Three Perfect Days: Madrid
hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Madrid

By The Hub team , January 12, 2017

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.

Day 1 graphic

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 MusicianLeonor 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 HistoriaThe 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 marketA 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.

Day 2 graphic

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 DJPional, 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 designMadrid'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 CaféWorking-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.

I do.

“Welcome to Mexico!"

Day 3 graphic

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, JewelerBelén 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 strollMadrid'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?


Celebrating Girls in Aviation Day

By The Hub team

We are proud to work with Women in Aviation so that together we can help break down barriers and promote inclusion while also inspiring a future generation of aviation leaders that includes women.

We kicked off Girls in Aviation Day by bringing in young women from Girls Inc. to meet a group of our female pilots and to try the flight simulators at our new flight training center in Denver.

We are continuously working to build a workforce as diverse as the communities we serve, which is why we are excited to hold Girls in Aviation Day events in a record number of 12 locations around the world. Through this event in Denver and the other events held across the globe, we are working to engage girls as they begin to think about their own futures so we can ensure a strong future of women in the industry.


United and Special Olympics

Taking inclusion to new heights

Our shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world — and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics.

Learn more

Cuba: A city filled with culture and heart

By The Hub team

Each week we will 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 Remote Reservations Sales and Service Representative Susie Grisley

My favorite travel experience was visiting the beautiful city of Havana, Cuba. My strong curiosity persisted when the U.S. and Cuban governments finally agreed to cooperate on U.S. citizens traveling to this previously forbidden place. Reviewing the documents, I learned we could go in under the "Humanitarian" category, as the borders had not been opened to come and go as any American pleased. A group of us gathered, including some of my Boston-based colleagues and my three sons. We purchased a ton of toys and goodies for the children of Cuba.

Colorful, classic cars in Cuba.

Upon arriving in this fortress of deteriorating concrete, old buildings and damaged structures, we found an amazing city full of culture and heart. The Cuban people were glowing with an unmatched happiness and welcomed us with open arms. They were friendly, hospitable and very excited to see us, the Americans. They are extremely proud of their city, which despite the broken sidewalks and crumbling walls, was insanely beautiful. The colorful buildings and the colorful working vintage Chevys are among the amazing things to see. They are so proud of their old cars. Out of necessity, they have learned to work on their own cars with very simple tools. If the car breaks down while driving, they simply get out, open the hood, twist and bang and get it running as they know how to do. No one honks at them if they are in the road. This is just their way. The insides of the cars are simple, yet they maintain them as their prized possessions. They all, however, have music! They love driving proudly through the streets in their shiny old cars with music pouring out the open windows. Riding in many of them, each "taxi" was a new experience of its own.

Despite the gorgeous architecture and the classic cars, it truly was heart-warming getting to mingle with the Cuban people and learning their way of life. They are a beautiful people with beautiful, happy hearts ready to greet every American.


When it came time to hand out toys and gifts, we carried our toy bag through the streets, and it was apparent to us the children did not live with much. The delight and smiles on their faces were unimaginable. Their gratitude was evident, and my only regret was that we did not have enough for every child we saw. I thought my heart would explode at their excitement and appreciation.

Havana, Cuba is a travel must. It is an unbelievable place with an unbelievable story.

I left Cuba with a new realization of what it is like to live in a closed nation. I found a vibrant society of happy people full of fun, music and culture. I came home with a love of Havana and its people forever in my heart.

It was a trip of a life time and an experience we will never forget.

7 family-friendly activities to celebrate fall

By Matt Chernov

Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.

Go apple picking

Apple Orchard

Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages.. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.

Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years. If you're considering a visit, you might want to plan to be there on November 23, since that's when they're hosting their famous Apple Butter Festival this year.

Visit a pumpkin patch

If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.

If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want for only $3 each. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.

Enjoy a harvest festival

Autumn Harvest Festival

An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.

For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.

Hit the trails

A path through autumn foliage forest in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.

On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.

Roll in the hay

Corn Maze sign

Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.

In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!

Up, up and away

Hot Air Balloon on a farm

Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.

If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.

Pitch a tent

closeup of one tent in woods

Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.

For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.

Getting there

Regardless of where you plan to celebrate the fall, book your flight at united.com or by using the convenient United app, and share your story on social media with the #UnitedJourney hashtag.

Contributor

Weekend inspiration: Omaha

By Kelsey + Courtney Montague

When we arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, recently to create a series of murals within the city, we didn't know what to expect. What we ended up finding was a thriving restaurant, bar and karaoke scene.

