Corfu and some more thoughts on Viking Sky

A good friend commented on my post yesterday and said that maybe I shouldn’t have walked away from Celebrity so fast. Which made me think that I have been letting you all think I am totally unhappy with Viking. I am not. This is what I told my friend:

No, we will never go back to X. Everything on Viking has been great except the two sit-down restaurants. Hands down the most beautiful ship I have ever sailed on; other than the Neptune Suite, we had on HAL the best stateroom ever, excellent and fast internet, incredible buffet, superb service everywhere except the sit-down dining rooms, and that’s just because their restaurant systems are all screwed up. The public spaces are wonderful. Viking Ocean is head and shoulders above Celebrity. It’s probably just me that has to get used to the Viking ways.

There is a lot to like about Viking, and we are not totally turned off, but at least one more thing has happened that is a kind of a dark mark. Let’s get that out of the way. Kathleen got food poisoning. She was beyond sick last night and pretty much is feeling a little better as I write this on Tuesday in Kotor, Montenegro. The night before last (as you may remember), we went to Manfreddi’s for dinner. Kathleen had the swordfish. It is the only thing she has had to eat for the last few days that someone else in our group has not eaten. It’s not the flu or any other virus. Those aren’t as violent and really mess you up and then just go away. We have been together before when she has gotten food poisoning, and this is what we are sure it is. Bad fish is bad fish. Could have gotten that anywhere. Not really Viking’s fault.

Let’s talk Corfu. We found it to be a pleasant little island. We were doing a Viking-included tour that took us out to one end of the island where we could take pictures of some truly beautiful sites and their airport (located in a truly crazy place) and then back to the center of the city to get out and tour and then walk on our own before returning to the ship. We totally enjoyed Corfu. Check out the pics below. 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…

More tomorrow. I enjoy some real photo shooting on the incredible sail-in to the port, a trip to an olive farm and a climb to a church high above Kotor.

In Greece, wise men speak, and fools decide.  —George Santayana


Olympia—hot, hotter and some Greek Food and Dance

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


Athens and Viking Sky

So this is our (my wife who posts as BellKat) and I are first-time Viking Cruisers. We have a very close friend who has been telling us to try them for years. We are long-time cruisers with more than 30+ cruises behind us. Most were on Celebrity,, HAL, Azamara and RCL (with the kids). We are traveling with my brother, his wife, her sister and her husband. My usual practice is to do posts as I am sailing so here goes.

We did the Viking pre-cruise in Athens. Two days at the Athens Marriott. The hotel was just fine but the location left a lot to be desired. I am a walker and a photographer. On most of our trips, when we are on land, I like to get out pre-dawn and shoot photos. But the Marriott is nowhere near the center of historical Athens. I tried and walked four miles and got to nothing I really wanted to take photos of as it is a very industrial area.

When we arrived at the Athens airport (we had flown down from Amsterdam) we didn’t even have to put on our Viking stickers, their rep saw us and walked over and introduced himself before we even had our luggage. He helped us load up and then got us to the coach which was a full-size bus just for six of us and we were off to the hotel. The pre-extension we had reserved included two nights at the hotel (which has the GREATEST water pressure ever), breakfast but no tours so we arranged our own through a company called Tours By Locals.

We were beyond lucky to get the incredible George C. as our guide. He took us to all the usual spots including the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Museum of Antiquities, the original Olympic stadium and the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknowns but the best place he took us was for lunch. One of the most amazing meals we have ever had. And it was at what George called, “A momma place” because they cook like your Greek momma. They brought us some of everything and we loved every bit of it. So much food and so many courses plus lots of excellent Greek wine. We ate outdoors on a shady patio next to a farmer’s market. What an outstanding Greek experience. I even got a chance to do some street photography in the farmer’s market. We did have reservations at a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves in the Plaka district but decided to cancel them after this HUGE lunch. We don’t feel like we missed anything. You can see all my pics in the gallery right here. 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…

The next morning (Saturday) was our embarkation day on the Sky. We had to have our bags outside the hotel rooms by 7:00 am. We got them out and went down to an excellent breakfast. Lots of choices and great service. We were on bus four of four to go to the ship. Each one left about 15 minutes apart. The Viking machine at the hotel was incredibly well run. Got us on, took 15 minutes to the port, off and onboard within another 10. Total time hotel lobby to Viking Sky living room was 30 minutes max. I do want to mention that due to a strange Greek rule, we had to take a COVID test the day before (between 7:00 and 8:00 am) in order to LEAVE Greece. Not sure why they care who is sick when they leave. Viking has no testing scheduled at all. Viking took care of our tests and I was told that not a single person had a positive test.

Once onboard we were greeted with champagne and told that we could go up to the World Cafe (buffet) for lunch. When we had checked in on the pier we were told our staterooms would be ready by 2:00 pm. The rest of our party who were on the deck below us were told 3:00 pm. Needless to say, we were a little upset (i said a little—we were on a cruise 😜) because we thought our staterooms (based on our stateroom class) would be ready by 1:00 pm. But in a surprise under promise/over deliver situation, as we were finishing an excellent lunch, the announcement was made that ALL staterooms were open before 1:00 pm.

We are incredibly pleased with our stateroom. It is huge by cruise ship standards, a full 338 square feet (our Celebrity stateroom was about 230 square feet). The only part of the stateroom we don’t like is the bed. We have frequently found European beds ot be harder than US beds. At home, we sleep on a Tempurpedic and we love it. Sleeping on the bed here was like sleeping on the floor. My brother had the same problem and mentioned it to his cabin attendant who said he had a foam mattress topper he could add to it. We are. having the same done to ours for tonight so hopefully, things will improve and I will get a better night’s sleep. I was going to include a video or photographic tour of the stateroom but I found one online that is much more professional that you can see by clicking here.

