Three Perfect Days: Madrid
Story by Chris Wright| Hemispheres, April 2015
Madrileños have a saying: De Madrid al cielo—From Madrid to heaven. What they mean is, here on Earth, this city is as good as it gets. That might sound like a bit of a stretch. Madrid doesn't lead the world in any single aspect—architecture, the arts, nightlife, food, fashion, music, the friendliness of its people or the purity of its air—but bundle all these things together and there are few places to rival it. Its appeal creeps up on you, and once you're bitten, that's it. “I was born here and you landed here," one local told me, “but you belong to this city as much as I do." I really do hope that's true.
In which Chris takes a stroll with an Almodóvar actor and purchases cookies from an invisible nun
Tucking into a breakfast of Iberian ham and rustic bread in the café at Hotel Orfila, located in a 19th-century mansion just north of the city center, I cannot help but be charmed by the hotel's old-school approach to refinement and comfort: heavy curtains, carved columns, antique vases, formal chairs. The waiters wear bow ties. The rooms have actual keys, with red tassels. I eat under the gaze of a parrot in a gilded frame.
Such traditionalism is not a rarity in this city. As the local actor and musician Leonor Watling tells me, “Madrid does change, but at its own pace." We're taking a post-breakfast stroll along a side street off Gran Vía, Madrid's main shopping drag, which slices across the city's bewildering gnarl of alleys and byways—a labyrinth that can flummox the most seasoned Madrileño. “I lived in one neighborhood for six years," Leonor says with a laugh, “before I realized I was walking in circles to go less than a block."
The lead singer of the rock band Marlango and an actor whose credits include Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her (“It wasn't a difficult role: I was in a coma"), Leonor was raised in the working-class district of Prosperidad, “the kind of neighborhood where you know the guy who sells bread." But this, again, is not rare here. Madrid is known as being a big city with a small-town feel—the sophisticates of Barcelona sniff at what they see as its provincialism.
Leonor Watling, Actor and Musician | Photo by: Mariano Herrera
Leonor is having none of this. She cites hip barrios like La Latina, Malasaña and Chueca (“Madrid as I'd like it to be") as evidence that the city is catching up with buzzier capitals like London and Berlin. The cultural upgrade she describes is evident in two of the city's relatively new art institutions—Matadero Madrid, located in a renovated slaughterhouse, and La Tabacalera, which is in an 18th-century tobacco factory. I decide to visit the latter, in part because the short walk south will take me through chic La Latina and the scruffy bohemian neighborhood of Lavapiés—possibly the only part of town where you can order dim sum with zebra meat (Gau&Café).
First, I have to run the gauntlet of human statues and Bart Simpson balloon sellers at Puerta del Sol, Madrid's biggest, rowdiest square. “Psst!" hisses a raggedy woman holding out a sprig of something, presumably in the belief that I'd be interested in buying it. The rustle of 10,000 tourist maps drowns out the afternoon traffic. I hurry through the crowds, dodging the selfie sticks as I go.
“No one here feels that the city belongs to them. It's hard to fit in with Parisians, next to impossible with Londoners—if such a thing exists—but in Madrid, you'll never feel like an outsider." —Leonor Watling
Finally, after a primer in colorful local language at a Lavapiés sports bar (Ronaldo, Real Madrid's star player, has been sent off for slapping an opponent), I arrive at La Tabacalera, an imposing, block-size building that doesn't get any cheerier on the inside. The entry hall is filled with dangling, red-splattered bunches of cloth. Farther in, a giant eyeball stares out from a gloomy antechamber. I stop and rub my chin in front of a case with a fire hose coiled inside, mainly for the benefit of a serious-looking couple passing by.
I've got another kind of aesthetic experience in store at my next stop, the Museo del Prado, part of Madrid's troika of superstar art institutions (along with the Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums). The Prado is located east of the city center, amid a parade of monumental structures, the most impressive of which is Palacio de Cibeles, a huge wedding cake of a building that doubles as a cultural center and the city's town hall, and which has a viewing deck and a fine-dining restaurant on the upper levels.
Set in a sprawling, colonnaded building, the Prado is home to one of the world's finest collections of European art, which includes the Hieronymus Bosch triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights," whose panel depicting hell is possibly the weirdest work of art ever created. More upbeat is “Goya in Madrid," an exhibition of the Spanish master's work that provides a fly-on-the-wall look at 18th-century Madrileño life (they hunted a lot, apparently).
