Dollar Power: Livin' Large on Smaller Bucks
|The cost of a two-and-a half course dinner in Nice? $50 with wine and view.|
By Rick Steves
True: Our dollar buys about 20 percent less today than it did a year ago. But, remember that that statistic is measured against a high spike on the dollar's value psychologically maximizing. Regardless, budget options are more important now than a year ago for American travelers.
Here are some recent costs for me: Two-and-a-half course dinner (we split the lemon tart) on the beach in Nice during a sunset $50 for two. (That included a fine bottle of Bandol my new favorite red wine on the French Riviera the waiter steamed off the label for me and it decorates the inside cover of my guidebook). A room with a balcony in Villefranche-sur-Mer, overlooking the bay of Antibes counting the world-class yachts bobbing in the harbor $75 for the double. (In my research, I found that hotels mindful of the higher cost of travel and the sluggish global economy are generally holding 2003 prices for 2004.) A public bus ride around most of Monte Carlo's Grand Prix circuit (all prepped for the big race) $2. Private time all alone with the best collection of Marc Chagall paintings anywhere in captivity $6. A zippy ride on Copenhagen's new subway from the airport to my hotel $3.50 (faster than the $30 taxi equivalent). A healthy salad bar dinner surrounded by healthy Danes $10. Is Europe more expensive than last year? Sure. Is it a good value? Absolutely.
All over Europe, locals also are enjoying themselves in a world where things just cost them a little more, too. They are still reeling from the jump in prices that came with the switch-over to Euros. In Spanish restaurants, people ask for tap water rather than order bottled water. In Italy people are filling up on cheap anti-pasta buffets.
And life is more expensive even outside Euro-land. In Copenhagen, buses go every
three to four minutes now as fewer people can afford cars. In Copenhagen I saw countless young people drinking beer in public places but it's not alarming if you understand the reason. Beer in bars is just too expensive for many here in Scandinavia. So, people buy their bottles for the equivalent of $1.50 from a kiosk rather than $4 or $5 in a bar and sit with their friends on pedestrian squares or along canals. On my way back to my hotel, I passed a happy gang of six wheeling a case of beer down to the park.