Three Perfect Days: Tel Aviv
Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Yadid Levy | Hemispheres June 2019
Tel Aviv means “hill of spring" in Hebrew, and perhaps no city in the world has a name that fits better. Western religion was conceived just a few miles away from here, thousands of years ago, but neither that fact nor the associated, ongoing complications have stopped this 110-year-old town from showing the blooming, hopeful, renewed energy of springtime. It's the super-cosmopolitan home of cutting-edge museums, world-renowned dance companies, and celebrity chefs. The only thing more beautiful than the beaches is the population that flocks to them and then later fills the bouncing bars and clubs. The tech industry is booming so fast the country has been nicknamed Start-Up Nation. If you think all that sounds like a mash-up of Brooklyn, Miami, and San Francisco, you're right. Many visitors come to Israel to learn about the past, but in Tel Aviv, all eyes look to the future.
Day 1: Rooftop views and rock 'n' roll grooves
City views at Blue Sky
The Statue of Meir Dizengoff and his horse on Rothschild Boulevard
I start my first visit to Tel Aviv the way everyone should: with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. I'm sitting on the deck at Manta Ray, a restaurant perched on the tiled promenade above Alma Beach, looking at the water and thinking about my family's short, fraught history with Israel. My grandparents moved here in the late 1940s, along with many other Jewish refugees in the aftermath of World War II. It may have been the homeland, but it was also hot and dusty and underdeveloped, and my grandmother, whose pre-war life had been a bit more refined, hated it. They lasted less than a year and soon settled in America (in that most refined borough of New York City, the Bronx).
As of today, I'm the first member of my family to return to the homeland. It's not particularly my homeland—I wasn't raised religious, and I try to steer clear of the politics—but I've always wondered how I would feel here. For starters: hungry. On my table is a scattering of mezes (roasted peppers with feta, mullet ceviche) and a tower of bagels, smoked salmon, pickled onions, and heirloom tomatoes. I work my way through it all, thinking, Pace yourself, Justin, while I take in the scenery. To my left rises Jaffa, the ancient clifftop port city from which Tel Aviv sprouted; to my right stretches a ribbon of sand below the skyscrapers of the modern metropolis; in front of me, waves lap upon the shore.
After breakfast, I set out into the city, passing through the narrow streets of Neve Tzedek, the first neighborhood Jews settled outside of Jaffa, in the late 19th century. These cobblestoned alleys went into decline for a time, but over the last few years glassy condos have joined the squat Mediterranean houses, making this 'hood the home of the city's most expensive real estate (“the bougie-est of the bougie," a young local tells me with an eye roll).
Chef Eyal Shani at North Abraxas
On the far side of Neve Tzedek, I hit Rothschild Boulevard, the pedestrian greenway that arcs through the heart of the city. The tree-lined path bursts with dog walkers, cyclists, moms and dads pushing strollers, teenagers lined up at gelato kiosks. As I stroll the long boulevard, I soak up the sun—and also the history. Israel celebrated the 70th anniversary of its statehood last year, commemorating the occasion with an itinerary of sites called the Independence Trail, including the Tel Aviv Founders Monument; a statue of Meir Dizengoff, the city's first mayor, atop a horse (he used to ride from his house to City Hall every morning); and Independence Hall, where David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.
OK, enough history—I'm ready to eat. Just a block south of Rothschild Boulevard, I snag a barstool at North Abraxas, a sunny spot created by celebrity chef Eyal Shani and film director Shahar Segal. The bartender brings me a hunk of fresh sourdough, with a dip of rich crème fraîche and chopped tomato and spicy green pepper. The guy seated next to me nudges a bowl of tahini in my direction. “I can literally drink it," he says. Next comes a head of baby cauliflower roasted to the point of melting and a skillet of chraime (tomato-fish stew) adorned with another slice of that bread. I have failed to pace myself.
A lifeguard tower on Frishman Beach
I need to lie down after all those carbs. To the beach! A short cab ride (pro tip: download the ridesharing app Gett) takes me to my hotel, the Carlton Tel Aviv, a fortress of luxury looming over the promenade and the sea. The front desk loans me a towel, which I take down to Gordon Beach, where every manner of ball you can think of is being bumped or tossed or kicked or paddled around by impressively tanned people. I skip over a stack of paddleboards to dip my toes in the Mediterranean, but the water's a bit chilly, so I retreat and stake out a patch of sand, where I close my eyes and bask in the rays.
