Honoring United employees who have served
Updated December 22, 2016
Beginning with Veterans Day on November 11, we are dedicating an entire month to honoring employees who have served in all branches of the military in appreciation for their sacrifice to our country and their service to United. Please follow along with us each Monday as some of our veteran co-workers share their stories about their service.
One conversation changed First Officer Stayce Harris's life
When Stayce Harris started college at the University of Southern California on an Air Force ROTC engineering scholarship, she wasn't initially planning to become a pilot. But one conversation with an ROTC instructor changed the course of her career.
"I'd honestly never considered being a pilot, I just wanted to be like my dad and serve in the Air Force," said Stayce. "My instructor suggested I compete for the pilot scholarship, and I thought, why not? Why be the passenger when you can be the pilot?"
After completing pilot training, Stayce flew C-141 cargo planes. "It was basically the airline of the military," she explained. Stayce had assignments across the country from California to Washington, D.C. After leaving active duty, Stayce joined United as a Boeing 727 flight engineer based in LAX (She is now a Boeing 747 first officer based at SFO). She wanted to continue serving her country, so she joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve, where she got to realize another one of her passions: leadership.
"I just had a passion for taking care of airmen," she said. One of Stayce's most memorable positions was as Commander of the 729th Airlift Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, outside Los Angeles, where she was stationed on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Although all civilian aircraft were grounded, military aircraft were still flying," she said. "The C-141s from my squadron were flying firefighters and their supplies to New York to assist with recovery."
Throughout her career, she has had assignments at the Pentagon, U.S. Africa Command, Air Mobility Command and as commander of the 22nd Air Force. This diverse background led her to her current position. Stayce is now on military leave from United and back on active duty, serving as the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, where she holds the rank of lieutenant general.
"I have a unique opportunity in this role. I was recalled to active duty, which is the first time a reservist has been chosen to do this for this specific role, so I want to do a really great job serving all the airmen of our Air Force."
As a female pilot and service member, Stayce has not allowed herself to be held back by stereotypes or biases.
"The beauty of flying is that the plane doesn't know whether you're male or female. It doesn't care – the plane wants to fly and I want to fly it. And as long as I know in my heart that I'm doing my best for the Air Force and taking care of the airmen in fulfilling my role, at the end of the day, I'm good. People will accept you or not, and that's for them to decide."
She has some advice for veterans making the transition to civilian life: "Veterans offer valuable operational, leadership and life experiences along with the core values of integrity, discipline, responsibility and respect. These are key strengths that every business needs. It is very competitive though – whether you're a pilot, or an engineer or an administrator. It takes preparation, homework and perseverance to translate your work experience to a civilian employer. United understands and values the skill sets of our veterans and has been especially supportive of me and of all our veterans; it makes me very proud."
After a career that has taken her all over the country, you might think Stayce would rather stay home than travel. Not so.
"I still just adore traveling, even after 34 years of flying. Until recently, I would always travel someplace I'd never been for my birthday, from Romania to South Africa, to Brunei. My favorites are Sydney, Australia, and Cape Town, South Africa."
Stayce plans to return to United when she has finished her position. Of all the aircraft she's flown – including C-141s, C-130s, KC-135s, Boeing 757s, 767s and 777s – her favorite is the 747.
"I just love that aircraft; it's a majestic airplane to fly."
Ooh Rah: Tech Ops' Don Larson carries
on Marine past
On the fifth floor of the Tech Ops Maintenance Service Center at O'Hare International Airport, above the ratcheting sound of planes getting tune-ups, is an office of which Uncle Sam would be proud.
A platoon of G.I. Joe-esque figurines stand guard atop file cabinets and shelves, U.S. and Marine Corps flags decorate the back wall, pictures of military vehicles and missions past line the side walls, mementos of service time and military citations of the Bronze Star medal and Legion of Merit with the combat distinguishing "V" devise for valor are proudly displayed on the desk, and a grenade-shaped coffee mug and meal ready to eat decorate a table.
Welcome to Don Larson's office.
Don retired from the Marines in 2000 as a Chief Warrant Officer – a highly skilled position of leadership and responsibility – after 24 years of service that spanned more than 30 countries, all seven continents, a dozen separate combat operations and security duty for President Ronald Reagan. He and his wife moved 13 times during those years, and he missed 17 Christmases at home. You'd think he'd have taken a break for a bit after that, but no – 25 days after his retirement, he had his first day on the job with United. Don works as a line maintenance administration manager.
"If it's not turning a wrench or fixing an airplane, then we handle it," says Don, who handles administrative duties for ORD Tech Ops employees.
