Thursday, July 11, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #19 - Stockholm, Sweden

Vasa Museum & Stockholm by Boat

A Centuries-Old Warship and a Gentle Sightseeing Cruise

Visit the remarkably preserved 17th-century Swedish warship Vasa and see Stockholm’s cityscape from the water.

Begin at the Vasa Museum, home to a historic warship that sank in Stockholm Harbor in 1628 and was raised, incredibly preserved, 300 years later. Use your free time to explore here before taking a short walk on the green island of Djurgården and enjoying a traditional Swedish meal at the Villa Godthem restaurant, set in the home of a former opera singer. Embark your exclusively chartered motor vessel and set sail among the channels, canals and quays that unite this incomparable city. During your cruise, pass the medieval Gamla Stan, or old town, whose old guild houses and narrow streets spread across the city’s original three islands. Admire the Stockholm Palace, the distinguished Royal Dramatic Theater and the Royal Swedish Opera, the national stage for opera and ballet.
I had a really bad night's sleep. I have really struggled with my sleep on this trip.

After a quick breakfast in the World Cafe, we met our excursion at 9:15 am in the Star Theater. Loading on a bus, we drove to a viewpoint above the ship so the guide could point out where the Vasa sunk.

From there, we wound our way to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a Swedish warship that has become one of the world’s most famous maritime archaeological finds. Built in 1626-1628, the ship was designed to be a floating fortress, adorned with intricate carvings and sculptures. On its maiden voyage in 1628, the ship tilted and sank just after leaving Stockholm harbor. The cause of the disaster is believed to be an unstable design, with the ship being top-heavy due to its extensive ornamentation and heavy cannons.

They claim that 98% of the ship is original. It is pretty impressive. In particular, the sculptures and carving are amazing.

After a guided tour, they gave us some free time, but we could have used some more time to wander through the exhibits. Leaving the museum, I was shocked at the number of people lined up outside.

From the museum, we walked to lunch at Villa Godthem. It is a renowned restaurant located in the heart of Stockholm's Djurgården park. The restaurant is housed in a charming 19th-century wooden building that exudes elegance and history. Originally built in 1874 as a gift to the famous opera singer Carl Johan Uddman, the villa has been a restaurant since the Stockholm Exhibition of 1897. We had a traditional Swedish meal, including: meatballs (köttbullar); mashed potatoes; gravy; lingonberries, and; pickled cucumbers.

We walked to the water and boarded a boat with one other Viking bus, We did a 30 minute tour of the harbor. We dropped us back at the pier right next to the ship just after 1:30 pm. It was interesting, but not as nice as the canal cruise in Copenhagen.

The plan for the afternoon was to get the room packed up. Over the last two weeks, we have unpacked and really spread out in the room. We have stuff everywhere.

I did a twenty minute upper body strength peleton work out in the Fitness Center.

Sharon and I went to the Nordic Spa and used the Thalassotherapy pool, hot tub, sauna, snow grotto and heated ceramic lounges.

Before dinner, we had a cocktail in the Explorers' Lounge. We went to an early dinner at the Chef's Table. The set menu included:
  • AMUSE BOUCHE - QUAIL SCOTCH EGGS - quick pickle, edible flowers, dressed baby salad leaves. Scotch eggs are not Scottish; instead, the name is derived from the Middle English verb scocchen, meaning "to cut." The eggs are covered with finely cut pork.
  • FIRST COURSE - BEER-BATTERED FISH & CHIPS - vinegar salt, minted pea purée, tartar sauce. Initlally "chips" were made from bread, but this was replaced by potatoes during a wheat shortage, and the substitution flourished. Indeed, even during World War II, Britain's Minister of Food restrained from rationing this beloved dish—in part because it provided good, inexpensive nutrition.
  • GRANITE - GIN & TONIC - lemon twist. The "G&T" was created in India, where quinine was used to prevent and treat malaria. Since it was terribly bitter, British army officers started adding water, sugar and lime-plus their gin ration-to make it more palatable.
  • MAIN COURSE - MINI YORKSHIRE PUDDING & SLOW BRAISED BRISKET - rich beef gravy, garden vegetables with chive butter. One of Britain's most iconic dishes, Yorkshire Pudding boasts a recipe dating back to at least the 17th century, and is the classic pairing to roast beef.
  • DESSERT - WHIM-WHAM Scottish Regency trifle with raspberries, oranges & whipped cream. Derived from the word "whimsy," this dessert-like most trifles-consists of cake layered with fruit. Here, cream sherry and Scotch whisky complement raspberries, orange zest and double cream.
Lights were out just before 10 pm. We are transferring off the ship tomorrow morning. We will be spending two nights in a hotel in Stockholm.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #18 - Mariehamn, Åland Islands, Finnland

Aland Islands by Bike

A Scenic Exploration on Two Wheels

Meet your guide, don your helmet and after a short safety briefing, set off on two wheels. Your ride will take you through the city of Mariehamn to the surrounding countryside past green meadows and lovely seaside residences. You will ride over several bridges, offering stunning views of the surroundings, and cross over to the isle of Järsöarea, known for its picturesque, red-painted farmhouses. Here, you will pause to enjoy a delicious homemade pancake with strawberry jam. Back on your bicycle, follow your guide for the leisurely ride back to your awaiting ship.

