I 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.
How could we top a visit to Ferrari?
Day two and we found ourselves in the middle of a small industrial park outside Modena visiting the most exclusive car maker – Pagani. Argentine by birth, Horatio Pagani has been interested in Italian cars since a boy, designing small models at the age of 10. Having worked for various big names in the field he founded his own company in the 90s and presented the Zonda in 1999. Since then he has produced a mere 130 cars, each one is beautifully crafted with love and care, using unique materials created by himself. From the small showroom showing the Zonda cinque (meaning 5 – as only 5 were produced) we were taken into the atelier and saw the small workforce paying meticulous attention to every detail. Pagani claims that Leonardo da Vinci was his inspiration and he admires the Renaissance attitude to fine art.
This afternoon we visited the Maserati factory. Here we were back to a production line with about 20 minutes for each station before the car moves on to the next stage. Maserati produces about 21 cars a day. The workers were much more laid back than Ferrari and the whole operation was much less slick than Ferrari. Our group enjoyed watching a team of inspectors deal with a misaliged door. They appreciated the checks and controls taken to ensure that the final model leaves the factory floor in perfect condition.
Tomorrow we’ll visit some car collections before moving onto Turin to the great designers of these elegant machines.
From Turin we headed to Milan. Our first stop was at Zagato design. Hidden away in the outskirts of Milan we toured their car collection showing some cutting edge design for top brands. One of their latest models with its wrap around panoramic windows received mixed opinion from the group. Jonathan had warned us on the bus about their designs – you either love it or you don’t.
We paused for another hearty lunch in the center of Monza. I was very happy with my enormous plate of cured Italian meats. I can’t get enough of it when I’m in Italy (along with gelato!) In the afternoon, Francesca, a motorbike racing journalist gave us a tour of Monza race track, including the hospitality suites, the media rooms, tv monitor room, the office of notorious Bernie Ecclestone and we all got to stand on the podium. Pretty exciting stuff even without the roar of the Formula one cars in action. In the parking lot we spotted a few more Lamborghinis and then a fleet of historic cars drove by.
Our final visit of the day was a private car collection on the outskirts of Milan. The owner had told us not to expect much – a few cars in a garage and I’d asked him to have some water ready for our thirsty group. When we arrived we were blown away by the collection and the owner had laid on a party. He’d invited some key people in the car world and a beautiful reception with (more) food and prosecco. Yet again j had to be mother and drag them away from their fun!
Two hours later we arrived at Lake Garda. The sun was setting over Sirmione, our final destination, it was beautiful. Our bus could not enter the historic city but a short walk provided yet another car viewing opportunity – several cars in the Mille miglia were doing manoeuvres in front of us!
Now we are on the bus returning to Sirmione after a visit to the Lamborghini factory this morning. Due to the 50th anniversary celebrations last week we’d not been able to visit.
Tomorrow is our final day and dedicated to the Mille miglia. Lots of fun things are planned, I just hope the weather holds.
Mille Miglia from Academic Travel Abroad on Vimeo.