The rest of the ship is beautiful, the crew has been outstanding so far. The food at lunch was superb…but let’s not talk about dinner. Well, let’s talk about dinner. We decided to have dinner in The Restaurant (the ship’s main dining room) around 7:00. We went for a drink in the living room first and then we headed to The Restaurant at around 7:05. No one was waiting in line and we were seated (our party of six) at a table for eight right near the door. Here’s our timetable for dinner. We got to the dining room and were seated by 7:10. We had bread and water on the table by 7:20. Our order was not taken until at least 7:40. In fact after we got the bread and water, we didn’t see anyone else for almost 20 minutes. Our server came by and asked if we wanted wine. She had a German red and a German white. She said, “Sorry, I don’t have time to do the winelist with you tonight but I will go over it with you tomorrow.” Really?

So there we were at 7:45 with six glasses of German wine when our server took our orders. That took almost 10 minutes while the server attempted to enter the orders on a very small screen iPhone or iPod. Once the orders were taken, appetizers showed up about 10 minutes later, followed by our entrées about 20 minutes after we had finished the appetizers. Dessert was at least 20 minutes after finishing our entrées. The wine was refilled twice but we had to ask for it. Same with water. We were finally done with dinner and left The Restaurant at 9:15. Sorry, but that’s two full hours to eat a meal. That’s too long.

And to be honest, the meal was not that good. I ordered the Chef’s Regional Menu which was a Greek-themed menu including a lentil soup, moussaka and baklava for dessert. I can make all three better at home. I have made all three better at home. That’s just sad. My lovely bride ordered the chorizo-coated sea bass. She ate about half and just didn’t want anymore. My brother had the same thing but about 10 minutes after the rest of us. They forgot his order so we all waited while they got him a new one. It was just sad. We had such high hopes for The Restaurant after all the videos we have seen but last night did NOT live up to them. But we are very willing to give them a second chance. The food in the buffet this morning and yesterday at lunch was excellent so we know they can make the food we love. And tonight we are eating at Manfredi’s, which is Sky’s Italian restaurant so I will share our experiences there tomorrow.

To sum up…love the ship, love the crew, love the buffet and only had two experiences we didn’t like: dinner in The Restaurant and our very HARD bed. We will let you know if either get better…or I hope not…worse.

Greece was a muse. It inspired creativity in magical ways that I can’t even begin to understand or explain.  —Joe Bonamassa

And We’re Off!

It’s almost time to start our big journey. Just before 2:00 pm on Monday, our good friend Marjorie is going to pick us up and take us to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where we will check in with Delta and wait about three hours until we are scheduled to take off on flight 144, a non-stop to Amsterdam at 5:20 pm (just about 24 hours from when I am writing this). We did a COVID test this morning and we are good to go. Our meals on the plane are ordered and after we eat dinner, I will get our boarding passes printed out.

We are supposed to get into Amsterdam at 12:20 on Tuesday afternoon (that’s our route above). Hopefully, we will be on time and picked up at the airport and transported to what we believe is the greatest hotel on planet Earth, The Banks Mansion. By the time we walk into the “Living Room” at The Banks, my brother and sister-in-law should be sitting there having a drink (free bar!!!) and waiting for us to join them.

We are then headed to a traditional Dutch dinner at Moeder’s. Probably going to have stamppot, a traditional Dutch dish. According to Wikipedia, it’s Dutch comfort food. We had it the last time we were in Amsterdam and it was wonderful.

We will spend the next day (Wednesday) touring Amsterdam, going to the Van Gogh museum and having dinner at Restaurant ZaZa which we loved on our last visit to Amsterdam. Then early next morning we will all head to the busiest airport in Europe, Schipol, where we will catch our 12:20 pm flight to Athens, Greece. Hopefully, we will arrive pretty close to when we are supposed to, meet our other traveling companions (my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband) and hopefully head to dinner at a traditional Greek restaurant I have reservations for.

The next day we will tour Athens with Alexios from Tours By Locals (a tour company we have used before and I love). Then another dinner in the Plaka district. The other thing we have to do on Friday is to take a COVID test. Here’s a strange situation. Greece requires a COVID test to LEAVE their country. I get it when someplace wants to keep COVID out of their country by testing those coming in. But to require a test only for people leaving their country makes no sense.

Then next Saturday, we will board the Viking Sky for our 21-day cruise. Viking calls it the Mediterranean & Adriatic Sojurn. Here’s where we are going.

For Kathleen and I this will be a chance to revisit many places we have been. For the rest of our group, this will be their first time in this part of the world. Although we have been to most every place after we leave Sicily, we have never been to most of the stops in the Adriatic Sea. We have spent time in Venice and it has always been one of our favorite cities. It was really the first place we ever went to in Europe. Luckily for us, we have almost three full days in Venice. Our good buddies (and always neighbors, Jayesh and Lisa) were there last month and did some scouting for us, finding us some amazing restaurants to try. We can’t wait to try.

So I want to invite you to virtually follow us on this journey. I will do my best to post here on a very regular basis but with not a single sea day on this trip, I might run a little late. And of course, it also depends on the quality of the WiFi on the ship. So make sure you have subscribed so you can keep up with the ports. You know how much I love to share our travels. See you soon, right here.

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
—St. Augustine