Britannia Rules!

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The Royal Yacht Britannia, formerly the property of Queen Elizabeth II, has been named Scotland’s best visitor attraction for the tenth consecutive year by VisitScotland, the Scottish national tourism board. Five million people from around the world have visited the Britannia in Edinburgh since she opened to the public in 1998. If you haven’t seen this beautiful ship—on which Charles and Diana spent their 1981 honeymoon—consider joining our Celtic Isles cruise in July.

Castles & Collections of the Celtic Isles
July 22 to August 2, 2016
With Met curator Beth Carver Wees,
Yale professor Gordon Turnbull,
Harvard professor Catherine McKenna
and landscape designer Patrick Bowe
Please click to view brochure

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Meet Olivia Balsinger

Olivia in the NetherlandsOlivia Balsinger started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in the Tour Coordination department in the early summer of 2014, the same week she graduated from the University of Connecticut. Olivia has degrees in Journalism, Economics, and International Studies. Previously, she studied abroad in London, Guatemala, and Cameroon and was a tour guide at her university.

What is your hometown?

The distant and far-off lands of Connecticut. Fairfield, to be precise. Although I recently moved to lower Manhattan, Fairfield will always keep a piece of my heart—from the inviting jazz concerts on the lawn in summer to nights spent aimlessly wandering the beaches and gazing at mysterious Long Island in the distance. Fairfield has a small-town community feeling, with the energy of a New York City suburb. (If you ever visit Fairfield and like Tex-Mex food, La Salsa has one of the best nacho platters I’ve ever tried.)

Who would play you in a movie?

Assuming I ever accomplish anything in life worthy to make a film about, I’ve been compared to Hilary Duff many a time (even by strangers on the subway.)

City you most recommend to friends

Though I appreciate the energy cities offer, when traveling I tend to prefer the tranquility of nature and the charm of the undiscovered. I recently returned from an AdventureWeek program where a group of about 20 journalists and adventure seekers explored Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo.

Olivia in MacedoniaI would recommend that any traveler seeking a different experience get lost in “Europe’s last remaining forest.” The city of Ohrid, Macedonia is known as “the Jerusalem of the Balkans” and truly lives up to this title. There were once 365 churches in the city, one for every day of the year.

For fellow travelers who like naps on the beach and historical immersion, I recommend the island of Rhodes in Greece. You are truly transported back in time to 300 B.C. when meandering through the narrow streets of the Old City.

City you would drop everything to see:

If you’d asked me this about two months ago, I would have answered “Istanbul” without a second thought. Who wouldn’t be allured by a city that represents a global mosaic of culture and religion, of bazaars where you can buy everything, and of the aroma of spices?

Well, I did drop everything and visited Istanbul about a month ago. Now that I’ve experienced more of the mystery and splendor of Asia (I made it a point to cross the Bosphorus to officially step onto the Asian continent while in Turkey!), I have a burning desire to see more of this continent. Next on the list would likely be a trip to Thailand. I love Thai food. Also, Buddhism fascinates me, and I would like to spend time learning in a Buddhist monastery or working on an elephant reserve.

What do you enjoy working on the most at AAA?

Olivia in LondonI love being surrounded each day by like-minded individuals who prioritize travel and the adventure in the unknown. There’s always a story to be told, an exotic food to be sampled, a country to further learn about. Perhaps my favorite part about working at AAA is familiarizing myself with our travel destinations in order to be an informed resource for passengers. I also very much enjoy working with the Communications department in promoting our trips and company through social media outlets.

Special skills

My parents taught me to enjoy and appreciate every second of my life. I believe one of my special skills is seeing the beauty in the mundane and the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Your most visited websites

I’m still in my honeymoon stage with New York, so Timeout.com has been helpful in giving me information about happenings around the city. CNN.com has always been a favorite website of mine. Buzzfeed.com gives me life advice I never realized I needed, and Groupon.com has getaways that temporarily fulfill my constant wanderlust. My social media go-to’s are Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Something about you that surprises people

I spent a summer working at an all-male Boy Scout sleep away camp as a lifeguard. As with many opportunities in my life, I found this job quite unexpectedly. However, I learned how to (adequately) tie a sailor’s knot, and I discovered that a diet of cookies and camp pasta for an entire summer is not as appealing as one may think. I also earned my first (and only) merit badge in Physics!

What are three things you can’t travel without?

