Rally with the raiders

In the wake of the Vik­ings in the North At­lantic

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - DAVID MAY

Cu­rios­ity about some of the world’s most blood­thirsty pil­lagers has surged since The His­tory Chan­nel launched The Vik­ings tele­vi­sion se­ries, at­tract­ing mul­ti­ple Emmy Award nom­i­na­tions and an av­er­age 4.3 mil­lion view­ers.

The saga of these raiders turned traders had its ge­n­e­sis on Nor­way’s west coast, where Ber­gen was the cra­dle of Vik­ing cul­ture. This pre­pos­ter­ously pretty city rests in the bo­som of seven hills like a forested am­phithe­atre fes­tooned with vividly painted houses. There’s a har­bour­side seafood mar­ket brim­ming with flap­ping fresh fish, caviar, salt-dried cod (a Vik­ing sta­ple) and other ex­ot­ica, and there’s Bryggen, an an­cient har­bour with rows of UNESCO-listed Hanseatic ware­houses that are now restau­rants, bars, sou­venir shops and arts and crafts stu­dios.

Ber­gen is also the home port of our cruise ship Vik­ing Star, now teth­ered at Bryggen where it’s load­ing fuel, re­gional food, Nordic beer, me and other mostly an­cient mariners, bleary-eyed af­ter hours in the air, for a voy­age across the North At­lantic and up the St Lawrence River in Canada to visit Sague­nay and Que­bec City be­fore dis­em­bark­ing in Mon­treal.

Even in my cata­tonic state, first im­pres­sions count and the quiet, sooth­ing el­e­gance of the Vik­ing Lounge, a three-deck atrium with a bar in one cor­ner, a Stein­way grand piano at the foot of a broad stair­case and a homely ex­panse of cosy lounge set­tings, makes air­craft squeeze­seats and soul­less air­ports seem a dis­tant dis­trac­tion.

There are no casi­nos, no blar­ing mu­sic, no booze binges, no kids. I sink into a yawn­ing arm­chair framed by a thought­fully cho­sen li­brary and, sip­ping a Warsteiner Pre­mium Pilsener, I get that this is a ship de­signed for grown-ups.

Chris­tened in Ber­gen in April, 2015, Vik­ing Cruises’ first ocean ves­sel ac­com­mo­dates 930 pas­sen­gers in 465 state­rooms, each with pri­vate veranda, king­size bed, 24hour room ser­vice, Nordic Spa qual­ity toi­letries, 42-inch flat-screen LCD-3D in­ter­ac­tive TV sys­tem with movies on de­mand, mini­bar, safe, hairdryer, di­rect-dial satel­lite phone and free but of­ten snail-paced Wi-Fi.

Then there’s the food, the buf­fet-style World Cafe, The Restau­rant, Man­fredi’s (per­haps the best Ital­ian restau­rant afloat) and Chef’s Ta­ble where the em­pha­sis is on set menus paired with in­spir­ing wines. Meals and most drinks at these eater­ies are in­cluded.

Vik­ing Star’s cul­ture cur­ricu­lum in­cludes lec­tures, per­for­mances and shore ex­cur­sions con­cen­trat­ing on lo­cal mu­sic, arts, cook­ing, dance and his­tory.

So tonight we sail west, re­trac­ing the heroic voy­ages those Vik­ings un­der­took more than 12 cen­turies ago, plung­ing into the un­known in open long­boats, a di­as­pora that cre­ated en­dur­ing Norse set­tle­ments on is­lands scat­tered across the North At­lantic, where they ul­ti­mately swapped plun­der for ploughshares.

The first leg of the In the Wake of the Vik­ings cruise is a 368km jour­ney to Scot­land’s Shet­land Is­lands, where Vik­ing trail­blaz­ers ar­rived in about 850AD. From the for­ward Ex­plor­ers Lounge we watch the dawn around Ler­wick, a small city of brood­ing, heavy-stone ar­chi­tec­ture mixed with prac­ti­cal mod­ern build­ings ris­ing above a har­bour al­ready busy with fish­ing boats and fer­ries.

Af­ter go­ing by bus south across Shet­land, be­side its craggy coast­line, peat bogs, scat­tered com­mu­ni­ties and lots of sheep and short ponies, we come to Jarl­shof on the is­land’s south­ern tip, one of the most com­plex ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites ex­ca­vated in Bri­tain. In one place we see the re­mains of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Vik­ing set­tle­ments, in­clud­ing the rem­nants of a Vik­ing long­house, and it’s dif­fi­cult to grasp that be­fore our eyes is 4000 years of hu­man his­tory.

