Travel to learn, travel to connect

Viking.TV brings the waterways and wonders of the world to you

Torstein Hagen

Photo courtesy of Viking River Crusies
Viking River Cruises was founded in 1997 by Norwegian visionary Torstein Hagen.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Whenever I visit a river town, I make certain to head to the shore for a sail—one that spans from sunset to dusk and finishes in an inky night. I have sailed past the shores of Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and Key West, Fla. For me, the river is an essential component to a city’s development.

But Viking (formerly known as Viking Cruise Lines) sees a river in an entirely different way. For Viking, the river is the heart of a trip, and the towns founded along it are features of the river. As in true Viking tradition, the river serves as a watery path to exploration.  

Founded in 1997 by Norwegian visionary Torstein Hagen, chair of the company, Viking presents “river, ocean, and expedition voyages” and will soon be adding trips down the Mississippi River. You may often watch their alluring journeys on the Public Broadcasting Service, the educational television station. Their segments often feature Karine Hagen, executive vice president and daughter of the founder, who serves as the company’s spokesperson.

Each voyage is conceived as “a thinking person’s cruise.” Amenities include pre-excursion educational materials, such as books and films. Lectures and a well-stocked library are offered on board to provide deeper understanding of the cultures and people encountered on each journey.

But with the pandemic raging, the company’s trajectory has halted. Viking’s expeditions are currently suspended through Sept. 30 to protect the health of their crew and travelers. Not resting on its laurels and waiting for the crisis to pass, Viking decided to innovate instead.

Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises
Each voyage with Viking River Cruises is conceived as a “thinking person’s cruise.” Each ship has its own well-stocked library with books and films. During the pandemic, these educational resources have moved online with Viking.TV.

“If we cannot for the time being bring our guests to the world, let’s bring the world to our guests. Viking.TV is a way for us to continue exploring the world in comfort—from the comfort of our homes,” says Hagen. The concept is simple. Like the TV Guide, their website offers a concise weekly schedule of a variety of programs to watch free of charge. I decided to explore.

“Waterways of the Tsars” is one of the canceled Viking expeditions. The title sounded very dramatic and romantic, so I watched all the programming I could find relating to Russia during the week of July 13. What first caught my eye was architecture.

“There are a few buildings in the world that are central to their country’s history… If only walls could talk.” One such building is the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Viking.TV offers two in-depth, almost 70-minute-long conversations, with experts from the Hermitage: “The Hermitage Revealed” with director Margy Kinmoth and “The Hermitage Museum” with author and mathematician Geraldine Norman. 

Twenty-three short videos delving into quirky and informative slices of Russian life led by tour guide Hagen also await. “At Home in Uglich” takes you to a small town along the Volga River into Babushka Nadia’s rural home for a home-cooked meal. In “Russian Superstitions” idiosyncratic popular culture is the focus. You learn that consuming a lilac with five petals will bring you good luck and touching the griffin’s paw on the Bank Bridge in St. Petersburg will guarantee good fortune.  

“Banya” (like a sauna) portrays a communal endeavor. It includes wearing a whimsical cap and is part spa experience with its use of a honey and salt body scrub to detoxify. Afterward, your body is gently pummeled with water-soaked leafy birch or oak branches to increase circulation—less soothing, but definitely invigorating. It ends with a plunge in the cold lake outside the banya’s door.  

Some other intriguing episodes are: “Hermitage Cats,” “The Dacha” (summer home—something that Norwegians can relate to), and “Backstage at the Ballet.” As in a university course, supplemental learning materials are at your fingertips on the weekly schedule page: documentaries, reading lists, filmographies, classical music concerts, and more.

The Viking.TV viewer is gifted the breadth and depth of what Viking provides to travelers. It is an introduction, a taste of what the company delivers.  There is no hyperbole in Viking’s statement, “No one can share Russia with you like we can.”

But these are only the Russian components of the Viking.TV website; there are many others.  From the same week, there is a video conversation with polar photographer Camille Seaman, a yoga session to heal body and mind, and an exploration of UNESCO World Heritage sites. New programming is added weekly.   

Although Viking’s cruises are geared for adults and only allow children 12 and older, there is a section called “Children’s World.” Instead of Dora the Explorer, the mascot is Finse the dog, whose full name is Queen of Snoreway Ninkompoop Finse Daisy Dunsmere, born in 2012 at Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame. Finse loves to travel. She teaches geography, culture, and customs by means of books, videos, quizzes, and even an artistic challenge.    

In the end, there is nothing like travel to explore, learn, and grow, but this pandemic has eliminated these experiences for us. The earthy taste of rich burgundy borscht as you are surrounded by the cacophony of church bells from St. Basil’s or the scents from a Russian lilac or a birch forest after the rain simply must be experienced in Russia, not in front of a computer screen.

But while Viking.TV cannot replicate person-to-person firsthand experiences, it opens a spectacular entry into such places with its stunning visuals and knowledgeable guides, taking you behind and beyond the tourist curtain.

“The Viking guest is traveling to learn… traveling to connect,” declares Viking. If you want to savor a culture and yearn for a behind-the-scenes touristic visit, while you dream of fascinating journeys in the future, Viking.TV leads the way.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.