Must Book Swissair by Dec. 31

Subscribers who wish to take advantage of the special Gemütlichkeit subscriber discounts on Swissair in 2001 are strongly advised to book no later than December 31. That is the date when the current agreement between Swissair and Gemütlichkeit expires. Renewal seems unlikely.

Over the past two years, in order to streamline operations and reduce costs, Swissair has undergone significant personnel and procedural changes. The airline has told Gemütlichkeit that the administrative cost of tracking and ticketing Gemütlichkeit subscribers no longer justifies the discounts provided. We proposed a booking and ticketing option that would have greatly simplified the reservation and ticketing procedure (or so it seemed to us), but to no avail.

We still believe Swissair has the best ground and inflight personnel of any airline flying the Atlantic and remains the best way to get to Europe from North America.

If, due to the demise of this program you will make your next trip to Europe on an airline other than Swissair, you are encouraged to share that information with Swissair management.

Reto Wilhelm,
General Manager for North America
41 Pinelawn Road
Melville NY 11747
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Silvio Schmid,
West Coast Manager
1970 Broadway #910
Oakland CA 94612
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Phoning Home

There is something to be said for travel in Europe during the good old days before technology when there was no CNN on your hotel room's small black and white TV, a phone call to the U.S. was so expensive it was made only in direst emergency, and, of course, there were no Internet cafés or online hookups in hotel rooms where one could browse the Web for a reservation for the next hotel or send an email back to office or home. What's to be said for those low-tech days is the sense one had of being far away and unreachable.

But a case can also be made for technology. All these new gadgets make being on the road just that much easier. It won't be long, for example, before I will be able to spend part of the year in Europe and still publish this newsletter.

But one of the difficulties yet to be overcome is voice communication. It's still expensive to call home from Europe. AT&T's USA Direct service is over $5 for the first minute of calling and more than $2 for each minute thereafter. Of course, there are cheaper calling plans but you still have to have a phone. In Europe, you probably don't spend much time in your hotel room and, when you're out and about, public phones are hard to find and not very convenient.

Cell phones would seem to hold the immediate answer, but we have different standards in the U.S. than in Europe. The Nokia or Motorola you use at home won't work overseas.

Last year I wandered into an electronics store in Berlin and inquired about purchasing a cell phone for use in Europe. The prices were reasonable but I couldn't sign up for the monthly service because I had no European address.

Now, subscriber M J Weisman of Bala Cynwyd, PA, seems to have found a solution. He recently purchased a phone and activated it with a prepaid electronic card known as a SIM. No local address - beyond his hotel - was required.

Mr. Weisman bought a dual band Ericsson phone from Niedermeyer in Vienna (stores on the Ring, Graben and Kärntnerstrasse) for $100 and paid about $25 for the SIM, which provides the phone number. Instead of subscribing to a service he purchases postage stamp sized electronic calling cards which are loaded with a specified amount of calling time. A typical card might contain 500 to 1000 AS ($32-$64) in calling credit which, in Austria, is used up at 9.7 AS (62 cents) per minute for outgoing calls to the U.S. and 6 AS (38 cents) per minute for local calls. Unlike the U.S., however, incoming calls are not charged.

For the traveler who wants to stay in touch with family or business, the advantages are obvious: from wherever your cell phone works you can initiate relatively inexpensive calls to virtually anywhere and receive incoming ones. How many times, for example, have you had to hang around your hotel waiting for a phone call? Now you can get it at a sidewalk café or hiking in the forest; a horrifying prospect for some, but liberating for many others.

One small complication: you'll need a SIM card (and thus a separate phone number) for each country in which you wish to use your phone. Be sure, too, to get a dual band phone.

Web Site of the Month

When discussing the role of technology in travel, the Internet, of course, comes first to mind. The changes it continues to bring are of such magnitude that words like huge and life-changing seem ineffectual in describing them. Book hotel rooms, cars and flights without picking up the phone or visiting a travel agent. Last month, using United Airline's much improved website, I booked a flight at a special "Internet price" and was also able to select seats from an on-screen chart.

In the last few issues we have been running a short list of the Web sites we think are the most useful to travelers to our three countries (see page 5). This month we have added a new one;

For some time we have wondered what Michelin would do with its unique and valuable database of hotels and restaurants. We now know; they're giving it away. You can access the entire database and it won't cost you a dime.

When you reach the Website, simply click on "hotels and restaurants," use the drop-down menu to choose a country (Germany is Allemagna, Switzerland Suisse and Austria is Autriche) then type in your destination city. What you will see is the same list of hotels and restaurants you'll find in the Michelin Red Guide for that country. (Remember there is no Red Guide for Austria though some cities, notably Salzburg and Vienna, are part of other Red Guides.)

Does this mean the end of the printed guide? Not yet. The greatest value of the Red Guide is having it with you on a trip. Features like the hundreds of city maps that spot hotels, the front-of-the-book maps that direct readers to the best hotels and restaurants, and simply having the guide at hand in the car and in your hotel room are still essential. Until we can get this same information on a very small, very portable device that can access the Internet from anywhere in Europe, including an automobile, the bound Red Michelin should still be the first guidebook to go into your suitcase.

There's one other excellent feature. For this one, click on "prepare your route." Type in a departure city and a destination city. As many as five stopover cities can also be chosen. There are also five route categories: Michelin's recommended route, a no-tolls route, the shortest route, the quickest route, and a route that favors motorways. Clicking on "plan your route" yields a route map and a list of information that might have taken a full day's research in pre-Internet days. Naturally the map can be enlarged by clicking on it and of course you get the distance in miles and kilometers plus all the highway numbers with complete directions. But there is more.

If you choose a Berlin-Munich route via Dresden and Prague, for example, you get a list of the documents required to cross the border and drive in the Czech Republic.

On your route's list of cities, next to each town listed in the Red Guide is a Red Guide icon. Click on it and you get the Red Guide listing of hotels and restaurants in that city. Other clicks get you a map of the area and directions.

Though these are the site's main elements, there are several other interesting and useful features. It deserves your attention.

Long live technology.

October 2000