We had a fabulous time sailing with Viking. It was our first ocean cruise with them. Back in 2015 we did their Paris to Prague (Cities of Light) river cruise and loved it. We sailed the ocean on Viking’s Star ship, which has a capacity of 930 guests. I believe we had about 630 guests on our cruise. The ship is smaller than your typical ocean cruiser, allowing it to get into smaller ports, which many of its competitors are not able to. We began our trip with a 4-day pre-excursion package which included 2 days in Oslo, a scenic train ride to Bergen, and then one day exploring Bergen before boarding the ship for a 15-day cruise. The map below shows our route, somewhat. The only difference is that our itinerary included a stop in Karlskrona, Sweden, as opposed to Mariehamn, Åland.
One of our favorite things to do on the ship was to enjoy tea time. Every day from 4-5 pm they serve a wide variety of teas, scones, sandwiches, and desserts. The scones were soft and sweet!
The ship has a good variety of places where you can find a delicious meal. Waffles are a popular Scandinavian food and are offered every morning in the Explorer’s Lounge. It is served with Norway’s brown cheese, or brunost. While it may not look like a cheese that we are familiar with here in the US, it is very tasty. Here I got a delicous waffle, served along with beautiful Fjord views. What could be better?
Anyway, enough about food and the ship, for now. Let’s begin our cruise. Here is Charlie and I on our first evening on the ship. We’re just chillin’. Now, you don’t see that very often.
We had quite a bit of time in Oslo, as we did the pre-extension trip and then the ship made a stop in Oslo as part of the cruise itinerary. The cruise stop in Oslo was a change from the Homelands’ original itinerary, which was to include St. Petersburg, Russia, and stops in Finland and Estonia. After Russia invaded Ukraine those port calls were canceled.
Oslo is the capital of Norway and is known for its green spaces and museums. We thoroughly enjoyed walking the cobblestoned streets and exploring the city, as well as some of the countryside. We found that Norway loves its statues/sculptures, as they are everywhere. Each tells a story, although some are a bit confusing. Take for example the sculptures found at the Vigeland Sculpture Park. This park is home to over 200 of Gustav Vigeland’s granite, bronze, and wrought iron works of art.
This one is not bad at all. It’s a cute, happy child.
But this next one, I’m not sure about. I don’t really understand the message Gustav is trying to convey. I just want to know why the young boy is so angry. Then again, this look is familiar. I see it when my very young grandchildren don’t get what they want from their parents.
Then we have more complex artwork, displayed throughout the park. If you desire, click on each picture to enlarge it so that you can take in the detail.
Outside of the Vigeland Sculpture Park, you’ll find what I would consider more normal sculptures, such as these two, found on the Royal Palace grounds.
Or my favorite statue found around the city center.
We strolled along Karl Johans Gate, a beautiful street filled with shops, restaurants, bakeries, and outdoor eateries, all surrounded by colorful flowers and a green-space park across the street. The cobblestone street ends at the Royal Palace.
There are some really interesting architectural buildings in Oslo. One of my favorites was the Oslo City Hall. It was constructed between 1931 and 1950. I liked the outside design, as well as the numerous murals found inside.
Probably one of the most interesting architectural structures is the new Munch Museum, an art museum dedicated to the life and works of the Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. We did not find the time to check out the museum, but I am very intriqued in the building’s design. It is quite unique.
Because we are going to Antarctica in December we decided to visit the Fram museum. This is a museum on the history of Norwegian polar explorations. We really enjoyed it.
We also spent some time at The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. While the title may make it sound boring, it was actually our favorite. It is a large open-air museum with more than 150 historic buildings, relocated from towns and rural districts. This includes the stave church from Gol in Hallingdal. It was built in the 13th century.
We loved all of the other old structures. The exhibits are done very well. We also enjoyed checking out the amazing historic artifacts found in the more traditional museum-type buildings on the premises. We highly recommend this museum.
We toured the Akershus Fortress, a medieval castle. The castle has been home to royals, been used as a military base, a prison, and the office of the Prime Minister of Norway. We enjoyed the tour, and the fact that they provided an audio tour with admission.
