Three Perfect Days: Seoul
Story by: Leslie Patrick Moore | Photography by: Marco Argüello | Hemispheres November 2016
Since the Korean War ended in 1953, South Korea has undertaken an unrelenting drive toward modernization, nowhere more so than in its capital. The fifth-largest metropolitan area on Earth, Seoul is buzzing with energy and ambition, epitomized as much by the near-universal wireless access as by the brand-new Lotte World Tower, the planet's fifth-tallest building. And yet, despite the frenetic pace of change, the city has not lost its sense of history, thanks to its many ancient temples, traditional houses, and tranquil palace gardens. Indeed, it's the ever-shifting swirl of the old and the new that makes Seoul such an intriguing, enchanting place to be.
In which Leslie fails chopsticks 101, joins the k-beauty craze, and loses a Korean drinking game
A cough jolts me awake. “Who's in my room?" I think. Then, “Why am I on the floor?" It takes a moment to remember I'm staying at Secret Retreats Rak Ko Jae, a boutique hotel set in a 130-year-old hanok, a traditional type of wooden house that's still common throughout Seoul. I shift on my floor mat, lifting my head from the seed-filled headrest I gamely chose over a fluffy pillow, and look out through the papery window shade. Outside, I see wooden decks, a tranquil courtyard dotted with pine trees and huge brown kimchi pots, and the source of the cough, a smiling woman who shuffles in with my breakfast of eggs and bacon.
After my meal, I take the short stroll to nearby Gyeongbokgung, the largest of Seoul's five palaces, arriving just in time to watch the changing of the royal guard. Brandishing pikes and colorful shields, the bearded guards march past the imposing stone gate, Bugaksan Mountain rising darkly in the distance. After the ceremony, I meet Young Sun Nam, a guide with the Korea Tourism Organization. Young Sun tells me that the palace was built in 1395 during the Joseon Dynasty but has since been destroyed several times by aggressors (more than once by the Japanese, who ended Korea's imperial period when they annexed the country in 1910). We walk through the outer courtyards and into the palace complex through a series of diminishing gates, each topped with a curving dancheong roof, elaborately painted in burnt reds and pale greens. At one gate, a weathered ticket collector mumbles something, then bursts out laughing. “He said we're looking really hot," Young Sun tells me afterward, “and this is only the second gate."
The royal guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace; opening spread: women in hanbok dresses at the palace
Indeed, it is uncommonly hot today, and I wonder why so many women are wearing hanboks, high-waisted, floor-dusting dresses that date back to the 14th century. But for the sneakers visible beneath the colorful skirts, I could have stepped back in time. A teenage girl tells me she's renting hers by the hour. “You must try," she says, perspiration sparkling on her forehead. “It's actually very comfortable in the hot weather." I smile and shake my head, fanning my face with the palace visitor's brochure.
Young Sun and I continue on, wandering through clusters of buildings bristling with dragons, pigs, and monkeys, supposedly Buddhist messengers sent to protect the royal family. Queen Inhyeon's quarters are tucked away in the back, the elegant painted doors of the inner chamber opening onto a tiered garden. “This is the crying garden," Young Sun says. “The queen cried because she wasn't allowed to be jealous, even though she had to raise the children of the concubines." I may cry too if I don't find an air conditioner soon.
After a quick spin through the National Folk Museum of Korea—a pagoda-topped structure on the palace grounds that houses thousands of cultural artifacts, ranging from shards of ancient pottery to photographs from the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century—we catch a cab to Myeong-dong, Seoul's buzziest shopping district, for a more modern cultural experience. The shoppers here are packed in shoulder to shoulder, buying everything from foot-tall ice cream cones to Obama-themed socks, and it takes 15 minutes of squeezing and sliding to reach Myeong-dong Kyoja, a no-frills eatery known for its bibimkuksu, a traditional dish of noodles with sesame oil and spicy pepper paste. Sitting at a stark wooden table, I watch as diners move flailing noodles from bowl to lip with silvery flashes of chopsticks. My sticks are slippery with steam and oil, and when it becomes apparent I might starve, Young Sun conjures up a fork.