The impact of Don's military past is just as evident in his work as it is on his walls. Lessons learned on how to most effectively work with others, and building and managing relationships while fighting in Iraq, Kosovo, Somalia and other war-torn locales have helped him in his current role. Don and the others who work on the fifth floor have a team motto: mission always, people first.
"In the military, you have to deal with people of different ages from different places," Don says. "This helps, because in any job, you have to know your people and look out for their well-being."
The job helps him maintain his own wellness, as he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress, multiple traumatic brain injuries and surviving cancer. To stave off head and neurological pain, he keeps the lights relatively dimmed in his office, and sometimes, if sleep is hard to come by, he'll come to the office in the middle of the night to start working, which helps occupy his mind.
"He is a remarkable individual to work with, and he never misses a beat with his work," ORD and DEN Maintenance Hub Managing Director James Montgomery said. "He ensures every member of his team learns everyone else's role, so that anyone can cover for anyone else if needed. The flexibility that creates is awesome, and they all love working with him."
Don learned during his service that humor can be a coping mechanism, so he likes to make people laugh at work.
He misses the 24/7 camaraderie of the military, but says, "The job has to get done – anything less is not an option."
Recently, his wife of 37 years asked him when he, 57, plans to retire. No sniper's scope can find that target date.
"As long as I add value through the work I'm doing and make a difference in the lives of the people I'm working with," Don said, "I'm going to continue."
From ORD to Afghanistan and back
Ryan Melby may be best known at United by the title he holds at the Chicago Corporate Support Center: director of airport operations ramp planning and airport services. What you may not be as familiar with is the title that he carries when he's away from the office – battalion commander as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.
Ryan, a former active duty solider and current Army reservist, joined United in 2005 through a military leadership recruiting program as a ramp supervisor, and has since worked his way up through the ranks of the company. Today, among other things, he oversees our below-the-wing policies and procedures, station openings and Airport Operations contract strategy.
"The Army taught me a lot about leadership, but I feel my experiences at United have helped me evolve as a leader," I learned as much working at O'Hare as I did in the military."
Ryan was first commissioned as a lieutenant through the ROTC program at the Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama. He finished college at Embry – Riddle with a focus in aeronautics before going onto active duty. He left the active service and became a reservist in 2001 so that he could pursue a civilian career as a pilot. But when the September 11th attacks occurred, he was called back into service.
"I was a captain responsible for preparing reserve units for deployment," Ryan said. "I was also part of an exercise in Germany that worked through the plans and 'war gamed' the Iraq invasion."
Over the next ten years, he served in the Army Reserves and worked in a variety of roles at United while he and his wife started a family. Then, in 2011, he received some surprising news: With only a month's notice, Ryan was deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan.
"I had three small children at home – my daughter was only three months old at that time – so it was a real tough experience leaving them, but that was the commitment that I made."
His deployment coincided with the ongoing U.S. troop withdrawal, and Ryan's unit was responsible for managing the logistics of sending vehicles and equipment back to the U.S. After the year-long deployment he returned home to open arms. "United was really understanding throughout my time in Afghanistan, and welcomed me back to my old position. I appreciated all of the support my co-workers provided while I was away."
It's those kinds of experiences that Ryan relies on in his leadership position at United. "In the Army, you're taught to always finish the mission no matter how difficult it is. If you have a can-do attitude, you really can accomplish anything."
'Semper Paratus,' at sea and at United
Network Operations Principal Engineer James Taylor proudly served in the United States Coast Guard for four years, an experience that he still leans on today in his role helping to keep our IT operations running smoothly.
James enlisted right out of high school as an eighteen-year-old. His lifelong love of boats and the open water initially attracted him to the Coast Guard, coupled with the fact that, as he says, “Back then we were in peacetime, but the Coast Guard was still busy – they were doing search and rescues and drug traffic interventions. It seemed exciting."
After completing basic training in Cape May, New Jersey, James found himself stationed in an unlikely place for a Coast Guard Seaman: Keokuk, Iowa. During his time there, his team patrolled the Mississippi River down to St. Louis, maintaining buoys and keeping the water cleared for barges.
Looking for a new challenge, he attended Coast Guard “A" school (advanced school) and became a radarman, transferring to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Mellon, a high-endurance cutter based in Seattle. The Mellon's crew was tasked with patrolling the Pacific Ocean for months at a time, from Alaska down to Guatemala.
“We had two objectives, depending on which way we went out of Seattle," James said. “Going right (north) meant sailing to Alaska and handling fishery patrols; going left (south) meant looking for boats trafficking drugs."
