Artists We Love: Maria Cienfuegos

Travelers on our people-to-people Cuba programs sometimes visit the Miramar home of visual artist Maria Cienfuegos, where she showcases her work as well as that of other young artists.  Her artist-run cooperative, dubbed Studio 7 y 60 (or Septima Y Sesenta), has existed since 2010, when Maria and three collaborators decided to use her family’s apartment as a venue to present their creations directly to the public.

maria-cienfuegosMuch of Maria’s art explores the concept of memory. On her website, Maria, who has a background in biology as well as art, writes: “I approach my work from the hybrid sensitivity that arises from the mutual influence of art and science. My photographs emerge from the counterbalance between these two forms of operation, which I regard as complementary. Within this dynamic I am interested in the social/anthropological processes which traverse the categories of thought and image. It is my personal quest to go inside spaces of remembrance and forgetfulness. Photography is my way of not only adding and revealing layers to the process of reminiscence; but also of participating in this cryptic accumulation.”

On a recent journey to Havana, we captured these images of the artist and her studio space. Find out more about her artist-run space, Studio 7 y 60, here.You can also read an article about the studio on Cuban Art News.

To find out more about Academic Arrangements Abroad, one of the pioneers in offering legal travel to Cuba, visit our website. Since 1999, we have helped thousands of Americans discover the rich history and culture of this once-inaccessible nation.

Our president, Jim Friedlander, who has traveled to Cuba more than 50 times, has also created the Havana Heritage Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving the architecture and culture of Havana.  For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution, click here.

Master the Mojito!

Havana Nacional Mojito bar

Image by Ellen Renstrom

Havana’s historic Hotel Nacional, originally designed by McKim Mead & White and opened in 1930, is known to serve the best mojitos in Cuba. A past Soane Museum Foundation traveler took notes on a paper cocktail napkin about how the hotel’s barman made a mojito:

 Mojito recipe on napkin

Using tall glass:


1 T. of fine sugar

large sprig of mint

½ T. of fresh lemon juice

using a mortar or handle, crush in the glass

ice cubes

rum (white), pour, counting 1 to 10

splash of sparkling water or club soda

3 drops bitters

rum (dark), pour, counting 1 to 5

place straw in and enjoy!


Hotel NacionalDuring some of our people-to-people trips this May and June, travelers will enjoy a drink on the terrace of the Nacional. The lime and rum cocktails are also served at the hotel’s Gallery Bar, where visitors can listen to live Cuban music while relaxing with a refreshing libation. Former patrons at the bar include Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and of course, Ernest Hemingway.

Visit Academic Arrangements Abroad’s website for more information about Cuba tours and other journeys.

Meet Inés Powell

Watch Metropolitan Museum of Art educator and popular Travel with the Met lecturer Inés Powell reflect on her Spanish homeland in this Connections episode, produced by the Museum—and join her on a nine-night tour from Brussels to Amsterdam in October.  “Anytime that I feel a little bit nostalgic about Spain,”  she notes in the video clip, “all I have to do is walk around the galleries.” And, anytime that you want to thrill at seeing art, especially European art of a certain age, turn to Inés Powell!

Originally from Bilbao and trained at NYU Institute of Fine Arts, what really gets Inés Powell going is 17th-Century European Painting.  She was still in graduate school when she gave her first gallery talk at the Met and today, almost thirty years later, she’s developed a devoted following for both her talks at the Met and her lectures on Travel with the Met tours around the world.

She will next lecture next on Belgium & The Netherlands, October 11 to 21, 2015, including Brussels and Antwerp and a visit to the recently reopened Mauritshuis in The Hague (where Girl with a Pearl Earring is back on display!).