Daniel Gray, President, Delectable Travels
My next cross-cultural challenge is to decide which of Myeong-dong's many K-Beauty stores I'll be entrusting my skin to. I settle on Olive Young—the Sephora of South Korea, according to Young Sun—where a saleswoman inspects my face with an expression of pity. “N.M.F. Aquaring Ampoule Mask Rex," she says, bowing as she hands me a sheet mask. I have no idea what that means, but I pay up and slip the mask into my purse, hoping I'll remember to put it on before bed.
At nearby Anguk subway station, I meet Korean-American Daniel Gray, owner of food tour outfit Delectable Travels. We grab iced coffees at one of Seoul's omnipresent cafés, and Daniel provides a primer on the history of Korean cuisine. “Traditionally, average Koreans didn't eat a big variety of food because the best was reserved for the royal court," he says. “For a long time, there was a big barrier because the taste [of high cuisine] was so strong, but now it's the fighting between all the different flavors that Koreans really love."
A couple of trains later we arrive in Hapjeong-dong, a formerly rundown riverside neighborhood in western Seoul that now buzzes with bars and restaurants. We meet up with a few more tour-takers, then head for the famed Korean barbecue joint Seo-Seo Galbi, where the staff greets us with a synchronized bow before offering chilled emerald bottles of the country's favorite liquor, soju. “Gun-bae," Daniel says, Korean for “cheers," then downs his shot.
“Meat was a luxury in Korea 20 or 30 years ago. People would dress in their Sunday best and drive out to the countryside to eat at restaurants called gardens, then sit around with a toothpick in their mouth to show off. Eating beef was such a special thing, but now it's become mainstream." —Daniel Gray
After that first clink, things happen fast. Galbi, beef on-the-bone, sizzles on a central grill as the table heaves beneath an ever-increasing selection of sides—kimchi, pickled radishes, bean paste—delivered by ostentatiously polite waiters. Daniel uses giant scissors to cut the meat into bite-size bits, while I clumsily fumble garlic toward the grill with my chopsticks. “This garlic has a bite," Daniel warns. “Vampires don't do well in Korea." He's right, and I regret popping the entire clove into my mouth at once. Luckily, soju is the perfect salve.
Our next stop is Mangwon Market, where we try pan-fried jeon pancakes and sticky rice doughnuts called chapssal. Mangwon isn't Seoul's glitziest shopping destination, but it's where locals go to buy things like kitchen sponges and ingredients for the night's dinner. The din is deafening, and every square inch is taken up with vendors hawking miniature crabs, dried turnips, sesame leaves, and just about anything else you can imagine. I'm particularly intrigued by a stall that sells rice cakes shot from a machine at warp speed, like clay pigeons. We finish the tour at one of Korea's 36,000-plus fried chicken joints—a figure that's about the same as the number of McDonald's restaurants globally. While waiting, Daniel leads our little group in lively Korean drinking games that involve a lot of clapping and counting. My mind's addled by the heat and soju, so I lose repeatedly, which means I drink repeatedly. It's a vicious cycle.
The Zaha Hadid–designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Somewhat woozily, I check into the glossy, hyper-modern Conrad Seoul, in the city's main financial district, Yeoeuido, which takes up a large island in the Han River, Seoul's version of the Seine. Before bed I head up to the 37 Grill & Bar, where I sip a Tanqueray and tonic nightcap and watch the blinking lights atop the rocketlike N Seoul Tower. Back in my room, there's a jar of tiny candy letters that I munch on while applying the facial mask I bought earlier. The mask is cold to the touch and a bit slimy, and it takes a few moments to properly align the eye, nose, and mouth holes. When I spot my reflection in the mirror, I instantly think of Halloween. This is the last thing I remember.
