Strike season in Europe

With the austerity measures hitting home in several European countries you can count on transportation strikes throughout the summer.  Why summer?  Well, that’s high tourist season for European destinations and so that is where the unions can cause the most disruption and have the most leverage in their demands.

Recently France has announced a 3-day strike of air traffic controllers beginning June 11, also a general strike has been called in Portugal for June 27, and the busy tourist season has just begun.  So how do strikes effect your travel plans?  Well, if you are traveling in a group you will no doubt have someone in charge who will help to work around whatever problems arise (see below for an example where this did not work out too well).  Independent travelers, you too need to be aware of the situation and, above all, be flexible.

The good news is most Catholic sites (churches, some museums, etc.) will probably not close, even if state-run museums do.  If possible, call ahead to find out.  You don’t want to break your neck getting to a location only to find that it is not even open.

While you cannot eliminate them, there are a few things you can do to help lessen the effects of a strike on your travel plans.

1. Make yourself aware of pending strikes before you leave.  Most of these are announced days—or even weeks—in advance, giving you time to adjust your plans.  Here is one site that claims to notify of air cancellations…..we will continue to look for others.

2. Purchase travel insurance that covers trip interruption for unforeseen events.  This is a complicated subject, for example you must purchase the insurance before the strike is announced. After the strike is announced, most insurers will not cover you since it’s not an unforeseen event. Check with the travel insurance company and especially look at the fine print. Many travel insurance providers will post a list  of dates and airlines that are not covered.

3. Try to keep bookings as flexible as possible unless you plan to stay in one place for a period of several days.  Pay as little in advance as possible, in the event that it’s nonrefundable.

4.  Have a back-up plan.  If you think that a strike is likely, then figure out in advance what you might do in that situation and come up with an alternative plan.   Spur of the moment decisions, under stress, are not always the best ones.

5.  Most importantly— learn to enjoy the moment.  Being stranded somewhere could present a golden opportunity.  In other words, make the best of  an unpleasant situation.  That is what sets the smart traveler apart from the befuddled tourist who allows their whole trip to be ruined because of a failure to adjust to  unavoidable circumstances.

6.  Finally, don’t put off that trip.  Plan as best you can, then relax….don’t let your fear of the unknown or lack of being in total control prevent you from travelling. 

Remember what I said about how being in a group means someone will take charge?  

Read moreStrike season in Europe

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Pope Francis announces his summer schedule

The month of July is obviously a very popular time for Catholics to travel to Rome and one of the highlights is the opportunity to see the Pope at a general audience on Wednesdays or perhaps when he says the Angelus in Saint Peter’s Square on Sundays.  Unfortunately that is usually the same month that most Popes leave Rome for the Papal residence at nearby Castel Gandolfo and the weekly Papal audiences are often cancelled.

It has been announced by Prefecture of the Pontifical Household that Pope Francis will not be going to Castel Gandolfo but will be staying in Rome at the Domus Sanctae Marthae Residence where he has been living since becoming Pope.  However, the weekly Wednesday audiences will be cancelled during most of July (there will be a Wednesday audience on July 3rd) and not resume until Wednesday August 7.  This will disappoint many so if you or someone you know is planning to be in Rome during that time period let them know in advance.  

Castel Gandolfo, summer Papal ResidencePope Francis will be traveling to Castel Gandolfo on Sunday July 14th to say the Angelus and the public is welcome so that is your best chance to see him if you will be in Rome during this time period. Those who watched the departure of Pope Benedict XVI on EWTN will no doubt recognize the building on the left. Click here for more details about Castel Gandofo and how to get there.

Pope Francis heads off to World Youth Day in Brazil on July 21st and won’t return until around the first of August.

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Free children’s admission to museums in Italy for non-Europeans

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Until recently the state-run museums and archeological sites in Italy granted free admission to minors who came from European Union countries; however, minors visiting from non-EU member countries were charged admission.  This included such famous sites as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Colosseum in Rome, the National Archeological Museum in Naples and many more.  At 15 Euros or more per admission that could put quite a dent in a family’s budget when traveling with children, or probably even more of a dent for minors traveling alone (the EU defines a minor as being under age 18).  So this is welcome news for those coming from the U.K., Australia, U.S. or other countries outside the European Union.

Note that this does not apply to private museums (notably such places as the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel) which will continue to charge admission for minors.

For a complete list of state-owned museums check out this page on Wikipedia to help you in your travel plans.

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Attending Mass while on a cruise–will there be a priest on board?

One of the most frequent searches we get are from Catholic cruisers who are wondering about attending mass while on a cruise.  This is certainly a concern if the cruise is taking place over a weekend, as most do.  At one time several major cruise lines did offer to have a priest on board but I suppose due to political correctness or just lack of interest many of those lines no longer do.  There was quite a bit of fuss on some Catholic forums back in 2010 when Celebrity Cruises announced that they would no longer have priests on board their ships.  Now only two cruise lines have priests on board every cruise:  Holland America and Costa.  Several other cruise lines promise to have priests on board for special cruises such as Christmas, Easter or re-positioning cruises.

