Ten days, eight Mediterranean ports of call, 60+ Jayhawks and the most beautiful weather. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? It was.
Read on to learn a little more about each day of this itinerary from Jayhawk hosts Danielle Hoover and Debbi Johanning.
Day 1: Florence and Pisa
After our long travel day from Kansas to Rome, we boarded Oceania Cruises’ m.s. Nautica at the port of call, Civitavecchia. Our first port was Livorno, and I boarded a bus that took us to Florence and Pisa. The drive to Florence was a highlight in itself, with views of sweeping hills and vineyards of the Italian countryside. Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and I took a walking tour through the Historic Centre of Florence, which was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1982. We saw some of their most iconic sites, including The Duomo cathedral, the Gelleria degli Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio that spans the Arno River. The history and the architecture in this city was beyond gorgeous!
After a delicious lunch of pizza and wine, we took our bus to Pisa and I could not resist taking the iconic tourist picture: holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Day 2: Portofino/Genoa
Our next port was scheduled to be Portofino, a tender port, but with the possibility of some high tide issues, the captain decided to play it safe and we docked in Genoa instead. Our group excursion this day took me to the beautiful Italian coastline town of Camogli. This was probably my favorite moment of the entire trip. After touring Florence and Pisa for 11 hours the day before, arriving in this quaint fishing village was exactly what I needed. I felt like I was in a postcard! The views of the colorful cliffside houses along the Mediterranean sea was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
As I walked along the seaside promenade, school-aged boys were playing soccer, locals were sunbathing along the water and everyone was just enjoying the beautiful day. I joined some of our Flying Jayhawk guests at one of the local outdoor cafes and we enjoyed a glass of Italian wine. It was the Bella Vita!
Day 3: Èze, Nice, Monaco, and Monte Carlo
This was one of my favorite days because the scenery of the French coast was so beautiful and we were able to see so much of it. We started our day in Èze, France, which was first populated around 2000 BC. Perched on top of the cliff, it became known as the “eagles nest” because of the vast views across the coastline and the sea. The history behind this place was magnificent; the winding cobblestone streets and the views were breathtaking.
We then took a scenic drive to Nice and stopped for a picture with the view of the Bay of Angels. The local street market was in full swing, which made for wonderful people watching and shopping. Lunch with some our Jayhawk guests along the beach of the Bay of Angels was a highlight of the day!
We toured the cathedral of Monaco, the burial place of the royalty of Monaco, including Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. The famous couple was also married in the cathedral. A trip to Monaco wouldn’t be complete with seeing the world famous Formula One Grand Prix and the Monte Carlo Casino. And, we may have returned later that night to try our luck…
Day 4: Toulon/Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence is a beautiful city. It was a leisurely day and we enjoyed the city as the locals would. After a walking tour we saw the Cathedral Saint – Sauveur d’ Aix-en-Provence and the city center. Many locals were out shopping at the local market, which had so many fresh fruits and vegetables and beautiful flowers.
Another highlight of this day was our Jayhawk reception on board the ship. The Jayhawk guests were able to socialize and get to know one another better. This reception included the other university alumni associations on the ship, and our loyal fans started the “Rock Chalk” chant to show off school spirit. We were very proud!
Day 5: Barcelona
Barcelona is a large, beautiful and historical city. Some highlights were La Sagrada Familia (the Church of the Sacred Family), the cathedral begun by Gaudi that has been under construction for more than 100 years. It will not be completed until around 2030. I also loved Las Ramblas, a street in the center of the city that is full of locals and tourists. Endless amounts of tapas bars, restaurants, shopping and the large city market can be found here.
Day 6: Valencia
Our tour of Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, was a combination of new and old. We started the day in the Old City with a walking tour of the vast Central Market; Lonja, the old silk exchange building; and the Cathedral, which is home to the “Holy Grail”. We also visited the most modern part of the city, the City of Arts and Science, to admire the largest cultural-educational complex in Europe.
Day 7: Mahón
We docked on the tiny Spanish island of Menorca for the day. I ventured to the ancient capital city of Ciutadella, which is perched on the western end of the island. We walked around the picturesque town with a guide to see some of the churches and palaces. Afterward, we had plenty of time to shop and explore the town on our own before heading back to Mahón, the current capital.
Our Jayhawk travelers gathered for a group photo and enjoyed dinner together that evening.
Day 8: Cruising the Mediterranean Sea
Today we flew the KU flag proudly on the upper deck of the Nautica! We had time to relax (and re-pack!) on the ship and enjoy the food, pool deck and other activities like bingo, shuffleboard and mini-golf. It was a perfect day to catch up with our fellow passengers! Or nap, if that’s your preference.
Day 9: Naples/Pompeii
The final day of the cruise included options to explore Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, or Capri. The excavated ruins of Pompeii are amazing to see in person. The city was buried in ash after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. It truly is a glimpse into a city frozen in time: plaster casts of victims were visible, along with other artifacts of life in ancient times.
If you’re looking for a way to experience as much of the Mediterranean coastline as possible, I highly recommend the Coastal Vignettes cruise. There are so many choices to make for daily excursions—you’ll want to do it all! It truly is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen.
We were truly fortunate to travel with so many fantastic Jayhawks! And, fortunately, we experienced incredible weather the entire trip. In fact, we couldn’t have ordered better weather if we tried: mid 70s, no humidity, no wind, nothing but completely comfortable sunshine and beautiful blue skies.