I got up at 6:15 am and wandered up to the Explorers' Lounge for coffee. It was interesting to watch the ship dock in the tiny harbor and port. After sailing into the harbor, they spun the ship in a circle to dock it. Much to her chagrin, I let Sharon sleep until 7:00 am before I woke her up.

We had a quick breakfast in the World Cafe. We met our excursion in the Star Theater at 8:15 am.

The first day on the ship, we switched our excursion from Mariehamn on Foot to a biking excursion. Meeting the group at 8:30 am, we got our bikes. We rode through town with a couple of stops to talk about buildings and statues. We did a longer stop at the Martime Quarter, but it was early and most of the shops were closed.

From there, we rode out of town and across several islands. It was very picturesque. We made a stop and walked down towards the water. Turning around, we rode back along the same route and stopped for a Swedish Pancake at Pensionat Solhem. We are back to the ship after 12:30 pm.

I really enjoyed the ride. We covered about 14 miles in two and a half hours of moving time.

We had a nice late lunch at the World Cafe sitting on the back of the boat in the sun.

After lunch, we met with the travel advisor. Given the incentitives that they were giving to book on the boat, we made a decision to sign up for a Mekong Delta Cruise with a pre-tour in Bangkok and post-tour in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in early 2026.

We spent some time in the infinity pool and hot tub on the back of the ship.

We went to the Port Talk for Stockholm.

While Sharon was getting cleaned up, I dove back down into the Nordic Spa. I did the pool and the sauna. I really think that the sauna helped knock down my head cold.

We went to the Explorers' Lounge for a cocktail. It was interesting to watch the ship sail away from Mariehamn through a series of small islands. It seemed like the channel was very narrow. There were a lot of other small boats around. I am going to write more about smaller boats in general in a post trip blog entry.

We had a late dinner at Manfredi's. The reservation was for a six person common table, but they seated by ourselves. We split Insalata Caprese [buffalo mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil] and Spaghetti alla Carbonara o all'Arrabbiata [fresh spaghetti with choice of: guanciale, egg & Parmigiano Reggiano sauce or garlic, parsley & spicy tomato sauce]. I had Traditional Bistecca alla Fiorentina [herb marinated grilled bone-in rib eye] as an entree, while Sharon had Branzino alla Mediterranean [seared sea bass; cherry tomatoes, potatoes, black olives, anchovies & parsley].

We gained an hour back, shifting from Helsinki to Stockholm time. Effectively, we crashed at 9:30 pm rather than 10:30 pm.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #17 - Sail the Swedish Coast

This was the only sea day of the cruise.

Sleeping until 6:30 am, Sharon did yoga in the fitness center. Given that I had a little bit of a head cold that hasn't gotten any better or any worse over the last two days, I relaxed in the room.

We had breakfast at the World Cafe. Afterwards, Sharon did laundry.

As Sharon's laundry was drying, we went to a presentation on Viking River Cruises. After the course of the trip, we have also gone to presentations on Ocean and Expedition Cruises.

Next, we spent some time enjoying some of the features of the Nordic Spa, including:
  • Warm Thalassotherapy Pool: A large pool with mineral-rich seawater for a warm and relaxing soak;
  • Hot Tub: A smaller pool with hotter water for deeper muscle relaxation;
  • Steam Room: A room with hot, humid air to promote sweating and detoxification;
  • Snow Grotto (unique feature): A room kept at very cold temperatures with snowflakes falling from the ceiling, offering a refreshing contrast to the hot rooms, and;
  • Heated Ceramic Lounges: Comfortable seating areas with heated surfaces for additional relaxation.
I think that the steam room had a positive impact on my head cold!

We had a late lunch at the pool grill. We both had a burger. the weather was gorgeous. They had the roof over the pool open.

Sharon scheduled a Nordic Restart at the spa. It started with a Nordic scrub to kick-start circulation and remove dead skin cells. This was followed by a Swedish deep-tissue massage. Finally, there was a Nordic scalp ritual. She said it was one of the best massages that she ever had.

While Sharon was in the spa, I did a 10 minutes arms and light weights Peloton workout and then walked for 30 minutes on the treadmill. Afterwards, I went back to the steam room, snow grotto, hot tub and pool.

Back in the room, we watched the Port Talk for Mariehamm.

We had a late dinner at the Chef's Table. The fixed menu included:
  • AMUSE BOUCHE - HOT & SOUR SOUP - Cantonese style - With a unique texture and full flavor, this soup is claimed as a regional dish by several different areas.
  • FIRST COURSE FRIED PRAWNS - crispy garlic & chili -Salty, crispy, juicy and spicy-your taste buds will jump up and down.
  • GRANITA COCONUT - lemongrass & ginger infused - Chinese have used spices for centuries for their flavor and beneficial properties. Lemongrass helps the body flush out toxins, kills bacteria, helps with digestion and relieves aches and pains; while ginger can ward off stroke and heart disease and fight infection.
  • MAIN COURSE - WOK-FRIED BEEF - black pepper sauce, rice in lotus leaf - Few combinations in the food world are as fabled as pepper and steak; and black pepper beef stir-fry is one of the world's meat lovers' favorite Cantonese dishes.
  • DESSERT - CHILLED MANGO CREAM - pomelo and sago - One of the most famous and popular Chinese desserts-the perfect light, refreshing finish
The premium wine pairing was very good.

