As 14 Flying Jayhawks prepared for our trip to Cuba Jan. 6, tour director Antoinette Ford of Gohagan & Company wisely urged us to “be flexible and have open minds and hearts” during our visit to the island nation, which is struggling to accommodate the dramatic influx of tourists from the United States. We soon learned that the Cuban people welcome Americans with open arms, eagerly sharing their extraordinary culture and history. But Cuba’s aging infrastructure, dual currencies and years of isolation from the United States make for an unpredictable, challenging adventure. One of our local guides joked that the unofficial motto of Cuba is, “It’s complicated.”
Joining us on our journey were 26 Traveling Owls from Rice University and 12 alumni of Vassar College. In addition to making new friends from across the United States, we treasured the opportunities to meet and talk with Cuba’s citizens, including our local guides, musicians, dancers, artists, community leaders, farmers and the owners of several paladars, local Cuban homes that have become restaurants.
Our adventure began with six nights on the majestic M.Y. Le Ponant, a three-masted French sailing ship making its first Cuban voyage. For three nights, the ship remained in Santiago Bay, on the southeast coast of the island, as we enjoyed daily excursions. We visited San Juan Hill, the pivotal site of the Spanish-American War (known to Cubans as the Spanish-Cuban-American War). A lively performance by local musicians and dancers provided the perfect introduction to Cuban culture. We also toured the magnificent Cementerio Santa Ifigenia, which includes the mausoleum of José Marti, Cuba’s national hero and a literary legend in Latin America, as well as the grave of Fidel Castro. We were fortunate to witness the changing of the guard.
Other sites in Santiago included the cathedral and shrine of Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba. Outside the city, we visited the 16th-century Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, a Spanish fort more commonly known as The Morro. Brilliant sunshine made up for the buffeting winds as we enjoyed the breathtaking views of Santiago Bay and an exquisite a cappella concert in the fort’s chapel by four Cuban women, Vocal Vidas.
As Le Ponant sailed from Santiago, the ship’s crew hoisted the KU flag and we enjoyed a glorious day at sea before arriving in Cienfuegos. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city features a picturesque square bordered by the historic Teatro Tomas Terry, where famed tenor Enrico Caruso and other legendary stars performed. We also visited Santa Clara, where we learned the danzon, a traditional Cuban dance, from senior citizens at Abuelos de Fiesta, and toured the Che Guevara Monument and the History Museum of the Revolution.
After leaving the ship, we traveled by bus to Havana, the highlight of the first day was a visit to Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s stunning home, which boasts lush gardens and spectacular views. While our guide enjoyed telling us that actress Ava Gardner once skinny-dipped in Hemingway’s pool, most of us were more interested in seeing the famed author’s retreat, with its hunting lodge décor, historic photos and, of course, his typewriter.
The next morning began with a tour of the city in the vintage U.S. cars that local drivers have carefully and painstakingly preserved. Riding in a ’57 pink convertible Chrysler New Yorker sure beats a tour bus. We then walked the cobblestone streets of Old Havana, including the Plaza de la Cathedral and other squares where restoration of the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s colonial structures will continue for years to come. In a Havana suburb, we marveled at the wondrous, whimsical mosaics by artist Jose Rodriquez Fuster, who has adorned not only his home and studio but also his neighborhood with joyous, colorful sculptures in all shapes and sizes. Fuster’s eye-popping art lifts the spirits of residents and tourists.
From Havana we ventured to the Vinales Valley, which sits amid dramatic hill formations that are part of the Sierra de los Organos mountains. A local organic farm has become a favorite tourists’ lunch spot, known for tasty all-natural smoothies (rum optional) and delicious family-style meals. Our last stop was a tobacco farm, where Senor Benito explained the process for growing, drying and rolling the leaves that become Cuba’s famous cigars. A few travelers shared a smoke with Benito, who also welcomed us into his home for coffee.
