Three Perfect Days: Barcelona
Story by Boyd Farrow | Photography by Salva López | Hemispheres October 2016
Spain's El Gordo may be the world's biggest national lottery, but Barcelona residents have already hit the jackpot. The capital city of Catalonia, a semiautonomous region in the country's northeast, has a culture—and language—all its own. It has extraordinary architecture (from the medieval clutter of the Barri Gòtic to the Modernist apparitions of Antoni Gaudí), a lively arts scene, some of the world's most inventive cuisine (22 Michelin-starred restaurants), as well as a perfect climate and more than three miles of sand for its beautiful people to strut their stuff on. All this is hardly a secret: Nearly 25 years after the 1992 Olympics propelled Barcelona into the global spotlight, its 1.6 million residents are vastly outnumbered by the people who come to visit. Many leave their hearts in the city—and many simply decide to stay.
In which Boyd gets a glimpse of a Gaudí dreamscape, climbs a mountain to look at modern art, and peruses the world's greatest collection of fresh produce
It's midmorning at Caelum, a cryptlike cafe in Barcelona's Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) where the cakes are made by nuns. I am contemplating a cup of “Blessed Chocolate"—thick as asphalt and almost as dark—when my companion, Lynette Kucsma, whispers: “Try one of these." From her bag she produces a handful of chocolate cookies shaped like spoons, and we cackle like hens.
Half an hour ago, I watched Lynette make these cookies using a 3-D printer created by the tech startup she co-founded, Natural Machines. The company headquarters are surrounded by a 14th-century cathedral, a 15th-century palace, and the remnants of a Roman wall. In this city, the ancient and the cutting-edge collide like giddy toddlers.
Indeed, much of Barcelona seems like a playpen for surrealists and mad scientists—a Terry Gilliam fantasy brought to life. I woke this morning in the Neoclassical Majestic Hotel, a century-old five-star property on the shopping avenue Passeig de Gràcia. From the balcony of my suite, I looked out at fairytale turrets, pillars of bone, and a roof that resembles an iridescent armadillo.
Lynette Kucsma, Tech entrepreneur
Lynette Kucsma, Tech entrepreneur
This turns out to be Casa Batlló, designed by visionary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the man who, more than any other, manifests the spirit of Barcelona. Later, having demolished the Modernist breakfast buffet tower I made out of Manchego cheese and Ibérico ham, I cross the road for a closer look. Built in the early 20th century as a private residence, Casa Batlló is more dream sequence than domicile: ceilings swirl, walls convulse, windows bulge. The roof terrace has multicolored mushroom-shaped chimney pots. You can only imagine Gaudí's meetings with the client, textile titan Josep Batlló: “Hey, Joe, how about skylights shaped like tortoise shells?"
Passeig de Gràcia is situated in Eixample, Barcelona's commercial hub. It extends from Gràcia, a former village in the north, to Plaça Catalunya, the huge, teeming square where the Ciutat Vella (Old Town) meshes with the 19th-century grid. After a half-dozen or so tactile sales pitches, I am tempted to buy a selfie stick from a hawker to beat my way through the other hawkers.
South of here is Barcelona's most famous street, La Rambla, a tree-lined pedestrian boulevard that nuzzles the Barri Gòtic and runs all the way to the port. Near the waterfront is the Monument a Colom, a 195-foot iron column with Christopher Columbus on top, pointing out to sea. This is said to be the exact spot that the explorer returned to after discovering the New World. If he'd turn around, he'd have a great view of what is often called Barcelona's “emotional hub."
“I wouldn't go as far as to call it smugness, but people here know how lucky they are—the weather, the food, the mountains, the sea. Let's just say they are proud, but with justification." —Lynette Kucsma
As for me, I'm mainly seeing the backs of people's heads and the tops of kiosks. Barcelona attracts 9 million visitors a year, and this morning most of them are shuffling in front of me. At one point I find myself jostling before the ornate Font de Canaletes—built in the 19th century over an ancient watering hole—around which people, even today, congregate to refill their Evian bottles.
Barcelona's real treasures tend to be above eye level: the multipronged street lamps, the licorice balustrades of the townhouses, the Rococo flourishes of the 18th-century Palau de la Virreina, and the Baroque stylings of the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house, which was Europe's largest theater when it opened in 1847. The Liceu's woes eclipse any tragedy it has staged: A fire in 1861 destroyed everything but its facade, and three decades later the auditorium was re-destroyed by anarchists. Another rebuild was needed following a blaze in 1994.
Feeling a little overheated myself, I duck down a side street, then weave my way through the Roman ruins to find Lynette and her sci-fi snacks. “Barcelona is great for startups," she says as we wander the Barri Gòtic, stopping to take in the deliriously latticed bridge on the much-photographed Carrer del Bisbe. “Where else can you get cheap office space in a place like this?"
A Chinese dragon sign on a former umbrella shop on La Rambla
A Chinese dragon sign on a former umbrella shop on La Rambla
We zigzag on, past the looming cathedral, which teems with so many spires it looks like a polygraph test set in stone, and through cobbled Plaça Sant Jaume. In front of the grand Casa de la Ciutat, we look for a group of castellers, multistory human towers that are wildly popular here (presumably for selfies and jailbreaks), but it's too sticky today for such exertions, so we continue on to the adjacent Plaça de Sant Miquel, where we take in a 90-foot Antoni Llena sculpture that seems to have been built from the world's largest wire coat hangers.
From here, Lynette leads me to the iron and stained-glass entryway of La Boqueria, a monument to the region's passion for gastronomy. Inside, locals browse stalls selling glossy olives, bouncy mushrooms, Botoxed fruit, wriggling seafood, and heaving slabs of meat. I see a whorl of saffron worth more than my apartment. One stall sells nothing but eggs: white goose eggs, blue duck eggs, green emu eggs, and huge yellow ostrich eggs.
