January 14, 2003 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer staff writer

To be a travel agent, you have to travel if you are to be able to inform clients of what to expect when they venture out across the world.

Cindy Schaures and Sue Kreutz of Alegre Travel in La Grande have taken that message to heart.

These trips provided by airlines and hotels hoping to make the agents aware of what they have to offer are called educational tours. It's called a familiarization trip, or "fam tour," in the industry.

The fact that the two La Grande agents had a ball was an added bonus for them.

The two started their 10-day, multi-faced tour on Dec. 1 to experience and learn about many places their clients might be interested in traveling to.

The trip the two went on was a joint production of Westa Consortium, Trafalgar Tours and an airline ticket consolidator (Travel Professionals). Thirty-seven people went on the tour.

Schaures and Kreutz took off from Portland and joined other members of the tour in San Francisco. Other agents were from Oregon, Washington, Montana and California.

Their initial destination was Paris, where they started the tour by eating at a Parisian bistro.

"The next morning, we saw many sites via a cruise on the River Seine," Schaures said.

This included taking in the beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral, going up to the observation level of the Eiffel Tower and spending the evening visiting the historical Moulin Rouge.

There were many other highlights on the tour, the two said.

Laughing, Cindy said she ate a Belgian waffle in Brussels, Belgium.

"We cruised the canals in Amsterdam and took a tour of the red-light district," Kreutz said.

They visited very old cathedrals in Brussels as well as in Cologne and Heidelberg, Germany.

They said it was a fun experience to go shopping, using the new currency of the European Union — the Euro.

They said it was interesting to see how many Europeans ride bikes instead of driving cars in the cities.

The tour group also took a cruise of the Rhine River in central Germany, seeing many castles, some of which have been renovated and made into motels.

The tour then went to Lucerne, Switzerland, by way of the Black Forest in southern Germany.

There Schaures was met by her son, Brady, who is in the service and stationed at Kottersbach, Germany.

Miriam Jergen, who was an exchange student to La Grande High School in 2000, also met Schaures and Kreutz in Lucerne, the agents said.

After a riverboat tour of Lake Lucerne, the agents had a great time going to the top of Mount Pilatus at the 7,000-foot elevation in the Alps.

Kreutz and Schaures said they enjoyed networking with other agents from the Northwest.

"We learned many tips about serving clients, selling and marketing travel to Europe as well as to other destinations all over the world," Schaures said.

They also learned about all the security measures being taken at international airports all over the world.