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Coastal Vignettes” took place Oct. 16-27, 2018. The trip was hosted by Tegan Thornberry, director of membership, marketing and business development; Danielle Hoover, director of donor relations and Wichita programs; and Debbi Johanning, director of digital media. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
For the latest Flying Jayhawks trip, a special guest joined us as the trip’s host. Enjoy the story of the trip through Glacial Alaska, as only former KU basketball player and “Survivor” contestant Scot Pollard could tell it.
I had been to Alaska before but it was just to play basketball. When coaches take you on trips they tend to just give you an hour or two of “local stuff” and the rest is practice, rest, and making sure you’re in your bed when you’re supposed to be! Needless to say I hadn’t REALLY experienced Alaska before.
I can definitely say I have now! Wow! All ten days on board and off of our Oceania cruise ship and in the different ports, our group of flying Jayhawks could not avoid the beautiful scenery even if we wanted to.
Stop 1: Ketchikan
Flying Jayhawks Dana and Sue Anderson “kidnapped” my family and took us on a private fishing boat. All six of us caught our first salmon and a couple of us caught more than one for a total of 10. We didn’t lose one fish which made our captain, Ray, very surprised. The highlight of this day, though, didn’t happen in the water. It happened ON IT. Our captain asked if I would whistle at one of the bald eagles overhead. One was flying away but fairly close as I gave it a really loud whistle. Our national bird and a symbol of our country did a 180 and headed back toward us as my son Ozzy threw a frozen bait herring in the air. The fish landed about 30 feet from our boat and this amazing bald eagle swooped down and grabbed that fish right in front of all of us!
Stop 2: Juneau
It’s the capital of Alaska don’t “Juneau!”? Dad jokes aside, it was really cool to go to a city only reachable by boat or plane. We had originally planned to zip line here, but someone (me!) was too heavy to go. So we scrambled and ended up doing a 12-person canoe trip in a lake which happens to have a glacier running into it.
Highlights: paddling up to about 300 yards away (for safety) from Mendenhall Glacier which was spectacular. Paddling near a waterfall called Nugget falls and getting sprayed just a little with 35 degree water.
Lowlights: Some people don’t paddle much or with everyone else, therefore making it harder to paddle across a two mile wide lake.
Did I mention the water was 35 degrees? Yeah it was cold on the lake despite the 65 degree day.
Stop 3: Haines
Bald eagles, bald eagles, and more bald eagles. Due to our encounter with the bald eagle on the fishing trip, we were a little spoiled but still enjoyed our float trip down the Chilkat River in the Eagle Preserve. We were lucky enough to share a raft with flying Jayhawks Virginia Crane and Joan Treece.
Our pilot was Dr. Scott Ramsey, and if you ever go on this adventure, make sure he’s your guide. Not only was he knowledgeable, but he was funny and put up with our incessant questions and quest for the perfect river rock to take as a souvenir. There are only about 2,500 residents in Haines, and most of them leave for the winter, so there isn’t a whole lot to do there besides fish. And there’s always fishing. If you get bored of fishing, there’s fishing there. They pride themselves on being “salmon snobs” there. There are certain types of salmon they just won’t eat. Here’s a hint: most of that type of salmon is what we eat in the lower 48 states.
Oh yeah, and we saw about 60 bald eagles!
At sea sailing up to Hubbard Glacier: we had to keep our distance from the glacier as it routinely “calves” ice bergs the size of ten story buildings! We didn’t see any that big, but there were several small ones during our visit. This glacier is about 76 miles long and growing! By 2025 it’s predicted that it will close off the bay we were in entirely.
This day was absolutely eye candy. The sky was perfectly blue the entire time, which we were told is rare in that area. The glacier sparkled in the sun, the icebergs we floated past were amazing. One even broke in half right in front of the ship, revealing its center which looked like gemstones. The ice is 400 years old, and has been compressed so much the air is mostly pushed out, which is why it has that color.
After getting an eyeful and filling our cameras memories with pictures, we sailed away to our next stop. The temperature was in the 70’s which meant that in the protected pool area in the top/middle of the ship it felt like 80’s. Of course a few of us got our swimsuits on and enjoyed the hot tub, sailing away from a glacier, in Alaska.
Not a bad day.
Stop 4: Icy Straight Point in Hoonah
This was my favorite stop. This island features tides that change up to 30 feet four times a day. When our ship docked at 7 a.m., we were able to walk the gangplank to the new dock to get to land. Within an hour, the tide dropped so much that the gangplank was unusable and guests had to board tenders (lifeboats) to get to shore until the tide returned later in the afternoon. We boarded a tram to take a ride through rainforest (yes, rainforest. The Tongass National Park in Alaska is the largest national forest in America. It is also Earths largest temperate rainforest. And my kids thought they were just on this cruise to have fun.) Our team stopped near the “beach” which was a rocky shoreline. We looked for rocks and chatted with the locals from our tram. Then we headed back to where we started for a show.
The natives here are the Tlingit tribe. They were natives of a different area across the bay, but according to their oral history they were pushed off of their native land by a glacier and had to settle here. The show was performed by high school aged descendants of the tribe, mostly full blooded members, and narrated by an elder member. Because they hold their history sacred, we were not allowed to video or take pictures of the show, which I thought was very special. They danced, we danced, we listened, and we enjoyed their wonderful history.