After a long day, a few of us rallied for an evening at La Tropicana, the famous night club where extravagant (and decadent) entertainment first flourished in the 1940s during Havana’s heyday as the forerunner of Las Vegas.
As U.S. tourism continues to soar, Cuba no doubt will change drastically in the years to come. The Flying Jayhawks counted ourselves fortunate to visit the island as a new era begins.
—Jennifer Jackson Sanner
Jennifer Jackson Sanner is senior vice president of strategic communications and advocacy and editor of Kansas Alumni magazine. View more pictures from the trip on Flickr.
The nine-day “Trade Routes of Coastal Iberia” Flying Jayhawks trip showcased the coastal jewels of the Iberian Peninsula between Barcelona, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. John Wilson shared his memories and photos of the trip.
Those of us on the pre-cruise extension enjoyed Barcelona, where we explored the Gothic Quarter and visited Sagrada Familia Basilica, originally designed by Gaudi and still under construction. The following day we traveled to the Codorniu vineyard, a leading producer of Spanish cava (sparkling wine). We drove up Montserrat Mountain to take in the scenery and visited the Benedictine abbey with its venerated Black Madonna.
We then returned to Barcelona, boarded our ship, Le Lyrial, and sailed overnight to Mallorca. The Flying Jayhawks got together for a fine welcome dinner.
The next day dawned clear and bright on the sunny island of Mallorca. We first traveled to the stunning west coast, and then to the picturesque village of Valldemossa, where we toured the former Carthusian monastery and enjoyed a brief Chopin recital. In the afternoon we visited the Bellver Castle and the Palma Cathedral, one of tallest in the world.
We awoke the next morning in Valencia, Spain’s third largest city. Our tour included the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences as well as a sampling of horchata, a local beverage. That evening, we enjoyed a Flying Jayhawks cocktail reception and dinner.
The next day we journeyed inland to Granada to explore the world famous Alhambra Palace, originally established by the Moors and conquered by the Spanish in 1492. Highlights included the Court of the Myrtles and the Generalife Gardens.
Sunday found us in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. We toured the Rock, including Europa Point, St. Michael’s Cave, and the Great Siege Tunnels. We also got up close and personal with the resident Barbary Apes. We sailed at twilight through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean.
Our KU flag was flying proudly the next morning as Le Lyrial cruised up the Guadalquivir River into Seville. We had a full day visiting the Plaza de Espana, the Jewish Quarter, the Seville Cathedral, and the Alcazar.
Our next stop was Portimao, Portugal. We visited the Castle of Silves, the Algarve Coast, and the port city of Lagos. That evening, en route to Lisbon, the Flying Jayhawks enjoyed a festive farewell dinner.
Those of us on the post-cruise extension enjoyed a day trip to the Portuguese royal palaces of Queluz and Sintra, returning to Lisbon via the coastal resort of Cascais. The next day our tour of Lisbon included stops at the National Coach Museum and the Jeronimos Monastery. We then had time to explore central Lisbon on our own.
The two-week “Grand Danube Passage” journey featured eight countries and 13 towns, with a mix of land and river travel. Tegan Thormberry, assistant director of membership and business development, shares more about the trip in our latest Flying Jayhawks post.
When building the Flying Jayhawks schedule, there is usually a Danube River cruise on it. The trips offer interesting itineraries and get rave reviews. This year, I was fortunate to be able to experience it myself, and it did not disappoint: eight countries in 14 days with a mix of land travel and cruising the Danube River.
Czech Republic: We spent the first three nights in Prague, and our time in the city included visits to the Prague Castle, the Old Town Square, Clock Tower, Charles Bridge, and the Jewish Quarter, along with plenty of time for independent exploration. One day we made our way to the Dancing House designed by Frank Gehry. A fun dessert we saw on every block is called a trdelnik: it consists of dough roasted over hot coals, then covered in sugar. Eat it plain or fill it with a choice of toppings; I enjoyed it with gelato.
