Thanks for stopping by! The Trip Chicks® are two unconventional tour guides/travel agents with 25+ travel industry/airline years, mischief in 85+ countries, and a heap of travel (mis)adventures under our belts. Our goals? To educate, entertain, and help save you time, money, and stress on your next trip. Sometimes we digress. Happy travels!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

International Vacation Apartment Rental Deals Abound

Apartment rentals overseas can be super easy on the wallet in 2009, especially in Europe now that the dollar is much stronger in value than this time last year. As an example, we researched apartment lodging for a family of five vacationing in Switzerland, a country often depicted as an "ultra expensive" destination for North Americans.

For starters, cut the cost of accommodations in much of Europe by staying in a centrally-located town on the main train line to the big city. Do some preliminary online lodging research and then consult your travel agent. We started with the site, and were pleased with the variety of apartment rental specials we found.

For affordable apartment stays in European cities, we recommend To book your own apartment getaway in either Europe or other international destinations, check out the rentals available through South America, Central America, or Caribbean-bound? Then have a look at and

But now it's back to one of the super September values we located in our favorite "homebase" alpine village in the Swiss Bernese Alps. Kandersteg, a cosy UNESCO World Heritage town of 1,180 tucked away in a valley at the foot of the mountains, is an excellent transportation hub for train trips down into Italy as well as glorious day excursions to the best Swiss cities and hideaways such as Bern, Muerren, Fribourg, Gruyeres, Lauterbrunnen, and Sion. For a mere 647 Euro per week (about $870 a week or 1,000 Swiss Francs = under $125 a night total!), a family of five can enjoy a relaxing stay in Kandersteg's comfortable "just for nonsmokers" chalet "Marietta."

With a lovely view of the mountains and valley, the "Marietta" is a two-level house with three bedrooms, a large living/dining room, open fireplace, satellite-TV and radio, balcony, two bathrooms/showers, kitchen, dishwasher, microwave, and washing machine. Nearby are the grocery store, restaurant, train station, etc., and winter vacationers will be happy that a chair lift, cross-country ski trail, and ice skating rink are a stone's throw away. Why stay in a hotel when you can have scenery to die for, the tranquility of the countryside, and a fully-furnished place to stay at a steal of a price?

Come to think of it, house or apartment rentals in Croatia, Slovenia, and other European countries typically less touristed by North American travelers can be even more impressive buys. Who says Europe has to cost an arm and a leg? Even in the higher-profile places like London, Rome, and Paris, great rental bargains abound.

For London apartment lodging, we like and Is Paris on your travel wish list this year? Then take a peek at options offered on and Viva Italia! Don't miss "The Eternal City." Grab a Rome apartment deal at one of a number of helpful rental sites, including, www.thesmartcactus, and Just bear in mind oftentimes week-long stays are required, and the longer the stay, the better the price.

That's it. No more procrastination! Go snag your apartment rental deal right now, while you're dreaming about your next escape. It's time to vacation. Happy travels!

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Best of Both Worlds in Surprisingly Affordable Switzerland

Can't decide on a city vacation or village escape? Enjoy the best of both worlds by training it on daytrips from the perfect Swiss "homebase," idyllic Kandersteg in the heart of the glorious Bernese Alps. Stay at a cozy family-run hotel (we have many suggestions) for about 80 Swiss Francs per person a night (now under $75 per person), including breakfast and dinner daily. That's less than the cost of just the room in a big Swiss city!

Then use your Swiss Rail Saver Passes each day for eye-popping excursions by rail, postal bus, and/or lake steamer to your choice of the best Swiss cities and hideaways. Bern, Muerren, Fribourg, Gruyeres, Lauterbrunnen, Sion, and other gems are easily accessible by train from Kandersteg, conveniently located smack in the middle of several major rail lines.

