At sea, Bergen, and homeward April 19, 20, 21, 2022

For our last of three ”at sea” days I am having trouble remembering what we did. I imagine we hung out and read books and started getting ourselves organized for the trip home. I only have one picture and that is of veal parmesan. We were eating at the Italian restaurant and I was saying that I wished that they had veal parmesan since they had lots of other veal preparations. Sarah said why don’t you just ask for what you want and see what happens. What happened was an enormous plateful of veal parmesan! Everyone at Viking will bend over backwards to make sure you are happy.

Veal parmesan

After an unbelievably smooth crossing of the North Sea we arrive in Bergen, Norway. Bergen was founded in 1070 on what has previously been a Viking settlement. It is the second largest city in Norway and was the country’s capital before Oslo. Due to it being a Hanseatic League stronghold it be came an economic powerhouse in the Middle Ages providing stockfish to Northern Europe. The Bergen wharf with its quaint wooden houses has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.

Since John and I have been to Bergen several times and know that the ship anchors right near the center of town, we decide to make our own adventure today. Sarah is a willing participant. We walk down to the historic harbor and look at the iconic Bergen houses.

These repurposed houses along the wharf are on every Bergen postcard.

From there we walk over St. Mary’s Church. ”The construction of the church is believed to have started in the 1130s or 1140s and completed around 1180, making this church the oldest remaining building in the whole city of Bergen. There have been a few fires that burned the church, as well as several renovations and reconstructions, most recently in 2013.” (Wikipedia.) Since the church was begun before Reformation and protected by the powerful Hanseatic League its interior is decorated by statues and paintings. Otherwise it might have been torn down or whitewashed like many other Northern European churches.

St. Mary’s Church, Bergen

Alterpiece in St. Mary’s Church, Bergen (The photogtapher – Morten Dreier) Photos not allowed in church

Situation of St. Mary’’s Church from blockprint, 1580

Our plan is to next look at the Hanseatic Museum. Unfortunately it is closed until 2024 as it is getting restored using materials and techniques which are historically correct. We are able to go into the Schøtstuene assembly rooms where the merchants were able to go to relax and interact.

Sarah next to an old heating stove in the Schotstuene

One of the things that Sarah has been looking forward to and that we have totally hyped is having lunch at Bryggeloftet & Stuene where they make this amazing Bergen fish soup. Hurrah! She likes it as much as we do!

Bergen fish soup is kind of like New England clam chowder but with a variety of seafood

Sarah and John enjoying a beer to go with their fish soup

Now we meander back to the ship stopping at the Bergenhus Fortress which looks out over the harbor. The walls are a little high for me to get a good picture. The Bergenhus Fortress was built in 1240 and is still in use today.

Part of the Bergenhus Fortress with the medieval Rosenkrantz Tower rising behind it

Part of the harbor

We arrive back at the ship with enough time to get our packing organized and to have tea.

Our last tea

Later we have our last dinner at Chef’s Table. The menu tonight is called Asian Panorama.

It is a short night since we have to assemble for our ride to the airport at 3 AM. Our flight leaves for Copenhagen at 6 AM. This is followed by an almost 5 hour layover before our flight back to SFO. Everything goes smoothly but it is a really long day before we are home.

We had a wonderful time and saw lots of new stuff. As always by the end we are tired of being with so many people and eating so much. No doubt that will wear off in the next couple of weeks.

Amsterdam 4/18/22

We arrive in Amsterdam around 8:00 AM having come through the Noordzeekanal (North Sea Canal) which is kind of a shortcut to Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s patchwork of waterways forms about 90 islands connected by 1500 bridges. We have a lazy morning since our excursion, ”A Taste of Amsterdam” does not depart until the afternoon. We have decided on this excursion because all of us, and especially Sarah, have been to most of the Amsterdam tourist sites multiple times and this tour sounds like fun.

Our sardonic guide, Pim, starts our excursion off with a talk and walk. Here we are near the Heineken Brewery and the Heineken Experience, a multi-media tour. It is obvious that Pim loves his city but maybe not the tourists so much? After walking around for a bit we stop at the Kaas Bar for cheese and drinks.

The Kass Bar, The Cheese Bar

We are pleased to be served any drink that we want and a large platter of cheese, fruit, accompaniments, and crackers. Starting at 9 o’clock and going clockwise are truffle brie,, de grutte grize (goat cheese), fiore cow”s milk cheese, another cow’s milk cheese called brokkel oplegkaas, and brabants blauw (blue).

Platter of delicious cheeses
Sarah suggests we try Ijwit, a tasty wheat beer

John with Ijwit beer

We reboard the bus after a little more walking around. Amazingly we walk through the very square where John and I ate lunch several years ago.

Amsterdam is 1/3 water and a million bicycles

Our next stop is at a place called Grand Cafe 1884 which is near our ship’s parking place. Sarah is very excited to order Kwak beer for John and herself. It comes in an odd wooden holder. You are supposed to pick up the entire holder to drink the beer. I decide to stick with the Ijwit.

Sarah is also excited to introduce us to bitterballen one of the foods she got to try during her visits to Mark. It is like a bunch of gravy encased in a spherical deep fried crust that is served with mustard and cheese.

John and Sarah have Kwak in its weird drinking contraption

Mary sticks with Ijwit

Our fun taste here is bitterballen with cheese, dried olives, and mustard

Later John and I have dinner at The Restaurant. Sarah is uncomfortable with everyone trying to please her so she eats up at the World Cafe which is less formal and cafeteria style.

The ship casts off around 6 PM and executes a 180 degree turn to head back down the Nordzeekanal. We enter the North Sea around 9 PM. We will sail all of Tuesday to reach Bergen, Norway.