The rationale for have a Catholic priest on board is different from other Christians in that Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sunday unless there are very unusual circumstances.  Being on a cruise…or en-route somewhere…can be a valid reason for missing Mass but still many people want to make this part of their week regardless.

Mass on board a cruise ship for the crew
Mass photo courtesy of Apostleship of the Sea

Many crew members of these ships come from predominantly Catholic countries such as the Philippines and are gone for months at a time.  Since the ships are rarely in port for more than a day they have very limited opportunity to attend Mass.  We would like to see Catholics stand up not only for themselves as customers of the cruise line but also for these crew members by letting the cruise lines know that the presence of a priest on board will enter into their decision whether to cruise with them or not.  It would not take many people to get the message across, but if we don’t stand up and express our opinion with our money then nothing will change.  Naturally that cannot be the only deciding factor but it can be one of the reasons you choose a particular line.  You can then make your vacation part of your vocation, which is to evangelize.

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“Destination Weddings” the latest craze

We’ve all seen those wonderful commercials or movies that show the beautiful ocean background as the couple walks down the “aisle” on their wedding day. Destination weddings are promoted (naturally) by many resorts, hotels, airlines, etc.  Well, that mental image is beautiful but there are definitely some restrictions for Catholics.  See our newer blog post on Catholic weddings at the beach for more details.  

It’s not that the Church does not want you to have a beautiful wedding but because the Catholic view of the wedding is that it is a sacrament and should take place on consecrated ground. I noticed that some non-Catholics who attended our son’s wedding remarked that they wished the bride and groom faced each other during the ceremony  rather than kneeling and facing the altar.    Naturally everything that the secular world has told everyone is that “it is all about the me”.  Not so….they miss the important fact that the center of attention is not the bride and groom, but Jesus Christ. Sadly, there are quite a few Catholics in the same boat.  

Another oft-requested venue is getting married on a cruise.  Why anyone would want to do so is beyond me……having your wedding party and family along on your honeymoon does not sound like a great way to start off married life.  However, if you really want to get married on a cruise, then you need to make some serious plans.  In the first place, as mentioned above, you cannot get married on the ship because it is not consecrated ground.  You would need to arrange for a church at a port along the way and that is not an easy thing.  It’s hard enough planning a wedding in your own home town much less some city a few hundred—or thousand–miles away.  And, if for some reason, there is a last-minute change in the itinerary you could end up missing your own wedding!

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Joan of Arc Museum in Rouen now permanently closed

On of the Church’s most revered saints, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake here in Rouen, France on May 30, 1431  The trumped-up charges and sham trial were, of course, later proven false and she was proclaimed a saint long after her death.  A museum in her honor was built here with life-size wax figures with scenes depicting the various stages of her life.  Sadly we have received word from the museum that they have closed down and sold off the contents of the museum.  According to the former museum director we have received the following email:

Le musée est Définitivement fermé.
Il sera remplacé par un Piano-Bar
Cordialement
Alain Préaux
Conservateur en retraite 

Translated it means that he museum is closed and going to be replaced with a piano bar.  We don’t know if any of the museum’s contents were purchased for any public displays.

Rouen is a fairly modern city but the old part of the town still has a medieval feel to it and those visiting will be able to visit the Basilica built in her honor which is over the original Church of Saint Sauvieur that was destroyed during the French revolution.

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WYD 2013 Helpful Sites & Apps

Whether you are traveling with a group or independently, you will get more out of your visit to Brazil if you do a bit of advance planning.  One thing would be to learn a few basic sentences in Portuguese.  Remember, that is the official language of Brazil is Portuguese, not Spanish as in most other South American countries.  A phrase book or phone app would be a wise investment.  At least become familiar with some aspects of the country, emergency contact numbers, etc.  Here are a few basic tips to help you prepare:

  • Emergency phone numbers……medical: 192    fire: 193      police: 197
  • For Mass times and locations try the website Horario da Misa.  It is in Portuguese, so use google translate or some other method.
  • Be sure to check in at the main World Youth Day website..Lots of great info.
  • Follow the Cross app lets you follow the Cross and Icon of the Virgin Mary throughout Brazil. For iphone and ipad click here & for Android users click here.
  • There is also an app for Australians, but we don’t have final information on that yet.
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How to avoid the crowds in the Sistine Chapel

A portion of the Sistine ChapelAs the tourist season comes into full swing in Rome, one of the most popular attractions not only for Catholics but many non-Catholics as well is the Sistine Chapel.  Actually part of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel can be so crowded during the height of the season (an estimated 20,000 visitors per day) that you cannot really have quiet time to enjoy it.  When you are packed in like sardines it is hard to enjoy the beauty of the artwork.  And some tourists just cannot be quiet while the guards saying “silencio” are equally distracting.  Unfortunately, such crowds also attract pickpockets which can really ruin your visit.  You either worry about getting pick-pocketed or actually do become a victim.  It is not all that likely, but it does happen.  