At Kiosko Universal, one of the market's bustling eateries, grilled squid and blistered Padrón peppers are thrown on a busy grill beneath a slightly alarming sculpture made from cutlery. Usually, out of a plateful of these small green peppers only a couple will be fiery, but for some reason, every one of mine goes up to 11. Eyes streaming, I discover the one thing not available at the market: water by the gallon.
A jamón vendor at La Boqueria
A jamón vendor at La Boqueria
Four stops from the nearby Liceu metro station is the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, a palace built on a hilltop for the 1929 International Exposition. Two escalators hidden in the topiary take you some of the way up, but there are still several hundred steps before you reach the museum's entrance. At the door, they are handing out oxygen masks. No, wait, they're just audio guides. The exhibits, however, are worth the climb. Among the big draws here are the Romanesque and Gothic works, but I linger over Joaquim Mir's vivid Modernist landscapes, then pause to covet a gorgeous Jujol cabinet. The most popular spot for selfies is in front of Miró's Mural per a IBM, 1978, which once brightened the entrance of the computer giant's local HQ. Now it is worth more than IBM.
Another quick metro ride takes me to Gràcia, which has retained its simple charms despite an influx of trendsetters. Rising 110 feet in Vila de Gràcia, the colorful main square, is a stone clock tower surrounded by boys showing off their soccer skills. I have a vermouth in the shade and watch for a bit.
I've been starving since the Renaissance (all those still-life bowls of quince at the museum), but nobody here seems to eat dinner until two in the morning. The concept of a proper night's sleep seems alien to Spaniards. Eventually, I arrive at Petit Comitè, on the -upmarket Pasaje de la Concepción. Here, Michelin-starred chef Nandu Jubany has created updated versions of a lengthy list of traditional Catalan dishes. I try most of them: l'Escala anchovies and pickled oysters with seaweed, baked monkfish with ham and fried garlic, suckling pig with apricot and pineapple. A vanilla brioche with flaming rum arrives, and while it may not have been meant for my table, it is delicious.
It's past midnight but still warm when I exit the restaurant. Although my bags have already been dispatched to my next hotel, I decide to try the Majestic's rooftop bar, where a DJ does his best to get the well-groomed clientele to throw shapes around the swimming pool. I've noticed that a popular cocktail in Barcelona is a localized version of the Aperol Spritz, in which the vivid orange Italian aperitif is served with ice, soda, and cava, and this seems a good time to try one. I sip the bittersweet drink and watch the Aperol-tinted street below, until I feel myself slumping into an unflattering shape, close to the water's edge.
In which Boyd sleeps beside an ancient roman wall, impersonates a filmmaker at the Sagrada Família, and sparks a war of words between two designers
Many grand palaces were built along the Roman wall of Barcino, as the Catalan city was known in the Middle Ages. This morning, I wake up in The Mercer, a chichi hotel that has been fashioned out of one of them. Here, famed architect Rafael Moneo has created an extraordinary amalgam of materials and styles. Through the restaurant's glass floor, I can see the base of the first-century Roman wall, but right now I am distracted by a pastry that has rolled off my table and ended up splatted in the middle of the room. Luckily, there is an adorable moppet in a highchair at the next table. She can take the rap, I decide.
Soon I'm heading north to another Gaudí masterpiece, the Surrealist-Gothic Sagrada Família—which has been under construction since 1882 and won't be completed until 2026. One look at the vast church and you understand the delay. Comprising eight tapering 328-foot towers (there will be 18 when the project is finished), every inch oozing with detail, every detail an allusion, it looks like several hundred monumental structures rolled into one.
Olga Menchén, Fashion designer (with Francesc Grau Tomàs, right)
Olga Menchén, Fashion designer (with Francesc Grau Tomàs, right)
As I enter, the woman at the desk mistakes me for a member of a TV crew and fast-tracks me to a Passion Tower. Seeing the line for the tiny elevator, I decide to roll with it. Then she hands me a 28-page contract, which I must sign on every page. “This is just to say you are liable for damage." Later, inching down the tower's 350 terrifying corkscrew steps, I'm convinced I'm going to slip and take down everyone ahead of me. I picture the faces of the network's lawyers when they're hit with the class-action lawsuit.
Love it or hate it, the Sagrada Família is a triumph of structural engineering and a brain-twister for scholars of ecclesiastical symbolism. But it also crowns the architect's career-spanning celebration of nature: every tile is a honey-comb, every column a tree, every staircase a shell. I crick my neck staring at the ceiling's frills and jags, the skylights of glowing green and gold, and suddenly wonder how they change the lightbulbs in here. Do they call in the castellers?
A short cab ride takes me to the Horta-Guinardó district and up to Gaudí's Park Güell, a 45-acre pleasure garden seemingly landscaped by Dr. Seuss. Teeming with gingerbread houses, kooky water features, and crazy tiled critters, the park is the legacy of Eusabi Güell, a 19th-century industrialist who commissioned Gaudí to build a residential estate on Muntanya Pelada (Bare Mountain). In 1922 the Güell family gifted it to the city, and today it is one of Barcelona's most popular destinations. Entrance is restricted to 400 visitors in each prebooked 30-minute slot. I am 10 minutes early, and the ticket collector glares at me. Inside, people are clustered around an Imperial staircase, which leads to the Roman-inspired Salon of the Hundred Columns, atop which is a large viewing terrace.
“People tend to think that Spain has a machismo culture, but Barcelona women are strong, powerful, and confident. There is always a sexiness about people who dress completely for themselves." —Olga Menchén
Here, I rest on a bench in the form of a sea serpent and enjoy panoramic views of the city. Salvador Dalí called this bench a precursor of Surrealism, but after a morning of wall-to-wall Gaudí, it's starting to look like run-of-the-mill garden furniture. All these cracked tiles, though, remind me that my unmoisturized head is flaying in the heat. If I sit here any longer, I too will become glazed.