The Baroque entrance of the Museo de Historia | Photo by: Alamy
Outside, I cross broad Paseo del Prado and enter a warren of streets that, within minutes, has me wondering which way is up, let alone east or west. Still, if you're going to get lost, this isn't a bad place to do it. My quick pre-lunch stroll becomes an epic, leading me past a succession of A-list edificios—the glass-and-steel Mercado de San Miguel, the stately Basílica de San Francisco el Grande, the fairy-tale spires of Casa de la Villa—along with countless examples of Madrid's knack for elevating the everyday: resplendent cinemas, photogenic shoe shops, museum-quality doorknobs.
By the time I stumble into La Bola Taberna, I'm almost too hungry to eat. A red-fronted eatery dating back to 1870, it's known for its cocido Madrileño, a traditional stew with chickpeas, slow-cooked beef, cabbage and pasta. I tell Mara, my server, that I'm thinking about other options, and she gives me a look. “Right," I say, “cocido Madrileño." Good choice.
My next stop is Plaza de la Ópera, where I'm meeting Fran Hernández, a gregarious young man who works for Madrid Segway, an outfit that invites visitors to scoot around the city going “Whee!" and “Argh!" Fran immediately reveals himself to be a kind of superguide—he has a near-fanatical interest in Madrid's history and culture. As we zip along, he tells me to sniff the air. “A city of more than three million people," he says, “and it smells like a village."
Our first stop is Plaza Mayor, which has been a focal point of Madrid life for centuries. The square's redbrick buildings reflect one of the city's prevailing architectural styles, one that dates back to the 16th century: Herrerian, a blend of angular austerity and Baroque grandiosity. It's a wide, beautiful space, skirted by gift shops and cafés, with decorative lampposts and the requisite statue of a royal on a horse. It's also a very good spot to show off my extreme Segway skills. “Come," Fran says, rolling his eyes.
A fishmonger at the Marisquería El 79 market | Photo by: Ana Nance
Just south of here he stops at another brick building, a former jail, which is topped by a statue of an angel. There's a warning parents use, Fran says, when their kids are misbehaving: “You want to sleep below the angel?" So it goes for the rest of the tour—my obsessively knowledgeable guide pointing out fountains and churches and arches, telling the stories that surround them. In Plaza Santa Ana, we stop at the dazzling turreted building housing the ME hotel. Manolete, Spain's greatest bullfighter, used to stay in room 406, Fran tells me. “Now everyone wants to be in that room."
A highlight of the tour is Monasterio del Corpus Christi, a 17th-century convent that supports itself by making and selling cookies—commerce that's complicated by the fact that the nuns must never be seen by non-nuns. I wander the hallways in search of a nun-run cookie shop, then come across a murky little room with a hole in the wall, inside of which stands a circular wooden contraption. The contraption spins and a box appears. I put 10 euros down and it spins again. “Receipt?" I shout into the hole. Nothing. I tell Fran this, and he rolls his eyes again.
I manage to resist ramming the cookies into my mouth, which is good, as I'm about to indulge in a dining bonanza at the Iberian-Asian eatery Sudestada. My meal includes spicy pork and shrimp dumplings; a platter of Japanese rice, egg, mushroom and eel; tandoori quail; a Thai curry with aged beef; and lots of wine. Each course, meanwhile, comes with a tableside disquisition, ranging from the provenance of the ingredients to how best to consume them (“Mix in the mouth, not on the plate"). It's a flavorful, fascinating meal—and a very long one.
I end the night with my new friend Fran at La Venencia, a onetime haunt of Hemingway's. This sounds like a hook, but the bar turns out to be wonderfully and genuinely run-down, a quality shared by most of its patrons. They serve only sherry here, and they keep tabs with chalk on the bar top.
An old black cat falls asleep in my lap. “The village I was born, there was a place just like this," Fran says. “It's like time has stopped." Right now, I kind of wish that it would.
In which Chris has a tipple with a local celebrity DJ and samples a €150 shot of mezcal
I start the day with a classic ballast—sorry, breakfast of Spanish eggs, served in a pan with spicy tomato sauce and chorizo. Less traditional is the place serving the dish: the swish, geometrically patterned eatery at Hotel Villa Magna. Egged up, I head out onto Paseo de la Castellana, passing a guy unloading a van singing “If You Don't Know Me By Now" in the local language.
I walk between the legs of a large bronze frog and cut right into Chueca, a once-shoddy, now-gentrified area just north of Gran Vía that's become a hotbed of fashion, food, music and gay culture. I twist and turn in the direction (I hope) of Plaza de Chueca, where I'm meeting the musician and DJ Miguel Barros—a.k.a. Pional—a local boy and one of European electronica's rising stars.