Those missions at sea provided James with memories that he still appreciates to this day. “Of course I remember the month we spent training in Hawaii," he said, laughing, “and I'll never forget seeing porpoises and sea turtles in the Strait of Seward near Alaska and volcanoes erupting in the Aleutian Islands."
But it's not just the memories of the people and places that James carries with him; his time in the service made a much larger impact on him as a U.S. citizen and as an employee of United.
“Being in the military gives you a deeper pride for the U.S., and it instills in you a devotion to duty, respect for others and respect for authority," he said. “It also prepares you always to be ready for anything – and that's part of my job today. If our IT systems go down, it can lead to flight delays, so I'm always thinking about a back-up plan. The Coast Guard's motto is Semper Paratus – Always Ready – and that's what I live by."
Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to MEL (Melbourne) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.
20. Spot Giant Pandas in China
In 2016, giant pandas were removed from the endangered species list, and China would like to keep it that way. This year, the country plans to consolidate the creatures' known habitats into one unified national park system spanning nearly 10,500 square miles across Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces—about the size, in total, of Massachusetts. —Nicholas DeRenzo
19. Follow in James Bond's Footsteps in Jamaica
When No Time to Die hits theaters on April 8, it marks a number of returns for the James Bond franchise. The 25th chapter in the Bond saga is the first to come out since 2015's Spectre; it's Daniel Craig's fifth go-round as 007, after rumors the actor was set to move on; and it's the first time the series has filmed in Jamaica since 1973's Live and Let Die. The Caribbean island has always had a special place in Bond lore: It was the location of one of creator Ian Fleming's homes, GoldenEye (which is now a resort), and the setting for the first 007 movie, 1962's Dr. No. Looking to live like a super-spy? You don't need a license to kill—just a ride to Port Antonio, where you can check out filming locations such as San San Beach and colonial West Street. Remember to keep your tux pressed and your Aston Martin on the left side of the road. —Justin Goldman
18. See the Future of Architecture in Venice
Every other year, Venice hosts the art world's best and brightest during its celebrated Biennale. But the party doesn't stop during off years, when the Architecture Biennale takes place. This year, curator Hashim Sarkis, the dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, has tasked participants with finding design solutions for political divides and economic inequality; the result, on display from May to November, is the intriguing show How Will We Live Together? —Nicholas DeRenzo
17. Celebrate Beethoven's 250th Birthday in Bonn
Catch a Beethoven concerto in Bonn, Germany, to celebrate the hometown hero's big 2-5-0.
16. Eat Your Way Through Slovenia
When Ana Roš of Hiša Franko was named the World's Best Female Chef in 2017, food lovers began to wonder: Do we need to pay attention to Slovenia? The answer, it turns out, is definitely yes. This March, the tiny Balkan nation about two hours east of Venice gets its own Michelin Guide. —Nicholas DeRenzo
15. Star- (and Sun-) Gaze in Patagonia
Come December 13 and 14, there will be no better spot for sky-watchers than northern Patagonia, which welcomes both the peak of the Geminid meteor shower and a total solar eclipse within 24 hours. —Nicholas DeRenzo
14. Explore Miami's Game-Changing New Park
About 70,000 commuters use Miami's Metrorail each day, and city planners aim to turn the unused space beneath its tracks into an exciting new public space, a 10-mile linear park aptly named The Underline. Luckily, the Magic City is in good hands: The project is being helmed by James Corner Field Operations, the geniuses behind New York's High Line. “Both projects share similarities in their overarching goals," says principal designer Isabel Castilla, “to convert a leftover infrastructural space into a public space that connects neighborhoods, generates community, and encourages urban regeneration." When finished, Miami's park will be about seven times as long as its Big Apple counterpart. The first half-mile leg, set to open this June, is the Brickell Backyard, which includes an outdoor gym, a butterfly garden, a dog park, and gaming tables that call to mind the dominoes matches you'll find nearby in Little Havana. “We envision the Underline dramatically changing the way people in Miami engage with public space," Castilla says. —Nicholas DeRenzo
13. Kick Off the NFL in Las Vegas
Former Raiders owner Al Davis was famous for saying, “Just win, baby." His son, Mark Davis, the team's current owner, is more likely to be shouting “Vegas, baby!" Swingers-style, as his team becomes Sin City's first NFL franchise, the Las Vegas Raiders. After years of threats and lawsuits, the Raiders have finally left Oakland, and this summer they're landing just across the highway from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in a 65,000-seat, $1.8 billion domed stadium that will also host the UNLV football team, the next two Pac-12 championship games, and the Las Vegas Bowl. Construction is slated to be finished July 31, just in time for the NFL preseason—and just in time to lure football fans from the sportsbooks to the grandstand. —Justin Goldman