Leav­ing Ler­wick, Vik­ing Star heads north. Res­i­dent mu­si­cians en­ter­tain through­out the ship, in­clud­ing the Vik­ing Clas­si­cal Trio in the atrium, young Rus­sian pi­anist Olga in the Ex­plor­ers Lounge and guitarist Las­zlo in the Win­ter­gar­den; soft mu­si­cal in­ter­ludes segue be­tween the dash of day­time and the nur­ture of the night. Din­ner in The Restau­rant high­lights a Shet­land re­gional tast­ing menu with cullen skink (creamy Scot­tish smoked had­dock with wheat bread), slow-roasted pork belly and fudge cheese­cake flavoured with Scotch whisky.

Next morn­ing, a slit of sun­light peeks over the hori­zon only to fade be­hind wors­en­ing weather af­ter we ar­rive at the Faroe Is­lands. A tug­boat from tiny Tor­shavn es­corts the ship to har­bour be­fore turn­ing us back at the break­wa­ter. The wind has whipped into a frenzy mak­ing dock­ing too dan­ger­ous and, as our day in Tor­shavn dis­ap­pears into a sod­den North At­lantic gale, we set course for Ice­land through con­di­tions that are fore­cast to de­te­ri­o­rate.

In the Ex­plor­ers Lounge I pick through a selec­tion of pick­led her­ring from nearby Mam­sen’s deli-cafe and watch the bow plough into 4m waves. It’s about 8C out­side and an oc­ca­sional pelagic seabird, a ful­mar here, a pe­trel there, flies across the lift­ing white­caps. There’s a line of storms be­tween Ice­land and us and from the com­fort of the gently rolling ship I marvel at how the Vik­ings must have dealt with this kind of swell in open long­boats car­ry­ing peo­ple, food, live­stock, wa­ter and ev­ery­thing else they needed to sur­vive in the great un­known.

Ahead of us, morn­ing sun­shine en­velops Reyk­javik where Vik­ing boss, Erik the Red, once called the shots and where shore ex­cur­sions to­day in­clude whale-watch­ing, a visit to the steamy and sul­furous Blue La­goon and the his­toric first Vik­ing par­lia­ment site at Thingvel­lir. I spend the day re­dis­cov­er­ing Reyk­javik where along the shop­ping streets Bankas­traeti and Lau­gave­gur are mul­ti­coloured Scandi-chic bou­tiques, gal­leries, cafes and pubs lead­ing up to Skola­vorouholtio Hill where the spec­tac­u­lar con­crete “space shut­tle’’ Lutheran cathe­dral, Hall­grim­skirkja, lords it over the city. On Aoal­straeti, archaeologists have un­cov­ered Reyk­javik’s old­est relics of hu­man habi­ta­tion dat­ing to 871AD in­clud­ing a 10th­cen­tury Vik­ing long­house, all now part of the fas­ci­nat­ing Set­tle­ment Ex­hi­bi­tion about life here in the Vik­ing era.

I stop for a Vik­ing Lager by the Pub­lic House-Gas­tropub, a hip restau­rant serv­ing epi­curean mini-meals with a Ja­panese touch. Think cured puf­fin breast with licorice, cher­ries and blue cheese sauce; beef tataki and quail egg ni­giri with truf­fle ponzu and gar­lic crisps; or smoked duck thigh served in a pan­cake with gin­ger hol­landaise and av­o­cado.

Erik the Red was par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous, even for a Vik­ing; he fled to Ice­land af­ter a killing spree in Nor­way and then left Ice­land af­ter an­other killing, head­ing west and dis­cov­er­ing Green­land. In Erik’s wake, we while away a day at sea. I set­tle into the Win­ter­gar­den for high tea served along­side three-tiered cake stands decked with cu­cum­ber sand­wiches and fresh patis­serie.

At dawn we en­ter Prins Chris­tianssund (Prince Chris­tian Sound) and cruise through the mag­nif­i­cent fjord sand­wiched be­tween ice-streaked moun­tains where the cold smooth wa­ter is lit­tered with beau­ti­ful lit­tle ice­bergs. We emerge in the Labrador Sea and an­chor off Nanor­ta­lik, the south­ern­most vil­lage in Green­land, where 10th­cen­tury Vik­ings scrab­bled out a liv­ing. Sun­day in Nanor­ta­lik (pop­u­la­tion 1000) is a quiet af­fair, there’s a church ser­vice un­der­way, an open-air mu­seum, a dodgy pub and houses re­sem­bling colour­ful licorice all­sorts lol­lies. Here the Inuit peo­ple cling to tra­di­tions of fish­ing, crab­bing and hunt­ing musk ox and hooded seals.

Fur­ther west, Qaqor­toq (pop­u­la­tion 3000) is a more

Nanor­ta­lik fish­ing vil­lage, Green­land, top; colour­ful houses in Qaqor­toq, above; Vik­ing Star, above right; re­con­structed Vik­ing long­house at L’Anse aux Mead­ows, below

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.