In which Leslie snaps selfies with an actress, dons a batting helmet, and loses her voice at a karaoke bar
Overly moisturized and sticky-mouthed, I decide to start the day with a dip in the Conrad's 8th-floor indoor pool, only to find a cluster of women bopping along to K-Pop in a water aerobics class. So I skip the healthful bopping in favor of a quiet bath in my room. Breakfast is back up on the 37th floor, where I consume ample quantities of pan-fried mandu, beef dumplings that come with spicy soy sauce, while watching water-skiers create sparkling silver stripes on the river far below.
I'm spending the rest of the morning at Siloam Fire Pot Sauna, a traditional jjimjilbang bathhouse back across the river in Jung-gu. Immediately, I am faced with a dilemma: Do I start in the ice room? The jade room? The salt room? I decide to stew in one of the hot pools. I feel a bit out of place as the lone oversize foreigner amid the little old local women wearing towels on their heads, but I close my eyes and focus on the healing qualities of the natural germanium water lapping at my chin.
Byeokje Galbi's marbled hanwoo beef
I end my treatment with a remarkably vigorous body scrub, then zip off to check into the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, an unremittingly luxurious property that opened late last year in the Central Business District. The cavernous lobby leaves me momentarily dumbstruck, but I snap out of it when I remember I have an appointment across the city, in the south-eastern residential district of Songpa-gu.
From the window of my cab, I spy what looks like an alien spacecraft that has landed in the middle of the city, but it turns out to be the Zaha Hadid–designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza, an innovative venue housing galleries and concert halls. While I'm pondering the consequences of an extraterrestrial invasion, my cabbie announces that we've arrived at Byeokje Galbi, a wood-and-glass-paneled restaurant known for its highly marbled hanwoo beef.
Waiting for me is Seoul native Hyun Ah Han, a poised starlet with coiffed brown hair and a wide smile. As I scan the menu, the actress launches into a soliloquy about Korean beauty—of which she is a particularly fine example. “Korean women are known for having nice skin," she says. “We have high quality beauty products in Korea, but we also eat a lot of green food, and we have good weather."
Hyun Ah Han, actress
I've had the rejuvenating face mask, but based on “beefmaster" chef Won Suk Yoon's rundown of the menu, my lunch isn't going to be very green. I order a dish with a name that translates to “char-grilled chef's special assorted Korean prime beef steaks with sea salt," which comes with sides of thick bokki noodles, pungent kimchi, and yellow root vegetables (good for digestion, the beefmaster tells me).
After lunch, Hyun Ah takes me to Garosugil, the most popular shopping spot in Gangnam, the district immortalized by the K-Popster Psy. The name Gangnam means “south of the river," but many Seoulites refer to it as “Beverly Hills," due to its profusion of high-end retailers and pocketbook-size dogs. On tree-lined streets, fashionable young women totter about on vertiginous heels, flitting in and out of shops with names like Skin Food. We stop at chic café C27 Cheesecake and Coffee, where a sign reads: “A-musement park for women." I probe Hyun Ah about it. “It's because the light is good and the cake is good. It's perfect for taking selfies, which is what Korean girls do these days."
“One of my favorite things to do is to see the night view of Seoul from the mountains or from the top of N Seoul Tower. I suggest it to everyone because it's such a unique perspective of the city." —Hyun Ah Han
As we nibble photogenic slices of green-tea cheesecake, Hyun Ah outlines the historical roots of local fashion tastes. “We are a Confucian society, so we have always followed our elders, which in the past used to be royalty," she says. “Now, celebrities are like the new royalty, and Koreans will buy a shade of red lipstick or an off-the-shoulder top if their favorite celebrity is wearing it." She confesses she would like to become an “it" actress responsible for starting such trends, which doesn't seem like a stretch to me.
I say good-bye to Hyun Ah and make a dash to nearby Jamsil Baseball Stadium, arriving well into the first inning of a game between the LG Twins and KT Wiz, rival members of the 10-team KBO, the country's highest league. At the ticket booth, a woman produces a rapid burst of Korean accompanied by hand motions that resemble a flapping bird. I shrug, and the bird sighs, then calls over a baby-faced guard to help her handle the American woman. “You must wear helmet," he says in adorably broken English. “Follow me."
