Viking’s Dutch Feat, Part Two

Peter Knego continues his latest trek, a stay aboard one of Viking Cruises elegant new Longships, the VIKING SKIRNIR, with an enriching visit to Amsterdam on the eve of the gala christening event.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2015 unless otherwise noted.

Monday, March 23, 2015

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VIKING SKIRNIR Restaurant, facing aft from center.

We managed to get up in time for a quick breakfast in the handsome 190-seat Restaurant on forward Middle Deck. In sync with Viking’s attractive Scandinavian decorative theme, its warm wood tones and muted pastels are offset by natural light from full length windows that span either side of the room. A buffet station (used primarily for breakfast and lunch) divides the space into fore and aft sections.

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Breakfast mode.
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Smoked salmon and the essentials.
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Baked bites.

At the egg station, I ordered a cheerfully prepared onion, tomato and cheddar omelette that was quickly brought to our table. From the buffet, there was plenty to accompany it with: smoked salmon, a selection of cheeses, yogurt, fruits, cereals and baked treats. There is also full service menu offering daily specials such as buttermilk pancakes and waffles but the buffet had everything we needed.

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Coffee, tea and fresh-baked treats always at the ready.

On the way out to join our tour, I made a quick pit stop at one of two self-serve coffee, tea and espresso stations for a delicious cappuccino to-go. Another small but convenient Viking touch that provides a nice start to each day.

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Viking portal.

Our first stop was Ateliers Westerdok, an art studio that was a former customs house in the Westerdok district of Amsterdam. Once home to Van Gogh and other prominent artists, the area fell into neglect and disrepair but was ultimately saved from mass demolition by squatters before being redeveloped into one of Amsterdam’s most sought after neighborhoods.

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As Dutch as apple pie.

Our hosts welcomed us with piping hot coffee, tea, espresso and a gorgeous, fresh-baked apple pie. Unlike most cultural excursions where we could just look at, listen to and document what unfolded before us, for the next two and a half hours, we would be creating the experience.

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Tatiyana teaches.

We donned smocks and then gathered for a lesson in VanGogh’s painting techniques, the application of acrylic paint and color mixing by Russian instructor Tatiyana Yassievich.

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Van Gogh-erly setting.

We were given a choice of three still life scenes to paint from. At the far end, a vase with sun flowers resonated most, so I planted myself between two of my closest friends and disengaged from all but the process of trying to turn a blank canvas and some squirts of paint into something tangible. Tatiyana ambled amongst us, offering everything from painting tips to words of encouragement or (as was my case) an intimidating silence.

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Paint to task.  Photo by Rob DiStefano.

Before long, as each canvas gave rise to ten very distinct interpretations, our banter reignited and we were not only enjoying but savoring a unique experience of self-discovery. The session ended all-too-quickly and our works, some incomplete, were lined up for a quick analysis and critique.

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All lined up and ready to Gogh.

I was impressed with how each painting embodied the spirit of its creator. It was a completely bonding experience that far exceeded my expectations.

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The Westerdok excursion is not an official Viking tour but can be ordered through the on board concierge for groups of eight or more and is priced between Euros 40 and 50 per person, including coffees, other beverages, snacks (like that delicious apple pie), use of smocks, paint and the canvas, itself. And it is not just restricted to Van Gogh, with Warhol and Rembrandt among the other featured artists.

The morning adventure gave us plenty to talk about over a delicious lunch on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

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Amsterdam corner.

The second part of the excursion would be another unique experience — visits to the homes of three very different but charming Nederlanders. It was a short distance from the coach to Nico Van Burg’s residence, a marvelous brick walk-up, the bottom portion of which was built in the 16th Century and the top some 200 years later.

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Tea with Nico.

After scaling a steep ladder/staircase, we filed into Nico’s living room, which overlooked one of the city’s countless canals. As he poured us tea, he explained how he embarked on a career of astrophysics but found more joy working in a book shop and is now living on his pension.

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Nico’s concerto.

The space was filled with Nico’s impressive artwork, including a harpsichord that he embellished with a masterful harbor scene.

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Tot ziens, Nico!

Our host, a true Renaissance Man, serenaded us before we continued onwards to the Jordan District, another section of Amsterdam that was saved from redevelopment by squatters 30 or so years ago.

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Ellen Cook greets us.

At a corner house with Dutch doors, we were greeted by Ellen Cook, who beckoned us inside.

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Peeking through the panes.
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Altar to La Divina.

Our hostess has lived in her multi-tiered space (built in 1735 and renovated in 1965) for 42 years. In each of the brightly colored rooms, there were meticulously maintained collections and more than just an occasional shrine to La Divina.

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Afternoon in Bike-topia.
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Of comrades and canals.
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Amstel in the sky.
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Meeting Marianne.

Another short walk through the Jordan district delivered us to a courtyard where our final hostess, Marianne, greeted and led us up to her lovely apartment where she explained how life works in her independent living community.

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Enriched and then refreshed…

Back at the ship, I thanked myself for not bowing out of these two fantastic excursions due to the usual pangs of jet lag and encroaching deadlines. I will cherish the memories of such a rich day much longer than the temporary relief of rest and some long forgotten assignment.

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Viking dinner setting.

For lunch and dinner, the VIKING SKIRNIR’s Restaurant takes on a slightly more formal look with table settings featuring blue glass bread plates, linen napkins in a silver ring and a skyline of fine stemware.

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Wine with dinner.

Beverages, including a red and white wine, beer, soft drinks and mineral water are provided with lunch and dinner. The wine selections are always excellent and generously poured.

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Amuse bouche.

Dinner begins with an artfully presented amuse bouche, such as this morsel of salmon layered with cream.

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Lentil soup.

First Courses can range from a Truffle Scented Chicken Cassoulet to Vanilla Poached Scallops on Avocado Tartare to Toasted Mesclun Salad and Fresh Figs to a Lentil Soup topped with fried onions and shaved scallions (shown).

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Main Courses might include Herb Provencale Rack of Lamb, Sauteed Fillet of Turbo With Red Wine Butter Sauce (shown) or Gratinated Cannelloni.

Desserts generally include a special of the day as well as or in addition to homemade ice creams and a cheese plate.  I cannot praise the Viking dining experience enough — the food, service and setting are elegant and first rate without any pretense or fussiness.

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Viking Nacht.

Even though it was a bit chilly, it was a gorgeous night, so we decided to take a short walk around the cruise terminal before signing off.

All eight of the sparkling new Longships had reached Amsterdam and were now arranged in two rafts four deep for the morrow’s gala christening.

End Of Viking’s Dutch Feat, Part Two

More To Come….

With Special thanks to:  Chad Grossman and Ian Jeffries

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

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 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."
Peter Knego

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