As the sun begins to fade, I retire to my balcony at the Carlton, from which I watch the sky and sea turn pink. Once the colors have faded to black, I ascend to the 15th-floor rooftop and celebrity chef Meir Adoni's Blue Sky, which specializes in seafood and incredible 360-degree views. I order a grouper fillet with bouillabaisse butter, potato cream, shoksha pepper, roasted fennel, and chickpeas. “Our chef is known for mixing flavors," the server says as she pours me a cabernet from the Israeli winery Flam, “so try to get everything in each bite." I take care to heed her advice while eating the Citrus Aromas in Kyoto, a dessert of roasted rice ice cream, white foam, matcha crumble, and citrus compote that transports me, for a moment, from the Middle to the Far East.“On the beach, every manner of ball you can think of is being bumped or tossed or kicked by impressively tanned people"
Tel Avivians are famous for partying hard, and where better to work off a few calories than at the club? I hail a cab to Beit Romano, in Florentin, a recently behipstered neighborhood on the city's south side. At first, I think the driver has brought me to the wrong place—it looks a little dodgy, with a graffitied industrial door surrounded by scruffy kids—but inside I see two stories of restaurants and bars, a radio station, and a bandstand. Soon, the smoky courtyard is full of 20-somethings bobbing their heads to the Santana-esque, afro-psychedelic band Tigris. I get my groove on, losing track of time until the musicians take their curtain call. Time for me to do the same.
One perfect day in JerusalemJerusalem is about an hour from Tel Aviv by bus (and only 20 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport thanks to a high-speed train that debuted last year). Here, a cheat sheet for a day in the Holy City—a must for any visitor to Israel.
Start with a breakfast of meze dips and muesli at the Villa Brown Jerusalem, a 24-room boutique hotel that opened two years ago in a refurbished 19th-century mansion in the centrally located Russian Compound district.
A 10-minute walk from the Villa Brown takes you to the Jaffa Gate and the ancient walls of the Old City. Hire a guide (try Hemispheres favorite Tours By Locals) to help you navigate the crowds and give context for all the sacred sites—the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the City of David, the Via Dolorosa—and then stop by one of the many Palestinian merchant stalls to buy one of the beautiful rugs.
For lunch, walk back through the city center to the Machane Yehuda Market. Snag a seat at Azura for Turkish-influenced takes on homestyle dishes like kibbeh and shakshuka.
Next, take the light rail to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, home to an exhaustively comprehensive history museum (featuring many video testimonials from survivors), as well as a National Mall–style campus dotted with public art pieces. The tragic history commemorated here is critical to understanding the modern Israeli state.
You'll need a drink after that, so head over to the Mamilla Hotel, just steps from the Old City. Taste a few local vintages at the Winery bar, which sources its roughly 120 labels exclusively from Israeli wineries, and then go up to the Rooftop restaurant for astonishing views and tasty dishes such as grouper shawarma and roasted goose breast.
For a nightcap, stop in at Gatsby, where the hostess will slide open a bookcase to reveal a Roaring '20s–style speakeasy, complete with faux-tin ceiling, bartenders in leather aprons, and a Sinatra soundtrack.
An alley in Old Jaffa
Day 2: Eat, pray, dance
Bread displays at Abouelafia
A shop at the Jaffa Flea Market
Hotel breakfasts are a big thing here, and the one at the Carlton is particularly lavish, but I skip it, because the whole city is about to become my buffet. A cab takes me along the waterfront to Jaffa, the historically Arab area that's now one of the hottest parts of Tel Aviv, where I meet Lainie Schwartz, a tour guide with Delicious Israel.
Schwartz, a bubbly 27-year-old originally from Winnipeg, starts me out at Abu Hassan, a hole-in-the-wall that's renowned for its hummus, which is eaten as a breakfast food in Israel—hot, fresh, and with a peculiar vocabulary: “We say in Hebrew that we wipe hummus," Schwartz says. “We don't say, “Do you want to go eat hummus with me?' We really say, 'Do you want to go wipe hummus?'" Following her lead, I wipe up all the impossibly creamy stuff, first using warm pita and then segments of raw onion (don't knock it till you try it).
