Halloween.

Notch Brewing

Voll Projekt Festbier on tap today for our annual Oktoberfest. Voll Projekt Festbier on tap today for our annual Oktoberfest. \Notch Brewing

Not that we're recommending it, but if you insist on drinking by the bootfull, these are the kind of beers you want to reach for. This ahead-of-the-curve session brewer specializes in low-abv German and Czech-style lagers and ales, like the signature “session IPA" Left of the Dial and even more quaffable pale ale Zwickel. In between rounds of Skee-Ball in the taproom, also check out Notch's Voll Projekt, the a new foray into full-strength brews.

A&J King Artisan Bakers

Baguettes! \A&J King Artisan Bakers

Master makers of all things crusty and buttery, artisan bakers Jackie and Andy King have earned themselves cult culinary status in this city—one croissant at a time. Stop by their original location or recently opened second bakery for a flaky apple tart or cinnamon bun, then fill your arms with as many rustic loaves of sourdough and baguettes as you can possibly tote home.

Caramel Patisserie

Morning 🥐🥐🥐 Patisserie & Macaron

French-born and clasically-trained pastry chef Dimitri Vallier makes some of the best treats in town—apparent by one glance at his picture-perfect pastry case. His elegant sweets, including Paris-brest eclairs and triangles of caramel mousse with poached pears are simply transportive. The only sign you're still in Salem? Alongside more traditional almond and rose macarons, you'll also find orange and black ones, too.


This article was written by Jenna Pelletier from Food & Wine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Introducing travel experiences with PlacePass

By The Hub team

Now that you've booked your flight, it's time to start planning out your trip itinerary. With so many options and endless websites to research, it can be a taxing task to take on. And if you're planning activities for everyone involved, it can be even more difficult to balance out the right amount of fun with the right number of touristy sites to visit.

With so many things to experience, research shows that travelers are seeking bespoke, local recommendations when it comes to planning their vacation itinerary. From activities like skip-the-line passes to museums, walking tours, water activities and more, our partnership with PlacePass provides top-rated recommendations when it comes to planning out your next trip. With over 100,000 travel experiences, you're sure to find something to do whether you're planning a family vacation, a trip with friends or tacking on a few extra days to your business trip.


To start, enter in your destination to browse categories of activities specific to that location. Activities are categorized by "most popular," "food and drinks," "family fun," "wine country" and more for nearly every destination we fly to, making it easy to find what you're looking for or discover new things to do.

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Our partnership with PlacePass is one of the ways we're bring more personalized experiences to our customers. As a leading technology solutions provider, PlacePass leads the way in bringing travelers in-destination experiences. Look out for more enhancements to our partnership early next year.

9 things to do in Maui for families

By The Hub team

With 120 miles of shoreline and 80 beaches in hues ranging from eggshell to ebony, there would be plenty for families to love about Maui, even if you didn't factor in the fascinating volcanic crater at Haleakala National Park. Here are nine fun-filled ways for your family to say Aloha to Maui.

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Gaze into a volcano

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Haleakala National Park is a literal high point of a visit to Maui: rising 10,000 feet above sea level, it's the world's largest dormant volcano. (If you plan to go before 7 a.m. to watch the sunrise, be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.) Once you've gazed into the crater and taken in the views over the entire island, there's plenty to explore in the otherworldly park filled with fascinating rock formations. Bring a jacket (it can be chilly up there) and stop at the ranger station as soon as you arrive for a free Junior Ranger Activity Booklet. Kids can complete the fun games based on sights around the park. Return to the ranger station when they're done and they'll be sworn in as Junior Rangers, complete with a plastic badge, the ultimate souvenir of a day up spent up in the clouds.

Take a flowery scavenger hunt

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While you're Up Country, amid the lush green slopes of Haleakala, visit the lovely and fragrant Alii Kula Lavender Farm. A free scavenger hunt will keep keikei (kids) busy wandering through the flowers and fruit trees — the reward for finishing is complimentary lavender cookies. Parents will love the gorgeous views and a relaxing stroll through the colorful grounds.

