Hello Internet

(This article was written in 1996)

Today, class, we're going to talk about the Internet. You may have heard of it.

One year ago this month we wrote that the idea of travel planning via computer, using an online service such as America Online, or the Internet, was one whose time has not yet come. A telephone, a savvy travel agent and some good print resources, we decided, was still the best and fastest way to do the job.

One year later, things have changed. As a resource for travelers, the Internet's World Wide Web is exploding and those who don't have access to it are liable to be left behind at least for now.

I say "for now" because it looks like the technology and hardware required to access the Internet is going to very soon get a lot more user-friendly. Most of us who go online now must use a computer, a modem and a regular phone line. Data transmission on the Web text, pictures and, in some cases, sound and video can be a slow process. Text moves quickly, but graphics are much slower. Depending on equipment, and the complexity of the graphics to be viewed, it can take from a few seconds to several minutes for a Web page to reveal itself on a computer screen. Data transmission over cable wires, however, is infinitely faster and speedier modems are also on the way. Even as this is written, TCI, the country's biggest cable-TV operator, is offering Internet access via cable in some markets. The time is nearer than we imagine when well be able to click up Zürich's WWW site on our TV screens as easily as we can CNN.

But even with the current limitations, it is now worth your while to do trip planning and research online, especially on the Internet.

Online Services

With respect to the online services mentioned above, however, not much has changed. America Online, the service I use, is still mostly "big hat and no cattle." The travel information available simply doesn't live up to the promo and the promise.

For example, under Destination Europe in AOL, one can choose Austria, find a section on "Lodgings in Austria" and then click "Vienna". There you'll find a listing of about a dozen of the best-known hotels in the city: Sacher, Hilton, Marriott, Imperial, Bristol, König von Ungarn, etc. Big deal; the hotels everybody knows about.

Somewhat better is a listing of about 150 Austrian Bed and Breakfasts in some100 cities. Many, however, turned out not to be B & Bs but expensive hotels such at Schloss Dürnstein in Dürnstein and Schloss Mönchstein in Salzburg, one of Austria's most exclusive hotels. And the list contains only address, phone and fax number, no prices.

An Online Bed & Breakfast Guide carries the same listing for Austrian B&Bs as found under Destination Europe, but again, no rates. (You get a lot more information by calling the Austrian Tourist Office and asking for their guide to Austrian hotels.) One German hotel on the B & B listing is Schloss Kronberg, a magnificent edifice and hotel (Eisenhower's post-war headquarters) but hardly a B&B.

To be fair, there is a lot of travel info on AOL and I haven't checked out every site, but what I've seen seems pretty standard guidebook stuff that doesn't stray far from the beaten path.

Surfin' the Net

It's a much different story on the Internet. The World Wide Web is like a limitless maze of rooms (web sites) some shabby, some grand, some gray, some colorful, some small, some huge. In each room/site are several doors; each of which leads to another room, that leads to other rooms, that leads to other rooms and on and on and on. If you get lost, as you certainly will, you simply push a button and you're back where you started.

The doors are hyperlinks, which are underlined words or phrases describing the room/web site behind the door. Simply click on the word or phrase and you're taken to another web site. Each site has an address.

Over the next few paragraphs your eyes may tend to glaze over, but try to stay awake and maybe, if you're not already a Web surfer, you'll get a glimpse of the potential of this ocean of information.

In "Subway Navigator" one can determine the route between any two underground stations in more than 50 of the world's largest cities. I chose Vienna. A map is provided and if you don't know the names of the stations you simply click on starting and ending points on the map. The route, including the name of every stop and the approximate time of travel, then appears on the screen. Utterly fantastic.

While at "Subway Navigator", I noticed the following hyperlink (door); "Consult CityNet to get more information on Vienna." I decided to head in that direction. At CityNet's Vienna page (http://www.city.net/countries/austria/vienna/) I found numerous hyperlinks (doors) promising much information about Vienna, including Maps, Sights, Food & Drink, 'City Info, Arts & Entertainment and Concierge. I chose Concierge, then Food & Drink and found a long list of more choices, including one titled Beer Travelers Guide. I decided to check it out (as you see, at this point I started to veer off course) and suddenly was in an entirely new world from where I could access a list of some 700 U.S. brewpubs, get details on beer festivals throughout the world plus barrels of other beer info. This, I believe, is called "surfing" the Net.

I elected to go back to the "Food & Drink" page where these choices were available: Beer Travelers Guide; Beer World by "J"; BeNeLux Beer Guide; Calendar of Beer Events in Europe; Eric's Beer and Homebrewing Page; Real Beer Guide; World-Wide Web Virtual Library: Beer; A la Carte Guide to North American Restaurants and Lodging; EaTneT: A Localized Restaurant Directory; Epicurious Food; Cooking and Recipes; Fodors Restaurant Index; Restaurant Guide Worldwide; World Guide to Vegetarianism; World Wide Restaurant Guide; Zagat Dine; The German Wine Page; The Wine Page; World-Wide Web Virtual Library: Wine; World Wide Wines; Wine Information and Wine Net News.

By now I think you can see that the WWW is motherlode of travel information.

Switzerland Online

On another exploration, I discovered a web page for Switzerland. Using its search capability I found a site containing an alpha listing of Zürich hotels. Now here is a real hotel source; it lists nearly 200 hotels from the grandest to the simplest. Selecting at random the modest, two-star Hotel Fischer, here is a sample of the info provided:

Fischer Hotel, Schaffhauser-strasse 520, 8052 Zürich, Telefon: 01 301 27 55, Telefax: 01 302 58 42

Outside of the city center, 5 minutes from the airport. Family atmosphere. Room with bath/WC. For longer stays, there are one-bedroom-apartments available. Parking available, own bakery. Free parking in front of the hotel. 3 or 4 bedrooms on request. Pets on request. From main station by tram 10 or 14 in direction to "Seebach" until the end station. From the airport by bus #768 till station Seebach.

Single room, wash-basin 83.00 Fr.; Single room, bath/shower, WC, 104.00 Fr.; Double room, wash-basin, 64.00 Fr.; Double room, bath/shower, WC, 72.00 Fr.; Triple-room, bath/shower, WC, 62.00 Fr.; Four-bed room, bath/shower, WC, 56.00 Fr. Prices per night and person, service and tax included. These average prices are subject to change.

We have passed from the realm of parlor tricks to something that has real application. I could have made a reservation online.

Munich's Super Site

Another terrific site is Munich Online. There's a load of good stuff here but my favorite page is a listing of hundreds of restaurants placed in 41 categories by cuisine: Bavarian, Bohemian, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, etc. In addition to address, phone number and hours of operation, the site allows visitors to leave comments and to rate each restaurant on a scale of 1-5 in four separate categories food, drink, service and ambiance with 1 being the highest. These are compiled and available online. Click on a hypertext and see the restaurant's composite rating as well as what other diners have said about it.

I decided to checkout Tantris, a Michelin two-star and widely considered Munich's best restaurant. The composite rating was 1.3, very high. The most recent rating was made the previous day, was in English and gave the restaurant a "1" in all four categories. The comment read, "The best restaurant in Germany." A fantastic feature!

There is also a list of some 300 hotels, a city map, schedules of events, information on museums and galleries, theaters, music and virtually every address and phone number a visitor or potential visitor could possibly want.

These are just a handful of the literally thousands of Web sites that will be of use. Let us know your favorite Web addresses and we'll pass them on.

If you don't yet have access to the Internet all I can say is time's a wastin'. RHB

September 1996