After all the stimulation, I decide lunch should be simple, so I turn to London-born chef Alan Stewart, who is getting rave reviews for his year-old restaurant, La Esquina. Part Shoreditch pub, part Soho loft, the eatery bucks Spanish culinary trends by giving vegetables equal billing with meat. “The markets here sell the most fantastic vegetables, yet most places still serve a big chunk of meat with half a tomato," says Stewart, who came to Barcelona two years ago. The locals seem to have embraced his approach: By 2 p.m., the place is crammed. I get chilled cream of cucumber soup with crusty bread, and couscous with pomegranates and feta—but before leaving I discreetly wolf down a plate of robust pork sausages, ignoring the lentils.
Onward to El Born, the commercial heart of the medieval city, wedged between the wall and the port. The district, already brimming with galleries and funky shops, is now attracting droves of artisans. I can practically taste leather and single-bean chocolate in the air.
Barcelona's man-made beach
Barcelona's man-made beach
Among the great Renaissance mansions of Carrer de Montcada is the cloistered Museu Picasso. Many early works from the Barcelona-trained artist are on display here, including an 1896 self-portrait in which he looks spookily like Prince. One of the pleasures of the museum is seeing how versatile Picasso was: Of all the artworks here, there is very little in the way of messed-up guitars or people with noses on the sides of their heads.
Around the corner from here is the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, considered the city's finest and most complete example of Catalan Gothic architecture, on account of its relatively prompt construction. Begun in 1329, this compact church was completed a mere 55 years later. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, the interior was burned out, but the soot-blackened vault only heightens the eerie beauty of the space.
At the nearby Super Super Bar, I meet Francesc Grau Tomàs and Olga Menchén, who own Menchén Tomàs, one of Barcelona's leading fashion labels. Francesc says that design startups are on the rise here, as talented youngsters move to the city. “It takes time for a new generation to learn old techniques, but it is exciting to see," he says. “Hopefully they won't all go off and work for Zara."
I ask if Barcelona is a well-dressed city, and Francesc says “yes" at the same time Olga says “no." They then argue in Spanish (or maybe Catalan?), as I silently sip my sangria, wondering if I've just ended their fruitful partnership. “It is stylish compared to other Spanish cities, certainly more than Madrid," Olga clarifies eventually. “But it is not London or Milan." Francesc risks adding: “The weather is far hotter here."
The bridge over the Barri Gòtic's Carrer del Bisbe
The bridge over the Barri Gòtic's Carrer del Bisbe
“Let's go for a walk," I suggest tactfully. Weaving southwest toward the port, they agree that the city is undergoing a period of rapid gentrification, particularly around the patch north of the Passeig de Colom, the wide palm-lined avenue that separates the jumble of Born streets from the port. We stop for more sangria on the roof of The Serras, a Design Hotel that overlooks Port Vell, the marina created for the 1992 Summer Olympics. This fall an outpost of the Manhattan members-only club Soho House is opening in once-seedy Plaça del Duc de Medinaceli. Olga has been quietly reassessing. “The city is getting more stylish," she declares.
And so am I. A little later, in a crisp white linen shirt, I enter Paco Pérez's Michelin-starred Enoteca, at the seafront Hotel Arts, the sleek latticed skyscraper where I'm staying tonight. Behind my crisp white tablecloth in the all-white room, I all but disappear. I'm surprised no one screams at the sight of my levitating, crazy-tiled head. I order lobster with chanterelles, almonds, and zucchini, followed by “Sole and the Mediterranean Sea," which is tasty but not as comprehensive as it sounds. I'm also cajoled into getting the white chocolate soup with passion fruit, before a plate of intricate petit fours arrives, reminding me of Park Güell.
Later, exhausted and stuffed, I make my way up to my room on the 30th floor. I leave the blinds fully open and fall asleep gazing out at the twinkling harbor lights far below.
In which Boyd meets a movie star, joins a Spanish square dance, and eats his way up the food chain
I am swimming alongside a fish. It's a whopper—170 feet or so from end to end—looming over the pool at the Hotel Arts. Created for the 1992 Olympics, Frank Gehry's latticed, gold-colored El Peix d'Or is now one of Barcelona's best-known landmarks.
The Catalan capital, famously, used to be a city with its back to the sea. Before the Olympic Games, this area was largely wasteland. The Port Olímpic marina was created from scratch, part of a $12 billion makeover that included shipping in enough sand to extend the city's beach at Barceloneta—the wedge-shaped district bordered by El Born, the sea, and the Port Vell site—to three miles.
Danielle Schleif, film producer
Danielle Schleif, film producer
Post-swim, I stroll along a boardwalk past rows of restaurants and shops selling seafood and souvenirs. It's all very orderly—what Cancún might look like if it were run by the Swiss—but it's remarkable that there even is a beach here, four short metro stops from Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona's bustling answer to Times Square.
I stop for a café con leche at Vai Moana, a “gourmet beach bar" on Bogatell beach, about half a mile from Port Olímpic. My server, Luciana, seems mildly surprised that I'm not ordering anything stronger. “The Spanish come late in the afternoon for drinks," she says. “Tourists are more likely to have a gin and tonic for breakfast." From here, Gehry's sculpture glistens like a huge carp bobbing along on the sea.
I take the metro from Ciutadella Vila Olímpica to the Passeig de Gràcia. I am having brunch at a curious place called L'Eggs. Owned by Paco Perez, the restaurant is a plush upmarket joint serving eclectic local fare. The ingredient that binds most things on the menu—often literally—is eggs. Everything looks good, but, inspired by my earlier exertions in the pool, I opt for restraint, ordering Andalusian-style baked eggs with baby cuttlefish and tartar sauce, followed by cubes of fried hake with a creamy miso mayonnaise. Then the wry German chef, Alexander Stelzer, foils me. “Try a crema catalana," he suggests, delivering a ramekin of rich orange-flavored custard with a caramelized crust. I can hear my belt straining with every spoonful.
