Posts Tagged ‘amy kotkin’

Q&A with Journeys Director Amy Kotkin

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Amy Kotkin has been developing educational programs for the Smithsonian Institution since 1974 and is Director of Smithsonian Journeys. Here, she shares her thoughts and recommendations for travel in 2012, as we launch our new travel season.

Q.  Every year Smithsonian Journeys adds new destinations.  What are some of the highlights for 2012?

Amy Kotkin with artist in Turkey

Amy Kotkin visits with an artist in Turkey.

A. Just when we think we’ve been everywhere – a new destination beckons.  Or, we “re-imagine” existing destinations by looking at them in novel ways.  Always “looking around the corner” at what’s next is truly invigorating for our staff. For 2012, we’ll offer a cruise to Southern Spain and Morocco on the elegant small ship Corinthian II.  While we know that there was significant cross-cultural fertilization between these two regions going back before the middle ages, the opportunity to see how this is reflected in the art and architecture of Spain and Morocco is simply dazzling, as well as thought-provoking! Speaking of cruising, we’ll also be offering our first in-depth cruise to Crete!  We’ll encircle the island on the gem-like yacht Callisto (with only 34 guests), stopping at charming small towns, ancient ruins including the magnificent Minoan palace at Knossos, Byzantine chapels.  Two new holiday trips will also make their debut in 2012!  Christmas in Vienna and Prague promises festive performances, special access tours and fine food. Jane Austen’s Christmas features time-honored English holiday traditions.

Q.  What are your most popular destinations?

A.  Wow! So many come to mind.  But if I had to identify the top three just in terms of enduring interest over many years, Turkey, China and Peru top the charts for because of their amazing cultural treasures.  Having been with Smithsonian travelers when they first beheld the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, China’s Great Wall and Machu Picchu, I can tell you that these are truly magnificent, moving experiences.  Of course Egypt is on nearly everyone’s “life list,” and we are happy to have resumed our expert-led trips there.  For natural history – Alaska, Galapagos, Tanzania and the Amazon are “the classics.”  Interest in these incredible destinations never wanes.

Q.  Early Booking Savings!  Why do you and so many other companies encourage early bookings?  Are there really deals to be had or is it just a gimmick?

A. No! They are not a gimmick!  It is always worthwhile for Smithsonian and our tour operators to fill our tours long in advance.  That way, reservations for hotels, meals, special tours, and excursions can be locked down early and assure us of the best services possible.  Confirming all tour details several months before departure is well worth our while, and therefore, we are happy to encourage early bookings by giving you the incentive to do so.  Ultimately, early booking is in everyone’s best interests.  You get a better price and we are able to assure an optimal tour! Be sure to take a look at our early booking incentives featured on our website under Special Offers.

Amy will be back next week to answer more of your questions.

Have a question for Amy? Send her a note at

Holiday Greetings from Journeys Director, Amy Kotkin

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009
Amy Kotkin, Director of Smithsonian Journeys

Amy Kotkin, Director of Smithsonian Journeys

I spent Thanksgiving with my family in Connecticut — chilly, rainy, slate gray until it turned dark at 4:30 pm — in other words — perfect for that cocooning instinct that overtakes us this time of year. But besides the gut-busting foodfest, football, and scrabble games, what do you think the family wanted to talk about? Travel!

My brother and his wife are savoring their plans to travel with Smithsonian on their first-ever small ship cruise in June.  My 20 year-old niece, already an accomplished adventurer with serious stays in Tbilisi and Kathmandu under her belt, imagined herself in Dakar. My husband and I talked eagerly about Spain and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef  – our next planned destinations.

It struck me once again how often families plan their next year’s travels during the holidays. After all the anticipation of getting together, gift-giving, delicious dining, and story-telling subsides, our thoughts turn to “What’s next? Why lies ahead? What will we see, touch, savor, and learn during the coming year?”

If destination planning is part of your holiday ritual, Smithsonian Journeys is happy to provide you with lots of tools and options for choosing what’s best for you. Are you thinking about introducing your children and grandchildren to the pleasures of travel and discovery in 2010? Join us in the Galápagos, Tanzania, or Greece for memorable adventures in these spectacular regions.

Will you celebrate a milestone birthday this year?  Check out our cruises  — they offer great opportunities to celebrate! Are you an opera fan?  We’re offering special opera tours to Italy and the Metropolitan Opera  in New York featuring the finest performers and top productions.

Of course, if you’d like to do a little pre-holiday travel planning be sure to contact us. We’d be happy to provide you with a customized gift certificate for the trip of your choice, the perfect gift for anyone in your family!

I’ll spend the upcoming holidays here in Washington, catching up on Smithsonian museum exhibits, enjoying the city lights, talking with you about your 2010 travel plans, and cooking up a few of my own! I’m hopeful that our paths will cross somewhere in this vast and glorious world in 2010, on a Smithsonian Journey that will offer all of us insight, access, and understanding.