We spent most of our time in the newly revitalized, historic district of Blackstone and found numerous restaurant and entertainment gems around every corner.

When we arrived in the Blackstone district we sat down with one of the men in charge of the revitalized neighborhood, Matt Dwyer, and were really impressed with his absolute commitment to bringing the best of the best to the historic district while still keeping everything all local. What he and his partner have created is an idyllic, historic district with a wide variety of locally run, high quality restaurants, shops and entertainment.

Here's what we wound up doing during our weekend in Omaha.

Friday evening:

Cone flower employee

If you want a great pizza and beer joint head to Noli's for artisan pizzas without an expensive price tag. The owners of Noli's are committed to maintaining New York City standards for their pizza creations and actually hired a water expert to filter their water to the exact filtration standards you find in the Big Apple. Their claim, "it's all about the water" rings true – their pizzas are awesome and definitely compete with some of our old pizza joint haunts in New York.

After dinner, stroll down the block to Cone Flower. At first it sounds like an odd name until you try their ice cream. They have, hands down, the best ice cream I've ever tasted and have coined the phrase "farm to cone."

Pro tip: Splurge on the sugar cone. It tastes like a light short bread cookie and will cause tingles down your spine.

Saturday morning:

Bob's neon sign at restaurant

Head down to Bob's for a creative version of an American classic donut. Some of their flavors include fruity pebbles and vanilla confetti. Then grab a coffee at the hipster Archetype coffee and enjoy your morning newspaper.

Saturday afternoon:

Stop by Omaha's Old Market for some upscale shopping and art gallery visits. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo is also known as one of the best zoos in the country.

For lunch, head to the brewery Crescent Moon to try what Draft Magazine has deemed one of the best beer bars in the U.S. The Reuben sandwich was created in Omaha in the 1920s, and this restaurant uses the original recipe to create a true masterpiece.

Saturday evening:

Renos Karaoke Bar

Blackstone Social Club is the perfect place for a pre-dinner cocktail. For dinner, we highly recommend stopping by Mula for some awe-inspiring Mexican fare. We highly recommend the salsa flights, the queso and any taco.

Across the street, Blackstone boasts some fantastic karaoke at Renos Karaoke. You can rent your own themed room to keep any embarrassment to an absolute minimum. We recommend the island room, but have a few drinks on their back patio first.

Sunday morning:

Early Bird wall in the restaurant

Brunchers know that one of the best places to go in Blackstone is Early Bird. Try to be an early bird and go when they open because the restaurant fills up quickly. If you are in need of the "hair of the dog" after a late Saturday night, their Bloody Marys are incredible. If you're looking for a healthy way to finish the weekend, their avocado and egg toast is the perfect choice.

Sunday afternoon and evening:

In the afternoon, stop by our wing and balloon mural on the side of the gorgeous Bouquet flower shop on Farnam street. If you're looking for an adventure, go next door to Ponderosa Cyclery and Tour Shop and book a bike tour in the area.

You can also experience Omaha's wildlife at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, where you can drive through the park and see wild elk, bison, cranes and antelope as they walk up to your car.

Cheese and wine at Corkscrew

For an afternoon snack, Corkscrew Wine and Cheese is the place to go. They have hundreds of bottles of wine and fancy appetizers to choose from. End the evening across the street at the Blackstone Meatball restaurant. All the ingredients are locally sourced and you can choose the type of meatball, the side and the sauce.

Now all that's left is to take a shot of the stunning sunsets you'll experience almost every night in Nebraska.

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We unveil a new state-of-the-art flight training center in Denver

By Matt Adams , October 09, 2018

After more than two years of construction, our newly renovated, fully consolidated flight training center was formally unveiled today at a special rededication ceremony in Denver. Home to more than 30 full flight simulators, the Denver Flight Training Center will welcome each of the airline's 12,000-plus pilots every year for new and recurrent training, along with pilots from more than two dozen other airlines and government agencies who visit our campus annually to sharpen their skills. In addition to pilots, the center will host flight attendants and maintenance technicians for emergency training and other activities.

United CEO Oscar Munoz poses with fellow United employees for the ribbon cutting event at Denver's new flight training center

"This state-of-the-art flight training center symbolizes the investments we're making in our people and our company, both in Denver and throughout our network," said our CEO, Oscar Munoz, who headlined a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 9 for the facility, the largest such flight training center in the world. "In addition to providing industry-leading training for our pilots, flight attendants and other vital work groups, this facility will become a thriving center where we foster the professional culture, commitment to safety and dedication to customer service that's at the heart of the United success story we are seeing take shape."