Germany: During the bus ride from Prague to Passau, we listened to an interesting talk given by one of our AHI travel directors. She grew up in Germany and gave a detailed account of her experience, the impact of communism and the economy afterward. Passau is a picturesque town with cobblestones painted in Jayhawk colors leading to local shops. We visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where we could see some of the mason’s marks on the stonework of the church.
Austria: Cities on our itinerary included Melk, Durnstein and Vienna. We were some of the first visitors of the day to the Melk’s Benedictine abbey. The baroque design and artifacts inside were impressive. We spent the afternoon on a walking tour of Durnstein with a stop at the magnificent Stiftskirche. We visited Vienna on a beautiful sunny day and enjoyed a walking tour in the morning and free time in the afternoon. A few of us went to the Sacher hotel for a lunch of goulash and the famous Sacher-torte for dessert! In the evening we had a nice get-together with the group and the ship captain stopped by to say hello.
Slovakia: In Bratislava, passengers had a choice of excursions. We learned about the Velvet Revolution and the end of communism in Czechoslovakia that lead to the split into two countries. A walking tour ended at a local café to sample local beers along with a delicious biscuit that is a cross between a biscuit and pretzel roll filled with bacon. It was the perfect pairing to go along with the beer.
Hungary: We toured Budapest, Pecs and Paprika. In Budapest the majority of our group chose the Living Local excursion, which began with a guided tour of the Great Market hall and ended with a sampling of strudel and palinka. The market was filled with cured meats, goose liver, palinka, and paprika! Before our strudel sampling, market staff demonstrated how the dough is stretched over a table and then rolled to get all the amazing layers. We primarily toured the Pest side of the city. I went out in the afternoon to see Buda up on the hill with amazing views of the Parliament building.
Serbia: The group enjoyed a tour of Belgrade and visited the fortress in Karadordev Park and the massive St. Sava cathedral. That evening we were treated to a local folk show on the ship.
Romania: We cruised through the Iron Gate Gorge and saw the rock sculpture of Decebalus. After a scenic drive to Orsova, we took in a live organ concert at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. John Lennon and Nadia Comaneci are depicted in scenes of the Stations of the Cross by the artist Gabriel Popa.
Bulgaria: In Vidin we disembarked the ship and took a quick rainy tour before transferring to Sofia. Along the way we stopped and had lunch at the Rocks restaurant and enjoyed the stunning views of the Belogradchik Rocks. As we continued on to Sofia, we drove past fields of sunflowers that reminded me of home. Our last full day in Sofia was spent checking out ancient ruins, St. George Rotunda, and the Cathedral of St. Alexander of Neva. The farewell dinner was held at a local restaurant high on the hill with traditional Bulgarian food and a folk show.
It was such an educational trip and an amazing way to see and experience different cultures with a group of Jayhawks. I couldn’t have asked for better company. I can’t wait for my next Traveling Tegs adventure!
—Tegan Thornberry, or “Traveling Tegs” as she’s affectionately known around the office, serves as assistant director of membership and co-hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip to the Grand Danube Passage in August. She also brings cookies every Tuesday. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2017 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
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.
The eight-night “Celtic Lands” Flying Jayhawks voyage took passengers to historic sites in France, Ireland and Scotland. Dwight David Eisenhower II, grandson of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, hosted several educational talks aboard the ship. Jean Kerich, ’60, shared her memories and photos of the trip.
It’s no mystery why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. That description becomes immediately obvious the moment you sight land. The landscape featured the green hills, more often than not squared off by ancient rock fences, but also spectacular cliffs and barren rock expanses. During our ‘Celtic Lands’ Flying Jayhawks trip we were treated with ample opportunity to enjoy all of Ireland’s beautiful scenery as well as many other uniquely Irish experiences.
For example, we had a taste of mead, one of the oldest alcoholic drinks known to man. Meade is made from honey and water via fermented yeast. We also sampled Irish whisky and Guinness (perhaps more than just a taste!)