The public transportation in Oslo is fantastic. The trains and busses are exceptionally clean and Oslo uses an app that makes planning a trip very easy. If you are heading to Oslo in the future, download the Ruter app. We took a city transit train up to Frognerseteren, a 19th-century structure that has a cafe and restaurant overlooking the city. From there we walked down to Midtstubakken, a 106-meter (348 ft) ski-jumping hill. We found the hill deserted, but open, so we climbed up to the top for some great views.
Afterward, we walked further down to Holmenkollbakken, the main Olympic ski-jumping hill. Zoom in real close and you can see how tiny the people are, compared to the size of the hill, which is 144 meters (472 ft). The people are located in those open spaces, midway up the hill. I can’t imagine skiing down it.
We walked all over the city. I think we hit every street in the main commercial area. We walked up and down the river, which was very nice. We strolled along the streets of Damstredet & Telthusbakken, a charming and picturesque part of Oslo that has well-preserved wooden houses from the late 1700s and 1800s. In the end, we took in quite a bit of Oslo within a very short time.
We loved Oslo. The Norwegians are very kind. The city is exceptionally clean. We had great weather, in the low 70s, and no rain.
I’ll wrap Oslo up with a few scenic photos.
Following our stay in Oslo, we took the Bergensbanen train to Bergen. The train goes through some very scenic terrain. However, there are about 180 tunnels along the 7-hour ride between Oslo and Bergen. These impact how much of the landscape you can really see, or at least what you can capture on camera. The tunnels are necessary to hold the winter snow at bay. If you ever find yourself on this train, departing from Oslo, snatch a seat on the left-hand side if possible, as this side offers the best views.
Bergen is Norway’s second-largest city. It is surrounded by lush mountains and deep fjords. It was once a trading empire for the Hanseatic League, a mid-thirteenth-century commercial and defensive confederation of North German seafaring merchants. These German merchants resided in tenements on Bryggen waterfront (the wharf). Today, many of the original buildings still exist.
One of the oldest buildings in Bergen is St. Mary’s Church, built in the 12th-century. I wonder if these church doors date back to the 1100’s? If so, they are looking pretty good 🙂
One of my favorite architectural buildings in the city was completed more recently, in the 1890s; The West Norway Museum of Decorative Art. It is a Renaissance Revival structure designed by Henry Bucher. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to explore the interior.
We did, however, find time to explore Bryggen. The fish market on the wharf is amazing.
If you are looking for a troll, you can find one at just about any store in Norway. Norwegian trolls are believed to be mythical creatures that live in isolated rocks or caves.
We even found a Troll Park.
We learned that street art is a good thing in Norway. Norwegians encourage it and even have a contest each year to identify their favorite. Here are a couple that we thought were interesting.
I thought that the sculptures in Bergen were interesting too, full of stories.
We strolled along cobblestoned streets, through a residential area, full of quaint wooden homes.
To stretch our legs even further, we decided to walk up Mount Floyen (1,063 ft uphill, and 2.4 miles each way, from where the ship was docked.) Now, we could have taken the Floibanen funicular, but why, right? Then we would have missed traversing this beautiful path.
Once we reached the top we were blessed with some very pretty views. The Viking Star is the cruise ship on the right hand side of the photo.
After a long day of walking, hiking, and shopping we treated ourselves to a delicious drink at The LAST Monkey bar. Excellent bartender in this quaint TINY bar.
I’ll leave you with a few final comments about our visit to Bergen. We had delicious meals at The Creperia, Villiana Pizzeria, and Fjellskaal (in the all-weather fishmarket). We toured the Bergenhus Fortress but found it fairly uninteresting. We visited the Old Bergen Museum, an outdoor museum of a reconstructed small town consisting of old wooden homes dating from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. It was a good way to spend a rainy couple of hours. The exhibits are done very well.