Pet a goat

Zach Stovall

Near the lavender garden is another Up Country family highlight: Surfing Goat Dairy. The goats don't actually surf unfortunately, but you can feed and pet them, and even sign up for a late afternoon milking tour to really get hands on.

Enjoy an authentic luau

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You'll want to arrive early for the popular Old Lahaina Luau, when traditional artisans demonstrate crafts such as palm weaving and wood carving, and your family can learn how to hula and play traditional instruments. The luau kicks off with the unveiling of the kalua pig that roasts all day in an underground pit, then the night unfolds as the sun sets, with live musicians and dozens of costumed dancers. Expect a massive, all-inclusive buffet where you can sample local tastes such as poi, pork, and poke, plus kid-palate friendly items including fried rice and barbecued “Moa" chicken.

Go on a whale watching tour

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Hit the seas with the marine biologists at Pacific Whale Foundation during humpback whale season, November through April, when nearly 10,000 of the mammoth mammals travel from Alaska to mate and give birth in the warm Hawaiian waters. Spotting a car-size tail shooting out of the water or witnessing an acrobatic out-of-water breach is the kind of spectacle your kids will remember for a long while, and PWF even offers a Jr. Naturalist Program for kids on their sailings.

See sharks at the aquarium

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Are your kids not ready for a boat adventure but still want to see amazing sea life? The Maui Ocean Center has a colorful Living Reef exhibit where you can spot unique swimmers like Hawaii's state fish, the humuhumu nukunuku apuaa. You can also see sea turtles, visit touch tanks, and walk through a 750,000 gallon tank filled with sharks.

Soak up the sun at Kaanapali Beach

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There's a beach for every mood on Maui, and of them Kaanapali is a top spot for families, especially the section just south of Black Rock — a landmark where a torch is lit and a diver plunges into the sea at sunset every night. Rent snorkel equipment and within seconds you'll spot tropical fish. Grab a bite to eat at the open-air Whaler's Village shopping center that has access right from the beach walkway. Plan to stay in the quieter area of North Kaanapali, north of Black Rock, where the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas offers multi-bedroom suites with full kitchens and washer dryers, a fabulous lagoon pool, cultural activities, a kids club, and communal grills where you can make an easy stay-in dinner for the family.

Explore the largest Banyan Tree

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The historic town of Lahaina is filled with original buildings from the 1800s when it was a bustling whaling town. The biggest attention grabber for kids is the massive, 60-foot high banyan tree (the largest in the United States), which has branches that extend across an entire block. There's always shade under the tree, making it the perfect spot to savor a tropical syrup-infused shave ice from one of the shops nearby.

Take a road trip

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The Road to Hana is legendary: 50 miles of hairpin turns and one lane bridges that test a driver's mettle, even without a car full of kids who might succumb to motion sickness. Instead of plunging down the entire drive, turn it into a road trip exploration that suits your family. Going just a third of the drive (less than an hour without stops), you can have lunch in the funky beach town of Paia (kids love the pizza at Flatbreads), watch the windsurfers at Hookipa Beach, feel the cooling spray at Twin Falls, take a mini hike at Waikamoi Ridge Trail, and stop to see the colorful painted eucalyptus and enjoy some fresh fruit at Garden of Eden. Then turn around and head back to the beach.


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

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Fun and spooky travel destinations for Halloween

By Matt Chernov

For many people, Halloween travel typically involves a stroll around the neighborhood with the kids as they go trick-or-treating, or perhaps a drive across the city to a costume party. But for adventurous travelers who are searching for genuine thrills and chills on October 31st, a trip to one of these seven destinations is the perfect way to celebrate the spookiest day of the year.

Sleepy Hollow

Lighthouse on a dark day in Sleepy Hollow.

