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France Marks a Decade on Travel Fast Track

September 29, 1991|KIM UPTON

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the inauguration of France's first high-speed rail line--the 287-mile run between Paris and Lyon. There was no birthday party, but it is worth noting that the gamble has paid off. The railway, once buried in debt, ended the last fiscal year with a profit ($2.9 million). About 5.6 million Paris-Lyon travelers a year now use the TGV, up from 1.4 million in 1981, while air travel in France has stagnated at about 500,000 passengers.

Last year, France expanded the TGV network westward, linking Le Mans, Bordeaux, Rennes, Nantes and several other cities with a faster, quieter generation of trains. Final celebration note: In May, 1990, one of the new TGVs set a world rail speed record of 320 m.p.h.

Travel Quiz: What is the world's oldest continuously inhabited city?

Travel Warning: The State Department on Tuesday issued a travel warning advising U.S. citizens to defer travel to Zaire due to the outbreak of violent disturbances and looting by the military. Americans already in Zaire were urged to leave when safely possible, and U.S. government dependents and nonessential employees were ordered to depart. Americans planning to travel to this or other areas experiencing unrest should check with the State Department's office of Overseas Citizen Services: (202) 647-5225.

Shark Show Won't Go: Extended by popular demand, the special Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibition, "Sharks," will continue through Jan. 4, rather than closing as scheduled Oct. 20. While other California tourist attractions have been suffering from a lack of visitors, a spokeswoman for the Aquarium said it is seeing more visitors this year than last--attributed in part to the popularity of the shark show. The educational exhibition illustrates the function of sharks in the ecosystem and features several dozen live sharks. The show is free with admittance to the aquarium, which costs $9 for adults, $4 for children 3-12.

Skiing Without Suffering: It may be the height of winter chic to return from a skiing trip talking about black diamonds and not be referring to jewelry. But some ski vacationers actually are more interested in the quiet (read warm) confines of the ski lodge and the serious intentions of local restaurants. For them, Ski magazine has ranked these elements of a ski vacation. Awards went to Aspen Mountain, Colo., for after-ski activities; to Steamboat Springs, Colo., for family programs, and to Deer Valley, Utah, for food. Deer Valley also won for customer service. And, yes, they also ranked resorts for skiing. Overall top-ranking resorts in North America were: 1) Vail, Colo.; 2) Deer Valley, Colo., and 3) Snowmass, Colo.

Terminal Design: Plans are being drafted for a new cruise ship terminal designed to ease some of the tourist traffic at the Port of San Diego, which experienced a 183% increase in cruise ship passengers for the first seven months of 1991, compared with the same time last year. Much of the increase is attributed to the popularity of one-day cruises introduced last December that sail from San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico. Construction on the terminal is expected to begin in 1992 and take two to three years, according to a spokesman.

Flying Rises: Economists may be saying the recession is ending, but the travel industry isn't so sure. Yet there are glimmers. Although domestic travel was still down 2.5% during August compared with last year at that time, international travel rose 3.2% over last year--the first gain since the beginning of the year, according to the Air Transport Assn. This is "very encouraging," since transatlantic air traffic was down about 50% during the Gulf War, according to a spokesman for ATA, an organization that tracks leisure air travel. "As a general rule, our industry feels the effects of a recession early on and we're one of the last to come out of it," he said.

Quick Fact: Tourist location where 13,675 bagels, 1,350 pounds of cream cheese and 675 pounds of lox are consumed in a single week: El Al Israel Airlines between New York and Tel Aviv.

Hotel Annoyances: When asked to name the hotel shortcomings that annoy them the most, readers of the travel newsletter Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report listed an inefficient/unfriendly front desk as worst offender. Second, in order of mention, was long check-in/check-out lines. This was quickly followed by uncomfortable bed/mattress, stale-smelling rooms, poor soundproofing and skimpy, cheap towels. Way down at the bottom of the list (No. 26) was overbilling.

Comparatively Speaking: U.S. Government's per-day allowances for federal employees traveling abroad on business in September (compared with the same month last year): London, $210 ($229 in September, 1990). Mexico City, $129 ($102). Rome, $249 ($199). Sydney, Australia, $214 ($159). Taipei, $262 ($248). Paris, $192 ($189). Honolulu, $137 ($126). Kuwait City, $253 ($159). (Source: U.S. State Department.)

Fair Warning: The 26th annual Borrego Springs Desert Festival, Oct. 25-27, will celebrate the Good Olde Days with such old-fashioned pastimes as county fair competitions, white elephant auctions, a pancake breakfast, beef barbecues and outdoor dances. For more information, contact the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce at (619) 767-5555. Borrego Springs is surrounded by more than 600,000 acres of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, inland from Oceanside.

Quiz Answer: The Syrian capital of Damascus, which was built on the edge of an oasis, near beautiful gardens and groves, is believed to be the world's oldest (at least 4,000 years) continuously inhabited city.

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