Bergen is considered the rainiest city in Europe. It rained much of the time we were there, with temps ranging anywhere from the mid-40s to the upper 60s (Fahrenheit). While it is the 2nd largest city in Norway, it is relatively small and easy to get around by foot. If we ever return to Bergen, it will be as a jumping point to explore the beautiful fjords and mountain ranges that surround the city. We had glimpses of this area on our train ride into town.
Our next port of call was Eidjford. We woke early so that we could take in the scenery as we traveled down the Hardangerfjord to this tiny town. We were blessed with beautiful weather.
We took a day excursion from Eidfjord to ride the Flåm Railway. The Flåm Railway is 20km (12.5 miles) long and runs between Myrdal and Flåm. It is noted as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. It is one of the steepest standard gauge railway lines in the world with 80% of the journey on a 5.5% gradient. Within the relatively short span of 12.5 miles, there are 20 tunnels. Similar to the Oslo-Bergen train ride, we found it difficult to take in much of the scenery due to the tunnels. From what we did see, we would agree that the landscape is spectacular and would love to return and explore it in more detail. In particular, we would like to bike from Myrdal down to Flåm. We saw a number of people doing it and since it is pretty much all downhill I think it would be a lot of fun.
On our return to the ship, we stopped for lunch at the Stalheim Museum Hotel. It is located in a beautiful mountainous area. The food was nothing to write home about, but the view from the back porch was worth the stop.
We also made a quick photo stop at Tvindefossen, an impressive waterfall.
We enjoyed our day, but if we ever return to Eidfjord, we’ll stay near the small town and enjoy kayaking, biking, or hiking. It is such a beautiful area.
As we sailed away from Eidfjord the captain took a slight diversion to show us another magnificent waterfall.
Our last port to explore in Norway was Stavanger. It is the fourth largest city and third largest metropolitan area in Norway. We only had half a day in this port and I opted to participate in a special excursion: The Kitchen Table. The Kitchen Table is an experience for a maximum of 12 participants. These participants go ashore with the chef and shop for food that is native to the area they are in. In our case, we went to the fish market. We selected Halibut, mussels, stone crab claws, shrimp, and smoked salmon. We then let Chef Thomas pay for everything.
After the fish market, we went to the produce market for cheese tasting. We selected the cheeses we desired, along with some fruits and vegetables. It was a lot of fun. After our shopping excursion with the chef, he returned to the ship while our group continued on with a guide to get some local history of Stavanger.
Charlie did not participate in this event, as we thought that part of the excursion was doing some cooking. Come to find out, there was no cooking involved. On the contrary, we had an amazing 7 or 9-course meal. There was so much food, and wine, that I can’t remember! Everything was delicious. I even discovered that I like Paddlefish Caviar. Never would have guessed that.
I did not get to spend much time on shore in Stavanger, but I did run out right after we docked, before my Kitchen Table excursion, to check out the quaint town. It may be the fourth largest city in Norway, but it isn’t very big. Its population is under 122,000. The city is surrounded by natural beauty and appears to have a lot of culture. Stavanger is the energy capital of Norway and is oil-rich.
Here are a few photos from my tour around town, along with a couple of notes. The most popular house color in Norway is White. At times you will find red or yellow. Norwegians tend not to stray too far from these colors. However, in Stavanger, there was a group of free-spirited artists that decided to paint some storefronts bright colors. Our guide said that the thought of this was a shock to most residents, but in the end, everybody seems to like it. As you’ll see below, street art is popular in Stavanger too. There are a lot of talented artists in this country.
Our first stop in Denmark was in Aalborg. Aalborg is Denmark’s fourth largest city with a population of around 143,000. The city is considered to be a vibrant cultural hotspot. We found it bustling with tourists, albeit, most were probably from the various cruise ships at port.
As we sailed into port we noticed a couple of unique buildings. The first was Aalborg’s House of Music.
The second was the Utzon Center. The Utzon Center is an experimental culture and knowledge center, where architecture, design, art, and communication come together.
Once we docked, Charlie and I wandered off on our own to tour the city. We started in the historic district.
We stopped to admire Jens Bang’s Stenhouse. It is a historical landmark and the most photographed tourist attraction in Aalborg. It was built in 1624.