Pional, Musician and DJ / Photo by Mariano Herrera
It's a lovely day, so we sit at an outdoor table and order a beer. “Not long ago, this area wasn't 100 percent safe," Miguel says. “Now it's very chic, very expensive." To prove his point, he nods in the direction of a middle-age woman sitting at the next table: “She's a TV actress." Seconds later, a willowy fashion designer approaches Miguel to say hello.
Miguel, like Leonor Watling, says Madrid is defined by its youthful, transient population. “I'm from here," he says, “but almost everyone I know came from somewhere else." And, like Leonor, he believes that this fact has lent the city an air of inclusiveness. “I was born here and you landed here," she had told me, “but you belong to this city as much as I do." Miguel puts it a little more plainly: “It's a very welcoming town."
I ask him to recommend a local nightspot, expecting a flickering techno club. “Toni 2," he says. “It's a weird piano bar with 20-year-old kids sitting next to 70-year-old women." We make our way out of Chueca, pausing to look at the disco balls in the quirky electronics shop Lámparas Especiales. “I love this area," Miguel says. “I feel at home."
“Once, Chueca wasn't a place you wanted to spend time. You'd run out of the station into a bar, then run out of the bar into the station when it was time to go home. Now it's my favorite part of town." —Pional
From here, it's a few blocks northeast into the funky Malasaña district, a jumble of streets jammed with dive bars, organic cafés, pop-up art spaces and shops selling Sex Pistols throw pillows. It's not as fastidiously fashionable as Chueca or La Latina, but the grunginess is part of the appeal.
This is where I'll be having lunch, at La Bicicleta Café, a popular morning-after spot that combines raw, Brooklyny design with rustic cuisine. My Ploughman's Brunch comes on a cutting board and involves pastrami, Spanish omelet, cheeses, pickles and bread. It's a good, hearty meal, nicely (if incongruously) rounded off with a gin and tonic. I linger for a while, eavesdropping on two women sitting across the workbench, one of whom is trying to teach the other English. She walks to the shops … She werkess doo-a chops … Etc.
Next I'm off to neighboring Tribunal, another slightly grungy but increasingly trendy area. I'm here to see Museo de Historia, a former hospice that now serves as a city museum, and which has Madrid's most outlandishly ornate entryway—an explosion of Baroque detailing that hardly seems real. Inside, Madrid's story is told via architectural models of its landmarks, portraits of its erstwhile citizens and various household items. “Ooh," says an Englishwoman, eyeing a case of decorative fans. “We'll go shopping later," her husband says. “Pick up a few."
Madrid's Royal Palace stands as a testament to inordinate wealth, limitless power and blinding interior design / Photo by Jose Manuel Azcona
From here, I spend a while crisscrossing the bustling lanes of Malasaña, buying a few essentials along the way: a poster depicting a crudely drawn carton of leche (milk), an arty T-shirt bearing the cracked outline of a bull. Malasaña, as one local put it to me earlier, is “the multicolored heart of the city," and there's no doubting the place has character. And yet, when it comes to falling in love with a place, character will only go so far. Looks are always going to be important.
I head back down to Gran Vía, the city's main architectural catwalk, a parade of Art Deco/Beaux-Arts/Moorish Revival masterpieces that incorporates some of Madrid's most recognizable landmarks: the black dome of the Metropolis building, the Manhattan-esque facade of Edificio Telefónica. If you can ignore the fact that many of these buildings are occupied by fashion franchises, the spectacle approaches the sublime.
Near the western tip of Gran Vía is Parque del Oeste, where I wheezingly climb a hill to take a look at the Temple of Debod, a transplanted 2nd-century Egyptian relic featuring blocky stone arches and a squat, pillared sanctuary. This is also a great place to look out over the city, especially when, as now, the sun is going down, lending the buildings a shimmering violet hue. But man cannot live on sightseeing alone. It's dinnertime.
I descend the hill and catch a cab to Punto MX, the first Mexican restaurant in Europe, I'm told, with a Michelin star. I enter the narrow, understated dining room and brace myself. My meal will consist of a five-course taster, and each course will be paired with a mezcal. In the upstairs bar (the “Mezcal Lab") they stock 30 varieties of the drink, including one—God's Eye—that goes for 150 euros a shot.
Working-the-fields cuisine meets beardy-Brooklyn decor at the fashionable brunch joint La Bicicleta Café / Photo by Mariano Herrera
“Just leave the bottle on my table," I quip.