We spent the morning at the Mille Miglia museum in Brescia, learning about the history of the race and seeing the various historic models that have competed. Then we drove across town and our Italo-Aussie bus driver dropped us on the edge of the historic city and I led the group (praying I would not get lost as it has been a long time since I was in Brescia and I had no map) to the center. All the roads were beginning to close in preparation for the Mille Miglia. We came to the main street where all the cars were lining up and driving past the crowds of fans. There was a sea of people. It was chaos. I left the group together in one area taking photos and identifying the cars while I scouted out the quickest route to our restaurant. It turned out to be across the street but in the chaos not all my ducklings followed. It was some 10 minutes before I realised that one was missing as I was just about to take my first sip of wine. A manic half hour ensued but thankfully the missing duckling was still where we had left him and enjoying the spectacle of the 400 some historic cars going through the streets of Brescia. Thank goodness.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the center of Brescia with one of the teams competing in the event. There were several drivers at the lunch too (the give away being that they were all kitted out in serious rainwear). We returned to Sirmione in the afternoon to shop. pack and above all to dry out. At 7:15 I led our group across to the aperitivo tent in the main square and we waited for the cars to start coming through Sirmione. Young and old were waving mille miglia flags with much excitement while we sipped prosecco and enjoyed some delicious nibbles. Italians know how to lay on a good reception, even in the pouring rain there was someone slicing prosciutto and lardo. Yummy. Even better, the rain had abated and there was a sunset. Too good to be true. The cars had set off from Brescia at 7 pm and around 7:40 pm the roar of the old engines filled the air. There was a constant stream of old cars (anything that competed in the historic event up to 1957 is allowed to enter). There were over 400 entrants. As the light faded we slipped into our covered tent and enjoyed a sumptous meal, with front row sets to watch all the cars go by. There was a very jolly atmosphere among all our group as they tried to identify all the cars go by (I had the list of entrants and kept checking their knowledge!). The few females in the group were longing for number 271 and then around the corner, Brian shouts “that’s a Jag” and we all screamed “Daniel!” as Daniel Day Lewis cruised by. Several men in the group laughed at us 5 ladies in the group and asked questions such as ‘oh was he driving a Lincoln? Or was he driving with his left foot?!’. Memorable evening and a fantastic way to end a truly amazing trip.
Warmer weather IS actually going to stick around one of these days, and when it does, we’ll be prepared! While wandering the alleyways of Siena, bounded by the medieval buildings and Gothic architecture that define its character, we want to be able to gain perspective on exactly where we were and will be (allowing ourselves to be) lost within the city. Instead of using a map to decipher where exactly you are within Siena’s 17 contrade (districts), it’s best to understand it from the top – above (and on) Siena’s Tuscan rooftops. Put down the map. Now wander yourself to one of these three outdoor rooftop spots where panoramic views await you (and your cameras, of course).
Siena Cathedral: Roof tour now open!
Open to the public for the first time in the spring of 2013, passages to the rooftop of the 13th-century Siena Cathedral offer views of the red-tiled Tuscan roofs and Siena’s city and countryside charm. While going up for maintenance purposes, the Cathedral staff discovered the magnificence of the view and decided to make it more accessible. The journey (or workout) to the top is not for everyone, though! You have to be willing and able to climb the series of spiral staircases and internal walkways to reach the breathtaking rooftop views, otherwise the ascent alone may be too breathtaking! Visitors must reserve tickets in advance.
View from the rooftop tour of the Siena Cathedral
Hotel Villa Elda
This three-star hotel sits atop a hill just outside of Siena’s city center, which is about a ten minute walk to Piazza del Campo. The serenity of the Villa and its ideal location make the stay at the Hotel delightful. Even if you’re not staying here, it is worthwhile to wander up to the rooftop terrace where it is possible to experience a 360-degree scenic view of Siena and the Tuscan setting.
Palazzo delle Papesse
Address: Via di Città 126 Town Centre near Piazza del Duomo
Phone: 0577 2 20 71
Price: adult/child €5/free
Hours: 12:00-19:00 Tue-Sun
Built between 1460 and 1495, Palazzo delle Papesse is a contemporary art gallery within medieval walls that offers both permanent and changing contemporary exhibitions. The rooftop of Palazzo delle Papesse presents a 360 degree panoramic view, overlooking Siena and the nearby surroundings. The second floor also contains a terrace, which opens to a view of the Duomo and Siena rooftops.
Last week friends and colleagues from decades past to present day gathered to wish our Chairman, David Parry, the happiest of birthdays on his 80th! It was a celebratory night and a wonderful occasion to commemorate a man who has inspired us all and continues to do so.Dave’s Birthday – 27
Saturday 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!)
From 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.
And 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.
Monday 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.