“When you are making a film here, you're seen as preserving cultural identity, so there is a real familial feeling among the entire cast and crew. It starts to feel less about doing a job and more about lifestyle." —Danielle Schleif
I take a redemptive stroll toward the galleries and boutiques that have sprung up around the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, in the once seedy El Raval district. This modern, glass-fronted building is a nod to Le Corbusier in a city dominated by Gaudí. Inside, I pause before a five-pound note, and the face of Queen Elizabeth, upon which the German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann has added a clown nose. It's part of an exhibition exploring punk's influence on visual culture—although for that you can simply look at the street art sprayed on every wall outside.
From here, I wander through another rough-and-ready district, Poble-sec, which is becoming a stomping ground for the creative classes and adventurous Airbnb-ers. In charming Plaça del Sortidor, children run around the fountain while old men chat quietly on the benches. I realize that people tend to talk in hushed tones in Barcelona. Maybe General Francisco Franco's rule, which lasted from the late 1930s to 1975, took its toll, or maybe it's because they always feel as if they're extras on a film set.
The Plaça Reial fountain
The Plaça Reial fountain
The metro from Poble-sec takes me to Liceu, on La Rambla, from which I make my way back through the Barri Gòtic. I stop for a mint tea at a brasserie in the magnificently porticoed Plaça Reial, with its palm trees and central fountain between two elaborate lampposts designed by you-know-who.
I'm heading for the beloved tapas joint Bar del Pla to meet film producer Danielle Schleif, a New Yorker married to a local man. I find her seated next to David Verdaguer, star of Danielle's steamy rom-com 10,000 Km. Over mojama (salt-cured tuna), suckling pig with tomatoes, and wine from the local grape Xarel•lo, the actor describes how he moved here from Girona 17 years ago, and how the city still fills him with delight.
“People here know how to enjoy life," he says. “They don't work insanely hard and then have a big blowout at weekends. They have perfected moderation. People live well every day. They appreciate everything—the food, the weather, the beauty of the place."
“You never leave your apartment," Danielle teases him.
“I come here all the time," he says, hugging the sommelier as she passes. He gestures at the muddle of alleys around us, which is more than an open-air museum, he says: It is a real, living community, inhabited by “princes and thieves." I think he means that the neighborhood is diverse.
The Gothic Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar
The Gothic Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar
Danielle and I have a table booked for dinner uptown, so we decide on a leisurely walk, which takes us past the cathedral. On the steps, a brass band is playing, and the plaza is filled with locals dancing the sardana. The routine involves circles of people joining hands and raising them as they move with small, precise steps, around and around. As others join, and the circle gets too large, it splits into another one, until the entire square is a mass of slowly spinning bodies. “The sardana is a powerful symbol of Catalan unity and pride," Danielle says. “Although," she adds in a stage whisper, “it's hard to believe that such an attractive people have a dance that is this unsexy."
We are heading for BistrEau, run by the Michelin-starred “Chef of the Sea," Ángel León, at the Mandarin Oriental. Sitting beneath a metal lattice that filters light, there's a sense that we are underwater. We opt for the ominous-sounding Discovery Menu, and the waiter asks if I have any allergies. I've noticed they serve plankton here. “We'll see," I mumble.
It turns out that I can eat plankton (and cockles in seawater jelly, squid-ink risotto, sea snails, and even raw shrimp), so I'll be fine when it turns out to be the next superfood. “My husband would love it here," Danielle says. “I'm sure there are some things here that even he hasn't tried." I smile, discreetly trying to dislodge a barnacle from the roof of my mouth.
After eating our way through the first few links of the food chain, we head for the Caribbean Club, a wood-paneled rum bar midway down a narrow back lane in a 12th-century building in El Raval. The joint is so small there are only four stools; two are occupied by heavily tattooed women, and we perch awkwardly on the other two. My cocktail seems to contain only alcohol, and I am suddenly grateful there is nowhere for me to fall—I can prop myself against the bar, the wall, or an extra from Orange Is the New Black.
When we stumble out of the bar, around 3 a.m., the grittily beautiful streets are full of young people laughing and talking. No one appears particularly drunk or bedraggled. It just seems nobody wants to go home. As David Verdaguer said, people here have nailed the art of enjoying themselves.
Berlin-based writer Boyd Farrow attempted to follow the Spanish dining schedule, but had to give it up when he started having dinner for breakfast.
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The latest updates for New York/New Jersey
Hard to believe spring is around the corner, and if you're like me that means starting to think about our family travel plans. Highlighted below are a few ways we are working hard to help make your journeys faster, easier and better in the months ahead.
Improving your experience at our airports
We're excited to move into the new Terminal B at LaGuardia later this year. This is a world-class state-of-the-art facility with fabulous local dining and shopping options such as District Market, Kingside, Shake Shack and FAO Schwarz. Our United Club℠ location will also now be located after security to help you comfortably settle in before your flight.
At Newark Airport, United and our partner, the Port Authority, are working together to improve your experience by adding more pods for nursing mothers; new, larger restrooms; and this summer, an expanded TSA checkpoint that shows expected wait times.
Growing our network and fleet
This summer, we are introducing new seasonal nonstop flights to Naples and Prague and offering the return of great destinations such as Nantucket, Massachusetts, and Rapid City, South Dakota, for an easy trip to the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore.
Additionally, through April, we'll continue to fly nonstop from Newark to Palm Springs. And on March 30, we'll begin flying our brand-new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner to Dublin, Frankfurt and Tel Aviv, with Barcelona, Brussels and Paris routes to follow this summer.
Investing in our community
United has been serving the New York/New Jersey area for almost 100 years and giving back to our community continues to be a steadfast commitment from the United family. We are proud to announce new partnerships including the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, the Trevor Project, and the Aviation High School in Queens. This year we'll also continue cheer on runners as the official sponsor of the New York Half Marathon on Sunday, March 17, and are proud to have representatives from Special Olympics running alongside of United employees.
