Discover Asia at the Met

Asia100

Make 2015 the year you discover Asia at the Met!

It’s a big year at the Museum with a new president, Daniel H. Weiss, on his way, the new outpost for contemporary art (housed in the old Whitney) just named The Met Breuer — and ongoing centennial celebrations of the Department of Asian Art, which kicked off on February 19 with the Lunar New Year.

Centennial celebrations of Asia go beyond the walls of the Museum this year with Travel with the Met journeys scheduled to Central Asia (September 15-30),  India (October 1-17, 2015), Iran (November 1-17, 2015), Burma (November 8-22, 2015) and Vietnam & Cambodia, December 26, 2015 – January 8, 2016) . All are led by engaging Museum curators and experts.

ThroughTheLookingGlassChina: Through the Looking Glass
A collaboration of the Department of Asian art and the Anna Wintour Costume Center, China: Through the Looking Glass spreads across the Asia galleries on the second floor, where high fashion from the 1700s to the present is juxtaposed with decorative arts from Imperial China. Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar-wei is artistic director for the blockbuster exhibition, which runs from May 7- August 16.

Happy Thingyan!

ThinGyanMIn Burma, the New Year is celebrated not in January or February but in April—and not with fireworks or dragons but with water!  The biggest holiday of the year, the Thingyan Water Festival coincides with the start of the hot season, making the tradition of throwing water at passerby all the more welcome. Join us in Burma, not during the hot season, but rather this autumn, when temperatures are more moderate in Southeast Asia. Participants on Treasures of Burma enjoy a private a cappella performance by the students at Gitameit, a non-profit music center — just one of a number of special events planned over the 12-day program led by Met educator David Bowles. Highlights include a river cruise and a two-night stay at the exquisite Bagan Lodge.

What are your plans for December 31, 2015?

AngkorWatCambodiaLucky travelers on Kings, Gods & Dragons, scheduled for December 26, 2015 to January 8, 2016 will ring in 2016 at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap. What better place to greet the New Year than the extraordinary Angkor Wat? This Travel with the Met program is led by Olivier Bernier, Vice President of The Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap. A popular lecturer and an art historian of many interests, Mr. Bernier is confirmed on a number of Travel with the Met programs in 2016, including Titian to Tiepolo: the Veneto and Venice (April 18 – 27, 2016); Gems of Northern Europe: Hamburg, Hannover & the Hague (June 5-16, 2016); Houses of the English Aristocracy: North England & Wales (June 20-29, 2016); and The Romantic Rhone: Lyon to Arles Aboard M.S. AmaDagio (September 21-30).

Founded in 1977, Academic Arrangements Abroad is celebrating 15 years as the exclusive travel provider for Travel with the Met, the travel program of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Adventures Abroad Photo Contest Deadline Extended. Plus–Our Adventures Abroad!

Yunnan Red Earth

Yunnan Red Earth by Erik Hyman

Staff at Academic Arrangements Abroad are ineligible for our Adventures Abroad photography contest. However, we have had a few adventures of our own, and lots of talented photographers work here.

Below are a few of our favorite staff travel photos, which were taken in locations around the globe.

Assistant Tour Coordinator Erik Hyman shot wonderful images in China while he was conducting folk music research for the Fulbright program in 2011 and 2012. You can see more of Erik’s amazing travel photographs on Flickr.

Leshan Giant Buddha

Leshan Giant Buddha by Erik Hyman

Nujiang Valley

Nujiang Valley by Erik Hyman

Cathy Farber, Vice President, Marketing & Communications, traveled to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in 2013. During her journey, Cathy photographed an adorable baby seal in the Galápagos Islands.

Baby Seal

Baby seal in the Galápagos Islands

She also shot a stunning image of the Andes Mountains from Quito. (Scroll to the bottom of this blog post to see the landscape.)

Jim Friedlander, President, took a picture of a crocodile area in a national park in Panama during a trip to Central America in December 2013.

Crocodile area in Central America

Crocodile area in Central America by Jim Friedlander

In addition, Friedlander shot this dramatic photograph of Mt. Everest from a plane last November.

Mount Everest 2013

Mount Everest, Nepal, by Jim Friedlander

Gloria De Luca, Vice President, Communications, captured this image of men in turbans at the Pushkar Camel Fair in India.

Puskar Camel Fair

Pushkar Camel Fair by Gloria De Luca

Additionally, she photographed this leopard in a tree during a recent journey to Sri Lanka, where highlights included a jeep safari.

Leopard in Sri Lanka

Leopard in Sri Lanka by Gloria De Luca

We hope you’ll enter your own travel photos in our competition. The deadline was just extended to July 1, 2014, and images entered so far include everything from riding camels in Egypt to practicing yoga on a sunny beach in Puerto Rico. Show us your idea of a travel adventure!