Hummus dispatched, we stroll past The Smiling Whale, a bronze statue that commemorates Jonah's biblical joyride (which supposedly occurred just off the coast here), and through the sandstone-walled corridors of Old Jaffa. We pause at Suspended Orange Tree, a small tree growing from a hanging jug that honors Jaffa's historic orange groves, and then at the 3,000-year-old Ramses II gate (named for the Egyptian pharaoh).
Down the other side of the hill, past the Jaffa Flea Market, I try an astonishing za'atar flatbread at the neighborhood institution Abouelafia. Then, crossing into Neve Tzedek, we stop at the Dallal Bakery to try a chocolate babka—and to meet Inbal Baum, who was born in D.C. to Israeli parents, moved here 10 years ago, and founded Delicious Israel in 2011.
The Chapel bar
“My big initial goal was advocacy, trying to get journalists to write about Israel in a way that wasn't about politics," Baum tells me. “That has changed in a big way. We now have almost no problem inviting journalists, and a lot of that is because of the way Israelis eat."
I don't think I can eat any more, but then Baum suggests we get a falafel at the Carmel Market, a bustling shuk in the otherwise sleepy Yemenite Quarter. I love falafel—I eat it three times a week in New York—and this being my first trip to the Middle East, I can't say no. At the stand, Baum asks the cook, who's rapidly forming the chickpea dough into perfect spheres and tossing them into the fryer, if we can have just the falafel, but he insists we taste it properly, in pita with tahini (at least he cuts the pita into quarters). My first bite sends me reeling. Literally, I almost fall down. “I wish I had recorded that," Baum says, laughing and handing me a craft pale ale from the Beer Bazaar stand next door to bring me back to earth.
I thank Baum and Schwartz for all the deliciousness and then walk (I wish I had Dizengoff's horse) back to Old Jaffa. It takes some looking, but at the top of the hill I find Yoko Kitahara House of Treatments & Gallery, a spa hidden behind a small iron gate marked with scarcely more than a business card. I ring the bell and enter a sparse space inside a pair of 500-year-old, arch-ceilinged Ottoman homes. My appointment begins with a traditional ashiyu (Japanese footbath) and continues with a hogushi aromatherapy massage. Afterward, I have a cup of tea while seated on a tatami mat, looking out a window at the sea and chatting with the spa's eponymous owner, who says she moved to Tel Aviv “for love."
Suspended Orange Tree, in Old Jaffa
“I wanted to do a nice place in Jaffa," Kitahara says, “but I didn't want to create a Japanese 'shrine.' We want it to be a surprise, a hidden place with some Israeli culture and Japanese culture—to make harmony."
I tend to prefer cacophony to harmony, so next I peruse the flea market, which is surrounded by bustling bars and trendy boutiques. I stop at the gallery 8 in Jaffa to gawk at grotesque ceramic sculptures by Alma Moriah-Winik, and at The Cuckoo's Nest, an antiques shop/gallery/bar, to take in a heart sculpture composed of paint brushes. Just across Jerusalem Boulevard, I reach my new digs, The Drisco Hotel, a landmark boutique hidden down a narrow street at the crossroads of Jaffa, Neve Tzedek, and Florentin. Nap time!
“My first bite of falafel send me reeling. Literally, I almost fall down."
Mushrooms and tapioca at Opa
The sun has set by the time I'm done snoozing, and I'm (miraculously) ready for dinner. It seems as though every wall and garage door in Florentin bursts with graffiti, which makes the unadorned white decor at Opa, around the corner from the Levinsky Market, even more sleek and refreshing. That description also applies to the entirely vegetarian menu: sliced pears with chervil and green garlic; a prime rib–like cut of red cabbage with grapefruit foam and white balsamic dressing; a circular presentation of mushrooms and crispy tapioca that I'm not sure if I should eat or wear on my head like a crown. Who needs protein?