We had a look at castles, extraordinary manor houses, churches and thatched roof huts. We enjoyed a pair of Irish dancers (who provided a lesson for two of the younger members of our group), a whistling cook, and a demonstration of sheep herding by two unbelievably clever dogs.
Our tour guides taught us about the ecology of the island, the history, the politics, and the origins along with the uses and gathering techniques of peat, a type of vegetation natural to the area. There was talk (and a brief lesson) of hurling, one of the national sports of Ireland, and of rugby and horse racing. We traveled impossibly narrow roads while our extremely knowledgeable bus driver and tour guide gave us the lessons of the land. Additionally, the food, the accommodations and the other passengers in the group were all excellent! This was truly an unforgettable trip.
Read a diary of the Celtic Lands trip by Heather Hawkins, j’06, and see more pictures from the group’s adventures. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2017 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
The eight-night “Celtic Lands” Flying Jayhawks voyage took passengers to historic sites in France, Ireland and Scotland. Dwight David Eisenhower II, grandson of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower hosted several educational talks aboard the ship. Heather Hawkins kept this diary of the journey.
The Celtic Lands trip was such a wonderful time with some amazing Jayhawks! I love seeing Jayhawks from all over the U.S. become instant friends—that Jayhawk connection is pretty fantastic.
We landed in Paris and took a short bus ride to Honfleur, France. What a beautiful little city! There was a gorgeous wooden church with so much character. We were able to explore a bit and even found time to stop for our first macaroons of the trip (there would be plenty more of the next ten days!) After an afternoon of exploring we were off to the beautiful Le Boreal.
We enjoyed a welcome dinner that evening with all our Flying Jayhawks. It was clear from that very first dinner that we were going to have an amazing time!
Day 2 brought us to Caen, France. To say I wasn’t prepared for the intensity and emotion that would come from being on the beaches of Normandy would be a huge understatement. It was so powerful to see the indentations in the ground from the bombs, the bunkers where German soldiers were posted and the incredible steepness of the cliff right off the beach. We were able to walk on the beach. What hallowed ground!
After we left the beaches of Normandy, we headed for the American Cemetery. The cemetery is maintained by the American government and it was pretty breathtaking. David Eisenhower read testimonies from our fellow passengers about their loved ones that fought in World War II during an incredibly moving ceremony.
The captain’s welcome reception capped off a very emotional day.
This was our lone day at sea. David Eisenhower gave a few wonderful talks. It was the perfect day to rest up before our next stop!
Dublin, Ireland, was all kinds of wonderful! The morning started with a bus tour of Ireland and then off to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. Trinity College was gorgeous! We toured their spectacular library, which looked as though it was taken out of the movie Beauty and the Beast. The reader in me could have sat in there for hours and hours!
We had a free afternoon to explore Dublin. The energy of the city was so contagious! Live music around every corner, fun and interesting shops and tons and tons of pubs— it’d be a crime not to have a proper pint of Guinness when in Dublin so we made sure check that off our to-do list.
Our Sunday was spent in Holyhead, Wales, at the Bodnant Gardens. The Gardens were huge and so peaceful. Lots of photo opportunities at this place.
That afternoon we visited Caernarfon Castle. We climbed to the very top and snapped a few selfies—pretty fitting to have the Jayhawk at the peak of a castle! Interesting fact we learned about the steep spiral staircases of towers: they were built so that those guarding the tower could easily swing their swords downward. Anyone trying to storm the castle and come up the stairs would swing their sword right into solid stone!
The Isle of Iona in Scotland was our next stop. We spent the morning on a tour of the Iona Abbey. The four iconic high crosses were striking. The “road to the dead” was a path that lead us to the burial spot of many ancient kings and clan chiefs. Every spot of the island seemed to have a calming peace.
Tuesday was the day of castles. We visited both Dunvegan Castle and the Eilean Donon Castle. The amount of stone it took to build these majestic castles is pretty mindblowing!
