It’s time to go river cruising again as we travel to Bucharest, Romania in early July to join Viking River CruisesPassage to Eastern Europe cruisetour itinerary. Travelling from Bucharest to Budapest, Hungary, our home on this 10-night itinerary will be Viking Embla, one of Viking River Cruises’ first Longships that entered service back in 2012.

Viking Embla on the Danube on a cool winter day. In December, we'll sail sister-ship Viking Baldur on the Rhine. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Join us for a river cruise through Eastern Europe aboard Viking Embla. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Viking’s near-identical Longships have become a sort of home-away-from-home for me. The more I sail aboard them, the more I come to appreciate these beautiful Longships for the relaxing, floating boutique hotels that they are. I know what to expect, from the onboard service levels to the cuisine and accommodations, and even after four straight years of sailing with Viking, the line continually finds little ways to tweak its product. Most guests will never see these minor enhancements; it could be a matter of relocating a light switch in a stateroom to make it more accessible, or offering a popular tour for free where once there was a small surcharge for it.

I notice those things, and I’ve made it a sort of mission of mine to keep up with Viking’s subtleties. But it’s that level of comfort and expected quality that helps river cruisers like me – and you – branch out into more exotic, off-the-beaten-path itineraries. And one of those just happens to be Viking’s Passage to Eastern Europe.

It's not hard to find a quiet spot onboard Viking's Longships. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Viking Embla will whisk us along Eastern Danube. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For the record, this isn’t your father’s Danube. The Danube inspires visions of Vienna, Strauss and Mozart. But this Danube – the Eastern Danube – is firmly entrenched in former Soviet territory. The cities and countries that line its eastern banks are rough, hard-edged and developing. If Vienna is the center of cultural history, places like Belgrade are the center of revolutionary history.

And yet, there is plenty to like about this part of Europe – and plenty of great Viking experiences to be had. We’ll be treated to folkloric performances in both Serbia and Hungary, and attend lectures on Serbian current affairs. We’ll cruise the famous “Iron Gates” of the Danube, visit the Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade, and visit the Buda Castle District in Budapest, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Our Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Embla in Eastern Europe will begin on July 6, 2016 from Bucharest, Romania! Be sure to follow along on twitter @deckchairblog or using the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

France, Cape Race, and the End of our Adventure

Saint-Pierre's ghostly cemetery on a foggy afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Saint-Pierre’s ghostly cemetery on a foggy afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

As I write this, Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour is steaming off the coast of Cape Race, Newfoundland. We’re making a speedy 12 knots across the water, with light swells from the south and a temperature of about 8°C out on deck. The fog that enveloped us yesterday is gone, swept away by the winds that have increased from nothing to roughly 10 kilometres per hour.

We left Saint-Pierre et Miquelon at 1400 hours; exactly 24 hours after having arrived yesterday afternoon on an unscheduled stop. The weather that caused us to miss the Magdalene Islands and our Expedition Stop on the southern coast of Newfoundland turned out to be a blessing, as it gave us a full afternoon, evening and morning in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon; itself an overseas colony of France.

Ocean Endeavour in the haze. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ocean Endeavour in the haze. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The city of Saint-Pierre is home to a little over 6,000 people, most of whom live in the collective city center. Not that we could see the city from onboard Ocean Endeavour; some of the best (meaning moodiest) fog blanketed Saint-Pierre when we arrived yesterday. You could scarcely see across the length of the ship, let alone anything else.

For such a last-minute port of call, Adventure Canada really rose to the occasion. On offer: an intermediate-level hike across to the other side of the island for wildlife-watching and botany-spotting; a historical bus tour of the city center with multiple departure times and the option to be dropped off opposite the Tourist Information Center; and a guided walking tour of nearby Sailor Island.

Saint-Pierre is actually an overseas territory of France. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Saint-Pierre is actually an overseas territory of France. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Located just 25 kilometres off the Newfoundland coast, it looks like it's straight out of "The Shipping News." Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Located just 25 kilometres off the Newfoundland coast, it looks like it’s straight out of “The Shipping News.” Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Of course, guests also had the option to do their own thing and explore to make the most of our unscheduled time here. So, rather than walk the 20-minutes into town through the fog, I cycled.

New for this season, Adventure Canada has introduced an onboard mountain bike rental program in select ports of call. The Ocean Endeavour has a fleet of 13 Kona mountain bikes, which are available during each Expedition for a per-person cost of $55 CAD. The rental fee includes the bicycle, lock, helmet, and any other necessary gear you might require.

