Alumna and staff member experiences first Flying Jayhawks trip

Posted on Sep 14, 2014 in Alumni News and News

This post was written by Tegan Thornberry, assistant director of membership, after she returned from her first Flying Jayhawks trip. One of Tegan’s responsibilities at the Alumni Association is to oversee the Flying Jayhawks travel program. Tegan co-hosted the trip with Teri Harris, director of membership for the Alumni Association.

Flying Jayhawks trip, Tegan Thornberry | www.kualumni.orgI have been employed by the KU Alumni Association for nine months as assistant director of membership. One of my responsibilities is to oversee the administration of our Flying Jayhawks travel program for members. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to host one of our trips, a journey through the Baltic Sea. As you can imagine, it was the trip of a lifetime and quite the learning experience.

After traveling for a day we landed in Copenhagen, Denmark. Our group was greeted by the friendly Go Next staff and assigned to a bus while they took care of our bags. Copenhagen is a flat country, with an astronomical mark-up for vehicles, which meant there were bicycles everywhere! When it snows, they clear the bike lanes first. We enjoyed a three-hour bus tour of the city and checked out a few of the local sights: the Amalienborg Palace and the Little Mermaid. After our tour, we boarded the ship, passed our safety drill and enjoyed a cocktail reception with our group of 38 Flying Jayhawks.

Our next port was Warnemunde, Germany. After a three-hour bus ride on the Autobahn, we arrived in Berlin. Our local tour guide had just graduated from University and provided a wealth of knowledge about how the World Wars changed the city and the country. We made notable stops at the Allied Museum, Brandenburg Gate, the East side gallery of the Berlin Wall and Check Point Charlie. Our guide even arranged for some local beer sampling on the bus ride back to the ship to go along with our snacks.

After a day at sea, we made our way to Klaipeda, Lithuania. We visited the Theater Square and the Botanical Park. Inside the park we toured the Amber Museum, located in a 19th-century Neo-Renaissance-styled mansion where we learned about jewelry-making and saw prehistoric insects trapped in the amber (anyone else think of Jurassic Park?).

After getting back on the bus, we headed to the Basanavicius Promenade where we sampled the Lithuanian beer Svyturys before heading back to the ship. Later that evening we hosted a cocktail reception on the top deck of the ship for our Flying Jayhawks. At that point, we were out on the open water and cruising along; unfortunately neither Teri nor I had our sea legs (or stomachs for that matter).  That was the only time that the cruise was a little rough; it was smooth sailing the rest of the trip.

Latvia, Flying Jayhawks Baltic Treasures trip |

Riga, Latvia, is dubbed the “Paris of the East,” has a population of nearly one million people and is the biggest city in the Baltic States. We walked through parks and through the older part of the city viewing the 13th century and Art Nouveau architecture lining the streets. Kim Maddrey and I were always lagging behind trying to get just one more great picture! Latvia is known for their wool, so there were scarfs, hats, socks, and mittens everywhere. On one of our shopping excursions Fred Chana, e’67, was wearing a beer hat.

From Latvia we headed up to Helsinki, Finland. It was a little rainy at times, but it didn’t slow down our group of Jayhawks! Right off the ship there was a large, interesting statue in the port, advising visitors to not pollute the Baltic Sea. We walked through Senate Square, Helsinki’s National Theater and Gallery, the famous Rock Church, and ended in Sibelius Park. Fun facts we learned on our way: Finland is the home of Angry Birds and the first SMS text message.

Helsinki, Flying Jayhawks Baltic Treasures trip |

It was hard to believe our trip was almost over as we sailed to St. Petersburg, Russia, for three days. Russia was an interesting experience.  It was interesting to talk with our guides about their feelings about previously being under Soviet Communist rule. We saw massive housing structures that were once run by the government but are now privatized; they’ve gone to ruin because no one has taken care of them in the past 20 years. I toured Catherine’s Palace, which was the lavish summer residence of the imperial family. It was under renovation, but it was detailed and beautiful. The parquet floors consisted of 15 different types of wood, the amount of gold leaf was overwhelming and the artwork on the walls and ceilings were impressive. This didn’t even compare to her Amber Room where all the panels were made of amber, and the massive marble Grand Staircase.

We experienced a traditional Russian meal. It started out with a shot of vodka, and our tour guide explained how to do this the proper way: breathe in, take the shot, breathe out, take a bite of brown bread and then proceed with lunch. Champagne, borscht and beef stroganoff refueled us for the next stop: the Peter and Paul Cathedral which was completed in 1773. We also made our way to the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.

St. Petersburg, Flying Jayhawks Baltic Treasures trip |

On our second day in Russia, we toured the Hermitage and the Gold Room. The Hermitage was created by Catherine the Great as a place to get away and be a “hermit.” One of the benefits of traveling with the Flying Jayhawks is that we were granted access to the museum one hour before the public and had a scheduled time for a guided tour of the Gold Room. There were so many pieces of priceless artworks: Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Little Madonna” and a number of works by Rembrandt, Renoir, Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh were just a few of the highlights.

The third day I enjoyed the canal cruise and shopping. It was a cold and rainy day but we braved the canals. It was such a beautiful view to see the city from that perspective. And what would a trip to Russia be without Matryohka dolls and more vodka? I was even able to find a set of Kansas basketball players as a set of nesting dolls! Russia was quite the experience and it was interesting to hear about their history from local people.

Flying Jayhawks Baltic Treasures trip |

The end of our journey was definitely a case of “save the best for last.”  I had the lowest expectations for Tallinn, Estonia, but enjoyed it the most! I started the morning by touring the Kadriorg Park that was commissioned by Peter the Great. It is the summer home of two black swans that are on loan from the zoo. We went to the Song Festival Ground where up to 30,000 singers participate each year. It was reminiscent of the end of “The Sound of Music.” But, there’s a catch: to participate, you have to sing in the Estonian language.

As we packed up to head home, it was hard to believe the trip was over. We spent an hour on the bus from the port in Stockholm, Sweden, to the airport, and I saw the old Olympic Stadium on our way. It was a trip a lifetime. I have officially been bitten by the travel bug, and I can’t wait for my next adventure.

Thanks to Tegan for sharing a detailed account of her Flying Jayhawks experience! She also took a lot of pictures on the trip—549 to be exact! Watch the slideshow below or see the photos on Flickr. Alumni who participated in this adventure are welcome to download the photos for personal use.
Flying Jayhawks 2014: Baltic Treasures
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