Tribute to Amy Kotkin

photoI am very lucky to have spent so much of my career with Amy Kotkin, Smithsonian Journeys’ Director since 1995. She retired last week after a brilliant career at the Institution, where she held several important posts during her decades-long tenure there.
Amy was at the helm of the largest, most comprehensive museum-based travel program on earth, through good times and challenging ones. She rode the wave of the economic boom of the “go-go 1990s” and bore the shock of 9/11 and Americans’ ambivalence to travel at all for some time afterwards. She helped open up destinations previously off limits to Americans, like Saudi Arabia and Cuba, and pioneered new ways to see the world, whether by private jet, chartered train, or small ship.

She challenged us to scale new heights of creativity with the types of programs we proposed to Smithsonian Journeys each year. She allowed us to contribute our talents to the Smithsonian brand, which has always been an honor and a pleasure for our staff.

We will sorely miss our smart, funny, fair-minded, forward thinking, passionate, practical, kind colleague in travel! Our gratitude and best wishes, Amy! We are excited to hear where you will travel next.

Chase Poffenberger


Smithsonian Journey’s Italian Auto tour just gets better and is filled with some magical ‘ah’ moments.

ModenaSaturday we were still in Modena and visited several private car collections. In the late afternoon we drove past the Lamborghini factory – it was swarming with people for the 50th anniversary celebrations – our group understood why were not visiting till later this week. That evening we toured the Lamborghini Family museum and the owner and nephew to the founder, Fabio Lamborghini came and signed souvenirs for the group and had his photo taken with various members. His part of the show concluded with him roaring off in his own Lambo (that’s the lingo!)

1From Modena we headed across northern Italy to Turin. It was a gorgeously clear day and a lovely drive with the snowcapped alps welcoming us into Piedmont. We even had two Lambos lined up at our brief restroom stop. Perfect planning! Our first stop in Turin was at the Lingotto. After lunching on delicious Italian treats in the Eataly Food Emporium we went onto the top of the Lingotto building (originally the FIAT factory) and stood on the roof top test track. Spectacular weather and clear views across the city to the mountains. We had a very thorough tour of the car collection at the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile. And our final visit was at the FIAT Centro Storico – the original FIAT headquarters, with a lovely art deco facade and inside a great collection of old cars including some of the iconic 500 and wonderful photos and posters.

BertoneAnd as if we hadn’t had enough cars today – the Spanish Grand Prix took place today. We had a private room set up to show the replay at 9 pm. Not quite all of our group made it to the end, but many did.

Designer Tom TjaardaMonday morning – design day. Another beautiful sunny day as we drove north out of Turin. Stile Bertone has been designing cars for all the luxury brands for just over 100 years and that is where we were headed today. We were greeted by the head of design. He gave a wonderful tour of the Bertone museum full of passion about what makes a great piece of design. Then out in the garden there were two prototypes that the group all drooled over as he opened it up and showed all the different features. It was hard to drag the group away from this fantastic tour but it was also in the most idyllic setting – parkland, surrounded by trees, very tranquil on a sunny day. From this very small friendly designer we visited Pininfarina – a very slick large design corporation. After a fascinating presentation we viewed a couple of prototype Ferraris. I confess I can’t keep up with the different models and features – needless to say my group might be forgetful about a logistical tour detail but they know which car they saw and where! We returned to Turin in the afternoon and visited with a charming American designer, who has lived in Turin most of his life. He has designed for many of the great names and gave us a very personal talk about his design experience.

Falling in Love with Ferrari

photo[6]Smithsonian Journeys’ has hit an all-time high for offering travelers exclusive behind the scenes access!  During the first day of their Passion Sculpted in Steel tour of Northern Italy yesterday, the group got into the Ferrari factory for a private tour.  This factory is the mecca of all car factories and many of the  clients on this tour are fans and owners of this unique marque.

photo[3]Here is a personal account from our Program Manager, Emma, who is on tour with the group…

Before we knew it, we were  entering building after building to see where the engines are made and  watched the fascinating production line putting the body work together  until body and engine are “married” as the lines of Ferraris glided

over our heads. I thought we needed some resounding opera music but one of the clients said “oh this is like a beautifully choreographed ballet!” He was right, it was an amazing show watching the different processes, every twenty minutes the car moved to its next station for the next stage in its creation. We saw the the upholstery department too and the range of materials and styles. Everything is personalized to the customers desires – which would explain the price tags on these babies and the fact that it takes 3000 employees over a year to get the car from order to delivery to the client.

photo[2]The Ferrari factory is also an amazing village – with lots of green  spaces inside and outside the buildings, employees are treated very well, the temperature is very controlled inside the buildings as is the waste, all powered by solar energy and noise levels were very manageable – until we got to the private client’s car storage area. A couple of models had to be moved  – the guide ran out of the garage, I guess she hears the roar of those engines enough – but to my group it was music to their ears. A Ferrari engine makes a unique sound, quite unforgettable. It was a fitting end to a fabulous three hour tour. We also saw the Fiorano test track and the Formula One race cars. I don’t think we could have asked for a better start to this tour. Its only day one. Tomorrow we can Pagani and Maserati and much more.

ferrari-autosStay tuned for more accounts from Emma on Smithsonian Journeys’
Italian Auto tour!

Academic Travel Abroad’s Highlights List of 2012!

Boy, what a year it has been for travel! We close 2012 with our Highlights List of events and trends to remember!

So, here goes!

