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ON A BUDGET

A Dollar Buys a Lot in Southern Europe and Turkey

March 26, 2000|ARTHUR FROMMER

With U.S. currency as mighty as it is against every European currency (other than the British pound), this is the preeminent year for a transatlantic trip.

Note particularly the current bargains in Greece and Turkey. The Greek currency, about 310 drachmas to the dollar, is nearly half the value it was five years ago. At current rates of exchange, a seagoing ferry from Athens to Mykonos costs $10.50; a room in Mykonos, in one of those whitewashed cubes housing a Greek family, can be had for $18 a night; a big filet of fried fish with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and a half-bottle of retsina wine is $7 or $8.

Turkey is even cheaper--perhaps the single leading bargain in travel today. That might have to do with the country's difficult recovery from an earthquake last summer. However it happened, the cost of travel to Turkey is amazing.

For $870 from Los Angeles ($595 from New York) you can fly round trip to Istanbul this spring and enjoy five nights there with breakfast and sightseeing. For $1,520 from L.A., you can fly to Turkey for a two-week stay with three meals daily (except for two dinners) and all escorted transportation on an extensive itinerary to places as distant as Cappadocia.

All this is from a reputable company called Pacha Tours, telephone (800) 722-4288.

In Italy, the lira-dollar exchange rate has been at levels not seen for decades. But what about the availability of hotel space?

You may recall that several months ago, Italian tourism officials announced that the Catholic church's celebration of a Holy Year, Jubilee 2000, would triple tourism to Italy, jamming hotels there. That kept a great many people from trying the trip, and now it appears that the predictions were off the mark. Every one of the major tour operators to Italy--Central Holidays, Perillo, Donna Franca, Touritalia and others--is offering scads of air-and-land packages to Italy. They guarantee the accommodations, which appear reasonably plentiful.

In Spain, with 155 pesetas to the dollar, Madrid is remarkably inexpensive, yet it boasts a concentration of culture that some people think is the equal of London and Paris.

On a recent visit there, one of my associates had no problem finding acceptable double rooms for $20 and $30. He had hearty three-course meals with wine for less than $10. He spent some afternoons nursing a coffee and brandy for $2 or wine for $1 a glass. He took day trips to dazzling cities (Toledo and Segovia), for which round-trip bus fare was less than $10 to each destination.

Be sure to check out the Europe by Air Flight Pass, U.S. tel. (888) 387-2479, Internet http://www.europe byair.com. For $99 you can fly one way between any two cities--more than 130 are available--on all sorts of brand-new airlines such as Portugalia, Spanair, Virgin Express and Air Greece. That is competitive with the Continent's trains, and it opens up many travel possibilities.

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