Our flight training presence in Denver goes all the way back to the early 1940s, while the current campus was opened in 1968 with four buildings, expanding to six over the subsequent years. Recently, we broke ground on a seventh building which, when completed, will bring the size of the campus to nearly 540,000 square feet, with space for eight more flight simulator bays. In the five decades since its opening, pilots have participated in more than half a million training events, totaling approximately two million hours of training time.

Hemispheres

No translation necessary

By The Hub team

The white and yellow dots spread out farther than the eye can see, seemingly even beyond imagination. These lights, millions of them comprising Tokyo at night, helped make the Park Hyatt's New York Bar famous. After all, the bar and its view, 52 stories up, were an instrumental part of Sofia Coppola's 2003 paean to love and jet lag, Lost in Translation.

That movie turned this bar into a mecca for film fans, and in a way it provided the reason for my maiden voyage to the Land of the Rising Sun, as well. Only I'm not here as a cinephile. I've crossed 13 time zones to drink Japanese whiskey—a phenomenon I was awoken to by Bill Murray's Oscar-nominated performance. You know the one: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time."

"My love for brown spirits and my lifelong fascination with Japan were inevitable bedfellows."

When I first saw Lost in Translation, 15 years ago, my reaction to that line was probably exactly what Coppola intended: Japanese whiskey? Bill's really selling out… As a recent college graduate whose budget couldn't handle much beyond the occasional bottle of Maker's Mark, I had no idea how wrong I was. In fact, Suntory, the maker of the now famed Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Hibiki whiskeys, was just launching itself into the global consciousness. In 2003, the Yamazaki 12-year won a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge, and from 2010 on, Suntory whiskeys raked in golds, with the company winning Distiller of the Year four times. In 2014, Whisky Bible author Jim Murray called the 2013 Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask the best whiskey in the world. Bottles from Suntory and its main competitor, Nikka, became nigh unavailable in the U.S. (The cheapest bottle of that 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask I can find online is $3,500.)

A vintage Nikka Whiskey logoA vintage Nikka Whiskey logo

During the years that Japan's distillers were rising like the sun over the Pacific, I was busy fostering a determinedly American predilection for bourbon. While I systematically worked through the ever-shifting catalog at my excellent neighborhood bar—The Page in San Francisco—Pappy Van Winkle was going from a $15 pour I'd order when I was feeling mildly indulgent to a symbol of the cruelty of supply and demand. I visited Kentucky on several occasions, tasting my way down the Bourbon Trail, from Clermont (the home of Jim Beam, which Suntory bought in 2014) to Loretto (my beloved red wax–topped Maker's) to Lawrenceburg (Four Roses, William Faulkner's favorite, which another Japanese company, Kirin, bought in 2001) to Frankfort (Buffalo Trace, where Pappy is made, along with another of my regulars, Eagle Rare). And when I crossed the pond to Ireland, my two must-visits were James Joyce's house (as a thank-you for “The Dead") and the Jameson distillery (as a thank-you for the many, many shots I've taken after Giants playoff victories).

My love for brown spirits and my lifelong fascination with Japan—which I owe to my Kurosawa-worshipping father—were inevitable bedfellows. So, finally, this spring, I decided to make my way across hemispheres to learn exactly what makes Japanese whiskey so good—and to drink as much of it as possible.

A jazz band at the New York Bar in TokyoA jazz band at the New York Bar in Tokyo

Naturally, I've started at the New York Bar. I'm seated at a long communal table, listening to a jazz singer do the Eagles' “Desperado" (it was Simon & Garfunkel's “Scarborough Fair" in Lost in Translation) as the manager, Moritz Kam, sets four single malts in front of me: a Yamazaki and a Hakushu from Suntory, a Yoichi and a Miyagikyo from Nikka. “What is notable about Japanese craftsmanship is the aim for perfection," he tells me, before offering a lament I'll hear often this week: “Even in Japan, you are not able to find some of the vintage whiskeys."

My first glass contains one of the most coveted whiskeys in the world: the Yamazaki 18. It's smooth, oaky, a little sweet, with a profile somewhat reminiscent of a Macallan. The Yoichi and Miyagikyo are peatier, smokier, while the Hakushu pushes those characteristics even further, leaving a lush layer of oil on my tongue. While each stands out from the others in subtle ways, I can't help but think they're siblings who started in the same home but took different paths to success.