This place was also home to the world’s largest “ZipRider” which is a harness version of zip lining. Guess who wasn’t allowed to go again? Yep, the giant guy. Not only was I too heavy but the girl working it said it didn’t matter because I was too tall as well. Giant problems…
On our walk back to the ship we stopped to talk with our fellow Jayhawks who had settled down near the ocean with a pitcher of beer to muse about the show we had just witnessed. My son was skipping rocks into the ocean just ahead when three whales breached about 25 feet off shore right in front of him! We ran down, cameras in hand and got a picture of one of the whales flukes (tails). This shows how close to shore they were.
How were they this close, you ask? Many years ago glaciers carved deep trenches in this area. This made it so that just off shore the ocean floor can be as deep as 800 feet!
From learning about a culture I didn’t know existed to their land and its climate to whales popping up to say hello just a few feet away, yeah, definitely my favorite stop!
Stop 5: Sitka
Sitka was founded by Russians. Although my family was annoyed, other people at least tolerated the giant guy who wouldn’t stop talking with the bad Russian accent. We spent most of the day aboard a boat spotting whales, otters, sea lions, dolphins and yes, more bald eagles. Due to our earlier experiences with both the eagles and the whales, we were again a little spoiled on this trip.
Although it was nice, we wish we had spent the day in Sitka learning about the city and its history. We didn’t have enough time to do so after our trip due to needing to be back on the ship so our Sitka experience was limited.
As you might guess, I won best dressed at the Big 12 discussion panel.
The topics included the NCAA, the big 12, television and its impact on amateur athletics, as well as AAU and its effect on basketball specifically (I hate it). There were great points brought up and debates had.
Last stop: Victoria BC
We boarded a bus and got a wonderful tour of some highlights of Victoria on the way to the Burchart Gardens. The area used to be a rock quarry once upon a time and once the limestone was all taken out was abandoned. Well the Burcharts of the early 1900’s wouldn’t have that and created this: “The sunken garden”.
I never thought I would appreciate walking through several different gardens and so many flowers, but it smelled wonderful and the sun was shining (every day of this trip but one!), in fact I was wearing a tank top and shorts! On the way back our bus went through downtown and next to the bay which made us wish we had more time to spend in that beautiful city. Therefore, like Sitka, it will probably be a future stop for the Pollards.
It made a great last stop though and provided a great “frame” for our trip. (Sorry, one last dad joke).
If you haven’t considered a trip with the Flying Jayhawks, do so. If you have considered it, pull the trigger. You will not regret it. We had a blast getting to know our fellow alumni and experiencing the wonders and history of Alaska with them. Oceania cruise line is the best cruise line I’ve been on from the food to the service to the accommodations. A trip with perfect weather, venues, nature, and travel companions? Yes, sign me up again! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Big 12 Glacial Alaska” took place July 13-23, 2018, and was hosted by Scot Pollard! View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
If I were to make a souvenir T-shirt for our Amalfi Coast trip, it would say “Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto.” Translated, that means “Eat well, laugh often, love much.”
The love part was easy.
Well, to be clear, it was easy after 20 hours of traveling. The Hotel Raito is built into the hillside above the charming village of Vietri sul Mare. From my balcony I sat and stared at the village below with its red tile roofs and terraced groves of lemon trees. The Tyrrhenian Sea faded into the horizon while the Apennine Mountains loomed in the distance. I could have sat on that balcony for hours, but there was too much to see.
By day two, we were ready to travel by boat to Positano. Seeing the Amalfi Coast by boat is a must. There is no better way to take in the sweeping views of the villages cut into the cliffs above the sea. It’s hard to imagine the first settlers arriving and deciding it would be a great place to build. Seeing it now, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to live.
Stepping off the boat in Positano was like stepping back in time. The cobblestone streets lead into the heart of the vertical city, painted in vibrant colors. Outdoor cafes line the coast and small shops selling linen clothing, handmade leather sandals, pottery and all things lemon, line the walkways. Trellises of wisteria cover the paths up the hill to provide a little shade for hiking up into the village.
The next day, we went to a farm that produces mozzarella di bufala. Yes, that is mozzarella cheese made with the milk from water buffalo. According to our travel director, it’s the only real mozzarella. The buffalo on the farm are pampered after milking-they actually line up waiting for their turn! After seeing the whole process, we sampled the final product. There’s no doubt it’s the freshest mozzarella di bufala I will ever have!
Down the road, we explored the ancient city of Paestum. It was built by the Greeks more than 2,500 years ago. The city has has three temples that are still very well preserved, as well as an amphitheater and many of the surrounding walls. We were also able to see many of the artifacts from the site in the accompanying museum.
Naples & Pompeii
After spending a day in the countryside, it was time to head into the city. We got a nickel tour of Naples and stopped to visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. The museum houses hundreds of marble statues and thousands of artifacts from Herculaneum and Pompeii. The mosaics preserved from Pompeii were some of the most impressive pieces.
Pre-trip, I was most excited to visit Pompeii and it did not disappoint. Pompeii is such an amazing archeological site. We strolled up and down the cobblestone streets, toured the homes and the Forum, learned so much of the history from our guide and saw the plaster casts of those who didn’t escape the eruption. It was such an unbelievably unique opportunity.
There was so much beauty among the ruins. From the well preserved paintings to the poppies that thrive in the volcanic soil. If I ever make it back, it will definitely be on my list to revisit.
Although Pompeii was fantastic, I think I enjoyed Herculaneum more. Although it’s a fraction of the size of Pompeii, it is better preserved due to the fact that it was destroyed more by pyroclastic flows than by falling ash. Standing in the streets of Herculaneum with Mount Vesuvius towering in the distance behind us made me feel as though I could see the Romans from 2000 years ago, going about their day with no idea of the fate that was about to befall them.