The evening we hosted our Jayhawk reception before dinner. I’ve got to be honest, it was pretty clear during that reception that our group was most fun group on the ship – without question! We took the opoprtunity to sing the alma mater and do the Rock Chalk chant on the deck of the ship!
The last day of our trip started with some excitement. Shortly after we departed the Le Boreal via the tender boat a heavy fog enveloped us. The tender driver did a great job guiding us to land, but it was a pretty exhilarating way to start the morning.
The Jacobite steam train (Hogwarts Express) took us to Fort Williams. We were able to snap some great photos of the famous bridge in the Harry Potter movies. The scenic train ride had ample opportunities for great photo opportunities! No chance to snooze on that trek!
We ended the day with short excursions to Oban and Glencoe. Both cities had a lot of characgter and were wonderful spots to wonder around and pop from shop to shop! The Captain’s Farewell Reception was the perfect way to end our adventures in the Celtic lands. Glasses of champagne and loads of laughs wrapped up this journey with the best Jayhawks around!
—Heather Hawkins, executive assistant to the president and donor relations coordinator, hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip “Celtic Lands” from May 16-25, along with Tegan Thornberry, assistant director of membership and business development. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2017 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
The Flying Jayhawks trip to Belgium and Holland began with a wonderful tour of Brussels. Although it was rainy, we were able to see the beauty of a city that had been through so much in the weeks leading up to our arrival. After a few hours in Brussels, we boarded the bus to Antwerp where we settled on the ship. The ship cruised from Antwerp to Middleburg/Bruges where we had three options for tours: Belgian beer, Belgian chocolate or a cultural tour of Bruges. A handful of our passengers took the Belgian Beer tour, where we learned that no other country on earth produces more beers than Belgium: around seven hundred and counting! There are strong, dark brews from a handful of Trappist monasteries, light wheat beers perfect for a hot summer’s day, fruit beers bottled and corked like champagne, and unusual concoctions that date back to medieval times. Every good Belgian bar has a beer menu, some with several hundred beers and the glasses specific to each one!
Next, we traveled along the Zeeland coast to the artificial island of Neeltje Jans and its Delta Expo. We learned about the Delta Works, a series of massive dams and storm surge barriers, conceived after the 1953 North Seal flood and built over a period of 30 years. The 65 enormous gates can be slammed shut on the North Sea when power storms strike—an engineering masterpiece that now protects the third of the landmass of the Netherlands that sits below sea level. We were able to explore the Expo, which illustrates the delicate balance of the Netherland’s relationship with the ever-encroaching sea.
Over the next few days, our Flying Jayhawks explored Delft, known for hand painted porcelain, and The Hague, considered the most worldly and elegant town in the Netherlands. While in The Hague, passengers visited the Mauritshuis, a recently renovated storied museum that is home to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The tour also included a stop at the Peace Palace. Kampen was a beautiful village laced with footpaths and narrow canals traversed by wooden and arched bridges. The whimsical car-free village of Giethoorn seems to have materialized out of a fairy tale. We toured the four miles of picturesque canals by boat in the town that has been nicknamed “Venice of the North.” Cars have never been allowed in the town itself, so everything is very pristine and clean. The only way you can get around the town is by canal boat or bike.
Everyone boarded the ship and we made our way to Amsterdam. We docked late at night, so many passengers were up early to start exploring! We boarded an open-air canal boat and toured the canals of Amsterdam. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is the center of the country’s culture and commerce. Named after the city’s origin as a dam in the river Amstel, today Amsterdam is known the world over for its more than 60 miles of tree-lined canals and waterways that make this romantic city truly unforgettable. The three main canals were dug during the Golden Age of the 17th century, and that central area is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. While on the canal tour, we learned that during morning rush hour, there are more bikes then cars on the road (1.75 million) and 84% of the population own one or more bikes! Around 2,000 of those bikes somehow end up in the canals each year. Passengers had the rest of the day at leisure and many took the time to go inside the Rijksmuseum, one of Holland’s most famous museums and home to Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” and other treasures. Passengers also visited the Anne Frank Museum as well as her childhood home.