Scotland is, of course, where all of the world's whiskeys can trace their roots. But the fathers of Japanese whiskey, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, hewed closer to the original than anyone else (even spelling the word à la the Scots, without the “e"). The story begins in 1899, when Torii opened an imported-wine shop in Osaka. A few years later, he produced a popular sweet port wine and funneled the profits into building a distillery just outside Kyoto.

High-quality water feeds a pond at the Yamazaki DistilleryHigh-quality water feeds a pond at the Yamazaki Distillery

I learn all this from plaques inside that very distillery. I've taken the Shinkansen bullet train two and a half hours from Tokyo to the ancient imperial capital to visit Yamazaki, the birthplace of Japanese whiskey. At the entryway, I'm greeted by a tour guide, who explains that Torii built the distillery here in 1923 to take advantage of the local water and climate. “Yamazaki water has been famous for its pristine quality since ancient history," she says, “and the damp and misty and humid environment is very suitable for aging whiskey in casks."

We continue inside, past the mash tuns and fermentation tanks, where malt, much of it imported from Scotland, is turned into the spirit's base, wort. We follow the pipeline of fermented liquid to a long hall where two rows of copper pot stills of varying shapes and sizes (each of which imparts a different flavor) distill the wort down to new-made whiskey—what we in the States call moonshine. As we walk, my guide breaks down Suntory's history. “Shinjiro's dream was to make a whiskey that would suit the taste of the Japanese," she says, “because when he started the business, he imitated Scotch whiskey, and Japanese were like, Oh, this is too peaty—we don't like this."

Copper pot stills at the Yamazaki DistilleryCopper pot stills at the Yamazaki Distillery

That first whiskey, 1929's Suntory Shirofuda (“white label"), may not have been a world-beater, but in 1937 the company put out a second one, Kakubin, which sold well throughout Japan. In the 1960s, highball bars began popping up, specializing in what has become Japan's signature cocktail—a diluted, highly carbonated whiskey soda. Highballs continued to grow in popularity into the 1980s, and in 1984 Keizo Saji, Torii's son and successor as Suntory president, put out the first Yamazaki single malt. The high-end Hibiki blended whiskeys (which contain both malt and corn liquor) followed in 1989. In 1994 came the Hakushu single malts, which are made at a gorgeous distillery in the Japanese Alps and are now nearly as prized as Yamazakis.

Our next stop on the tour is the aging warehouse. Yamazaki uses several types of cask: American white oak, Spanish sherry casks, French wine casks, and mizunara, an oak that grows on the northern island of Hokkaido. Whiskeys are aged in the different casks for years—sometimes as much as three decades—and then the blenders combine them. A common misconception is that single-malt whiskey comes from single casks; actually, expressions from various casks are blended to make a more complex final product.

At the end of the tour, I meet Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory's chief blender and the creator of the gold medal–winning Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Fukuyo got into the business while in college because one of his professors noted that he “seemed to like whiskey"; he worked at Hakushu and then at Morrison Bowmore in Scotland before coming to Yamazaki. As we stand next to a floor-to-ceiling window, looking out on a hillside bamboo grove, the bespectacled 57-year-old takes me through the tasting process for his brainchild.

Suntory Chief blender Shinji FukuyoSuntory Chief blender Shinji Fukuyo

He lines up 10 slim bottles ranging in color from pale flax to deep amber. Two are grain whiskeys, two are Hakushu malts, six are Yamazaki malts. (Two of the latter are aged in sherry casks.) He offers notes as we sip and spit in the same fashion as Suntory's blenders. The sherry cask whiskeys taste “like dried fruits." The grain whiskeys are “similar to bourbon—calm, sweet, easy to drink." A heavily peated Yamazaki is medicinal, “like you were in a hospital." A mizunara-aged Yamazaki has a “very elegant, spicy top note, an important aftertaste for Japanese Harmony." Finally, a whiskey aged in French oak wine casks is “the best sweet—mild, like a strawberry." I'm jealous when I discover that Suntory's blenders taste 200 to 300 whiskeys a day in search of the ideal combination of these flavors. The proportions are always changing, because each vintage—indeed, each cask—can taste different from the last.

As the country's whiskey has grown more popular overseas, Fukuyo says Japanese people have increasingly come to treasure it. “We have drunk whiskey for a long time, but now we've got a lot of awards, and foreigners can come to Yamazaki, so Japanese people ourselves are starting to get proud of Japanese whiskey.