All my warmest wishes for the holidays, and for the year ahead!

Exploring Bhutan

Monday, August 17th, 2009
Amy Kotkin is Director of Smithsonian Journeys, the educational tour program of the Smithsonian Institution. She joined the Smithsonian in 1974 and over the past 35 years has developed a wide range of educational benefits for Smithsonian members nationwide. Click here to read Amy’s bio.
Boy monks at monastery, Bhutan. Photo: Amy Kotkin

Boy monks at monastery, Bhutan. Photo: Amy Kotkin

My fascination with Bhutan started right here, in Washington DC, when the Smithsonian’s annual Folklife Festival featured a magnificent living exhibition of traditional Bhutanese culture during the summer of 2008. Singers, dancers, craftspeople, skilled archers and many more Bhutanese who embodied the spiritual and cultural legacy of this eastern Himalayan nation enthralled me and a million other visitors to the National Mall over a hot and sticky two-week period.

Several months later, I took off from Kathmandu aboard Bhutan’s Druk airlines and rose above snow-covered mountains. I know that Druk’s skilled pilots fly this route every day, but still, as I looked out on an endless series of peaks, I nervously wondered where we could possibly land! Less than an hour later, the plane suddenly banked and threaded its way through the peaks and into a narrow valley dotted with whitewashed farmhouses. We landed in Paro – truly a world apart!

My first impressions? Cool, clean air. The smell of wood burning in farmhouses, keeping them warm. Spectacular blue skies, greenest of evergreens, a hushed carpet of pine needles, and the delightful, incessant sound of water cascading over smoothed pebbles – an endless spring run-off from the towering Himalayas.

We were welcomed in perfect English by our guides dressed in gos — traditional knee-length robes worn by Bhutanese men. First stop – the stunning Uma Paro hotel – the perfect melding of traditional decoration with five-star amenities. After a welcome dance, we sat down to the first of several extraordinary meals. Our afternoon visit to the National Museum featured amazing thangkas, painted or embroidered Buddhist banners which were hung in a monastery or a family altar and occasionally carried by monks in ceremonial processions. The museum’s collection included centuries of such detailed, symbolic, brightly colored works. We visited with the museum director, who is also a Buddhist monk and a highly respected scholar. The topic? How to maintain Bhutan’s traditional values now that TV and the Internet have become part of the culture.

Vegetable market, Paro, Bhutan. Photo: Richard Kurin

Vegetable market, Paro, Bhutan. Photo: Richard Kurin

During a school visit we quickly learned why virtually everyone we met spoke English – it is taught from the start. What a great treat to sit down among seven-year-olds and read right along with them! Our visit to the weekend market offered even more opportunities to meet local people and gain some insight into the rhythm of their lives as we strolled among pyramids of gorgeous produce and watched it being weighed using hand-held scales. Then we witnessed firsthand why the Bhutanese are such superb archers. Wherever we traveled, we saw young men out in stony fields, practicing their technique.

Everyone in our group connected personally with Bhutan. Some like me were struck particularly by its natural beauty, its stunning architecture, and the ease with which we could interact with the people. Others found their challenging hike to the iconic Tiger’s Nest , a monastery built on the side of a sheer cliff, to be their most compelling experience. And for still others, the opportunity to visit with a farm family and taste fresh-made yak butter tea provided an instant and richly satisfying cross-cultural experience.

We left the country way too soon – once again flying straight upwards and out of Paro’s green valley and across the Himalayas, but we took with us wonderful memories and fervent vows to return!

To safeguard its rich culture based on Buddhist spiritual principles and its natural environment, Bhutan’s government (a monarchy whose former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, famously proclaimed “Gross National Happiness” as a national goal), has deliberately limited tourism and development. In 2008, only 21,000 tourists entered Bhutan, and that number is not expected to grow significantly in the near future.

Fortunately, Smithsonian travelers will have the opportunity to visit Bhutan in 2010 on special tours led by Preston Scott, curator of the Bhutan Project at the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Preston’s extraordinary contacts throughout the country will make this trip as personal, insightful and memorable as was my trip this year.

Click here for more information on travel to Bhutan and here for travel to Asia.

What country fascinates you? Share below.

Announcement: Coming up Friday, Amy Kotkin Live on NextTrip Travel Radio

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

…Breaking news from the Smithsonian Journeys Newsdesk…

Girl Listening to Radio. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Girl Listening to Radio. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Journeys Director Amy Kotkin will be interviewed about travel by Melanie Cole of NextTrip Travel Radio. The interview will take place live at 3:30pm ET (2:30pm Central) on Friday, March 13th.


Amy and Melanie will discuss new destinations, specials, and online-only offers. This year could be a great time to travel smart!


The interview will be webcast live at Hope you can join us!