BONN — Because of the threat of terrorism, the mighty "John Rambo" and more than a million other Americans have canceled plans to come to Europe this year.
The cancellations have left European tour operators, hoteliers and restaurateurs in near-despair, and some commentators, particularly the French, sneering at the timidity of the once-bold American tourist.
But one American couple, Bob and Patricia McSweeny of Altadena, Calif., decided to "damn the torpedoes," as they put it, and go ahead with a long-planned trip to Europe that included a Mediterranean cruise with stop-offs in Spain, France, Italy, and Yugoslavia, plus a trip to Germany despite the fallout from the damaged Soviet nuclear reactor at Chernobyl.
Their three weeks on and off the high seas turned out to be informative, pleasant and uneventful, they said.
Can't Be Intimidated
McSweeny, a businessman in his 50s, said: "Everyone back home said we must be crazy to take the cruise after what happened to the Achille Lauro (the hijacked cruise ship) and the American bombing of Libya. But we said to hell with it; you can't go through life being intimidated by the likes of Kadafi."
His wife put in: "I'm in the travel business, and I wanted to see firsthand what effect all this talk of terrorism was having."
The first thing they found was that fully a third of the bookings on their cruise ship, the Norwegian Royal Viking Sky, had been canceled, some at the last minute.
"It was kind of strange," Pat McSweeny said, "seeing all those empty seats at meals aboard ship. But there were still plenty of amusing passengers, so we didn't feel that we were on some kind of a ghost ship.
"In his welcoming remarks, the captain deplored the threat of terrorism and thanked us for being the 'hearty' ones."
The cruise departed from Barcelona and the first port of call was Villefranche, with side trips to Monte Carlo and Nice.
"We found lots of restaurants, taxis and plenty of life," McSweeny said, "but no sign of terrorists. The French were reasonable and pleasant, given what we had heard."
What they had heard was that the French were put out at being condemned by U.S. officials and the U.S. press for not allowing American planes based in Britain to pass over French territory en route to attack targets in Col. Moammar Kadafi's Libya.
Further, the French press had made much of the reported decision by actor-director Sylvester Stallone and producer-director Steven Speilberg, among other Americans, to cancel scheduled appearances at the Cannes Film Festival because of the danger of terrorism.
Stallone's aides said he had never made a firm commitment to go to Cannes, but the French press underscored that the creator of the fearless, indestructible and patriotic characters "Rocky" and "Rambo" was cowering in Beverly Hills instead of standing up like a man to the grim but shadowy forces of Mediterranean terrorism.
The McSweenys passed a pleasant afternoon in nearby Nice.
"For once," McSweeny said, "I think the French appreciated Americans showing the flag."
Their ship continued to Italy, where they went ashore in Leghorn to visit Pisa, and Civitavecchia for Rome.
"The only thing that terrorized us were the Italian cab drivers," McSweeny said. "The bus that took the passengers for a day-trip from Civitavecchia to Rome had a police escort. But nothing happened."
In Naples Harbor the McSweenys arose at 6:30 a.m. to be greeted by a stirring sight, the aircraft carrier America.
"That carrier looked just great sitting in the harbor with all the planes on deck," she said. "I was proud to be an American."
After Naples, the liner continued to Catania and on around the Italian peninsula, reasonably clear of Kadafi's so-called Line of Death across the Gulf of Sidra.
"I don't think any of us paid much attention," McSweeny said.
After a stop in Dubrovnik, the liner completed the cruise in Venice, where the McSweenys found on debarking that they could not order fresh vegetables or salads in restaurants.
"The Chernobyl thing caught up with us there," McSweeny said. "Fresh produce was banned by the local authorities, so we had canned asparagus. On the ship we hadn't realized how serious the fallout problem was."
The McSweenys wound up their tour in Germany. On one occasion they stopped at an outdoor cafe and rain began to fall. Others scuttled for cover, to escape any nuclear particles the rain might have brought, but the McSweenys casually moved to an adjacent table with a sheltering umbrella and went right on sipping their beer.
As they prepared to return home, Pat McSweeny said of the huge decrease in American tourists to Europe: "I think it's quite sad, in a way. I've always thought that part of the American heritage was our adventurousness. That's the way it's always been. And that's the way I think it should continue to be."