Don’t Forget to Enter the Adventures Abroad Photo Contest

Camel and Pyramid, Giza, EgyptWe’ve already received a number of submissions for our Adventures Abroad photo contest. Images entered so far include everything from riding camels in Egypt to practicing yoga on a sunny beach in Puerto Rico. There are also stunning shots of Peru, Antarctica, London, Italy, India, Jordan, and other destinations.

If you have a great travel photograph, there’s still time to enter it in the contest. 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).

India dyesYou 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 image 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 May 1, 2014.


Book Club Selection for January

House of the Spirits coverOur next book club selection is The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.

Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is considered one of the first successful women novelists in Latin America. She is the author of eight novels, a collection of stories, three memoirs and a trilogy of children’s books. She writes in the style of “magical realism.” Allende’s works have been translated into more than 27 languages and have become bestsellers across four continents. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

According to one review, “The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.” The novel tells the tale of Chile’s 20th-century history through three generations of the fictional Trueba family.

Our discussion will probably be in late January.  Happy reading!


Great Hotels that Used to Be Something Else Entirely

Some hotels haven’t always been spots for weary travelers to conduct business, be pampered or simply lay down their heads. Here are a few amazing places to stay that used to be everything from prisons to monasteries.

Hostal San MarcosThe magnificent Parador de León San Marcos, a former 16th-century monastery in Leon, Spain, has lovely paintings, carvings and tapestries in public areas. You can enjoy a stay at the parador during our 2014 program “In the Footsteps of St. James: El Camino de Santiago.”

Hotel Monasterio by Genvis LociIn Cusco, Peru, the elegant Hotel Monasterio was originally built in 1595. “Hotel Monasterio sits on the site of Inca Amaru Qhala’s palace,” explains the hotel’s website. “Three years later, the Spanish took it over and founded the Seminary of San Antonio Abad.” Remodeled as a hotel in 1965, it has a beautiful courtyard. A stay at this stunning hotel is part of our 2014 South American Highlights program.

Instead of pilgrims and seminarians, some hotels once housed prisoners. The luxurious Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul’s old city is “housed in a century-old neoclassical Turkish prison.” The hotel is located a short stroll from major sites including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

Another establishment that used to be a jail is The Långholmen Hotel in Sweden. The hotel assures us that: “Today, you are met by a modern hotel with newly renovated ‘cells’ (2008) with daring design solutions and free access to wireless broadband.” The hotel also has a museum, From Crime to Chains, which offers insight in to Långholmen’s past.

Lake Palace at nightIn contrast, many great hotels around the world used to be palaces. The Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur was once the summer home of Maharana Jagat Singh II, 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar. Located in the middle of Lake Pichola, this distinctive hotel has mosaics, a lovely courtyard, richly colored frescoes and ornately carved furniture. Fun fact: the James Bond film Octopussy was filmed on the premises.

Near Udaipur, magical Devi Garh is a stunning former fortress. This heritage hotel “was the royal residence of the rulers of Delwara principality, from the middle of the 18th century until the mid-20th century.” Today this all-suites property is also a wellness destination: travelers can relax at the spa or experience yoga on the rooftop.

The Umaaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur was built between 1928 and 1943 for the grandfather of the present Maharaja. Designed by Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester, the building is a blend of Eastern and Western architectural influences. According to the hotel’s website: “Its majestic 105-foot-high cupola is influenced by the Renaissance, while the towers draw inspiration from Rajput tradition.”

Another fabulous palace hotel in India is the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. Built in 1835 for the queen’s favorite handmaiden Kesar Badaran, the mansion was later refurbished as a royal guesthouse and hunting lodge. According to the hotel’s website, “Rambagh remained the home of Jaipur’s Royalty until 1957, when it was first converted into an upscale hotel.”

Of course, hotels outside of India were also once homes to royalty.

Ciragan Palace Kempinski ExteriorIstanbul’s fabulous Ciragan Palace on the Bosporus, now a five-star hotel that is part of the Kempinski chain, is a former Ottoman palace. Designed by Armenian palace architect Nigoğayos Balyan, the building was destroyed by a fire in 1910 and served as a football stadium before a Japanese company bought and restored it in 1989. It was renovated again in 2007. The hotel’s lavish Sultan’s suite was featured in a CNN story on the world’s most expensive hotel suites.

Hotel Lost Seises SevilleHotel Los Seises in Seville was once the palace of the Archbishop of Spain. According to the hotel’s website, “As part of a refurbished sixteenth-century palace, the hotel’s rooms contain wonderful museum pieces, Roman mosaics, Renaissance paneling, Arab décor, tiles, paving and columns.” It also has a lovely terrace with a swimming pool and stunning views of the Cathedral and La Giralda.