Belgium & the Netherlands:
In Search of Flourishing Genre Painting

338_thumb_5Discover outstanding museums and palaces in Holland and Belgium. Begin in Brussels, where highlights include a tour of the Museum of Fine Arts and a chocolate-making demonstration. In Ghent, admire the magnificent Cathedral of St. Bavo and Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, better known as the Ghent Altarpiece. Stop in Antwerp to visit the Rubens House, Rockox House, and Museum Mayer van den Bergh. In The Hague, with its stately townhouses, see the outstanding collection at the newly reopened Mauritshuis, home to Vermeer’s celebrated Girl with a Pearl Earring. Marvel at works by Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh at Rotterdam’s Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. In charming Haarlem, explore the Frans Hals Museum, with the world’s largest collection of works by the Golden Age artist, and the Teylers Museum, the first and oldest museum in the Netherlands. Conclude in Amsterdam with visits to the Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt House Museum, and Museum van Loon. Sample Dutch cheese during a specially arranged tasting, and enjoy an excursion to stunning Het Loo Palace.

Belgium_Netherlands_coverOther highlights during this exceptional journey include a private tour and lunch at Chateau Beloeil and an after-hours, behind-the-scenes visit and private dinner at Panorama Mesdag. In addition, we are planning an opportunity to draw at the Boijmans Van Beuningen with a museum instructor.  Click here for a PDF of the trip brochure. For additional details about this tour, please contact Abigail Grazl at (212) 514-8921 or


News from Abroad: February 2015

那智の滝(Nachi Falls)

ModelYSL in Paris

Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008, was one of fashion’s greatest icons, dressing Catherine Deneuve, pioneering the pantsuit, and introducing ready–to–wear. Watch the legendary designer at work in this excerpt from a recent documentary—and step inside his studio (normally closed to the public) on our upcoming trip to Paris and London.

Courtiers & Couturiers
A History of European Fashion
in London & Paris
March 13 to 21, 2015

Kate with TulipsKate Blooms in Bruges

Kate Klorer, one of our most popular tour directors, says she’s “absolutely thrilled” to be taking a group to Holland and Belgium during tulip season: “These countries are as filled with art treasures as the Keukenhof is with flowers!” Travelers will visit the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh, Frans Hals, and Kröller-Müller museums; the last is a special favorite, Kate adds: “I was blown away by its incredible collection and magnificent grounds.” Another must-see is the Ghent Altarpiece. Besides Holland and Belgium, in 2015 Kate will accompany our groups to Cuba, the Arabian Peninsula, and France.

Amsterdam & Beyond
Holland & Belgium
May 2 to 11, 2015

KoyasanCelebrate 1,200 Years with Kukai

Experience a temple stay at Koyasan, Japan—the sacred mountain and UNESCO pilgrimage site—founded 1,200 years ago this spring by the revered monk and scholar Kobo Daishi Kukai. The Buddhist monasteries of Koyasan and the sacred Nachi waterfall and shrine (pictured at top) are just two highlights on “Ancient Sacred Sites of Japan,” designed and led by John Carpenter, Curator of Japanese Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Way of St. James in Spain, a better-known UNESCO pilgrimage route, is also on our schedule this year!

Ancient Sacred Sites of Japan
May 5 to 15, 2015

Sea CloudPlato in the Google Age

Author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s latest book, Plato at the Googleplex, catapults the ancient Athenian into the 21st century. Dr. Goldstein will be lecturing on Plato during our summer Sea Cloud cruise,“Sailing the Mediterranean in the Age of Odysseus.” Read The New York Times review of her book here, watch Dr. Goldstein discusses the book at Google’s Silicon Valley campus, and join us in June to hear her speak live. Also on board will be her husband, Harvard professor Steven Pinker, and Joan Aruz, Curator in Charge of Ancient and Near Eastern Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sailing the Mediterranean
in the Age of Odysseus
Istanbul to Athens Aboard Sea Cloud
June 27 to July 5, 2015

Simon Bordwin CubaAn American in Cuba

Kudos to our own Simon Bordwin, whose Cuba slide show was recently featured on the Condé Nast Traveler website! The Brooklyn-based photographer and Arrangements Abroad sales associate took these images during his stint as tour director on the “Art and Architecture of Cuba” program with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has another Cuba trip coming up in March. Have a look at the captivating slideshow and consider joining us on a future trip.