How do you get around in Saint-Pierre? Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

How do you get around in Saint-Pierre? Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Rent one of Adventure Canada's new mountain bikes for the afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Rent one of Adventure Canada’s new mountain bikes for the afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Now, on many cruises (in particular, river cruises), bicycles are provided to guests on a complimentary basis. However, you can imagine how in-demand these thirteen bikes would be if they could be reserved for free. The $55 per guest charge ensures you really, really want to bike around, and that bikes aren’t reserved and then never used.

Since this is the first voyage this feature has been rolled out on – and with a foggy afternoon creating absolutely no demand for the bikes – Adventure Canada invited me to take one for a spin around Saint-Pierre.

If you’ve cycled on river cruises, forget everything: these aren’t city-based road bikes; these are proper off-road expedition bikes, complete with heavy-duty suspension, adjustable seats and handle bars, and multiple gears.

Overall visibility on my cycle: poor. But fabulously foggy! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Overall visibility on my cycle: poor. But fabulously foggy! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Here’s the lowdown: this was an amazing way to get around, even in the fog and mist that pelted down on of my outing. In fact, the bikes were so good that I was able to ride on Saint-Pierre’s narrow streets and patchy sidewalks without any issues. During “rush hour”, I was able to move the bike from the road to the sidewalk and negotiate the square curb without any issues at all. The high-end shock absorbers ensure that road conditions don’t rattle you around like a city bike would. Locking it up is also a snap, and the lock was heavy-duty enough that I didn’t mind leaving it lashed to a post for an hour while I window-shopped.

This morning, I chose to walk into Saint-Pierre from the Ocean Endeavour’s docking location on the outskirts of town. I love this place – it reminds me of Longyarbyen, Svalbard and Kirkenes, Norway all rolled into one. It’s remote and entirely self-sustaining, with quiet, desolate streets.

Saint-Pierre's cemetery is located on a hill overlooking the town. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Saint-Pierre’s cemetery is located on a hill overlooking the town. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

And yet, there’s more than a hit of France about the place, which is part of France and the European Union. You can get foie gras de Canard (duck Foie Gras), French teas, chocolates, bonbons, and, yes – French wines, the latter at a deep, deep discount. When wine is €6 per bottle, it’s a deal in any currency.

But it might pay to be choosy: I saw a bottle of something called Cap’tain Schnapps in the local supermarche. Going for the rock-bottom price of €3.38 per 750ml bottle, this 45% alcohol is probably closer to turpentine than something you’d want to have as an aperitif, but hey, it could be good. I, however, wasn’t brave enough to try.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At 1400, Ocean Endeavour let her lines go for one last time this voyage, as we began our afternoon and evening cruise over to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where our journey comes to a close. About 47 of our fellow guests disembarked today on a charter flight to St. John’s to begin a special post-cruise tour, while the rest of us are joining the ship for the night voyage through the Atlantic.

Just before 1730, Cape Race, Newfoundland came into view off our port side. A prominent headland, this is the first sight of North America that most people on the Northern Atlantic routes would have seen on a westbound crossing, and the last point they would witness on an eastbound sailing. If you – like me – had European ancestors that sailed to Halifax or Montreal, there’s a good chance they saw this headland too.

Porthole windows into the cemetery's crypts are nautical...and vaguely off-putting. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Porthole windows into the cemetery’s crypts are nautical…and vaguely off-putting. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Cape Race was also one of the first places with a Marconi telegraph station to get the distress signals sent by the RMS Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912. Shrouded in fog for roughly 158 days per year (except, ironically, today), it was also the site of the wreck of the SS Arctic, which collided with the Vesta in heavy fog off Cape Race on September 27, 1854. Out of over 400 onboard the Arctic, only 88 – most of whom were crew –  survived to tell a tale of panic and confusion in which every woman and child listed on the ship’s manifest perished. The Collins Line, which owned and operated the Arctic, was never held responsible for the disaster, but went bankrupt four years later. Captain James Luce, who commanded Arctic’s final voyage and was overrun by his own crew, was treated favorably by the general public for his own plight. Washed off the decks, he was plucked up by a passing boat and saved. He never went to sea again.

It’s one of many heart-wrenching stories that have occurred off these shores. To many, it’s just a cliff and a lighthouse. To me, seeing Cape Race is a rite of passage for those who love the sea and the ships that sail – and have sailed – upon it.

