Although not all European countries require an international driver's license, it's a good plan to apply for one--just in case. The licenses are issued at any office of the American Automobile Assn. (membership is unnecessary). You'll need two passport-size photos and your regular driver's license. The licenses make for good ID when renting a car. Remember that driving in certain European countries is a different story from driving at home. In some instances, there seems to be a total lack of rules of the road. Particularly on Germany's autobahns. I was tooling along at 100 m.p.h. (yes, miles per hour , not kilometers) to avoid the speeders when a motorist began tailgating me between Heidelberg and Frankfurt a couple of years ago, then began blinking his lights for me to move over. The autobahns seem to attract the macho types. Other European countries where caution should be heeded are France/Italy. Like the Germans, the Italians change personalities whenever they get behind the wheel of a car. If you're uneasy about driving, take the train. Or a bus. Or join a tour. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of the open road (allows me to stop when I choose, explore villages off the beaten track, set my own pace). More enjoyable than following a rigid schedule.
Traveler's Checks vs. Cash: Those TV commercials dealing with lost cash should be heeded. Carry traveler's checks or credit cards. Traveler's checks are available from American Express, Thomas Cook, Citibank, Barclay's, Bank of America and others. Generally, I carry a small amount of U.S. money in order to avoid cashing a large traveler's check for last-minute expenses when leaving one country and traveling to another, then getting stuck with currency that must be converted at a discount later.
Rules for buying traveler's checks:
--Keep a list of the check numbers in the event of loss.
--Mark off the number of each check as it is cashed.
--Keep the list separate from your traveler's checks in case your checks are lost/stolen.
German Rail: GermanRail's new Flexiplan is available for the first time for unlimited travel on all German rail lines, including those in the previously divided section of the country. Good for 5, 10, 15 (non-consecutive) days within a one-month period. Rates from $130/$190 for coach/first-class travel (5 days) to $250/$275 (15 days). Rail/drive packages also available. For details, check with your travel agent or contact GermanRail, 747 3rd Ave., New York 10017, (212) 308-3100. Locally, the German National Tourist Office (444 S. Flower St., Suite 2230, Los Angeles 90071) is mailing an excellent booklet titled "Germany As You Like It." Forty pages of information/maps. You can also order by phone: (213) 688-7332.
Thailand: Thailand has introduced a new rail service called Sprinter Express. Operates from Bangkok to several of the country's popular tourist destinations, including Chiang Mai. The British-built trains feature adjustable seats, telephones, fax machines. Hostesses on board to serve passengers, answer questions concerning destinations. Reasonable fares. Only $20, Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The Sprinter Express trains carry up to 80 passengers. Reservations through your travel agent. Other details from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, 3440 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1101, Los Angeles 90010, (213) 382-2353.
New Zealand: Lawrence James of Santa Fe Springs asks: "Where do I write for information about B&Bs; in New Zealand?" Try the New Zealand Tourism Office, 501 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 300, Santa Monica 90401, (800) 388-5494 or (213) 395-7480. If you're in no hurry, there's an excellent service in New Zealand that specializes in B&Bs;, farm-host bookings, hotel/motel reservations. It's called New Zealand Travel Hosts. Owner June Hawes knows New Zealand well, having traveled extensively on both islands. B&Bs; priced from $38/$60 New Zealand per person (double occupancy). Full board costs $70/$150. In addition to booking accommodations, Hawes offers to prepare a listing of recommended routes/attractions for U.S. travelers. This is a free service. Hawes also arranges for car rentals.
June Hawes, New Zealand Travel Hosts, 279 Williams St., Kaiapoi, Christchurch, New Zealand. (We've had fine reports on Hawes and her services.)
Biking in Britain: Scottish Cycling Holidays is scheduling biking trips in the mountains and glens of Scotland and the peaceful countryside of England's East Anglia through autumn. Accommodations in selected B&Bs.; Fully equipped bikes. Suggested back-road routes take in some of Scotland's/England's famed scenic country. Particularly recommended for photographers. Rides average four hours a day. Prices: $300 per week, $570 for 15 days, including accommodations, breakfast, bicycles. In the United States, contact Helen Lake c/o Wilson & Lake International, 468 B. St., Suite 3, Ashland, Ore. 97520, (800) 545-5228. (Ask Wilson & Lake about English cottage rentals, $210/$810 per week, two to seven persons) at Mapledurham Estate near Reading, England.
Potpourri: A note from Harry Ellis of Adventure Outdoors (P.O. Box 4461, Rolling Bay, Wash. 98061). Tells of fall-color tours of northern British Columbia (12 days, $999) . . . San Francisco's Hotel Bedford (761 Post St., San Francisco 94109) is offering an $89 nightly rate through September (continental breakfast, free parking, wine served each evening) . . . Sunset Publishing Co.'s new California Travel Guide ($15.95) covers the state from the far north to the Mexican border . . . Bitter End Yacht Club, the famed resort in the Caribbean's British Virgin Islands, is spotlighting an eight-day vacation for two for $1,750 (about $1,000 off the high-season rate) that includes a villa, all meals, champagne, airport transfers, sailing/windsurfing lessons, snorkeling/yacht excursions). Bitter End Yacht Club & Resort: (800) 872-2392 . . . Summer rates of $65 are attracting visitors to the Homeplace B&B;, 501 Akron Ave., Stuart, Fla. 34994. Homeplace is north of West Palm Beach. The inn (built in 1913, restored in 1989) offers three rooms with baths. Complimentary beverages/breakfast, swimming pool, heated spa, bicycles, small boat access, nearby beaches.
California--Kim and Keith Sprenger, Los Angeles: The Village Inn, 407 El Camino Real, Arroyo Grande 93420. Rates: $95/$165.
Montana--Sandy and Nancy Goldstiene, Garden Grove: "Upcountry Inn, 2245 Head Lane, Helena, Mont. 59601. A marvelous place. Rates: $40/$50."
Washington--David and Jayn Almond, Westminster: Ravenscroft Inn, 533 Quincy St., Port Townsend, Wash. 98368. Rates: $65/$200.
Mexico--Gayl Biondi, Palm Desert: "Unpretentious dining in a lovely Mayan garden setting, La Habichuela, Margarita 25 Centro SM22, Cancun, Q.RCO77500. Dinners: $10 to $30."
China--Mary Ellen and Michael Wolf, Anaheim: "These agencies did a superb job tailoring our recent trip to the People's Republic of China: Preferred Travel and ICB Tours & Travel, 2188 Pine St., South Pasadena 91030."
Northern Ireland--Larry E. Bishop, Lake Forest: "Enjoyed the marina and restaurant Bellanaleck, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. "About equal distance from Dublin and Belfast."
Kenya--Laura and Tim Shea, Hermosa Beach: "The Coral Cove Cottages, Tiwi Beach, P.O. Box 96292, Mombasa. A cottage for two is $13, including kitchen, modern bath. Locals come by every day with fresh fruit, seafood, fish."
England--David Reskin, Hollywood: "A delightful B&B;, the Corner House, 36 Victoria Road, Penrith CA11 HHR. Price: about $18 per person."
England--Frances Hamanaka, Capistrano Beach: "A double bedroom with bath, 39 miles from Oxford or Cambridge. Price: about $350 per couple per week. Write to Michelle Cryer, 16 Olympia Close, Northampton NN4 ORU, Northamptonshire."
Switzerland--Bob and Lynne Grotz, Palos Verdes Estates: "Hotel Seehof, 6442 Gersau, on the water at Lake Lucerne. Individual patios, a beautiful setting. Summer rates: $80/$90 double, breakfast included."
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