“Ha ha," the waiter responds, as though he hasn't heard that one before.
Things get off to a promising start with the guacamole, which is prepared at the table and is the best I've ever had. The rest of the meal, too, is eye-wateringly good: sole and shrimp in a chili broth; a braised duck and green salsa enchilada; “bullock tacos, northern style"; charbroiled sea bream with pineapple pico de gallo; charred marrow, served in the bone. Finally—drumroll—I am invited to sample the God's Eye. I'm no expert, but I can tell this is a quality drink, smooth but with a bite, a warm buzz that starts in your stomach and spreads through the veins.
“You like it?" the waiter asks.
“Welcome to Mexico!"
In which Chris meets up with a local artisan and experiences flamenco just as Pablo Picasso once did
I wake up in the second hotel of my stay, the boutique-y Hotel Urban, bang in the center of town. Not far from my bed there's a small sandstone bust, an 11th-century Khmer depiction of Buddha. (I have a vision of the departing pilferer: shampoo, bathrobe, vanity kit, priceless cultural artifact…). The hotel continues in a similar vein in the lobby, an achingly modern space with an illuminated white spine running up the atrium and a bunch of large New Guinean tribal sculptures placed throughout. The bar, closed right now, will later on buzz with Madrid's beautiful people.
In order to avoid exploding, I'm skipping breakfast. Instead, I take a brisk 10-minute walk to Parque del Retiro, a 17th-century royal retreat that ranks among the world's great urban parks. I enter via the northwest gate, near the ceremonial arch called the Puerta de Alcalá, and join a stream of strollers on the promenade. Then, having paused for a while to ogle the massive, elaborate monument to Alfonso XII, I cut down one of the pathways to Palacio de Cristal, a hothouse-like 19th-century structure that serves as an art exhibition hall. Before leaving the park, I have an alfresco coffee overlooking a statue of Satan. The garden of earthly delights.
Belén Fernández-Vega, Jeweler / Photo by Mariano Herrera
Next, I take a cab to the district of Chamberi, just north of the park, where I find the creatively cluttered apartment of Belén Fernández-Vega. A local artist who transforms discarded objects—cuff links, belt buckles—into an elegant line of jewelry, Belén is part of the thriving creative community in the city. “There are lots of artistic people in Madrid," she says. “It's the light that attracts them, I think."
There's a place near Belén's home that she wants me to see. A few minutes later we're in a small herb garden, looking up at the brick Residencia Estudiantes, a building that hosts art exhibitions and literary events, and which once served as a salon for the likes of Salvador Dalí, Igor Stravinsky and H.G. Wells. “This is a very powerful place for me," she says. “I feel very well when I come here." She picks a sprig of rosemary and hands it to me. “Put it in your pocket."
I say goodbye to Belén and head down to Restaurante Taberneros, a hole-in-the-wall eatery known for its selection of wines. I start the meal with salmorejo cordobés, the Córdoba take on gazpacho, topped with ham and eggs. A flurry of courses and paired wines later, the final dish arrives: callos, or tripe stew with crayfish, which is far better than a bowl of stomach and intestines has any right to be. I wash it down with another glass of very agreeable wine and head out into the afternoon sunshine.
“The best thing about Madrid is the light. The painter Joaquín Sorolla found the light in Madrid very good. Look at the sky; the sky is changing all the time." —Belén Fernández-Vega
I walk a few blocks west, aiming for the Royal Palace. Built in the heady days of the 18th century, the former royal residence is a glorious expression of imperial power, a blend of solemn bulk and manic detailing—but that doesn't quite explain the huddled masses outside. “We are waiting for the king to come out," explains an old lady. Oh.
King Felipe VI doesn't come out, so I go in. Whoa. I move between rooms (there are 3,418 of them) trying to process the froth of gold, the frenzy of frescoes. Everything is either gilded or bejeweled or carved into the shape of a mythical beast. Were we allowed to visit the royal restrooms, I'd fully expect to find a golden sphinx hand sanitizer with emeralds for eyes. “We're rich!" the place says. “Rich!"
Speaking of the high life, from here I'm off to nearby Parque del Oeste, and the terminal for Teleférico cable cars. Riding this 50-year-old system requires that I climb into a small box, which dangle-trundles for two miles into an expanse of urban countryside called Casa de Campo. At one point, I pass so close to an apartment building I could high-five the tenants. At the other side, I stand on a viewing deck for a bit, then take another box back, a speaker emitting the easy listening hits of Phil Collins.