We spent some time at dinner talking to the couple from North Carolina sitting next to us. We also strategized about a possible future Viking trip. Viking is offerring some interesting discounts if we sign up while we are onboard.

It was about 10:30 pm when we crashed.

Monday, July 08, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #16 - Gdańsk, Poland

City of Gdańsk On Foot

Enjoy a Tour of the Sites and Squares of Gdańsk

Explore this remarkably restored Polish city and learn about its rich history on this enlightening excursion.

One of the wealthiest cities in the Hanseatic League, Gdańsk was extensively damaged during World War II, but its restoration has been phoenix-like. You will visit Long Market, one of the city’s most attractive streets, and pass beneath Green Gate, a former royal residence. View the 15th-century Artus Court, a merchant’s palace, and the fascinating Gdańsk treadwheel crane, a 14th-century human-powered device that helped the medieval port load and unload cargo. En route back to your ship, pass Solidarity Square and see the famous Gate No. 2 of the Gdańsk Lenin Shipyard, where protesting shipyard workers were shot by the Communist regime in 1970. A monument here commemorates their sacrifice.
Evening with Frédéric Chopin

A Performance of a Master Composer’s Work

Attend an intimate performance of Chopin compositions in a cultural venue.

Born in 1810 in Warsaw, Frédéric Chopin is one of history’s great composers. He demonstrated true originality at the piano and became a beloved figure in Polish culture. His unique blend of romantic imagination, classical perfection and true Polish spirit still captivates music lovers around the world. Join your guide for a short drive to the neo-Gothic red-brick Polish Baltic Philharmonic. Upon arrival, take your seat in the Chamber Music Hall and settle in for an intimate concert of arias, classical music and other famed Chopin melodies, as well as other great masters that followed in his footsteps. Get caught up in the rousing performances by a renowned Polish pianist and the accompanying violin virtuoso. After the concert, you will return to your ship.
Struggling with a slight head cold, I had a fitful night's sleep. Sharon and I ended up sleeping until almost 7:00 am. We had a quck breakfast of waffles at Mamsen's.

We met our 9:15 am excursion in the Atrium. The excursion for the day was a walking tour of Gdańsk. I was surprised how far out of the old town the ship was docked; it wasn't possible to walk into town. The bus ride was about twenty minutes.

Both Sharon and I were surprised by Gdańsk. It is a beautiful city. The walking tour lasted about 1 1/2 hours. The walking tour gave everyone an hour of free time and then was going to meet up again to head back to the boat. We decided to explore the city on our own.

We walked through the church, shopped for amber jewelry and then found a traditional Polish restaurant for lunch. We had lunch at Restauracja KOS. We had fish soup and Russian and Duck pierogis.

We caught the 3:00 pm shuttle bus back to the ship. Getting cleaned up, we joined our evening excursion at 4;15 pm. It was an evening Chopin Concert at the Polish Baltic Philharmonic. It is housed in an old converted power plant. The concert was just for Viking (two buses) and lasted just over an hour. I wish I had a program, but I don't. Sharon talked about playing some Chopin music after we get home.

We had dinner at The Restaurant by ourselves. We had a nice table along the windows. I had the DESTINATION MENU, including: Cheese Pierogi [polish cheese dumpling, sautéed in butter]; Kolety Schabowe [mushroom-stuffed pork cutlet], and; Milk Chocolate Rocher [hazelnut dacquoise, milk chocolate, praline cream[. Sharon had an asparagus salad, veal and a bite of my dessert.

We got a surprise in the afternoon. As we move towards our next stop, we are crossing a time zone; we lose an hour tonight. We had to manually adjust the time on our phones to Helsinki time...
We finished the night watching part of the second half of the lecture about Chopin. We crashed about 10:40 pm.

Sunday, July 07, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #15 - Bornholm (Rønne), Denmark

Scenic Bornholm

Visit Picturesque Island’s Charming Fishing Villages

Discover the natural beauty and charming villages of the idyllic island of Bornholm.

This picturesque Danish island is nicknamed solskinsøen (Sunshine Island) and klippeøen (Rock Island) for its weather and geology, respectively. Embark on a scenic drive by motor coach through the lush green fields of the island’s western coast en route to a photo stop at the largest castle ruins in Northern Europe, Hammershus. Continue along the island’s rugged northern side and glimpse Gudhjem, a small village situated on the steep cliffs. Leave the coastal road and visit one of the four round churches that can be found on Bornholm; these peculiar buildings were not just churches but served as fortresses during times of conflict. From the small village of Østerlars, travel through the island’s interior and return to your ship.
up at 6 am, we were eating breakfast at World Cafe as the ship sailed into port.

While we were eating breakfast, the Cruise Director came over the loud speaker and announced that there was a change in the schedule for the day. Originally, due to high winds, the captain thought that they wouldn't be able to dock until later in the morning. As a result, all of the excursions were rescheduled until later in the day. At the last minute, the wind died down and the ship was able to dock on schedule. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to change the excursions back to the original schedule. As a result, our 8:30 am excursion had been rescheduled until 11:00 am.

We ended up crashing back in the room and taking a nap. Given that I am starting to fight a little bit of a headcold, this was a blessing.