There isn’t much that can compare to the beauty of Capri. Yes, you can find the designer shops in Anacapri or sit at a café and people watch all day. But, if it were up to me, I would spend all my time in the water surrounding Capri. The crystal-clear blue green water juxtaposed against the sheer white cliffs is a sight to behold. The many grottoes, arches and at the time, hundreds, if not thousands, of migrating jellyfish, kept me entertained all day.
We spent our last full day in Italy visiting the mountain town of Ravello. It is an inspiration to all kinds of artists, writers and musicians and it’s easy to see why. It’s a great place to sit and get lost in your thoughts, with its sweeping views of the coast and mountainside, ornate gardens and a charming town square.
I’m sure you can imagine how easy it was to “eat well.”
(We were eating gelato nearly every day…twice on one day. But, I stuck with the fruit flavors so it was basically a health food.) We went to an amazing pizza restaurant in Naples called Mammina. We sat and talked while the wine flowed (and the pizza did, too). I don’t ever order a traditional Neapolitan pizza at home and I’m not sure that I ever can now.
We spent hours laughing around Italy.
Limoneto is another great restaurant in Vietri sul Mare. I had fresh fish, pasta, bread and wonderful company. A great part about traveling with the Flying Jayhawks is all of the people you meet-alumni who have a passion for traveling and a love for KU.
We had a wonderful travel director and a great group of Jayhawks. Visiting beautiful places and sharing so many good meals bonds people together.
I leave you with a quote from an Italian writer, Francesco Guicciardini, “Poiché non c’è null ache vale così tanto la pena di avere come gli amici, non perdere mai l’occasione di farne di nuovi.” It means, “Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them.” That is exactly what you do on a Flying Jayhawks trip, make friends, and I’m ready for my next opportunity.
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Amalfi Coast” took place April 17-25, 2018. The trip was hosted by Michelle Lang, director of alumni programs. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
I always knew it was great to be a Jayhawk, but after spending a week with 13 fellow Jayhawks in Ireland I realized just how lucky I am be a part of such a great community. Together we rode on a charter bus across the west coast of Ireland, endured the spontaneous rain showers, enjoyed a cup of Irish coffee, laughed with Joe as he told his jokes and appreciated the rich Irish history we were lucky enough to experience. It was a Wild Atlantic journey that we will never forget.
Westport, a beautiful town in County Mayo, quickly became our temporary home away from home. It didn’t take long to see why Westport had been voted the “best place to live in Ireland.” It’s a picturesque town with streets lined with local shops, restaurants and pubs; stone bridges that cross over the Carrowbeg River; and a rich culture in the surrounding landscape and people. The town has something for everyone, and it provided the perfect setting for us to come home to after excursions throughout the day.
Wild Atlantic Way via charter bus
We spent a great deal of time together aboard our charter bus in the trusty hands of our driver, Joe. He was always prepared with a lesson for the day, witty jokes to help pass the time and an occasional song. It’s safe to say Joe was never short on information.
As we rode from place to place we enjoyed the beautiful green sceneries while learning about Irish history, culture, economy, folk tales and more.
This immense mountain is the first thing you see as you enter Westport, and it’s one of my favorite sights and stories from this whole journey. Croagh Patrick is a holy mountain, named in honor of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick. More than 100,000 people climb Croagh Patrick every year in pilgrimage. It’s a tradition that dates back at least 5,000 years.
At the top of the mountain sits a little white church that can be seen on a clear day. It’s a tiny white speck from the mainland, but its significance to County Mayo and Ireland certainly is not small. One of our very own Jayhawks was lucky enough to climb Croagh Patrick while we were there. She recounted the climb as a deeply moving experience and was honored to make the same pilgrimage of so many people before her.
Castles and churches and sheep, oh my!
Ireland definitely isn’t short of castles, estates, churches and sheep. These four things can sum up our week in Ireland almost perfectly. Sheep are found everywhere—probably because there are more sheep in Ireland than people. But, that just means more wool for sweaters (for us to purchase) at Foxford Woollen Mills.
This was one of my favorite places we visited, and not just because of the great shopping. The history behind the making of wool sweaters and blankets goes back to the 19th century, and the machines that make the fabric are large and require special attention. Before our shopping spree, we walked through the factory to watch the making of many different types of fabrics.
A couple of days later we got to see the other side of wool, live sheep, up close and personal! We went to see a sheep herding demonstration. The man who gave the demonstration had an interesting story of how he came into the business, but you would think he’d been doing this his whole life. His dogs Holly and Lizzie gave us quite a show. It almost made us forget that it was raining the entire time, but hey that’s Ireland!
In addition to the hundreds of sheep we encountered we saw our fair share of castles, estates and churches. From our first stop at the medieval Dunguaire Castle to the large estate at Kylemore Abbey and the Westport House, each stop offered beautiful sights of historic structures and green landscapes. We were fortunate to have expert guides at each of our stops to walk us through the history as we took in all the natural beauty around us. I could go on and on describing each place we went, but they’re all so beautifully different and had their own unique styles. So I just ranked my favorites by pictures so you’ll see what I mean.
1. Kylemore Abbey
2. Gothic Church at Kylemore Abbey
3. Westport House
All in all, it was a memorable week and I’m lucky I got to experience Ireland with a fantastic group of Jayhawks. Oh, and as if we couldn’t get any luckier, we saw a rainbow while in Ireland… how fitting! Slàinte!
