On July 29, 1963, 28 members of the Wisconsin Alumni Association gathered at the Chicago airport to depart for 23 days of sightseeing in Europe — marking WAA’s first-ever international alumni tour.
These Badgers, representing classes of graduates from 1908 to 1962, paid what seems now a bargain price of $1,085 for airfare, first-class hotels, meals and travel on a deluxe motorcoach. And for many of these alumni, this adventure marked the first time they had set foot on foreign soil.
Here, we share excerpts from the journal of Edward H. Gibson ’23, then WAA’s director of alumni relations.
“For most of our group, the first ‘leg’ of the journey was a new experience.”
The WAA travelers fly from Chicago across the Atlantic Ocean, catching the sunrise over Ireland before touching down at the London airport.
Touring London, the group visits the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, “the Olde Curiosity Shoppe built in 1567 and made famous by Dickens,” and has tea in an old English tea shop. In 1963, much of Europe was still recovering from the damage done during World War II. Gibson remarks, “Much of central London was destroyed during the last war. Many new buildings now appear, and there is scaffolding everywhere for those now under construction.”
Home is never far from Gibson’s thoughts, as more than once he makes comparisons with his beloved UW-Madison: “Around [Trafalgar] Square we saw many beatniks, and we thought we had them only on the Wisconsin campus.”
Netherlands, Germany and Austria
The group travels next to Amsterdam, “a beautiful city of dykes, canals, bridges and islands,” stopping at Anne Frank’s house before moving along to the Netherlands countryside, and then hopping on the Autobahn, “that famed super-highway, portions of which are now 30 years old.”
In Cologne, Gibson again makes mention of destruction done in the last great war: “[Cologne] was one of the most severely damaged cities in the war. The central part is practically all new. The famous cathedral … still bears the signs of war damage. A couple of other churches stand stark and cold, just as the bombs left them years ago.”
From the Rhine River, the WAA travelers head to Frankfurt, Germany by bus. “The center of the city was completely destroyed in World War II,” Gibson says, “but it is all new now with a 24-platform railroad station.” They visit the University of Frankfurt, at the time home to 12,000 students (today: 38,000 students on four campuses) and continue to Mannheim, where they come upon tobacco and corn fields.
There they make their first encounter with a fellow Badger. “As we unload,” Gibson relates, “we are greeted by John Hoffman ’60, an Army man stationed nearby, who, four months previous, read of our coming in the Wisconsin Alumnus. John took the day off and joined with us as we ate at the Red Ox Inn, a German restaurant filled with atmosphere, and Arkansas and Wisconsin tourists filled with wieners and sauerkraut.”
From Baden they head to the Black Forest and arrive at the Swiss border, where they “rush to a small bank to get a supply of francs and centimes,” and from there travel to Zurich and Lake Lucerne, “famous for its furniture, watches and chocolate.
“That night, we joined with 300 other tourists and townspeople at a night club — singing, drinking beer, being entertained by a Swiss orchestra and yodelers, drinking wine and eating cheese fondue.”
Upon crossing the Austrian border, currency is exchanged again, this time into shillings and groschens. (It’s no wonder many travelers are happy to use the Euro while traveling the continent these days.)
In Innsbruck, the travelers leave a parting gift with their bus driver, Hans — a Wisconsin skyrocket — and head for the Italian Alps, passing through vineyards and the northern part of the country before settling in Venice. “In front of the [railroad] station, the storybooks come to life … a visit to the Venetian glass factory is an experience to gladden the heart of any shopping woman.”
Italy and France
Next up is Florence, where they visit Pitti Palace and the resting places of Dante, Galileo, Rossini and Leonardo da Vinci; then Rome: “We see miles of olive groves … towns are located on hilltops for security. Walking into one of these towns is like going back to the beginning of Italian history.”
One of Gibson’s favorite sights will be the Coliseum. “It is a happy day for me to visit this monster stadium, which could hold 80,000 people. But the so-called ‘playing field’ is much smaller than our Camp Randall football field.”
In Rome, the WAA travelers meet another group of fellow UW-Madison graduates. “While in Rome, our alumni enjoyed a wonderful Wisconsin evening with Sam Steinman ’32 and several other alumni living in the area. We made it a real Badger outing by showing slides of some of the most recent construction on campus.”
A hot and humid train ride takes them up the Italian Riveria, where they spot Napoleon’s island of Elba, the learning tower of Pisa and the lights of Monaco. Gibson calls Monte Carlo a beautiful setting, and is impressed by “the palace of Grace Kelly and her prince, high up on the rocks, guarded by troops,” but says of the casino, “It is world famous, but disappointing in comparison to the facilities available in Las Vegas.”
An Air France jet whisks them to Paris for a final day of discovery at the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and the Latin Quarter near the University of Paris.
“But too quickly comes the day when we pack up and head for Orly Airport and the trip home. And so concludes a marvelous personal experience — the first of what I hope will be many similar trips sponsored by your Wisconsin Alumni Association.”
Half Century on the Road
This year, WAA travel is celebrating 50 years of tours around a world that keeps changing. Follow WAA’s travel highlights over the last five decades, as well as what’s changed in how we all travel.