12. Celebrate the Suffragettes in Washington D.C.
All eyes are on the ballot box this year, but the electorate would look quite different if not for the 19th Amendment, which was ratified 100 years ago this August. Many D.C. institutions, such as the National Archives Museum and the Library of Congress, are honoring the decades-long struggle for women's suffrage with exhibits. In particular, the National Museum of American History unveils Sarah J. Eddy's portrait of Susan B. Anthony this March, before putting on a 'zine-inspired show on girlhood and youth social movements this June. —Nicholas DeRenzo
11. Go for a Ride Through Mexico City
If you want to get somewhere quickly in Mexico City, try going by bicycle. During peak traffic, bikes average faster speeds than cars or public transportation—which might explain why ridership has gone up almost 50 percent since 2007. And riding on two wheels is getting safer and easier. In 2019, the city announced plans to invest $10 million (more than it had spent in the last six years combined) into the construction of about 50 miles of new paths and lanes. Now, you can cycle on a two-mile separated path along the Paseo de la Reforma, from Colonia Juárez and Roma to Chapultepec Park and Polanco. Future plans include a route along the National Canal between Coyoacán (where Frida Kahlo once lived) and Xochimilco (with its floating flower farms). “The goal is to finish the six-year [presidential] term with 600 kilometers of bike infrastructure," says Roberto Mendoza of the city's Secretariat of Mobility. Time to start pedaling. —Naomi Tomky
10. Consider the Mayflower's Legacy in Massachusetts and Abroad
Before they came to America in 1620, the religious separatists now known as the Pilgrims lived in England and the Netherlands. This year, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing will be commemorated not only by those nations but also by a fourth: The Wampanoag, the confederation of tribes that live in New England and whose role in this world-changing event has been at best left out and at worst distorted.
“We're challenging the myths and stereotypes," says Aquinnah Wampanoag author Linda Coombs, a board member of Plymouth 400, Inc., which is planning cultural events such
as an Ancestors Walk to honor the native villages pushed aside by settlers, as well as
an indigenous history conference and powwow (plus an $11 million restoration of the replica Mayflower II).
Kerri Helme, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag nation and cultural programs manager at Plimoth Plantation, says that “people want to hear the whole story." She notes that it's a commonly held belief that the Pilgrims were welcomed by the natives, when in fact their first encounter was violent, since the English had been stealing the Wampanoags' food.
“The Wampanoag are key players in all of this," says Charles Hackett, CEO of Mayflower 400 in the U.K. “It's a whole other aspect of this history." In England, a Mayflower trail will connect Pilgrim sites in towns such as Southampton and Plymouth, and in Leiden, the Dutch town where the Pilgrims took refuge before embarking for the New World, the ethnology museum will run an exhibit about the natives.
“The most important thing for us, as the Wampanoag people," says Paula Peters, a former Wampanoag council member, “is to be acknowledged as a vital tribe comprised of people that, in spite of everything that's happened, are still here." —Jon Marcus
9. Discover Lille's Design Scene
Previous World Design Capitals have included major cultural hubs such as Helsinki and Seoul, so it came as a shock when Lille, France's 10th-largest city, beat Sydney for this year's title. Judges cited Lille's use of design to improve its citizens' lives; get a taste for yourself at spots like La Piscine Musée d'Art et d'Industrie, a gallery in a former Art Deco swim center. —Nicholas DeRenzo
8. See Stellar Space in Rio de Janeiro, the World Capital of Architecture
Rio de Janeiro is renowned for the beauty of its beaches and mountains, but the Cidade Maravilhosa's man-made structures are as eye-catching as its natural features. For that reason, UNESCO recently designated Rio its first World Capital of Architecture, honoring a city that boasts such landmarks as the stained glass–domed Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, the fairy-tale Ilha Fiscal palace, and the uber-modern Niterói Contemporary Art Museum.