2Cuba! In 2012 we were proud to work with 54 people-to-people and professional research groups in our role as a licensed Travel Service Provider to Cuba. The 900+ travelers and delegates represented a diverse group of Institutions, including The National Geographic Society, The Smithsonian Institution, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The American Museum of Natural History, The Colorado State Bar Association, The American Psychological Association, The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and others.

mercedesOne-of-a-kind moments for travelers: Smithsonian’s German Cars travelers were treated to “the most tantalizing array of 300SLs, pre-war racing cars and other examples of the greatest Mercedes-Benz cars ever built.” We pride ourselves on these moments of behind-the-scene treats and special access —and they happened this year in places as diverse as Central Asia, southern Italy, the Swiss Alps, and Bentonville, Arkansas.

New FrontiersExploring New Frontiers!  Our team covered the globe in 2012! Senior Program Manager Chris Roper traveled to Namibia in March to ride the The Desert Express, a private train that links some of the world’s grandest national parks. In October, he joined a very short list of Americans who have “gone behind the iron curtain” to North Korea, the most isolated place on earth.  (Yes, he has developed a cultural program there!) In addition, Senior Program Manager Janet Varn “saw the future” on her spring visit to Spaceport America, the New Mexico home of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space travel company. Along the way, she discovered New Mexico’s Space Trail, a route of 52 sites across the state related to space research and exploration.

Downton AbbeyLong Live Britannia! In this celebratory year of the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics, British literary themes were ever popular! Fans of noted author Elizabeth Chadwick traced  William Marshal, Eleanor of Aquitaine’s greatest knight. Mystery lovers joined discussions and readings with authors Colin Dexter and Simon Brett, and Jane Austen fans depart this week for their Christmas in Winchester and Bath. We will continue all things Britain in 2013 (when we follow in the steps of the Edwardians) in our Downton Abbey tour with the Smithsonian Journeys!  Visit and learn more here:

Milestones, ChinaMilestones: ATA’s Study Abroad Division, CET Academic Programs, celebrated its 30th anniversary in Beijing in June. In 1982, China was a very different place for these intrepid students, but their courage and foresight set in motion what has become CET’s flagship—with eight centers across China. CET truly is the “serious alternative” in study abroad.

New StaffNew Faces: A great group of professionals joined us this year: MaryBeth Mullen as Director of Client Services, Francesca Baruffi as Asia Program Coordinator for CET, Meg Hannan as Tour Communication Specialist, Meredith Akery in her new role as Accountant, Wade Jennings as Graphic Designer, and Cherie Mason as HR Administrative Specialist (not pictured).

None of our successes would be possible without the partners and travelers we serve, and the dedicated tour managers and colleagues we consider part of our ATA family. We are grateful for all of you this holiday season!

ATA Holiday Party

Happy Holidays!
Chase Poffenberger
Executive Vice President

Politics & Prose Travel Series

ATA/Politics & Prose Presents:

Jaipur Literary Festival
The Greatest Literary Festival on Earth
January 21-31, 2013

Set on the grounds of the Hotel Diggi Palace, the festival is spectacular in its splendor, hospitality and intellectual stimulation. Now in its eighth year, it has grown from its humble inception with 15 authors into an international media event that this year drew 260 speakers and a crowd of over 120,000.

Join journalist and screenwriter Alexandra Viets on this unique journey to India that will include stops at a number of major tourist sites while also serving as a roving literary seminar. Along the way the P&P group will immerse itself in the riches of South Asian literature with informal conversations about art, film, and contemporary books, including Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning novel of modern New Delhi, The White Tiger, Rohinton Mistry’s classic epic, A Fine Balance, and other fiction and non-fiction selections. The trip will offer rare access to local journalists and writers and will include a private meeting with festival organizer and prize-winning author William Dalrymple.

The ten-day journey will begin January 21 flying to New Delhi, a vibrant, chaotic, glorious city that fuses the ancient and modern worlds. Here participants will explore the labyrinthine streets of both Old and New Delhi, visit mosques, monuments and forts, and shop at the lively and colorful bazaars. The visit will be enhanced by a guided walking tour with author, broadcaster, and longtime Indiophile Sam Miller, and will also include a picnic in Lodhi Gardens with Rama Lakshmi who has worked as the Washington Post correspondent in New Delhi for more than 20 years.

In Jaipur, there’ll be meetings with featured authors and ample opportunity to explore the stunning landscape of Jaipur itself, including the Amber Fort, City Palace, and small independent bookshops. Politics & Prose will be working with partners in Jaipur to help secure good seating at events and readings once the 2013 schedule is finalized. Past authors have included Vikram Seth, Tom Stoppard, Michael  Ondaatje, JM Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, Ian McEwan, and Roddy Doyle. Find out more…

Memories of Greece Amongst the Snow

Walking about through the slushy sidewalks and salt-ridden streets of Washington, DC this time of year makes me nostalgic of the time I spent in Greece a year or so ago.

For every chilled passer-by here wrapped in woolen scarves and fleeced ear muffs I think of the locals walking the inner streets in the town of Mykonos, dressed in their traditional island attire, making their way to the local baker for their loaf of bread.

For every chain restaurant franchisee I pass by from the metro station to the office, I think of the local Greek cafe’s, serving local delights, lining the edges of the islands small inner harbor, in which the colorful local fisherman’s boats bob up and down in the warm Aegean waters.

For every chunk of rippled ice I see float by in the Potomac along the shores of the Mall, I think of warm breezes blowing across our ship bow as we sailed out of the caldera cliffs of Santorini.  The white-washed towns along the caldera’s edges almost appearing like snow-capped peaks rising against a deep blue sky.

Sitting at my desk, occasionally peering out the window over the street below takes me back to walking atop the Acropolis in Athens, and being both amazed of the view and absorbing the historical background of the fortified perch I stood upon.

It’s the brisk winter days like these in Washington, DC that make my mind wander back to Greece and the amazing vistas, warm sun upon my back, and the cultural richness that is,… well,  one of my favorite places to be.