Knego’s eight night Empires of the Mediterranean cruise aboard Viking Ocean Cruises’ brand new MV VIKING SEA continues with visits to Koper, Slovenia and Zadar, Croatia.
Viking Ocean Cruises
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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
Room service breakfast.
The first three days of our cruise would be very tour-intensive. Although Viking includes excursions in every port, we opted to pay for some more comprehensive, optional tours, the shortest of which (4.5 hours) would entail a trek along the Slovenian Coast from Koper to Piran and then a visit to a village with a farmer’s market where we could sample some of the local cuisine. To fuel this, we put the 24-hour complimentary room service option to the test with an order of eggs, yogurt and the usual breakfast fare on the first morning.
This would be our first visit to Slovenia, which was the first country to break free from my father’s homeland of Yugoslavia in 1991. It was a peaceful parting, unlike that of the other former Yugoslav republics that followed. Sandwiched between Italy and Croatia and known by its Venetian name, Capodistria (Head of Istra), Slovenia’s 27-mile coastline comprises a mere 1% of the country’s border. Our first stop was a photo-op overlooking the town of Izola, which, like most of the villages in Slovenia, boasts a Venetian-style campanile (bell tower).
We then stopped at the marina on the outskirts of the tiny town of Piran. Like most of the other villages we would visit for the first part of the week, Piran was designed by Venetians and boasts their lion effigy pawing at an open book, symbolizing enlightenment and peace.
Venetian facades of Piran.
A narrow street once frequented by Napoleon delivered us to the charming main square with its town hall, shops and cafes.
Piran salt market.
Piran is known for its sea salt (which tasted great on fresh-baked bread with a dash of olive oil) and its slightly savory chocolate.
Who can resist climbing a Venetian belltower? For me, Piran’s campanile brought on its fair share of“High Anxiety” with its creaky wooden staircase and wobbly railings. As spry little children shouting in unintelligible languages ran up and down around me, I scaled each plank in a frigid terror.
Ultimately, it was worth the 1 Euro fee for the view of the red-tile-roofed town.
Overlooking Piazza Piran.
But once I took the requisite photos, I couldn’t wait to get back down.
From piazza to belltower at Piran.
Back in the Piazza, there was time for a few more photos before we headed off to the coach for a short ride past the salt flats, then inland to the hilltop village of Padna.
A cheerful man serenaded us with Slovenian folk songs as we entered a private home where the ladies had prepared a small feast.
Each of us were given five vouchers to be exchanged for tastings of local cheese, prosciutto, olives, eggplant, homemade fruit strudels and much more.
Next, we toured the town, which, despite its recent economic ails, is nonetheless a charming hamlet fringed by groves of olives and grapes.
Red Admiral and rotting grapes.
The Adriatic shoulder season weather would be very kind to us for most of the week. The Slovenian sunshine beamed down on myriad blossoms which in turn attracted newly hatched butterflies.
Our excursion ended back at the ship in time for a very quick and (after our local culinary samplings) superfluous, lunch. We walked around the harbor for some shots of the VIKING SEA on our way into old Koper.
Koper flea market.
Near the marina, the local flea market was wrapping up. I made a cursory check for anything Jadrolinija (the former Yugoslav shipping line) before we headed up to Tito Square.
Tito Square, Koper.
Named for Yugoslavia’s “benevolent dictator” Tito (whom my Croatian father despised but the local Slovenians seem to admire for his years of relative prosperity), Koper’s main square boasts two key Venetian-built landmarks, the 12th Century Cathedral of Assumption and the 15th Century Praetorian Palace that now serves as a tourist information bureau.
Tito Square overview.
We paid the 3 Euro fee to climb the bell tower, which, although much taller than the one in Piran, offers a far more sturdy and enclosed staircase to scale. Nonetheless, once it was conquered, I made quick work of the photos before heading right back down.
MV VIKING SEA at Koper.
We found our gorgeous ship mere steps away from the piazza, as ever, glistening in her utter newness.
Tea time in the Wintergarden.
Almost every day, we indulged in the afternoon tea in the Wintergarden. Viking offers no less than twelve fresh leaves to choose from and/or blend, as desired. After the first day, one of the waiters, Boban, would just bring us two pots of Jasmine Green (extra strong) without having to ask.
As the leaves brewed, we would usually decline the trays of sweets and tiny sandwiches. But not always.
Game of scones.
Clotted cream and raspberry jam.
It was the fresh-baked scones that were the hardest to resist, each tallying up an hour’s worth of penance on the elliptical machines in the excellent gym, six decks below.
Open Sky Dome from Deck 8.
Out on deck, as VIKING SEA prepared to sail, the conditions were ideal, prompting the Sky Dome to stay open until after sunset.
Deck 9 putting green.
On the starboard side of the glass-fronted Deck 9, there is a putting green that we never got to test out.
However, we did manage to squeeze in a little shuffleboard on the port side before the VIKING SEA began her slow passage into the Adriatic.
Deck 7 observation deck departure.
Another fantastic feature of the VIKING SEA is the open observation terrace that can be accessed from the Explorer’s Lounge. Situated atop the wheelhouse, it has wings that extend over the sides of the ship.
