Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

Video: Spoleto Festival USA

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Each summer, the Spoleto Festival USA brings the world’s top performing arts talent to Charleston, South Carolina, for a few weeks of unparalleled opera, music, theater, and dance. This year, Poland’s Leszek Mozdzer, one of the best-kept secrets of the keyboard world, graced the festival with his distinctive and original sound.

Ready for more? We’ve got Orchestra Prime seats all set for you for the 2011 Festival. In fact, this tour is part of our upcoming one day sale. Call 877-338-8687 on August 25th between 9:00am and 5:00pm ET and save $100 on this, or any of our land tours.

Tribute to the Sands of Egypt

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The enigmatic Great Sphinx sits on Egypt’s Giza Plateau.

Kate Simpson is President of Academic Travel Abroad, where she began her career as a China Program Manager in 1998 after completing a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale and a post-graduate fellowship in Chinese literature. Kate loves to travel to hidden corners of the countries she loves most. Click here for more on Kate.

Dear Friends,

The tale of the Egyptian Prince Tutmosis III and his encounter with the Sphinx of Giza fascinates me. On a hunting trip in the Valley of the Gazelles some time before his reign, Tutmosis III decided to take a nap to escape the midday sun. He chose the shade below the head (the only visible section) of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

While he slept, the Sphinx spoke to him and told him that, if he dug the Sphinx out of the sand that covered it, he would be assured the throne of Egypt. So Tutmosis III set to work and excavated the Sphinx, the very first restoration of this site, undertaken circa 1400 B.C.E. The story of this dream is recounted on the stelae at the Sphinx’s feet. What captivates me about this tale is the fact that, even in 1400 B.C.E., the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza were already ancient, having existed since 2650 B.C.E., and that the protective layers of desert sand had already buried all but the Sphinx’s head over the preceding 1,200 years.Egypt’s ancient wonders abound, but it is not until you stand within inches of the deeply carved cartouches of Ramses II in Karnak or the stunning turquoise of painted vulture wings on Hatshepsut’s Temple, or the intricate delicacy of King Tutankhamen’s jewelry, that the impossibility overwhelms you.  How can such beauty have survived 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 years?

Vivid colors of a vulture’s plumage on Hatshepsut’s temple

Entering the imposing structure of Ramses III Temple, there is a series of chapels to the left.  Little color remains, and the carvings seem simplified, unremarkable.  It turns out, these chapels date to Alexander the Great’s time—circa 332 B.C.E. Modern, by Egyptian standards! Yet paling in comparison to the elaborate scenes of battle and power depicted on Ramses III’s own temple walls.

Deep in the Temple of Luxor (circa 1400 B.C.E.), past the small area that once served as a chapel for Roman soldiers during the 3rd century C.E., there is a shrine built by Alexander the Great, depicting the Greek king as a pharaoh. Here, you can stand between the outer wall built by Amenhotep III and the inner wall of the Greek shrine. Within a couple of feet of each other, the contrast is sharp: over a 1,000 years pass from the time the Egyptian outer wall was carved to the time the Greeks erect their shrine. Yet, Alexander the Great’s craftsmen lose this contest: their work appears amateurish at best.

Image of Ramses III on his temple

It’s not often that Alexander the Great comes across as lacking accomplishment. Yet ancient Egypt puts many more modern cultures to shame. Even the Romans, who seemed to lack the respect and interest Alexander showed Egyptian culture, appear boorish and uncultured in comparison. The Roman chapel within the Temple of Luxor is made of scavenged temple stones, betrayed by the upside down body parts and images carved on their surfaces.

Reflecting on all the perfection that bears tribute to Egypt’s royal ancestors, I can’t help but wonder what we have lost over time in sophistication, technique, and ambition. And I rejoice in the protective benefits of the sands of Egypt—without them, what treasures would have been lost to humankind!

For information on our educational journeys to Egypt, click here.

Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Does all of the hot weather we’ve been having make you long for cooler climes? Consider Alaska, where the wildlife stay cool by the rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and icebergs.

Ready to follow whales, bears, sea lions, puffins, bald eagles, and a host of other fascinating animals through their beautiful native habitat? Click here for more information on Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness, departing in May, 2011.

Click here for information on all of our tours to Alaska, with our next departures beginning in August, 2010.

Where do you go to stay cool in hot weather? Please share!

A Grand Canyon Weekend Adventure

Monday, July 12th, 2010
A rainbow at the Grand Canyon, Photo by Nancy Holland

A rainbow at the Grand Canyon, Photo by Nancy Holland

It’s practically the American rite of passage. At some point in our lives, we are compelled to visit the Grand Canyon—and for good reason. There is no place on the planet as stunningly beautiful or shockingly vast. With more than five million visitors each year, the Grand Canyon has achieved American icon status. This is a stark difference to the 44,173 visitors in 1919, when the Grand Canyon was first declared a National Park.

While most people visit the Canyon for hiking, photography, and family vacations, it was originally home to many Native American tribes including the Cohonina, Cerbat, Pai, Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo (also known as the Diné). The oldest artifacts found date back more than 12,000 years, and are well preserved due to the hot and dry climate. It would be easy to think that with all of our technology we would know everything about the Grand Canyon, but the reality is that modern archeologists and other scientists have only surveyed 3% of the Canyon and surrounding parkland, leaving this part of the United States still full of mysteries.

What is your favorite family memory of the Grand Canyon?

Getting out of an Arrest, Opera Style

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Carmen, one of the most famous “bad girls” of opera, loves who she wants, smokes ‘em if she’s got ‘em, and has a penchant for knife fights. As you’d imagine, her run-ins with the law are far from infrequent. Of course, her charms are legion, so it’s not too hard for Carmen (Rinat Shaham) to convince Corporal Don José (Neil Shicoff) that she really doesn’t need to spend another night in prison after all. For translation of the aria Près des remparts de Séville (outside the walls of Seville), click here.

Well, that’s one way to negotiate…if you’d like to see more of Carmen, join us this December for Shining Stars at the Met, where you’ll see their sultry new production with acclaimed mezzo-soprano Elîna Garança. With our orchestra prime seats, you might even get a whiff of Carmen’s perfume…and her cigarette smoke, of course!

Who’s your favorite “bad girl” from opera, theater, literature, or film? Please share!