Three Perfect Days: Barcelona
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Barcelona

By The Hub team , October 11, 2016

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.

Day 1 graphic

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 entrepreneurLynette 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 shop on La RamblaA 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 BoqueriaA 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.

Day 2 graphic

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 designerOlga 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 beachBarcelona'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 BisbeThe 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.

Day 3 graphic

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 producerDanielle 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 fountainThe 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 MarThe 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.

If you go

Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your Barcelona getaway.

Independence Day celebrations in 5 countries

By Bob Cooper , June 22, 2018

Every country celebrates a birthday, and some celebrations are bigger than others. Here are five of the biggest birthday celebrations, which also happen to occur in the summer months in places worth paying a visit, birthday or not.

Toronto skyline

Canada Day – Canada

July 1 in Canada has a lot in common with its southern neighbor's celebration three days later. Many Canadian cities stage concerts, carnivals, parades and fireworks to celebrate the British Empire's 1867 recognition of the Dominion of Canada. Canada Day festivities in the capital city of Ottawa are the most robust, as the city center shuts down for the day for an acrobatic air show by the Snowbirds (the Royal Canadian Air Force's version of the Blue Angels), 10 hours of free concerts, a big fireworks show and a speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Even the color scheme is similar: red and white, but skip the blue.

Independence Day – USA

July 4 was the date in 1776 when colonists declared their independence from England—and Americans have been commemorating it since 1785 in Bristol, Rhode Island. That's the site of the oldest and longest celebration—three weeks of events that climax with a big parade and fireworks over Bristol Harbor. America's most-watched pyrotechnic spectacle is the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Show, best viewed from Manhattan's Lower East Side (or on NBC). The Fourth is also celebrated with a massive fireworks display in Washington, D.C., where crowds pack the National Mall to see them illuminate the monuments, and in Chicago where they're admired from Navy Pier as they dazzle over Lake Michigan.

Aerial view of Paris

Bastille Day – France

July 14 is the day when the 1789 “Storming of the Bastille" is celebrated. The rebellious act to free seven political prisoners was the flashpoint for the French Revolution, which ended the monarchy of Louis XVI. Celebrations in Paris conclude with fireworks that gush dramatically from the Eiffel Tower, best viewed from the adjacent Parc du Champ-de-Mars or from one of the nearby bridges over the Seine. A morning military parade on Champs-Elysees is also a Bastille Day tradition. Fireworks and other celebrations are enjoyed in many other French cities, too, including a big pyrotechnic show in Marseilles over the Mediterranean Sea.

National Day – Switzerland

August 1 was the date in 1291 that the Swiss Federal Charter was signed, uniting the three original cantons (states) of the Swiss Confederation that would become modern-day Switzerland. The Swiss only began observing the occasion on the 600th anniversary in 1891, but it's become a big deal. Parades, carnivals, traditional folk music performances and fireworks enliven many Swiss cities and towns on National Day, as do special brunches in many restaurants, public bonfires and the ringing of every church bell from 8:00 to 8:15 p.m. Festivities in Zurich are the biggest, although celebrations in Geneva, Bern, Lausanne and Basel are also exuberant.

Fine Arts Palace - Mexico City, Mexico

Independence Day – Mexico

September 16 is Mexico's Independence Day—not May 5, the date of a heroic battle and the excuse for so many Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. It was on September 16, 1810, when the rebellion that eventually toppled the Spanish colonial rulers began. The holiday is observed most heartily in Mexico City, where the biggest celebration, following a speech by President Enrique Peña Nieto, takes place in the massive Zócalo Square. But there are also celebrations in every part of the city and in every city in Mexico, typically featuring a parade, street parties and fireworks.

If you go

United Airlines offers numerous flights to all of these countries. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room and rental car once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to celebrate the birthday of a country.

United offers Star Alliance flight status information

By The Hub team , June 18, 2018

We're expanding the availability of flight status (FLIFO) information for our customers and employees. On June 14, we began offering access to flight status information for all Star Alliance member flights within the United app, and through Google Home and Amazon Alexa (e.g. "Alexa, ask United to check the status of my flight on Lufthansa").

