Roaming around Roma - United Hub

Roaming around Roma

By The Hub team , July 25, 2019

Each week we profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By Los Angeles Flight Attendant Kimberly Atkins

As a flight attendant, I have mastered the art of visiting a city in 24 hours. However, there are some cities where it would take a lifetime of exploration to truly see it all. Rome, the Eternal City, is definitely one of those. Here are my Rome essentials, 24-hour tips, and the best way to conquer the Roman Empire in the shortest amount of time.

My husband Marco was born and raised in Rome, and we met on the Roma-Firenze Eurostar train when I was living in Italy right after college. I then became a flight attendant and worked as an onboard Italian language speaker from 2008-2014. In that time, I commuted to Rome from my base in Washington, D.C. I've spent countless hours wandering the streets of this magical city, exploring hidden alleyways and major tourist attractions and hunting down special works of art tucked in the corners of old churches. Rome, to me, is enchanting. And, while we will probably never get to see it all, here is my favorite game plan to explore La Cittá Eterna.

Safety

First things first, leave the expensive jewelry at home, and watch your pockets. Violent crime isn't prevalent in Rome, but pickpocketing is huge, so watch your purse, backpack and pockets, especially in crowded areas and on public transit. That being said, I feel very safe walking around the historic center of the city at most times of day and night, but when I'm alone I try to stick to well-lit, populated areas. Avoid walking around the Termini train station area at night, and, if you have to, watch yourself, and maybe opt for a cab.

How to get there

When we go to Rome, we fly directly into Rome from Chicago, Newark or Washington D.C.'s Dulles Airport. If you aren't familiar with driving in the madness of Bella Roma, and you don't absolutely need a car, then avoid renting one and go with public transit. The public transit is incredible in Italy, and everything is fairly well connected. Also, taxis and Uber are reasonably priced and available at all hours of the day and night.

Hotel Romanico Palace and Spa

On this trip we had the pleasure of staying at the Hotel Romanico Palace and Spa. The hotel is in the city center, about a 40 to 60-minute drive from the airport. If you have a car, the staff at Hotel Romanico were extremely helpful and informative with parking options. The lobby and lobby bar are beautiful with a great selection of fairly priced drinks and a glass window in the floor that showcases some ancient Roman ruins. Just below the lobby level, the hotel is equipped with a small gym with all the essentials (free to use during your stay) and a beautiful spa — a little oasis in the center of a bustling city. They've recreated the atmosphere of ancient Roman thermal baths, and you can't help but relax and feel like royalty in this spa. After a few days running around the city seeing all the sites, this spa is the perfect way to spend a relaxing afternoon.

The rooms at the Hotel Romanico Palace are the stuff of dreams — decorated in palatial Italian decor, some more classic, some more modern. Ours was an end room with classic Roman Palace decor and a huge bathroom equipped with a jacuzzi tub, WC and bidet, and a three-way shower that felt like a luxurious, ancient Roman bath. Not only did the shower have a traditional shower head and rain shower but a travertine waterfall that cascaded out of the ceiling and onto a marble throne (bonus waterfall shoulder massage). It was pure magic. If you're interested, they also have themed rooms and suites.

Recommended walking tour

There are an infinite number of ways to explore this city… so, by all means, plan the route that works best for you. This route just happens to be my favorite, and Hotel Romanico is the perfect starting point.

For our first stop, set your sights on the Spanish Steps. Piazza di Spagna is a 15-min stroll from the Hotel Romanico. Turn right out of the hotel to start your walk and hang a left on Via Vittorio Veneto. You'll pass by the American Embassy and Piazza Barberini on your way. If you're ready for a snack, my favorite forno is along your route. A forno or oven in Italian, is basically just an old-school bakery that sells simple but incredibly delicious breads, pizzas, focaccia, baked goods and occasionally other snacks like arancini (a breaded and stuffed risotto ball of yumminess). A traditional forno is affordable, quick and very popular with the locals.