With an early a.m. start, you even could ride the stunning Centovalli "100 Valleys" train, for example. It winds its way from Kandersteg to Brig, dipping down into Domodossola, Italy before looping back into Switzerland to Locarno. (in the Swiss Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, on the tip of Lake Maggiore at the foot of the Alps) Ask us about the chocolate factory tour in a nearby village!

The wonderfully convenient Swiss Rail Pass also entitles travelers to free admission to over 400 museums/attractions all over Europe's tiny alpine country. What a deal!
We think there's nothing more relaxing than "hub and spoke" vacationing, and one of Europe's most "user-friendly," multi-lingual travel destinations is tops on our Europe list. With a cozy Kandersteg hotel as your base, you unpack only once and then return to the peace and quiet of your alpine village every evening just in time for a hearty "home-cooked" meal.

Go to to see which alpine festivals ("customs and markets") coincide with your trip dates. Or better yet, plan your getaway around the dates of some of the festivities, colorfully authentic slices of old world Switzerland. Join that herd of flower-bedecked, bell-toting cows and the costumed farmers making their way to the high alpine meadows.

And if you are a wine, cheese, and chocolate aficionado, your tastebuds are in for a real treat in Switzerland. On the morning of your return flight to the USA, hop an early morning weekday train from Kandersteg back to Zuerich's Kloten airport. Gute Reise! Bon voyage! Buon viaggio! Happy travels!

With dreams of alpine vistas, creamy chocolates, and glacial lakes spinning in our heads,

The Trip Chicks (Atlanta)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Travel That's Easy on the Wallet

(photo courtesy World

It's a Sunday night in ATL & we're talking about some of our favorite ways to travel smart on a budget. Thought you'd like to see a few of our tips. The rest will be in our upcoming book! Here we go:

A. Airfare:

* Use & other "fare aggregator" sites to see the best airfares offered by many airlines.

* Monitor the ups & downs of your airfare between your town & your intended destination (fare alerts) at

* Buy international airfares through an experienced travel agent for the best consolidator/wholesale deals in high season; otherwise, consider traveling in low or shoulder season to your destination to save big.

* Be flexible with your travel dates, if possible. Buy your ticket immediately if a good fare pops up. "You snooze; you lose," esp. in the airfare world.

* Go to or for great inter-European, etc. fares to places more "under the North American tourist radar"...i.e. certain eastern parts of Europe, Scandinavia, etc. Then buy airfare from your gateway city to the more affordable European hub & connect on a "puddle jumper" to your destination. (i.e. fly into London Gatwick on Delta/British Airways) & get a separate ticket to Dubrovnik on easyJet, Monarch, etc. Not recommended for packers who take a lot of luggage or travelers extremely particular about roomy seats!

* Use those soon-to-expire frequent flyer points for your complete ticket or to get a partial discount on your fare.

B. Lodging:

* Explore the U.S.A. & Canada! Find the perfect campsite listing in Kampgrounds of America's online camping directory: Or, head to our national parks for affordable lodging near the best of America's natural wonders:

* Consider staying in hostels to save money. From castles to more rustic digs, many of these budget accommodations are no longer only for youth. Good sites to check out:,,, or

* Join homestay programs like Coachsurfers, Servas, Women Welcome Women World Wide (5W), Hospitality Club, etc. Not only will your wallet smile, but you'll meet some fascinating people too.

* Rent an apartment, stay on a farm, & overnight in a convent or monastery. There are some wonderful opportunities out there both in North America & worldwide. For organic farmstays: For apartment rentals:,, Check out our post January 14, 2009 "Sleeping Pretty on a Beer Budget" post for more details.

C. Activities:

* Tourist offices & chambers of commerce are terrific sources of free info.

For a listing of many world tourist offices, go to: Remember to time your museum visit for the day admission is free or greatly reduced. Advance research before your trip can pay off royally!

* Spice up your stay with a neat folk festival, free concert, or other local happening. In addition to the tourist office sites, this one offers a good overview of events:

* Many shops/stores give discount coupon booklets for savings on local attractions. (movies, concerts, skiing, etc.)

