Chef, Surroundings, on the Viking Helgrim

image from Julie Hatfield

  To look at the dinner menus aboard the Viking Helgrim, you would think that Executive Chef Peter Benko is a born and bred Portuguese citizen. “Picanha Com Esmagado de Batata e Espinafres” (seared rump steak with crushed potatoes and spinach)? “Caldeirada de Peixe” (Portuguese fish and seafood stew)? “Quindim de Coco com Ananas” (caramellzed pineapple and coconut cake)? He MUST be Portuguese, we thought. But Benko, who brings out three different meals each day of an …

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Unexpected Pleasures: Sailing the Douro River Aboard Viking Helgrim

image from Judi Cuervo

  In the year 2000, I sailed the Rhone and Saone rivers aboard Viking Burgundy, a vessel operated by Viking River Cruises, a little-known line that, in fact, had just entered the American market. I was bucking the cruise trend of the time, shunning the mega ships that were capturing the headlines in favor of an intimate vessel and a type of sailing that had not yet hit most cruise fans’ radar. What a difference 20 years …

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Fitness/Exercise Aboard the Viking Helgrim

image from Julie Hatfield

  So you’re a fitness buff, booked for an eight-day cruise on a European riverboat – say in Portugal, for example, making your way up the beautiful Douro River to the Spanish border and back to Porto. You’re on the diminutive “Helgrim,” a smaller version of the usual-sized Viking longboats, with no fitness center or running track aboard. What do you do to stay in shape? That’s the situation my husband and I found ourselves in on …

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Douro- Day 7 on Viking Helgrim

image courtesy of Julie Hatfield

  If you have seen its many television commercials, Viking rules the road when it comes to daily excursions.. Even two days before this cruise in Portugal on the Douro River, Viking offered us tours around the city of Lisbon. We hadn’t even laid eyes on our “baby longboat” (they call it that because our 262-foot-long vessel only holds 106 passengers versus the more common ones that hold 190), we had taken three tours of Lisbon. We …

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Douro- Day 6 on Viking Helgrim

image from Julie Hatfiled

  The air was brutally hot yesterday when we left the Helgrim, left the Douro River, left Portugal, and slipped into Spain. In the course of a two-hour bus ride, we changed landscapes, changed customs, changed cuisines and changed languages. Example: For the ritual “Good morning,” we reversed the Portuguese emphasis on the first syllable “(O. .. la) to the Spanish emphasis on the last syllable of the same word, as in “o.. . .LA.” Hello Salamanca! …

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Douro- Day 5 on Viking Helgrim

image courtesy of Julie Hatfield

  An ecumenical cistern in the medieval fortress town of Castelo Rodrigo, just a few hundred yards from the Spanish border, has a message for the political squabblers in the US. Congress. We had trudged up a hill in the hot sun to the center of the little town when our guide pointed the structure out. The cistern, a stone tank now in ruins, contained water used for religious ceremonies by all of the town residents. There …

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Douro- Day 4 on Viking Helgrim

image from Julie Hatfiled

  There’s good money in port wine, evidently. And the top of a mountain is a great place to produce it. We left our Viking riverboat today in a bus that took us for a white-knuckle ride on a narrow road through a series of hairpin turns, up, up, and up. “Don’t look down,” our guide warned (we all looked down, terrified). Our destination was the famous Sandeman winery, perched on the top of a mountain surrounded …

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Douro- Day 3 on Viking Helgrim

image from Julie Hatfield

  Our knowledgeable, erudite tour guide had one more piece of information to impart about Porto, her native city, as the bus headed back to our Viking riverboat for lunch. “You should know that the people of Porto have a nickname that goes back many years,” she said. “We are known in Portugal as ‘the tripe eaters.’” The nickname was given to the city’s residents, she explained, when the good parts of slaughtered animals were given to …

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Douro- Day 2 on Viking Helgrim

image from Julie Hatfield

  Yes, Virginia, there IS a real Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and it’s in Portugal! On our way from Lisbon to Porto, 130 miles north of Lisbon, the Viking bus that was taking us from our Lisbon hotel to our ship in Porto made a lunch stop in the ancient town of Coimbra. There, on top of a mountain, as we stepped out of the bus, were a group of University of Coimbra law students …

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Douro- Day 1 on Viking Helgrim

image from Julie Hatfield

  Not every great day on a Viking river cruise is spent on a river. We spent the first day of our “cruise” on dry land – in the beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal. We are signed up to cruise the Douro River from Porto to Barca d’Alva, but – since everyone on the cruise flies into Lisbon, 195 miles away from Porto, our point of embarkation — Viking did the sensible thing: scheduled a multi-optional tour …

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