If you are an independent traveler you might want to consider a private guided tour of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.  These tours are not cheap—about $300 per person–so they will not fit everyone’s budget.  Those who can afford one may find it worth the expense as you will probably be in a small group of 10-15 people. These tours, as mentioned above, include the Vatican Museums as well as the Sistine Chapel. You will normally have about 30 minutes in the Sistine Chapel without the crowds and noise.

Most Catholic tour groups will include a visit to the Museums and Sistine Chapel during regular hours; however if you have planned to make the Sistine Chapel one of the highlights of your trip to Rome then you can probably take a private tour since most of these tours are after-hours when the daytime activities of the tour group are finished.

Be sure to check around since there are several companies offering these tours and you want to be sure that you choose the right one. Some of these “private” tours offered are during regular hours and although they are much less expensive (about $90 per person), they are not private in the sense that you avoid the huge crowds.  You do, however, have your own private guide and usually a group of about 15-20 people.  For independent travelers who don’t want the after-hours private tour this is a good alternative.

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How to make the most of those airport layovers

How we all hate those airport layovers!  Of, at least most of us do—endless hours of boredom, questionable airport food, endless CNN broadcasts (often in a language you don’t understand) and waiting that just tend to wear you out.  But…quite often direct flights are more expensive than those that require a layover so we end up with layovers.  Most of us hope to spend as little time as possible between flights; however, trying to avoid long layovers can come with its own set of problems. 

In this day of flight delays you sometimes you get a close (too close) connection that can cause you to skip that rest room that you really needed to use (should have gone on the plane!) and run breathlessly through the airport as you hear the dreaded announcement “final call” for your flight.  And as it sometimes happens, this is from one end of the airport to the other.  Of course the standard airline response to these close connections is:  “well, it’s a legal connection”.

Our advice is to opt for the longer connection in many instances.  The advantages?  Well, you may get to see some sights that will add to the pleasure of your trip without spending much more.  One time my husband and I had a flight on British Gatwick Express train to center LondonAirways arriving at London Gatwick around 9:00 a.m. and our Croatia Airlines flight to Zagreb did not depart until 7:00 p.m.  So we did a bit of research and found out that the Gatwick Express train could zip us into London in less than an hour.  The “helpful” guy at customs told it wouldn’t be worth it, but fortunately we ignored him. 

The result was a delightful day in London, catching a city tour bus, taking a cruise on the Themes and of course some fish and chips in a local pub.  Got back to the airport with plenty of time to spare and had some great memories of our day in London even though that was not part of our original plan.  Did not hit any Catholic sites that day but still it was a pleasant time.

Some people often extend their layover to an overnight stay.  Often this does not change the airfare so long as it is less than 24 hours.  Of course you will have the cost of your lodging but assuming you are some place interesting then it’s a great way to get even more enjoyment out of your travels.

Check out any Catholic sites that may be nearby: perhaps a chance to visit a nearby shrine or even attend Mass.  Two examples among many are the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport or the Shrine of Our Lady of All Nations near Amsterdam’s SchipolAirport.  And you can easily whisk in to Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport and catch Notre Dame, the Miraculous Medal or one of the many other Catholic sites in Paris.

Or if you are not up to going anywhere but are just dead after that long overseas flight and have a later departure that day, consider grabbing a hotel room for a day rate.  You can catch a few hours of sleep, take a shower and be bright eyed and bushy-tailed as you resume your journey later that day.  Many airport hotels offer day rates at less than the normal nightly rate and a Google search for “Airport Hotel Layover Rates” will even pull up a couple of websites dedicated to just that.  Be sure to leave a wake-up call!

How about you?  Do you have a suggestion on any Catholic sites to visit during a layover.  Let others know.

 

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Pope Francis to visit Bonario, Sardinia

Pope Francis has announced only two trips this first year of his Papacy:  World Youth Day in Brazil in July and to the Mediterranean the island of Sardinia, which is part of Italy, to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria (Our Lady of Good Air) to venerate the statue of Our Blessed Mother that has inspired seafarers for centuries. 

At first I did not realize the relationship between this city and his homeland of Argentina.  But after reading more I now understand why this shrine would have such meaning for him. The Conquistadores who came to South America named the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina after this shrine.  Buenos Aires literally means “Good Air”.  Apparently they argued over whether to name it the “City of the Most Holy Trinity” or “The City of Our Lady of Bonaria”.  The sailors, many of whom were from Sardinia and therefore had a devotion to Our Lady of Bonaria prevailed in the argument. The name was later shortened to simply Buenos Aires.

Of course, since Pope Francis is from Argentina he is quite familiar with history of the shrine so it is no surprise that he wishes to pay a visit as many other Popes have done previously.

For more about this shrine check the page on our main website.

Brothers of the Order of Mercy in Bonaria, ItalyThe Shrine has been under the auspices of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (the Mercedians) since its founding in the 14th Century and are active is several areas throughout the world today.  Note the comment below for a description of the above photo.

 To learn more about the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (the Mercedians) click here for their website.

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