Europe will be less expensive this year. Cheaper, in fact, than it has been for a few years. The dollar has edged past 1.64 Deutsche Mark and 1.44 Swiss francs. Two years ago, in the spring, it was more like 1.40 DM and 1.10 Sfr. That's about a 17% increase against the mark (the Austrian schilling is tied to the mark and so rises and falls at the same rate) and about a 31% increase vs. the franc. Coupled with very low car rental rates (in many cases cheaper in Germany than in the U.S.) and the continuing good value in transatlantic air fares, Europe is starting to look like a bargain again.
In 1995, the best double room at Munich's Hotel Domus was 300 DM or $214. Right now, the price is still 300 DM, but at an exchange rate of 1.64 it costs $183, a drop of $31. In the spring of 1995, the best room at the Hotel l'Ermitage, in Vufflens (Switz.) near Morges, was 380 Sfr. or $345. Today, the price is 400 Sfr. which, at the current exchange rate, translates to $278, or $67 lower than in '95.
With a strengthening dollar you might be wise to alter your buying strategy. Beware these days of advance purchase deals, hotel vouchers, for example whose prices are guaranteed in dollars. Set months ago, such prices were based on foreign currencies that were stronger then than now. In fact, prices for all U.S. dollar-guaranteed products for travel in Germany, Austria and Switzerland should be coming down over the next 60 to 90 days.
Its time to get out the suitcases.
German Wine Tasting Guide
If we wine-loving travelers to Germany were football players, it would be time for the traditional celebratory bucket of iced Gatorade to be dumped on the head of one Carol Sullivan.
Carol, you see, is the Executive Director of the German Wine Information Bureau in New York and was a catalyst in the publication of one of the most useful, most needed new travel tools we've seen in years.
Those of you who, when driving the wine regions of Germany, wonder which wine-makers welcome unannounced visitors, will never again board an airplane to Germany without, Vintners to Visit, a series of three pocket-size guidebooks produced by the German Wine Information Bureau.
The booklets, which are free, contain information on several hundred German wineries regarding tour and tasting hours, languages spoken, group visit capabilities, availability of on-premise restaurants and wine pubs, even overnight accommodations.
The properties are listed alphabetically with addresses, phone and fax numbers according to wine region and village. Each is shown on a detailed road map with directions for the harder-to-find locations.
Other useful information includes frequently-used English/German travel and wine term translations, sight-seeing tips, tourist office addresses and points of interest.
Grouped by wine region according to location, the series covers the Ahr, Baden Würtemberg, Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Mittelrhein, Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz, Ruwer, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Saar, Sachsen and Taubertal regions.
Now, when you're driving through vineyards, you have only to consult Vintners to Visit to determine where, within a few minutes, you can taste wine, have lunch and perhaps even stay overnight.
New Years Eve 1999 in Vienna
Several subscribers have inquired about hotel and concert reservations in Vienna around the dates December 31, 1999, and January 1, 2000. Most hotels are not yet taking reservations and so far the Vienna and Austrian tourist offices have no information for publication. Prices in Vienna in any year, an extremely popular New Years destination, will no doubt be considerably higher than normal and my guess is hotel reservations will be offered to regular customers first. You can also expect tickets to the "Walter Cronkite" New Years Day concert at the Musikverein to be virtually unavailable at face value. The going price for scalped tickets in normal years is about $1,500. Other traditional performances, such as Die Fledermaus at both the Staatsoper and the Volksoper are also likely to be very hot tickets.
Peter Katz, director of the Austrian Tourist Office in Los Angeles, has promised to keep us informed.
Those planning to use an ATM debit card in Europe should be aware that European ATM machines accept only PIN numbers with four digits.
Subscriber Dave Blankenship reports stumbling on an incredible hotel bargain in Lucerne. Not having a reservation, he first went to the tourist office who told him of a special rate of 125 Sfr. ($89) at the four-star Hotel Montana (Gemütlichkeit "Editors Choice," September 1995). The Montana's rack rates which many Swiss hotels never discount for double rooms range from 232 to 380 Sfr. ($165 to $270).
Such bargains, usually very short term and seldom advertised, are often available only through the local tourist office. You won't find out unless you ask. Next month we will publish a list of about 80 Internet sites for local Swiss tourist offices. If you can't get on the Internet, the addresses and phone numbers are available from Switzerland Tourism offices in the U.S.
Mr. Blankenship also gives high marks to the Schloss-Hotel Grünwald (tel. 089/641 9300, fax 089/6419 3036) in the Munich suburb of Grünwald, about 13 kilometers south of the city center. He felt warmly received and particularly recommends the food.
Looking for a knowledgeable travel agent? Switzerland Tourism offers a course of home study and on-site seminars to North American travel agents. Those who successfully complete the training course are certified by Switzerland Tourism. One of 135 persons certified as a "preferred agent" in 1996 was Gemütlichkeit subscriber, Gail Armer. She also is a Vienna specialist and can be reached at 800-232-0211
Anneliese Yiengst, of Merrimack NH, says an October, 1996, Readers Forum letter erred in using the word Wohlfahrt instead of Wallfahrt. The former means welfare and later means pilgrimage.
Longtime reader Martin Ems of San Francisco says he cringed when he read Der instead of Die Fledermaus and Die instead of Der Zigeunerbaron. So did we.
Several of you have pointed out that Verbier is in Switzerland, not Austria as shown in our list of 20 favorite hotels in the December, 1996 issue.
Also, more than once in that December issue we made that most embarrassing grammatical blunder of misusing it's and its. Life goes on. RHB