Jose Fuster Jaimanitas photo by Simon Bordwin

CC_1_15_web_-1(1)Click here to read our Cultural Calendar of 2015 and 2016 travel programs.

Meet Elizabeth Kester

Elizabeth Kester with pink car in Cuba

Elizabeth in Havana, Cuba

Elizabeth Kester joined AAA in 2012.  Beginning as our Office Manager, she soon climbed the ranks and now manages our team of Tour Coordinators, who advise our travelers and spread the word about our trips.

What is your hometown?

New York, NY.

What city do you most recommend to friends?

I studied abroad in Madrid, have wonderful memories of my time there, and generally love Spanish culture. Madrid, Granada, Santiago de Compostela, Seville— the list goes on! I also love Havana, which is endlessly fascinating and enjoyable. I traveled with two friends from Chilean Patagonia up to the Atacama Desert and was particularly charmed by Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city and a former penal colony, as well as Valparaiso.

Which city would you drop everything to see?

This seems to be a popular answer, but Istanbul, both for its historical significance as the gateway between East and West and because of my preteen obsession with Agatha Christie novels. Also, my maternal grandparents and everyone of their generation on that side of my family were from Berlin.  A family trip has been in the preliminary planning stages for a while now.  Perhaps this blog post will nudge it forward!

Elizabeth Kester and Ute in Spain

With colleague Ute in Cape Finisterre, Spain

What do you enjoy working on the most at Academic Arrangements Abroad?

I’ve especially enjoyed working with travelers on our new Camino de Santiago programs as the idea, development, coordination, and execution of those trips has spanned my time at the company.  My friend and colleague Ute Keyes put together a unique and exciting itinerary. We led the inaugural trip together, which was a truly special experience!

Who would play you in a movie?

I’ll go with Julie Delpy.

What are some of your favorite travel books?

One of my favorite authors is Somerset Maugham, and Pico Iyer put together a collection of his best travel writing called The Skeptical Romancer.  Although I wouldn’t place them in the category of “travel” per say, I’ve come down with Ferrante fever and am a devoted fan of the Neapolitan Novels. I also like Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald for its descriptions of the French Riviera.

Do you have any special skills?

I’m a great fly caster.  My dad taught me well.

What are your most visited websites?

 New York Magazine, The New Yorker, Slate, Quartz and Puck Daddy.

What is something about you that surprises people?

I love anything on ice or snow. There is nothing better than the Winter Olympics.

What are three things you can’t travel without?

A book, my iPhone (loaded with music and podcasts), and a big scarf for the plane.

How many Arrangements Abroad trips have you traveled on?

Come January, I’ll have been on six trips with Arrangements Abroad as a Tour Director: three to Cuba, two to Costa Rica and Panama, and one to Spain.  Many of them have been conveniently timed for when it gets cold in New York!

Elizabeth Kester with glacier

Elizabeth at the Viedma Glacier in El Chalten, Argentina


Best Blogs for Cultured Travelers

Here are a few of our favorite travel blogs. Like this one, they cover subjects such as educational travel, luxury journeys, and unique experiences around the world.


A Little AdriftA Little Adrift

Shannon O’Donnell left her home to travel the world in 2008. Today, O’Donnell’s blog documents her journeys in destinations from to Australia to Zanzibar. Core themes include connecting to cultures through food, planning long-term travel, and motivating others to explore the world. O’Donnell is also the author of The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook

TL Carry OnCarry On (Travel + Leisure)

Want to know about the latest flight restrictions to Israel? Curious about a new partnership between Seabourn cruises and UNESCO? Check out Travel + Leisure’s blog. In addition to newsworthy items, “Carry On” also has travel quizzes and posts on topics such as the world’s tallest water slide.

Intelligent TravelIntelligent Travel

National Geographic’s travel blog tries to “heighten awareness about what’s really important about travel: finding great places, experiencing them fully, and leaving them no worse for your visit.” Recent posts include everything from American National Parks to Hong Kong hotels.