1) Baby powder: Sprinkle some into hair and the world will never know that you missed a shower (or two.)

2) My stuffed tiger cub, Sylas, which I received before my trip to Cameroon as a token of good luck. To be truthful, I could not spend a night even in my apartment without this adorable ball of fur next to me. But Sylas is a great travel buddy—he never complains about airport delays and even lets me take the window seat on planes!

3) A camera. [Note: this may be substituted with the 2014 version: the iPhone]. There is nothing wrong with reminiscing about your past travels, and sometimes that photo will bring you back to a pinpointed moment in time.

Number of trips traveled on:

I’m very fortunate to have lost count on the number of trips I’ve been on, especially for the ripe young age of 22. So far, I’ve been to about 20 countries including Canada, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Monaco. My goal is to visit every country in the world in my lifetime.

Anything else you’d like to add?

My favorite quote of all time is “Not all who wander are lost” by J. R. R. Tolkien.  I intend to wander for my entire life, and I encourage you to do so with me!

 

Olivia in CameroonAbout Us:

Academic Arrangements Abroad, a leader in cultural travel since 1977, designs and operates travel programs for sponsoring institutions that include the nation’s top museums and alumni associations.

For more information, please contact us, (212) 514-8921.

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.

All Aboard!

The Golden Eagle's Lounge

The Golden Eagle-Trans Siberian Express would have made Marco Polo’s life a lot easier. And I imagine he would have really been grateful to retire to the opulent bar car after a lavish dinner and discuss the day’s events with other adventurous spirits. Today, we can travel on this legendary train to exotic locales like Samarkand, to see the mausoleum of the mighty Tamerlane; and 2,014-year-old Bukhara, to tour the enchantingly named Palace of the Moon and Stars.

A Golden Eagle Gold Class Cabin

 

The Golden Chariot

Another fascinating destination whose great distances can be covered easily by train is India. Your Golden Chariot awaits to whisk you in coaches fit for a maharajah across the southern states of Karnataka and Goa. Discover sublime temples, ancient kingdoms and the famous carved caves at Badami. Relax on Goa’s celebrated beaches and conclude in cosmopolitan Mumbai.

 

A Golden Chariot Cabin

 

The Royal Scotsman

Scotland is perhaps less exotic but certainly not less compelling. Be “piped” aboard the Edwardian-style Royal Scotsman and settle in with a cup of tea or a wee dram as you travel into the heart of the scenic Scottish Highlands. Pass lochs and waterfalls, rugged castles and rolling hills, picturesque villages and pine-clad mountains reflected in mirror-like lochs.

A Royal Scotsman Cabin

Oh, how to decide?

A Scot Reviews The Royal Scotsman

Scotsman Ian Keown reports on a ceilidh, Culloden and Cawdor, “congenial and cultivated fellow passengers,” magical landscapes, cuisine of high caliber and an encounter with a “soignée lady” aboard “one of the world’s most luxurious touring trains,” The Royal Scotsman.

“For American visitors, of course, the train is a godsend, eliminating the stress of driving on the left….And let’s face it, you can’t savor 35 of Scotland’s grandest malts when you’re driving.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

The Royal Scotsman: Through the Highlands on a Rolling House Party

Highland Dress Aboard A Highland Train

How’s this for a souvenir of a trip to the Scottish Highlands – a kilt or other tartan apparel handmade for you by the Queen of England’s own kilt-maker.

This is a new service offered by the Royal Scotsman, a luxurious Edwardian-style train that travels by the pristine lochs, rugged castles, cascading waterfalls and rolling hills of Scotland’s scenic Highlands.

Before boarding the train, an expert tailor from Kinloch Anderson will fit you for the tartan outfit of your choosing – a kilt, argyle-cut jacket and/or tartan trousers or waistcoat (vest) for men and “Highland Fling” long skirt or A-line “tea” skirt for women – and deliver them to your home address within 8-10 weeks. Of course, you can’t be caught on this Orient-Express-run train without your Scottish formalwear, so Kinloch Anderson will lend you a set of Highland Dress for formal evenings on the train.


Once your kilt is fitted, relax and enjoy the train’s gourmet dining, unlimited fine wines and wee drams and the convivial atmosphere of celebrating with friends. Along the way, wander through charming villages, tour historic castles and discover exquisite botanical gardens.  Come join the fun!