I finish my meal just in time to make the curtain at the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, a performing arts hub that sparked the renaissance of Neve Tzedek and is home to the famed Batsheva Dance Company. On stage tonight is The Hill, in which a trio led by choreographer Roy Assaf enacts a visceral portrayal of the experiences of veterans—a particularly relevant topic in a country that has compulsory military service and has been through numerous conflicts with its neighbors. The depiction of PTSD, in which one of the dancers repeatedly hits himself in the head while one of the others tries to restrain him, is breathtaking.
Spices at the Carmel Market
After the show I stop by the center's chic new restaurant, Cordero, to have a glass of Burgundy with Claudio Kogon, the deputy director of the center. “We are only 8 million people, but the amount of culture per capita is huge," says Kogon, who was born in Buenos Aires but moved to Israel 32 years ago, at the age of 22, to live on a kibbutz. “Tel Aviv is very vibrant. In every corner, something is going on. And in dance, we are a superpower."
Next, I seek out another corner where something is definitely going on. The Chapel, at The Jaffa hotel, is the most beautiful bar I've ever seen—and the most appropriately named, as it's inside a 140-year-old hall of worship with 40-foot-high arched ceilings. I order a smoked, shaken mezcal Negroni and lean back in my seat to fully take in that soaring ceiling. The soundtrack in here may be techno, but somehow all I can hear is Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah."
Day 3: Bauhaus Beach Babylon
An art installation on the Bauhaus exterior of the Center Chic Hotel
Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv guide Alisa Veksler
I'm standing in the city center, a block east of Dizengoff Street, amid a group of tourists staring up at a curvilinear house. Tel Aviv is home to about 4,000 International Style buildings, designed in large part by architects who fled the Nazis in the 1930s—a period when the population here, not coincidentally, boomed—and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the White City. As we look at one of these houses, Alisa Veksler, a tour guide from the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv, explains to us the particularities of the Tel Avivian style, which occasionally strays from the Bauhaus ethos that function must dictate form.
“A round facade gives it the association of a ship," Veksler says of the house in front of us. “This was a desert, and when these immigrants came from Eastern and Central Europe in the '30s and built their houses, they put a ship in the middle of the desert."
The artsy interior of Kuli Alma
We continue on for a few blocks, with Veksler explaining the reasons for various architectural details—slit balconies to offer relief from heat, roof gardens to encourage social interaction—finishing at the recently restored Dizengoff Square.
“In 1934, they did a competition for the design of this area," she tells us, “and the winner was a young woman named Genia Averbuch. She was only 25—wow!—and she designed a big circle with a garden and a fountain in the middle, surrounded by Bauhaus buildings with the same unified facade. It instantly became the coolest spot in Tel Aviv. This is a huge milestone in the culture of Tel Aviv. Once Dizengoff Circle was built, we were not immigrants from different countries anymore—we were suddenly people of our own city."
The group gives Veksler a round of applause, and after picking up a White City tote bag at the center, I walk a couple of blocks east to Hakosem, a falafel joint that takes its name from the Hebrew word for magician. It's just after noon, and a long line stretches across the patio and out to the sidewalk. I'm line-averse, but y'all know how I feel about falafel, and soon a tattooed Israeli line cook—“I have eight!" he proudly says when he sees the ink on my arms—is stuffing a pita with falafel, hummus, chili sauce, sauerkraut, pickles, and eggplant. When I take a bite, I have to admit, it really is magic. Also: My life is ruined. I'm never going to be able to eat falafel in New York again.“When immigrants came from Europe and built their houses, they put a ship in the desert."
After breaking free of Hakosem's spell, I move on to take in another architectural marvel, the nearby Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which has a geometric exterior that looks a bit like a broken Rubik's Cube. Inside, a series of ramps carry me from gallery to gallery. The holdings in the Impressionist and post-Impressionist collection read like an art history syllabus—Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Chagall—but I'm drawn to contemporary works such as Following You, Following Me No. 1, a breathy, haunting video piece by 37-year-old Israeli artist Yasmin Davis.
As I wander west, back toward the beach, I happen across Rabin Square, where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli ultranationalist in 1995, a year after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords. As I watch a few kids chasing pigeons around a fountain and a Holocaust memorial, I find myself reflecting on how inextricable this nation's psyche is from existential threats past and present.