Newark is also featured as the Three Perfect Days destination in the latest issue of Hemispheres, so you can learn about great restaurants and cultural institutions that don't even require a flight to visit.
Thank you for choosing United
In Greater New York, we know you have many choices of carriers to fly, so from our family to yours — thank you. We appreciate your loyalty and welcome your feedback. Hearing from you is important to us, so please continue to send your thoughts and ideas to me at JillKaplan@united.com.
Arizona's outdoors in the spring
This may be the best time of year to visit Arizona — and not just for relaxing by the pool. Smart travelers flock to the state in May, June and July for hotel rates that are often lower than the peak-season rates paid by winter “snowbirds" from northern states. But resort bargains and swimming-pool temperatures aren't the only reasons to visit Arizona at this time. There are also plenty of outdoor opportunities to enjoy, as long as you choose the right activities, locations and time of day to get out.
Desert Dawn peak climbs
Residents of Phoenix and Tucson who like to get outdoors in late spring and early summer know they can best enjoy short hikes by rising early. The busiest time on the trails is before 8 a.m. The most popular hiking paths in Phoenix and Scottsdale climb iconic mid-city peaks, which span from the desert floor up to panoramic views at the top. The hikes up Camelback, Piestewa and Pinnacle Peaks are all wonderful, well-marked and popular — each taking less than two hours roundtrip. In Tucson, the best short hikes are in Sabino Canyon and Saguaro National Park on the outer rim of the city.
Hikes in the mountains
Phoenix and Tucson visitors who aren't early risers or who don't want to settle for short hikes can drive to spots where the temperatures and mountain vistas are similar to those in Colorado. Only a two-hour drive from Phoenix, you can head to Sedona, with an altitude of about 4,300 feet, or Flagstaff, with an altitude of about 6,900 feet, where the higher elevations mean much lower temperatures. Sedona has some of the world's most dramatic day hikes among its stunning red-rock formations, while Flagstaff offers mountain hikes that soar up to 12,600 feet, such as Humphries Peak Summit Trail. From Tucson, the usual triple-digit temps drop to the 60s during the twisting, 90-minute drive up 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon. Trails through the sub-alpine forest await hikers at the summit.
Paddle the Verde River
Another good way to beat the Arizona heat is to get splashed by cool water — but not just in your resort pool. You can also take a dip in the Verde River in an inflatable kayak. Verde Adventures hosts guided trips down the river through the end of summer. You'll paddle through narrow limestone canyons and float past hardwood forests on the shallow river, which has plenty of tame rapids that are just adventurous enough to please both the thrill-seekers and the mild-adventurers. You can choose between a kid-friendly two-hour tubing trip or half-day inflatable kayak trip, or enjoy the Water to Wine Tour with an adult companion, which ends with a tasting at Alcantara Vineyards. You'll be driven the short distance to the river from Cottonwood or Clarkdale, both less than a two-hour drive from Phoenix.
Jump in a Jeep
Following along the dusty dirt roads that rim the edges of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and Sedona, the Jeep tour is a classic option for visitors to Arizona. The 4x4 Jeep probably won't be air-conditioned, but the wind and Arizona's rich red earth will be in your hair. Less adventurous options include tours in enclosed Hummers or vans. After bumping along scenic back roads for miles, many Jeep tours offer a “cowboy cookout" at a pretty spot in the desert or mountains before you return to civilization. From Phoenix, Scottsdale or Tucson, most Jeep tours venture into the Sonoran Desert, while Sedona Jeep tours bring you up close to its renowned red-rock formations.
Up, up & away
Arizona's dry air makes it one of America's prime locations for hot air balloon rides. Colorful balloons lift off in the cool temperatures and low winds of sunrise from all over greater Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and Sedona, often providing a champagne breakfast afterward. Some also offer sunset flights; one Phoenix company serves hors d'oeuvres from a gourmet restaurant after evening landings. Prevailing winds dictate whether you'll fly up to a mile high or close enough to the ground to spot desert wildlife, but regardless, it's a memorable bucket-list thrill.
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We follow the FAA's order to ground all Boeing 737 Max aircraft
Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and employees. As we have said since Sunday, we have been in close contact with investigators as well as Boeing to share data and fully cooperate with regulatory authorities. We will comply with the FAA's order and will ground our 14 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. We will remain in close contact with authorities as their investigation continues.
Since Sunday, we have been working diligently on contingency plans to prepare our fleet to minimize the impact to customers. Our Boeing 737 MAX aircraft account for roughly 40 flights a day and through a combination of spare aircraft and rebooking customers, we do not anticipate a significant operational impact as a result of this order. We will continue to work with our customers to help minimize any disruption to their travel plans.
We extend lease agreement at iconic Willis Tower in Chicago
Today, we announced that we will keep our current headquarters at the iconic Willis Tower in our hometown of Chicago while making investments to transform our current workspace and experience. Our new agreement extends our existing lease by five additional years to March 31, 2033.
Remaining at Willis Tower will allow us to completely reimagine the workspace from the bottom up. Over the coming months and years, we will redesign our workspace to allow employees to better collaborate, use the latest technology and interact with each other — all with the end goal of providing unmatched service to our front-line employees and customers. And today's announcement is part of our overall effort to improve workspaces and facilities across the system.As we begin the work to reimagine Willis Tower for our employees, a majority of the funding to transform the building is being made by the building's owner, The Blackstone Group. In addition, they are investing more than $500 million in the building for all tenants, which will transform it from the inside out that will deliver exciting new dining, fitness and retail options.
"As one of the city's largest private employers and its hometown airline, we are excited to deepen our roots here in Chicago while making the investments needed to reimagine the headquarters for our employees," said United Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz. "The investments we are making will help our employees provide unparalleled service to their front-line colleagues and to our customers as we continue to improve and realize our airline's full potential."
And as one of the most ideally situated buildings in the city, with easy access to all Chicago Transit Authority train lines and Union and Ogilvie Stations, as well as nearby bus stops, Willis Tower already provides distinct advantages and will remain attractive to future job seekers throughout the metropolitan region.
