Flying Jayhawks cruise western Europe, explore wine country

Posted on Aug 14, 2014 in Alumni News and News

Debbi Johanning, c’98, and her husband David, f’94, served as hosts of the Flying Jayhawks trip “European Tapestry” from June 23-July 1, 2014. Debbi is the digital media content manager for the KU Alumni Association. David is a former member of the KU men’s basketball team.

The Flying Jayhawks trip “European Tapestry,” offered by long-time travel partner Go Next, was billed as an intricate tapestry of colors, cultures and world-class architecture in western Europe, but many travelers agreed that it should also be touted as a wine lover’s dream trip.

Oceania Cruises’ M.S. Nautica set sail from Lisbon, Portugal, on June 23 and docked in Porto, Portugal, where port wine received its name in the later half of the 17th century; the cities of La Coruña and Bilbao in Spain; and spent a luxurious two-day, overnight stay in Bordeaux, France, the home of the world-famous Bordeaux wines.

Each day, except for the final day spent sailing the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel, included a choice of several guided excursions. We traveled the ancient narrow and winding streets of Porto in a trolley; visited Europe’s oldest working lighthouse, the Tower of Hercules, in La Coruña; and toured the beaming titanium-tiled Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, an iconic symbol of the city’s economic and cultural revival.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao |

After sailing for hours down the Garonne River, Nautica docked in the port city of Bordeaux, mere feet from the concrete promenade that lines the river. Our travelers were delighted to discover that the Bordeaux Wine Festival, a biennial international wine tourism attraction, was taking place on the promenade—literally steps away from the ship. It was a tough choice to decide between taking preplanned excursions, exploring Bordeaux on our own or experiencing the wine festival! Some of us attempted all three options.

The perfect weather in Bordeaux was interrupted by a brief rain shower that dampened the wine festival but produced the most complete, brilliant rainbow I’ve ever seen—we enjoyed the view while dining in Nautica’s Polo Grill steakhouse, on my birthday no less.

Bordeaux Wine Festival |

Our Flying Jayhawks group included 42 alumni, friends and future Jayhawks. We quickly discovered many small-world connections among the group, and something unique about this particular Flying Jayhawks trip is that half of the group was made up of a blended family coming together for a reunion.

We bumped into KU fans and alumni everywhere we went. Our flight to Europe included a connection in the Toronto airport, where we spotted a couple hurriedly pulling carry-on bags decked out with KU bag tags. We assumed they might be on our trip, but alas they rushed off to make a connection to Barcelona.

Upon arrival in Lisbon, we noticed a couple who had been at our gate in the Kansas City airport. “They must be part of our trip,” I said, “if we’ve traveled all this way on the same flights.” My husband ventured off to ask them; sure enough, they were sailing with us, though not on the official trip through the Alumni Association.

And then at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, a man saw our Jayhawk gear and approached us. He and his wife attended KU, spent many years in Nebraska and later retired to Arizona. They were serving as chaperones for Semester at Sea, a shipboard program for global study abroad, and excitedly shared that a current KU student was part of the program. Of course we tracked her down in the museum—it was so much fun meeting Jayhawks 4,500 miles from home!

Our European adventure proved something we already knew: no matter how far from the Hill we may travel, we’ll always feel at home in the company of fellow Jayhawks.

European Tapestry group, Flying Jayhawks |

Watch the slideshow below to see more pictures from the European Tapestry cruise in western Europe, or click here to view the photos on Flickr. Trip participants are welcome to download photos for personal use.

Travel the world with fellow Jayhawks! Visit for more information about upcoming trips and to sign up for emails about the Flying Jayhawks program. Or, contact Tegan Thornberry at or 785.864.4765 for more information.

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