Anyway, I need to lighten things up a little bit—both emotionally and physically, given how much I've been eating this week. So, after moving my bags to the Miami-esque Brown Beach House hotel, I slap on my sneakers and hit the promenade, running north to three side-by-side beaches that illustrate the surprising diversity of Tel Aviv: one that flies rainbow flags to welcome gay beachgoers, one that's walled off for Orthodox Jewish swimmers, and one that's populated by dog owners. Few things will brighten your mood like watching a sandy dog take a shower on the beach.
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Running a 10K does wonders for the appetite, so after cleaning up—no, not at the dog showers—I head to Mashya, one of the city's hottest restaurants. The space, on the first floor of the Mendeli Street Hotel, features a bright green living wall and an intricately patterned black-and-white ceiling. The food is just as attractive: I order a fresh fish crudo with labneh and mint; an arugula salad with medjool dates, pineapple, and avocado; and a six-hour-braised oxtail terrine. Something about the whole experience feels celebratory, so I top things off with Israel's finest bubbly, the Yarden Blanc de Blancs.
For a nightcap, I walk to the nearby Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, which has appeared on the World's 50 Best Bars list and slings complex drinks inspired by the city. As a hoopshead, I'm compelled to order a Red by Heart, a mix of amaro, banana syrup, and lime juice that's dedicated to the outdoor court the city's popular Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball team once called home. It's smoky, bitter, and delicious. Nothing but net!
Old Jaffa, seen from Alma Beach
As I leave the bar, I look at the Brown Beach House, right across the street. I have a 12-hour flight tomorrow … but I can't quite put myself, or this city, to bed. So I hop in a cab to Florentin, where I descend a stairwell decorated with a comic-book style mural and a giant red neon heart into Kuli Alma. I wander through the labyrinthine space, sipping a Goldstar beer and taking in the murals and prints and paintings that decorate every surface as dancers twist to thumping music. This place just feels right somehow, and I can't help but wonder what my grandmother would say about today's Tel Aviv. Something tells me that if she had experienced three days like these back in the '40s, I would have been born an Israeli.
A dog takes a shower on the beach
Where to Stay
Carlton Tel AvivThis Brutalist building overlooking the marina was designed by Israel Prize–winning architect Yaakov Rechter and opened in 1981. A recent $12 million renovation included an update to 268 guest rooms and suites, the addition of a rooftop pool, and redesigns of Meir Adoni's two on-site restaurants. Don't miss breakfast on the beachfront deck. From $370, carlton.co.il
Brown Beach HouseIn a city that gives off plenty of Miami vibes, few hotels feel more South Beach—note the three live palm trees and the neon flamingo in the terrace lounge—than this 40-room boutique one short block from Jerusalem Beach. Pedal out to the promenade or into the city center on one of the free bikes available to guests. From $250, brownhotels.com
The Drisco HotelThis 42-room-and-suite boutique property opened last year in a 150-year-old building that once housed the city's first luxury hotel. The Drisco is walking distance from the restaurant-studded neighborhoods of Jaffa, Florentin, and Neve Tzedek, but don't miss the hotel's recently reimagined Mediterranean eatery, George & John. From $360, thedrisco.com
Carole Cary-Hopson, Newark Liberty International Airport Boeing 737 First Officer, remembers how it felt piloting her first United flight.
"Shivers" she recalled. "I felt as if this is what dreams are made of. Every single time I come to work, I feel that way."
"That way" was 14 years in the making for Carole. "What dreams are made of" dates back to her childhood in Pennsylvania and frequently visiting her grandma's home in south Jersey that was right by the Philadelphia airport.
"We would go and lie in the grass by the airport and note the colors of the planes coming in and leaving, how many would come through at a time; we made graphs," said Carole. "I was fascinated by it."
As Carole grew up, she held on to that fascination, but an undergrad and master's degree later, she found herself successfully climbing her way up the corporate ladder, from the NFL to Footlocker. As her duties and roles continued to evolve and grow, Carole observed that she was always on an airplane. In fact, it was on a work trip where that observation and her life-long fascination came full circle.
"I was on a KLM flight and the pilot noticed me looking around and observing everything," she said. "So, he offered me the jumpseat and proceeded to teach me everything across the North Atlantic trip. It was then and there I realized, 'I can do this.' It all came together in my head."