Today at our final Farewell Briefing in the Nautilus Lounge, Expedition Team member and raconteur Phil Jenkins left us with a quote that struck me as being exceptional. Jenkins claims to have heard it in the Arctic, and that could be. But I look at the sea outside the windows, vast and foreboding, and wonder if it isn’t a synonym for the trials of mariners past and present alike:

“If I never meet you again, may I feel the lack. And if I do meet you again, may I feel the joy.”

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavor has sadly come to a close, but stay tuned for our full Voyage Recap! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

A Day at Sea & A Tour of Ocean Endeavour’s Staterooms

It's a chilly, foggy day aboard Adventure Canada's Ocean Endeavour. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

It’s a chilly, foggy day aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

June 9, 2016

With the stormy weather still on the march, the Expedition Team aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour made the call late yesterday afternoon: we would not have our scheduled expedition stop off the southern coast of Newfoundland today. Instead, we’d sail throughout the day and night (and, as it turns out, day) to our final stop: the small French overseas colony of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon.

Technically part of France (and, as such, the European Union), nearly 90 percent of the population lives in the town of Saint-Pierre, located on the southernmost of the islands that make up this self-governing overseas territory. About ten percent of the population lives further north, in Miquelon. A small ferry service connects the two islands, and ferries are available to the outlying islands of Langlade and L’Ile Aux Marins. Rather incredible when you think the islands lie just 25 kilometres off the southeastern coast of Newfoundland.

Today's forecast: foggy. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Today’s forecast: foggy. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Curiously, Saint-Pierre is a full hour ahead of Atlantic time, and 30 minutes ahead of the time in St. John’s, Newfoundland. That meant that guests aboard the Ocean Endeavour had to ratchet their clocks forward for the second time on this voyage. We’re now closer to the time in England (only three hours ahead) than we are to the West Coast of Canada, which is five hours behind on Pacific Standard Time.

This morning was spent cruising the Atlantic, though with better conditions than yesterday. Temperatures this morning hung around 8°C, with 15 km/h winds coming off our starboard bow and swells of one to two metres. The fog rolled in and out all morning, as did the rain, which came down in surprisingly heavy bursts at times.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

With the better part of the day spent at sea, this is the perfect time to take a look at some of the other stateroom types aboard Ocean Endeavour. For such a small ship, staterooms are surprisingly varied, with very little consistency between them. For the most part, that’s okay. For one category, however, these differences are truly worth noting.

Since the ship is sailing at nearly full capacity, I didn’t get to photograph all categories onboard, but the following represent a good swath of the ship’s accommodations:

Category 3 Interior Twin – 5115

Category 3 Interior Twin aboard Adventure Canada's Ocean Endeavour. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 3 Interior Twin aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I love inside cabins. They’re a great value, and one of the best ways for those simply looking to get aboard a ship at the most economical price to do so.

These Category 3 Interior staterooms are described as twin occupancy, but clearly (at one time) had berths for up to four guests. That would have made things rather snug: at 125 square feet, these rooms are economically-sized. However, they also belie Ocean Endeavour’s origins as a Baltic ferry, with harsh fluorescent lighting and a complete lack of any sort of décor, save for the beds and a small end table.

While spartan, these Category 3 Interior Twin rooms have bathrooms with plenty of storage space. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

While spartan, these Category 3 Interior Twin rooms have bathrooms with plenty of storage space. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

But it’s not all bad news: these staterooms boast some of the best bathrooms onboard, with larger-than-average showers and tons of storage space, including an over-the-toilet shelving unit. The electrical systems in these rooms have also been redone, and feature new two-prong, European-style 220V plugs and switches.

Category 4 Exterior – Single Occupancy – 4062

Category 4 Single Occupancy Stateroom. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 4 Single Occupancy Stateroom 4062. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Not much space, but perfect for the solo traveller. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Not much space, but perfect for the solo traveller. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 4 Single Occupancy bathroom. Note the completely different look and feel. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 4 Single Occupancy bathroom. Note the completely different look and feel. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Running along the starboard side of Deck 4, near the entrance to the Mud Room, are three Category 4 Exterior staterooms designed for single-occupancy guests. These rooms have no single supplement, but they’re certainly not going overboard on space: a snug 90 square feet is yours to enjoy. Still, if you pack light (there’s no room to store a hard-sided suitcase, even under the bed), these rooms are perfectly cozy for the solo cruiser. Bonus points for the nautical porthole, which adds a nice explorer-style touch to the room. Double-occupancy Category 4 Staterooms are also available, and come in at 100 square feet.

