Digging Out

Come burrow with me through a desk littered with newspaper clippings, unanswered subscriber correspondence, guide books, press releases, faxes, travel brochures and scribbled phone notes. Let's see if we can make something of it.

  • In its August issue, the conscience of the travel industry, Consumer Reports Newsletter, in a review of more than 20 travel newsletters, made Gemütlichkeit an "Editors Choice" and called it "a real find for the frequent visitor to German-speaking Europe." I'd bow - but things are getting a little thin on top and it's embarrassing.
  • For the first time, Balair (officially now Balair-CTA), the Swissair subsidiary, will continue to operate its Tuesday flight from San Francisco to Zürich through the fall and winter. The stopover city will change from Halifax to Calgary, thereby shortening the trip by one hour. Also, starting November 2, Balair will offer a year-round Zürich-Calgary-Honolulu flight.
  • Subscriber Herbert St. Goar hopes when we do our story on Baden-Baden that we will mention Steigenberger Badischer Hof, a hotel Mr. St. Goar chooses because it is the only one with an inside thermal pool. Baden-Baden is on our publication schedule for this fall, but we missed the Badischer Hof so it won't be part of our story. You'll have to take Mr. St. Goar's word (for which I unhesitatingly vouch) on it. He also recommends the Restaurant Stahlbad, where he says the food is much better than at the Brenner's Park.
  • Bill Stall, a Los Angeles Times writer and Gemütlichkeit subscriber, visits Switzerland frequently to ski, hike and mountain climb. You may have read his articles—which are picked up by newspapers across the country—in the travel section of your local paper. In a recent note to us he described the three-star City Hotel in Bern as "run down and seedy" and the staff "largely invisible and not terribly helpful." He called the Einstein apartment at 49 Kramgasse, where Einstein wrote the theory of relativity, a "real treat." And we are in agreement that Bern's famed bear pit is rather sad.
  • We have had many positive comments about our 1992 Hotel of the Year, the Geiger in Berchtesgaden. However, not everyone has come away enamored. J. B. Jamieson of Atherton, CA, termed his experience there "Godawful." His room, Number 12 in the main building, had no heat in September and "secondhand, Salvation Army furniture." In the dining room, after a series of loud crashes from the kitchen, the waiter said there would be a short delay with dinner. The meal took three hours. He said he saw no sign of the Geiger family—father or son—and the desk person was a "teenager." The Jamieson's cut short their visit, leaving after one disastrous night.

Another subscriber, whose name I have misplaced, told me about a major malfunction of his room's toilet. The problem was never resolved, even after several discussions with management.

Our own experiences at the Geiger have been terrific, but it's been a couple of years and things change. Anyone been there lately?

  • The Jamieson's did, however, ask us to pass along their recommendation for a short excursion from Poschiavo, in the southeastern tip of Switzerland. Heading south from Poschiavo the train stop is Le Prese. From there it's a short distance to Hotel Le Prese (phone 82/50333, fax 92/50835) on Lago di Poschiavo where they report a delightful lunch on the hotels terrace overlooking the lake. They also liked Hotel Grüner Baum, Gemütlichkeit's 1993 Hotel of the Year.
  • In a series on the worlds best restaurants, the International Herald Tribunes restaurant critic, Patricia Wells, picks the top tables in Switzerland. Her choices are: #1 Restaurant Fredy Girardet in Crissier, near Lausanne, phone 21/634 0505; #2 Restaurant Pierroz (Hotel Rosalp) in Verbier, phone 26/31 63 23; and, #3 Petermanns' Kunststube, in Küsnacht, a Zürich suburb, phone 1/910 0715. For what she terms "casual dining" the top three picks are: #1 La Grappe d'Or in Lausanne, phone 212/323 0760; #2 Au Vieux Valais, in Verbier, phone 26/31 69 55; #3 Kronenhalle, in Zürich, phone 1/251 66 69. Gemütlichkeit has reviewed four of the six restaurants, having not yet been to Girardet or Au Vieux Valais. We like all four but Kronenhalle is the most entertaining "place to be" and La Grappe d'Or has the best food. I'm not sure how Ms. Wells defines "casual dining" but to me it's blue jeans and prices that don't resemble my monthly mortgage payment. None of these six qualify on either score. The least expensive is Kronenhalle where you figure to drop about $50 per person for a two or three course meal and ordinary wine. At Girardet, dinner for two with a bottle of appropriate wine will be from $300 to $400.

She says Switzerland is a "nation where the food can be frankly frumpy (you'll still see lots of veal cordon bleu on the menu)." This from someone who hails from the land of chicken fried steak and hot roast beef sandwiches? Lighten up, Patty. Even France isn't immune to "frumpy" food. Ever heard of french fries...er, I mean pommes frites?

  • Earlier this month I spent a week in our retail travel store Travel Essentials in Ashland, Oregon. As usual for this time of year, the town was full of tourists, most of them to see Shakespeare and other plays in the three festival theaters. It gave me an opportunity to talk to people on their way to all corners of the world, including some to Europe. I came away with a couple of impressions: Americans don't like to spend money on maps. "Hey, just give me a map of Europe." "Oh, I got a nice map of Germany from the tourist office." It is unthinkable that even the smallest California hamlet would not appear on a map of the state. But that's not true in Europe. A few months ago, for example, we published a letter from a subscriber about the charming village of Regensberg, north of Zürich. We soon began receiving calls from readers asking if we hadn't confused Regensberg with Regensdorf, a small town, also north of Zürich. Well, there really is a Regensberg. It just isn't on every map of Switzerland, including the one distributed free by the Swiss Tourist Office. I suppose since California is substantially larger than Germany, and we need only a single map to guide us around the state, it seems logical that we ought to be able to get along with just one map in Germany. You, who have been there, know otherwise, but the concept of toting five or six maps (at $5.95 a pop) to cover only a portion of a small country is one I had trouble getting across. (Incidentally, if you're Ashland bound, the three best restaurants in town are Thai Pepper, Cucina Biazzi and New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro.)

My second impression is that there are a lot of very good travel guides that have come on the market in the last few years.

For budget travelers, the Rough Guide series, published in London, the new Berkeley Guides, and Australia-based Lonely Planet Guides are fat references full of practical advice, phone & fax numbers, addresses and destination information. Unlike the more straightforward old standbys, such as Fodor's and Frommer's, the authors of these books don't shy away from expressing an opinion. You may not agree with the point of view but it makes for livelier reading.

The most spectacular new travel books are the Eyewitness Guides from Dorling Kindersley of London. These gorgeous guides to London, Paris, Rome and New York feature 3-D graphics, hundreds of full color photos, a rugged binding and are beautifully printed. Good gifts for anyone heading to one of these cities. Equally elegant are guidebooks entitled Vienna and Amsterdam, published by Knopf.

July 1994