The first-place winner, as selected by our panel of expert judges, will receive $1,000 off any 2014 or 2015 Academic Arrangements Abroad cruise. Second prize is $500 off a 2014 or 2015 Arrangements Abroad cruise, and third prize is a micro luggage scale (handy for avoiding overweight baggage fees).

You can also vote on the submitted images, which are featured in a gallery that can be accessed through the photo contest tab. The most popular photograph will receive a People’s Choice Award and a special prize.

To enter or vote, please go to our Facebook page and click on the Adventures Abroad Photo Contest icon below our name. It will take you to a new page where you can enter the contest or vote on selected entries (or both!).

Be sure to submit your entry before July 1, 2014.

 

 

Andes Mountains

The Andes Mountains from Quito, Ecuador by Cathy Farber

Meet Erin Sorensen

Erin Sorensen at Great WallErin Sorensen started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in September 2003.  She’s held a number of different positions at the firm throughout the years and is currently a Vice President in the Operations Department, developing and booking programs and managing trip logistics.

Erin at AAA holiday partyWhat is your hometown?  I moved every two to four years growing up, around the country as well as some time in England, but I now call New York home.  I’ve lived here much longer than anywhere else!

What is your favorite travel book?  Hmm, I could never have just one.  I love to read!  I organize our office book club, for which we read books set in or about different parts of the world.  Some of my favorites of the books we’ve read are:

Agent Zig Zag – Ben MacIntyre

The Cellist of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway

Country Driving – Peter Hessler

A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler – Jason Roberts

A couple of years ago I decided to read some Scottish books in preparation for a trip there and discovered I love Ian Rankin’s detective novels.

Erin Sorensen Easter IslandCity you most recommend to friends Vienna. I’ve only been there once, but it seems to have something for everyone – art, music, architecture, design, food, shopping. The countries I often recommend are Chile and Jordan, because they are amazing but underrated.

City you would drop everything to see I currently have two: Barcelona and Istanbul.  I can’t believe I still haven’t been to either, but it’s only a matter of time…

Erin in ArlesWhich AAA programs do you enjoy working on the most? Land programs with specialty themes (like the Mozart and Jane Austen programs planned for 2014). I can learn a lot about a specific subject or person as I work on the itinerary and organize the visits, and we get to take people somewhere they may have been before but with a different spin that keeps it new.

Special skills I love to cook and bake and have a good memory for useless pop culture facts.  I also speak French and hope to someday learn another language or two.

Your most visited websites  Probably Google Maps, Expedia and The New York Times for work purposes.  And NYPL, NPR and Amazon for other needs!

Something about you that surprises people I’ve lived in Madagascar and Mauritius. And I am left-handed.

Three things you can’t travel without A book, my camera and some kind of plan for my trip.

Number of trips traveled on  I’ve traveled for AAA about 25 to 30 times – either with groups as a tour director, or for inspection trips and travel conferences.  It’s a great learning experience every time. I also try to take an international trip as vacation about once a year if I can.  Travel is good for the soul!

Erin in Goa

Taxi !!! Our top tips on hailing cabs around the globe

Taxi cabHailing a taxi abroad can be tricky. Luckily, there’s lots of advice out there about how to flag down a cab in various locales. In some cases, it is best to have the hotel call an official taxi for you. Here are a few of our favorite destinations, with taxi tips for each one.

Black Cab in London. Courtesy Visit BritainLondon:  Like the red double-decker bus, the black cab is a symbol of London. If you see one with the word “TAXI” illuminated on top, then it is available for hire. To hail a cab, stand at a sensible spot (avoid pedestrian crossings and bus stops) and stick out your arm when the car is approaching. (Note: it is technically against the law to yell “Taxi!” at a moving black cab.) Although taking a black cab in London is a great experience, it can be very expensive. (Check out this handy fare estimator.) Mini cabs, which need to be booked in advance, are a cheaper option.  It is polite to tip 10 to 15 percent on either a black cab or mini cab, but many people round up the fare to the nearest £1 and tell the driver to “keep the change”.