Weekend inspiration: Palm Springs
After a combined 60-plus years of living in cities with snowstorms and cold weather, this winter we decided it was time to pack away the parkas in exchange for a month of sun in Palm Springs.
And it was heaven. 70-degree days filled with morning swims, long walks without a jacket and joyful dogs running around the backyard. Working on murals throughout the valley in perfect drawing conditions was paradise for us, considering we were typically working in freezing weather with pale skin, chapped lips and cracking knuckles. We found our new January normal.
Our month in paradise consisted of many highlights, so if you're in town for a few days, here are some of our favorite spots.
If you're looking to rent a place in Palm Springs, we recommend Relax Palm Spring on Airbnb. They have more than 60 rentals in the Coachella Valley area, and we loved the house we stayed in. Every single thing we needed was available on-site or just a phone call away with this professional vacation rental group.
If you're looking to go the hotel route, we highly recommend The Colony Palms Hotel. This Spanish Colonial-style hotel features high-end casitas and a sweet hotel pool with stunning mountain views. La Serena Villas has a similar small-town feel with a wonderful restaurant attached. Further outside of the downtown area, Parker Palm Springs is a stylish and creatively fulfilling place to stay and play.
No matter where you stay, we recommend Azúcar for dinner (at La Serena Hotel). Make sure you get the watermelon appetizer, refreshing with bursts of sweet balsamic beads trickled over the top. You'll feel like a kid at the pool in summer all over again.
Get up early and head to Palm Desert. Make your way over to Wilma & Frieda at The Gardens on El Paseo for one of the best breakfasts you'll find in the valley. The pastries are all excellent and homemade. The dishes are creative with items like "churro waffles" and "banana caramel French toast."
After breakfast, stop by Kelsey's giraffe mural at the Gardens on El Paseo (directions found here) to give her giraffe a kiss. Then drive up the highway to The Living Desert.
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is an incredibly well-designed zoo that takes advantage of the stunning desert scenery with every animal exhibit.
On your way back, stop for a sweet treat at the café at Shields Date Gardens for one of their legendary date shakes. Wander through the 1950's feeling diner and gift shop and into the 17-acre date garden. These shakes are a Palm Springs staple and worth every delicious calorie.
For lunch, wander around the hotel lobby at Parker Palm Springs to admire their excellent interior design decisions before heading into Norma's restaurant for an al fresco lunch.
If you have time, spend the afternoon at Joshua Tree National Park. The blend of Mojave and Colorado deserts results in a unique and stunning landscape. Begin your tour/hike at one of the visitor centers. From here, you can go on a relaxed half-day tour with a guide or head out on one of the 12 self-guiding nature trails.
Spend sunset here or head back downtown to enjoy the sunset at The Colony Palms Hotel's Restaurant, The Purple Palm, with a quality craft cocktail. After sunset, make your way to the popular Italian restaurant Birba for dinner. Birba boasts excellent pizzas with a wide variety of interesting toppings. Be sure to make reservations beforehand.
Spend the day exploring Palm Springs. Go to Cheeky's for breakfast, but make sure to get there early, as a line forms before the doors even open. Their world-famous bacon flight is a must – it's unique and so tasty.
Palm Springs boasts an unbelievable amount of art experiences. Experiential art, art museums and mid-century Modern Design galore. If you can, try to visit Palm Springs during their Modernism week in February. Be sure to get tickets to their house events and tour some of the most breathtakingly beautifully designed houses. And if you're lucky, Desert X might be around during the same time and hunting for art installations throughout the valley, which would be quite the sight.
If a large art fair isn't happening while you're in Palm Springs, we highly recommend heading to the City of Coachella. Their downtown boasts some incredible murals and Kelsey was honored to join the ranks recently. Kelsey completed a pair of "What Lifts You" wings that are colorful and an ode to the Hispanic roots of the community on the side of City Hall.
A trip to Palm Springs isn't complete without a picture with the Cabazon Dinosaurs. Made famous through their feature in movies like National Lampoon's Vacation and The Wizard – it's an Instagram-worthy stop.
For lunch, head back to downtown Palm Springs and enjoy a healthy meal at the charming restaurant Farm. Tucked into an interior courtyard, this restaurant feels like you've stepped into the French countryside. It's healthy, clean food even tastes like the South of France with their traditionally French dishes.
Walk off your lunch by exploring the boutiques in Downtown Palm Springs. These mid-century modern shops are not to be missed: A La Mod, Modernway, Vintage Oasis and The Frippery.
Complete your weekend with dinner at the chic Workshop Kitchen + Bar. Their wine cellar is massive and their waiters expertly trained. Trust them to find a new and different flavor for you – something you'll remember long after your weekend in Palm Springs.
Ode to a flight pioneer
With all she's seen and done over a century on this earth, some of Betty Stockard's fondest memories are of the years she spent slipping its surly bonds.
Seventy-seven birthdays have passed since she took to the skies for United as one of the first non-nurse flight attendants in our history, but you wouldn't know it talking with her today as she prepares to celebrate her 100th birthday. Betty's recollections of that time, when she was a 23-year-old searching for excitement and a life to call her own, are crystal clear, her stories conjuring a vivid, gorgeous image of the golden era of aviation.
Born near Kalispell, Montana, on May 16, 1919 as Elizabeth Jean Riley, becoming an aviation pioneer was the furthest thing from Betty's mind growing up. As she recalled, her only brushes with flight back then occurred when the occasional small airplane would appear in the sky above the family homestead. But following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Betty, like most Americans, wanted to contribute to the war effort. She packed her bags, moved to Seattle and took an administrative job at the Boeing plant where thousands of bombers would soon roll off the assembly lines.
She had been there for about two months when she saw an item in the Seattle Times announcing United was looking for a new crop of flight attendants. For years, airlines had only hired nurses into those roles, but with more and more of them now needed in combat zones, that was no longer the case. Despite having never stepped foot on an airplane, Betty applied.