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Wild Atlantic Way” took place May 8-16, 2018. The trip was hosted by Crysta Moon, coordinator of membership and business development. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
The late, great Tina Turner knew what she was talking about when she said, “I never saw the good side of the city, ’til I hitched a ride on a river boat queen.” If you’ve never had the chance to set sail, here are four good reasons why your next vacation should be a river boat cruise in Holland.
1. The Dutch know water.
If there’s one thing the Dutch have mastered, it’s water. The Netherlands sits among hundreds of canals. Actually, the Canals of Amsterdam are a real thing, as real as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amsterdam has more than 62 miles of canals, resulting in nearly 100 islands and 1,500 bridges.
Furthermore, all of the water locks (including the famous Delta Works) work as Holland’s barriers to the sea. These water blockades have been magnificently crafted to keep the water flowing steadily and save harbor towns from high tides. However, if the docks were to fail, the towns themselves have their own safeguards: nine-foot walls surrounding the city with manual locks that require an army of locals to raise and lower in the case of a flood.
All of these waterways make for some beautiful scenery including gorgeous landscapes, glamorously constructed bridges and numerous opportunities for drinks and dinner on a houseboat-turned-patio.
2. You are here.
Because of the Dutch people’s extensive knowledge of waterworks, nearly all of the docks are within walking distance to the city centers. It’s as easy as that: walk off the boat, take a five-minute walk into town and find yourself surrounded by 400 year-old city halls, guildhalls, and housing.
Visit the Beguinage in Bruges, originally built in the 1300s for women that opposed the Catholic Church; cathedrals housing masterpieces by Rubens and Michelangelo; and weigh stations from the 1600s.
3. What’s on tomorrow’s agenda?
During a quick seven days abroad, our group of Jayhawks visited seven cities, three cathedrals, one enormous tulip garden, one art museum, one city exclusively accessible by water, one World War II memorial cemetery, multiple famous works of art, lots of leaning buildings (because of the wet soil), multiple dams and locks, and lots and lots of bridges. Did I mention anything about the famous canals?
4. Jayhawks are everywhere.
The days are fast and furious and your options to explore cities are endless. But you can always count on ending the day with a dinner cruise down the river next to some of the finest Jayhawks. Actually, breakfast, lunch and dinner aboard the Amadeus Brilliant allowed for plenty of time to cozy up and listen to to the stories of fellow Jayhawks.
It also didn’t hurt that our group of 18 ’Hawks left a little bit of Kansas wherever we went. We showed our pride with Jayhawk door tags, place cards and even a KU flag waving in the wind. Everyone arrived to enjoy a vacation but, at the heart of it, we shared a common love for our alma mater, which put the icing on the cake of this river boat cruise.
The Flying Jayhawks trip “River Life along the Dutch Waterways” took place April 18-26, 2018. The trip was hosted by Kara Rodriguez, assistant director of digital media. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
The safari vehicles—sturdy Toyota Land Cruisers with pop-up roofs that let us stand and drink in the vast panorama of grass and sky surrounding us—were circled up on a dusty Serengeti track, miles from civilization but mere yards from a parade of elephants tearing into an acacia thorn bush with ravenous gusto. We were close enough to hear the crunching of every leafy, spikey bite.
Rowe McKinley, e’70, b’71, one of 16 Flying Jayhawks on the “Tanzania Safari During the Great Migration,” grinned and called out what many of us were thinking at that moment and many others on the February trip: “Just like in Kansas, right?”
Yes, a journey halfway around the world to the African savannah produced surprising echoes of life back home. Bouncing across Serengeti National Park on roads that ran from gravel to mud to faint two-track paths at times felt a little like driving in the Kansas Flint Hills. Except this sea of grass is larger—12,000 square miles spread across Tanzania and Kenya, compared to 9,900 in Kansas and Oklahoma—and mostly flatter, with vast, treeless open plains broken only by the occasional kopje, rock outcroppings of 500-million-year-old granite that are favored perches of the big cats that call Serengeti home.
Much, much more common, though, were other-worldly moments of awe.
The big cats—lions and leopards—had a lot to do with that. Along with the African elephant, the Cape buffalo and the black rhinoceros, they make up the “Big Five,” the exotic bucket-list quintet that big-game hunters coined to highlight the five toughest animals to hunt on foot in Africa. We were shooting only with our cameras, but the Big Five still loomed as must-see fauna, and our guides made sure that crossing paths with each was at the top of their to-do lists.
We knew we were living charmed lives when we spotted the toughest get on that list—the shy, mostly nocturnal leopard—less than an hour after we arrived in the park. Guides often spend their last day with a tour group trying to hustle up a leopard encounter; we were still shaking off the dust of our bush flight, buzzing from our first wildlife sighting (a bulky antelope called a topi) from the tiny airstrip’s terminal, when an excited burst of Swahili on the Toyota’s shortwave alerted our guide, Neiman, that elusive chui was lounging in a tree not far up the road. And just like that—after 20-plus hours of flight time across three continents, a couple of bus rides and short bush-plane hop—we found ourselves hot on the trail in a surefire African safari.
Over the next week we saw three more leopards, countless lions (including a mating pair that fulfilled their biological imperative with complete disregard for the giggling gaggle of spying tourists), and dozens of elephants ranging from massive solitary bulls to large clans of cows and calves. Alerted by vultures dropping from the sky, we converged on a pair of cheetahs lounging in the shade, their bellies swollen from feasting on a young eland whose parents retreated forlornly in the distance. We intercepted the great migration of wildebeests and zebra and sat idling like drivers at a rail crossing, watching as long trains of the grazers moving in search of fresh grass rumbled across the road in front of us. Somehow, amid a teeming swirl of thousands of the animals, we were able to focus on one wildebeest as she gave birth and, within minutes, nudged her newborn to its feet.