D. Eating:

* Eat your main hot meal at lunch time when specials are common.

* Buy supplies at a deli or grocery store & picnic in your room or outside (depending on weather) for suppertime. Carry healthy munchies in your small daypack to stave off hunger during the day. Avoid impulse eating.

* Ask a local (esp. college or university-age student) where he or she most enjoys a good affordable meal. We've discovered many a great restaurant value by following a person-in-the-know to a favorite hole-in-the-wall. Believe it or not, university cafeterias ("Mensas") in Europe are often open to visitors of all ages.

E. Local Transportation:

* Recheck your rental car rate just before you go on vacation. If the price is lower than before, you can score even a better deal.

* Consider rail passes, esp. in the countries "with the more expensive cost of living." Twin passes (for 2 or more travelers joined at the hip for the whole trip) can be a great value. Did you know for example, that the Swiss Rail Pass is valid on lake steamers, on private mountain railways, & for free admission to over 400 museums all over the country?

* Get in shape before you leave. Use local transport, your feet, & bikes for the environment, your wallet, & your waistline. Happy travels!

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell

The Trip Chicks 404-320-3033

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Unclaimed Luggage Treasures, Road Trip Weather, No Smoking Havens, & Air Traffic Chatter

Howdy, travel friends! In an effort to blog more frequently and efficiently, The Trip Chicks have decided to make our blog posts shorter, starting today! That said, we'll get right to the point. Below are a few useful websites we'd like to highlight this month.

1. Courtesy Peter Greenberg (Travel Editor for NBC’s Today show, CNBC and MSNBC, best-selling author and nationally syndicated radio talk show host), the world's largest online directory for smoke-free lodging:

2. Neat on-line international language directories:

3. Business travelers, check these out:

4. Weather forecast and road maps for your next road trip:

5. Monitor live air traffic communications:

6. Spice up your next trip with a pick from this lodging list:

7. Lost luggage loot could be your gain:

That'll do it for now. Back soon with more tips from The Trip Chicks.

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Beat The Madding Crowds: Tighter Passport Rules May Take Effect June 1st

You're right. Several times over the past two years, the U.S. State Department has changed the deadline for its stricter Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) entry rules. And for all we know, the deadline could very well be extended at the last minute right before June 1st rolls around. To be ahead of the game though, if a trip to the Caribbean, Mexico, Bermuda, or Canada is even a slight possibility in your foreseeable future, apply now for your U.S. passport.

Unless you plan to venture only within the borders of North America, Canada, or the Caribbean, you may want to skip the U.S. passport card (an ID resembling a driver's license; $45 per adult and $35 for kids under 16). We recommend instead that you splurge for a full-fledged U.S. passport, currently $100 a pop for adults or $75 for renewals, and $85 for children younger than 16 years old, with a $20 fee for renewals.

Besides, you'll be ready to go when that too-good-to-resist airfare sale to Europe or South America comes along, and you'll probably beat the passport rush in the weeks leading up to June's deadline. We bet it's just a matter of time before passports are required for re-entry into the U.S.A. by land or sea from any country. Still confused? Take a look at these two sites:

Happy travels!

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quintessential Savannah: Belle of the South

Seductive Savannah: Quintessential Southern Belle

For a free-spirited all-American getaway, head to seductive Savannah, mystical epitome of the Old South. Serving up heaps of charm & history, this laid-back Georgia “must-see” town quickly casts its magic spell. Start your visit with a stay at one of the Riverfront hotels. The Doubletree, steps away from the City Market & River Street, tempts with its cozy lobby, huge beds (each crowned with five fluffy pillows) & trademark walnut chocolate chip cookies. Be extra nice to cheery Cynthia at the front desk. She just might slip you an extra cookie or two!


Call 1-877-SAVANNAH, or check out these websites:

Along Savannah's Riverfront at 1 River Street, pop into the busy Hospitality Center. Marion, the lively “grande dame” of Savannah hospitality, loads up visitors with helpful brochures & regales with insider tales only a local could know.

