Going in Style
Like the Pope and the Dalai Lama, my life is guided by a few simple precepts. One of them is never eat beef in an airplane. I don't care what they tell you on those microwave cooking shows, radar can't cook meat. But there I was at 37,000 feet tucking into a lovely, pink, thick, juicy filet served with wild rice and an amazingly tasty morel mushroom sauce. It was the best airline meal in recent memory. Who did it? Swissair, of course. Los Angeles to Geneva, Zürich to Los Angeles, our high opinion of this airline was bolstered every step of the way. From the fast, smooth check-in to speedy luggage retrieval—in both directions—we have nary a complaint. People who tell me the Swiss are cold and unfriendly have never met Swissair flight attendants. On the endless return flight we were shown three movies: Scent of a Woman, Chaplin and Consenting Adults. Naturally the transatlantic Legion of Decency had whacked out even the mildest swear words but it helped pass the time on an 11-hour plus flight.
Good food? Flight attendants that actually attend to passengers? I grant you these are definitely airline innovations of the 1990s, but Swissair isn't stopping there. By the time this reaches you, passengers in their first class cabins will be able to choose movies prior to their flight and, once on board, swing their very own video screen out of the armrest slot and view their very own film(s) in the privacy of their very own seat. This is an innovation most of us will never experience, unless we rack up a ton of frequent flyer miles. But it is evidence of this airline's real commitment to being the best. Frankly, I think they are.
Inexpensive Business Class
One of the best travel deals around is the "Relax Class" on Swissair's charter subsidiary, Balair. I have spoken to subscribers who fly Balair year after year. They get same big, comfortable seats and pampering in-flight service as aboard scheduled carriers. Balair flies the new Airbus 310/325 from Newark, Orlando, Miami, Bangor, San Francisco and Anchorage. High-season economy roundtrip from Newark is $660, Relax Class is $1,040. From San Francisco prices are $890 and $1,450; from Florida, $840 and $1240; from Anchorage $996 and $1,440 and from Bangor there is no Relax Class service, only coach at $720. There are discounts for children and in some cases shoulder season prices are slightly lower. Service is weekly. Phone 800/322-5247.
'Vickie Young' Scores Again
While we're on the subject of excellence, earlier this month we were fortunate enough to again find ourselves at the Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken. We used it as a base to explore the Jungfrau region of the Bernese Oberland. Two nights in the hotel's La Terrasse Restaurant reaffirm its place among the best restaurants we've reviewed (Gemütlichkeit, Feb. '93) in the past 18 months. As you know, blue jeans are our preferred dinner attire, a predilection that winds us up in the bistros and gasthausen of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. But about once a week in the course of the trip, a little candlelight, a good bottle of wine and some haute cuisine are in order. For this we have to dress up. I put on a tie, Liz wears nylons. As we were leaning back in our chairs at La Terrasse, after a particularly satisfying engorgement, Liz gave the food the highest possible praise when she said it was worth the tie and the nylons.
What to Drive
Over-priced and over-rated as rental cars in our view are the Mercedes Benz 190 and the BMW 316i or 318i. They are typically more than double the price of an Opel Astra or VW Golf but don't come close to delivering twice the value. In fact, they are only marginally more satisfactory. Trunk space in both categories of cars is about the same (14 cubic feet), the MBZ and BMW do have more power, better road handling and are heavier cars but not enough, in our opinion, to justify the extra expense. Three or four persons traveling together will have more trunk space and more passenger space for less money in an Opel Omega, Ford Scorpio or VW Passat.
Car Rental Nightmare
Here's a story to give one pause. It was told to me by a Gemütlichkeit subscriber who rented a car in Germany and drove it to Hungary. His first day in the country the car was stolen leaving him with the cars keys and nothing else. Our subscriber had taken the precaution of purchasing Collision Damage Waiver insurance so he owes the car rental company nothing. However, the trunk was full of luggage and his estimated loss of personal belongings is near $7,000, which is not covered by any rental car insurance. Had he used a credit card to pay for his rental and cover the CDW he still would not have been covered for the theft of his belongings.
That set me to worrying about driving around Europe with cameras, camcorders and laptop computers in the trunk. I was relieved to learn that as part of my homeowners policy, my insurance company, United Services Automobile Association, does provide worldwide coverage for such losses. Whether that is a standard feature of most such policies, I do not know, but my advice is to find out if you are covered, well in advance of any European trips, particularly those that include countries where automobile theft is more common than it is in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.