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Travel Essay | Europe

By Claude Stuckwisch
July 18, 2008
When it comes to traveling outside of Germany, especially the US, the currency strength of the euro makes it possible to go first class on second class prices. 
Train à Grande Vitesse
Train à Grande Vitesse

There is an older generation of Germans who were around for the hard work that secured the German Economic Miracle of the 1960s, have also not forgotten the social and economic destruction of WWII. Those who have inherited the power of a vast industrial and trading empire, yet somehow manage to live within or below their means.

Many older Germans do not own a credit card and the idea of borrowing money for anything but their own business investment is disliked. They are less likely to feel a devastating impact of doubling fuel prices (even though oil is bought and sold in dollars worldwide and the euro strength softens the impact of recent oil price surges) and rising electrical costs because they have been living with expensive energy for thirty years and conservation is a way of life.

When it comes to traveling outside of Germany, especially the US, the currency strength of the euro makes it possible to go first class on second class prices. The French are proud of having avoided the brunt of the US subprime catastrophe because of their tightly regulated banking system, but fuel prices in the French countryside have recently increased to about $8.50 a gallon, and tiny not-so-nice Left Bank hotel rooms are going for $300 a night.

After Spain joined the European Union in 1986 the growth of its economy was astonishingly robust, giving rise to a Spanish version of American conspicuous consumption. Now, a downturn is expected, but the Spanish are working hard to maintain their unrivalled reputation as the primo European vacation destination.

Food crisis? Go see the Italian countryside, where, surrounded by rolling hills covered with olive trees, cattle fattening on wild grasses and herbs, and endless vineyards, most farmers and vintners have not paid much attention to the economic news.

The economy may be on the decline, and wealthy Americans may at least be making gestures toward conserving energy, but they, like their counterparts in Europe, are going ahead with their vacations.

Meanwhile, as the US subprime catastrophe travels around the world, the TGV in France has broken the record for rail speed. The first class compartments are outfitted for relaxation and tranquil luxury in soft leathers and beige tones as the train hums along at 200 mph, and the ticket includes lunch.

Paris to Strasbourg is now three hours. The European Union subsidizes tickets bought from the US in dollars, and if you purchase a Eurail pass a month or two in advance, it is an amazing bargain. From Alsace, go to Munich, from Munich, Rome.

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