River & Canal Cruising On Your Own

In our April issue on getting around in Europe we ignored the most comfortable way of all: sail the continent's canals and rivers in your own boat. Far fetched? Not as much as you might think. Paul and Linda Merschdorf of Alameda, California, did just that. After renting a canal boat in France a few years ago, and finding it such an enjoyable experience, they decided to sell their power cruiser on San Francisco Bay and purchase a used, 42-foot, diesel-engine canal boat in Holland. It was less expensive than most second homes.

It was difficult to give up their San Francisco boat but the idea of spending slow-paced summers in Europe on their own canal cruiser, Flojita (Spanish for little lazy one), was too good to pass up. Linda is a teacher in the Oakland school system and Paul has been successful in a number of advertising ventures.

As this is written they are in the midst of their second summer on the waterways of Europe. Last year they eased their way into the heart of France from Holland through Belgium. (Last winter, the boat was moored at a riverside marina in France's Bourgogne region.) Ultimately they plan to see Berlin, Prague, Dresden, Basel, perhaps Vienna, and certainly Paris. Using a cell phone and a laptop, Paul is able to dial-up the Internet from aboard Flojita and keep up with emails and at least let his clients know he's still alive. Food and supplies are purchased along the way.

Interestingly, the Merschdorfs meet other Americans, Canadians, Australians, and of course many Europeans doing exactly the same thing.

The tale of their first summer, which included a busted propeller far from any shipyard, a near capsize, scary trips through dark tunnels and churning locks, as well as a succession of hidden, charming little Belgian, Dutch and French towns, makes for pleasant reading in a book Paul has written entitled European Canals: Adventures Aboard the Canal Cruiser Flojita. If you'd like to know how the Merschdorfs did it, or just want an interesting read on a very different way of seeing Europe, see this Google listing.

Expert Travel Advice

Another book for the traveler, though not specific to Europe, is Anne McAlpin's Travel Tips You Can Trust. The author of the bestselling book, Pack It Up, Ms. McAlpin attended universities in Spain and Germany and started her travel career on cruise ships - she's been through the Panama Canal 98 times. An ability to cleverly communicate her ingenious packing methods has made her a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey, Good Morning America, the Today show and other daytime talk staples.

Now, with Travel Tips You Can Trust, Ms. McAlpin proves her expertise extends beyond being able to fit into an 18-inch rolling suitcase just the right combination of clothing, shoes and gear to be perfectly outfitted for every occasion on a two-month African safari.

Forgetting for a moment the sensible travel advice, of which there is some 250 pages worth, "Tips" earns its $16 price tag if only for the contact information and checklists (10 things to do early, men's and women's weekend wardrobe, crucial pre-departure items, etc.).

With the destination orientation of most travel guides these days, a general reference is a welcome addition. You'll find guidance on such basic topics as insurance, passports, immunization, and necessary travel documents from passports to child custody papers. There are chapters on family travel, women traveling alone, and good advice regarding security. There's also hard-to-find, offbeat info, such as requirements for children's' safety seats in automobiles, the low-down on kids flying alone, guidelines for tipping on cruise ships and a section on where to take your complaints.

Add Austrian Air

Last month in our story on airline ticket buying we failed to include the Austrian Airlines website. The site frequently offers low-price, online specials.

Saratz Gets Expensive

Regrettably for travelers, the Swiss Franc has strengthened versus the dollar by about 10% in the last few months. This, plus an increase in prices at certain hotels, has caused us to reevaluate some of our "Editors Choice" selections.

A longtime favorite in Pontresina, the Hotel Saratz, is now quoting high-season double rooms at 416 Sfr. ($275). When we first began to recommend the Saratz in 1998, doubles were 180 to 318 Sfr. ($115-$203). This is a very pleasant hotel but $275 edges toward five-star territory and there the Saratz is not. Try La Collina which quotes high-season doubles at about a third less.

Passport Warning

One reader found this out the hard way: in order to be allowed to leave the U.S. you must have at least six months left on your passport —RHB

July 2002