What followed was a whirlwind. After meeting with United personnel managers in Seattle, she took her first-ever flight for a second round of interviews in San Francisco. Two weeks later she received a telegram instructing her to report to Chicago, where she joined 24 other women from across the country for six weeks of intense training, heavy on first aid and safety.
"The instructors told us not to smile much because it was a serious job," remembered Betty. "They wanted us to maintain a professional attitude.
"But the stuff about not smiling didn't last long once I was on an airplane myself."
As Betty put it, being a stewardess in those days was nearly on par with being a movie star, and she often rubbed shoulders with celebrities and dignitaries, like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and silver screen idol Clark Gable, on her trips up and down the West Coast. But it wasn't all glitz and glamour and grins.
Flight attendants in the mid-1940s were just as busy serving their country as they were serving their customers. United flew many military men during World War II, and flight crews were responsible for looking after them. And, at least in Betty's case, those wartime duties included a little intrigue as well.
In the summer of 1945, after checking in for a flight from San Francisco to Seattle, her dispatcher told her that two men from the U.S. Army were waiting for her in the next room. They handed Betty a small, brown package and instructed her to pin it inside her jacket until she arrived in Seattle, where another Army representative would meet her. In the meantime, they warned, she was not to open the parcel or tell anyone she had it.
The aircraft landed in Seattle just after 2 a.m. and taxied to a dark corner of the airfield. There, a military man came on board, took the package, and promptly departed, leaving Betty to wonder what she had just been part of.
Secret missions aside, Betty was smitten with life in the air. She'll still tell you it was the best job in the world. Soon, though, she found herself equally smitten with a handsome former fighter pilot by the name of Ray Stockard, whom she met during a flight in 1946.
Ray was traversing the country interviewing for jobs with commercial airlines, and the two hit it off immediately, beginning a courtship shortly after. Betty adored Ray, but it was a bittersweet romance, for she knew if she got married she'd be trading one love for another since, at that time, stewardesses had to be single.
Alas, the heart wants what it wants, and Betty and Ray, who by that time was flying for Pan American, set a wedding date. Originally, they were to wed in May of 1947, but that spring, United announced it would begin service to Honolulu that summer. Betty talked Ray into briefly postponing the nuptials so that she could enjoy her last months as a flight attendant on the Hawaiian route.
"I hated giving up flying, but I knew I was making the right move," she said. "I was looking forward to the next chapter."
Fortunately, marrying a pilot meant she didn't have to walk away from the industry altogether. In the years that followed, she, Ray and their four children – Joe, Denise, Ed and Dick – traveled the world together. And while they did most of that flying on Pan Am, Betty never lost her soft spot for United, the airline where it all started. She still flies United, in fact, and still enjoys meeting flight attendants on her journeys, though she rarely, if ever, tells them about her past, preferring instead to ask them questions about themselves.
When you are lucky enough to get her talking about herself, though, she doesn't disappoint. Betty's stories are riveting, and she's been known to dispense a kernel of wisdom or two if pressed. So, what's the best advice she gives after 100 years of a rich, full life? Value education and relationships above all else, travel as much as possible, and be fearless in your pursuits.
"It's been such a good life," she said. "I couldn't have asked for a more interesting career. I still carry with me the memories of the people I met on airplanes and the places I went. If there's a lesson there, it's that you should get out and do things and not be afraid to try. By doing that, I've had one of the best lives ever."
Après 3 ways
Story by Nicholas DeRenzo | Hemispheres, November 2018
There's only one way to take the ski slopes: fast. But there are all sorts of approaches to post-powder R&R. Here, Hemispheres looks at a trio of America's favorite winter resorts and offers three methods to après-ski—glitzy, old-school, and family-style—at each. There's something for everyone in the “after"-life.
Tucked in a box canyon far from the hustle of Colorado's other ski resorts, highbrow yet rustic Telluride is two destinations in one. America's only free public-transportation gondola connects the Victorian mining town where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank to the Alpine-style Mountain Village and its 2,000 acres of skiable terrain. You might bump into one of the many celebrities with vacation homes here (Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld), but play it cool: It's the Telluride way.
At 11,966 feet, the Dolomite hütte–inspired Alpino Vino is North America's highest restaurant. By day, the tiny wooden cottage is reachable on skis (it's a short glide downhill from the top of Lift 14); at night, heated snow-coaches whisk diners to a five-course Italian tasting menu experience, complete with the region's most impressive wine list. Go for a Brunello di Montalcino—the cellar contains bottles from nearly two dozen producers. Tasting menu $150, with $75 and $125 wine pairing options, tellurideskiresort.com
Down in town, belly up to the original 1897 mahogany and cherrywood bar at the New Sheridan Hotel saloon, one of the oldest watering holes in the West. The setting may inspire you to order a whiskey, but there's no better place to try the city's unofficial beverage, the Flatliner, made with vanilla vodka, Baileys, Kahlúa, and espresso. newsheridan.com
A little red cabin near the base of the free gondola houses Taco Del Gnar, a delightfully grungy spot selling creative tacos like tempura avocado, housemade lamb sausage, smoked pork belly, and seared ahi tuna. Kids will love the queso blanco–topped tater tots, while parents can work their way through the list of local beers. gnarlytacos.com
Sun Valley, Idaho
Built on the edge of the mining town of Ketchum in 1936, Sun Valley was the world's first destination ski resort and the home of the first chairlift, which was derived from a device that had been used to load bananas onto rail cars. The mountain instantly began attracting the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, and Ernest Hemingway—a favorite adopted citizen who helped popularize the image of this valley as one of the West's great outdoorsy getaways.
