Tales of a Traveler

Foggy, jet-lagged ruminations on a European trip that included stops in Vienna, Lucerne, the Bernese Oberland, Munich, Bad Reichenhall, and Berlin:

First, and most important: right now, this year, is the time to get across the Atlantic. Someday - and I have a feeling it will be sooner rather than later - we will look back on this summer as the good ol' days when things were dirt cheap for Americans in our part of Europe. Prices are almost too good to be true, especially in Germany and Austria. For example:

Here in Ashland, a pair of top-of the-line, French-made Mephisto, Gore-Tex walking shoes cost $255. In Vienna the same shoe sells for 2490 AS ($155).

An order of Garnelenspiee (grilled shrimp, absolutely fresh, with salad and a plate of the world's tastiest fried potatoes with Speck (ham/bacon) at Berlin's fabulous Rogacki market (which so far only Gemütlichkeit readers know about) is 17.85 DM ($8.11). Of course that's enough for two persons and they will happily divide the order. Huge glasses of a sprightly Bordeaux white wine, a perfect accompaniment, are 3.95 DM ($1.80).

A candlelit, three-course dinner for two in the rustically elegant dining room of the hotel Neu-Meran (see story page 1) near Bad Reichenhall, is about 82 DM ($37), not including beverages.

Double rooms in comfortable three-star hotels in major cities can be found at from $85-$125; substantially less in the countryside.

• On the other hand, a Vienna hotel owner who had just returned from Paris was still in shock over the cost of beer in the lobby of the Hotel George V, a cool $19 and yes that is a U.S. dollar sign in front of the 19.

• I fear there have been compromises in the making of my all-time favorite beer, Budvar from the Czech Republic. The last couple of years it's not been the same rich lager that first won me over. Austria's Gösser, however, was marvelous at Vienna's Gösserbier Klinik.

• When winter and spring air fares are so low - $350 to $450 - I notice couples purchasing three tickets in order to keep a middle seat open between them. The airlines must love it; one less passenger to feed, clean up after, or get belligerent and they still get paid.

• Let's hope a new airport is on the long list of great buildings to be constructed in Berlin. Either Tegel is too small to handle current passenger traffic or new boarding procedures are needed. We dutifully arrived two hours before our Swissair flight to Zürich. Check-in at Tegel is at the gate, immediately behind which is the boarding lounge. The check-in area has only about 12 seats. There are plenty of seats in the boarding lounge but no one was allowed to enter until about 45 minutes before flight time. Thus about 100 of us stood for more than an hour in the tiny check-in area, with nowhere else to go, clogging traffic and peering through glass into a deserted boarding lounge and its couple of hundred empty seats.

• That's my only complaint about Berlin, easily the most interesting and exciting city in our three countries - some say in all of Europe. The new film museum is stunning, the Hotel Art Nouveau (Leibnitzstr. 59, 10629 Berlin, tel.: + 49/030 327 744-0, fax: 327 744 4) is now the "official" Gemütlichkeit Berlin headquarters, and we already told you about Rogacki. We'll have a more complete update next month.

• For the first time we are now seeing restaurants marked "No Cell Phones." Some rail cars are signed "Quiet Zone," meaning no phones or noisy talk. (I always assumed the ability to speak rapidly at high volume for long periods without taking a breath was, like baseball, an American pastime. But when I began to ride European trains a few years ago, I discovered otherwise.) Loud applause from Gemütlichkeit.

• Germany's speedy ICE trains are great machines. Try to reserve one of the seats just behind the train's "driver" (engineer?, operator?) who sits, like a mad scientist, at a space-age console in the nose of the lead car. On the Munich-Berlin ICE we discovered that seats 11, 13 and 15 in car #28 offer a view over the driver's shoulder as you rocket down the track. Those seats are separated from the train's nose cone by only a few feet and a clear glass wall. It's like being in the cockpit of an airplane, except there is a much greater sensation of speed.

• The quietest, smoothest rail cars are the two-level commuter cars of Swiss Rail (SBB). You'll see them on main routes between Switzerland's largest cities. By the way, we did not reserve seats in advance on any Swiss train. No problem.

• And finally we should mention a couple of careless typos in last month's issue: the correct address for Ski Europe's excellent website is ski-europe.com/ and the German for Vienna of course is Wien, not Wein (wine). RHB

May 2001