This is gonna be one of those desk clearers. A month in which we fill this space with a little administrative business as well some odds and ends floating around my desk and in that trackless void between my ears.
First, it is my sworn and sacred duty to remind you what a good deal it is being a Gemütlichkeit subscriber. One begins, of course, with the newsletter itself, though modesty prohibits me from exalting it here. What I do want to discuss is the growing list of perks that add value to your subscription over and above these eight monthly pages of pure gold.
We are announcing this month that Gemütlichkeit subscribers now get a 10% discount on all Travel Essentials merchandise (see ad in insert or catalog sent last month with your newsletter). For example, the Michelin Red Guide for Germany which sells in stores for $25.95. As a subscriber, you pay $23.36. Or the popular Travelpro Crew Series, 22" roll-aboard suitcase at $199, already well below the MSRP of $290. With your subscriber discount it's only $179. Of course, they add a shipping charge, but that's offset by the fact that you pay no sales tax because the merchandise is sent from Oregon.
Another recently added goodie is that you can now order any of the dizzying array of European rail passes from our toll-free 800-521-6722 hotline. Rail Europe tells us there is no such thing as a discount on these passes, but for Gemütlichkeit subscribers they have agreed to waive the customary $10 shipping and handling charge. For more information, see page three of this month's advertising insert.
You already know about the Swissair reduced fares. They range from $50 to $600 per ticket, depending on various factors. See the February, 1998, Gemütlichkeit for details or, if you don't have that issue, call us at 800-521-6722 and we'll tell you how to obtain the fares at the lower rate.
We are exploring a discount possibility with a couple of hotel groups but for now there is nothing to report.
• A few months ago we reported the availability of low weekend hotel rates to be found on the Internet at priceline.com/. The best deals recently - and these seem to be continuing week after week - are room rates of 135 Sfr. ($91) at the Inter-Continental Hotel Zürich, $113 per night at the Forum Hotel Praha in Prague, 120 DM ($67) at the Forum Hotel Hamburg, 162 DM ($90) at the Forum Hotel Leipzig, 1550 AS ($121) at the Hotel Inter-Continental Vienna and 125 DM ($69) at the Forum Hotel Berlin.
However, when I attempted to make a reservation at the Berlin hotel, the on-line booking system offered a rate of 150 DM ($83) still an almost unbelievable price.
• Frequent business traveler to Germany, Bob Gillespie, of Lake Bluff, Illinois, says the best coach seats on United Airlines Boeing 777 transatlantic flights are bulkhead seats A, B, J and K of Row #16. Next best are the same seats in the Exit Row, #30. He says the bulkhead seats offer a shred of isolation and enough room for a 5-10" human being to fully extend his or her legs. According to Mr. Gillespie, there is enough room in front of the exit row seats that he has seen passengers sleeping on the floor there. These eight seats are usually reserved for members of United's Premiere frequent flyer program, but even if you're not one of those it can't hurt to ask.
• You may have noticed we've recently kicked up our coverage of Austria a notch. No special reason, other than we felt we hadn't been giving the country its fair share of space over the past couple of years. And now comes a New York Times story that says Austria's share of the world tourism market last year declined to 7.6% from 12% in 1976. In addition, the Austrian National Statistics Office reports a 12% drop for July in the number of vacationers. Occupancy rates in Vienna hotels, though up slightly in 1997 to 61.7%, are still last among 10 top European cities.
We at Gemütlichkeit view this as an opportunity; like buying stocks when the market takes a big drop. What's bad news for Austria is good news for those who like to get away from those vast schools of tourists who swim from London to Paris to Rome to Venice to Florence to Provence. If you like near empty museums and palaces, uncrowded restaurants, and hotels that greet you with open arms, this may be your year to see Austria. With fewer tourists and more vacant rooms, hotels around the country could be in a mood to bargain.
• Our lead story in May will be on Berlin, a city which, in my opinion, should be everyone's number one European destination in 1998. I'll tell why in May, but in the meantime read R.W. Apple Jr.s piece on Berlin in the January issue of Gourmet Magazine. Mr. Apple is chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times and - I don't mind telling you and hope he doesn't either - a longtime Gemütlichkeit subscriber.
• Another subscriber-scribe is Bill Stall of the Los Angeles Times. He recently dropped us a long letter after a Swiss vacation during which he and his wife, Anne, spent eight nights in a Wengen apartment rented from the Von Allman family. They paid a modest $65 per night for Jungfrau-view digs with fireplace, kitchen, dining and living areas and bedroom, above the Chas. Gruebi dairy and cheese store. The Wengen tourist office can provide all the details on such accommodations.
Other Stall trip recommendations include the Romantik-Hotel Julen in Zermatt (great Matterhorn view, 212 Sfr./$143 half board), the Swiss Handwerke store at the Zürich Bahnhof, and the Mövenpick Hotel (better than the Hilton) near the Zürich Airport.