A statue of King Sejong at Gwanghwamun Plaza, outside the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace
At a nearby counter, I'm instructed to hand over my driver's license as collateral for the battered black batting helmet they insist I wear because I'm sitting in the “exciting" section. I put it on and find my exciting seat, where I notice that the only other helmeted fan is a 5-year-old boy. I grab a beer and watch the game, trying not to think about the countless sweaty heads that have donned this piece of plastic. Fans around me cheer demurely as the hometown Twins hit two home runs in a row, then they continue munching on dried squid—the Korean version of ballgame popcorn. At the end of a 10-4 Twins victory, I return my helmet and head to the Sports Complex subway stop.
I exit the subway back across the river at City Hall, a grand municipal building dating from 1926 that's now dwarfed by the Space-Age glass extension hovering behind it. I walk past a jazz band that's singing in Spanish, then pop into the popular chain restaurant Bonjuk for a late dinner. Juk is a rice porridge traditionally served to the elderly, the infirm, and babies. I order a version with mixed vegetables, served with a side of kimchi, naturally.
I finish the night by meeting one of the couples from last night's food tour (he is from Slovakia, she from New York City) at Luxury Su Noraebang, a karaoke bar in the clubby Hongdae neighborhood. We immediately set about mangling the most popular karaoke song in Seoul, “Let It Go" from Frozen. “I won't have a voice tomorrow," my Slovak friend croaks. Later, I ask him what his favorite thing about Seoul has been so far. “It's either this or eating kimchi," he replies. I can't argue.
In which Leslie eats silkworm larvae, listens to a gargling artist, and takes a cocktail cruise with her former student
The windows in my plush purple-and-gray room at the Four Seasons overlook Gyeongbokgung Palace, allowing me an encore viewing of the changing of the guard. Beyond the compound, I spot the sloping roof of the Blue House, home to President Geun Hye Park. It's pretty far off, but I offer a small bow, just in case, before I head to breakfast at Boccalino, a bright, Milan-inspired restaurant that overlooks commuters hustling to work below. There's a Western-style buffet, but the Korean menu of ginseng salad, grilled mackerel, and baechu kimchi is too good to resist.
Walking down the broad and busy avenue Sejong-daero, I spot a large bronze statue of Sejong the Great, the 15th-century monarch who created Korea's modern alphabet. Not far from here is Cheonggyecheon, a man-made stream that flows for seven miles through the gleaming office blocks of central Seoul. Lost in appreciation of a waterfall, I almost step on a white miniature poodle in a bumblebee outfit, then notice another pup high-stepping down the sidewalk in shiny pink shoes. Apparently humans aren't the only stylish residents in South Korea's capital.
Shoppers at Olive Young, "the Sephora of South Korea"
After soaking my tired feet in the stream, I continue on to Insa-dong, a traditional neighborhood in Jongno characterized by small alleys, tea rooms, and impossibly quaint hanok houses. The main drag, Insadong-gil, is chock-a-block with antique shops and chichi boutiques, but the real attraction is its street food, which includes swirling cauldrons of beondegi (boiled silkworm pupae). The plump, wormy niblets aren't my idea of a hearty snack, but I decide to try one. The vendor, a short woman in a very large hat, laughs uproariously as I steel myself for a bite. The earthy taste isn't exactly unpleasant, but the texture (let's call it “bursting") is. “Ha ha!" the vendor says. “Ho ho!"
Now that I've begun to expand my gastronomic horizons, I'm ready to meet Derek Iwanuk, a Canadian expat and travel blogger who wrote the guidebook Itaewon Eats: Where the World Meets to Eat in Seoul. Derek reckons that the local food scene is on the up, and that Itaewon-dong, the city's most international neighborhood and the subject of his book, is the center of it all. “Seven years ago, you were lucky to find a half-decent burger," he says. “Over the years, there's been a food revolution, and now there are little pockets of world cuisine."