We peeked inside the Budolfi Church. It was built around the year 1000. It faced many fires and war attacks since then. It has been renovated to look like it originally did. My interior photos do not do the church any justice. If interested, I’ll direct you to this Wikipedia site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budolfi_Church
We strolled along quaint cobble-stoned streets. These streets are hard on the feet!
When I spotted this bike set-up I tried to convince Charlie to get one and cart me around. He declined the offer. Bummer.
Eventually, we found our way to the Aalborg Tower. If you look back up at the Aalborg historic city photo you’ll see the tower. It is way in the background, to the center-right, of the photo. The tower is pretty neat. When you get there you ring the bell. An elevator comes down for you and takes you to the top, at which time you buy an inexpensive ticket. You can also grab lunch or a snack.
Like in Norway, street art is encouraged and generally quite good. Here are a few that I liked.
We walked all over the city, through the historic area, some residential areas, shopping districts, and finally, the waterfront district, where we found a great street food place in a warehouse. We had a wonderful, but tiring day. And, as you’ve probably noticed from the photos, we were blessed with gorgeous weather again.
Oh, my, gosh! I don’t know where to start. This was the most interesting port of call, I think because you can just feel the history all around you. History that we don’t have in the US. Many of the landmarks in Copenhagen date back to the late 16th and 17th centuries.
I think Charlie and I spent about 10 hours walking non-stop, at least that’s what it felt like when we got back to the ship. Our watches said we walked 12.7 miles! I have quite a few photos to share with you, but I’ll try to keep this section as brief as possible.
I’ll start with a couple of photos of Nyhavn, the historic canal and entertainment district.
One of the most iconic statues in Copenhagen is that of The Little Mermaid. I would be remiss not to include it. This statue is a tribute to Danish author, Hans Christian Anderson.
And I really liked this monument. It is a maritime memorial, commemorating civilian Danish sailors who lost their lives during the First World War.
Another monument that I liked, maybe more so for its location, is an equestrian statue of King Frederick V of Denmark. It stands in the center of Amalienborg Square, framed by the four symmetrical wings of the Amalienborg Palace, with Frederick’s Church in the background.
I liked the French Renaissance Revival architecture of Magasin du Nord, a department store building built in 1894. Charlie and I had lunch on the top floor, at a wonderful pizza place.
We took a tour of the 17th century Rosenborg Castle, and the royal museum. The Crown Jewels were stunning. The rooms in the castle screamed gaudy opulence. Interesting to see.
We breezed through Frederick’s Church, popularly known as The Marble Church for its rococo architecture. The history is interesting. The church was designed in 1740 and the foundation stone was set by King Frederick V on October 31, 1749. For various reasons, the building construction was put on hold for nearly 150 years. In 1874 Denmark’s Finance Minister sold the ruins of the uncompleted church with the condition that the buyer would build a church in a style similar to the original plans and donate it to the state when complete. It was too expensive to complete in marble, so limestone was used instead. The church opened to the public on August 19th, 1894. Frederick’s Church has the largest church dome in Scandinavia with a span of 102 feet. It rests on 12 columns. The design was likely inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
We walked up the Round Tower, a 17th-century tower, built as an astronomical observatory. What is most interesting is that it has an equestrian staircase, a helical corridor wide enough for horses to traverse.
At Christiansborg Palace we took the elevator up to the top of its tower where we found some very nice views, and what looks to be a fantastic restaurant. As a side note, Christiansborg Palace is the seat of the Danish Parliament, the Danish Prime Minister’s Office, and the Supreme Court of Denmark. Additionally, several parts of the palace are used by the Danish monarch. Thus, the palace is home to the executive power, legislative power, and judicial power. It is the only building in the world that houses all three of a country’s branches of government.
One final building that we explored was the Copenhagen City Hall.
It has a very interesting interior. For one thing, it is home to the world’s most accurate mechanical clock. The clock, built by Jens Olsen, is re-wound once a week. It has the slowest turning gear in the world, and is gilded with four kilos of gold! It was started in 1955.