On our last day, we journeyed through Dutch flower fields to the renowned Keukenhof Gardens, an 80-acre paradise of tulips, hyacinths and other beautiful flowers. Keukenhof is webbed with more than nine miles of foothpaths, and the grounds also feature Europe’s largest fountain, a vast sculpture garden and a 700-tree labyrinth. We were able to walk the grounds with an expert guide and learn the story of these magnificent gardens. The gardens are open for only eight weeks out of the year and over 1.1 million people visit within that time.
We ended the trip with a graduation ceremony and farewell reception and dinner. It was a truly unforgettable trip!
—Kelsey Hill, assistant director of Kansas City and Wichita programs, hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip “Waterways and Canals of Holland and Belgium” from April 28-May 6. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2017 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
Sorrento is in the south of Italy, and features a rich history of Roman and Greek mythology. The area is known for the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, which destroyed the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. In modern times, the region is the lemon-growing capitol of the country, and is known for its artisan foods like buffalo mozzarella. Susan Younger hosted the trip and kept this diary.
Thursday, May 12, 2016: Sorrento Arriving at Naples, our AHI host Valentina was a welcome sight waiting for a very tired group of travelers. The hotel was very nice, the food was good, and we were all ready for bed early that night!
Friday, May 13, 2016: Positano and Amalfi There was energy in the air as we boarded the bus to Positano and Amalfi—we were ready for our first adventure, but I don’t think we were expecting the roller coaster ride. The roads, carved into the side of the mountain, were very steep! The scenic views along the coast were breathtaking. Positano was originally a fishing village, and Amalfi was once a major shipping port.
Saturday, May 14, 2016: Bay of Naples and Paestum I looked forward to this day, starting with the visit to a “water buffalo mozzarella farm.” I’m not sure everyone was as crazy for the animals as I was! The owners of the farm believe that stress-free animals make the best cheese, and they were right—the samples were fabulous! The cows had customized milking machines that they enjoyed, and big, padded roller machines that massaged them. It was funny to see the cows lining up, and they got a little vocal when one cow was hogging a machine for too long.
The next stop on the itinerary was Paestum, where we strolled through the ancient temples of Hera, Neptune and Athena. The ruins are older than the Roman Colliseum, and were built by the conquering Romans.
Sunday, May 15, 2016: Naples and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale We visited the National Archeological Museum and toured Naples. The ancient Legend of the Sirens (from Homer’s Odyssey) is said to originate from the Bay of Naples. (The sirens were beautiful but dangerous creatures that lured sailors to their doom). The area is rich with tributes to sirens and also the sea-going god, Neptune.
We had marguerite pizza for lunch—there is no comparing tomatoes and basil grown in the volcanic ashy soil that surrounds Naples! And we are really getting used to drinking wine at EVERY meal (including breakfast).
We discovered these giant lemons that were as big as our heads, and had fun taking photos with them until the grocer took them away.
Monday, May 16, 2016: Herculaneum and Pompeii This is the day most of us have been waiting for … Herculaneum and Pompeii are the two cities that were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The opportunity to tour the ancient ruins was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things—the preservation of these two cities is unlike anything else in the world.
Herculaneum was amazing, and you can view the sobering sight of skeletons caught in the port by a pyroclastic flow—a poisonous, fast-moving cloud that was inescapable. (Pompeii was covered in a massive amount of ash).
I was so looking forward to this day, but I really messed up by getting lost in Pompeii!
I stopped to take a photo of some modern art, and got separated from the group in the large crowds. I could not find the group anywhere! This was pretty embarrassing, and I missed most of Pompeii while I was searching for my lost Jayhawks.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016: Isle of Capri Taking the ferry to the Isle of Capri was fun, and the boat ride around the island showed us red coral growing abundantly in all the rock coves and tunnels. The gardens were amazing, since the climate is fairly mild all year long.