Not interested in sleeping like a royal? Several historic hotels have also served as government buildings, hospitals and more.

The Hotel im Wasserturm  in Cologne, Germany, was once Europe’s largest watertower. As the hotel’s website explains: “the 140-year-old listed brickwork building is now presented with truly exceptional interior design of classic modernity. Partly destroyed during World War II, rebuilt in the early 90s and configured in three rings by British engineer John Moore — the Wasserturm is a journey through time and local history.”

In England, the London Marriott County Hall occupies the building that used to be the home to the city’s government. Some rooms have views of iconic sites such as Big Ben, the Thames and the London Eye.

The Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan, Iran, was built about 300 years ago as a caravansary. King Soltan Hossein attributed the complex of buildings to his mother, which is why it was called “the school and caravansary of Madar-shah” (which means “king’s mother”). Today the hotel is known for its splendid décor and lovely central garden.

Hostal dos Reis Católicos, located at the Plaza do Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela, was formerly a hospital. The hotel, which dates back to 1499, is considered one of the oldest in the world and once provided shelter to pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago. The parador is another place where our travelers will stay during the 2014 “Camino de Santiago” trip.

Are there any other hotels that you would add to this list?

Unusual Accommodations

One of the more unusual lodging options for the 2012 Olympics in London are suspended tents in the Wick Common Woodland, not too far from the Olympic Park. Called Holiday Out, the tents—which sleep three to nine people—hang several meters above the ground and are named after trees native to the United Kingdom.

During a trip with Academic Arrangements Abroad, accommodations are far more comfortable but can be just as unique. For example, you might stay in French châteaux, watch the sun set over the vast Kara Kum Desert from the legendary Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express or be rocked to sleep in a wooden gulet on the Turkish coast.

Gulets in TurkeyWe asked staff members to tell us about their unusual lodging experiences and offer suggestions for one-of-a-kind places to stay around the world. Here are their comments:

“One time I spent a night in a tented camp in Wadi Rum in southern Jordan,” says Director of Tour Operations Erin Sorensen. “It was really cold, but the sky was amazing and it was so quiet.”

Erin isn’t the only staff member who likes getting away from it all.

“While there are many beautiful remote hotels, one very simple hotel stands out in my mind,” says the company’s president, Jim Friedlander. “Reached by Zodiac north of the Peruvian/Bolivian border on the east side of Lake Titicaca is the Island of Suasi. The island has only one hotel on it and nothing else other than a few wild vicuñas to chase after (a hopeless pursuit as they are hard to see, much less approach). After a typically hectic schedule of sightseeing in Peru, it is an ideal place to decompress for a few days before resuming your trek, and the lodge attracts interesting visitors who like the idea of no electricity, no internet, no phones, etc…but wonderful food and a sense of peace.”

Kruger, South AfricaBrady Hiatt, Sales Associate, lived in a safari camp in Welgevonden, South Africa for several months. “I was living in the warden’s quarters, and would spend hours catching small lizards and geckos from outside and bring them into my bedroom to enlist them in my nightly battle against mosquitoes,” he adds. “I remember having the most vivid dreams, fueled both by my malaria medicine and the dozens of lizards skittering across the walls.”

Receptionist Elizabeth Kester bunked down at a camp in another part of the world. “Of the places I’ve stayed, my favorite was a Bedouin tent in the Negev in Israel,” she says. “We ate a traditional Bedouin meal, rode camels around the Negev at sunset, and sat around a fire at night. I woke up at about 5 a.m. and looked out of the folds of the tent; I just remember feeling really miniscule and really alive with this quiet, expansive space in front of me. Also: there was a scorpion in our tent and everyone freaked out — not really a high point.”

Have you stayed in a unique spot? Please share your own experiences and any suggestions for unusual lodging around the globe.

Machu Picchu Celebrates its Centennial Year of Rediscovery

On July 24, 1911, 36-year-old Yale professor Hiram Bingham came upon the spectacular site of Machu Picchu and revealed one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Built around 1450 at the height of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu covers 125 square miles in a dramatic mountain setting, surrounded by thick jungle. Its homes, temples, terraces, walls and other structures were stunningly built 7,970 feet above sea level without use of the wheel and without mortar. There are theories as to the purpose of the “Lost City of the Incas” and to the reason behind its abandonment in 1572, but none has been proven. The site was not completely abandoned for all those centuries however: Believe it or not, when Bingham found it, there were people still living there, cultivating the land.

Happy Birthday, glorious and mysterious Machu Picchu! Thanks to limited tourism, you look great for 100 (and even better for 561).