Papa Hemingway ate his last supper in 1961 at Michel's Christiania, a fine-dining (but verycomfortable) French restaurant in the heart of Ketchum where you can order classics like trout meunière and escargots bourguignonne. Chef-owner Michel Rudigoz is a former U.S. women's ski team coach, which explains all the memorabilia in the attached Olympic Bar. michelschristiania.com
There's nothing fancy about Grumpy's, a dive bar that turned 40 this year. Known for its 32-ounce beer schooners and hodge-podge decor (vintage beer can–lined walls, a prop dog from There's Something About Mary), the bar is a favorite among paparazzi-dodging stars like Bruce Springsteen, who has been known to sing a few tunes when he stops in. grumpyssunvalley.com
Après-ski often means getting out of the cold ASAP, but for one of the valley's most memorable off-slope activities, you'll need to brave the chill a bit longer. The kids will love a Clydesdale-drawn sleigh ride to Trail Creek Cabin for hearty mountain staples such as buffalo tenderloin and ruby trout, plus German chocolate cake for dessert. sunvalley.com
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Perched on the edge of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole has always felt wild. Trappers used the term “hole" to describe the valley's vertigo-inducing sides, and the resort has used that geological feature to maximum effect. Dubbed “The Big One," the area boasts America's biggest vertical drop in ski terrain (more than 4,100 feet), as well as Corbet's Couloir, a legendarily deranged run that tops many ski-bum bucket lists.
When skiers talk about a good powder day, some may be referring to the powdered sugar on the waffles at Corbet's Cabin. (Remember, après starts early when you're skiing with kids.) Located at 10,450 feet, atop Rendezvous Peak, this refueling station is reachable by the Aerial Tram and dishes out hot waffles in flavors like the Nutella-topped Italian, the lemon-glazed Englishman, and the peanut butter and smoked bacon–stacked Gateway. Parents can warm up faster by spiking their hot cocoa or coffee with Irish cream, whiskey, or schnapps. jacksonhole.com
Opened in 1967, the Mangy Moose saloon has attracted performers like Jason Aldean and Brandi Carlile. Grab a table under the antlered taxidermy for a buffalo fillet or trout and chips, paired with locally inspired cocktails (like the Huckleberry Cosmo) or the Tourist Trap, a “shot ski" with four shots of Fireball or Rumple Minze. mangymoose.com
The newest member of chef Gavin Fine's aptly named Fine Dining Restaurant Group (which includes an ice cream parlor and craft butcher) is Hotel Terra's Bar Enoteca, a Mediterranean wine and cocktail bar that opened last fall. Small plates such as the wild game sausage and goat cassoulet are perfect for post-slope grazing. hotelterrajacksonhole.com
The day off: Silicon Beach
Story by Justin Goldman | Hemispheres, March 2019
Los Angeles's ongoing tech boom—which in the last few years has seen the building of Google and Yahoo! campuses on a parcel of Playa Vista that was once Howard Hughes's private airfield—has earned the Westside the nickname Silicon Beach. Got a day off in La La Land? Here's how to spend it on the beach.
Opener: Courtesy of Shutters on the Beach; Above: Jakob Layman
Beat the line at Huckleberry Bakery and Cafe by getting to the Santa Monica institution right when it opens. You'll feel very West Coast if you order the organic quinoa and market vegetables bowl (made with ingredients from the renowned Santa Monica Farmers Market, just down the street), but if you want to treat yourself on your day off, opt for a stack of the café's signature pancakes.
Duffy Archives, Courtesy of the Peter Fetterman Gallery
The Westside has long drawn an artsy crowd. Take in that vibe at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station, a former trolley stop and industrial warehouse that's now a complex of more than 20 galleries. Don't miss the photography at the Peter Fetterman Gallery (pictured above) or the modern and contemporary works at Latin American Masters.
Courtesy of the Stronghold
Venice is SoCal's boho capital, and the ever-trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard is its main commercial artery. Splurge on a Lewis Leathers motorcycle jacket at The Stronghold (pictured above) or a flower-print dress at Stone Cold Fox. Congratulations: Your credit card statement now rivals your student loans.
Courtesy of Gjusta
Take a number at the über-hip deli and bakery Gjusta. Be prepared to wait a while before you order, and you'll need sharp elbows to fight for a seat on the patio, but the hassle is worth it for the tuna conserva sandwich.
Head back to your hotel, Shutters on the Beach. Change into some sneakers and jog down to Muscle Beach to see some bodies that have clearly not been enjoying the food at Huckleberry or Gjusta, then beat a retreat to your balcony. Open your shutters (truth in advertising!) and watch the sun sink behind the Santa Monica Pier and into the Pacific.
2016 Wonho Lee
Dinner is at one of the toughest tables in LA, Felix Trattoria, Esquire's best new restaurant in America for 2017. Chef Evan Funke cut his teeth at Spago, and now he cuts handmade pastas in a glass-enclosed kitchen at the north end of Abbot Kinney. Don't miss the perfectly al dente orecchiette with sausage sugo.
Wonho Frank Lee
For a nightcap, take a seat on the patio at Makani, a new Korean-influenced spot on Venice's up-and-coming Rose Avenue. Try a Doctor Bird's Sour (rum, orgeat, bitters, and lemon) from the rum-centric cocktail list, plus—why not?—Manila clams with chile de árbol and wood-fired ciabatta slices. The only thing prettier than the fare on your table is the oh-so-SoCal crowd tippling around you.
The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".
Better Boarding consists of three key improvements
Less time in line:
By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.
Simplified gate layout
Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today
Group 1 will board through the blue lane.
Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.
Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.
Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.
We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.
Be in the know about boarding
Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).
Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.
Balanced groups and better recognition:
United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx
Improved premier customer recognition
We're happy to make them happy
Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.
The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience
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Neighbors, coworkers, parents, protectors, heroes. All of these labels and more encompass the men and women whose devotion to our country serves as the truest embodiment of the American spirit. We're talking about Veterans. Join host Phil Torres as he heads to our nation's capital to learn more about these heroes and to explore just how many United employees are veterans on this Big Metal Bird.