Madrid's winding streets are perfect for a confusing stroll / Photo by Julia Davila-Lampe
Back on terra firma, I catch a cab to tony Serrano, where I'll be experiencing one of Madrid's more unusual dining locations. Set in a refurbished cinema, Platea amounts to the world's fanciest food court (or at least the only one with six Michelin stars to its name), its swank eateries serving all manner of regional and international cuisine. I have six fantastically fresh oysters, gorgeously marbled lomo Ibérico ham, and the addictive cod fritters known as buñuelos de bacalao, along with several glasses of sweet vermouth.
This sets me up nicely for my visit to Corral de la Morería, a tiny flamenco club tucked away on a side street on the west side of town, whose previous guests have included everyone from Pablo Picasso to Jennifer Aniston. To the ululations of a backing group and a couple of furious guitars, a duo of dancers strut, bicker, flirt, stomp, clap and twirl. At times, the show becomes a frenzy, but there are also moments of tenderness, the mournful solos from the lady at the back. The only downside is that it has to end.
Outside, unable to find a cab, I jump onto a bus. In broken English, the driver explains that he can't take me where I want to go, but this might not be a problem. “You can get off here," he says, “or come with me and see Madrid." So, I spend my last moments in town moving slowly along its narrow streets, the driver pointing at this and that, the rest of the passengers hardly paying attention, as if this sort of thing happens every day.
Wouldn't that be something?
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Weekend inspiration: Sydney
Sydney continues to be one of our favorite cities in the world – vibrant, stunning, with an amazing foodie scene and genuinely nice people. Each year we try to schedule a few street art jobs in Australia so we can spend the Northern Hemisphere's winter in the summer sun of Australia. If you're in town for a few days, here are some of our favorite spots.
If you're looking for places to stay, we recommend anywhere near or on Sydney Harbour. If you can swing it financially, our two favorites are The Pier on Sydney Harbour and the Park Hyatt. Both are majestic hotels set out on the water with equally magnificent views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
We find that we crave comfort food after a long flight, and there's no better place to enjoy it than Kindred. It's a warm cozy space with pasta and bread made in-house. The lasagna and the burnt butter triangoli can't be beat, and be sure to order a loaf of homemade sourdough with dinner.
Wake up early for a full day of exploring the city. Take a short cab or Uber ride to Lorraine's Patisserie – their croissants are warm and buttery and their coffee is strong.
After breakfast, head over to The Rocks Market where they have a stunning array of locally crafted art, jewelry, house ware and beauty products. The homey, cozy cobblestone lanes lead you to some of the best local artisans that Sydney has to offer. Be sure to also take a moment to pose with our Magic Wand street art piece on Atherdan Street.
We recommend The Glenmore Hotel's pub for lunch. This pub, built in 1921, has incredible views of the harbour from their rooftop. Grab one of their Australian Brewery Session IPA's, play a game of pool and end up on the roof with a Glenmore Burger in hand.
Following lunch, grab your swimsuit and take a 30-minute Uber to Bondi Beach – Sydney's most iconic beach. There's more to Bondi than just a beach, beyond is a village full of cafes, restaurants and shops worth exploring.
Bring a towel and start off with a cold swim at the Instagram-worthy Icebergs Club swimming pool. When in need of some warmth, lay in the sun on the white sand beach while watching the surfers – you can even take surfing lessons if you'd like.
If you have time, there's a wonderful walk between Bondi and Coogee Beach. This walk takes you along the rocky coast to hidden beaches and swimming holes. It's a beautiful walk that will get your heart pumping.
For dinner walk up the hill to the trendy Bondi Trattoria for great local eats. If you're still awake when you get back to Sydney and looking for a drink, we highly recommend stopping by the Sydney Opera House Bar.
Head over to Paramount Coffee Project to grab some caffeine and breakfast. Take a moment to check out the workout schedule for the recreation club on the roof to see if there is a class that interests you.
If you're looking to pet a wallaby or hold a quokka (quite possibly the cutest creature you have ever seen) we highly recommend signing up for the Featherdale Wildlife Park Mammal Encounter. It's about an hour drive from Sydney, but it's definitely worth it.
When you get back to Sydney check out Ribs & Burgers on The Rocks for a hearty lunch. In the afternoon, check off two essential experiences by booking an Opera House Tour and, if you're not afraid of heights, the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb. Both offer stunning views and completely unique experiences.
