Symphony on the Danube provides musical experience for alumni

Posted on Oct 9, 2014 in Alumni News and News

Brad Eland, b’09, g’11, is director of academic programs for the KU Alumni Association. In September, he hosted a Flying Jayhawks excursion in Europe and provided this summary of the trip. We hope you enjoy it.

In early September, 17 Flying Jayhawks set out for a trip to remember through central and Eastern Europe. The group came together from their homes in Topeka, Kansas City, San Antonio, Dallas, Colorado Springs, Miami, and Burke, Virginia, and rendezvoused in Krakow, Poland, to begin the trip. While only two couples knew each other before the trip, each traveler left with a new group of friends who were wonderful travel companions on a trip that featured endless history, great music and bonding over shared KU experiences.

Symphony on the Danube, Flying Jayhawks |

The first stop on the trip featured three days in Krakow, Poland which is the only major Polish city to have emerged from World War II relatively undamaged. Highlights of our time in Krakow included two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Old Town with its famous market square and St. Mary’s Church and the Wieliczka Salt Mine with its underground salt cathedral carved entirely from rock salt. The group was also able to tour the Polish Royal Castle that was home to their monarch for over 500 years. We also took a short drive to Auschwitz and witnessed firsthand the horrifying conditions of the infamous Nazi concentration camp. Our stay in Krakow was highlighted by a private concert for our group in the beautiful Florianka Hall of the famous Polish composer Frederic Chopin. A major draw for the travelers on this trip was the musical experiences, and this first performance set the bar very high.

From Krakow, we took a scenic drive through the Polish and Czech countryside on our way to Prague, Czech Republic. Prague was a unanimous hit among our Flying Jayhawks because of the combination of fascinating history, good food, abundant shopping and perfect weather. Three days in Prague were still not enough to take in all the historical and cultural offerings the city has to offer. Prague is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to some of Europe’s most famous Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

One of Prague’s most famous landmarks is the Charles Bridge, which is open only to foot traffic. This famous bridge is lined with sandstone statues of 17th and 18th century saints that have famously turned black over the years because of the composition of the materials and the aging process. However, one famous spot has maintained its original color as a spot for visitors touch to make a wish. Legend also holds that making a wish in this spot will cause the city to have a permanent pull on the wisher and bring them back to Prague in the future. All of the Flying Jayhawks agreed that they hope this is one legend that turns out to be true. From there, we were also lucky enough to receive a private tour of the Estates Theater and a performance of some of Mozart’s music in the building where his opera, Don Giovanni, premiered in 1787.

Prague, Symphony on the Danube, Flying Jayhawks |

Prague also featured a visit to the Hradcany complex of castles, churches and museums which is the former residence of Bohemian royalty. Here we were lucky enough to view original Beethoven manuscripts in the family-owned Lobkowicz Palace in the Prague Castle complex and hear a private string performance of some of Beethoven’s most famous and recognizable works. The massive St. Vitus Cathedral, which took over 600 years to construct, showcased some of the most extravagant architecture of the entire trip. The cathedral even features a golden mosaic that glistened in the afternoon sun. Needless to say, Prague was certainly a highlight of the trip for all of our Flying Jayhawks.

The next phase of our journey included another drive south through more picturesque Czech countryside to the border town of Passau, Germany. In Passau, we were able to see and actually hear the largest cathedral organ in the world with its 18,000 pipes in the Cathedral of St. Stephan. After our short concert in the cathedral, we boarded the M.S. Amadeus Diamond, which was to be our new home on the Danube River for the rest of the trip. Once on board, we were treated to the Captain’s Welcome Reception, dinner and a performance of Haydn’s and Schumann’s compositions.

M.S. Amadeus Diamond, Flying Jayhawks |

Our sailing time on the river was extremely comfortable. Unlike an ocean cruise, there were no waves, just smooth sailing down the picturesque Danube River. While the “blue” part of the “Blue Danube” may be a stretch at times, we were treated to views of beautiful rolling hills, vineyards and charming towns along the riverbanks. Every room had large windows to take in the view and the sun deck was a very popular spot to take pictures, especially with the Jayhawk flag flying proudly from the front of the ship.

Our cruise down the Danube also featured short stops for excursions in the Austrian towns of Melk and Durnstein. Melk is home to the magnificent Benedictine Abbey featuring stunning frescoes, architecture and gardens. It is also home to over 100,000 medieval manuscripts in their library that are still used by scholars today. Durnstein is home to the blue chapel of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Abbey Church and the hilltop ruins of Castle Kuenringer where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned after the Third Crusade.

Vienna, Symphony on the Danube, Flying Jayhawks |

From there, we sailed into the beautiful Austrian capital city of Vienna. Our day and a half in Vienna featured a lot of history in a short amount of time as a driving tour of the city in the morning to see the most famous landmarks from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The fantastic string of music on the trip was continued in Vienna by a private performance of Mozart’s music in the master composer’s former residence. The string quartet even dressed in traditional garb from Mozart’s time to set the mood even further beyond the beautifully painted performance space. Our last stop in Vienna was to the Schobrunn Palace, which served as the summer residence of the Habsburgs where a six-year-old musical prodigy named Mozart performed for the Empress Maria Theresa and her daughter, the future French queen Marie Antionette.

Vienna will always be remembered by this group of Flying Jayhawks more for its people than its landmarks. We were lucky enough to be joined on board our ship by seven Jayhawks living in Vienna for a reception and dinner. Our group of travelers had been looking forward to this evening the entire trip and it certainly did not disappoint. The local Jayhawks shared their fascinating stories of both how they made it to Lawrence and to Vienna, Austria. Among the seven were multiple Fulbright Scholars, a law professor who spent time as a guest lecturer at KU, and even two women who work at the same Viennese company and were unaware of their shared KU ties. While the locals informed us that the schnitzel we ate on the ship was not as authentic as possible, everyone ended the night with new friends and pen pals to keep in touch with from across the pond.

Budapest, Flying Jayhawks |

Our final stop along the Danube featured a scenic arrival into Budapest, Hungary, known as the “Pearl of the Danube.” Built to rival Vienna as a crown city of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the city is actually the union of the previously separate cities of Buda and Pest on each side of the river. We started our morning on the Pest side that features a flatter landscape and the famous neo-gothic limestone Parliament Building, Heroes’ Square with monuments of great Hungarians dating back to 896 A.D., and the Hungarian State Opera House where we were treated to a short performance. The afternoon featured a trip to the Buda side and its rolling hills. Castle Hill was certainly the highlight of Buda with its breathtaking panoramic views of the entire city.

From Budapest, our Flying Jayhawks were forced to say goodbye to their new friends. This tight-knit group of Jayhawks got along so well, there was talk of reuniting around a future Flying Jayhawks trip and everyone had fun discussing potential destinations. A trip that featured thousands of miles traveled between 11 cities in six countries over 13 days can all be boiled down to 17 proud members of the KU Alumni Association and the new bonds they formed along the way.

Watch the slideshow below to see Brad’s pictures from the Symphony on the Danube trip, or click here to see the photos on Flickr. Participants on this trip are welcome to download the 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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