Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. returned from a tour of European waterfronts this week and immediately attacked critics of the controversial trip.

Beatley call council members who had criticized the tour "wrong" and narrow-minded. In nearly the same breath, he spoke almost lyrically about his view of Alexandria's future, obviously sharpened by his tour of 11 European cities in 14 days.

"Looking at our waterfront as an area limited to only one parcel is wrong," Beatley said at a press conference this week. It was an obvious reference to an agrument put forth by council member Carlyle C. Ring Jr. to buttress Ring's contention that the European trip was useless.

"This kind of thing is hard to understand," Beatley said this week, "but . . . the waterfront involves more than one project. I now see for the first time that every planning and zoning decision (for the downtown area) involves. keeping an eye cocked on the waterfront."

Among the countries on the tour were Denmark, West Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Beatley said that after seeing waterfront developments there he is convinced that with the waterfront "Alexandria has a chance to become one of the leading cities in the Eastern, United States."

Beatley had some specific suggestions for Alexandria's waterfront. He said he would urge that government-subsidized water taxis and commuter boats, as well as the subway and buses, be used as public transportation in the metropolitan area.

"The water taxis could work up and down the Potomac," he said, "and Alexandria could be a major stop."

The taxis would be in addition to a mini-bus system Beatley has proposed to begin when the subway opens in Alexandria, now expected next year.

The ferry system Beatley described is similar to one that served commuters between Washington, Virginia and Maryland for more than 100 years, beginning in 1815, according to historians.

Throughout the press conference, Beatley continued to defend his trip.

It was, he said, "not a paid vacation," as council member Donald C. Casey had contended.

"It was a working trip, terribly substantial. It was the most worthwhile 14 days I have ever spent in the interest of the city in my life," said Beatley, who is serving his fourth term as mayor.

Beatley added he will provide an expanded description and analysis of the trip when he presents a special slide show tentatively scheduled for Oct. 26.

Originally, five city officials -- Beatley, Vice Mayor Robert L. Calhoun, City Manager Douglas Harman and two department heads -- had planned to take the trip, with the non-profit German Marshall Fund, a Washington-based foundation designed to improve German-American relations, paying $7,500 of the bill. The city would have paid $3,500.

After several council members criticized the trip in August, Beatley bowed out, but then renewed his plans in what he said were the interests of the city.

In the end, Beatley was accompanied by city planning director Engin Artemel and public works chief Dayton L. Cook. The German Marshall Fund paid the costs for the three men.

Ellen Pickering, a former council member who is head of the Northern Virginia Conservation Council, and architect Linda H. Michael, who said she was representing the city's "business community," also joined the Alexandria delegation. Both women paid their own way.

Council criticism of the tour continued while Beatley was in Europe. On Sept. 9, when Beatley was in Switzerland and Austria, council member Ring read prepared remarks explaining his criticism of Beatley, at the same time calling the mayor "the conscience of the city." Ring contended that if the mayor were to tour any waterfronts, it should be those in America.

At his press conference this week, it was apparent Beatley had been informed of the remarks.

"It is the European experience that is similar to Alexandria's, and not the: American experience," Beatley said. "We have an old and historic district here. . . You can't liken us to enormous commercial port cities of Boston and Baltimore. When Europeans come here, they feel at home."

Pickering and Michael also brought home some favorable impressions and new ideas for the Alexandria waterfront.

"I came away with a sense that, more than ever, the waterfron belongs to the public . . ." said Pickering, who once single-handedly shut down a closed-door planning session on the waterfron because she feared "backroom deals" might be

Michael said that as a result of the trip she would try to convince business owners that "we have a continous waterfront promenade" regardless of who owns individual sections, because such as approach would, in the long run, be good for private business.

Nearly a dozen individual and corporaate owners hold land on the mile-long federal claim to the title. The federal claim was designed to stop high-rise development along the river's edge, according to sources, and that goal has been met.

Currently, city and federal officials are trying to agree on a development plan to end the suit, so development along the waterfron can proceed.