This evening, a group went to a “Tarentella Operata” at the Tasso Theatre. We could not understand a word they were saying, but the performance was energetic and entertaining. I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to capture Ivan dancing in the aisle!
Wednesday, May 18, 2016: Sorrento Our last day was one to relax and enjoy shopping and dining in Sorrento. We have such a great group of people, and it has been so great to get to know them all. The lasting memories and friendships from this trip will be cherished.
Our group of Jayhawks included (following rows directly after the group photo): Row 1, far right: Birgit Love and Steve Pennington; Row 2, left: Mary Jane and Mark Swanson; Row 3, right: Mary Jane and Susan Younger; Row 5, right: Sara and Ivan James; Row 6, left to right: Chuck Refshauge, John and Renee Zimmerman, and Ann and Gil Tisue.
—Susan Younger hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip to Sorrento. Susan serves as the KU Alumni Association’s creative director and the mastermind behind many of our beautiful publications, such as Kansas Alumni magazine, decor for special events, and pretty much anything creative in the office. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the newly announced 2017 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
The new year began with another Flying Jayhawks adventure. I was excited to host a group of 27 Jayhawks as we explored all that Costa Rica and Panama has to offer. We cruised with stops at national parks, islands, and a trip through the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal.
Before boarding the Star Breeze ship, we toured the city of San Jose on our first day, and capped off visits to the National Theater and National Museum and butterfly garden with a Costa Rican lunch at the Hacienda Villa Hermosa.
We spent the next two days in Costa Rica. The early wakeup call at the in Quepos was well worth it, as we were the first groups to enter the Manuel Antonio National Park. With the help of our fantastic guide, we spotted white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, two and three-toed sloths, bats and a red-eyed leaf frog as we walked along the trails that led down to the beach. The next day we visited Curu National Wildlife Refuge. It was a wet landing, and we took the zodiac boats up to the beach and walked in from there.
Another wonderful guide walked us through the refuge, where we saw more wildlife including monkeys, iguana, deer, raccoons and a variety of birds. It was extra special to see the red macaws—they flew in pairs, and our guide said it was rare to see the spectacular birds. The best part was that the beach was empty except for our group, which was very relaxing because we didn’t feel rushed and were able to take in the experience and ask plenty of questions. At the end, our guide opened up a fresh coconut for us to eat.
On to Panama! Isla Coiba National Park was a prison from 1919 to 2004, where the most dangerous criminals were housed. It is now a treasured marine park and abundant ecosystem. We took a quick hike and then enjoyed our time on the beach, playing in the ocean, or snorkeling. We spent the next day in Panama City. We took in a quick video at the Panama Canal museum located at the Mira Flores set of locks, and then we had time to explore the museum exhibits before enjoying a private lunch on the third floor.
It was fun to watch two ships side by side in the locks go up and then down as they moved along; it was a good perspective to see the view from land before we made the journey ourselves the next day. After lunch, we headed to the Biodiversity museum to learn more about what the land has to offer with the different species of wildlife. Next, we went to the old town for a quick tour and shopping at a local marketplace. It was interesting to see the contrast between the old town and its close proximity to the new modern city with towering skyscrapers.
That evening we had a wonderful reception on board the ship, inviting our local KU alumni living in Panama to join us on the ship for dinner with our travelers. It was exciting to connect Jayhawks together around the world. The ten Jayhawks living in Panama who were able to join us were able to make connections not only with the traveling Jayhawks, but with other locals, as many of them were meeting each other for the first time. They have already made plans to get together and cheer on the basketball team this season!