As the days passed, we grew adept at identifying the many, many different African antelope, from the dog-sized dik-dik to the massive waterbuck and the ubiquitous impala. We spotted a few solitary black rhinos and great herds of Cape buffalo, including one bull that nearly crashed our al fresco dinner when a ranger chased him away from the swimming pool, where he and a mate had come to drink. Side-trips to Olduvai Gorge, a Maasai village and the Kibaoni Primary School, where Jayhawks donated more than 30 pounds of school supplies, put us in touch with Tanzania’s human culture, both ancient and current. And back at the lodges after a long dusty day on the safari trail, we gratefully accepted the warm hospitality of our hosts and the good company of our fellow travelers, who included groups from Johns Hopkins and Ole Miss. The dark nights occasionally rang with the calls of baboons and lions, and a skyful of stars—some familiar, some unknown to us—lit our way.
On our first night at the Serengeti Serena Lodge, one of five lodges and hotels we stayed at on the 12-day trip, we gathered for a welcome reception on a terrace overlooking a beautiful valley where the sun was setting behind green hills. We watched as a local band serenaded Fred, e’67, and Juilane Chana, d’68, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. On our last night there, the lodge treated us to a surprise barbecue, in recognition, our Gohagan tour director Lydian Eijsbouts related, that we were “a special group, always smiling and happy.” As we lingered after dinner under the cooling night sky, in the flickering light of bonfires set to create a festive mood (and to ward off the very real threat of marauding wildlife), we could hear a chorus of many singing voices coming nearer and nearer. Soon a line of lodge staff—bartenders and waiters and chefs in their tall white toques—paraded into our gathering, serenading us with a Tanzanian song as they passed around a cake festooned with a single Swahili word: Kwa heri. Goodbye.
As the song faded away, a lone voice piped up with a familiar refrain. Slowly at first, and then with gusto, the whole table joined in. “Rock chalk, Jayhawk” rang out across the African night, as our hosts smiled in surprise. We hadn’t really understood the words of their song, and likely they were mystified by ours. But the feeling behind both was clear enough: The world is full of wonders, and aren’t we lucky that, together, we’ve shared a few.
The Flying Jayhawks trip to Tanzania took place Feb. 1-12, 2018, and was hosted by Steven Hill, associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine. View more pictures from the trip on Flickr. Pictures may be downloaded for personal use. For more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, visit our website.
A group of 17 Jayhawks enjoyed a history-rich trip to Egypt February 13-24, 2018. Tegan Thornberry, director of membership and business development shared her account of the trip.
El Kheri Sabah, meaning good morning! We began our day with a trip to the Egyptian Museum. The museum is home to over 100,000 artifacts spanning over 5,000 years of antiquities. The mummy rooms were fascinating to see, with my favorite being the King Tutankhamen gallery. The ornate gold funerary mask was more vibrant in person than pictures can could show.
We visited the Step Pyramids in Sakkara and the Tomb of King Teti in the morning. On our way to lunch, we stopped at a carpet school to see how they used the giant looms to produce beautiful rugs. Lunch included a nice view of the Great Pyramids of Giza before we headed to the site. The Pyramids did not disappoint. It was truly amazing to see how they have weathered the test of time. A trip to the Solar Boat Museum and the Sphinx rounded out the day.
Islamic and Coptic Cairo
The visits included trips to the Hanging Church, Church of St. Sergius, the Ben Ezra Synagogue, the Citadel and Alabaster Mosque and the grand Al-Rifai Mosque. It was a busy morning experiencing the places of worship for different religions all living in the same communities. After lunch, we had time to explore the Khan el Khalili bazaar. The bazaar was quite the experience with the sights, sounds, and smells from the various vendor stalls. It was fun shopping and collecting treasures to bring home.
Time for a morning flight from Cairo to Luxor, and then straight to the Temple of Luxor. A trip to the Luxor Museum and a felucca boat ride on the Nile rounded out the day. The next day was spent at the Valleys of the Kings and Queens. Highlights included King Tutanhkamen and Nefertari’s tombs. That evening a small number of us visited the Chicago House and learned about their mission to preserve Egypt’s ancient cultural heritage through document conservation and restoration.
Setting sail – Edfu, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Abu Simbel
As we cruised the Nile, we made stops in Edfu. It was quite the adventure as we rode in horse drawn carriages to visit the Temple of Horus. Next stop, Kom Ombo to see the Temple of Sobek and Haroeris. The theme of temples continued at the Abu Simbel temples. As amazing as it was to think of how they were built, it might be even more impressive to see how they moved the temples to higher ground to avoid rising water levels. After returning to Aswan, we enjoyed a farewell reception and dinner and we dressed up wearing festive galabeyas.
A group of Flying Jayhawks embarked on the Baltic & Scandinavian Treasures cruise August 22 to September 2, 2017. The 10-day adventure across Eastern Europe included time in eight countries for the 24 Flying Jayhawks on the trip. Nick Kallail, assistant vice president of alumni and network programs, hosted the trip and provided us with his account of the journey.