The Telfair Museum of Art (one the South’s oldest) and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum are Savannah’s gifts to art and history buffs. Tour the beautifully-restored antebellum mansions. The Juliette Gordon Low & Andrew Lowe homes, Owen-Thomas House, & Davenport House are best bets.

Fans of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil have their pick of tours highlighting sites from the famous John Berendt best-selling book. It single-handedly boosted Savannah’s tourism by at least 50%. Visit Bonaventure Cemetery & the Mercer house, where the sister of infamous Jim Williams still resides.


Snap pictures of the live oaks draped with Spanish moss, bustling harbor, horse-drawn carriages, & friendly locals with endearing Savannah drawls. Really MAH-vuh-lus! The town boasts native children Johnny Mercer, Girl Scout Founder Juliette Gordon Low, writers Conrad Aiken & Flannery O’Connor, Southern cooking diva Paula Deen, & “Life is like a box of chocolates” Forrest Gump! Strike up conversations with Savannah’s gracious residents.

Hop aboard one of Savannah’s free CAT trolleys for an overview of the town. Then buy a trolley ticket on a tourist line (i.e. Gray Line or Old Town Trolley Tours) with live commentary. A one day pass actually covers two full days of trolley rides. Take the 90-minute ride all the way to the end of the route & then backtrack to explore favorite stops. The home-grown tourist bus drivers are very entertaining & well-versed in juicy local lore.

Don’t miss a “Ghost Walk.” Savannah is said to have more haunted houses than any other U.S. city! A handful of companies offer ghostly options each evening. Mr. Shannon Scott, the hunky owner of Sixth Sense (1-866-666-DEAD, or on the web at, gives spooky adult nightly tours guaranteed to induce a serious case of goosebumps. Catch him now, because he’s rumored to be moving away soon to write his first book.

Dine at famous Savannah restaurants off-peak before crowds hit. Sample delicious home-style fare at Paula Deen’s The Lady & Sons, Mrs.Wilkes’ Dining Room, & Clary’s Cafe. The City Market Cafe, on West Julian Street, makes yummy thin-crust pizza starting at $2 per monster slice. Dive into tasty, affordable seafood at the Shrimp Factory. For a sinful treat, top off dinner with a scrumptious chocolate basket at Garibaldi’s, local Italian eatery. Filled with caramelised berries & ice cream, the divine dessert is a chocolate-lover’s dream come true.

Take the free ferry from the Riverfront. Just show a Savannah hotel room key before boarding the boat for the 15-minute scenic ride to the other side of the river. Wave to huge freighters plying the waters & later book a relaxing Riverboat dinner cruise.

Tour historic First African Baptist Church, the very first black church in America. Peek inside the Catholic Cathedral, St. John the Baptist, & marvel at the wooden Stations of the Cross carved in Bavaria. The stunning stained glass windows were made in Austria. Visit Mickve Israel, the old synagogue founded in 1733 by Portuguese Jewish immigrants to the new colony.

Make fast plans to return to this beguiling Southern belle...Savannah!

Ann Lombardi
The Trip Chicks

Thursday, January 29, 2009

We Travel Like Rolf Potts

What's your traveling style?

I travel like Rolf Potts !
Rolf Potts

You are a travel legend in the making, with a sense of adventure that will lead to hundreds of fascinating stories. Locals all over the world will give you special nicknames, and almost all of them will be complimentary.

What type of traveler are you?

Take BootsnAll's Travel Quiz to find out.

Happy Trippin'!

The Trip Chicks

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Of the many consumer watchdogs out there, at the top of the list is one of our favorite travel gurus, Christopher Elliott ( If you don't subscribe to his feed or newsletter, you're missing key insider tips on the tools you need to make your travels hassle-free.