Category 6 Comfort Twin – 8001

Category 6 Comfort Twin room 8001. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 6 Comfort Twin room 8001. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

My room, 7012, is also a Category 6 stateroom - but there's a big difference between the two. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

My room, 7012, is also a Category 6 stateroom – but there’s a big difference between the two. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 6 bathrooms are, however, identical for the most part (at least on Decks 7 and 8). Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 6 bathrooms are, however, identical for the most part (at least on Decks 7 and 8). Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 6 is actually made up of three very different types of staterooms, lumped under a single designation.  Adventure Canada doesn’t let guests choose a specific stateroom, only a category. The trouble is, these are three very different types of accommodations. Before charter flights and the $250 Discovery Fee the brochure fare for this sailing in a Cat.6 Stateroom is $7,995 USD per person. For that eight grand per person, you’ll be assigned to either:

  • A 175-square foot stateroom on Deck 4 with two separated beds, two unobstructed view portholes, two bathrooms (!), and separate living and sleeping areas;
  • A 160-square foot stateroom on Deck 8 with fully obstructed views from two windows of the ship’s lifeboats, one bathroom, and a queen-sized bed;
  • Or A 135-square foot stateroom on Deck 7 with semi-obstructed views from one window, one bathroom, and two separated beds.

That’s a heck of a difference. On their own, neither of these subset categories is a problem. I quite like my 135-square foot Category 6 stateroom on Deck 7 for its cozy feel and surprising amount of comfort. But someone who pays $16,000 is going to get a 175-square room on Deck 4, while another couple who also paid $16,000 might get the smaller, less amenity-laden room on Deck 7.

Is that a problem? Your mileage may vary – but it’s something to be aware of.

Category 7 Select Twin – 5001       

Category 7 Select Twin living area. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 7 Select Twin living area. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

If you’re looking for space and more modern fittings, look no further than Category 7. Though it suffers from the same issues as Category 6 (you’ll either be assigned a two-room, two-bath suite on Deck 5 or a partially-obstructed view stateroom on Deck 8 with one bath and one room but gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows), these are still some of the more spacious rooms aboard the ship. I love the ones on Deck 5, but was unable to see the ones on Deck 8, as they were all occupied during our sailing. Category 7 Staterooms on Deck 5 include picture windows with unobstructed views, two berths, two bathrooms, and measure 190 square feet.

Category 7 Select Twin Room 5001 bedroom. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 7 Select Twin Room 5001 bedroom. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

So why do some of these rooms feature two bathrooms? The answer is deceptively simple: as built, these rooms were some of the smallest accommodations onboard. Even through to the ship’s career as the Kristina Katarina, these rooms remained, well, petite.

When the ship was acquired by SunStone, the partition between these small rooms was removed to create one large room with two separate living spaces. The bathrooms were never removed, which means two people can get ready at once.

Category 7 Deck 5 Bathroom. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Category 7 Deck 5 Bathroom. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Along with their Category 6 counterparts on Deck 4 (which feature porthole windows but are otherwise similar), these are some of the best rooms onboard. It’s just a shame you can’t book one specific stateroom as you can on nearly every other cruise line, expedition or otherwise. It’s luck-of-the-draw that determines what you end up with.

Bienvenue en Saint-Pierre

Our pilot comes onboard...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our pilot comes onboard…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...as Saint-Pierre et Miquelon appears through the fog. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…as Saint-Pierre et Miquelon appears through the fog. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Approaching the dock at Saint-Pierre. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Approaching the dock at Saint-Pierre. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Late this afternoon, we arrived in Saint-Pierre, coming alongside the pier after having spent the better part of the day at sea. Guests are incredibly happy to have this opportunity, as many of them are departing from Saint-Pierre tomorrow on a charter flight to St. John’s to begin their post-cruise tour. This voyage technically ends in Saint-Pierre, but our journey continues as we “dead-head” on to St. John’s aboard the ship for one last evening.

Adventure Canada rolled out an entire program of wonderfulness for us today. Despite the fog and the light spray that continued to roll in and out throughout the day, this was, without question, one of the best stops of the expedition – and I got to road test (literally) one of Adventure Canada’s newest innovations.

But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to read about the abundance of ways we could spend our time here on this, the coolest little island you’ve never heard of.

Ocean Endeavour tied up in Saint-Pierre on June 9, 2016. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ocean Endeavour tied up in Saint-Pierre on June 9, 2016. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavor continues tomorrow from Saint-Pierre Miquelon, France! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

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