Many from our travel group met each other at Chicago O’Hare before the long flight to Copenhagen: The crimson and blue gear helped our travelers pick each other out! Our time in Copenhagen was limited to a short bus ride to the ship for embarkment, but we got a glimpse of the city and enjoyed a nice Jayhawk welcome reception at the Horizons Lounge.
The Flying Jayhawks departed early from our port in Warnemünde for tours in Berlin and the historic city of Rostock. Highlights in Rostock included the Rostock Astronomical Clock located at St. Mary’s Church and a river cruise back to the ship.
Guests were greeted to Lithuania with a traditional folk-style band right on the port. The excursion included a stop at the Palanga Amber Museum, where our host shared that the mansion where the museum is housed once belonged to her ancestor – the Countess. A brewery stop provided the opportunity to sample Lithuanian beer and snacks (pig ears, anyone?), while shopping at a nearby market closed our stay.
The stop in Latvia’s capital city of Riga was brief on a quiet Sunday morning, but those on the “Charming Riga” excursion toured some of the nearby sights, including St. Peter’s church. A flute player in the town square cleverly serenaded the many cruise tour groups with a rendition of the Titanic theme song, “My Heart Will Go On.” An evening happy hour provided the Flying Jayhawks an opportunity to relax and meet our fellow travelers.
Monday morning in Helsinki started with a stop at Senate Square and the striking Helsinki Cathedral. After viewing the Sibelius Monument and the Temppeliaukio Church, many travelers took the opportunity to enjoy some free time. They checked out Market Square and watched various street musicians perform.
St. Petersburg, Russia
We spent Tuesday through Thursday in the cultural capital of Russia. The Yusupov Palace and Canal Cruise took several Flying Jayhawks to the site of Rasputin’s assassination. This was followed by a boat ride through some of St. Petersburg’s many canals to the Neva River. Viewing sites included Peter and Paul Fortress, Saint Isaac’s Square, and the Church of the Savior on Blood. Wednesday included the evening opportunity to visit either the ballet or an evening of Russian song and dance. Thursday included a visit to the Hermitage Museum, capped with a Flying Jayhawk family photo and dinner in the main dining room.
Our stop in Tallinn happened to fall on the first day of school, so local schoolchildren in their traditional first day dress colliding with camera-wielding tourists made for some funny encounters. The tour around Old Town included learning quite a bit about the history of this historically well-defended city, incredible panoramic views, and visits to local shopping and restaurants.
Our Baltic voyage concluded on Saturday morning in Stockholm where we said goodbye to the Oceania Marina. Those who stayed in Stockholm before flying home saw the Stockholm Palace and found Swedish Meatballs in Gamla Stan.
Watch the slideshow below to see more pictures from the trip, or view the photos on Flickr. You can download photos for personal use. For more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, visit our website.
The Flying Jayhawks’ latest group of travelers took a cruise to experience the history of the Mediterranean. From October 7 to October 17, the 10-day adventure across Italy, France and Spain brought the Flying Jayhawks to 11 historical cities to experience their sights, sounds and culture. Danny Woods, assistant director of legacy and alumni programs, hosted the trip and shared his story of the trip.
We arrived in Rome to the best good news-bad news situation that could have possibly happened. The bad news: The ship wasn’t ready. The good news: The ship wasn’t ready. This could only mean one thing: a guided bus and walking tour of one of the most historically prominent cities in the world. The first stop was the elegant St. Paul’s Basilica. As we walked through the hallowed halls, we were transported into the pages of a Dan Brown novel. We spent the afternoon with a full drive around The Colosseum.
As we arrived at the ship it looked like a line to enter Allen Fieldhouse because of all the crimson and blue. However, no one in this line was entering the famed cathedral of basketball. Instead, this line of 44 Jayhawk faithful was geared up to board Oceania’s MS Riviera. The night was capped with a welcome reception where everyone officially met.
We arrived in the Port of Livorno and guests had the option to tour Florence, Pisa or Tuscany. Many of the guests traveled to the the picturesque landscapes of Cinque Terre. The excursion included views of the terraced cliffside homes that overlook the sea. We were able to explore three of the five villages.
Adventures in Italy continued as we arrived in Portofino. Upon entering this fishing village, you are greeted with views of vibrant colors that adorn the buildings lining the port. We were welcomed by local waiters offering an assortment of wines. An evening happy hour provided the Flying Jayhawks an opportunity to relax and get to know our fellow travelers.
The favored vacation spot of celebrities like Jay-z and Beyonce, Saint-Tropez, France, welcomed the flying Jayhawks with its very best! Jayhawks were able to chose between many day trips, including the walking tour Highlights of Saint-Tropez and the Peninsula of Hilltop villages. After the excursions Jayhawks had ample free time to explore the city that used to be a military stronghold.
Our first stop in Spain felt like we were walking through the set of Game of Thrones. Palamos felt like a town that has not changed in centuries. As you looked down you saw cobble stone streets, buildings covered with vinery and flags hanging over the streets strung between buildings.
Barcelona, or as it pronounced, “Barthelona”, did not disappoint. Most of the excursions included some aspect of the notable architecture that is seen throughout the city. This city epitomized the culture and energy of the Catalonian region of Spain. The buildings looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The pictures that the Flying Jayhawks took don’t even do the city justice. When the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família came into view jaws dropped. Although construction of Sagrada Família started in 1882, the massive structure will not be completed until 2026. When we arrived back on the ship, a private reception was waiting for the KU travelers.
The Flying Jayhawks indulged in some of the best food the planet has to offer, paella. The traditional rice dish was created and perfected in Valencia. After fighting off the food coma we were able to zag our way through the streets and markets of Valencia, the third largest in Spain. The city was truly the intersection of urban contemporary and historic rustic.
