After that long night of lousy sleep due to the firmness (HARD) mattress, I got up and did my usual pre-dawn deck walk. I am a walker and my usual day includes five miles of walking. So I was thrilled to see that the Viking ships have a quarter-mile track on deck 2 all the way around the ship. Did a five miler before breakfast, grabbed my sweetie and we had an excellent breakfast back in the buffet. Above is what the village we disembarked in (Katakolon) looked like.
Then it was off on our tour. We had chosen to go beyond the included tour to do one called, “Syrtaki, Greek Food & Ancient Olympia.” What we got were two tours. One half was the included tour of hell (oops, I meant Olympia) and the other was absolutely wonderful food and dance experience at Syrtaki. Let me explain.
The included tour was just to the ruins of Olympia. Don’t get me wrong, Olympia is fine. But to me, it’s basically another big pile of rocks. I go on vacation for two reasons. To meet people in new places and to take pictures. I am a travel photographer. For this first half of this tour, there wasn’t much I could take pictures of. Rock are rocks. Seen one (like on the Acropolis yesterday), and you have kind of seen them all. I did get a few pics but not great ones. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
When I said that our tour of Olympia was “hell” it was because of something Viking could not control—the temperature. It was well over 90 in the shade and probably well over 100 in the sun. My lovely bride does not react well to heat so she stayed at the entrance under a shady tree while I did the Bataan Death March of ancient Greek ruins.
After that we got to experience one of our least favorite things on “luxury coach” tours with a lot of people, we got to wait almost 40 minutes for one couple who was late arriving back to the bus. In fact, our driver drove around trying to find them, thinking they were in another parking lot. Our guide walked all the way back to the ruins (quite a ways) but couldn’t find them. Turns out they had tired out coming back and taken a taxi to our next stop by had neglected to tell the guide or the bus driver. So much fun.
Our next stop was the Greek food cooking and tasting part of the excursion. The place we went was beautiful and they jumped right in pouring water and wine and getting food demos started with six from our group making tzatziki. Then another group made zucchini fritters (deep fried) to go with the tzatziki. Finally, the last group rolled out some phyllo dough to make Greek cheese pies (also deep fried). As soon as they had those done they invited everyone to not only eat those but an entire buffet spread. It all looked incredible but since we were going to Manfreddis that night we decided to eat light. We tried a few things and loved them all.
At this point (realize it is now 5:15 pm and the ship wants everyone back by 6:00) and a troupe of Greek dancers starts to entertain. We thought, OK, they will do two dances and we will be out of here in plenty of time to get back by 6:00 (the ship was about 35 minutes away). But no, they danced right up until 5:45 and the big problem was…they were GREAT! Hilarious. I have to say that everyone had a wonderful time with them. They dragged a bunch of people onto the dance floor and even had some people dancing on the tables. They were outstanding. Here are some very fun pics I got to take. As you can see, I made photo friends with the big guy.
We finally got out of there at 5;45 and the bus raced (he passed four cars in a BIG BUS) back to the ship where we arrived at 6:15. Good thing we were on a Viking excursion otherwise we might have missed the ship. We would do the second half of this excursion again; just the food and dancing.
Back on board, it was a quick shower and change of clothes to make a 7:00 pm Manfreddis reservation. We thought…this is it. We will really get to see the best of Viking food and service. Sadly, this was not to be the case. Again we were seated and got bread and water and then about 20 minutes passed and we got wine. We were NOT offered a wine list (I will give you that we did not ask for it because our server came to the table with two bottles of Italian wine and said “red or white”). We will ask in the future. We just got wine. The red was a decent Sangovise and the white a decent Pinot Grigio.
About 10 minutes later our order was taken. I have to say one of the things I really do not like is the use of the little iPhone/iPods to take orders. I have no problem with technology, I have made my living using it, but this makes the interaction with the server very impersonal. They are so busy looking at the screen that they never acknowledge things that they might see if they are just jotting things down on a pad of paper. We found out that each thing on their device has choices. For instance, let’s say I order a steak. They click steak. Then they must choose which steak, then they choose how I want it, then if I want a sauce with it. All of these are choices they have to read, rather than me just telling them I want the ribeye, medium rare. That would take two seconds and they could interact with me while they are doing it but with the devices, their heads are buried in them. And if someone else at the table says, “Oh, that sounds good, I will have that too,” it screws up the whole thing. They can’t just mark a 2 next to the order, they have to start all over again. Viking is doing themselves a disservice to be using these.
Again we waited for our appetizers (but not as long as the night before), and they and the entrées arrived when they should. Wine glasses were kept full. The only real complaint about the service was that my brother had been waiting for the fabled Manfreddis’ ribeye and when they brought him his, he got a New York steak. This time, instead of asking for the right steak he just ate it so we wouldn’t have to wait for him to get his order late to start eating. I should also point out that they had three kinds of sauces to go on the steaks. One was a “balsamic sauce” which I ordered. When it didn’t arrive with the steak I asked for it and our server brought me back a small bowl of balsamic vinegar. That’s not sauce. That’s vinegar. I didn’t realize she had done that and poured in on my steak.
Now let’s talk about the food itself. And speaking of the steak, I left about half of my ribeye because a quarter of it was fat and the other quarter was too tough to chew. That’s just sad. I also love calamari. I have eaten calamari as two complete courses in the Tuscan Grille on Celebrity ships before. I was excited to try Vikings. Disappointment! It was beyond boring. It reminded me of an old snack food that was in the shape of a bugle but tougher. And it was supposed to have a balsamic aioli with it but I couldn’t taste any balsamic in it.
I must admit I had a side of risotto with escargot in it that was the best thing I have eaten since we came on board…right up until I tried the chocolate Amarone dessert. It is the hands-down best chocolate I have ever eaten and I am not a big chocolate eater. Deep, dark and rich.
It was then off to bed (I did have a mattress topper but it wasn’t much better). Tomorrow (today as I write this) we are in Corfu and it has been a really nice day. More about that tomorrow…I hope.
I have a long view of history – my orientation is archaeological because I’m always thinking in terms of ancient Greece and Rome, ancient Persia and Egypt. —Camille Paglia