Posted on Aug 24, 2016 in Alumni News and News
The nine-day “Changing Tides of History: Cruising the Baltic Sea” journey took 23 eager Flying Jayhawks, including Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and her husband Shade, to fascinating cities and historic sites in six countries. The cruise also featured interesting talks from historical and political figures of the region including Lech Walsea, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Polish President; and Sergei Khrushchev, distinguished author and scholar and son of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Brad Eland, vice president of alumni and student programs, shared the memories of his trip.
The group arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark for an afternoon to meet our fellow travelers, stretch our legs from the long flight(s), and try to adjust to our new time zone. The weather was cool and cloudy, a big change from the Kansas heat and humidity that is normal in June! Several Jayhawks set off on foot to explore the city and see Copenhagen’s modern rail station in the heart of the city and Tivoli Gardens, which opened in 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world.
After a stroll through Copenhagen, it was time to board our floating home for the next 10 days, Le Boreal.
The city of Visby is on the small island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea and has been controlled by several countries over time. It is currently part of Sweden, but feels nothing like the bustling mainland that we visited later in the trip. Visby is a charming little town featuring a 13th-century rock wall with original gates, towers, churches and warehouses from medieval times. The museum even featured a grave with remains that are more than 9,000 years old. It truly felt like stepping back in time.
That evening we enjoyed the Captain’s Welcome Reception on board the ship and were able to meet a good majority of our fellow passengers traveling with several schools from across the country. We even played nice with alumni from fellow basketball powerhouse Duke University.
After a night of sailing on the Baltic Sea, we arrived in the port city of Gdansk, Poland. The architecture was stunning and highlighted by the city’s restored mansions that served as the homes for the aristocracy in the 14th century. Our group was also treated to a demonstration about how amber is harvested and made into precious jewelry, and we were tested on how to spot the difference between fake and real samples. It proved to be a hard distinction but a valuable lesson for the shoppers in our group.
Former Polish President Lech Walesa was one of the founders of the solidarity movement, along with Polish workers who established the first independent trade union in Eastern Europe which was a key factor in winning the Polish struggle against Communism. His speech to our travelers left us all inspired by his leadership, vision, and passion for making his country and the entire Eastern European region better.
Our fourth day of the trip was spent entirely at sea. The sunny skies and smooth sailing made for an ideal time to enjoy the sun deck on the ship with a good book or get to know fellow passengers better over a meal or coffee. It also provided our feet a respite from all of the walking we had done.
The city of Tallin, Estonia, was one that most of us on the trip had not heard of before, but it ended up being one that most of us will never forget. It blew us all away with its charming architecture and unique history. Tallin’s medieval town hall is the only intact Gothic-style hall in Northern Europe. The fantastic weather that day with sunshine and clear skies certainly left an impression on us as we enjoyed some fantastic views from high points over the entire city.
Halfway through the trip, we awoke in St. Petersburg, Russia, which was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. While Russians view Moscow as a very “natural” city with winding roads built in the heart of the country and into the natural landscape, St. Petersburg is their “engineered” city that was built completely from scratch on swampland to provide Russia with a key port to the Baltic Sea. The city is laid out in a perfect grid and was designed to be much more western and serve as a gateway to Europe.
Our day began at the incredible State Hermitage Museum, which was originally a czarist palace of Catherine the Great. This museum is so large and its collection so vast, it would take months or even years to see everything they have that highlights Russian history, art and culture. From there we saw the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which featured the famous dome and spire architecture that Russia is known for.
That evening, we were treated to a Russian folklore show at a local art center that included dancing, singing and comedy (with a smidge of vodka mixed in).
Our second day in St. Petersburg was highlighted by a visit to another of Catherine the Great’s palaces featuring the Amber Room with walls composed entirely of decorative amber. It is considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. The city has nearly 50 palaces and the opulence of the czars was truly unbelievable. You started to take the amount of gold for granted, by the end!
Our evening featured a fascinating lecture from Sergei Khrushchev, who talked about his family’s major role in Russian history as well as his views on current events in the region from his perspective while living and working in America. He had a front row seat to history and a very unique viewpoint as someone who clearly loves Russia, but has spent much of his later life in America. We all walked away with a new outlook on how Russian people view the world and current events.
The Russian people, particularly those who work in the tourism industry, blew us away with their kindness and humor. They were legitimately excited to welcome us to their country and showcase their history and culture, which made the trip that much more fun.
Our ship’s approach into Helsinki was certainly a sight to behold as we all were easily able to discern why the city has won so many recent awards for design in an urban environment. The city had an incredible modern feel to it all while we were visiting some of the city’s historic sites. A major highlight for our group was a visit to the Church of the Rock, which was impressively built directly into natural bedrock.
The final day of our trip landed us in Stockholm, Sweden. We had a light rain to deal with on our last day in Europe, but no one seemed to mind as we had a city tour by bus on the schedule. Stockholm proved to again have its own unique flair for architecture and design. This part of the world certainly has made its mark on that front melding the modern with all of the history they have as well. That, along with the “white nights” we experienced during summer in the Baltic Region, will certainly be unforgettable. Thankfully our ship was well prepared with blackout shades—we were far enough north that we only had 3-4 hours of darkness per night.
As the 23 Flying Jayhawks departed for home or for more European adventures without the group, everyone was thankful for what we had experienced and eager for the next trip with fellow Jayhawks.
—Brad Eland, vice president of alumni and student programs, hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip “Changing Tides of History: Cruising the Baltic Sea” from June 15-24, 2016. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2017 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
See pictures from the trip in the slideshow below, or view the photos on Flickr