The Yamazaki Whiskey MuseumThe Yamazaki Whiskey Museum

After profusely thanking Fukuyo, I head downstairs to the Yamazaki Whisky Museum, where hundreds of bottles from across the whiskey color spectrum are lined up on backlit shelves. There's also a tasting counter, where I order a Yamazaki 18, a Hibiki 21, and a special Yamazaki aged in a type of cask called a puncheon. As I bring them over to an empty barrel-top table, an elderly Japanese man in a rather Scottish getup—argyle sweater vest and newsboy hat—comes over. He speaks a bit of English, and he tells me his name is Genji and he used to work as a tour guide here. (He's retired but still carries his old business card.) “I come here every day," he tells me, to have a drink and chat with tourists. He points out his favorite whiskey on the menu, the puncheon cask, and when I motion toward that very dram in my flight, he smiles broadly. I have one of the bartenders snap a photo of us, and I promise Genji I'll come back to Yamazaki soon.

I've flown halfway around the world to drink Japanese whiskey, and now I'm going a little farther. After a night perusing the eight-page whiskey menu at Bar Cordon Noir—a smoky, jazzy place just around the corner from Kyoto's bar-lined Pontocho Alley—I find myself touching down in Sapporo, Hokkaido's largest city. Here, I meet Emiko Kaji, who's giving me a tour of the Yoichi Distillery, the original home of Japan's other major whiskey maker, Nikka.

The Yoichi DistilleryThe Yoichi Distillery

It's the last week of April, and while Kyoto was warm and humid, here the skies are gray, with daytime temperatures dipping into the 40s. (While cherry blossom season has come and gone in Kyoto and Tokyo, the sakura have yet to bloom in Sapporo.) That's not to say it isn't beautiful; the train ride from Sapporo to Yoichi—broken up by a phenomenal sushi lunch at Masazushi in the small city of Otaru—skirts the rocky coast of the Sea of Japan, with snow-blanketed mountains rising all around.

There's a reason Masataka Taketsuru chose to open his distillery here. The Nikka founder, who was born into a Hiroshima sake-brewing family, had moved to Scotland in 1918 to study chemistry (i.e., distilling). There, he met a Scottish woman, Rita Cowan, who he married and brought back to Japan—an international romance that was the basis for Massan, a hit TV series that aired on NHK, Japan's national broadcaster, in 2014 and 2015. Taketsuru began working at the Yamazaki Distillery in 1923, but he had a fundamental difference in philosophy from Shinjiro Torii. While the Suntory founder wanted to produce a whiskey for the Japanese palate, his counterpart was determined to make authentic Scotch whiskey.

So, in 1934, Taketsuru decamped for Hokkaido, where the cold climate, rocky seashore, oak forests, natural reserves of grain, and peat bogs all reminded him of his wife's homeland. As I walk two blocks through a biting rain from the Yoichi train station to the distillery, I feel as if I'm at a crossroads where Japan and Scotland meet. The facility's exterior looks like a stone-walled Scottish castle—but with Eastern-style pitched red roofs.

Charring a barrels in the cooperage at the Yoichi DistilleryCharring a barrels in the cooperage at the Yoichi Distillery

At Yoichi, I get to see some of the more industrial aspects of production. This is the last distillery in the world that heats its stills with coal, and in the stillhouse I watch as a safety-suited employee shovels coal into the furnace below one of
the six two-story-tall copper pots. “It's like a kettle on a direct fire, so it's very difficult to control the flame," Kaji says. “Our craftsmen have to look after the flame every seven or eight minutes from morning through evening. It's a tough job, but we stick to the coal fire because it makes a distinct flavor."

From here, we walk across the campus to the cooperage. In a space the size of a racquetball court, I watch as a cooper, Hiroaki Nishizawa, hammers the steel rings off a freshly charred cask. He sprays water into it, motions me close, and waves his hands over the top of the barrel, wafting a heavenly vanilla, banana-ester smell into my face. I'm woozy. Then he rolls another barrel onto a steel rack in front of an industrial torch. When he flips the switch, the barrel begins to slowly rotate, and when the torch turns on, a firestorm ensues, bursting into and out of and around the barrel in a hypnotic hail of sparks. After about five minutes, he flips the switch off. I ask Nishizawa, who has been a cooper for eight years (he shoveled coal prior to that), how he knows when to stop.

"When the torch turns on, a firestorm ensues, bursting into and out of and around the barrel in a hypnotic hail of sparks."

“There's no clear written manual," he replies. “I learned from my senior. Now we use a machine, but before that everything was done manually, so it was very difficult to do it right."