Yoon Kyung Kim, artist
One of those pockets is Coreanos Kitchen, a hip Korean-Mexican restaurant opened in 2013 by two Korean-Americans who badly missed tacos. We order fries topped with galbi, hot sauce, and cilantro, plus a couple of burritos loaded with kimchi and braised pork belly. For Derek, a meal like this speaks to Seoul's ongoing emergence as a global destination. It is, he says, a city that is vying desperately for attention.
I thank Derek for the burritos, then run through the rain to hail a cab. The car whisks me back past Gyeongbokgung and up to Samcheong-dong, a hip, gallery-rich neighborhood that's home to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Waiting for me inside is Yoon Kyung Kim, a petite installation artist whose nose crinkles when she laughs. We browse for a while, contemplating avant-garde paintings and multimedia works, ending up at an interactive exhibit by acclaimed Korean artist Soo Ja Kim. In a vast black room, we're invited to sit around a circular table and given pieces of clay to mold into balls. I frown at an unsettling noise. “It's a recording of the artist gargling," the curator explains. “It's the artist's intention while you make the ball that the shape of your mind is visualized." I'm not sure what shape my mind is exactly, but I hope it's not the lumpy brown blob I've created. Yoon, meanwhile, has formed two balls, one grapefruit sized and the other just a grape. “This is my brain," she says, pointing to the small one.
“Koreans are becoming more open-minded to art, especially in Seoul. They're starting to see the importance of balancing life with art and to realize the reason you go to art museums and galleries is to free yourself." —Yoon Kyung Kim
Creating brains is thirsty work, so we head to the Kraze Burgers down the block to discuss art over beers. “Korean parents are usually very focused on math and English," Yoon says as we sip from frosty glasses. “They need to realize that, even if their children don't become artists, if they're exposed to art they'll become better at other subjects."
I pop back to the Four Seasons for a massage at the spa, then hit happy hour at the 28th-floor Executive Club Lounge, whose defining feature is its wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows. I sip a sauvignon blanc and watch the setting sun light up the surrounding skyscrapers—one of which is home to my dinner destination.
In the rotating n.Grill, at the top of the 775-foot N Seoul Tower, I'm led to a secluded booth with a sweeping view of the city backed by craggy hills stretching toward the North Korean border, 30-odd miles away. As a well-groomed waiter pours me a glass of pink sparkling wine, I'm greeted by Michelin-starred English chef Duncan Robertson, who moved to Seoul after meeting his Korean wife in France. I sip my bubbly and ask Duncan for his take on the food scene here.
Man-made Cheonggyecheon streams through downtown Seoul
“Seoul's becoming more and more open," he says. “When I first came six years ago and baked baguette-style bread with a crusty exterior, everyone was complaining and trying to eat it with a fork and knife. Now, artisanal bakeries here are a niche market, and people are becoming very open-minded about food."
My meal begins with a parade of appetizers, including a savory parmesan soup and poached salmon topped with potato cream, basil sauce, and salmon roe. Next come three different cuts of beef, topped with grilled green chilies and buttery roasted garlic. I top it off with a passion-fruit tart and a dollop of gingery chocolate cream, then sit back with Ol' Blue Eyes crooning in the background and look out at the glinting gold facade of the 63 Building.
To end the evening, I board an E-land Cruise boat, where I meet Myo Jung Kim, an all-grown-up former middle-school student of mine from when I taught ESL here. As we head for the top-deck bar, past bubblegum-pink blossoms of faux cherry trees, I tell Myo Jung that it feels odd to be drinking with her—like I'm being a bad influence. “Don't worry, teacher," she says, ordering us a pair of fruity cocktails. “Times change."
Mexico-based writer Leslie Patrick Moore lived in South Korea for three years, during which time she spent far too much energy and money shopping for beauty products.
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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.
If you go
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.