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College Campuses as Affordable Travel Destinations
March 13, 2009 | Jane Margolies | New York Times
"[...] The Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence, which last year opened its Rafael Moneo-designed Chace Center gallery space, teams up with nearby hotels to offer travel packages in connection with high-profile exhibitions (tickets to a recent Dale Chihuly show were combined with a room at the Providence Biltmore). Hope Alswang, the museum director, said that 75 percent of its visitors were unaffiliated with the college. “When times are rough, maybe you can’t go to the Cape for a week,” said Ms. Alswang. “But you might come to town for a museum show and lunch.”

I decided to test this formula of college campus as inexpensive tourist destination with a quick, culturally edifying trip to New Haven. Long curious about the two fine-art museums at Yale, and having heard that a chic hotel, the Study at Yale, had opened in that same artsy part of the campus, I booked a room, printed out a calendar of events from the school’s Web site, and boarded an Amtrak train in New York on a Friday morning; in two hours, I was checking into my Chapel Street digs.

The Study at Yale — which plays up the academic connection with old-fashioned spectacles for its logo and a bookmark slipped into the sleeve for the electronic room key — did not disappoint. The lobby is a mod living room, furnished with clean-lined leather armchairs and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase full of art and architecture books. My seventh-floor room had a marble-floored bath, Tolomeo desk lamp, oak furniture with lightened finish and windows overlooking the slate roofs of the Yale campus.

An intriguingly titled lecture I’d circled on my events calendar — “Extraordinary Tourists,” about the Transcontinental Excursion of 1912, on offer at Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies — was, alas, already under way, so I decided to get my bearings on a student-led campus tour departing from the Visitor Center, in a 1767 Federal house on Elm Street across from the New Haven Green.

Among the 12 other tourgoers also braving the 29-degree temperature that afternoon was Elisabeth Striedinger, a 28-year-old marketing assistant from Vienna and a graduate of the University of Vienna. Ms. Striedinger, who was taking time out from a three-week vacation in New York for the trip to New Haven, said she had seen Yale portrayed on the TV show “Gilmore Girls.” (Rory ends up going to school there.) “Everyone knows about Yale and the Ivy League,” she said. “Even in Austria.”

Our guide, Matt Eisen, a junior majoring in economics and political science, led us to Old Campus, the blocklong yard where Yale’s first buildings were constructed of brick in the mid-18th century. We also saw a couple of the school’s 12 residential colleges, modeled on those of Oxford and Cambridge universities in England. The neo-Gothic buildings that make up the Yale colleges, Mr. Eisen noted, were constructed in the 1930s with materials that were doctored to look hundreds of years old — the brick dribbled with acid, the panes for the windows purposefully mismatched, the slate roofs I’d admired from my hotel window composed of shingles whose edges had been methodically chipped before they were tucked into place.

After my tour I saw real, not ersatz, Gothic at the Yale Center for British Art — in the form of “The Thames at Westminster Stairs” by Claude de Jongh and intricately detailed oil paintings of the interiors of Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral. The museum’s holdings, said to be the most comprehensive collection of British art outside Britain, swing from serene (the misty waterfront in “Nocturne in Blue and Silver,” by James McNeill Whistler) to severely buttoned-up (a room full of Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits, with staring eyes) to satirical (William Hogarth’s “Midnight Modern Conversation,” depicting supposedly respectable middle-class men who have drunk themselves into a stupor)."
New York Times, Jane Margolies, March 1, 2009

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