AN OCEAN JOUR­NEY THROUGH VIK­ING HOMELANDS

A Vik­ing cruise pro­vides in­sights into Vik­ing lands and tra­di­tions.

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY KARIN LEPERI

This was a sur­prise as I an­tic­i­pated con­fir­ma­tion of mostly Bri­tish, Ger­man and Dutch an­ces­tors based on fam­ily oral his­tory. In­trigued by this un­ex­pected Vik­ing con­nec­tion, I de­cided to travel to the source—the Vik­ing homelands—to learn more about my new-found her­itage and link with my in­her­ited past.

“The Vik­ing Homelands itin­er­ary on board the Vik­ing Star is a per­fect fit,” I told my fam­ily. “In par­tic­u­lar, I want to learn more about my Nor­we­gian DNA.” My 15-day cruise would ply the wa­ters of Scan­di­navia and the Baltic, tak­ing me on an un­for­get­table ocean jour­ney to visit eight dif­fer­ent Vik­ing lands: Nor­way, Sweden, Den­mark, Fin­land, Rus­sia, Es­to­nia, Poland and Germany. In the process, I hoped to learn more about my DNA her­itage and the legacy of the Vik­ing peo­ple. Per­haps it would sa­ti­ate my de­sire to un­wrap a bit about this mys­te­ri­ous bond I had with the lands of the Vik­ings.

My friend Alana Mc­grat­tan from Santa Fe, New Mexico, was join­ing me as she too had re­cently dis­cov­ered a sur­prise en­croach­ment of Scan­di­na­vian DNA in

what she thought was pure-blood Ir­ish. (By at­tend­ing en­rich­ment lec­tures dur­ing our cruise, we learned the Vik­ings con­quered and set­tled sev­eral Ir­ish towns, most no­tably the Vik­ing port towns of Dublin, Wex­ford, Water­ford, Cork and Lim­er­ick.)

SEAFARING EX­PLOR­ERS

The very men­tion of Vik­ings con­jures up images of ma­raud­ing sea­far­ers from Scan­di­navia with their sleek long ships: in­trepid in­vaders who pil­laged, raped and even slaugh­tered wher­ever they went. No won­der they were widely feared from north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle to the Mediter­ranean and be­yond.

How­ever, the term “Vik­ing” is a mod­ern­day con­struct that loosely refers to the Nordic-speak­ing peo­ples from the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries of Nor­way, Sweden and Den­mark. Known as raiders, they also traded and set­tled in their con­quered ter­ri­to­ries, with the age of Vik­ings peak­ing be­tween the ninth and 12th cen­turies.

For about four cen­turies, Vik­ings trav­elled far­ther afield than any known civ­i­liza­tion of their time. Nor­we­gian Vik­ings sailed to and set­tled Ice­land, Green­land, the Faroes and Shet­land Is­lands. They also dis­cov­ered Amer­ica more than 500 years be­fore Colum­bus. Swedish Vik­ings nav­i­gated the Baltic, lead­ing to the ex­plo­ration of rivers in mod­ern-day Rus­sia while Dan­ish Vik­ings jour­neyed to Eng­land and North­ern France, where the Vik­ing Chief­tain Rollo was ceded land in ex­change for peace. Nowa­days, this area is known as Nor­mandy—land of the North men or the Norse­men.

VIK­ING CULTURE, ARTIFACTS AND CUI­SINE

Vik­ing her­itage per­me­ates the 930-pas­sen­ger Vik­ing Star, with art­work by Nor­we­gian artists and a Scan­di­na­vian decor that would make any Vik­ing de­scen­dant proud. Of note is the Vik­ing Mu­seum on Deck 2, a com­pact col­lec­tion and nar­ra­tion of who the Vik­ings were, where they went, as well as the legacy they left be­hind. (Some of that was DNA.)

A sleek, stylish mid-sized ship, the Vik­ing Star cruise of the homelands is all about the ports and “in­cluded” items such as a com­pli­men­tary shore ex­cur­sion at ev­ery stop. The itin­er­ary was crafted to max­i­mize time in port. Also free are on-board Wi-fi; in­cluded beer, wine and soft drinks with on-board lunch and din­ner; al­ter­na­tive restau­rant din­ing; 24-hour room ser­vice; spa fa­cil­i­ties with a com­pli­men­tary hot sauna, ther­mal pool and Snow Grotto; and self-ser­vice laun­dry. It’s an ideal way to dis­cover the Vik­ing homelands.

From lob­ster, crab cakes, salmon, shrimp and steak to in­ter­na­tional fare and re­gional cui­sine, choices abounded for Vik­ing ex­plor­ers. Venues in­cluded the World

Café, The Restau­rant, Man­fredi’s Ital­ian Restau­rant, The Chef’s Ta­ble, pool­side grills, The Win­ter­gar­den for af­ter­noon tea, and Mam­sen’s for ca­sual Nor­we­gian deli fare.

Among my favourite dishes was one I imag­ined the Vik­ings would have en­joyed. The salmon and boiled pota­toes with cu­cum­ber salad was a dish I or­dered sev­eral times at The Restau­rant dur­ing the cruise. The only menu de­vi­a­tion I re­quested was that my salmon be grilled in­stead of poached.

PORTS OF CALL AND EX­CUR­SIONS

The Vik­ings were equally at home in the wa­ters of Scan­di­navia and the Baltic. And though I didn’t ex­pect to en­counter Vik­ings dur­ing our ex­cur­sions, I did meet sev­eral squatty leg­ends with long, gnarly noses. Preva­lent in Old Norse mythol­ogy and known to­day as trolls, they are ev­ery­where, es­pe­cially in Scan­di­navia. Some even try to look like Vik­ings by don­ning horned hats. Be fore­warned they are im­posters.

Our itin­er­ary took us to places in Nor­way like Ber­gen, home of Vik­ing sagas and mod­ern-day Bryggen wharf, and to Sta­vanger, where we cruised the ma­jes­tic fjords to Pul­pit Rock, one of Nor­way’s most fa­mous nat­u­ral at­trac­tions. Along the way, my friend Alana ran into a Vik­ing who bran­dished his sword close to her neck.

We stopped in Aal­borg, Den­mark, a town founded by the Vik­ings in the late 900s, and trav­elled on to Copen­hagen, home to Ny­havn and The Lit­tle Mer­maid.

Other ports of call in­cluded Helsinki, Fin­land; Gdansk, Poland, which was one of the rich­est cities in the old Hanseatic League; Tallinn, Es­to­nia, one of the best pre­served me­dieval Old Towns in North­ern Europe; and Ber­lin, Germany.

We vis­ited Rus­sia’s “Win­dow on the West,” also known as St. Peters­burg, and ended our cruise in Stock­holm, Sweden, a city on 14 is­lands linked by 57 bridges.

By the end of the cruise, Alana and I felt more con­nected with our Vik­ing her­itage and gained a bet­ter and more in­ti­mate un­der­stand­ing of their ways.

KARIN LEPERI

OP­PO­SITE: Ny­havn is a 17th-cen­tury wa­ter­front and canal district in Copen­hagen, Den­mark. ABOVE: Vik­ing sym­bols are carved on a wall in Gdansk, Poland. LEFT: My friend Alana crosses paths with a sword-bear­ing Vik­ing.

RIGHT: The Bryggen Hanseatic wharf in Ber­gen, Nor­way, has been a place of trade for a thou­sand years. BE­LOW: My favourite meal of grilled salmon on board the Vik­ing Star.

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