For other tips on hailing cabs in London, visit http://bloomsburyinternational.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/british-culture-how-to-hail-a-black-cab-taxi-in-london/  and http://www.britainexpress.com/London/taxis.htm

Great Wall by Meggan ReimBeijing:  Taking a taxi is a convenient way to get around China’s capital, but it can be hard to find a cab during peak hours. Reserve at taxi ahead of time to make sure you have a ride.  If you do hail a cab, make sure you take an official taxi (there should a sign on the roof, and inside the driver’s registration card should be evident). Your driver might not speak much English, so be sure to have the name and address of your hotel written down in Chinese. Some guidebooks have popular destinations in Chinese, or you can ask a hotel concierge to jot down where you’re going.  When you get out of a taxi, ask for a receipt, which includes details about the car. (This is helpful if you accidentally leave something in the car or have a problem with a driver.) A taxi fare can be paid with a Beijing Transportation Smart Card, which can also be used on the subway or bus. Tipping is not expected.

For additional suggestions on taxis in Beijing, visit:

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/beijing/transportation/taxi.htm

http://www.thechinaguide.com/beijing_taxis/beijing_taxis.html

http://www.cntraveler.com/daily-traveler/2013/03/beijing-taxi-problem-explained

The top of a taxi is seen in downtown Paris. By Jean Piere Gallot.Paris: In the City of Lights, typically you have to go to a “taxi rank” and stand in line, but you can also hail a cab on the street if there isn’t a rank nearby. Make sure you are getting into a licensed cab. Although taxis in Paris come in various colors, they should have a Taxi Parisien sign on the roof, a working meter, a special license plate, and a display on the back of the cab monitoring daily usage.  If you book a taxi in advance, the driver is permitted to turn on the meter when he or she leaves to meet the passenger, so don’t be surprised if there are a few extra Euros on the meter when the car arrives.  Tips are not expected, but they are appreciated, especially if you had a courteous or helpful driver.

Further tips on Paris taxis at:

http://www.wikihow.com/Hail-a-Cab-in-Paris and http://paris-wise.com/journal/how-to-get-a-taxi-in-paris.html

New Delhi: In India, it can be difficult to hail a cab, but you can phone for one or go to a taxi stand. During busy times of day—such as rush hour and in the late evening—there can be a wait if you call, so it is best to book in advance. There’s often a taxi stand located near shopping malls, major tourist attractions, etc. Tools such as this fare estimator will give you an idea of how much a trip in New Delhi should cost. Tipping isn’t required for short rides, and for day trips about 100 rupees (less than $2) is the norm.

For additional advice on New Delhi taxis, check out this article:

http://thevivant.com/hail-cab-india/

Mexico City:   In Mexico’s capital, there’s been a rise in taxi-related crimes during recent years.  As a result, taking a radio-dispatched sitio (pronounced “C-T-O”) taxi or a turismo taxi (luxury car assigned to a particular hotel) are your safest bets. You can arrange for a driver to wait for you or return to pick you up later.  Many residents of Mexico City also choose to use cabs from taxi stands. If you take a taxi in Mexico, be sure to carry small bills (drivers might not have change for larger ones), always ask if there’s a meter, and pay attention to where the driver is going. Other ways to get around this sprawling metropolis include the Metro system (which has special cars for women and children), double-decker tourist buses, and rental cars.

Read these pieces for more on Mexico City taxis:

http://www.frommers.com/destinations/mexico-city/713344

http://www.themijachronicles.com/2011/08/how-to-take-taxis-in-mexico-city-without-getting-ripped-off/

http://www.mexperience.com/guide/essentials/transport/mexico-taxi-travel.php

Have you taken a cab recently while traveling abroad? Do you have a taxi tip you’d like to share?

TuktukCoco taxis in central Havana

Avoiding Travel Scams

A recent New York Observer column shows that even a savvy traveler can fall prey to a clever travel scam. While in Beijing, writer Charlie Schroeder meets a friendly woman who wants to practice her English. Eventually, she suggests going to a tea shop. To Charlie’s shock, the bill, which the woman is willing to split, is hundreds of dollars.

Taxi cabThe so-called “Beijing tea shop scam” is one of several tourist scams that are common in China’s capital. Similar cons involve art galleries and karaoke bars. Other rip-offs to watch out for in Beijing include a “fake” Great Wall trip and unlicensed tour guides.  (Check out a full list at: http://www.tour-beijing.com/blog/china-travel/tourist-traps-in-china/top-10-tourist-scams-beijing/)

Of course, travel scams aren’t limited to China. Lonely Planet and The Economic Times have published lists of tricks that are seen around the world. These range from taxi drivers taking tourists to stores offering “deals” on items such as jewels, to fake (or real) police demanding that you pay a fine.

Traveling with an established company such as Academic Arrangements Abroad can help make sure you visit the sights you want to see for a fair price. After you arrive at your destination, a good rule of thumb is to pay attention to your belongings and the people around you. Also, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Bankrate.com and the U.S. Travel Insurance Association have additional tips on avoiding travel scams around the globe.

