The French have extended visa requirements beyond the six-month period announced last September, which means it will be necessary to obtain the document if you intend to visit France this spring/summer. Travelers pay $15 for three years, $9 for up to three months and $3 for a transit visa (good for three days). Take your passport and a photo (two inches square) when applying in person. Also, take cash. The French won't accept a personal check. (Applications made by mail may be paid in cash or money order/certified check.)
I have a question: If France truly wants the American tourist, why not issue the visa free? (We do in the case of the French tourist, although I was told by the State Department this week that the United States is considering a reciprocal charge to even the score.)
In their defense, the French are requiring visas of all foreigners (with the exception of citizens of European Common Market countries as well as Switzerland and Monaco) in their continuing fight against terrorism. The visa, the French say, is a method of weeding out undesirables, and, of course, they have a point. But isn't there a case for the American tourist who spends so lavishly in France?
On another matter, why don't the French slash that outrageous 33% "luxury" tax they impose on foreigners renting a car? (By comparison, Germany charges only 11%.)
Before someone accuses me of being anti-French, I've had a love affair going with France for years. It's just that I've grown weary of being taxed heavily for the privilege of spending money in France. While my favorite city in all the world is Paris, I may delay the temptation of another visit until the government rescinds the 33% tax on car rentals as well as those on other items. Of all the nations in Western Europe, France undoubtedly has reaped the greatest benefit from American tourists. Now it's possible that the goose that laid the golden egg will be searching out a new roosting place.
Meanwhile, visas can be obtained from the French consul, 8350 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 310, Beverly Hills 90211. Telephone (213) 653-3120. Travelers writing for an application are asked to enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Others visiting the French territories of Tahiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique will be issued visas free on arrival. For recorded details, call (213) 658-5261. Applications are also available from the French Government Tourist Office, 9401 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 840, Beverly Hills 90212.
Seattle Bus/Cruise Tour
If you're in Seattle this summer there's a new (inexpensive) bus/cruise tour to the San Juan Islands. Only $55 for adults, $39 for children. The bus leaves Seattle in the morning, returns by late afternoon. At Semiahmoo Resort near Blaine, Wash., passengers board a sightseeing boat for a 3 1/2-hour cruise through the San Juans. This is a spectacular journey. Lots of wildlife. To get a bead on these creatures, the crew provides binoculars. A route map is part of the package. Beverages/snacks served on board the ship. Details from Gray Line of Seattle. Call toll-free (800) 426-7532.
We had an item here recently about a trip for nonsmokers. Now a string of opportunities is available for non-drinkers to Britain, Hawaii, Catalina, the Caribbean (meals prepared by a Swiss chef). For adventurous souls the company is scheduling white-water rafting trips down the middle and south forks of California's American River. On one of these trips you spend a couple of nights at an inn, on the other a combination of motel/outdoor camping. Contact Sober Adventures, 5380 Blanco Way, Culver City 90230 or telephone (213) 391-5864.
Europe Car Rentals
You can rent a car in Europe for less than $100 this summer. That's the low price for a compact in Germany. Offer comes from DER Tours. Other rates: $99 in Holland, $109 in Britain and Spain, $179 in Switzerland. Prices guaranteed in U.S dollars if paid before leaving home. Besides car rentals, DER packages independent/escorted tours throughout Europe. Details from DER Tours, 11933 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90025 or call toll-free (800) 252-0606. For other inexpensive fly/drive offers contact Lufthansa German Airlines. The toll-free number is (800) 645-3880.
Warming Up to the Soviets
Plenty of Soviet citizens are up to their elbows in snow and ice a good share of the year. As a result they love spas. Their favorite destination is Sochi. This is down along the Black Sea. Hundreds of health centers, hotels, holiday homes, guest houses. Staffed with doctors who treat cardiovascular and other diseases, skin disorders. And it's cheap. For as little as $270 the Soviets will provide accommodations, all meals and medical treatment for three weeks. (If you wait till after Oct. 1 rates begin as low as $220.) Other spas in the mountains. Contact Intourist, 630 Fifth Ave., New York 10111.
A Letter From London