Eventually heading to the Star Theater, we met our excursion. The excursion for the day was essentially a bus driving tour of the island. We made one stop at Hammershus. It is Scandinavia's largest medieval fortification and one of the larger ones in Northern Europe. Unfortunately, they only gave us twenty minutes at this stop. This was not enough time to walk all the way up to fortress.

Bornholm is famous for its four round churches, which are among the only seven round churches found in Denmark. These distinctive circular structures were built in the 12th and 13th centuries and served a dual purpose – as houses of worship and as defensive structures. Their thick walls and lack of windows offered protection from pirates and other invaders.

We were supposed to stop at one, but given it was Sunday, services were underway. They drove slowly by the church. I was dissappointed that we didn't get a chance to tour one of the churches.

When we got back to the ship, Sharon and I caught the shuttle bus into town for lunch. Using her superpower to find a restaurant, we wandered into Rønne and had a leisurely late lunch at Râzapâz. We had Tapas for two and a couple of glasses of wine.

After lunch, we wandered around the town a little. Sharon was looking for pins and doing some shopping. Given that it was Sunday, most of the stores were closed. We walked back to the ship.

Back at the boat, we did the Port Talk for Gdansk, Poland.

After the Port Talk, we went to a Guest Lecture by Steven Rivellino titled Fryderykk Chopin, Poland's Cherished Son. The lecuture explored the life and music of Chopin from his birth in Warsaw to his early days in Paris. The lecture was very good. We were seeing a Chopin concert as an excursion in Gdansk.

Getting cleaned up, we went to The Restaurant for dinner. Given that I was feeling under the weather, we sat alone. I had DESTINATION MENU, including: Smoked Haddock Fish Cake [leek and mature cheddar; dill mayonnaise]; Roasted Venison [butternut squash fondant, roasted parsnip; porcini truffle sauce], and, Chocolate Flabbergast [creamy & dense chocolate base, rocher shell, tonka cream]. Sharon had a Langoustines bisque, salmon and some of my dessert.

We finished the night in the Explorers' Lounge watching the ship sail along the coast of Bornholm. Sharon has started to call Bornholm Island the Boring Island. With me feeling under the weather, we crashed early about 9:30 pm.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #14 - Berlin, Germany

Iconic Sights of Berlin

A Panoramic Tour of Berlin’s Historic Monuments

See the major sights of historic Berlin on this fascinating panoramic excursion by motor coach.

After an escorted train ride, meet your guide at the Berlin train station. Begin with a photo stop at the Berlin Wall and explore the historic St. Nicolas Quarter. Pass Checkpoint Charlie and see the City Hall of Schöneberg, where President Kennedy famously declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner” in 1963. At the Allied Museum, browse the exhibits chronicling the Allied occupation of Berlin between 1945 and 1952. Sample traditional German fare and enjoy a three-course lunch at a local restaurant. After, stop for photos at the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, with its magnificent glass cupola. See the stunning Berlin Cathedral and stop at the Neue Wache memorial, dedicated to the victims of war and dictatorship. After taking time to reflect, return to your ship by train.
A long day. Up at 5:15 am, we had breakfast in the World Cafe. This is quickly becoming my least favorite place on the ship.

We joined a large group in the Atrium for our excursion. Although it is hard to believe, I thought that I heard that 700 of the 900 people on board were going to Berlin. Just after 7:00 am, we walked to a train. Viking had reserved a special train for the trip.

It was a two and a half hour ride to the Berlin. The train didn't have Wifi, but I used my phone as a hot spot to work on the blog entry for Copenhapen. I had a very loud, obnoxious person sitting across the aisle from me.

We were in Berlin just before 10:00 am. We walked to bus and drove to the Allied Museum. It documents the history of the Western Allies (US, France and Britain) in Berlin following World War II, particularly focusing on the period between 1945 and 1994. At best, it is "C" museum. Sharon was able to buy a couple of pins.

Back on the bus, we drove towards the Brandenburgh Gate. It ws built between 1788 and 1791, it was originally a city gate marking the start of the road from Berlin to Brandenburg an der Havel. We started to run into some problems at this point. A EuroCup quarter-final game between Netherlands and Turkey was scheduled for the evening. The town was packed with people, particularly Dutch fans in orange. We were able to get off the bus and see the Brandenburgh Gate, but unfortunately, we couldn't go the Reichstag due to the fan zone.

We had a nice lunch at Braufactum. It included potato salad, sourkraut, salad, sausages and schnitzel with ice cream for dessert.

After lunch, we drove past Checkpoint Charlie, the City Hall and an interesting section of the wall decorated by artists. We got off the bus at Museum Island. We toured the Neue Wache memorial and the Berlin Catherdal. Sharon and I could probably spend two days exploring the museums in this area.

Next, we went to the Berlin Wall Memorial. The memorial includes the last remaining section of the Berlin Wall with its full depth preserved, allowing visitors to see the various elements of the border strip as it existed in the late 1980s. There was a viewing platform that allowed a view into the border strip.

We were back at the train before 4:30 pm. It was an easy two and a half ride back to the ship. I finished the blog entry for Copenhagen and read my book.

Dropping our stuff in the room, we went to the World Cafe for a quick dinner. This turned into a little bit of shit show. It was loud, chaotic and packed with people. We struggled to get the waiter's attention to get the premium wine list. It was a German meal very similar to the lunch. The experience cemented my negative feelings about the World Cafe.