While the demonstration is spellbinding, I'm beginning to wonder when I can get a drink. As if in anticipation of that question, Kaji waves me toward the tasting bar, which is lined with tartan-patterned place mats. I want something I won't be able to get in the States, and the bartender brings three limited-edition single malts, each named after its flavor profile: Sherry & Sweet, Woody & Vanillic, and Peaty & Salty. The first is dark amber in color, and as I'm about to say that it reminds me of Macallan (which is also aged in sherry casks), bagpipe music comes on the stereo. The second has a strong bourbon character, thanks to American oak casks. The third is very peaty and salty (truth in advertising!), heavily influenced by the sea, surely the closest to what Taketsuru was going for. I posit that it's like three different musicians playing the same piece of music, and Kaji nods

A worker shovels coal into a fire to heat a still at the Yoichi DistilleryA worker shovels coal into a fire to heat a still at the Yoichi Distillery

For my last sample, I try a limited-edition Nikka Coffey Grain, a higher-proof variation on the distillery's best-seller in the U.S. This one has an even stronger bourbon characteristic than the Woody & Vanillic, as it's made from corn. It's interesting, I say to Kaji, that one of the best-selling products from the Japanese distillery most closely associated with traditional Scotch-style whiskey isn't really a Scotch-style whiskey. I wonder, is it an advantage for Japanese distillers that they don't have as long a history as the Scots and the Kentuckians? That there's more freedom, less of a demand that they adhere to tradition?

“Yes, we have a lot of freedom to be more flexible and to experiment," she replies. “We don't need to stick to tradition. [But] we firmly believe that innovation starts from tradition."

Visiting Japan's most hallowed distilleries is a great way to learn about what makes the liquor here so good, but there's only one way to really get at the heart of a place's drinking culture: visit its bars. So, upon my return to Tokyo, I head for Shot Bar Zoetrope. Hidden on the third floor of an unassuming building on a quiet side street in the otherwise neon-blasted neighborhood of Shinjuku, this might be the single best place in the world to drink Japanese whiskey.

Atsushi Horigami pours a dram at Tokyo's Zoetrope Shot BarAtsushi Horigami pours a dram at Tokyo's Zoetrope Shot Bar

The bar is tiny—about the size of a New York City studio apartment, with a half-dozen or so stools at the bar, plus a couple of tables. When I walk in early in the evening, an old black-and-white Hollywood film is playing silently on the far wall, and there are only two people inside. One of them is Atsushi Horigami, who opened Zoetrope 12 years ago. He looks a bit like a middle-aged Pat Morita in a Hawaiian shirt, and he's standing in front of an astonishing wall of whiskeys that contains difficult-to-find bottles from all over Japan. Why, I ask him, did he fashion this tiny portal to heaven on earth?

“I like whiskey," he says. “Basically, I am a geek. Before I opened this bar, I visited so many other whiskey bars, but always the bartenders didn't know about Japanese whiskey."

Horigami estimates about 70 percent of his customers are foreigners, and right on cue three more Americans walk in. As he's seating them, I start chatting with the other guy at the bar, who's named Steel. He's in his mid-20s, with long hair and a blackout arm tattoo, and it turns out he's a bartender at Minneapolis's acclaimed Esker Grove restaurant. Much like me, he's come to do a drinking tour of Japan. So, what does he think of the whiskey?

“Hopefully, it'll be the next big thing in America," he says. “It's some of the best whiskey I've ever had, especially for cocktails. Once people try it, they're not too deterred by how expensive it is—they usually want to stay on it. People come in and ask about it all the time. They're like, 'Ah, Japanese whiskey,' and I'm like, 'Man, I only have Toki'"—an export-only Suntory whiskey made largely for highballs.

It's not a problem that's going away anytime soon. While Japanese companies are working on newer products, like Toki, Hibiki Japanese Harmony, and Nikka Whisky From the Barrel (which Nikka began exporting to the U.S. this spring), the aging process required for vintage whiskeys makes it impossible to ramp up supply in a timely fashion. For that exact reason, earlier this year Suntory discontinued the very bottle Murray is shilling for in Lost in Translation: Hibiki 17.

But, as I sit at the bar at Zoetrope, talking with my new friends and sipping whiskeys from Fuji Gotemba and Mars Shinshu—two smaller distilleries whose products are also (surprise!) exceedingly difficult to find abroad—I try not to focus on the privations that my fellow Japanese whiskey lovers and I will face in the years to come. Instead, I take heart in the good news: that a shared love of whiskey has helped connect me and these two bartenders from opposite ends of the planet. We don't need a translator. As Murray tells Scarlett Johansson: “The whiskey works."