After a somewhat exhausting day we love when we can come back to a hotel and dine there. Park Hyatt offers wonderful dining options, including The Dining Room, which is their signature restaurant. Finish your weekend with stunning harbour views and elegant food.
The reimagined United app: What you need to know
Starting on January 24, customers will be able to access the updated United app. With useful enhancements that provide intuitive assistance every step of the way, the United app still includes the features you know and love. And now, thanks to dynamic messaging, the updated app provides useful information throughout your journey whether at the airport or on the go.
How to install the updated app
If you've enabled automatic updates, the United app will automatically update. Otherwise, you'll need to manually update the app to see the updated version. Once you've updated the app, you'll no longer be able to use the previous version. If your phone is set to auto-update, the app will automatically appear on your device and stay. Otherwise, you'll have the previous mobile experience until you manually update.
The United app will now display the most useful and relevant information throughout your journey. For example, 24 hours before departure, the home screen on the United app will prompt you to check-in. Once checked in, an option to get your boarding pass will populate right on the home screen so you'll no longer need to access it via the boarding pass tab on the current version of the app.
Locating your boarding pass
If you're signed in to your MileagePlus® account, access to your boarding pass will appear on the app's home screen along with other details about the flight. If you're not signed in to a MileagePlus account, you'll need to go to "My Trips" on the bottom navigation bar. (Please note that mobile boarding passes are available for flights departing from all U.S. airports and select international airports.)
Accessing your profile and United Club℠ card
All this information will now be accessible from a "My Profile" section, so you can see everything in one place. You can find the "My Profile" section by selecting the icon of a person in the top right corner.
New options on the navigation bar
The new bottom navigation bar provides quick access to the most popular and helpful features. Find information about upcoming flights under the "My Trips" section that houses important information like your boarding passes and flight details. You'll also find an inbox icon section that stores important and useful information including gate changes, flight status updates and boarding alerts. You can also easily toggle back to your home screen from the bottom navigation bar.
Personal device entertainment
If personal device entertainment is offered on your flight, you'll see a tile titled Inflight Entertainment within the "Just for you" section on the home screen. The "Just for you" section will also give you access to other features such as how you can locate a United Club or how to earn award miles. You can also select "Wi-Fi & entertainment" from the More menu, located at the upper left hand of the app's home screen.
Finding the seat map
You can access the seat map for your flight via Flight Status on the bottom navigation bar or within Trip Details — when you have an upcoming flight there will be an option to view the seat map.
How to add or remove flights from your Flights Status list
Any upcoming flights will be displayed in the Flight Status section of the app. There is no option to remove a flight as the Flight Status section will be automatically update itself two days after your travel is completed.
Changing the image on the home screen
There is no way to change the image on your home screen manually. Instead, the image will update once a day based on the destinations most commonly searched for by our customers.
Porto: Portugal’s surprising second city
“Second cities" or those that rank #2 in population often surprise world travelers. And second doesn't mean second-rate. Porto is Portugal's second city — so off-the-radar that many world travelers haven't even heard of it. Yet, Porto and nearby spots in northern Portugal can be delightful destinations even if you don't visit the more well-known city of Lisbon.
Old city by day
The best place to get oriented, as in most European cities, is in the old city center. Porto's Old City is so well-preserved that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 12th-century cathedral and the 15th-century Church of St. Francis, notable for interior wood carvings gilded by hundreds of pounds of gold, are mixed in with a rich collection of imposing granite, red-roofed Baroque buildings. Add 225 stairs and a stirring view to your walking tour by ascending the 250-foot-high Clérigos Church bell tower, built in 1754, which dominates the Porto skyline. Historic bridges over the Douro River and Soares dos Reis National Museum, an art museum housed in a palace, are also excellent sites to see.
Food and music by night
Porto's youthful population has turned it into a lively city after dark. You might start off the evening in the Old City at Abadia do Porto, a 1939 restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese dishes like roasted lamb and grilled octopus, or at Astoria, with its modern Portuguese fare served inside a former palace. Whether you choose a Portuguese, French or fusion restaurant, seafood is likely to be highlighted, drawing on Porto's proximity to the Atlantic and the Douro. Then, you can head to the large collection of bars and nightclubs in the nearby Galerias district, which includes Radio Bar, inside a former court building, and Gare, a disco in a tunnel that stays open until 6 a.m.
