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How to do Greece with Family and Friends

The summer before last, my family and friends embarked on the Camper & Nicholsons yacht Helios for a weeklong journey through the Greek islands. After spending one night in Athens, we left from Piraeus Port and sailed to Kythnos, where we docked in an inlet separated from a bay by a thin strip of sand. It was a perfect stop for some swimming and our first of many courses of feta. That evening we dined under a colorful sunset that seemed to dye the bleached buildings of the island.

Thanks to my father’s belief that a vacation must do more than provide pleasure, our next stop was Delos, for a bit of Greek history. The mythical birthplace of the gods Apollo and Artemis, this island is one of many historic sites around the Aegean Sea. Our next port of call was Koufonisia, three small islands known for their beautiful rocks that tower above the crystal-blue waters. A tender ferried us through caves and up close to the mountain goats and sheep who seem to outnumber humans there. Then we went to Paros, where we were the only Americans and the only visitors—a rare and truly cherishable experience. It was my mother’s Mamma Mia fantasy: Lit by the sunset, we wandered through the maze of streets and enjoyed the figs and feta.

Next stop was that iconic white city found on postcards and pictures of Greece: Fira, Santorini. Perched above the Aegean, the city offers views so spectacular that I volunteered to climb up a steep hill alongside hundreds of donkeys just so I could take in the vista. We finished the day with a sampling of Greek desserts.

Our captain then took us to Milos, where the statue Venus de Milo was discovered in 1820. Our final stop was Hydra, outside the Cyclades, which offered a stark contrast to all the other white village islands. Hydra would have easily pleased us at the beginning of our odyssey, but the unfamiliar sight of red roof shingles signaled it had come to a close. Everything, from our impeccable yacht and knowledgeable captain to the figs and olive oil to the fish and lamb, surpassed our expectations. We found a beauty in the simplicity of it all.

Two London Gallery Shows Surprise

Mekas London Gallery
Photo courtesy of Jonas Mekas

“Memories?” asks Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-born, 90-year-old filmmaker from off screen in the opening of Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man. “They say my images are memories. No, no, no. It is all real, what you see.” Called the “godfather of American avant-garde cinema,” Mekas premiered Outtakes earlier this month at London’s Serpentine Gallery (Kensington Gardens; 44-20/7402-6075; serpentinegallery.org) for his eponymous and long overdue retrospective (on view through January 27, 2013).

Outtakes will unspool alongside six other films and walls of photographs, poems and installations culled from 64 years of work—from the hundreds of binders and boxes that line the walls and windowsills of his New York studio to his thousands of hours of film. “If It Moved, Jonas Mekas Shot It,” read a headline in The Times when the retrospective opened. And he did: John Lennon’s birthday parties, Salvador Dalí’s happenings, friends at dinner, a baptism, a cat.

Over the title card of As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, he reflects, “I have never been able, really, to figure out where my life begins and where it ends.” A light flashes on and dims in a window. He confesses that he wanted, at first, to make meaning by giving order to the moments he caught, these seemingly random glimpses of lives led. But then, “I gave up. And I began splicing them together by chance, the way I found them on the street.”

Colourscapes at Michael Hoppen Gallery
Photo: Colourscapes, 1993 © Nobuyoshi Araki, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

A more traditional form of collection is on view at the Michael Hoppen Gallery (3 Jubilee Pl.; 44-20/7352-3649; michaelhoppengallery.com) in “Finders Keepers” (through January 31, 2013), which features three floors of 130 photographs from the private collection of director Hoppen. It is the largest public exhibition the gallery has put on to date. “I found these images in markets, other dealers, auctions, meeting families of photographers and, of course, pure chance,” he explains. They are hung with notes that describe the incidents surrounding their creation (“A large stag hangs outside an ice-cream parlor somewhere in the Midwest”) and the encounters that led Hoppen to find them (“When I took over the lease at 3 Jubilee Place in Chelsea in 1984, I was clearing out an old cupboard there and came across a group of pictures”).

“I am always looking for interesting things to look at,” says Hoppen. “Pictures that change my point of view or inform a particular attitude. For the show I wanted to select mostly unknown pictures.” Some moments in these images are caught at random—a powerful mobster or an image of nude legs in the sun by Jacques Henri Lartigue—but most are artful, staged scenes, like the anonymous portraits of boxers or chimney sweeps and Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants.

There is something delectable about seeing it, the same naughty delight one would get from riffling through the file cabinets of a museum. The show neither fears the grotesque nor disdains beauty, but it delights in surprise: Garry Winogrand’s Park Avenue, New York involves a convertible, a fashionable couple and a monkey.

As Mekas puts it in Outtakes, “I like what I recorded with my camera… Why else would I show it, share it with you? I like these images. This reality of images.”

Gift of the Day: The Grand Tourista Bag

Gift of the Day: Jason Wu's Grand Tourista Bag
Photo courtesy of St. Regis Hotels & Resorts

Jason Wu had luxury travel in mind when he designed the limited-edition Grand Tourista bag ($1,995) for St. Regis Hotels & Resorts. The houndstooth-check canvas shoulder bag is trimmed in black calfskin and was inspired by the idea of a modern-day grand European tour. Best of all, interior pockets are sized perfectly for tablets, e-books and a passport. Bon voyage! stregis.com; jasonwustudio.com.