Panda Conservation: We Can All Play a Role

By Ingrid Ahlgren

This September, animal lovers were saddened when a giant panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., died just days after being born. The zoo’s director described the panda’s unexpected death as“devastating.” After all, these gentle giants are among the most endangered animals in the world, and panda breeding programs are crucial for the species’ survival.

Giant Panda at Chengdu Panda BaseThe National Zoo isn’t the only place working to conserve the endangered animals. In China, the non-profit Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, also known as Chengdu Panda Base, is a research and breeding facility that strives to protect rare animals including giant pandas. Founded in 1987, the organization started out with just six pandas that were rescued from the wild. By 2008, the Panda Base had a captive panda population of 83, and it had announced an impressive 124 panda births.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has also had some recent success stories. On the first day of the Olympic Games, July 28, Li Li gave birth to the Panda Base’s first cub of 2012. In August, Yuan Yuan gave birth to a female cub and Si Yuan gave birth to a male cub, adding to the captive population at the Panda Base. Earlier in the year, vets and breeding specialists from the research facility worked to rescue a wild giant panda that was seriously ill.

Chengdu Panda BaseIn June 2013, as part of a family-focused journey to China, Academic Arrangements Abroad will visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. During an unforgettable day, program participants of all ages will work alongside the zoo keepers. They will have a rare opportunity to learn about these magnificent creatures as they feed, bathe and teach the giant pandas.

And who knows? By next summer maybe there will even be a new panda cub or two at the Chengdu Panda Base.

Click here for a link to a video of cubs at the Chengdu Panda Base playing on a slide.

Architecture in the Spotlight

By Anastasia Mills Healy

As all eyes are upon London for the Summer Olympic Games, our thoughts turn to the architectural legacy the Games will leave behind and the noteworthy structures in other cities, that fans may want to visit.

Aquatics CenterThe most lauded structures built for the 2012 London Olympic Games are Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre and the Velodrome, designed by Hopkins Architects.

Pritzker Prize winner Hadid created an Aquatics Centre whose most stunning feature is an undulating roof that emulates a wave. Columnless, this inspiring building will be much more true to its inceptive vision of openness and clear sightlines when the two wings of temporary seating that increase capacity from 2,500 to 17,500 are removed and replaced by glass walls.

Riverside Museum, GlasgowOf 950 projects in 44 countries, other recent Hadid buildings of note include the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, a fluid design for a museum of transportation that opened in June 2011 and welcomed its one millionth visitor six months later; and in China, the Guangzhou Opera House, whose twin boulder-like buildings overlooking the Pearl River opened in 2010.

VelodromeLondon’s venue for all things cycling, the Velodrome ranks alongside the Aquatics Centre in the category of breathless architecture and has received equal high marks from the public. The architectural firm succeeded in modeling the design of the building to reflect its use: “We wanted to express the geometry and drama of the track in the outside form of the building,” Mike Taylor, senior partner, Hopkins Architects, told the Financial Times. Some critics compare this elegant structure to a cedar-covered Pringle potato chip (in the best possible way) and others liken its design to that of a bicycle – streamlined and nimble.

Dubai and Cyprus are two locales with current Hopkins projects. The Dubai World Trade Centre is a vast mixed-use urban area with offices, apartments, hotels and, of course, stores. There will be tree-lined streets, rooftop gardens and, the focal point, two tall towers. Shifting focus to the Mediterranean, the Cyprus Cultural Centre will be a wonderful place for arts lovers to gather to enjoy music, dance, opera and theater in state-of-the-art performance venues. Being built in tandem with Civic Square, the Cultural Centre will be linked to the proposed House of Representatives, the National Gallery and a park beyond by an outdoor performance space.

Guangzhou Opera HouseGreat architecture becomes truly transcendent when buildings create beautiful and useful spaces for a community’s (or a world’s) important moments, and become so integrated into the fabric of their surroundings that it is impossible to imagine the locations without them.

Fabulous Food

During a recent journey to Cuba with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, travelers had the opportunity to partake in Project Paladar. Part of the 11th Havana Biennial, this collaboration matched 10 American cooks, primarily from New York, with 10 Cuban chefs in a restaurant built specially for the occasion. A recent article in the New York Times describes this remarkable event.

Project Paladar is just one of the unique culinary events that travelers might experience on a trip with Academic Arrangements Abroad.  During one of our travel programs, you might dine in a private palazzo, eat lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant in an out-of-the-way village, discover the oldest cafe in Paris, or feast under a Bedouin tent.

We asked staff members at Academic Arrangements Abroad for some of their dining adventures and recommendations around the world.