Not long after that flight, Carole went on a date with a man who she now proudly calls her husband.
"I told him on that date, 'I have something to tell you and if you laugh at me about it, I'll never see you again,'" said Carole. Carole proceeded to tell him about her dream of becoming a pilot. A few weeks after that date, he handed her gift certificates to attend a flight school right outside of Manhattan.
From there, Carole moved roles in her corporate career once more, taking a job with L'Oreal where she socked away her paychecks to save up for flight school. In the meantime, she began to network in the aviation world, attending events through Women in Aviation and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP). It was there she met her mentors, one being American Airlines Captain Jenny Beatty who handed her a mug of Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African-American and Native-American descent to hold a pilot's license.
"I stood on that crowded convention floor with Jenny and Bessie at that time and just bawled," said Carole. "I kept asking myself how I could be an Ivy League graduate and had never heard of her. At that moment, I wanted to do something with her story."
Thus, along with training, becoming a pilot and raising a family, Carole began writing a historical fiction book on Bessie, a woman who had to go to France to learn how to fly because no one would teach her in the U.S. Today, the book is near completion and once finished, 25% of the proceeds will go toward the Lt. Colonel Luke Weathers Flight Academy, an organization within OBAP that aims to grow and diversify the future pilot pipeline.
"I hope Bessie is smiling down and has forgiven me for taking so long on writing this book," said Carole. "She continues to provide me with guidance and being an example of determination. I know she would tell me to keep going and to not even dare to stop."
Well, as if Bessie already doesn't know, stopping doesn't seem to be in Carole's vocabulary.
"When you have a goal, there are a series of definitive steps," said Carole. "Each one is important and sometimes, they take many years to reach. But each one of those goals I had in the past were steps that got me to flying."
And Carole's next step?
"Continue to fly and finish Bessie's book," said Carole. "And once the book is finished, the goal is a movie and then sending 100 black women to flight school. With the numbers being only 1-2% African-American's flying, we need to fix that, and I intend to!"
Sisters and United MileagePlus® Premier® 1k members, Kelsey and Courtney Montague, are constantly traveling to create street art pieces for communities around the world. This year they teamed up with us to travel to Peru to explore the beautiful country, and to create a custom mural for a very special group of young women participating in the Peruvian Hearts program. Peruvian Hearts, now part of our Miles on a Mission program, works to support female leaders with access to education, counseling and peer support
Finding tranquility at Machu Picchu
As we hiked up the ancient steps of Machu Picchu, we were surrounded by Incan merchants, servants and townsfolk climbing the stairs to start their day. As foreigners not used to hiking at 7,9000 feet, the locals sprinted by us as we struggled up the steep steps, with the lush rainforest behind us and ancient city just beyond. But even with burning legs and straining lungs, it's likely anyone's breath would be taken away (as ours was) once they reached the clearing above this sprawling city in the clouds. All thoughts of the slightly tortuous route we took to this dazzling ancient city were forgotten the second we laid eyes on this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Along with my sister Kelsey, our Dad and our friend Clay felt the power and mystery when we all arrived at the vantage point over the city of Machu Picchu. The day before we had traveled all day from Denver flying in United's stunning United Polaris®. We slept fully flat on two excellent flights, curled up on down pillows and wrapped in Saks Fifth Avenue comforters. We slept soundly after feasting on steak and chocolate sundaes and spent a layover chatting with bartender, Steven, as he made us cosmos at the United Polaris lounge in Houston. It was wonderful, but the best part? Arriving in Peru so rested and relaxed we were able to completely savor this moment at Machu Picchu. A moment only made sweeter when our Dad turned to us and thanked us for taking him on the trip of a lifetime and giving him the opportunity to see a place he never thought he'd get to visit.
We explore the ruins with the wide eyes of children, enjoying every view and savoring every piece of information from our guide. Llamas 'own' the ruins and gently nudge tourists aside as they scamper between buildings to their favorite pasture. The terraces on the outskirts of the town were used to prevent soil erosion and to farm maize and beans. Condors soar above our heads, their keen eyes hunting for chinchillas tucked into the terrace rock walls.