Although short, our trip to Palma de Mallorca was incredible. Many of the Jayhawks took this day as a day of leisure while others took time to explore nearby underground caves. We may or may not have gotten in a little trouble for yelling Rock Chalk just to hear it echo in the cave.
Our last full on the trip. We arrived in Marseille, one of the largest ports in all of France. Many Jayhawks decided to take a journey to the home of Vincent van Gogh. (Now when I say home, I actually mean the mental institution he lived in!) As we returned to the ship it was group photo time!
The cruise director told us “You don’t gotta go home, but you sure can’t stay here.” As I disembarked and reminisced on the the trip I realized that over the last 10 days I met and got to spend time with so many great Jayhawks! I heard a thousand stories of KU past and present, ate some of the best food of my life and got to see locations that I couldn’t believe were real. Here’s to the next one!
Watch the slideshow below to see more pictures from the trip, or view the photos on Flickr. You can download photos for personal use. For more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, visit our website.
That was the stern warning from Alice, the Flying Jayhawks’ Edinburgh-based tour guide for a weeklong glide through the understated wonders of sunny (!) Scotland.
Alice had haggis on her mind because it had recently come to her attention that our hotel—a charming, 19th-century school just a few blocks downhill from the magnificently restored Stirling Castle—had recently begun offering haggis at its breakfast buffet. She never explained exactly why this was such a bad thing—“It’s just not done,” she said, utterly exasperated—yet Alice was clear: She was none too pleased about the cultural faux pas.
Alice did not have much to worry about. We did not eat the haggis at breakfast. Most of us sampled the native dish at our welcome dinner, which featured a “Haggis Ceremony,” complete with a bagpiper, a big knife, and an energetic narrator who told us much about … well, we’re not quite sure of the details, because his Scottish brogue was a bit thick, but he was friendly and fun and a good time was had by all before finally falling into our beds for badly needed sleep.
Scotland’s beloved delicacy
Enough with the haggis. But as long as we’re on the topic of beloved national delicacies, did we mention the Scotch? That’s whisky without the “e,” and we sampled the good stuff after a tour of Scotland’s oldest working distillery, Glenturret, just outside the town of Crieff. It’s a single-batch distillery that offers its lovely golden elixirs as its own (expensive) label, but also sells much of its production run to The Famous Grouse, a blender that has become the biggest-selling brand of Scotch in the world.
Back to the beginning
But that was a highlight of Day Seven. Back to the beginning. Our travelers commenced their Alumni Holidays International journey by gathering at Edinburgh International Airport. The 19 Jayhawks were joined by smaller groups from Johns Hopkins, McGill, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State universities, and we all made our acquaintances during an hour-long bus ride from Edinburgh—which was awash in festivalgoers attending a slew of international events in the Scottish capital city—to Stirling, an old, hillside town awash in history and our home for the next nine days.
Led in grand fashion by travel director Carole Petipher, a high-energy Brit who specializes in all things French yet delights in her occasional assignments to Scotland, our merry band spent the morning of our first full day touring Stirling Castle, childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots. The “stirring vistas from the ramparts” promised in our brochure delivered splendidly, despite a cold rain that dampened no moods.
If we feared that first morning’s weather might have been an omen, we were wrong. Except for one or two brief, fast-moving storms, our nine days in Scotland were so sunny and delightful that the locals seemed a bit out of sorts. Scots are so used to complaining about their weather, we were told, that they refuse to cease their grumbling just because a little bit of sunshine.
After starting our days with history lectures from a retired local professor straight out of central casting—John was upset not about breakfast haggis, but rather the U.K.’s shocking vote to leave the European Union—we continued our journeys through the towns and countryside surrounding Stirling: the magnificent Loch Lomond in The Trossachs National Park, the golf mecca of St. Andrews, battlefields and monuments, castles and palaces.
Highlights of the trip
Aside from the friendships forged among fellow travelers, the trip’s highlight was attending the legendary Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, aptly described as a “compendium of precision marching bands, drill teams, pyrotechnics and Highland dancing performed on the floodlit esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.” Those AHI brochure writers, they’re good, and they’re right. Wow. Just … wow.
The “military tattoo” ceremony originates from 18th-century regimental bands that struck up their tunes to alert garrisoned troops to “quit the saloons and return to the barracks.” That part of the custom, however, seems to have been lost to the haze of history, because nobody in Edinburgh that night—absolutely nobody—was quitting anything or returning anywhere. We attended on the final night of the monthlong series of performances, an evening that also marked the end of the Edinburgh International Festival, featuring opera, music, theatre and dance performances throughout the heart of the gorgeous old town, as well as the cultural stalwart’s now-thriving cheeky cousin, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, described as the “largest arts festival in the world.”
On the day of our visit, literally millions of festivalgoers flooded Edinburgh’s cobblestone sidewalks, making navigation difficult yet filling the crisp air with an energy that cannot be replicated.
Such are the joys of travel, those special days and nights when you see, hear, taste and feel things that cannot be described, only experienced. Join us for your own adventure of a lifetime. Become a Flying Jayhawk and see your special corner of the world with your own eyes.
The Flying Jayhawks trip to Scotland took place August 23-31, 2017, and was hosted by Chris Lazzarino, associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine. Watch the slideshow below to see more pictures from the trip, or view the photos on Flickr. Pictures may be downloaded for personal use. For more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, visit our website.