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AN OCEAN JOURNEY THROUGH VIKING HOMELANDS
 
(2018 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: KARIN LEPERI



I recently discovered a large percentage of my DNA is Scandinavian and Northern European based on saliva tests from both 23andMe and ancestry.com.

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 modern-day 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.

Travel Planner

For more information on Viking Ocean Cruises and the various itineraries available, visit VikingCruises.com.

WHAT THE VIKINGS ATE

Turns out even poor Vikings fared better with food than the average English peasant during the Middle Ages. Though their diet varied depending on where they settled, Scandinavians generally ate two meals a day, with some type of meat every day. Meat was not just for the wealthy.

Fish, shellfish, seal, whale, farm animals and wild animals were generally roasted on an iron spit or cooked in a big kettle of stew with vegetables. (Puffin was eaten in Iceland while elk meat and reindeer ruled in Sweden. Norwegians relied on bountiful herring and cod.) Berries, nuts and bread made from rye or barley flour along with cheese and butter supplemented their diet.

The Vikings ate something that could have been called a precursor to the sandwich as it consisted of thick slices of bread spread with butter and meat. Today in Norway and Denmark, a traditional open-face sandwich is called a smørbrød. The Viking Star’s on-board Norwegian-themed Mamsen’s (a Norwegian nickname for “grandmother”) is a casual deli dedicated to turning out these open-face delicacies as well as other treats and light fare throughout the day. They include specialties such as gjetost (a sweet, brown-coloured whey cheese) on heart-shaped waffles as well as smørbrød with shrimp, herring, beef tartare and cured salmon.

 
 
 
 
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