Piazza di Spagna, The Spanish Steps

When you get to the Spanish Steps (named for the Embassy of Spain located in the Piazza), be sure to check out the church at the top of the steps, the famed Trinità dei Monti. Walk down the iconic steps to the boat-shaped Fountain of the Barcaccia, and snap some epic pictures of the fountain built by the famous Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his father Pietro Bernini. The water in the fountain is supplied by an ancient Roman aqueduct from 19 BC. Legend has it that the Tiber river had an epic overflow in 1598 and carried an adrift boat to the center of this Piazza. That boat inspired Bernini's design. The Shelly/Keats house is also in the Piazza on the east side of the steps.

Head down Via Dei Condotti where you can window shop the best of high fashion and luxury stores like Dior, Bulgari and Ferragamo. If you need an espresso, check out Antica Cafe Greco, a favorite of expat poets and writers like Keats and Byron. Start heading to the east (your left), and follow the signs for your next stop, the Fontana di Trevi.

Fontana di Trevi, The Trevi Fountain

This breathtaking and world-famous fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome. Built in 1762 and designed by Roman sculptor Nicola Salvi, it has been featured in numerous films, including Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" where Silvia and Marcello go for a jaunt in the fountain. WARNING: Don't follow Silvia's lead…it is strictly forbidden to dangle your feet or hands in the sparkling, crystal-clear water.

The travertine used to construct the fountain comes from nearby Tivoli, an incredible place to go for a day trip if time allows. Be sure to throw coins into the fountain. The proper way is to hold the coin in your right hand and throw it over the left shoulder. Legend says you should always throw three coins… the first to return to Rome, the second to bring you love, and the third to ensure marriage. An estimated €1.4 million is thrown into the fountain every year. The money from the fountain is donated to subsidize a supermarket for the city's needy. Good job, Roma.

Once you've thrown your coins, follow the signs toward your next stop: Il Pantheon.

The Pantheon

Enjoy the winding cobblestone streets lined with charming shops, gelaterias and street performers. When you come into the Piazza della Rotonda, you can't miss the impressive church built in circa 113 AD. It was built on the site of an earlier pagan temple originally commissioned by Emperor Augustus in 27 BC. The Pantheon is most famous for its large hole at the center of the dome, and it is still to this day the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. This building is even more special, because it is one of the only ancient buildings in Rome that has been in continuous use throughout history, so it is perfectly preserved. It is absolutely breathtaking and free to enter, so go in and enjoy. When you're done, head on over to Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona

Just 5 minutes from the Pantheon, you'll find one of the most famous piazzas in Rome. Used by the ancient Romans as a stadium, and flooded to recreate "show" naval battles, Piazza Navona is now home to street artists and musicians.

During the Christmas season, it's a must see for its specialty Christmas Market. The focal point of this long, oval piazza is the central Fountain of the Four rivers, representing four of the largest rivers of the four major continents; the Nile (Africa), the Danube (Europe), the Ganges (Asia) and the Plata (America). It was built in 1651 by none other than the famous Roman sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who won the commission of the fountain in a design competition. Enjoy the live music and art as you walk around the piazza. Don't miss the smaller fountains on either end of the piazza, the Museo di Roma, and the church of Saint Agnes.

Campo de Fiori

Campo de Fiori, literally meaning "field of flowers," is exactly what this piazza was in the Middle Ages. Today it is a bustling piazza with a daily farmers market that has everything you could need from fresh fruits and veggies to specialty pastas and spice mixes, fresh pressed juices, souvenirs and even gourmet Italian truffle products. At night this is one of the more popular and rowdy piazzas for aperitivi (happy hour) and nightcaps.

If you head out the back end of the piazza down Via dei Giubbonari, you can enjoy the numerous Italian shoe shops and clothing stores on this quaint street. And don't forget to hang a right on Via dell'Arco del Monte to head toward Ponte Sisto and Trastevere.