Bespoke Vietnam

Vietnam
Photo © LOOK Die Bildagentur der Fotografen GmbH / Alamy

Hoi An, a small riverside city just south of Danang, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its charming old town and skilled tailors. Many will vie for your business, but AoBaBa (148 Tran Phu St.; 0510/392-0666; info@aobaba.vn) stands out, with its attractive shop, friendly, professional service and wide array of high-quality linens, cottons and wools. Binders of fashion magazines are available for perusal, but it is easier to bring pictures of the pieces you would like made. (Take screenshots on an iPad or iPhone.) Allow at least 48 hours. You will need to come back the day after ordering for a fitting, and though your items will be ready the following day, you may request further tweaks if you have extra time in town.

When shopping in Hoi An there is no reason to stop at suits and dresses—the city offers all kinds of custom goods. At Hieu Da Leather Suede (85 Tran Phu St.; 0510/391-0094; leather_suede16@yahoo.com), browse walls of supple skins before designing a jacket, handbag or valise. There are catalogs to flip through—as well as a stock of ready-made bags and jackets—but it is best to come with photographs of the style you want copied. If you can, allow two days here. Handbags can be ready in 24 hours, but jackets require a fitting.

For a final made-to-order experience, sign up for a cooking class at Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School (Thon 4, Cam Thanh; 84-510-3933222; visithoian.com/redbridge). The restaurant, which is located on lush grounds about a mile from central Hoi An, runs the school. Half- and full-day culinary courses include boat travel down river to Red Bridge, as well as a guided tour of the local food market and the restaurant’s herb garden—all intended to give a better understanding of Vietnamese cuisine. After several hours of hands-on instruction, guests feast on their creations. 

The Lamu Cultural Festival

The Lamu Cultural Festival
Courtesy of Kenya Tourism Board

Lamu, an island located within the Lamu Archipelago near the northern coast of Kenya, is one of those tranquil spots that many travelers may not know. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, its old city is considered the eldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa—and its Lamu Cultural Festival, held November 15 to 18, showcases its heritage.

Marked by idyllic charm and a rich commitment to Swahili architecture and history, Lamu has brought a slice of island life to festival-goers since 2000. Expect traditional dances, local crafts, dhow boat races, a Swahili bridal ceremony, poetry, music and a food bazaar of traditional Swahili cuisine—all held throughout the town at landmarks like Lamu Fort, Mkunguni Square, Zahidi Ngumi Hall and the seafront. “Lamu: 30 Years Ago,” an exhibit by Okoko Ashikoye, a photographer with the National Museums of Kenya, helps orient guests even further, bringing a fascinating African destination into even clearer focus. Magicalkenya.com.

Rimowa Launches a Classic Luggage Line

Rimowa Launches a Classic Luggage Line
Courtesy of Rimowa

Rimowa first introduced its aluminum luggage in 1937 to address a travel problem experienced by Europeans who had begun to holiday in the Caribbean and Africa. The leather trunks used at the time could not withstand the humid climates, resulting in travelers arriving with (in essence) sweaty luggage. In 1950, the luggage purveyor took a cue from the material used on JU-52 aircrafts—lightweight yet resilient duralumin alloy—and introduced its now-trademarked cases.

Continuing the legacy, the new Classic Flight line features cases (from $595) with solid handcrafted leather handles, decorative inner linings and nostalgic packing straps inspired by the dawn of adventurous travel. To celebrate the advent of the collection, Rimowa sent out a vintage JU-52 with its original BMW engine. The plane took off in Cologne, Germany, for a whirlwind tour, stopping in Denver, Toronto and Los Angeles, where celebrities like Australian actor Chris Hemsworth and Emmy-winner Aaron Paul came out to see the aptly named “Flying Suitcase” in all its glory. Available at Rimowa stores worldwide; rimowa.de.

Fall Food Festivals on Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island seafood festival
Photo courtesy of PEI International Shellfish Festival

The fresh fish caught off Prince Edward Island (PEI) is the stuff of legends—after all, the rural island along Canada’s Atlantic coast is called the tuna capital of the world for good reason. Still, when it comes to cuisine, PEI is rarely a Canadian foodie’s first stop. All that is changing. This September brings culinary cachet to PEI’s shores, with two food festivals featuring superstar chefs and highlighting the island’s prodigious seafood offerings.

For the competitive set, nothing beats the PEI International Shellfish Festival on the historic Charlottetown Waterfront. From September 13 through 16, foodies from across Canada are invited to participate in oyster-shucking and chowder-cooking competitions. To kick it all off, Food Network chefs Michael Smith and Mark McEwan will host a dinner on September 13, featuring carved-pork canapés and butter-braised lobster poutine.

