Cruising ‘In the Wake of the Vikings’

By Jennie & Denzil Verardo
This article appears on page 20 of the March 2020 issue.
Bergen, Norway’s, famous painted wooden buildings are classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Following a late-summer 2018 land tour of some of the European countries on which the Vikings had left their mark (recounted in last month’s issue), we headed to the airport in Prague for a flight to Bergen, Norway. We had a ship to catch!

We flew SAS from Prague to Copenhagen, Denmark, and on to Bergen, arriving in the early evening. We spent the night at the Comfort Hotel Bergen Airport (, which was only a 2-minute walk from the terminal.

In the morning, we boarded the Viking Sea and prepared for our 2-week cruise from Bergen to Montréal, visiting seas and lands traversed by the Vikings centuries ago.

Videos and written material on the ship focused on the Vikings, since the intent of this voyage — “In the Wake of the Vikings” offered by Viking Ocean Cruises (Woodland Hills, CA; phone 866/984-5464, — was to follow their route(s), stopping in ports that gave us access to historic settlements and landscapes.

Our first tour from the ship was with a local guide in Bergen, where we visited the Bergenhus Fortress and, on the fortress grounds, Håkons hallen, a medieval stone ceremonial hall.

The tour continued to Bryggen, which consists of painted wooden buildings reminiscent of those from the era of the Hanseatic League. (The original 14th- to 16th-century buildings were destroyed by fire.)

We strolled the narrow alleys and paths and learned about the lives of the local tradespeople, fishermen and merchants who once dwelled there. Art and craft shops occupy the buildings today, and, with a large open-air fish market adjacent, we felt transported back in time. Then we took a local cruise through the neighboring fjord, once crossed by Norse settlers and Viking warriors.

Returning to the Viking Sea, we set sail for the Shetland Islands, docking there the following day.

Island stops

We entered the harbor in the town of Lerwick, located on the Shetland’s largest island, aptly named Mainland, and boarded a small coach to tour the area. It crisscrossed the island, passing ancient ruins, beautiful valleys, scenic overlooks and small villages.

The heather-and-peat-covered landscape is also home to Shetland ponies, which have occupied the islands for about 4,000 years — and they’re quite adorable!

We traveled through the Tingwall Valley, learning about its Norse heritage, before returning to our ship to depart for the Faroe Islands.

Located halfway between Norway and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are rich in Viking history. We docked in Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroes, once home to the Viking parliament. It is located on the main island of Streymoy, which has beautiful waterfalls and farms as well as the indigenous Faroe ponies.

The weather was bright and cloudy and cold and blustery, typical of the Faroes in September. It gets much colder in winter, reinforcing how intrepid the Viking warriors were to not only sail far afield of their Scandinavian homeland but to settle in these harsh climes.

The views from the town of Qaqortog, Greenland, are quite scenic. The <i>Viking Sea</i> can be seen docked in the small harbor.

It took a full day at sea before our ship reached Iceland, also rich in Viking and Norse history. The ship’s tours went to the famous Blue Lagoon, with its invigorating geothermal waters, to Þingvellir, site of one of the world’s oldest parliaments, and to the western coast, but we opted for a city tour of the capital, Reykjavík. After the guided tour, we had plenty of time to explore on our own.

Heading to Canada

By the 11th century, the Vikings had explored much of the Northern Hemisphere. From Scandinavia to Central Asia and Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean Sea, Viking raids and trade had made a mark on that part of the world.

They reached North America with settlements in Greenland and what is today Canada, where our ship would next take us.

We cruised for two days from Iceland to Greenland. On these “at sea” days, there were plenty of educational programs and entertaining activities for guests.

The meals on the Viking Sea, which included wine at lunch and dinner, were excellent, with several dining venues to choose from. The service from staff was impeccable, and by the second day of our journey, most knew our names.

Sailing Greenland’s waters was an absolutely breathtaking experience. Glaciers, icebergs and waterfalls dotted the shoreline, and the stark beauty of the landscape made for incredible views.

Shetland ponies have occupied the Shetland Islands for about 4,000 years.

We anchored in the waters off Qaqortoq and tendered into the town itself. With a local guide, and with time on our own, we explored the culture and history of coastal Greenland and its people.

A group of 60 to 90 Vikings from the approximately 500 settlers in Greenland set sail across the Labrador Sea nearly 1,000 years ago, landing in eastern Canada and settling at what is today L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. It was the earliest “discovery” of the New World by Europeans and is the only Viking site found in North America to date.

As the Viking Sea left Greenland for two days of cruising across the Labrador Sea, our appreciation of the challenges facing the seafaring Vikings and Norse settlers, who were bereft of the creature comforts we were enjoying, increased.

We sailed into the small town of St. Anthony, Newfoundland, and, after a short walk around town, boarded a bus for the National Historic Site of L’Anse aux Meadows, several miles north of town. We toured the site with a Parks Canada guide, gaining insight into what life must have been like for the continent’s first Norse settlers.

We then walked on our own through the restored sod houses constructed of soil packed over wooden frames. Its stark setting was a reminder of the incredible journey and the lives of the Vikings who ventured to this land.

For those who have “journeyed” with us this far, we recommend Julie Skurdenis’ May 2018 column in ITN titled “Vikings in the Americas” for more information on this remarkable site.

Coming to a close

The Viking Sea departed for Saguenay, Québec, sailing up the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Saguenay Fjord.

On both portions of our trip thus far, our coaches had been modern and comfortable, but we had been forewarned that it might be different in Saguenay. There seems to be a shortage of tour buses there, so they use yellow school buses! Still, it was more comfortable than it must have been for early settlers (barely).

We visited New France, a reconstruction of a 17th-century Québec colony, as well as a reassembled Huron village, displaying more than 100,000 artifacts that had been unearthed in the area, before casting off for the journey to Québec City. We explored the cultural and historic sites of this scenic city, hailed as the most “French” city outside of France.

The Norse built sod houses of earth packed over wooden frames, like the one pictured above, at L’Anse aux Meadows.

Our incredible sea voyage following the route of the Vikings ended in Montréal, where we disembarked and headed to the airport for our flight to Los Angeles on Air Canada. We were pleasantly surprised that the airport had US Customs & Border Patrol agents as well as Global Entry kiosks, saving us time at LAX.

In our experience, travel opens windows to history and cultures of the past, and it can increase and amplify understanding of the present and, perhaps, the future. Those are crucial reasons for our traveling as often and as far as we can — much like the Vikings did!

The details

The following cost breakdown reflects prices for two people. Our nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Moscow, where our tour began, in Aeroflot’s business class cost $5,688. Aeroflot turned out to be excellent in service, meals, wine offerings and comfort. Russian visas totaled $550.

The 17-day Bestway land tour that preceded our cruise cost $7,130, which included breakfast each day and usually either lunch or dinner. We flew SAS business class from Prague to Bergen ($531) and stayed one night at the Comfort Hotel Bergen Airport ($180) before boarding our cruise ship the next day.

The 2-week cruise from Bergen to Montréal with Viking Ocean Cruises cost $18,791 for a Penthouse Junior Suite.

We spent the final night in Montréal at the Auberge le Jardin d’Antoine ($150) and flew home in Air Canada’s business class ($3,128). Our total for the 36-day trip was $36,148. Optional expenses such as shore excursions not included with the cruise and some meals on our own to experience the local cuisine were all more than worth the cost.