Washington Irving's classic story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" tells the eerie tale of an unlucky schoolteacher who encounters a pumpkin-headed phantom while walking through the woods at night. In actuality, the fictional town of Sleepy Hollow is based on the real-life village of Tarrytown, New York. Every October, the residents of Tarrytown pay tribute to Irving's fable with a series of family-friendly events that attract visitors from far and wide. This year's celebration includes a spooky cemetery tour, an elaborate haunted hayride, vintage horror movies at the historic Tarrytown Music Hall and a possible visit from the Headless Horseman himself.

New Orleans Haunted History Tour

Above ground cemetery in New Orleans

New Orleans is widely considered the ghost capital of the United States, and for very good reason. Founded as a French colony in 1718, the city has a rich history of attracting immigrants from Spain, Africa and Haiti, each of whom brought with them a unique set of superstitions and religious practices. Today, voodoo rituals, vampire legends and zombie tales abound in The Big Easy, and the best way to experience them is by taking one of the popular Haunted History Tours. Choose between the classic ghost tour, the haunted pub crawl, the creepy cemetery stroll and the authentic voodoo tour.

The Stanley Hotel

The Stanley Hotel in Colorado

Nestled amid the glorious Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the beautiful Stanley Hotel is the real-life inspiration for Stephen King's terrifying bestseller “The Shining." In 1974, King and his wife Tabitha spent a night at The Stanley and quickly discovered that they were the only guests in the entire hotel. This sparked the author's fiendish imagination, and he began outlining the novel's chilling plot that same evening. Though he changed its name to The Overlook Hotel for the book, The Stanley remains the true setting. Today, fans of “The Shining" can celebrate Halloween at the hotel with a series of horror-themed events, including a murder mystery dinner, a lavish masquerade party and an official Shining Ball.

The Paris Catacombs

The Paris Catacombs

Throughout much of its history, Paris has been known as the City of Lights. Yet beneath its lovely streets, a more accurate description would be the City of Bones. That's because the skeletal remains of more than 6 million bodies are buried in the network of underground tunnels and narrow passages that wind their way below Paris. Since it was first opened to the public in 1874, this macabre labyrinth has become one of the most popular attractions in all of Europe. Catering to demand, a variety of catacomb tours are available for travelers who want to explore the hidden world of the dead.

Poenari Castle

Perched high on a cliff in the Arefu village of Romania, this atmospheric castle is considered by many to be the original home of Count Dracula himself. In reality, it was an imposing stone fortress belonging to the infamous warlord Vlad the Impaler, who was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's legendary vampire character. Built at the beginning of the 13th century, Poenari Castle is in a state of perpetual ruin, yet tours are still available to brave souls who are willing to climb the 1400 steps to reach its crumbling citadel.

Newgrange Tomb

Newgrange Tomb in Ireland

The first people to celebrate Halloween (then known as the Festival of Samhain) were the ancient Druids of Ireland, so a trip to this 5,200-year old Druid tomb in Ireland's Boyne Valley is the perfect place to spend the holiday. Constructed during the Neolithic period by Stone Age farmers, Newgrange consists of a massive circular mound divided by a long stone passageway and filled with multiple burial chambers. According to Irish folklore, it was believed to be the dwelling of a god called Dagda, who wielded a massive club that was capable of raising the dead. Tours of the prehistoric monument are available to the public.

Loch Ness

View of ruins of a castle from a boat in Loch Ness.

If you've ever dreamed of coming face to face with a genuine monster, why not spend this Halloween searching for aquatic sea creatures in Scotland? The legendary beast, affectionately nicknamed Nessie, was first spotted in the freshwater Loch as far back as the 6th century AD. Since then, there have been countless sightings, but aside from a handful of grainy photos, no actual proof has been captured. So grab a camera and reserve a seat on the Jacobite Loch Ness Tour. You just might be the one to prove its existence, once and for all!

