It's not easy, this year, to find anything positive to say about the European vacation scene.
The three things that spring to the minds of most people when they think about Europe right now are terrorism, terrorism and terrorism. It's a pervasive attitude and, in many respects, an entirely understandable one.
Several months of nothing but negative publicity have helped create this mind-set.
But it would be a mistake to believe that nothing good is happening in Europe this year. Not all Americans have chosen to stay home. Some are still crossing the Atlantic.
In Smaller Numbers
They're not going in the same numbers as they usually do at this time of the year, and certainly not in anything like the volume that the airlines and government tourist office people would prefer.
But some Americans are going to the tried and true, traditional holiday spots on the Continent and what they are finding, by some accounts, bears repeating.
I can illustrate the point best by recounting the experience of a couple of my friends, elderly, not sophisticated travelers, newly returned from Rome, London and Ireland.
It was, for them, something of a pilgrimage. He had spent time in Italy and Britain during World War II and her family hails from Ireland. These two have traveled some, in the Caribbean and in Mexico.
But for a variety of reasons, they never did make that European trip that they had promised themselves for so long. Until now.
They made their travel plans months ago and then stood firm against a host of friends and relatives who advised them to cancel while they still had time. Nothing would divert them from their intention to make 1986 their year for Europe.
Now they are home again, and raving about their experience on the other side of the Atlantic.
What they found was uncongested historic sites and restaurants, bargain prices and a uniformly high standard of service. For 2 1/2 weeks they were able to absorb gobs of local culture without being two out of several hundred Americans on every street corner.
The lack of congestion, of course, is not so hard to understand. Europeans are still traveling internally but not in sufficient numbers to make up for the Americans who don't go.
Obviously, then, there's more room for those who do.
Bargain prices? We've been hearing for a long while that the dollar is weakening, that its buying power against many foreign currencies is falling.
Dollar Still Strong
The truth is, though, that the dollar is as strong as, or stronger than, it was for several years, with the exception of 1985 when it reached unheard-of value against the mark, franc, pound and the rest. Money experts said at the time that that was probably an unrealistic high and that the U.S. currency would settle back some.
That, of course, it has now done. But not so far that it doesn't allow for some excellent buying in Europe.
My friends brought home crystal goblets that they swear they could never have afforded in this country. They ordered, for delivery by mail, more crystal and china that they reckoned would have cost them twice as much in this country.
They bought woolens and cotton and a Burberry raincoat and perfume, all at prices significantly lower than in the stores here. All in all, they found it a very worthwhile shopping spree.
At first I was a little puzzled by their comments about the "uniformly high" level of service. It's been my experience that service in Europe can be a little spotty.
But then I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, European tourism people are so grateful to see Americans who didn't let terrorism scare them off that they're trying extra hard to please. Could be.
Some of you may be smiling knowingly and saying, "Sure . . . they like us so much that they're demonstrating against us in the streets."
All I can say is, it's one thing to demonstrate against an unpopular political act. It's something else again to take your frustrations out on tourists, the people who put food on your table.
I don't know the answer. I'd just like to think that European hoteliers, restaurateurs, cab drivers and others are especially glad to see Americans right now.
'Should I Go?'
A lot of people have asked me, "Should I go to Europe this year?"
About as much as I ever offer is that we all have access to as much information as we need, pro and con, to make our decisions independently.
Between you and me, though, I figure that anybody who has to ask, maybe shouldn't go. Vacationing is a state of mind as much as anything, and the doubts implicit in that question suggest the wrong state of mind.
The pity is that so many are thinking along those lines.
Europe, to judge from the comments of my friends, and others who have been there recently, has lost none of its charm or value . . . just some of its Americans.