Afterwards, we walked towards the Explorers' Lounge. As we did, we realize that we could have had the same dinner in the Pool Grill in a much more intimate atmosphere; we kicked ourselves.

We finished the evening watching the ship sail away from port. We crashed hard just before 10:00 pm.

Friday, July 05, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #13 - Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen by Foot

Landmarks and History of Denmark’s Capital City

Explore the landmarks of Copenhagen and learn about the city’s history during a walking excursion.

With a local guide, you will stop to see the Little Mermaid statue sitting serenely in the harbor at Langelinie and visit the courtyard at the 18th-century Amalienborg Palace. Continue to Copenhagen’s largest monument, the Gefion Fountain, followed by Amalienborg Palace, the winter residence of the Queen of Denmark, the sovereign of one of the world’s oldest monarchies. Here, admire the royal rococo buildings and square, plus the stunning Marble Church, New Opera House and flourishing Amaliehaven (Amalie Garden) with its geometrical layout, colorful plants and centerpiece fountain. En route back to your ship, walk through the 17th-century Citadel—one of Europe’s best-preserved fortresses surrounded by eight moats, tall ramparts and cannon bastions.
Copenhagen Canal Cruise

View the Magnificent Skyline from the Waters

Embark on a leisurely cruise across the extensive harbor and the Christianshavn and Frederiksholm Canals.

After boarding your boat, settle in for a narrated overview of the city, an intriguing blend of pioneering modern architecture, historic landmarks and recreational quays. Pass the Christiansborg Palace, home of the Danish Parliament, and admire the distinctive spire of entwined dragon tails atop the old Stock Exchange. Pass the colorful Nyhavn Canal, lined with 500-year-old gabled houses; this neighborhood was once home to Hans Christian Andersen. You will also see Amalienborg Palace, the royal winter residence, and the 17th-century fortress of Kastellet. After pausing at the famous Little Mermaid statue, continue to the old naval base of Holmen. You will also see the Royal Library, nicknamed the “Black Diamond,” the Copenhagen Opera House and the Royal Danish Playhouse.
The ship docked in Copenhagen at 7:00 am.

Setting an alarm for 6:00 am, we had breakfast in Mamsen’s. We both had oatmeal.

In a smart move, Sharon switched our morning excursion from 10:00 am to 8:30 am. It paid dividends later in the day; it essentially bought us an extra hour and a half in the middle of short day.

The excursion for the morning was a walking tour. We wandered from the ship to the Amalienborg Palace and back. We covered three and a half miles in just under three hours. Sites along the way included: the Little Mermaid, the Amalienborg Palace, the Marble Church and the Kastellet. When we reached the middle of the walk near the downtown, a number of people dropped from tour. By the time we got back to the ship, the guide had lost almost half of the group.

After the walking tour, we ran back to the room and then caught the shuttle into downtown. After some teeth gnashing looking for somewhere to eat, we found a very nice restaurant for lunch. The Maven was located in the side of an old church. We ordered a few small plate from the SMØRREBRØD menu. We split FISH CAKES (Potato salad, radishes, pickles & chives); CHICKEN SALAD (Roasted oyster mushrooms, celery, mustard & bacon ventrèche); BUTTER-FRIED FISH FILET (Lingonberries, lemon & remoulade), and; HOME-SMOKED FAROESE SALMON (Egg yolk cream, red currants, hand-peeled Danish peas & lemon mayo). I rarely rave about meals, but this was a very good Nordic lunch.

After lunch, we explored the Chrisitianborg Chapel and Palace.

Catching the shuttle bus back to the ship, we did an afternoon canal cruise. I was surprised by the small canals lined with a variety of boats and the low bridges. It reminded me a little of Amsterdam. We got a chance to see a couple of neighborhoods that we hadn't seen.

Getting cleaned up, we went to an early dinner at The Restaurant. We were seated at a common table, but when no one showed up for 10 or 15 minutes, we switched to a table by ourselves.

I had the DESTINATION MENU including: Gin Cured Salmon (pickled cucumber, granny smith apple, avocado mousse; dill mayonnaise); Herb Crusted Roasted Pork Loin (apple purée, braised onions, peppercorn sauce), and; Koldskäl med Kammerjunker (cold buttermilk soup, vanilla, strawberries; lemon and cardamom biscuit). Sharon had a pumpkin salad, a New York steak and crepe suzette.

The ship left port at 8 pm. After dinner, we wandered up to the Explorer’s Lounge to watch the ship sail out of Copenhagen. We sailed past the the Øresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. It's actually a combined bridge and tunnel route, rather than just one structure.

We didn’t have enough time in Copenhagen to do it justice. Like Istanbul last year, we could have spent several days exploring the city. I doubt that we will ever be back…

With a very early start planned for. Saturday, we crashed about 9:30 pm.

A footnote. I wrote the first draft of this blog entry on the train to Berlin. I finished and published it on the train back to the ship from Berlin.

Thursday, July 04, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #12 - Alborg, Denmark

Ålborg Walking Tour

Utzon Center, Old Town and Ålborghus Castle

Enjoy a taste of beautiful Ålborg, strolling its old town, savoring local delicacies and seeing Ålborghus Castle.