There are a number of detailed murals frescoed onto the walls and ceilings of the stairwells. One side of this stairwell has a maritime/sea monster-themed mural. The other side has a depiction of the early days of Copenhagen. Both are amazing; so much detail. We were very happy that we made this stop at the City Hall. There was so much to see.
Below is a gallery of photos, things that I found interesting.
Copenhagen is a big bike city. The city treats bikes like a significant mode of transportation, with bike lanes and bike-specific street lights. I’ve never seen so many bikes. You have to be very alert and not step into the bike lane without checking for an oncoming bike. They ride fast and furious.
I loved this Lego window display. It highlights the number of bikes on Copenhagen’s streets. As a side note: LEGO blocks originated in Billund, Denmark around 1930. They began as wooden blocks and transitioned to plastic in 1949.
The oddest thing I saw was a toilet on a street corner. We just don’t do that in the US.
On our way back to the ship we walked through Kastellet, one of the best-preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. Today, the area houses various military activities and serves as a public park and historic site.
Needless to say, we were exhausted when we returned to the ship. Copenhagen is a big city, difficult to get through in a day. We could definitely have used another couple of days to further explore.
Ronne, Bornholm, Denmark:
I know, you’re thinking, “that’s a lot of words for a destination.” Well, we visited Ronne, a town on the island of Bornholm, which is in the country of Denmark.
We participated in the Viking Excursion, which took us by bus around half of the island, and to the Hammershush Castle Ruins. We then walked around Ronne on our own. Charlie even dipped into the Baltic Sea. He said it wasn’t too cold, no more so than the waters of northern Michigan.
Below is a gallery of the photos from Bornholm.
We had a short visit to Berlin. It was a 2.5-hour train ride to and from the city to the ship, so not a lot of time to explore. We signed up for an excursion that included lunch at the Reichstag, an organ concert at the Berlin Cathedral, and a bus tour of the city. The Reichstag is the current home of the German parliament. We had a beautiful sunny day for exploring, but the temps were up above 90 degrees. I’m glad our tour was on an air-conditioned bus.
The organ concert at the cathedral was very nice.
Lunch at the Reichstag was also wonderful.
On the roof of the Reichstag was this statue. I found it pretty interesting.
We stopped for a moment near the Brandenburg Gate.
We drove by the Soviet War Memorial at Tiergarten:
We made a quick stop at the Berlin Wall and monument to those killed while trying to climb over it:
Below are various other photos from Berlin.
Berlin was virtually destroyed in WWII and after the wall came down the city was rebuilt. Therefore, unlike Copenhagen, you don’t have the historic buildings to give you the feeling of history. But, there is a lot of history there, especially for those that lived in Berlin before the wall fell in ’89.
Gdansk has a long history. There is evidence of a settlement on the land that is now Gdansk dating back to 2500-1700 BC. In the 9th century, Gdansk was mostly an agriculture and fishing-dependent village. In the 10th century, it became an important center for trade. Since that time it has had a tumultuous history. The city was essentially decimated in WWII. It was rebuilt during the 1950s and 1960s. The reconstruction team sought to dilute the German character of the city and set it back to how it looked in the 1700s. They did a remarkable job. We loved strolling through this area, feeling like we were back in time.
Below are photos from the European Solidarity Center. This museum is dedicated to the history of solidarity, the Polish trade union and civil resistance movement, and other opposition movements of Communist Eastern Europe. The monuments are very thought-provoking.
During our walk, we came upon a couple of street markets. Everything looked delicious, or at least very interesting.
We enjoyed our visit to Gdansk. In addition to strolling around the historic district, we visited the Amber museum. Amber is the native gemstone of Poland. I purchased a couple of small pieces of amber jewelry as momentos.
Karlskrona is known as Sweden’s only baroque city and is host to Sweden’s largest naval base and the headquarters of the Swedish Coast Guard. The nice thing about this is that I constantly saw very fit young men running and exercising throughout the city.