Trastevere

Trastevere literally means "across the Tiber," and while crossing the Tiber River, or Il Tevere, you'll be walking across Ponte Sisto. This famous walking bridge was built in the 1470s and is a favorite spot for more alternative musicians. The views from the bridge are gorgeous, and you can even catch a glimpse of the glowing Vatican dome to your right as you cross the bridge.

You'll be entering Trastevere through Piazza Trilussa, a popular evening hangout. You'll find young Italians and international students meeting up here and occasionally enjoying a drink on the steps of the popular piazza. Head into Trastevere, and just get lost. This Bohemian wonderland has maintained so much of the character and soul of Rome. Ancient homes and apartments line the tiny, winding cobblestones streets that are packed with amazing cafes, bars, restaurants and pizzerias at every turn. Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere holds the namesake church that dates back to the year 340. This is definitely the part of town to put away your map and wander, and just enjoy the dolce vita.

We've come to the end of today's roaming. Trastevere is where I leave you. If I'm in town, you can probably find me sipping on a Campari Spritz at Caffè della Scala or having a traditional Roman Tonarelli al Cacio e Pepe (handmade egg pasta with a simple but decadent dressing of Pecorino Romano and black pepper) at Osteria da Otello. From here, you're a 20-minute cab ride or a 25-minute bus ride back to the Hotel Romanico. If you're up for an after-dinner stroll, head up the river and check out the Vatican illuminated at night.

When you're ready to keep exploring the city, I've got a few more tips, recommended restaurants and day trips on my blog, Kimmie Flies.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure, and have a great time roaming around Roma.

Cape Town: A first-timer’s guide to the Mother City

By Eric Rubens , December 07, 2019

Eric Rubens (@erubes1) is a MileagePlus member based in Southern California. He is a photographer/videographer who loves meeting new people and traveling the world.

When planning a vacation, one of the first steps is picking a theme. If you're in search of mountains, many look to the Rockies, Swiss Alps, or Dolomites. If a tropical vacation is desired, Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean may be calling your name. There are so many beautiful destinations in this world, but is it possible for one of them to be blessed with incredible mountains, picturesque beaches, and some of the best wildlife viewing in the world?

Cape Town is one of the few places I've found that seems to have it all. With the iconic Table Mountain and Lion's Head rising out of the city, there are hikes leading up to majestic views down the African coastline. The beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay are some of the most incredible beaches on this planet. If wildlife peaks your interest, there's Boulder's Beach, home to one of the only land-based penguin colonies in the world. Did I mention the safari is a short trip away? Add in an exchange rate that is very favorable and you have all the makings of a trip you'll never forget.

Camps Bay Beach

Planning a trip to Africa for the first time can be both intimidating and a bit challenging. I found very few of my friends or family had been, which made my voyage to South Africa even more exciting. Cape Town is home to a hip urban scene, a vibrant melting pot of culture, and jaw dropping landscapes that'll make you wonder why you didn't visit sooner. There's no city quite like it, and this list of top things to do will make sure you maximize your time in the Mother City. Several theories exist regarding the origin of Cape Town's nickname as "The Mother City." Some say it can be traced back to the beginning of the city's history as a trading hub in the 17th century, or its status as South Africa's first metropolis. But many locals have their own theories – one running joke is that it takes nine months to get anything done in the very laid back city.

View from the top of Table Mountain

#1: Take a hike or tram up to the top of Table Mountain

This iconic mountain rising from the city is arguably home to Cape Town's best views. The 2 to 3-hour hike to the top makes for a fun activity if you're up for it. Otherwise, take in the view from the aerial cableway, complete with 360-degree rotating floor and running every 5 minutes from the base. Once up top, there's plenty of walking trails, souvenir shopping, and food and drinks. Table Mountain is known for the blanket of fog that rolls over the peak, so weather at the top can change quickly. Make sure to check the weather before heading up and bring a jacket, since the wind can be intense!