Today he passed on the results of a survey by Kevin Stirtz (a.k.a. "Amazing Service Guy") with some disheartening news to us as veteran travel professionals: that the travel industry is guilty of the "fourth worst customer service." Check out the findings at:

To the conscientious travel/airline industry people who consistently try their best each day and remain dedicated to providing superior service, we say "hats off" and "keep up the great work." To those who allow stresses at home or work interfere with their on-the-job attitude or performance, we think it's time for a major reality check. Without loyal clients, your employer could suffer even more losses in this tough economy and you yourself might end up in the growing ranks of the unemployed. Sometimes it pays to remember the old saying "If you don't like the fire, then get out of the kitchen."

On the other side of the coin, however, we recognize it takes two to tango. Granted, there are plenty of legitimate customer service complaints in our industry and others. But to any travelers who think that badgering a flight attendant or gate agent with inflated or bogus gripes will get you a free ticket or an upgrade, they're on to you. In the end, patience and truthfulness go a long way in both camps. When push comes to show, we are in this together. With our planet in crisis and many people burdened by worry, why can't we all just try to get along?

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
"The Trip Chicks"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Unsung Heroes of Flight 1549

The world stands in awe and admiration of the cool-headed US Air pilot "Sully" Sullenberger III, who two days ago deftly guided his crippled Airbus A320 with 155 on board to an amazing death-defying ditch into the Hudson River. That no one was severely injured is truly miraculous, and the New York ferry boats, US Coast Guard, police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel who assisted in the dramatic rescue certainly deserve accolades for their quick response and calm under pressure.

But missing from most media coverage is the core of the airline crew. What about those brave flight attendants, whose steady guidance and precision teamwork were instrumental in the passengers' safe, swift evacuation from the disabled aircraft? Although we have yet to see or hear much about the FA's of US Flight 1549, it is those courageous people, shining examples of stellar airline professionals in action, who merit our highest praise!

Next time we fly, we too will be just alittle more grateful for the dedication and training of these oft taken-for-granted airline employees and much more mindful of their main responsibility: to help ensure the utmost safety of all on board. We hope you'll take time to read the Seattle Times article below, which echoes some of our own thoughts on these unsung heroes of Flight 1549.

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sleeping Pretty on a Beer Budget

In spite of the gloom and doom naysayers who insist this tough economy means far fewer North Americans will travel overseas in 2009, "The Trip Chicks" are determined to prove their predictions otherwise. Forge ahead in planning that vacation of yours. It's way overdue and well-deserved! Here are but five of our favorite alternative accommodations at rates that just might put a smile on your face. You'll not only keep more money in your pocket but will make a few great globally-minded friends to boot.

1. FARMSTAYS - Be a paying guest or lend a helping hand and stay free.


In exchange for pitching in on an international farm in one of 20+ countries, receive room, board, and the chance to experience real organic farm life up close.

B. (Australia)

C. (Austria)

D. (Bavaria - Germany)

E. (Italy)

F. (Netherlands)

G. (New Zealand)

H. (Switzerland)

2. HOSTELS - From castles and former convents to more rustic digs, many of these budget accommodations are no longer just for the under 25 set.

A. (Go Nomad's list of worldwide hostels)



D. (Hostelling International's membership-only club)

E. (Almost 27,000 listings and no booking fee)


3. APARTMENT RENTALS - Just last month we stayed in a fully-furnished two-bedroom Black Forest apartment overlooking a medieval square in Germany. The price? A mere 34 Euros a night for two of us!

In addition to our list of the rental apartment finder services below, be sure to google "____________ tourism" (fill in the blank with the town or region you'd like to visit). On the official tourist office sites under the "accommodations" or "lodging" sections, you can find some amazing deals. To broaden your internet search, trying using the words for "tourism" in other languages too. (i.e. "Tourismus" in German; "tourisme" in French, etc.) Go to to translate from English to the target language.



