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Europe in our front yard

These Swiss tourists think gas here is cheap.

These Swiss tourists think gas here is cheap. (Sue Frause)

If you’re upset because that two weeks in Italy isn’t part of your summer plans due to our lowly little dollar, never fear. All the Europeans are over here. It seems wherever I go, there they are. On a whale-watching trip out of Port Townsend recently, there was an ornithologist from Vienna on board, along with two Swiss guys in their twenties. OK, the Swiss guys were with me, family friends from Zurich staying with us for a week on Whidbey Island. But I think they’re typical of the Western Europeans who are flocking to the U.S. this summer.

Vince Steffen and Thomas Geiser are spending three weeks on the West Coast, driving and seeing the sights between Seattle and the Bay Area. And yes, eating and shopping their way through the three states. Everything here is a bargain for them, from digital cameras to jewelry and sneakers. Plus, they think the gas is cheap. While walking through the Pike Place Market with them the other day, the foreign accents were flying as fast as the iconic fish. But even without hearing their native tongues, I can usually pick out the non-North Americans.

Over a martini at Oliver’s in Seattle’s Mayflower Park Hotel, I spotted a stunning couple. Both blonde, tan, fit, and wearing very cool clothes. “You’re from Europe, aren’t you?” I asked. Yup. Camilla Brix is a SAS flight attendant from Oslo while Zacharias Nillsson is a student from Sweden. And like our Swiss house guests, they love Seattle.

According to David Blandford, PR Director of the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau, travel to Seattle is up. Although they don’t have the numbers for 2008 yet, the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Travel & Tourism Industries reports there was 25 percent growth in overseas travel to Seattle during 2007 (over 2006). That made Seattle #17 among U.S. cities, with a 1.7% share of the overseas market. Blandford said that in July 2008, the bureau along with The Port of Seattle and Washington State Tourism opened their first representative tourism office in Beijing, China.

So the next time you order that morning cappuccino, look around. That handsome couple standing next to you may be from France, Finland, or maybe Italy. It’s sorta like being there — and no passport necessary.

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