Penguins at Boulder Beach

#2: Visit the penguin colony at Boulder's Beach

Even though it's an hour or so drive from the city, visiting Boulder's Beach and its nearly 2,000 penguins is an unforgettable experience. Watching the penguins lounge on the beach and come in and out of the waves makes for some incredible pictures and a unique encounter. You can also swim in the nearby waters and will often come face to face with members of the colony.

#3: Wake up for a sunrise hike up Lion's Head

One of the most bucket list-worthy activities on a visit to Cape Town is catching sunrise atop Lion's Head. It's a challenging hike and not for those with a fear of heights, but you won't soon forget the view from the summit. If you're willing to scramble and make your way up the final ladders, 360-degree views of the city await, and the sunrise over the city is one for the ages.

#4: Explore the Cape Winelands and the beauty of Constantia

South Africa has some of the best vineyards in the world. Even though the towns of Franschooek and Stellenbosch get the majority of the press, nearby Constantia is home to the oldest wine estate in the country, Groot Constantia. Its proximity (just 15 minutes from the city center) makes it perfect for a day trip. The city sightseeing "Hop-On Hop-Off" bus tour has a purple line that connects through this region, so getting here is easy! If wine tasting isn't your thing, the Alphen Trail is a beautiful trek through the countryside and sure to put you in a relaxing mood.

Chapman's Peak Drive

#5: Take a road trip down Chapman's Peak Drive

One of the most beautiful drives awaits just south of Cape Town. Carved into the cliffs and winding along the ocean, this road between Hout Bay and Noordhoek offers majestic views of the coastline. Just make sure to keep your eyes on the road since the sheer beauty can be distracting!

#6: View the diversity of flora throughout Kirstenbosch Gardens

The flora and fauna of South Africa is some of the most diverse in the world, and no place showcases it better than Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Tucked along the slopes of Table Mountain and widely recognized as one of the most impressive gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch is home to over 7,000 species of plants. The newly completed Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway allows you to walk above the tree line. If you visit in summer, try to make one of the Sunday concerts in the gardens, which are a hit with locals and visitors.

V & A Waterfront

#7: Shop your heart out along the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

Known as one of the biggest tourism hubs of the city, the always bustling V&A Waterfront is home to many of Cape Town's finest restaurants, shopping, and the launching point of many tours. There are countless ways to spend your time here, but make sure to stop by the V&A food market, where over 40 vendors sell gourmet street food from around the world.

#8: Make your way to the Southern tip of Africa

If you're up for an adventure, take a trip to The Cape of Good Hope. You'll most likely encounter penguins, baboons, and who knows what else along the 1.5-hour drive. The weather can be very unpredictable, so make sure to check it before making the trip south. While there, visit the lighthouse and if you're hungry grab a bite at the appropriately named Two Oceans Restaurant.

#9 Take a tour of historical Robben Island

Even though the prison has been shut down since 1996, a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Cape Town's most popular tours. Tours take around 4 hours including a ferry ride to the island famous for housing Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.

Insider tips:

-Use the "hop on hop off" bus for an easy guided tour of the city. The route takes you to many of the best spots throughout Cape Town and allows you to explore at your own pace. Buy tickets ahead of time to save on fare!

-Cape Town has some incredible boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts. My favorites are: Tintswalo Atlantic, 52 De Wet Luxury Boutique Hotel, and Derwent House Boutique Hotel.

-Make sure you don't carry too many valuables on you if you're walking around at night. Although beautiful and mostly safe, there is still a good amount of opportunistic crime throughout the city. Always pay attention to your surroundings.

You can purchase tickets now at united.com or on the United app for three weekly nonstop flights from New York/Newark to Cape Town beginning December 15.

Opinions expressed by the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of United.

Say Halo to Curaçao

By Bob Cooper , December 06, 2019

Planning a Caribbean vacation around hurricane season isn't necessary if you head to Dutch-affiliated Curaçao. The southernmost of all Caribbean islands — just off Venezuela's coast — is rarely even grazed by hurricanes. It also has an ideal tropical climate with average winter highs in the 80s (and water temperatures to match) and only about one inch of rain a month.