Luxury Travel BlogA Luxury Travel Blog

This travel blog “for those who enjoy the finer things in life” covers high-end hotels, but it also has posts on topics such as baguettes in Paris, horseback adventures in the UK, the top bars in Bali, and the best golf and spa resorts in South Africa. It is run by Paul Johnson, a member of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association, with a team of more than 300 writers and guest bloggers.


Wandering Botanist

A Wandering Botanist 

A widely traveled plant expert, Kathy Keeler “searches the globe for stories of the plant wonders of the world.” Keeler traveled with Academic Arrangements Abroad  last month on our “In the Wake of the Vikings” cruise and blogged about the interesting plants and wildflowers she encountered on the Faroe Islands.



This blog offers curated lists of the best hotels, cruise ships, and resorts for families around the world. Reviews, based on real experiences, are written by parents. Recent posts have included topics such as “Family-Friendly Apartments in Biarritz.” In addition, the blog has useful articles such as “How to Keep Your Kid Entertained on a Plane.”


CultureurThe Cultureur 

This blog “on the cusp of local culture and luxury travel” serves up posts on subjects such as “Dos and Don’ts in Paris” and “Top 5 Indian Food Musts in New Delhi.” In addition to travel topics, the blog also covers food, health, social media, books and more, and it has photo essays and “Sunday Snapshots” of locations around the world.

Hole in the DonutHole in the Donut Cultural Travel

After years of working in jobs she didn’t love, Barbara Weibel decided to pursue her true passions: travel, writing, and photography. She’s now the owner/editor of Hole in the Donut, which covers subjects such as seeing the Northern Lights in Norway and visiting small shops in Sorrento. The blog also has travel tips and a section on volunteering.


Nerd's Eye View blogNerd’s Eye View

Writer Pam Mandel travels the world with her camera, husband, and ukulele. Her blog covers everything from hummingbirds in Arizona to undersea critters at the Seattle Aquarium. There’s also a “Ukulele FAQ” and a gear guide section on the blog.

Screen shot of Suitcase Scholar blogThe Suitcase Scholar

Former teacher and self-described “travel geek” Tracy Antonioli writes about topics such as “How to Visit Monticello,” Montreal dining, and cruising on the Columbia River. The Laudable Lodging section reviews places to stay.


What the Best of the Travel Press Says: Inhotim Contemporary Art Complex, Brazil

Inhotim by Cesar Cardoso

Inhotim by Cesar Cardoso

One of the highlights on our 2015 “Art & Architecture of Brazil” program is a visit to Inhotim Contemporary Art Complex, which was conceived in the mid-1980s by businessman Bernardo de Mello Paz. Located about a two-hour drive southwest of Belo Horizonte, Inhotim (pronounced In-yo-cheem) has an impressive collection of works by artists from around the world. The late landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, a friend of Paz’s, designed the gardens.

The art complex has been covered by the prestigious publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times. Here’s what they have to say about Inhotim:

“What Paz and his team of curators have created here must rank among the most ambitious and original contemporary art museums ever conceived. There is no single, monolithic building designed by a famous architect of the kind favoured by most institutions across the world. Instead there are 22 galleries scattered in the vast, immaculately manicured landscape, which are connected via stone paths meandering through lush vegetation.”

        — Cristina Ruiz, The Financial Times, Nov. 29, 2013

“Although it is often referred to as an ‘outdoor museum,’ the term is not even close to defining Inhotim’s ambitious repertoire. It’s also a botanical garden, spiritual retreat, scientific research station, cultural center and a futuristic Brazilian answer to the bucolic artistic follies of 18th-century Europe.”

       — Tony Perrottet, Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2013

“Art historians and curators often come away marveling at the sheer scale and chaotic vision that Mr. Paz has created at Inhotim.”

       –Simon Romero, The New York Times, March 9, 2012

Inhotim path by Cesar Cardoso

Path at Inhotim by Cesar Cardoso

If you want to visit Inhotim without leaving home, check out this project through the Google Cultural Institute, which lets you take a virtual tour. However, we suggest joining Academic Arrangements Abroad and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015 to experience Inhotim as well as the art and architecture of São Paulo, Ouro Preto, and Rio.