Incan community members that lived or worked in Machu Picchu must have felt the same way we felt the first time they came across this thriving metropolis, situated on top of a mountain. Incan urban planners neatly organized centers for astrological studies, religious ceremonies, sports, commerce and farming. The buildings were built from granite and limestone, likely from a quarry located on the same mountaintop. Some buildings were so finely constructed scientists still don't quite know how the Incans did it.
At the end of the tour we come to the sacred rock — a perfect, flat replica of the Yanantin mountain behind it. Some mystical members of society believe that touching the rock transmits tremendous power. I won't lie that I quietly let my fingers graze the stone as a I walked by. Did I feel a sudden power rush? No. But did I leave Machu Picchu filled with a sense of wonder and a reaffirmed belief that anything is possible? Yes.
Partnering with Peruvian Hearts
The next morning, we awoke ready to tackle the most meaningful part of our trip to Peru — working with Peruvian Hearts.
Peruvian Hearts works to support women by giving them access to education, counseling and peer support. They are currently working with 32 talented, bright young women who they have hand-picked from secondary institutions across Cusco. They focus on supporting brilliant engineers, psychologists, teachers, scientists and doctors. These are the future female leaders that will change their communities, their country and the world for the better.
When we arrive to meet these scholars, they cheer, and each young woman gives Kelsey and me a hug. Overwhelmed, we both begin to cry. We are so grateful for our job as a traveling street art team, but we are on the road so much we are often very lonely. We can't remember the last time we received so many hugs or saw so many bright smiles.
When we arrive to the Peruvian Hearts headquarters a number of the young women tell us how they found Peruvian Hearts. Aldi, a brilliant engineer in training, was asked to join this special organization because she was first in her class in secondary school. She grew up in tough financial circumstances — her mother is ill and unable to work, and her father works in construction. As the only person in her family who has attended university, she is the primary hope of her family. Tears stream down her face as she describes how tough it has been for her family to survive. So many of these young women tell similar stories and carry the weight of their entire family's future squarely and proudly on their shoulders.
These stories reaffirm the reason Kelsey and I decided to join forces with United — we hope to make that weight on their shoulders a little lighter. As we worked on the mock-up for the mural to commemorate Peruvian Hearts, United decided to help in another way by including Peruvian Hearts in their new Miles on a Mission program. A first of its kind program, United MileagePlus members can now donate their miles to nonprofits they care about. Miles that will help young women like Aldi attend conferences in the United States or study abroad in Mexico.
Other women will be able to travel more freely between their studies in Lima and their families in Cusco. The young scholars were so excited to now be part of the United family and to have access to the connections a major airline can bring.
After an ideation period Kelsey decided to create a large-scale heart flock mural with 32 hearts on one side to represent the young women in the program and 32 hearts on the other side to represent those to come. Over two days we painted the piece and filled it with items that represent Peru (a llama, a condor, Peru's national flower and butterflies), Peruvian Hearts (pencils, books, and a shooting star) and a United airplane. As we worked on the piece the ladies sang, danced and told us their dreams. Dreams to travel, learn new languages, start meaningful careers and change their communities for the better.
When we finished the piece — two massive streams of hearts that appear to be coming from the person standing in the middle of the mural — the girls came to thank us. With cheers, hugs and kisses they explained how proud they were that this mural was for them and how it would continue to lift them up as they work hard to improve their circumstances.
At the end of this project Kelsey and I felt so blessed to be connected to such a wonderful group of women. At that moment we realized that is what art and travel should be about. Art and travel should connect us to each other as humans and to something deeper within ourselves — a desire to lift each other up.Visit United's Miles on a Mission program to support Peruvian Hearts .
February 12, 2020
As we continue to evaluate our operation between our U.S. airport hub locations and Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai as well as Hong Kong, we have decided to extend the suspension of those flights until April 24. We will continue to monitor the situation and will evaluate our schedule as we remain in close contact with the CDC and other public health experts around the globe.
We suspend travel to Hong Kong
February 4, 2020
In response to the continued drop in demand, we are suspending travel to Hong Kong beginning February 8 until February 20. Our last flights will depart San Francisco on February 5 (flight 877 and flight 869) and the last returning flight will depart Hong Kong on February 7 (flight 862).
Please check united.com for important travel information as well as current travel waivers.