Once again, Condé Nast Traveler has come out with the magazine’s annual “Gold List,” which is based on a reader survey and features the “world’s best places to stay.” We were excited to see many of our favorite properties on the list, including hotels where Academic Arrangements Abroad travelers will be staying in 2014. Here is a round-up by region:
The Copacabana Palace is the hotel on the optional Rio postlude for our Buenos Aires to Rio cruise.
JW Marriott Bogota is one of the hotels that travelers will stay in on our “Jewels of Colombia & Panama” program. The article describes the property as “A fine hotel with excellent security.” Another reader says the Marriott’s “La Mina restaurant is simply ‘world-class’ in the financial heart of the city and trendy district Zona G.”
Another special place to stay in South America is the Hotel Monasterio in Cusco, where travelers will spend three nights during our “South American Highlights” trip . You can find out more about this hotel, which is a former seminary, in our August 2013 blog post on great hotels that used to be something else.
One of our favorite hotels in Austria is the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Travelers stayed at this property recently during our Vienna New Year’s program, and those joining our upcoming “Unknown Glory of the Habsburgs” trip will also enjoy the “exceptional accommodations” at this legendary establishment.
Travelers on the “Unknown Glory of the Habsburgs” program will also stay at another “Gold List Pick,” the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb. One reviewer describes the Esplanade as a “charming hotel with great food, located within a short walk to the old city.”
During our 2014 journey “In Pursuit of Mozart”, we will spend four nights at the historic Mandarin Oriental in Prague. The hotel, which dates to the 14th century, was once a monastery, and Condé Nast Traveler describes it as a “heavenly property with a quiet location in the heart of a bustling city.”
Another great European hotel on the Gold List is the Regent Berlin. The article mentions the hotel’s amazing views and “very comfortable, spotless rooms.” We love this corner property on Gendarmenmarkt so much that we have reserved rooms there for several programs including “Imperial Pleasures, Royal Treasures” and “Berlin: Tear Down this Wall”.
Two hotels on the Gold List are included in our program “In the Realm of Angkor: The Glories of Cambodia & Vietnam.” In Hanoi, a three-night stay is planned at the landmark Sofitel Metropole. Travelers on the program will also spend three nights at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap.
The Shangri-La, Bangkok is our hotel pick on the optional Bangkok prelude for “The Treasures of Burma.” This luxurious hotel is situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the lively artery of old Bangkok and gateway to many of the city’s glittering temples and palaces.
Several Indian properties on the Condé Nast Traveler list are included in our February 2014 Rajasthan program. Among these are the Oberoi Udaivilas and Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace. Travelers on this exceptional journey through North India will also stay at the Leela Palace in New Delhi.
Visit our website or call us at 800-221-1944 for additional details about this travel program.
Erin 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.
What 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 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.
City 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…
Which 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!
Foodies take note! A variety of museums around the globe are devoted to everything from chocolate to ramen noodles. Here are a few of our favorites.
Learn about the history of chocolate and how it is made at a museum devoted to the confection. During a guided tour (offered in English and German), sample a tasty treat and see how typical Viennese specialties are made. The Chocolate Museum also has events and workshops such as “Drawing with Chocolate for Adults” and a holiday kids’ program.
Opened in 2012, Bologna’s Gelato Museum describes itself as “a center of cultural excellence dedicated to the understanding and study of the history, culture, and technology of gelato and the expertise of the innovators who drove its evolution over the centuries.” Visiting the museum, located in the Carpigiani ice cream company’s headquarters, is free of charge, but you do need a reservation.
This little museum houses “close to 4,000 items, a mélange of artifacts, folk art and other cultural oddities devoted to the world’s perfect fruit.” Hours are variable, so banana fanatics should call before they visit.
Find out about the secrets of Currywurst at this Berlin museum dedicated to the spiced sausage. The museum also offers guided group tours, which must be booked in advance, a shop that sells “everything Currywurst your heart may desire” and a snack lounge that offers (surprise!) a wide variety of currywurst.
Dig in to the history of Hormel’s canned meat product at the 16,500-square-foot SPAM Museum. According to the website, “Visit and you’ll be tickled pink by the SPAM® trivia and vintage SPAM® brand advertising. Plus numerous SPAM® displays including the World War II exhibit, SPAM® Game Show quiz, Monty Python tribute and more.” Admission is free.
Bruges, a medieval gem laced with canals and gardens, is also home to the Frietmuseum. This educational museum devoted to the Belgian fry is housed in the Saaihalle, one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. According to the Frietmuseum’s website, the museum “explains the history of the potato and fries and the different condiments with which they are habitually served.”
Founded in 1994, this institution describes itself as “the world’s first food-themed amusement park.” Visitors to the museum can sample different regional varieties of Japan’s famous ramen noodle soup. “Our nine ramen shops are showcased in a street-scape replication from the year 1958, Japan,” explains the museum. “It was in this year that the world’s first instant ramen was invented.”
One of Vienna’s most famous culinary specialties is sachertorte. This dense chocolate cake was invented by Franz Sacher, a 16-year-old chef’s apprentice, in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. After Franz became a full-blown chef, he sold the cake to the general public to rave reviews. In 1876, Franz’s son Eduard opened the Sacher Hotel in Vienna. To this day, the hotel’s original recipe is a well-kept secret.