Here’s what they had to say:

“In the beautiful resort town of Careyes, Mexico, the polo club provides a wonderful way to interact with locals in a casual environment,” recalls writer Stasha Healy, “and there’s a small restaurant at the polo field that’s tucked away, not obvious at all. I had a wonderful dinner there once, outside at a simple wooden table, under hanging lanterns. The crowd – which included polo players – was lively from a well-played match. The food was hearty and delicious – grilled meats and the like.”

In Stellenbosch, outside of Cape Town, Stasha tried wild boar carpaccio. “It was delicious,” she says. “Not something you see on many menus. I also tried ostrich and kudu in South Africa but was not overly impressed by either.”Oia, Santorini, Greece

Vice President of Communications Gloria De Luca remembers a special meal she had in Greece: “The grilled tentacle of a freshly caught octopus was a memorable birthday lunch on the island of Santorini. We were at a seaside taverna on a small fishing port, a local fisherman had just brought around his morning catch and the taverna owner threw it on the grill… A little chewy, but so tasty—and with cold retsina to wash it down, it was a meal I’ll never forget!”

Other staff members are also adventuresome eaters.

“I tried a fried spider in Cambodia in Skuon, this little village where we had a bus stop,” says Tour Operations Manager Marisa Swope. “The spiders are considered a delicacy. I just tried the leg, which was fried and crunchy. I definitely wouldn’t have known it was a spider leg if my eyes were closed! The taste was less memorable than the young Cambodian girl who sold me the spider and used the transaction as an opportunity to practice her English.”

Carrot Parthenon aboard Sea CloudIn Nairobi, Kenya, Director of Operations Deborah Tarr noshed on grilled warthog, which she describes as “quite delicious.”

General Counsel Liz Irwin was served live parboiled fish in China, and tour director Eleni Papachristou sampled silk worm in Thailand.

“But if we are talking about memorable meals, I think most of us would agree that any feast on Sea Cloud is worth remembering,” Eleni adds. “They’re really creative and scrumptious meals.  And don’t let me forget the absolutely to-die-for teatime crepes with homemade ice cream.”

What are some unforgettable meals that you’ve had while traveling?

Far East Meets Northern Europe

Sweden seems an unlikely place for a Chinese pavilion. However, the grounds of Stockholm’s Drottningholm Palace are home to an extraordinary Chinese-inspired edifice constructed in 1753. At the time, trade with the Far East was booming, and Europeans were fascinated by all things Asian.

Chinese Pavilion at Drottningholm Palace

The structure, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built by King Adolf Fredrik as a birthday present for Queen Lovisa Ulrika. The surprised queen described the pleasure palace as “the most beautiful you can see.”

During the 1760s, the original Chinese Pavilion, a prefabricated wooden house, was replaced by a sturdier one, which has a rococo interior with Oriental influences.  The historic landmark made news headlines in 2010, when thieves broke into the building, shattered display cases and stole a number of valuable Chinese objects.

The pavilion at Drottningholm isn’t the only Chinese-influenced structure constructed by European royalty. In the early 1900s, Belgium’s King Leopold II created a Chinese Pavilion in Brussels. Today it is part of the Museums of the Far East, which house a fine collection of Asian ceramics and art.

China’s Mogao Grottoes

Many travelers know about Emperor Qin’s stunning tomb in Xi’an, China, protected by an army of 7,500 terra-cotta warriors and horse-drawn chariots. Fewer people, however, have heard of the Mogao Grottoes: hundreds of caves where, armed with a flashlight and sturdy shoes, you can discover detailed wall paintings and impressive statues—including a 113-foot Buddha—created over a period of nearly one thousand years.

Nestled in the hills 16 miles southeast of the Silk Road oasis town of Dunhuang are 492 caves containing more than 54,000 square yards of murals and 2,000 statues. Depicting motifs from Buddhism and scenes from royal life, the artwork—much of it considered masterpieces—chronicles fascinating changes in style over nine dynasties. Rigid early figures give way to more realistic human representations with more lifelike features and greater movement.

The caves also once contained manuscripts, including the world’s oldest book: the Diamond Sutra paper scroll, dating to 898 C.E., which can now be viewed at the British Museum in London.

Created by monks as shrines where travelers could pray for safe passage on the Silk Road, the caves were often commissioned by wealthy citizens and rulers who wanted to demonstrate their commitment to Buddhism. During political upheaval in the 14th century the caves were abandoned, but not before monks protected many manuscripts and paintings by sealing them safely in a single cave. These thousands of historically and culturally rich documents weren’t rediscovered until the early 20th century.

No life-size terra-cotta warriors here, but the scope of the documentation of history and examples of art over a millennium certainly gives those soldiers a run for their money.