An English couple I spoke to on the Viking Jupiter (passengers were largely British or American, the latter outnumbering the former) said Munch “wasn’t even on their radar”. Pat and John Booth from Leicestershire said they enjoyed being in a part of the world they had never been to before, but it was the whole Viking experience they signed up for, he this was their fifth cruise with the company since last August.
“We were held back for two years with the pandemic and we just wanted to crack up and start traveling again,” Pat said as we chatted over drinks in the Explorer’s Lounge on the final evening. Pat and John are typical repeat customers. The Viking brand, characterized by a clean Scandinavian design with lots of light wood and bright spaces, inspires a loyalty based on familiarity, with the ocean-going vessels being more or less identical.
The lack of formality (no “blingy” disguises, though “smart casual” is expected in fine-dining restaurants) is a big selling point, as is the exceptional food and service. “And wherever you go on the ship, it never feels full,” Pat said.
In fact, Jupiter was three-quarters full during this cruise. Viking’s ocean-going ships carry a maximum of 930 guests, with a private balcony for each stateroom, making them small enough to dock close to the action on shore visits.
After our early morning arrival in the oil town of Stavanger, I opened my curtains to a view of the roofs of the old town’s white clapboard houses and five minutes later wandered its cobbled streets.
Our first port of call had been the Danish fishing port of Skagen, balanced on the sandy snout of the Jutland peninsula with the Baltic on one shoulder and the North Sea on the other. It might sound lazily stereotypical to describe Skagen as Legoland – but besides being Danish, its uniformly yellow houses with red roofs really looked like toys.
All that sea and sky form a light of mind-blowing luminosity, a quality that attracted a group of Scandinavian painters to Skagen in the late 19th century. Their legacy is the Skagens Museum, its canvas-lined walls that catch the blue light of lingering twilight, while the delightful bohemian jumble of the artists’ former homes are now museums in their own right.
I rode them all on a sunny morning and in the afternoon I took a leisurely bike trip through pretty streets to gentle dunes. “Do people have to paint their houses yellow?” I asked our local guide, Rita.
“No, but we love it,” she replied. “It’s like living in a fairy tale.” Fairy tales, of course, can be both dark and light. Was it too miserable of me to imagine, behind at least some of Skagen’s pristine front doors, figures holding their heads and shouting in silence?
Next it was Oslo, where I wandered around the opera house’s walkable rooftop, as buoyant as the adjacent Munch Museum smolders, as a prelude to visiting the museum. Norway’s capital isn’t exactly buzzing, especially on Sundays, but has a seductively civilized vibe with laid-back Osloites cruising silently on electric scooters and lounging in communal saunas by the harbour.
This Nordic nirvana of highly evolved city life darkened at our next port of call, Kristiansand, an elegant seaside resort near the southern tip of Norway. Our guide for the planned visit looked a bit sheepish as she variously informed us that “It’s the second largest fountain in Norway”, “The crime rate is very, very low” and “The cathedral received a new organ in 2012”.