In this Issue...

  • Northwest Update
  • Why Twitter, Facebook?
  • A Problem with the Gratis Upgrade
  • Take Your Own GPS to Europe
  • Business Class a Summer Bargain
  • Glowing River Cruise Report
  • Bob Bestor's Europe Travel Notebook

Dear Europe Traveler,

Even though our town of Ashland in Southern Oregon has just finished the wettest February-May in history, things are looking better. To illustrate see the top left photo taken from our back deck where an ancient rhododendron bush and dogwood tree are looking especially fine this year. Hello summer.

Downtown, Ashland's leading restaurateur, Billy Harto, has added a Satay bar to his restaurants, Kobe and Thai Pepper. It's the perfect late night stop for a final-final beverage, perhaps a skewer of lamb satay ($4) with a splendid house-made romescue sauce, all while keeping an eye on Sports Center scores via the HD flatscreen. But I'm a little less enthusiastic than I was at first about our new haute cuisine entry, Cocquina. The dishes are inventive, and sometimes extraordinary, but when I requested a little chocolate sauce on the chef's housemade vanilla ice cream it came with a message from the kitchen that this would be the last time it would ever be served with chocolate sauce. How about that? A diva chef in little 'ol Ashland. But let's talk about Europe where even restaurants with Michelin stars happily pour warm chocolate over my ice cream. One Swiss restaurant even melted some pricey Sprüngli chocolate, just for me.

Why Twitter, Facebook?

Despite my Twitter account and Facebook page, I was a social media skeptic until I saw the smile of recognition and wonder light up my 93-year-old mother's face when I showed her how her own Facebook page can provide amazing and unprecedented communication with her kids, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and, no doubt in the near future, great-great grandkids.

Last year I started to Tweet on the subject of European travel. But because I feel a need to communicate matters of greater import than what I ate for breakfast, I do so only sporadically. To follow me, go to twitter.com/ and search for Bob Bestor.

Recently, we launched the Gemut.com Facebook page which enables us to easily and quickly communicate important—often time-sensitive—Europe travel news to our "fans" (not my word, but the one used by Facebook to describe those who choose to stay in touch with certain businesses on FB). Please, as they say, "give us a like." Just click the "like" button at our page and henceforth you'll see our posts on your own Facebook page. It's an easy, painless way to stay in touch. And, once you're on board, you can comment on posts and engage in discussions with those of similar interests. Please join us.

On a related matter, we have just enabled the new Google+1 at the Gemut.com. As our Webmaster, Charles Brockman, put it so well, "Google provides a wonderful array of tools." So, click the Google +1 icon to communicate your approval of pages that you think are helpful. Your recommendation will be part of Google search results and we'll be very appreciative.

Free Upgrade Not Always Welcome

A Europcar customer in Erding, Germany (office near Munich Airport), scheduled to pick up an intermediate automatic sedan (IDAR) VW Passat, or similar, was instead given the keys to an $80,000-plus Mercedes Benz. One of those out-of-the-blue, pleasant-surprise upgrades? Nope. The customer called the Mercedes G350 Bluetec SUV a "battle wagon," complained of it being hard to enter and exit for older, overweight passengers, and that it got poor mileage, 14-15 mpg (Automotive Websites say the Bluetec gets 25 mpg highway and 18 mpg city).

What should have given this traveler pause is not the vehicle's size and alleged poor mileage, but the fact that the G350 Bluetec is very likely excluded from collision and theft by his credit card. Had the car been stolen, for example, the rental company would have looked to the customer to replace it at full value, a tidy $86K. That's the real problem with a gratis upgrade to a luxury rental vehicle, insurance. Most cars over $50,000 are not covered by most credit card rental car insurance.

You can protect yourself against this sort of thing by paying for your rental car with an American Express card and purchasing its Premium Car Rental Insurance for $25 ($18 for California residents). The program provides primary coverage, offers $15,000 in medical coverage, insures rentals as long as 42 days, and covers most high-end rental cars that normal credit cards do not, including popular 9-passenger standard vans. If you're renting a car in Europe, it's definitely the coverage to have. Here's more info.

Take Your Own GPS to Europe

If your European rental car has a built-in GPS it probably won't work except in the country in which the car is rented. European auto manufacturers charge extra to equip their cars' navigation systems with maps that cover countries other than those in which they are sold. And, since the vast majority of rental cars seldom are driven outside the country where they are rented, rental companies choose not to pay for the additional map software. Our recommendation? Take your own: you can buy a factory-refurbished Garmin Nuvi 275T online for about $135. It has maps for both North America and Europe. The major online auction website offers used 275s as low as $50. Read more here on driving with maps and a GPS in Europe. Get a quote on a European rental car here.

Great July-August Business Class Fare

For the first time in my memory, Business Class fares can be purchased for only a few hundred dollars more than economy. And that includes Lufthansa, with it's lie-flat business-class seats. For June 29 through September 2 departures, LH has these 14-day advance purchase roundtrip business class prices: from New York, $1538; from Chicago, $1738; and from San Francisco, $2278. Prices vary slightly from other Lufthansa gateways and, of course, do not include taxes and fuel surcharges which will be in excess of $700. Phone Laura at 800-521-6722 x 3 or get a written quote.

First Reviews on River Cruise Special

A few months ago we offered a two-for-one deal on a brand new Uniworld Cruise, The Treasures of Prague, the Rhine & Main. About two dozen of you took advantage of it and Roberta and Leo Gendron are the first to report on their experience aboard the just-remodeled, River Ambassador. Their comment: "Everything was perfect, we were treated like kings and queens." Not surprising; Uniworld was recently featured on the Today show where a visiting cruise expert deemed it the world's "best river cruise line."

As I said in a previous issue of ETR, the two best times to book a cruise are at the last minute and, for next year, right now. Uniworld 2012 offers pay-in-full savings from $800 to $2400 per couple on next year's sailings. The offer is good until June 30. Savings vary based on itinerary and cabin category. There are two new cruises for 2012; the 8-day Gems of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, Cologne to Brussels, includes a visit to Floriade, a world horticulture festival staged every 10 years in the Netherlands. Also new is the 17-day Grand Treasures of Europe from Brussels to Prague. Call 800-521-6722 x 2 for info.

A Europe Traveler's Notebook

Great Swiss Hotel: The afore-mentioned Gendrons also took our advice and stayed at one of my all-time favorites, the rustic, lake-side gem, Chalet du Lac, just across the Brienzersee from Interlaken in the tiny village of Iseltwald. It's advice frequently ignored mainly, I presume, because of the slightly remote location (18 minutes by bus from the Interlaken Ost rail station), but the Gendrons called it "the best possible place to stay." You'll like the fish restaurant and watching the lake on a summer day from your room's balcony.

Changing Dollars to Euros: Your ATM card is still the best. Read more...

Rail News: London to Paris via the Eurostar is now a mere 2-hours, 15-minutes. Some London to Brussels trains make the trip in less than two hours.

Luggage Sale: Get 25% off classy Hovercraft luggage at Travel Essentials.

Best, Most Overlooked, Free Europe Travel Info Source: List of tourist office websites of 18 European countries with mailing address, phone and URL.