Leaving your ship’s berth in the city center, walk along the renovated waterfront district, home to the Utzon Center. Pass through Utzon Park and visit Vor Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady), which to this day still houses one of the original church bells dating back to the 12th century. Visit the charming old town, see the Gothic 14th-century Budolfi Church and the lovely baroque-style City Hall. Take a stroll by one of Ålborg’s real treasures, Jens Bang’s stone house. Bang was famously snubbed by the town’s government, and his statuesque renaissance home was never approved by the local gentry. The highlight of the tour is the chance to experience our very own Viking market, where you can sample some of the local delicacies while exploring the grounds of Ålborghus Castle.
Danish Beer & Walking Tour

Go Off the Beaten Path to Sample Denmark's Finest Brews

Sample some of the best-loved Danish beers on this walking tour of the Jomfru Ane Gade district.

Explore the backdrop of Denmark’s brewing heritage and immerse yourself in its beer culture as your guide accompanies you to our carefully selected watering holes. With your very own “Ålborg Tasting Glass,” you will enjoy six different brews and visit three of Ålborg’s inviting traditional pubs. With more than 5,000 years of brewing history, Denmark regularly enters the Top 10 list of European brewing nations. This tour is perfect to sample a selection of Denmark’s finest and discover your favorite Danish brew while learning more about the history of this picturesque town along the way. At the end of the tour, you can return to the ship with your guide or further explore the area independently.
We were up and moving about 6 am. Sharon did a Yoga class at 7:00 am, while I did a twenty minute arms and shoulders Peloton Strength workout and then ran thirty plus minutes on the treadmill. I have worked out more so far on the trip than I thought that I would.

We had a late breakfast in the World Cafe. When the trip is over, I am going to write a longer post about the boat. I want to compare this Viking Ocean Cruise with our Seabourn Greece and Turkey cruise. The one negative thing about this trip is that the World Cafe has been overrun with people on the last couple of mornings; it was a zoo.

The boat docked in Aalborg at 10:00 am.

We did an 11:00 am walking tour of the old city. I enjoyed the tour, but it was Sharon's least favorite excursion and guide of the trip so far. Interestingly, Aalborg claims to host the largest 4th of July Celebration outside of the United States.

Back at the boat, we had a quick bite to eat at the Pool Grill. We split a burger.

After lunch, we did a Danish Beer walking tour. I really enjoyed the pub crawl. They served us a herring sandwich at the second stop. Along with the beer, they served us several shots of schnaps.

It rained on off and on during the two excursions. The rain was hard a couple of times, but stopped fairly quickly.

The ship departed at 6:00 pm. We went to the Explorers' Lounge to watch it sail away from the dock and down the sound. Afterwards, we went to a presentation on Viking Expedition Cruises in the Torshavn Bar.

Originally, Sharon had moved some reservations around with the thought that we would have the 4th of July food in the World Cafe. As we were getting ready for dinner, she changed her mind. We went to The Restaurant and sat by yourselves. I had the DESTINATION MENU that included: Honsekodssuppe (danish chicken soup with flour dumplings, meatballs & vegetables); Cod & Seafood Pie (cod, creamy shrimp & mussel sauce; mashed potatoes), and; Little Baked Alaska (ice cream, honey meringue, cookie base).

Back in the room, we watched the port talk for Copenhagen. We crashed early.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #11 - Oslo, Norway

Behind Closed Doors at the Munch Museum

Works and Restoration of Norway’s Masterpieces

Enjoy Privileged Access to Oslo’s Munch Museum on an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour.

Connect with the brilliance of Edvard Munch, Norway’s beloved expressionist artist, and get a sneak peek at the inner workings of the museum. Meet your expert art historian and enjoy a guided tour of the exhibition, stopping to marvel at Munch’s work. Discover more about this captivating artist and his long and successful career, which began at the age of 17. Step behind the scenes and see the museum’s private collection of printing plates that showcase Munch’s innovative and surprising techniques. Next, gain exclusive insight into the work of the conservation department and meet the museum’s team of skilled craftsmen, who painstakingly restore precious works and prepare masterpieces for viewing. After your tour, enjoy coffee and cake before returning to your awaiting ship.
The ship was in port in Oslo overnight. Before breakfast, Sharon and I went to the Fitness Center. Sharon did a 10 minute Peloton Core workout with me. Afterwards, I ran on the treadmill for thirty plus minutes, while Sharon did a weights workout.

We had a late breakfast in the restaurant. I had an egg and pancake, while Sharon had salmon benedict. We ended up sitting next to a couple that we met on the Stavanger tasting walk (Sue and Wiston).

We didn't end up using the morning as well as we might have. I had hoped to walk to City Hall and the Opera House. Instead, we had a lazy morning. I did some laundry; I washed my workout clothes. Sharon did some shopping on the pier, including buying a rain poncho. We also explored the ship, including the sports deck and the sun deck. We putted for a little while on the putting green on the sports deck.

Our excursion for the day was a small group guided tour of the Munch Museum. The group only included ten people.

We got an overview of the Munch and his work with some coffee and cake. Kvæfjordkake, also known as "Verdens beste" (Norwegian for "The World's Best"), is a Norwegian dessert cake consisting of three layers: a base of sponge cake, a layer of vanilla custard, and a meringue topping. It is often garnished with almonds and whipped cream.