We're committed to providing our customers and employees with the tools they need to ensure a seamless journey when connecting with our partners," said Alliance Partner Operations Senior Manager Katie Russell. "These enhancements will allow our employees to make real-time decisions for customers with connecting flights and provide our customers with easy access to information from partner carriers without requiring them to use another app.

While onboard United flights, customers can even check the most current status of their connecting Star Alliance member flight utilizing our complimentary access to the United app through United Wi-Fi℠, available on all mainline and two-cabin regional aircraft.

After a tragic accident, a father's lessons resonate with his daughter

By Matt Adams , June 16, 2018

As far as fatherly wisdom was concerned, there were a few things that Ramp Service Employee Allen Gullang was determined to pass along to his daughters, Heather and Amanda.

Under his guidance, they learned the importance of hard work and the virtue of putting the needs of others first. They also developed a love of the outdoors and of travel that bonds them as a family to this day. But it's what they learned from their dad when he didn't think they were looking that made the biggest impact of all.

On a snowy March afternoon 12 years ago, Allen and two of his ramp colleagues were driving home from their shift at O'Hare International Airport when a car drifted over the center line and hit them head on. The next thing Allen remembers is waking up in a hospital bed weeks later, lucky to be alive but left with permanent disabilities.

Heather, who was 10-years-old at the time, watched as her father fought his way through a year-long rehabilitation, re-learning how to walk and talk, slowly regaining his memories and putting his life back together, piece by piece. Though his frustrations mounted at times, his will never waned, a lesson in perseverance that Heather has not forgotten. It's one of the attributes that she brought with her when she joined United herself last December, realizing a life-long dream of following in Allen's footsteps.

In honor of Father's Day, watch the video above to hear the Gullangs' story of how a single moment forever changed their family, leading Heather to a greater admiration for the man she not only calls Dad, but also her colleague.

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A final farewell to the Queen of the Skies

By Benét J. Wilson , June 15, 2018

Have you ever wondered what happens to an aircraft after the end of its useful life? Well 13 lucky MileagePlus® members and two of our employees got to find out after winning an Exclusives auction.


The auction prize was a behind-the-scenes trip to Universal Asset Management's (UAM) facility in Tupelo, Mississippi, where our last four Boeing 747s are being disassembled and the parts prepared for recycling. It also included a champagne toast onboard N118UA, our last 747, and dinner under the stars with the Queen of the Skies.

As we arrived at the facility, adjacent to Tupelo Regional Airport, several of us were a little emotional when we saw the aircraft in different stages of disassembly. But in the company's lunch room — decked out with Malaysia Air first class seats, airplane art and a table made from a stabilizer — Keri Wright, UAM's CEO was firm about her company's mission. “We don't tear down or scrap aircraft. We focus on recycling," she stated. “Think of it like organ donation. These parts can help other aircraft continue to fly. And you are among the few people in the world to see all of this from behind the scenes."

We then headed to the facility's Global Distribution Center warehouse. The lobby of the facility featured our first class seats and galley carts, along with a tire rim-and-glass coffee table and a credenza/bar made from the window section of a 737 fuselage.

Wright, along with Senior Manager, Fleet Transactions Jim Garcia walked us through the warehouse and explained how parts were tracked and cataloged. Among the items we saw were two wrapped helicopters, Boeing 777 landing gears, 747 tire rims, thrust reversers and a cowling from the center engine of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10.

MileagePlus members walking around the last 747

When the warehouse tour ended, it was back to the airport facility. We went out on the tarmac and took pictures of the 747s, including the star of the show — N118UA. Though, all four jets' engines had been removed already.

After a series of photos, we climbed the air stair onto N118UA, where we were able to walk around. I had the honor of being on the last United 747 flight in November 2017, so I grabbed a glass of champagne and sat in my seat — 8C — one last time. We all joined in a final champagne toast to the jet, then deplaned for dinner.

One of the lucky winners was Eric Chiang, an economics professor at Florida Atlantic University, who brought his friend Vicky Chiu, who flew in from Hawaii. “We've been friends for years and we love to travel. I was onboard a flight to London and read a short newspaper article about this auction," he recalled. “We were about to take off and I called Vicky and asked her to bid on this event. I bid 168,000 miles, but got it for less.