America's most haunted locations

By Bob Cooper

Abandoned asylums and ghoulish graveyards in rural America are notoriously haunted, but so are visitor-friendly venues like the White House, Gettysburg Battlefield and Alcatraz. These haunted hotspots in 9 U.S. cities are worth visiting even if you don't believe in ghosts.

Dark alley in New York City, New York

New York City, New York

The Merchant's House Museum may be Manhattan's most haunted place. People inside the 1832 NoHo historic home have reported being touched by ghosts. Halloween-themed events and tours are scheduled throughout October. Over at Landmark Tavern, an Irish restaurant and saloon in Hell's Kitchen, three ghosts — a sailor, a retired soldier and a little girl, all traced to the 19th century — have been spotted by patrons.

Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles, California

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has attracted celebrities since its 1927 opening — some living, some not. Marilyn Monroe has been seen dancing in the ballroom, a ghost has appeared on a security video and guests have been locked out of rooms from the inside. In Long Beach, guests on The Queen Mary, a luxury cruise ship-turned-hotel with year-round paranormal tours, have experienced chilling encounters in the pool area and recorded unexplained banging on engine-room pipes.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois

One stop on Chicago haunted tours is Hull-House Museum, a National Historic Landmark and the inspiration for the horror movie “Rosemary's Baby." Jane Addams, the social activist who lived there, is among those who saw ghosts in its rooms. Another stop is the Congress Plaza Hotel, where the more than 1,000 guestrooms have been occupied by presidents and celebrities as well as ghosts — including the hotel's former owner, Al Capone — that move objects and slam doors.

National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

Abe Lincoln was spotted in the White House for decades after his assassination, not surprisingly in the Lincoln Bedroom and the Oval Office by a First Lady and a visiting queen, among others. Close by is Lafayette Square Park, a national historic landmark where the ghost of “Star Spangled Banner" writer Francis Scott Key's only son — murdered there by a jealous husband — haunts the grounds along with other ghosts.

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Guards at Eastern State Penitentiary routinely tortured inmates, whose ghosts now get even by spooking caretakers and visitors with cries and whispers. Even Al Capone said a ghost haunted him while he was imprisoned there. Equally spooky is Fort Mifflin, a Revolutionary War fort and battlefield with year-round paranormal programs. Resident spirits include a faceless man and ghost dogs.

LaLaurie House, New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana

The French Quarter is packed with haunted bars, hotels and mansions including the notorious LaLaurie House, an 1832 home where the owner's wife, Delphine, allegedly murdered a young slave girl. Delphine and the victim have both been seen in the mansion. Also in the Quarter is Hotel Provincial, a former Civil War hospital where guests have heard the ghosts of Confederate soldiers conversing at night.

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

San Francisco, California

Some visitors to the old prison on Alcatraz Island have seen ghost prisoners walking the cellblocks and heard voices in the old inmate cafeteria even when it's empty. In the city's Haight-Ashbury district, birthplace of the hippie movement, many have heard running footsteps on the sidewalk outside Janis Joplin's old Ashbury Street house, where a man was shot in the head while fleeing a gunman in 1969.

Battery Carriage House Inn, Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina

A headless torso and the ghost of a student who died leaping off the roof have haunted guests at the Battery Carriage House Inn. Another beautifully restored, but equally haunted, early-19th-century building in Old Charleston is the Dock Street Theatre. Its ghostly residents include a woman killed by lightning nearby and actor Junius Brutus Booth, the father of Abe Lincoln's assassin, a former audience member who's been seen watching rehearsals from the balcony.

Farnsworth House Inn, Gettysburg Battlefield

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Many visitors to Gettysburg Battlefield, where 8,900 Civil War soldiers died in a 24-hour period, say they've seen and spoken to “ghost soldiers." Some have even captured audio and video recordings of screams and cannons. Nearby at Farnsworth House Inn, a former Union general's home scarred by more than 100 bullet holes from the battle, nightly ghost walks are offered. To date, 14 apparitions have been seen.

If you go

Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your haunted-city getaway.

7 rejuvenating wellness destinations to rest & relax

By Betsy Mikel

Craving a vacation that will rejuvenate your body and mind? Design your own wellness retreat. From solo trips to relaxing with the whole family, these wellness destinations are all within easy access to nearby airports.

