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Lourdes Grotto to remain closed for several weeks

The flooding at the Shrine at Lourdes, France has proven to be much more devastating than the floods of 2012.  Mathias Terrier, the sanctuary’s communications director, has indicated that it will be several weeks, if not longer, before the Shrine will be open to pilgrims.  

Click here for a video showing the damage.

Naturally this is a huge disappointment to those who already had trips planned here.  Those going with an organized group should contact their tour operator or group organizer to find out what changes have been made to their itinerary.

Most tour operators probably cannot cancel their tours at such short notice and we are not sure if trip cancellation/interruption insurance will come in to play in this case. Of course there are a few “cancel for any reason” policies that probably will cover this if you cancel. We invite any tour operators or insurance providers to comment on our blog.  

It is also an economic disaster for the hotels in Lourdes, many of which have suffered flood damage; and even those that have not will undoubtedly be hurt by the lack of visitors over the peak summer season.  

We will keep you updated with all the latest news from the shrine.

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Flooding in Lourdes


The heavy rains in Europe have made visiting Lourdes, France a challenge.  On June 18th the Grotto was again flooded, as it had been in 2012.  There have been interruptions due to flooding.  If you heading there on your own you may want to check ahead, but don’t let that stop you from visiting the shrine. We expect the situation to return to normal within a few days. 

Click here for a video from the official Lourdes website.

Just a side note:  some independent travelers are mis-spelling Lourdes in their  GPS, leaving the  letter S off the town’s name and thereby going to the wrong town.  There actually is a town named Lourde just south of Toulouse, so be careful that you are headed in the right direction.  The shrine at Lourdes is roughly 100 miles Southwest  of Toulouse whereas the small town of Lourde is only a few miles south of Toulouse.   

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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


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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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
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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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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Night at the Museum—Vatican style


For several years now the Vatican Museums have been open to the public on Friday evenings from May through October,  except for the month of August, when most Italians take their vacations.  These nights are different from the usual Vatican Museum tours in that they offer glimpses into areas not necessarily included in regular tours as well as musical performances by some of Italy’s most talented artists.

Read moreNight at the Museum—Vatican style

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Vatican Garden Tours Resume May 6


Tours of the Vatican Gardens, one of the hidden treasures of Rome, will resume on May 6, 2013 according to the latest report from the Vatican Museums official website.  

Convent in Vatican GardensThe tours were suspended shortly after it was announced that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would be taking up residence at the Mater Ecclesiae Convent which is located within the Vatican Gardens.  There were certain alterations being made to the building that are now complete and on May 2nd he did indeed leave his temporary residence at the Papal Retreat in Castel Gandolfo and is now residing at the former convent.

Read moreVatican Garden Tours Resume May 6

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI returns to Vatican

It was announced on Rome Reports that Pope Benedict XVI will be traveling from Castel Gandolfo, the Papal summer residence where he has been living the past several weeks, to his new permanent place of residence–a convent within the Vatican Gardens on Thursday, May 2.

Read morePope Emeritus Benedict XVI returns to Vatican