Subscribers recommend accommodations in Salzburg, Grindelwald, and Ehrwald.
Snowbound, Part II
This is a response to the "Snowbound" section in the March Gemütlichkeit "Dear Subscriber" column.
My impression is that the McKenzie family experiences were not typical, or should not have occurred. It is difficult to sympathize with visitors who were apparently inconvenienced, but not seriously at risk, as were many others at the same time.
The extent of the snowfall was not anticipated. In fact, it was one of the greatest in recent history. The avalanche situation became a regional, actually national, crisis requiring the mobilization of all emergency services, even those of the American military services.
Helicopter evacuation was provided without charge to several thousand guests in the Paznaun valley. In addition, these people were given temporary accommodation, free rail transportation back to their homes in Europe, and even generous assistance to return later to retrieve their automobiles (or to have them shipped home).
Of course, helicopter services were provided as a priority to areas of high risk. Other villages, such as Lech were considered secure, and visitors were urged to stay put. Voluntary departures were at the visitors' own expense. By the following Saturday, the normal end of European vacations, the road connections to Lech had been reopened.
Had the McKenzies followed these guidelines, it is unlikely that they would have any tale whatsoever to relate.
During the crisis week, our company had over 200 guests in various parts of the Alps in all possible problem permutations: guests in resorts that could not get out, guests out of resorts that could not get in, and even a few in relatively normal circumstances!
The reactions of the McKenzie family were certainly not those communicated by our guests. Using cellular telephones, we were able to keep in contact with our staff and guests in isolated locations, even when (rarely) telephones and electricity were out. Overall, people took the situation in stride, and even viewed it somewhat as a travel adventure.
We did not anticipate the stress on our American office.
First, one of our staff was from Galtür. Although it rapidly became apparent that her family was safe, it is an enormous impact losing six lives in a village of under six hundred. (Plus, of course, over 30 visitors.)
Second, we did not anticipate the wave of inquiries, some by phone, but mainly by Internet from all over the world, which peaked at about 20 per hour. For the better part of a week, updating and communication became a round-the-clock operation.
It is nothing short of amazing the differences that modern telecommunications have made. Special Internet sites were created, where we could obtain literally up-to-the-hour situation reports. We received continuous live newsfeeds, and even quasi-live video pictures from Austrian television ("Zeit im Bild").
My favorite compliment came from an engineer in the Czech Republic who was amazed that he could obtain faster, more-detailed, information from Houston, halfway around the world.
A measure of the resilience and confidence of our customers is that we did not have a single cancellation among over 400 guests departing on the weekend following the crisis. (Actually, we find it strange that Kosovo is causing greater concern.)
In these circumstances, to suggest "LITIGATION" is an inappropriate conclusion.
There is never any excuse for false or misleading information, or discourtesy in honoring tickets. However, your readers might better have been served by drawing their attention to the magnitude of the crisis and the valiant actions taken to achieve resolution.
(Ed. Note: Mr. Davidson is President of SkiEurope/AustroTours, a company which operates ski vacation tours to Europe, particularly Austria. He is also a longtime Gemütlichkeit subscriber who makes several valid and enlightening points.
We presented the McKenzie story because it was an interesting firsthand account of a tourist in a situation most of our readers could identify with. That this family was merely inconvenienced while many others, at exactly the same time, were suffering terribly is an absolutely right-on point that we probably should have made instead of merely telling the story. We must say, however, that if the McKenzies were actually not told about Lech's isolation until 48 hours after the fact, their hotel acted irresponsibly.
As to the "can you spell LITIGATION" remark, it was a failed attempt at humor and was based on a cryptic comment Mr. McKenzie made regarding the bus line operator who struck him during their argument over the validity of the family's bus tickets. His comment was in the Financial Times story but left out of our synopsis of it.
If, in telling the McKenzie story, Gemütlichkeit seemed insensitive to the thousands who truly suffered as a result of these storms, it was not intended and we apologize to anyone who has been offended.)
Salzburg Hotel Find
Just read the Gemütlichkeit issue on Salzburg hotels. Here is another hotel in Salzburg that no one ever mentions. Stayed here in 1995 and again in 1998.
That is the Apostolatshaus der Pallottiner (Mönchsberg 24, Postfach 501, A-5010 Salzburg, tel. +43/0662/846543, fax 846347-86). The location is spectacular on top of the Mönchsberg while, at the same time, right in the center of the city.
The Apostolatshaus is near the Café Winkler and an easy walk to the Hohensalzburg or a quick elevator ride down to the old city.
Rooms are especially clean. Private shower and WC, but no telephone or TV. Breakfast included.
Cost in peak season for a double for two nights was 1780 AS, or about $70 per night. Much less cost than those other places on the left bank (I've stayed there) and far more peaceful and picturesque.
They very much want more tourists. The place was not very full last July.
We would like to tell you about our hidden gem in Grindelwald, Switzerland.
We have visited the Chalet-Hotel Alte Post (fax +41/33/8534288) at least five times during the past seven years and it has been always a delightful stay. The hotel has 14 double rooms with balcony views of the Eiger. It is located adjacent to the First Station lift and across the street from the Sunstar Hotel. The rooms are spacious and super clean with full baths. Our room last September, Number 35, was 180 Sfr. ($122) with breakfast.
An added bonus is the kitchen. Rudi and Anagret are the owners with Rudi in charge of the kitchen and Ana the hotel as well as the hostess for the evening meal. A delightful couple and an excellent place to stay in Grindelwald.
The reason we keep returning there is because of the innkeepers, the Pesendorfer family and their astonishing staff. They are so charming and accommodating to everyone that even though most of their guests are from Europe, they accept Americans quite cordially. Certainly their treatment of us has been superb.
Also included is information on the Alpenappartements Cristall, (Thrleweg 34, A-6632 Ehrwald, tel. +43/5673 23760, fax 5673 2228, apartments for two from about $60 per day).
The two families who run the building are delightful and try to help in anyway they can. We have spent several winter vacations there because it was so much less expensive and it allowed us the freedom to eat where and when we wished instead of taking half-board. There are lovely small markets in town where meat and produce and necessities can be bought and it is very easy to cook in the apartment. There are many, many Dutch people who visit there for the holidays in February and they always are nice and easy with Americans. This is a place for families on small budgets.
The activities in Ehrwald and the entire valley are rather simple. They include cross-country and downhill skiing in winter. In summer, the walking is superb and can either be very demanding or very easy. Both these choices offer so much to quiet, thoughtful American travelers and their families. There are no "bells and whistles" in this town but there are such superb opportunities to enjoy the countryside without any real problems as long as "attitude" is left at home in America. These are very nice, loving people who have become friends over the years. So this recommendation is totally biased.
Thank you for Gemütlichkeit, we love it and use it when we travel. In a world gone mad with technology and instant gratification, it is so reassuring to find a publication that simply describes what is available and how to enjoy it.
Anne Patricia Smith
Stony Brook NY
(U.S. Dollar prices quoted in this issue of Gemütlichkeit may be inaccurate for these reasons:
* Prices in local currency have not been updated since the date of publication of this newsletter, and...
* The dollar prices shown were obtained by using exchange rates in effect at the time of publication.)