C. (likes working with your local travel agent)

D. (Vacation Rentals By Owner)

E. (Formerly EVRentals)

4. PAID MEMBERSHIP HOSPITALITY CLUBS - Fill out an application, pay a fee to join, and receive a directory of "open door" hosts all over the world.

A. ("5 W" was founded by Brits to promote international friendship among women, but some hosts open up their homes to the husbands and children of members too)

B. (Since 1949, the mission of Servas has been to foster world peace through people-to-people homestays among its pre-screened members.)

5. TRAVELER WELCOME NETWORKS FOR FREE - The first two online travel hospitality resources attract more of the younger crowd; however, if you are open-minded and adventuresome, any one of them could be the key to your successful globetrotting on the cheap worldwide.




That'll do it for today. We'll be back soon with more money-saving travel tips and tricks for your next getaway. Until next time, happy travels!

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks
Passport to Adventure, Inc.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ten Tips on Nailing That Frequent Flyer Ticket

by Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks™

1. Start your hunt early.

Especially when you’re dreaming about a faraway and popular destination like Hawaii, Alaska, Europe, or the Orient, the earlier the better. Some airlines let you request award travel as early as 331+ days in advance! Phone just after midnight on the first day you are allowed to call for a ticket. Calculate the earliest date you can phone by going to

2. Don't limit your search to just nonstop flights.

It’s always a plus to get Delta nonstop from Atlanta, United nonstop from Washington Dulles, or American from Chicago, but be willing to change planes en route to your destination. Consider your airline’s partner carriers for award travel. (i.e. Air France, KLM, etc. instead of just Delta Airlines non-stop). Visit for a summary of major airline award programs.

3. Call the frequent flyer partner desk of the airlines with which you have the most points.

Availability of "partner airline" award tickets sometimes can not be checked online so be sure to telephone. Partner desk frequent flyer agents not only can check possible flights with your main airline but often can find creative partner airline routes which other agents might not be willing to research for you.

4. Don't phone during the peak weekend times or on weekdays in the early evening.

The best, most experienced U.S.-based agents often work during the off hours or later at night. If you suspect you have reached an agent who’s rushed, inexperienced, or an outsourced newbie, politely say something's come up and you will call back.

5. Be more flexible with your travel dates and destination.

During high season to Europe for example, if your preferred city or dates are sold-out, ask the agent to check an alternate destination. Budget airlines like Snowflake, Germania, Central Wings, Easy Jet, BMI, and others connect many cities from hubs such as London and Amsterdam. Before calling about a frequent flyer ticket, know your options from other cities, in case your first choice destination is not open. Go to or for details on low-cost connecting carriers worldwide.

6. Sincerely thank the agent for helping you with your hunt.

Remember that the airline agent is trying to reserve “non-revenue” flights, and that award tickets are a bit hard to come by. For a job especially well-done, ask to be transferred to the agent’s supervisor to leave a compliment for the agent who assisted you. Reward great customer service!

7. Be patient at all times.

Travelers hoping to redeem points for a ticket should be prepared to stay on hold a long time with the airlines. In some instances, you too may have had to stay on the phone almost two hours! Multi-task while waiting and don’t hang up if in the queue. Don’t ever lose your cool or be rude. It's common sense but bears repeating here: "the squeaky wheel rarely gets the grease." You certainly don’t want any airline agent to write something negative in your reservation.

8. Consider booking dates later than your first choice and ask the airlines about the official standby policy.

You can try to fly standby a few days earlier than the outbound date on your ticket. Phone the carrier 48 to 72 hours in advance and ask "how open the flights from ________to _________ are" for that day. Don’t attempt standby award travel on an overbooked flight. Ideally, a “wide open” flight is the best bet. Your success will depend on the mood of the gate agent, but we have been able to successfully board flights as standbys not only on the return portion of our ticket but first leg too for a flight a few days earlier than our reservation. Recommended only for open-minded travelers who don't mind the suspense, the wait, or the risk. In other words, if you are a nervous traveler, this strategy may not be for you.