"Rio is an old city by New World standards, having been founded in the mid–16th century," says architectural photographer Andrew Prokos, who took this shot. "So the city has many layers of architectural styles, from Colonial and Rococo to Art Nouveau, Modernist, Brutalist, and contemporary." In the case of this museum, which was designed by perhaps Brazil's greatest architect, Pritzker Prize winner Oscar Niemeyer, Prokos was intrigued by how the 24-year-old building interacts with its surroundings. "The upward slope of the museum complements the slope of the Pão de Açúcar across the bay," he says, "so the two are speaking to each other from across the water." – Tom Smyth
7. Join the Avengers at Disneyland
This summer, Disney California Adventure unveils its Marvel-themed Avengers Campus, with a new Spider-Man attraction, followed later by an Ant-Man restaurant and a ride through Wakanda. If the hype surrounding last year's debut of Disney+ is any indication, Comic-Con types are going to lose their fanboy (and -girl) minds. —Nicholas DeRenzo
6. Listen to Jazz in Cape Town
Cape Town's natural wonders draw visitors from all over the world, but there's a hidden gem beyond the mountains, beaches, and seas: music. Much as jazz was born from America's diverse peoples, Cape jazz combines the traditions and practices of the city's multiethnic population, creating genres such as goema (named after a type of hand drum) and marabi (a keyboard style that arose in the townships). Cape Town has hosted an International Jazz Festival for
20 years (the 21st edition is this March 27–28), and now UNESCO is giving the Mother City its musical due by naming it the Global Host City of International Jazz Day 2020. The theme of the event—which takes place on April 30, features an All Star Global Concert, and is the climax of Jazz Appreciation Month—is “Tracing the Roots and Routes of African Jazz." During the dark days of slavery and apartheid, music became an outlet through which repressed people could express their struggle for freedom. What better way to mark a quarter century of democracy here than with a celebration of that most free style of music? —Struan Douglas
5. Take a Walk Around England
Many hikers love walking around England—but how many can say that they've truly walked around England? When it's completed, the England Coast Path will be the longest managed seaside trail in the world, completely circumnavigating the coastline, from the fishing villages of Cornwall and the beaches of Nothumberland to the limestone arches of the Jurassic Coast and the sandy dunes of Norfolk. Much of the trail is already waymarked (the 630-mile South West Coast Path is particularly challenging and beautiful), with new legs set to open throughout the year. If you want to cross the whole thing off your bucket list, be warned that it's no walk in the park: At around 2,795 miles, the completed route is 605 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail and about the same as the distance between New York and Los Angeles. —Nicholas DeRenzo
4. Get Refreshed in the Israeli Desert
Six Senses resorts are known for restorative retreats in places like Fiji, Bali, and the Maldives. For its latest location, the wellness-minded brand is heading to a more unexpected locale: the Arava Valley, in the far south of Israel. Opening this spring, the Six Senses Shaharut will offer overnight camel camping, off-roading in the surrounding desert, and restaurants serving food grown in the resort's gardens or sourced from nearby kibbutzim. While the valley is said to be near King Solomon's copper mines, the Six Senses is sure to strike gold. —Nicholas DeRenzo
3. Say konnichiwa on July 24 at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which plays host for the first time since 1964.
The Japanese capital plays host for the first time since 1964. This year, softball and baseball will return after being absent since 2008, and four new sports—karate, sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding—will be added to the competition for the first time. Say konnichiwa at the opening ceremonies on July 24, which will be held at renowned architect Kengo Kuma's New National Stadium. – Nicholas DeRenzo
2. Score Tickets to Euro 2020
Still feeling World Cup withdrawal? Get your “football" fix at the UEFA European Championship. From June 12 to July 12, 24 qualifying national teams will play games in stadiums from Bilbao to Baku, culminating in the semi-finals and final at London's hallowed Wembley Stadium. Will World Cup champion France bring home another trophy? Will Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal repeat its 2016 Euro win? Will the tortured English national team finally get its first title? Or will an upstart—like Greece in 2004—shock the world? —Justin Goldman
1. Soak Up Some Culture in Galway
Galway has long been called “the cultural heart of Ireland," so it's no surprise that this bohemian city on the country's wild west coast was named a 2020 European Capital of Culture (along with Rijeka, Croatia). The title puts a spotlight on the city (population 80,000) and County Galway, where more than 1,900 events will take place throughout the year. Things kick off in February with a seven-night opening ceremony featuring a fiery (literally) choreographed celebration starring a cast of 2,020 singing-and-drumming locals in Eyre Square. “This is a once-in-a-generation chance for Galway," says Paul Fahy, a county native and the artistic director of the Galway International Arts Festival (July 13–26). “It's a huge pressure. There's a heightened sense of expectation from audiences, not just from here but from all over the world." Art lovers will no doubt enjoy Kari Kola's illuminating work Savage Beauty, which will wash the Connemara mountains in green light to coincide with St. Patrick's Day, or the Druid Theatre Company's countywide tour of some of the best 20th-century one-act Irish plays. Visitors would also be wise to explore the rugged beauty of Connemara on a day trip with the charismatic Mairtin Óg Lally of Lally Tours, and to eat their way across town with Galway Food Tours. But beware, says Fahy: “Galway has a reputation as a place people came to 20 years ago for a weekend and never left." —Ellen Carpenter