Head west to the beaches
The closest Atlantic beaches to central Porto are at Foz do Douro (mouth of the Douro), just 20 minutes away by city bus. But why settle? In a rental car you can explore Atlantic beaches and beach towns that extend for hundreds of miles along Portugal's coastline. Two of the best are Foz do Minho, the nation's northernmost oceanic beach that's just across the Minho River from Spain, and Quiaios, a dune-fringed paradise of sand south of Porto. Many beaches in northern Portugal are cradled in coves protected by rocky promontories, similar to northern California and Oregon beaches.
Or east to the wine country
The Douro Valley wine region is another World Heritage Site and one of the world's best and most scenic wine regions. It's up the Douro River from Porto by boat or 90 minutes by road. Namesake port wines and other fortified wines are the region's signature beverages, which can be sampled at tasting rooms on the Douro along N-222, a wine road that's been called the world's most scenic drive. While you're in the area, check out the wine and anthropology museums in the wine towns and yet another World Heritage Site — Coa Valley Archaeological Park — known for its prehistoric rock carvings.
Portugal's Mediterranean climate and coastal breezes bless it with mild weather year round, as the average temperature ranges from 57 degrees (and rain) in January to 78 degrees (and a little rain) in August. Whenever you come, there's no need to learn Portuguese as English is spoken even more widely than elsewhere in Western Europe. Once you arrive, rent a car only if you don't mind ridiculous drivers. The trains are more relaxing — light-rail and subway trains crisscross the Porto area and funicular cable cars climb its steepest hills. There's even a scenic train that follows the Douro nearly to Spain, with a roundtrip fare of only about $30.
Portugal requires that visitor passports don't expire until at least three months after the arrival date, so check that. Next, buy some Euros (for a great exchange rate) and reserve a flight. United Airlines flies nonstop from New York/Newark to Porto and MileagePlus® award miles can be redeemed to cover accommodations and Hertz rentals. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.
United 787-10 Dreamliner launch
Story was contributed by: Jennifer Lake | Photography: Alicia of Aesthetica
It was a typical Monday morning. I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking coffee, reviewing my to-do list for the week. All around me, heels are clacking through the office and phones ring intermittently. However, this particular Monday morning was different. Ultimately, I would receive an offer from my favorite airline for a collaboration to participate in the United 787-10 Dreamliner launch from Los Angeles LAX to New York/Newark EWR. Read the full story here featured on Style Charade.
Fit for the runway: We begin testing new uniforms
Last year we announced new partnerships with Tracy Reese, Brooks Brothers and Carhartt — best-in-class fashion and apparel designers — to help reimagine uniforms for more than 70,000 of our employees. Focusing on high quality fabrics, improved breathability and overall enhanced fit, our goal is to design and develop a more cohesive collection that looks good, feels good and enables employees to perform at their best on behalf of our customers.
United employees can learn more on the uniform designs by visiting Flying Together.
An insider's guide to Boston
Boston is a pack-it-all-in kind of place. Founded in 1630, one of America's oldest cities does many things well. Boston's many claims to fame include many of America's oldest historic landmarks and one of its oldest ballparks. It's a destination for history buffs, culture vultures, foodies, sports fans, families and more. No matter who your travel companions are or what they're interested in, everyone will find something to pique their interest in Beantown.
Getting there & around town
Fly direct to Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) from many U.S. cities — visit united.com or use the United app to book your flight. Flights are 90 minutes from New York, two hours from Cleveland and five to six hours from California. From Logan International Airport, it's easy to hail a taxi, use ridesharing apps or take public transportation. If you want to take the scenic route, take a water taxi across Boston Harbor directly into downtown.
Downtown Boston is easy to navigate. It's walkable and taxis are plentiful. The MBTA, Boston's public transportation system, offers affordable access to Cambridge, many attractions and the suburbs. Keep in mind it's one of the oldest transportation systems in the country, so expect a few bumps. Because the city is dense, parking can be expensive or hard to find, so avoid driving if you can.
When to visit
Summer and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Summer is prime time to enjoy Boston's many parks, outdoor eateries, open-air concerts and baseball games at Fenway Park. Mild fall weather, beautiful autumn foliage and Halloween festivities in nearby Salem, Massachusetts make October one of Boston's busiest months. The city also sees an influx of visitors for the Boston Marathon in April. You'll find smaller crowds and more affordable prices in winter, but brace yourself for the cold.
What to do
There's so much to take in just by walking through Boston's cobblestoned streets. Downtown is quaint, compact and easy to explore by foot. The small city is packed with historic sites, New England's finest food, proud sports fans and friendly locals.