We participated in an offered Viking excursion to visit Kristianopel, a small country and seaside town. We found a small diner there and had a nice lunch on the porch. Then we strolled around the area, checking out the old and colorful buildings. There aren’t many, as the population is noted as being less than 50 people. This is primarily a tourist destination. The small village hosts a campground, which looked pretty full.
Back in Karlskrona, we visited the Marine Museum. We’d highly recommend this. The exhibits are done very well and they have two submarines, one of which you can go inside and tour. Here are a few photos of the exhibits.
We also strolled around the city but found very little that inspired us, aside from the naval museum. That’s not to say that it is a bad city or place to visit. It is just with the short amount of time we had to visit we didn’t find anything that jumped out at us as interesting.
Below are a few photos from our walk:
The Admiralty Church is made entirely of wood, constructed in 1685. Originally it could seat 4,000 people, making it Sweden’s largest wooden church.
Amiralitetsklockstapeln is the city’s large clock, dating to 1699. Its tolling functioned as the naval base’s equivalent of the playing of Reveille.
Our final cruise destination was Stockholm. Stockholm is the cultural, media, political, and economic center of Sweden. The city stretches across fourteen islands where Lake Mälaren flows into the Baltic Sea.
The captain advised that the cruise into Stockholm would be beautiful so we should get up early and take in the scenery. We heeded his advice.
We toured the Vasa museum, a maritime museum that houses an almost fully intact 17th-century 64-gun warship. The ship sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 after traveling only 1,400 yards. The ship was built on the orders of the King of Sweden as part of a military expansion. He kept changing the design during the construction phase, without consideration of stability. In the end, the ship was one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world but with all of the bronze canyons and opulent decorations, it was dangerously unstable. It had too much weight in the upper structure of the hull, and not enough ballast. It is said that the shipbuilder would have been executed (even though he followed the King’s orders) had he not already died of natural causes before the ship sank.
When it sank, the most valuable items were salvaged and the masts were removed. The ship was then left to rest on the muddy floor of the Baltic Sea, down 105 ft. In the late 1950s, it was rediscovered. The ship was salvaged with a largely intact hull in 1961. As luck would have it, the ship sat in water that was devoid of much salt or oxygen. This particular area of the Baltic Sea is fed fresh lake water from Lake Malaren. Therefore, there isn’t much salt in the water. Additionally, Stockholm’s waste was dumped directly into the water for centuries. As it rotted, it produced hydrogen sulphide which consumes oxygen in the water. It is difficult for wood-attacking fungi and bacteria to survive in these conditions. Polluted water, low in oxygen, and the lack of salt, helped preserve Vasa.
This next picture shows you how the inside of the ship was expected to be. Note that the ballast is minimal, on the lowest level of the ship. This played into the boat tipping as well.
After our museum tour we stopped for lunch and enjoyed some………Swedish Meatballs….of course. They are served with lingonberries and cucumbers. You eat one or the other, but not both at the same time, with a meatball. Surpringly very good.
We then took a scenic boat ride around the waterfront district, soaking in all of the beautiful architecture. There is also an amusement park on the water. We could hear everybody screaming (with joy, I assume) on the rides.
We visited the Armory at the Royal Palace. Admittance was free, so it seemed like a good thing to do. It was quite impressive. They have artifacts dating back to the 1500s.
Afterwards, we simply strolled around Old Town and the vicinity around it. Below is a gallery of photos from our walkabout.
We had one sea day on our cruise. It was the day before our last port call. After 10 port of calls and a pre-excursion trip we were looking forward to a day of rest. However, in Charlie and Kelly fashion, we signed up for a half day excursion on the ship. This was the Culinary Kitchen Table. We met up with 10 other participants and together with the chef we prepped and prepared a great lunch. We had a lot of fun, even Charlie.
We then enjoyed the spa and various pools on the ship. We had a great time sailing with Viking. We had amazing weather. Apparently, the cruise before us had rain for 80% of their trip. We didn’t have any during our sailing, just a little in Bergen before we left.
I’ll leave you with these photos of a beautiful sunset on the sea. If you look close at the first one you will see a sailboat just left of the sun. Very peaceful evening for a sail.