Chiang and Chiu are both 1K flyers on United. “I expect to do around 15 international trips this year. I love United because they're able to reach more global destinations than any other airlines," said Chiang.

They both appreciated the chance to attend such a unique event. “Experiences like these are different. We really appreciate the chance for this behind-the-scenes event," said Chiang. “It was also a great chance to meet United executives and share feedback on what's going on at the airline."

MileagPlus members at the Exclusive event

John Ikeda, a United Global Services member who is approaching two million miles, brought his partner Michael Phelps to the event. He also read about the event in a newspaper article, but he also had a special reason for wanting to attend the 747 farewell.

At the last MileagePlus® Experiences auction, I won an altimeter that was on an older 747, and I wanted to see if I could trace where it came from," said Ikeda. “Jim Garcia was able to trace it for me. I was thrilled that I was able to see other parts from that same 747 in the UAM warehouse.

The event exceeded Ikeda's expectations. “I thought it would just be a warehouse tour, a walk on a plane and not much else," he said. “It was great to hear Keri and Jim discuss this side of the business. It was fascinating to learn that this place wasn't about scrapping aircraft, but giving them new life."

Although this event has passed, it's not too late to bid on hardware from N118UA, including single window and American flag cuts out and tail numbers. Join the MileagePlus® Exclusives email list to stay in the know on the hardware auction and other future events.

Bay Area youth surprised with spots in Warriors championship parade

By Ryan Hood , June 15, 2018

San Francisco-based Customer Service Manager O'Morris Adams has volunteered at local Boys & Girls Clubs for more than 20 years, so it wasn't a surprise when he stopped by one of the Bay Area clubhouses Monday afternoon.

This visit was about more than just spending time with local youth, though. O'Morris knew he would be in the Golden State Warriors championship parade on Tuesday, since as the official airline of the Warriors, United would have a float in the parade. So this particular visit to the club was to let two of its kids know they'd be joining him and two dozen of his United colleagues on the float, in the parade. Coolest field trip ever.

Watch the surprise and the unforgettable day that followed.

3 under the radar places to travel to in July

By Betsy Mikel , June 15, 2018

July is a popular travel month, which means you may be sharing your vacation with scores of fellow travelers if you choose to travel to a popular destination. This summer, expand your horizons and travel to these under-the-radar destinations for a more off-the-beaten-path experience.

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Sunset in Malm\u00f6, Sweden

Malmö, Sweden

When you think of Sweden, Stockholm and Gothenburg might be the first cities to come to mind, but Malmö is an underrated gem. Sweden's third-largest city blends medieval Scandinavian charm with modern urban appeal. Malmö sits on the southeast coast and is a 45-minute train ride or drive from Copenhagen, connected by the iconic Øresund Bridge.

This picturesque beach-side town was first established in the 13th century, but Malmö has undergone a massive revitalization over the last two decades. Walk along the cobblestone streets and take in beautiful old buildings and centuries-old statues alongside cutting-edge architecture, public art and plazas. The city has an abundance of greenery and parks, including five public beaches. Ribersborg Beach is the most visited beach and is a leisurely walk or bike ride from the city center.

Some of the city's most popular attractions include Malmö City Square, which you'll find in the heart of old town (Gamla Staden); St. Peter's Church, the oldest building in the city; and Malmöhus Castle, a 16th-century fortress and the oldest castle in Sweden. Explore the history of the castle and Renaissance art in the Malmö Art Museum inside the castle. The nearby Moderna Museet Malmö and Malmö Konsthall house permanent collections and exhibitions.

Malmö is also a worthwhile destination for foodies. National Geographic named it one of the best places to visit in 2018 thanks to its global food culture. From casual cafes and food carts to a few Michelin-starred restaurants, you can sample a variety of cuisines during your stay in Malmö.

Road between the mountains in Chachapoyas, Peru

Chachapoyas, Peru

Many flock to experience the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, but the high traffic of visitors is threatening the sustainability of the site. For those who want to visit an ancient marvel that's less trodden with tourists, Chachapoyas fits the bill. Archaeological and natural wonders abound in this region once inhabited by a pre-Incan civilization. Chachapoyas stands for “The Cloud Warriors," who called this region home about 1,500 years ago.