As the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston's historic sites are an attraction in themselves. Walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to visit 16 of them around the city, including Revolutionary-era museums, churches, buildings and an impressive warship. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is on the trail, too, and is one of Boston's top attractions, with plentiful shopping, dining and live music. Not much of a walker? Boston Duck Tours operate land-and-water historic tours on World War II-inspired vehicles, which transform from truck to boat mid-tour.
Many museums and sites are tucked along Boston Harbor. The waterfront is always bustling with activity year-round. The harborwalk is the perfect place to meander and explore without a strict agenda. Plan to visit a major attraction or two, but leave time to enjoy the scenery or to pop into a café for a coffee and sweet treat (award-winning Flour Bakery + Cafe is a local favorite).
Deemed the “Athens of America," Boston boasts not only some of the country's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings, but also a thriving arts and culture scene. You could spend your entire trip touring its dozens of world-class museums. Take in classical music at the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra, or take a leisurely stroll through Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, the city's most well-known public parks. Riding the giant Swan Boats through the Public Garden lagoon is a kitschy, yet delightful experience, especially for kids.
What to eat
What must you absolutely eat in Boston? In short, everything. Long ago the city was nicknamed Beantown, allegedly after slow-cooked molasses baked beans served to sailors and traders. Today, Boston continues its reputation as a great eating city. From clam chowder to cannoli, the most popular dishes here are often hearty and decadent. Boston is also known for fresh lobster rolls, roast beef sandwiches and, of course, Boston cream pie.
Ask any Bostonian where to find “the best" of anything, and everyone will recommend a different spot. Cannoli from Mike's Pastry, Boston cream pie from Omni Parker House (where it was invented) and the roast beef 1000 sandwich from Cutty's frequently top the must-try lists. If you make it to a ball game at Fenway Park, Fenway Franks are a Boston staple.
Our role in ‘Spider-Man™: Far From Home’
In Columbia Pictures upcoming release in association with Marvel Studios, "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," our web-slinging hero finds himself – yep, you guessed it – far from his home in New York City. And since flying is one of the few superpowers Spider-Man doesn't possess, we gave him a little help, meaning United is featured in the film.
The scenes of Peter Parker and his pals traveling to Europe take place on one of our Boeing 777s with the all-new United Polaris® business class, and several of our employees – including members of our Tech Ops, Inflight, Flight Operations and Airport Operations teams – served as actors and production support during shoots at New York/Newark (EWR) and London-Stansted (STN).
London-Heathrow (LHR) Customer Service Representative Manjit Heer and LHR Cargo Warehouse Operations Manager Richard Miller were background extras on board, and multiple flight attendants had a role, including San Francisco (SFO) Flight Attendant Tammy Harris.
"It was extremely surreal," said Tammy. "I was in my element because I was on the plane in uniform, but not really, because I'm not an actor."
Tammy said she hit her mark and delivered her line with gusto, and she's excited to see if she made the final cut when "Spider-Man™: Far From Home" hits worldwide theaters this summer.
"Hopefully, I'll have my two seconds of fame and all will be well," she joked.
Los Angeles (LAX) Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor Fernando Melendez is a veteran of several film shoots but said this one was his favorite. When the production went to London, he was one of five members of LAX Tech Ops who went over to look after our airplane and make adjustments to its interior based on the filmmaker's needs.
"When we parked the plane at Stanstead, there were lights and cameras surrounding us. It was like the plane was the star of the movie," he said. "Each day, we would work with the assistant director; he would go through and say, 'Okay, for this shoot we need these seats, or these panels removed,' so they could get the camera angles. Pretty much, the airplane was our responsibility; we opened it in the morning and closed it at night. We were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every day."
Fernando said the actors were all very gracious and engaging, and said the whole experience was fantastic from start to finish. It also earned him a little cooler cred with his 18-year-old son, who is a massive Marvel fan.
Leading up to the film's premiere this year, there will be plenty of ways for employees and customers to get into the Spidey spirit in anticipation of our cameo. Stay tuned for more details.
Peter Parker returns in "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," the next chapter of the Spider-Man™: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter's plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!
Directed by Jon Watts, the film is written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film is produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Thomas M. Hammel, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Stan Lee, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach serve as executive producers. The film stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.
"Spider-Man™: Far From Home" makes its way to North American theaters on July 5, 2019.
What to expect from our improved app
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.
From players and personnel to thousands of pounds of equipment, it takes not only a game plan, but a team to get the San Francisco 49ers to their next game and back all within 24 hours. This process is a little thing in the airline business we call chartering. Learn more about how our Charter team gets professional sports teams to their away games and back on the newest episode of Big Metal Bird.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.