Sedona, Arizona

Middle-of-the-desert outdoor oasis

Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon Landscapes

Perfect for: A healthy getaway to unwind in nature's magnificence

Sedona's magnificent scenic red rock formations, canyons and vortexes have long attracted outdoor enthusiasts and casual hikers. The Native Americans believed this was a spiritual place of healing and renewal. It's since become one of the United States' top wellness destinations. From spiritual centers and alternative healing centers to traditional massage and spa treatments, Sedona is quite literally an oasis in the desert for wellness travelers. It's just a 90-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX).

Amelia Island, Florida

Family-friendly island getaway

Amelia Island, Florida

Perfect for: A relaxing family trip with activities for all ages

Dad wants to golf. Mom wants a spa day. The kids want to play in the surf. Cater to everyone and head to Amelia Island, a quick 30-minute drive from Jacksonville International Airport (JAX). Experience spectacular sunrises, abundant native wildlife and 13 miles of beautiful, uncrowded beaches. Visit during the annual wellness festival in November, stay at one of Amelia Island's health-focused resorts, or simply enjoy Amelia Island's beaches and family-friendly activities, which include a pinball museum, aquatic center and pirate-themed park.

Taghazout, Morocco

Surf-and-yoga retreats galore

Perfect for: An energizing trip packed with surfing, yoga and beach time

Kick off your day with sun salutations on the beach, then hit the surf. Or just relax with a drink in hand in this leisurely, laid-back beach town where the sun shines nearly all year round. Taghazout is Morocco's premier surf destination, attracting seasoned surfers and total newbies alike. Taghazout has plentiful surf and yoga retreats, many which allow you to customize your class schedule depending on how energetic you're feeling. When you're surfed out, head to one of the local hammams to relax in the traditional Moroccan steam baths. To get there, fly into Agadir – Al Massira Airport (AGA), and take a 30-45 minute taxi or bus ride to Taghazout.

Calistoga, California

Hot springs getaway in the heart of wine country

Vineyard in Calistoga

Perfect for: Completely unwinding while soaking in scenic Napa Valley views

With more than two dozen spas and resorts, Calistoga has been called the spa capital of Northern California. The small town is walkable, charming and close to many wineries, though this isn't primarily a wine destination. Most everyone is here to relax in the geothermal waters and mud baths. After a few minutes of soaking in mineral-rich 100-degree thermal waters, you'll realize why. Add a massage or mud treatment, and you'll wish you'd booked a longer stay. Calistoga is a two hours' drive from San Francisco International (SFO) and Sacramento International Airports (SMF). It's a 30-minute drive from Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS).

KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Spiritual Buddhist retreat

Perfect for: A restorative and contemplative stay away from it all

Practice mindfulness and meditation in the supremely tranquil Buddhist Retreat Centre. Choose from guided group retreats and workshops, or do your own thing and design your own solo experience. The retreat center stands on 300 secluded acres of well-manicured gardens, forests and valleys, with many peaceful paths for contemplation. Walk through raked zen sand gardens, visit the Buddhist shrine and enjoy the natural surroundings. There's even a well-stocked library where you can read and listen to recorded talks from visiting teachers. Lodging is simple but comfortable. The all-vegetarian meals are freshly prepared, featuring organically grown produce. Though the retreat center feels rural and isolated, it's just a two-hour drive from Durban International Airport (DUR).

Traben-Trarbach, Germany

The upscale holistic healing resort

Ruins of Grevenburg castle above Traben-Trarbach

Perfect for: Detoxing and resetting your body to get back on track

Feeling tired, overworked, stressed or burned out? Germany's luxurious Ayurveda Parkschlösschen resort specializes in one of the world's oldest holistic approaches to help your body feel its best. Choose from personalized programs that target different conditions and ailments. With massage treatments, cleansing therapies, nutritious meals and more, your stay here is all about helping you feel healthier and more energetic. Ayurveda Parkschlösschen is in Traben-Trarbach, a two-hour drive from Frankfurt International Airport (FRA).

Resort in Goa, India

Goa, India

A yoga-centric wellness destination

Perfect for: Deepening your practice in the country where yoga was born

Goa is one India's friendliest destinations for Westerners to study yoga, and it caters to all experience levels and forms of the practice. Travel here to pursue your 300-hour teaching training, or stay at one of the wellness-themed resorts with optional beachside yoga classes. If you don't want to go all-in on yoga, the region also has many incredible beaches, waterfalls and wildlife sanctuaries. Goa International Airport (GOI), the region's major airport, is located in the city of Dabolim.

Getting there

United Airlines flies to these places or to airports within a two-hour drive. For details and to book your trip, visit united.com or use the United app. Don't forget to share your story on social media with the #MyUnitedJourney hashtag.

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