The town of Chachapoyas serves as a home base to explore several breathtaking sites of ancient Peru. This town is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Andes Mountains and a cloudy forest in northern Peru, and offers an opportunity to explore waterfalls, archeological ruins, burial sites and even a mummy museum.

There are also numerous treks for experienced hikers, including the Chachapoyas' mountaintop fortress Kuelap, built 600 to 900 years before Machu Picchu. Kuelap has largely flown under the radar because this region is so remote and it's difficult to cover much ground by foot or car. But cable cars installed last year make it possible to cover about 2.5 miles of Kuelap in just 20 minutes. When you disembark the cable car, you can explore the vast complex and the remains of hundreds of structures, homes, buildings and other remnants of the ancient Chachapoyas civilization.

Other attractions close to Chachapoyas include hiking to the Gocta Waterfall. It's one of the tallest waterfalls in the world and was only made known to the public in 2005. The Leymebamba Museum is also well worth a visit, housing mummies and other remains from the civilization that once thrived here.

Dusk over Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont

Best known for its vibrant fall foliage and top-rated ski resorts, Vermont can be easily overlooked as a summer destination. But there's still plenty to experience in July, especially in and around Burlington. Vermont's largest city is also home to the state's largest university. Visiting in July means you can expect fewer students crowding restaurants and bars, but no lack of shopping, entertainment and festivals. Burlington serves as an excellent hub for outdoor activities in the region.

The center of downtown Burlington is Church Street Marketplace. The open-air pedestrian-only mall spans four blocks and has over 100 major retailers, boutiques and restaurants with events and live entertainment. July's events include free concerts sponsored by Burlington City Arts, a farmer's market every Saturday, fitness classes and the month's biggest event for craft beer drinkers: The Vermont Brewers Festival, which features breweries from all over the state.

Nearby beaches include the beautiful sandy Blanchard Beach, the secluded Oakledge Cove and the picnic-perfect Leddy Beach with its grassy picnic areas, grills and tables. North Beach is Burlington's largest beach and the only one with active lifeguards on duty. You can also rent kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards at North Beach.

Getting there

United Airlines offers service from U.S. cities to Burlington International Airport. To travel to Malmö, it's more direct to fly to Copenhagen than Stockholm. Lima is the closest international airport to Chachapoyas. United and our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer service to Copenhagen and Lima from multiple U.S. cities. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your vacation to one of these under-the-radar destinations this July.

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Guide to Singapore: An island apart

By Bob Cooper

Singapore is about the size of New York City, and like The Big Apple, it's a small place surrounded by water, but packed with people, intriguing attractions and great restaurants.

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Gardens by the Bay at dusk.

Garden City

Singapore is more densely populated than New York City with 5.6 million people packed on the island, but tucked in the shadows of its 4,300 high-rises are two world-class gardens that have helped Singapore earn its nickname of “The Garden City." The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 200-acre oasis of green established in 1859 where the revered National Orchid Garden is one of dozens of unique gardens. In 2015, it became one of only three gardens to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An equally impressive contemporary take on botanic gardens is Gardens by the Bay, a waterfront collection of gardens, massive glass conservatories and the awe-inspiring Supertrees.

Cultural landmarks

The National Gallery Singapore opened in November 2015. The gallery holds the world's largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art displayed inside two stately buildings that previously served as City Hall and the Supreme Court during Singapore's British colonial days. A few blocks away on the waterfront are two iconic contemporary landmarks: the bowl-shaped ArtScience Museum (part of the $8-billion Marina Bay Sands casino and resort that opened in 2010) and Singapore's honeycomb-like performing arts center, Esplanade Theatres on the Bay.

Bak kut teh

Fusion of flavors

Singapore has a long history of colonization, occupation and trade with European and other Asian countries, which is reflected in the variety of cuisines expertly presented in its best restaurants. Of 37 Michelin-star restaurants in the city, five serve Japanese fare, eight serve Chinese food and, oddly enough, eight serve French cuisine. Surprisingly, none of the restaurants on the list serve uniquely Singaporean food, although you can get a taste of local favorites like Bak kut teh (pork rib soup) and Wanton Mee (noodles with pork dumplings) at the city's open-air street food markets.