According to the hotel’s website: “The basis of the entire confection is a chocolate cake, thinly coated by hand with best-quality apricot jam. The chocolate icing on top of it is the crowning glory. It tastes best with a portion of unsweetened whipped cream.” (Learn more about how the cake is made in the above video.)
During our “New Year’s in Vienna” program, we will stay at the Hotel Sacher. During your free time, you might want to treat yourself to a slice of the legendary torte at the hotel’s Café Sacher Vienna. The group will also visit the renowned Demel Café for a light lunch including mélange coffee and traditional Viennese pastries.
If you can’t join us for the program, you can order treats from Sacher online. You can also make your own sachertorte. Here’s a recipe from the Austrian National Tourist Office.
Ring in the New Year in Austria’s enchanting capital on the Danube. Stay at the landmark Hotel Sacher, see impressive museum collections, and enjoy music and a reception in the home of one of Vienna’s leading pianists. Here are a few highlights of this wonderful winter trip.
At the Spanish Riding School, view a special performance by the famed Lipizzaner Stallions.
A unique experience awaits at the Spanish Riding School, where you will view a special performance of the renowned Lipizzaner stallions. Since 1970, the Lipizzaner stallions have entertained more than 23 million people with their spectacular leaps and maneuvers.
Take a waltz lesson at one of the city’s historic dance schools before welcoming the New Year at the Grand Bal.
Practice your steps for the Grand Bal, held in the splendor of the Hofburg Palace. As you enter Ceremony Hall, orchestras play Strauss waltzes. This special night begins with a gala dinner, followed by music and dancing. At midnight, welcome the New Year with a champagne toast.
Enjoy a lavish New Year’s Day brunch at the hotel before viewing the collections at both the Upper and Lower Belvedere.
At the Upper Belvedere, the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, see works by Schiele, Munch, and Klimt. The Lower Belvedere, which was the royal residence for a brief period, was later adapted to house the Museum of Austrian Baroque Art.
Find out more about this extraordinary New Year’s program on our website or call 800-221-1944 for further trip details.
By Nancy Ziegler
One of the first things I was told about group travel is that trips should be logistically elegant. Understanding how such magic happens took me a good deal longer, but it began in Vienna. This picture – snapped by Ellen Renstrom, our Vice President of Operations– captured me and Kate Klorer on our inaugural training trip, caught in a surprise snow shower outside the Naschmarkt.
I am smiling, chin up, so I trust no one else could tell I was utterly disordered by jet lag and hopped up on sachertorte and strong coffee. Mozart! Klimt! Cakes! I had thought when the plane landed in the early morning two days before. True, all Vienna awaited me, but hardly the way I had imagined.
Ellen gave Kate and me our assignments as our taxi zipped out of the airport. We had less than three days to collect enough material for three weeks’ worth of itineraries. Plus gather the first-hand intelligence so priceless to tour directors who lead groups on the ground. Travelers love impromptu events, but believe me, Tour Directors loath surprises. We started scribbling the notes that would become a five-thousand word report. First memo to TDs: the airport ATM is on the left-hand side as you exit customs; Austrian airport taxis do accept American credit cards.
That’s Inge, a Red Badge national guide, ahead of us in the dark glasses. The snow shower must have caught her out too, though as I remember, few things actually stopped Inge. In St. Stephen’s, she somehow had the key to the cathedral’s private altar gate. We slipped through it after her to approach the sacred stained glass windows, survivors of World War II, closer even than their parishioners.
Inge literally marched us by all of Vienna’s treasures. Jugendstil statues led to Biedermeier interiors, Baroque recital halls and charming Kaffeehäuser. Step in, look, step out. We orbited the Ringstrasse. Did Mozarthaus drive-bys. We eyeballed riverboat berths, Lipizanner stallions and opera boxes.
Learn to ignore the art, ignore the beauty, Ellen coached us, so we truly saw the mundane. Where could the motorcoach pick up safely outside the konzerthaus? Where is the elevator? Where are the WCs?
Notice my camera in my left hand. No mere tourist holiday snaps for us. We catalogued whirlpool tubs (fit for a Habsburg?), rainfall shower heads (water pressure?), private salons (musty or dusty?) and marble staircases (slippery!). Memo to TD: Yes, the spa at Hotel Sacher is fabulous and recommended. In the mitteleuropa fashion, it is also co-ed—so be sure a traveler seeking rejuvenation understands that bathing suits are both optional and rare.
We collected menus, maps, floor plans, postcards, pillow mints, souvenirs, brochures and business cards. All such swag went on file in the New York office, there to jog our memories when our operations team planned Viennese sojourns.
As it happened, Kate later led an AAA group in Vienna as a Tour Director, while I planned similar trips from New York with Ellen’s generous help . And I did get to see Klimt’s The Kiss. Briefly. But only after we scouted the museum facilities and understood its group ticketing options. Memo to TD: Visit the Upper Belvedere palace first, so travelers can amble downhill—not up—through the charming gardens. Snow possible in November, but the chestnut trees will be abloom the last week in April. We’ll plan for it.