9. Request that the airline put you on a priority waitlist for award travel flights which were showing not available when you made your frequent flyer ticket reservation.

Then call the airlines back every few days during off-peak hours to see if "anything has cleared" for your frequent flyer award ticket. Be sure to give your work/ home numbers and email address to the frequent flyer reservation agent. It's important that even if you have bought your award ticket for less than desirable dates, immediately after completing the purchase you ask the res agent to put you on a priority wait list for your preferred travel days. If you forget this important step, you will have to pay a big change fee if the flights open up after you have ticketed. And remember, after ticketing you can change dates but not departure or arrival cities.

10. Write down your record locator number and the ticketing deadline.

Airlines won't hold a frequent flyer reservation for more than a few days and you certainly don't want to miss a deadline or lose the space. Mark your calendar and call before midnight in the time zone of the airline's main hub. P.S. If your miles are about to expire, several airlines (i.e. Delta for one) allow you to purchase 2,000 points for about $50 so your account shows yearly activity, and your miles are safe twelve more months. Now go out there and nab an award ticket!

Happy hunting!

Ann & Wendy

The Trip Chicks™

Black Forest's Gengenbach: Jewel of A Hideaway

""All those cookie cutter Europe Christmas Market tours go to crowded big cities," grumbled our client. "Why don't The Trip Chicks come up with an 'under the North American tourist radar' place to stay?" And so we did. For eight enjoyable days this past December, the welcoming 13th century half-timbered village of Gengenbach was our Europe group's holiday "homebase."

Boasting the world's largest Advent calendar (the 24 windows of the classical town hall Rathaus facade), the ideally-situated Black Forest town offered us easy train access to a host of neat places. We visited Strasbourg (enchanting Alsatian French town with the best of French and Germanic cultures and a striking, giant gothic cathedral begun in the year 1015), Triberg (home of the standout Black Forest folk traditions museum and the stunning Wallfahrtskirche Maria in der Tannen pilgrimage church), friendly Black Forest capital university town Freiburg im Breisgau, "upper-crusty" Baden Baden, famous spa town, and other appealing destinations only a stone's throw away.

One of the best travel bargains of the Black Forest region is the Konus card, a complimentary transportation card which comes with a two-night minimum hotel or bed and breakfast stay in the area and entitles the card holder to free bus and second class train regional transportation (except for the fast ICE or Intercity trains.) As a matter of fact, the KONUS pass is good all the way down to Basel Bad, the German border town one stop before Switzerland's Basel SBB station. For a map of where the Konus card is valid, go to: Then click on "In welchem Gebiet ist KONUS gültig?" link. (German for "in which area is Konus valid?") For train travel on longer rail routes outside the Schwarzwald region (i.e. from Gengenbach to Heidelberg), we recommend consulting a travel agent who is a Europe rail expert to determine the rail pass that'll give you the best bang for your out-of-pocket buck.

Jawohl and bien sûr ! We could have easily spent two weeks in the colorful area and never run out of sights to see. If you go, don't miss sampling the delicious thin-crusted tarte flambées of Alsace (called Flammkuchen in the Black Forest region of Germany), addictive thinly-rolled rectangles of bread dough topped with cream, onions, bacon, and ham or veggies and cheese. The dessert version is a chocolate lover's delight with scrumptiously gooey bittersweet chips. More of our happy trip memories include getting the skinny on a 350-year-old Black Forest tradition during our Triberg cuckoo clock factory tour (bet you don't know what makes that cuckoo sound!), rolling in the white stuff to make our year's only snow angels in winter wonderland Titisee, sharing Baden Baden's steamy outdoor thermal spa pools with a mini UN of visitors, and enjoying the unique camaraderie of our small tour group, congenial travelers from 17 to 84. Our newly-created Christmas Market itinerary is definitely a keeper for The Trip Chicks, and we plan to repeat it in 2009. Happy travels und bis zum nächsten Mal!

Ann Lombardi

The Trip Chicks