Do As I Say...
Today we hauled out that collection of exhausted canvas duffels, duct tape and plastic bags we call luggage. It's time for another airplane ride. And the lovely folks at Swissair, bless them—anything to check, sir?—will apply the necessary baggage tags and send our shabby collection gently on its way without so much as a twitch of an eyebrow. Hand them a Hefty bag and they treat you as though it was a $2500 Louis Vuitton two-suiter.
Bad luggage notwithstanding, a trip to Europe is to us still a great adventure. But contemplating the adventure at hand would be more appealing if it didn't, like several that have preceded it, have a schedule. Adventures, almost by definition, cannot have a schedule. So do as I say, not as I do. And what I say is don't over-plan your trip. The best we've ever taken—in season or out—have been unstructured to the extent that we once landed in Frankfurt and didn't decide whether to first head north, south, east or west, until we were in the rental car. Take Michelin Red Guides (in Austria you'll have to make do with a Fodor's or a Frommer's) for hotels, restaurants and the dozens of other ways the Red Guides aid the auto traveler in Europe; Michelin's Green Guides to tell you what you're looking at, and maps of sufficient detail (scale 1:400,000 o.k., 1:200,000 much better) to guide you far from the Autobahn, down backroads connecting villages devoid of Big Macs and tourists. You really don't need much else: maybe some good books and walking shoes. You might miss a few museums and famous buildings but you'll meet Germans, Swiss and Austrians who still get a little excited over American tourists.
Clearing the Desk...
The German National Tourist Board has a new publication for inexpensive accommodations, Bed & Breakfast in Germany 94/95. It doesn't list the individual establishments (that roster might rival the New York phone book), rather it summarizes what is available, and at what price, in about 500 towns and villages. The guide gives the address of the local tourist office booking service for bed and breakfast or garni (no restaurant) hotels. Most accommodations are in private homes. Many offer rooms with private toilet and shower or bath. A quick perusal of the book indicates most rooms with private facilities cost from 50 DM ($30) to about 140 DM ($84). Prices drop sharply if you're willing to share a bath. Through symbols the guide also shows the recreational opportunities available in each town. Contact: German Tourist Office, 11766 Wilshire Blvd. #750 Los Angeles 90025, phone 310-575-9799, fax 310-575-1565
The Swiss Tourist Office has several free publications of interest. E & G Hotels is a guide to about 220 small guest houses. Most are in the countryside. Hotels Specially Suitable for Families lists about 100 hotels which cater to families by offering such facilities as supervised children's playroom, play area or garden, children's menu served before normal meal times and organized family activities. A special hotel guide for the disabled traveler is ready for distribution this spring and a fact sheet with travel tips for the disabled is now available. The brochure Swiss Farm Holidays is self-explanatory. Contact SNTO, 222 No. Sepulveda Blvd., #1570, El Segundo CA 90245, phone 310-335-5980, fax 310-335-5982.
While we recommend using credit cards (best exchange rate and transactions sometimes don't appear on your credit card bill for several weeks—an interest-free loan) as much as possible when traveling in Europe, you still, of course, need local currency. We advocate purchasing travelers checks in foreign currency before you leave the U. S. They are accepted readily at hotels, restaurants and even gas stations. The question is, what do you pay for them? American Express might offer no-fee checks but what is the exchange rate? Though your bank may charge a fee for foreign currency traveler's checks its exchange rate will probably be substantially better than American Express or Cook's, thus saving you money on the total transaction. Not all banks provide this service so you may have to shop to find the best deal. Ruesch International, a company which specializes in foreign currency exchange assures Gemütlichkeit that it offers the best exchange rates. The company charges $2 per currency, per person for traveler's checks in several currencies including German marks and Swiss francs. Sounds good but compare the exchange rate. Call Ruesch at 800-424-2923.
Budget-minded travelers should also know about inexpensive travel opportunities through Hosteling International-American Youth Hostels. For example, an eight-day adult cycling tour along the Danube that includes room, dinner and breakfast is just $475. Fourteen days of backpacking in Switzerland's Bernese Oberland, staying at hostels and Alpine huts is $825, including breakfasts and dinners. You must be a member. The cost for adults is $25. If you're 55 or older it's $15. Contact Hosteling International-American Youth Hostels 733 15th Street, N. W., #840, Washington DC 20005, phone 202-783-6161.
Dr. Fredric Kratina has written Gemütlichkeit to inquire about "any family or couples who would be willing to take in an American interested in German language enhancement, or to live close by, have constant contact and basically not speak English except in the most dire of circumstances." I have two suggestions: American International Home Stays places travelers in families in several countries including Germany—contact them at 800-876-2048—and the nonprofit Goethe Institute, which offers German language classes in Germany. The institute can arrange for the student to stay with a German family while enrolled in the classes. Goethe Institute, 530 Bush Street, San Francisco CA 94108, phone 415-931-0370, or Goethe Institute, 1014 5th Avenue, New York NY 10028, phone 212-439-8700.
A year or so ago, Chuck Moore retired from a large Southern California company. He and his Swiss wife Ingrid bought a place in Leuk halfway between Zermatt and Lake Geneva which they call the St. Barbara Bed & Breakfast Chalet. For rent are two lower level bedrooms which have a shared toilet and bath. The price for two persons, including breakfast, is just $45 plus local tax. Though I haven't yet seen their place, you're sure of a warm welcome. For information or reservations write Charles or Ingrid Moore, St. Barbara 136 CH-3953 Leuk, Switzerland, phone 27-634738.
Finally, Richard Davidson, president of Austria Ski, strongly recommends a different kind of travel book, The Whole is More (ISBN: 0-533-10398-3) by Austrian scholar, Heide Gondek. Mr. Davidson says the book "is not the usual travel guide; yet, it is a wonderful philosophical guide to all travel. I truly wish all my company's guests could adopt this book's viewpoint and profit more from their travel experience." Contact Vantage Press, 516 West 34th St., New York NY 10001, phone 800-882-3273.