The guide took us through the main three exhibition floors. She did a very nice job. After the guided tour, we had a presentation by someone working on restoring and maintaining the painting, e.g. behind the scenes; this presentation was mediocre at best. We had a few minutes to go back on our own, but could have spent a much longer time wandering the museum.

After the excursion, we had a snack in the Pool Grill. From there, we went to the Explorers' Lounge, watched the ship sail away from Oslo and finally said goodbye to Norway. Norway is a beautiful country!

We joined a common table in The Restaurant for dinner. It included a couple from Australia and a couple from Minnesota. I had the destination menu, including Halibut. Sharon had a caesar salad and lamb chops.

After dinner, We went to the Torshavn bar to listen to live music. Although we had intended to crash early, it was almost 11 pm by the time we went to bed.

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #10 - Oslo, Norway

Vikings & Norwegian Explorers

Viking Ships, Kon-Tiki and Norway’s Polar Explorers

Get an in-depth look at the history of the Vikings and Norway’s most notable explorers.

Norwegians have a long history of exploration, from the time of the Vikings to the present day. Learn about the epic voyages of world-renowned explorer Thor Heyerdahl at the Kon-Tiki Museum. Browse the numerous texts, maps and more than 8,000 books on display; the highlight is an exhibit of the original Kon-Tiki balsa-wood raft Heyerdahl used to sail from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. Tour the Fram Museum, which chronicles the polar expeditions of Norwegian explorers, including Roald Amundsen—the first person to reach both the North and South Poles. Conclude your tour with a guided visit to the Norwegian Maritime Museum to learn about Norway’s seafaring history and see its maritime paintings, by famous artists such as Christian Krohg, Hans Gude and Axel Revold.
After a late evening, Sharon and I both slept late. I got up about 7 am and went to the Explorers' Lounge. Sharon slept to 8:30 am!

We had late breakfast at the World Cafe. I was shocked at the number of people. It is the first time on the boat where I felt overrun with FOPs.

We had a lazy morning. I did a 20 minute Peloton upper body strength workout.

We went back to the World Cafe for a quick bite. Again, it was overrun with people. I think that the number of people was primarily due to the fact that the ship was at sea for the morning.

The boat docked at 12:00 pm. We met The Viking and Norwegian Explorers excursion at 12:15 pm in the Star Theater. The excursion included visits to three museums.

The first stop was Kon-Tiki Museum. It is dedicated to the life and explorations of Thor Heyerdahl, a legendary Norwegian adventurer. Heyerdahl is most famous for his Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, where he sailed a balsa wood raft across the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia, aiming to prove that pre-Columbian contact between South America and Polynesia was possible. The museum contains the actual Kon-Tiki and Ra vessels.

The second stop was the Norwegian Maritime Museum. With the Viking Ship Museum closed, it contains one of the oldest Viking ships. We actually visited this musuem on the pre-tour in Olso last week.

The third stop was Fram Museum. It celebrates the rich history of Norwegian polar exploration. The museum's centerpiece is the Fram, considered the strongest wooden polar ship ever built.

After the excursion, we went to the Aquavit Bar and did some planning for the next few days. Sharon is using her super powers to try to find a restaurant in Copenhagen.

We took an Uber into the city for dinner at Lorry. Sharon was looking for a traditional Norwegian restaurant. Lorry is one of Oslo’s oldest restaurants, with a history dating back to the 1870’s. The place has been run by the same family for over 60 years through three generations. We both had LORRY’S HOMEMADE FISH SOUP and REINDEER PATTIES [Lingonberries, mixed vegetables and potatoes with a creamy game sauce].

After dinner, we walked back to the ship through the Palace Park. This beautiful park, one of the oldest and largest in Oslo, was designed in the mid-1800s and features sprawling lawns, majestic trees, ponds, and statues. It surrounds the Royal Palace on all sides. It was a beautiful evening.

We crashed at 10:00 pm.

Monday, July 01, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #9 - Stavanger, Norway

Stavanger Walking Tour & Oil Museum

Enjoy a Tour of Old Town Stavanger

Get well acquainted with Stavanger and its beautifully preserved old town on this included tour.

From our berth right in the heart of town, you can walk with ease to Gamle Stavanger, or Old Stavanger. In this attractive pedestrian district, stroll cobblestone streets among close to 250 buildings protected by a conservancy. They range in date from the 18th to the early 20th centuries and are considered the best kept wooden houses in Northern Europe. Destined for demolition during the 1950s, they were saved largely by the city’s architect, Einar Hedén. You will also visit the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. Browse its fascinating exhibits about geology, technology and harnessing the power of oil. You will learn about life on board oilrigs and the drama of everyday life at sea. After, linger in Stavanger at your leisure and return the short distance to your ship on your own.
A Taste of Stavanger

Walk Through the Old Town and Savor Culinary Delights

Indulge in 200 years of Norwegian food culture with tastings throughout Stavanger’s bustling old town.

From our berth right in the heart of the town, meet your guide and walk with ease to vibrant Gamle Stavanger, or Old Stavanger. In this attractive pedestrian district, stroll the cobblestone streets winding along the many well-preserved 18th- to early 20th-century buildings as your guide mixes tales of the city’s rich history with explanations of how Norwegians’ eating habits have evolved over the centuries. You will make stops along the way to savor the aromas and taste several different food items that have played a significant role in the development of Stavanger, from its days of canning smoked sardines and herring to the present day. Many of the city’s resident chefs are ranked among the best in Europe, and Stavanger is considered a premier culinary destination.
With an early excursion, we were up at 6 am and moving. We had a light breakfast at Mamsen's. I had oatmeal and some fruit, while Sharon had a roll.