Curaçao will be more accessible beginning December 7, 2019, when weekly nonstops begin from New York/Newark on United Airlines. The new seasonal service on 737-700 aircraft makes Curaçao the 21st Caribbean island destination for United, which already flies to the other two nearby "ABC islands" — Aruba and Bonaire. Why choose Curaçao? Because like the island's famous blue liqueur, it's colorful, exotic and appealing.

Settling in

Jet lag won't be an issue for Americans flying to Curaçao because it's in the same time zone as New York. Nor is it a long flight — about five hours nonstop from New York/Newark. Upon arrival you can take a taxi, rental car or hotel shuttle from Curaçao International Airport to your accommodations — a resort (reserve early), boutique inn, vacation house or B&B. Most are in Willemstad, a coastal city only five miles from the airport.

Forts above the port

Straat Curaçao Getty Images/iStockphoto

The historic city center and harbor areas of Curaçao's only city of Willemstad are designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site, mostly for the 17th to 19th century Dutch colonial architecture of the houses and forts. The houses are painted a rainbow of bright colors in the Caribbean tradition, and the city is packed with forts — Fort Amsterdam (built in 1636), Fort Beekenburg (1703), Fort Nassau (1797) and Fort Waakzaamheid (1803). All four offer stellar views and are free to visitors.

On the waterfront

Curacao colorful houses Getty Images/iStockphoto

Along with forts, the harbor area is home to the oldest continuously operating synagogue (and museum) in the Western Hemisphere, an African art museum that tells the story of the slave trade through West African art and artifacts, and a maritime museum. These visits can be followed by a tour and tasting at the Curaçao Distillery, where you'll see how the peels of the native Laraha bitter oranges are turned into curaçao liqueur.

Snorkel from the sand

Two people snorkeling off coast of tropical island Getty Images

The chief allure of this 38-mile-long island is, of course, the ocean. Besides sunbathing at any of the dozens of powder-sand cove beaches, you can wade right in and snorkel in the turquoise, bathlike sea, usually around 80 degrees. Visibility is up to 100 feet, a snorkeler's dream. More adventurous types can snorkel or dive from day boats that head to prime diving sites like the Mushroom Forest (mushroom-shaped coral), Blue Cave and several shipwreck spots. There's also a nice aquarium on the shoreline where marine life is seen up close in their natural habitat —from land or aboard a minisub that dives 1,000 feet.

Ready, set…

Curaçao is a convenient tropical destination for Americans because U.S. dollars and credit cards are commonly accepted, English is widely spoken and no visa is required. But the local culture and cuisine are still exotic enough to be intriguing with local specialties like stewed iguana and cactus soup served in restaurants and from food carts in Willemstad.

If you go

Flight reservations from New York/Newark (EWR) to Curaçao (CUR) can be made at united.com on the United app. Use miles to reserve a hotel, rental car or both with MileagePlus®.

Fantasy Flights: Making holiday wishes come true

By The Hub team , December 04, 2019

One of our most treasured events of the year is here – Fantasy Flights! Our Fantasy Flights bring holiday cheer to children in need by taking them on a special trip to the "North Pole." Each station creates a North Pole with care, in preparation for all the children who will soon be there…

Our participating stations this year are HNL (Honolulu), FRA (Frankfurt), CLE (Cleveland), DEN (Denver), IAD (Washington Dulles), LAX (Los Angeles), SFO (San Francisco), MCO (Orlando), ORD (Chicago O'Hare), GUM (Guam), EWR (New York/New Jersey), NRT (Tokyo-Narita), PHX (Phoenix), IAH (Houston), MCI (Kansas City) and SAT (San Antonio).

Please stay tuned for stories, photos and more from these magical events. #UAFantasyFlights

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