If you go

Halloween can be frightening, but planning your next trip doesn't have to be. Book your tickets by visiting united.com, or by using the convenient united app.

Celebrating Girls in Aviation Day

By The Hub team

We are proud to work with Women in Aviation so that together we can help break down barriers and promote inclusion while also inspiring a future generation of aviation leaders that includes women.

We kicked off Girls in Aviation Day by bringing in young women from Girls Inc. to meet a group of our female pilots and to try the flight simulators at our new flight training center in Denver.

We are continuously working to build a workforce as diverse as the communities we serve, which is why we are excited to hold Girls in Aviation Day events in a record number of 12 locations around the world. Through this event in Denver and the other events held across the globe, we are working to engage girls as they begin to think about their own futures so we can ensure a strong future of women in the industry.


Cuba: A city filled with culture and heart

By The Hub team

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 Remote Reservations Sales and Service Representative Susie Grisley

My favorite travel experience was visiting the beautiful city of Havana, Cuba. My strong curiosity persisted when the U.S. and Cuban governments finally agreed to cooperate on U.S. citizens traveling to this previously forbidden place. Reviewing the documents, I learned we could go in under the "Humanitarian" category, as the borders had not been opened to come and go as any American pleased. A group of us gathered, including some of my Boston-based colleagues and my three sons. We purchased a ton of toys and goodies for the children of Cuba.

Colorful, classic cars in Cuba.

Upon arriving in this fortress of deteriorating concrete, old buildings and damaged structures, we found an amazing city full of culture and heart. The Cuban people were glowing with an unmatched happiness and welcomed us with open arms. They were friendly, hospitable and very excited to see us, the Americans. They are extremely proud of their city, which despite the broken sidewalks and crumbling walls, was insanely beautiful. The colorful buildings and the colorful working vintage Chevys are among the amazing things to see. They are so proud of their old cars. Out of necessity, they have learned to work on their own cars with very simple tools. If the car breaks down while driving, they simply get out, open the hood, twist and bang and get it running as they know how to do. No one honks at them if they are in the road. This is just their way. The insides of the cars are simple, yet they maintain them as their prized possessions. They all, however, have music! They love driving proudly through the streets in their shiny old cars with music pouring out the open windows. Riding in many of them, each "taxi" was a new experience of its own.

Despite the gorgeous architecture and the classic cars, it truly was heart-warming getting to mingle with the Cuban people and learning their way of life. They are a beautiful people with beautiful, happy hearts ready to greet every American.


When it came time to hand out toys and gifts, we carried our toy bag through the streets, and it was apparent to us the children did not live with much. The delight and smiles on their faces were unimaginable. Their gratitude was evident, and my only regret was that we did not have enough for every child we saw. I thought my heart would explode at their excitement and appreciation.

Havana, Cuba is a travel must. It is an unbelievable place with an unbelievable story.

I left Cuba with a new realization of what it is like to live in a closed nation. I found a vibrant society of happy people full of fun, music and culture. I came home with a love of Havana and its people forever in my heart.

It was a trip of a life time and an experience we will never forget.

7 family-friendly activities to celebrate fall

By Matt Chernov

Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.

Go apple picking

Apple Orchard

Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages.. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.

Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years. If you're considering a visit, you might want to plan to be there on November 23, since that's when they're hosting their famous Apple Butter Festival this year.

Visit a pumpkin patch

If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.

If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want for only $3 each. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.

Enjoy a harvest festival

Autumn Harvest Festival

An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.

For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.

Hit the trails

A path through autumn foliage forest in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.

On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.

Roll in the hay

Corn Maze sign

Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.

In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!

Up, up and away

Hot Air Balloon on a farm

Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.

If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.

Pitch a tent

closeup of one tent in woods

Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.

For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.

Getting there

Regardless of where you plan to celebrate the fall, book your flight at united.com or by using the convenient United app, and share your story on social media with the #UnitedJourney hashtag.

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