We met the guide (Bent) for the Stavanger Walking Tour & Oil Museum excursion at 7:15 am. It was raining very lightly. It stopped before the excursion started and we didn't get rained on for the rest of the day.

We toured the city and ended up at the Oil Museum. The Oil Museum was interesting. The guide had a day job as an electrician on the rigs and had a passion for the subject.

After a quick stop at the room, we did A Taste of Stavanger excursion. Wandering back into the old city, we did a sardine testing in a house connected to the Norwegian Canning Museum. The four different sardines were each prepared in a different way. Afterwards, we had a guided tour of the museum focusing on the canning process.

From there, we walked to No. 18 Kulturkafe. We had a taste of waffles with different topping.

The last stop was at Chili Chocolate. After a presentation by the owner, we had a hot chocolate and sampled some different chocolates.

We got back to the boat as they were packing up and preparing to pull away the gangway. The ship departed just after 1 pm.

I really enjoyed walking around the city. We would have liked to have had some free time to wander around on our own. Two other cruise ships docked after we arrived in the early morning. Over the course of the day, there were more and more people wandering around.

Back on the boat, we had a light lunch at Mamsen's (open face shrimp sandwich). After lunch, Sharon did some shopping, while I went to the fitness center and did a 15 minute core workout and 22 minutes walking and running on the treadmill.

Over the course of the rest of the afternoon, we went to a future travel presentation focusing on Oceans cruises and then the Port Talk for Oslo. We are back in Oslo on Tuesday.

Getting cleaned up for dinner, we went to the Explorers' Lounge for a cocktail. We had dinner in The Restaurant.

We decided to do a common table. We ended up sitting with an Austrailian couple (Conrad and Margo) and a New Zealand couple (Ralph and Loraine). The New Zealand couple were retired diary farmers from North of Auckland. It was a very nice evening. We ended up sitting and talking for a couple of hours. We were the last people to leave the restaurant! Sharon had squid stuffed with shrimp and crab, while I had veal schnitzel.

Sharon and I had gone to dinner early with the plan to go to bed early, but we ended up going to bed at 11 pm.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

2024 Viking Homelands - Day #8 - Eidfjord, Norway

The Scenic Flåm Railway

Through Fjords and Over Mountains by Road and Rail

Marvel at Norway’s stunning beauty during a full-day excursion to Flåm, one of its most scenic coastal villages.

You will find the countryside as breathtaking as your destination while riding by motor coach from the shores of Hardangerfjord to Sognefjord, crossing scenic mountain passes and driving through manmade tunnels en route. Travel through picturesque woodland to the Tvinde Waterfall cascading down the steep cliffside. After a short stroll close to the waterfall, continue to Flåm. Then, board the Flåm Railway for a thrilling ride as you climb nearly 3,000 feet through 20 tunnels and over numerous bridges. Change trains at Myrdal and continue through more spectacular vistas, alighting in Voss, settled among snowcapped mountains, forests, lakes and rivers. Stop for a delicious lunch at its famous hotel before returning to your ship, seeing more beautiful scenery via motor coach.
Sleeping a little later, the ship was docking at Eidfjord as we were getting up. We had breakfast in the World Cafe.

Our excursion to Flåm Railway was scheduled for 9:30 am. It was planned to last seven and a half hours. We did the excursion in the reverse of the description in the sidebar.

The day included:
  • a bus ride from Eidfjord to Voss;
  • a train ride from Voss to Myrdal, we covered this section on Wednesday when we traveled by train from Oslo to Bergen;
  • at the high mountain Myrdal station, we transferred to the Flåm Railway;
  • the railway drops 3,000 feet in just over twelve miles, it is considered one of Norway's top tourist attractions and was an amazing ride;
  • the train made a short stop at a waterfall for pictures and a musical performance;
  • the end of the ride was Flåm, a small village nestled innermost in the Aurlandsfjord, which is an arm of the mighty Sognefjord;
  • from Flåm, we took a bus to the Stilheim Hotel for lunch, the view from the hotel/restaurant was spectacular;
  • after lunch, we reboarded the bus heading back to Eidfjord;
  • bus stopped at the Tvindefossen Waterfall for pictures;
  • the bus slowed for pictures at a second waterfall in the middle of a series of hairpin turns on the old road.
After the course of the day, the scenery was incredible!

We were back at the ship right at 5 pm. After getting cleaned up, we went to the Explorers' Lounge to watch the ship sail away from Eidfjord through the Hardangerfjord.

We finshed night with dinner at the Chef's Table. It was a fixed menu that included: Sweet Potato Chip [apple, rosemary, crème fraîch], Crab Cake [avocado, orange, fennel, shallot, dill & blood orange]; Moscow Mule [vodka, ginger beer & lime juice]; Seared Halibut [California olive, herb vinaigrette, crumbled roasted cauliflower, buttered panko], and; Ojai Mandarin Parfait [candied ginger].
We crashed about 9:45 pm