Then, it was transit day: our turn to go through the Panama Canal. We had a morning time slot. The morning transfers flow from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and in the afternoon it changes directions. The pilot boat came up to our ship so the Panama Canal Authority pilot could come aboard to steer the ship. As we approached the first set of locks at Mira Flores, where we toured the day before, two men rowed out to throw the lines to our ship. One rows and the other stands—yes, he stands, he doesn’t sit. Once they connect the ropes forward and aft to both the starboard and port sides, they connect them to the “mules” or the locomotives that help center and guide the ship through the locks. It took all day, but we navigated through the three sets of locks locations (each location also has three locks). At the last set, the Gatun locks, we got a good view of the Canal expansion, viewing area, and museum that we visited at the end of our trip.
We enjoyed one more relaxing beach day at the San Blas islands at the end of our trip. Water activities were available, including stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, a paddle boat and snorkeling. The water was clear with an abundance of coral. People leisurely went exploring on coconut walks around the small island where we met the indigenous Kuna people of Panama. They were selling beautiful hand stitched molas, and beaded jewelry they made.
This was another fantastic experience hosting a Flying Jayhawks adventure. I enjoyed all of our passengers and had fun getting to know them and learning about their life experiences.
Until my next travels, Rock Chalk!
—Tegan Thornberry, or “Traveling Tegs” as she’s affectionately known around the office, serves as assistant director of membership and co-hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal in January. She also brings cookies every Tuesday. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2016 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
At the conclusion of the Tanzania Migration Safari, our group of eight Flying Jayhawks were unanimous in calling this their trip of a lifetime. The sheer expanse of the landscape was breathtaking, our drive through the middle of the migration surrounded by more than two million animals was unforgettable, and the highlight was our daily encounters with wildebeest, zebra, elephant, antelope, lion, leopard, cheetah, and countless more animals and species of birds.
Upon arrival in East Africa, our safari experience departed from the Lake Duluti Serena Hotel outside the city of Arusha. This departure gave us a glimpse of a fast-growing city of nearly 500,000 people. Our drive introduced us to the first observations of the Maasai Tribe members with their livestock herds. Upon entering Tarangire National Park we were thrilled to have our first sightings of several elephant herds as well as zebra, antelope, and gazelle.
Our guides were the perfect team: Babenga, known as the “wise one” and Emmanuel who quickly took on the nickname of “wise guy.” On that first day we were treated to the unexpected, real safari experience of getting both vehicles stuck in a dry, sandy creek bed! Nonetheless, after being freed from the creek bed we were rewarded with an up-close experience of watching a lioness coax her five cubs to cross the road right in front of us. Emmanuel was quick to point out that getting stuck was perfectly timed to make this sighting possible.
After entering Ngorongoro Conservation area we spent an entire day in the Ngorongoro Crater which is earth’s largest intact volcanic caldera with an unmatched natural wildlife sanctuary. In this setting, we had the special privilege of seeing two black rhinoceros which was a humbling experience given the sad circumstances of their threatened extinction.
Throughout our migration safari were treated to some of the greatest deluxe lodges and tented camps which provided us the opportunity to be surrounded by a landscape of boulders, fig trees, colorful garden settings, and night sounds of the Serengeti wilderness. One of the highlights was staying in the Kirawira luxury tented camp in the western Serengeti. This camp with Victorian-era décor is situated on a hilltop overlooking the vast plains of the Serengeti. And this is where we were treated to a memorable bush dinner under the stars with a roaring bonfire to keep away the hungry hyenas!
During our visit to the Zariki School at the Magu-Mwanza fishing village on Lake Victoria, it was a special treat for our group of Flying Jayhawks to witness the Jayhawk influence in every corner of the globe. One of the seven classrooms at this school is named “Jayhawk” thanks to the generosity of a Kansas family who previously visited the school during their own Flying Jayhawks trip.
Rock Chalk, indeed!
—Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment, hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip to Tanzania January 27-February 6, 2016 along with his wife, Marianne. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2016 schedule, or to sign up to receive emails or brochures about future adventures, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.