Cool adventures

For a place that's so compact, Singapore offers a wealth of outdoor-activities. Most are found at the 10-mile-long, beach-hugging East Coast Park, where you can choose to hike, bike, swim or wakeboard. Further inland, you can take advantage of Singapore's distinction as one of only two cities in the world with a significant rainforest inside its boundaries. Hike the trails in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to reach the island nation's highest point, 537-foot Bukit Timah. Although there are more than 50 Singapore skyscrapers that are taller than this hilltop, taking the elevator to a top-floor bar just isn't the same.

Singapore's small island of Kusa.

Offshore islands

The island of Singapore has many of its own islands and islets, and the small islands of Kusu and Sentosa just off its southern shore have a lot to offer. Kusu, which means tortoise in Chinese, can be reached by ferry in one hour — the perfect day trip to escape Singapore's urban buzz. Kusu is known for its swimming lagoons, quiet beaches, Malay shrines and a tortoise sanctuary. Sentosa is quite different — a buzzy resort island accessible by monorail or a pedestrian bridge. It has its own beaches, spas, a world-class golf course and several adventure-oriented theme parks.

Practicalities

Singapore's equatorial location ensures warm weather year round as the average highs range from 86 to 90 each month. The monsoon season from November to January brings the most rain with about 11 inches per month compared to 6 inches the rest of the year. Singapore is also known for safety, and Tokyo is the only city worldwide that's considered safer. Hotel prices are comparable to New York City and London, and English is one of the official languages. Most Singaporeans speak English as their primary or secondary language, so no need to worry about anything being lost in translation.

If you go

United Airlines offers flights to Singapore from numerous U.S. cities, including nonstops from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and from cities worldwide. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your Singapore vacation.

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Tips for traveling with children

By The Hub team , June 12, 2018

Flying with kids can be a source of anxiety for parents. In addition to all the details you have to remember for yourself, you're also responsible for tiny travelers whose schedules and comfort zones can be disrupted when they take a trip.

We welcome families with children, and we do our best to make the experience smooth and comfortable. But, as many of our employees who travel with kids can attest, a little information goes a long way. We've outlined a few of our policies on child and infant travel here.

Ticketing and seat assignments

When you're looking at United's reservation system or policies, an infant is any child under two years old. Children under two can travel on an adult's lap without a seat assignment.

You'll need to add all children to your reservation regardless of their ages, but whether or not your infant gets a ticket depends on your itinerary. If you're traveling within the U.S., Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, your infant will not be a ticketed passenger; for all other destinations, you'll purchase an infant fare.

As soon as your child turns two, the child must have a ticket and occupy a seat. That means if you leave for your vacation before your child turns two, but return after the child's second birthday, the child will require a ticket for the return portion of your flight.

Another reason your young child might need a seat? Only one infant is allowed to sit on each adult's lap during the flight. That means if you're the only adult traveling with two or more children under two years old, you'll need to purchase seats for all but one of the children.

For all families that want to sit together, we recommend booking in advance and either choosing a fare category that lets you select seats, or purchasing advance seat assignments if you're flying on a Basic Economy ticket.

FAA-approved child restraint systems, child safety seats, and car seats manufactured after 1985 are safe to use, and necessary if your infant is traveling in his or her own seat. Booster seats, belly belts attached to adult seat belts, and vests or harnesses that hold an infant to an adult's chest cannot be used for safety reasons.

Traveling with strollers, breast pumps and other necessities

In addition to your normal baggage allowance, you can check a stroller free of charge. Some travelers prefer to use their strollers in the airport and check them at the gate, but be sure your stroller is collapsible. Strollers can't be carried onto the aircraft — you'll be able to pick up your stroller at the aircraft door in your connecting or destination city.

Nursing mothers are welcome to breastfeed or pump on United aircraft or in our facilities. In fact, many of our airports have dedicated rooms and Mamava nursing pods. Breast pumps are also allowed in addition to your normal carry-on baggage allowance.

Staying comfortable during the flight

Changing tables are available on many of our larger aircraft. Your flight attendant will be able to direct you to the correct lavatory.

On international flights, a complimentary bassinet may be available for use in flight, when the seatbelt sign is off. You can request bassinets by calling the United Customer Contact Center, which we recommend doing early since there are a limited number available.

For more on our policies, visit https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/special-needs/infants.html