Blankenberge, Belgium 4/17/22

We dock near Bruges (Zeebrugge) around noon on Easter Sunday. While most of our fellow cruisers are going on some excursion to Bruges, we are taking the free shuttle into Blankenberge. TODAY IS THE DAY WE MEET UP WITH MARK Z! Mark is Sarah’s best friend and she is beyond excited. I think getting to spend the afternoon with Mark was really why she wanted to come on this cruise.

After some dithering about whether we need to go through the Customs and Immigration building, we board the bus.

Apparently not many people want to visit Blankenberge (a few more wander on before we leave.)

The idea is to meet Mark who has come to Blankenberge on the train in front of the Blankenberge sign. Of course I fret about whether we will be able to find the sign and what if there are more signs than one. I should not have worried since the sign for Blankenberger is composed of freestanding letters about eight feet tall. And in front of the B there is Mark. There are many hugs and some pictures before they and we head off in different directions.

Mark and Sarah

Mary, Mark, and Sarah in Blankenberge

John and I walk down to the North Sea. It is a beautiful day and the Belgians are out in force. While I am wearing a turtleneck, jacket, and scarf, the Belgians are in shorts and swimsuits! Apparently low 60s are sunbathing weather.

Mary at the North Sea with sunbathing Belgians

Our next stop will be for lunch. After perusing a few restaurants on the beach we choose an Italian restaurant, Portobello. We order Jupiter beers and have some olives and bruschette. It is nice to be away from the bustle of eating on the boat. We follow our appetizers with delicious spaghetti vongole (Mary) and zuppe di cozze (John).

Olives and beer
John in traditional beer pose with bruschette
Spaghetti alle vongole with weird carrot strips
Zuppe di cozze for John

The shuttle bus only runs once an hour and we decide to catch the 3:00 PM. Sarah takes the last bus back at 4:00. Before boarding the bus we take a look at the St. Anthony Abbot church. There are a couple of Jan Maes paintings and an excellent statue of St. Anthony with his devil pig.

St. Anthony Abbot Church, 1358

Jan Maes painting of the Ascension of Mary with St. Anthony Abbot
John and St. Anthony Abbot who has his bell and pig

When we arrive back in our room there is a giant chocolate rabbit, a smaller chocolate rabbit, and a nest of chocolate eggs! The giant rabbit is bigger than my head! Even if I liked chocolate there is no way we would be able to take it home. We eat the chocolate eggs and leave a note for Ricky and Erik to share the chocolates with the crew.

Giant chocolate bunny
Bigger than my head!

It has been a wonderful day in Blankenberge. Sarah has an immensely happy/sad day that she will remember always.

Honfleur, France 4/16/22

We are supposed to be docking at Le Havre today but rumors of a possible strike at the port have us put in across the river in Honfleur. We stayed a few days in Honfleur on a previous trip and it is a good jumping off spot for going to see the Bayeux Tapestry and the D-Day beaches. There are excursions leaving to Paris today which is basically Paris on your own but it is a long bus ride so we choose ”The Charming Normandy Coast.”

The first thing we do is to ride over the really large Pont de Normandie from Honfleur to Le Havre. The bridge is over 7000 feet in length is the last bridge to cross the Seine before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. When it opened in 1995 it was the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. It is a toll bridge and if you are going in the direction of Le Havre to Honfleur you should be prepared to sit in traffic for at least 1/2 hour to get through the toll plaza as we discovered on the trip back.

Pont de Normandie

We depart the bus at Fécamp to see the Abbey of the Holy Trinity which is a dilapidated Romanesque-Gothic mix enormous church. It does not look like much from the outside but it is immense inside with a soaring Gothic nave. It was opened in 1175 and is the resting place supposedly of kings Richard I and Richard II. (Carbon dating of the remains indicate that they pre-date both Richards.)

Exterior of the Abbey

Interior of Abbey

This is right up our alley of interest and we are so glad plus so sad that we are able to go inside. Sad because the Abbey is going to ruin. There are broken windows and dust everywhere. Our tour guide, Margot, says that there are so many old churches and it is hard to keep them all up. It is a shame but we are thrilled to see the statuary and stained glass from the 12th century. Sarah feels that Margot has mis-identified a statue of a saint carrying his head. She is quite the expert on cephalophores.

Wood carved pulpit

Stained glass window

Now we move on to the Benedictine Palace which is in the Neo-Gothic style. According to the website, the story starts in 1510 at Fécamp Abbey when legend has it that the Benedictine monk, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, created a secret elixir which met with such resounding success that the Benedictine monks at Fécamp continuted to produce it up until the French Revolution when the recipe was lost. Later, in 1863, Alexandre Le Grand, a wine trader, discovered the composition of the elixir by chance. He had the Palais Benedictine built to provide a prestigious setting for the distillery of the liqueur. We get to look around the palace, see the distillery and have a taste.

Palais Benedictine

Stained glass of monks making Benedictine

Display production area

At last we are invited to sit down and taste three different types of Benedictine. I remember my parents enjoying B and B, brandy and benedictine, which was a less sweet liqueur made for the American market in the 1930s. We get to taste Benedictine Classic, Single Cask 50/50 Benedictine and brandy, aged, and 1888 Benedictine and Cognac. I liked the Classic best!

Mary and John tasting the Benedictine
Sarah gives it a try too but finds it a little strong for her

Then it is back to the boat after a quick stop in Etretat which is a beach that has three arches. Margot tells us that we will have to be quick if we want to see it. We opt to stay on the bus. Sarah goes and says that it is hard to see what Margot is talking about.

Later we have tea and then dinner at Chef’s Table for the menu, Lotus.