VIKING SEA soon gave a trio of farewell blasts to Koper before making course for nearby Zadar, Croatia.
A nook in The Restaurant whose outer screens open up onto the promenade.
After working out, we joined friends in the attractive Restaurant on Deck 2, which offers open-seating dinner from 6:00 to 9:00 PM..
The Restaurant table setting.
Like the Viking River cruise ships, Viking Ocean’s table settings include distinctive blue glass bread dishes.
Zeni Valpolicella in the Restaurant. Silver beverage package.
For lunch and dinner, red and white wines, beer, cocktails and soft drinks are offered for no extra charge. For an extra fee, Viking also offers a round-the-clock silver beverage package for slightly more upscale wines, such as a fantastic Zeni Valpolicella, served in oversized crystal stemware.
Baby spinach salad.
Viking’s dinner menus feature multiple nightly courses such as a delicious baby spinach salad with locally sourced ingredients.
Shrimp starter in the Restaurant.
Each night, several selections of shell fish were offered.
Anytime salmon entrée in The Restaurant.
LIke some of the other more savvy lines, Viking has an always available menu of favorites, such as broiled salmon topped with caviar.
Viking Theater, facing forward/port.
After dinner, we made it to the Theater in time for the second presentation of “Songscape: An Operatic Fantasy”, which cleverly utilizes a high definition LED screen that interacts with the performance by VIKING SEA’s talented cast of singers and dancers.
HMS Pinafore and more.
The impressive show incorporates numerous musical genres from Gilbert and Sullivan to Andrew Lloyd Weber and, of course, Queen.
Constellations in the Explorer’s Lounge.
Night owls on the VIKING SEA can linger to the live music in Torshavn or head up for a night cap in the gorgeous Explorer’s Lounge, which takes on a celestial vibe with its fiberoptic zodiac lighting effects.
Mamsen’s in the wee hours, facing aft.
Cozying up to the vapor flames in Mamsen’s.
In Mamsen’s there are some Norwegian bites (mostly cheeses and dried meats) for those seeking a late night snack.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Al fresco breakfast.
For the rest of the cruise, we would take breakfast in the World Cafe and, weather permitting, enjoy it on the outdoor portion of the Aquavit Terrace at the stern of Deck 7.
One of the VIKING SEA’s most unique and coveted features is her Deck 7 infinity pool and hot tub that jut over the ship’s stern.
Aft/starboard Deck 7 al fresco dining.
On either side of the World Cafe, there are wings that angle over the side of the ship with al fresco seating.
Layers of Zadar.
It was an absolutely gorgeous morning with a clear view of the distant Dinaric Alps lingering beyond the red tile roofs and green hills as we approached Zadar, Croatia.
VIKING SEA at Zadar, Croatia.
Grad Zadar is at the northern end of the Dalmatian Coast and the oldest continually inhabited settlement in Croatia, stretching all the way back to the Neolithic Age. The town currently has a population of 72,000 and after years of economic and political challenges, is emerging as one of Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations. VIKING SEA was berthed adjacent to the old town but we would be bypassing the myriad local attractions for a 2-plus hour coach ride into the Croatian hinterlands.
ALBATROS, the former ROYAL VIKING SEA, at Zadar.
Ironically, as we passed the main commercial port, a familiar apparition greeted us in the form of the 1973-built former ROYAL VIKING SEA, now Phoenix Seereisen’s ALBATROS. In many ways, the VIKING SEA is her modern day successor.
On the road to Krka.
The Croatian countryside was similar to that of California, if perhaps a bit more verdant. After reaching Sibenik-Knin County, we descended down a windy road to the Krka River.
Foot path signage.
On the trellis.
A wooden trellis is built over the streams and into the dense forest lining the falls, offering visitors spectacular vantages of some 17 falls that, when combined, descend 150 feet.
Falls versus bridge at Krka.
Numerous bird, plant, reptile and amphibian species can be spotted on the 45-or-so-minute trek around the park.
Trunks to Falls.
Between the fall foliage and the deep blue/green waters, every angle was a great one.
Skradinski buk is probably the most spectacular part of the falls with its two drops at one end and a cascade at the other.
We returned to Zadar for a quick walk through its old town whose centerpiece monument is the Romanesque style St. Donatus Church, dating from the 9th Century.
VIKING SEA over the solar panel sun at Zadar.
The Zadar promenade and waterfront boasts a “sea organ” fixture by sculptor Nikola Basic that is “played” by the movement of the sea underneath and funneled up through a network of polyethylene tubes. There is also a replica of our solar system made out of solar panels inlaid into the promenade.
We watched as VIKING SEA left Zadar in her wake with three mighty blasts of her whistle.
From VIKING SEA to ex ROYAL VIKING SEA.
For a short while, the former ROYAL VIKING SEA could be seen from the upper ramparts of her would-be successor.
Manfredi’s Private Dining Room, facing port.
We joined friends in the private dining section of Manfredi’s, the no-charge, reservations-required Italian restaurant.
My usual veggie/chickatarian options began with a magnificent Insalata Caprese made with local fresh buffalo mozzarella and pungent beefsteak tomatoes.
And for those who actually like the real beef steak thing, Manfredi’s charred Bisteca Florentina.
End of Part Two
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Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
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