For a broader taste of the island’s offerings, the month-long Fall Flavours Culinary Festival (September 7 through 30) brings seven of Canada’s top celebrity chefs to PEI, including Top Chef Canada champion Carl Heinrich and pastry chef Anna Olson, who will bake and serve her famous cupcakes at a picnic in Cavendish Grove in PEI National Park. Visitors can also dig for clams off the coast, taste moonshine at the island’s historic distillery and cook with local flavors at a boot camp hosted by the Culinary Institute of Canada.

A Classical Music Cruise Through Greece

A Classical-Music Cruise Through Greece
Courtesy Compagnie du Ponant

It’s hard to imagine a more culturally rich destination than the storied isles of Greece. But for a group of guests traveling with French cruise line Compagnie du Ponant this fall, hiking among the architectural relics of Santorini, exploring the Byzantine monasteries of Patmos and Chios and visiting the white-washed villages of Rhodes and Sifnos is just the daytime activities of their itineraries. In the evenings, they will experience another kind of cultural immersion—one in classical music.

Ponant’s eight-day classical music cruise (which departs from Athens on September 28 and ends in Istanbul on October 5) brings aboard members of the renowned U.S.-based Rose Colored Glasses Chamber Ensemble, who have played with the likes of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra. The musicians will host a series of onboard concerts, performing works by Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt and Dvorák; they will also host lectures on topics like the oeuvre of Debussy and nationalism in music.

“The program we’ve put together is a serious one, one that we hope will invite discussion,” says Joel Pitchon, the ensemble’s violinist and a music professor at Smith College. “But it’s also meant to inspire. After all, traveling through a gorgeous physical environment, listening to gorgeous music—it’s the most beautiful combination of experiences imaginable.”

Performances will take place in the state-of-the-art, 250-seat theater on Ponant’s megayacht, L’Austral, which also features two restaurants serving haute and classic French cuisine; a Sothys spa with swimming pool and fitness studio; and 132 opulent staterooms with marble baths and private balconies. Who says high culture can’t coexist with high comfort? Cruises start at $3,451 (guided excursions of port destinations available at extra cost); 888-400-1082; en.ponant.com.

Exploring Mongolia with Nomadic Expeditions

Exploring Mongolia with Nomadic Expeditions
Courtesy Nomadic Expeditions

It isn’t often that one gets the chance to travel with a roster of experts who not only know the chosen destination inside and out but also have years of experience navigating uncharted territory. In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Nomadic Expeditions is making that happen, assembling an accomplished, innovative team for an 11-day trip (October 3–14) to Mongolia—considered one of the last untouched wilderness areas of Asia.

Jalsa Urubshurow, Nomadic Expeditions CEO and founder, will lead 15 guests along with Peter Matthiessen, author of the National Book Award–winning The Snow Leopard; naturalist and birder Victor Emanuel; and Costas Christ, an editor and columnist for National Geographic Traveler and an expert on ecotourism. “I really wanted to create a once-in-a-lifetime trip that showcased Mongolia’s best-kept secrets in a genuine and distinctive way, while sharing my perspective along with those of my peers, who are some of the sharpest minds in sustainable travel and conservation,” says Urubshurow.

Guests will see the famed Gandan Monastery and meet Hamba Lama, the highest Buddhist lama. Accommodations include traditional gers at the Three Camel Lodge, a top-rated ecolodge in the Gobi Desert. Chances to see animals like the Przewalski’s horse, the world’s last wild equine species, which resides in Hustain Nuruu National Park, and lammergeiers (bearded vultures), which call the foothills of the Altai Mountains home, abound. Visits to places like Bayan-Ulgii, Mongolia’s westernmost province, to see Kazak golden eagles hunt at the Golden Eagle Festival, provide an authentic perspective. And a gala reception and dinner at the Fine Arts Museum in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, celebrates the journey.

The rare glimpse into the country’s beauty, culture and history is matched only by the opportunity to travel side-by-side with such an esteemed assemblage. It may very well be a trip of a lifetime, and the impression left on its guests may just last that long. October 3–14; $13,800 a person (double occupancy); 800-998-6634; nomadicexpeditions.com.

Travel to India and the Rajasthan International Folk Festival

Travel to India and the Rajasthan International Folk Festival
Courtesy Original Travel

There are few things more exotic (or exciting) than a journey to India. Case in point: the 12-day trip through the country offered by UK-based Original Travel, which culminates at the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (October 26–30) in Jodhpur, considered by many to be one of the top ten festivals in the world. Headquartered in the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, the massive musical gathering—held during northern India’s largest full moon of the year—is hosted by His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur and welcomes musicians from all over the world. Vibrant lineups and opportunities to get close to the performers make for an authentic, welcoming vibe that is hard to beat.

The excursion begins in New Delhi, where guests will see sites like the Friday Mosque, the Red Fort and the Old Delhi markets. From there, it’s off to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur, before ending in Jodhpur for the music extravaganza. Accommodation suggestions include The Claridges in Delhi (claridges.com), Samode Haveli in Jaipur (samode.com) and Raas in Jodhpur (raasjodhpur.com). Be quick—the final day to book is August 15. October 20–31; $5,038 a person (includes accommodations, fest passes and guide; excludes flights); originaltravel.co.uk.

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