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European Travel Ban hits U.S. travelers hard

Effective July 1, all non-essential travel from the U.S.A. to the European Union’s 27 member states has been banned.  There are only a few exceptions, and these will probably not apply to you.

Note that the ban is based on residency……not citizenship. Someone arriving from the U.S., who is a citizen or resident in the EU–or in one of the countries listed below, can enter.

Also banned are residents of Brazil, Russia and India.

 

 

The following 27 countries are members of the European Union:

Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Croatia
Cyprus
Czechia
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden

 

Residents of the following countries that are not members of the E.U. are allowed entry:

Algeria
Australia
Canada
Georgia
Japan
Montenegro
Morocco
New Zealand
Rwanda
Serbia
South Korea
Thailand
Tunisia
Uruguay
China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity)

Just to add to the confusion, each country will determine its own specific way of enforcing the ban.  It is not known how long this ban will be in effect, but obviously it will spoil most travel plans for the summer and probably in to the fall.

And, as usual, everything keeps changing, so we will do our best to keep you updated.

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Rome is gradually opening up

Slowly, Rome is opening back up!!

It has been a surreal experience for those living in Rome these past few months:  no throngs of tourists, no lines to get in to Saint Peter’s or the Vatican Museums, no public Masses….something most of us never thought we would see.  Fortunately, the city has begun to relax its restrictions, which is good news for those who live there….but also for those who wish to visit “The Eternal City”.

Public Masses:  The Italian government had banned attendance at Masses in early March, part of its prohibition on gatherings as it sought to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Most of Italy’s churches have remained open during the pandemic, but only for individual prayer.  Public Masses can resume on May 18, but under strict conditions outlined in a protocol signed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian Bishops Conference.

Each pastor will determine the maximum number of people who can fit in a church while staying at least a 3 feet apart.

If necessary, additional Masses can be held, rather than allowing more people into the church for one service, the protocol says.

The faithful will have to wear masks in church. Priests can celebrate most of the Mass without masks but they will have to wear one, as well as gloves, when they distribute Holy Communion.

For now, choirs are not allowed and holy water fonts will remain dry.

 

The Vatican Museums:  The Vatican Museums, which have been closed since March 9,  will soon be reopened to the public, while following the safety guidelines prescribed by Italian and Vatican health officials. They will be accessible only by reservation, and no large groups will be admitted at this time..

The museum is installing thermoscanners for temperature readings of all visitors, so obviously your temperature will have to be normal.

It’s not ideal, but at least it is a step in the right direction, and it is welcome news to those who plan to travel to Rome this summer and fall……and welcome news for the tour companies that will take them there.

 

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Not all churches are closed…Our Lady of La Leche Shrine remains open

The famous Mission of Nombre de Dios…..the first shrine in the United States dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, under devotion to Our Lady of La Leche (Our Lady of the Milk) goes back to a 4th Century Grotto in Jerusalem.

The devotion spread in the middle ages, particularly after the Crusaders came back from the Holy Land. The wife of a nobleman, expected to die during the birth of her child, was reportedly spared due to the intercession of Our Lady of La Leche. More particularly she was given the title “Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery”.

The devotion became widespread throughout Europe and then brought to the “New World” by the Spanish explorers, who founded the city of Saint Augustine, Florida in 1565,

It was here that the first Mass was celebrated on U.S. soil.

The Shrine and Mission grounds and the Historic Chapel here in Saint Augustine, Florida are remaining open during the coronavirus epidemic. there will be no public Masses, but their priests are available to hear confessions by appointment. You can contact them at [email protected]

The Shrine will be open from 12:00pm – 4:00pm daily.

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Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes to be closed for an indefinite period

On March 17, 2020, it was announced that for the first time in its history, that  the sanctuary of Lourdes will be closed for an indefinite period. 

Procession of the sick in LourdesNo public Masses will be offered in the sanctuary due to national measures announced by French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron on the evening of March 16.

Such a move is truly historic, but certainly not un-expected.  We remain optimistic that the Coronavirus will be contained in France and elsewhere and that by late summer Lourdes….and most other shrines….will once again be open to visitors.

You can check our page on Lourdes for updates to the situation.

 

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Be careful where you buy your Oberammergau Passion Play tickets

The Oberammergau Passion Play is held every 10 years in Oberammergau, Germany and is one of the most popular travel destinations in 2020.  Tickets include not only admission to the play but lodging as well.  In addition, there are many tour operators that provide tickets plus transportation and lodging, meals, etc.

However, there are some who plan to go on their own and buy tickets.  If that is you….then be sure you buy direct from the source….or you may end paying much more and not even getting the seating you have requested.

The official website of the Oberammergau Passion Play has put out this warning:   We have been and are currently being informed by affected consumers about the offer of tickets for the 2020 Passion Play via the ticket provider Viagogo.

A large number of tickets for the 2020 Passion Play are offered via the Viagogo ticket platform. Please note that Viagogo is a ticket provider in the secondary use market, i.e. Viagogo is not an official ticket provider. The prices offered are not original prices! Depending on the category, the original prices are between EUR 30 and EUR 180. Viagogo sometimes charges a multiple of these original ticket prices.

Please also note that Viagogo does not specify seats or at least categories currently. Especially the distance from the stage is not indicated. Even if you buy an expensive ticket, it is therefore still possible that you will end up sitting in the cheapest category for EUR 30 original price.

We were able to enjoin Viagogo successfully from advertising the tickets with misleading statements such as “sold out”. However, Viagogo continues to offer the tickets.

Editor’s note:  As of March 10, 2020 Viagogo still offers tickets…at substantially higher cost than through the official Passion Play website.

You can simply check the official Oberammergau Passion Play website to see if tickets are still available for your needs.

And, if you wish to travel in a group, we recommend one of the many group tours offered through Select International Tours.  You can be assured that you will be dealing with a company with experience as well as an excellent reputation.

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Should the coronavirus affect your travel plans?

Well, we have been here before….whether a disease like SARS, terrorist acts, or whatever, people begin to question whether it is safe to travel.  With coronavirus in the news, the question is being asked again.

Although the disease is serious and we do not want to downplay its effects, we should point out that the flu…which we don’t often take seriously, is responsible for many cases of illness and death each year.

For example, in the U.S., with a population of 237 million, the Centers for Disease Control, estimates that up to 42.9 million people got sick during the 2018-2019 flu season, 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died.  The percentages are similar in the U.K. and most other European countries.

Compare that to the Corona virus:  As of March 8, 2020, 107,000 cases have been reported worldwide out of a population of about 7 billion (in 103 countries, not just the U.S.) , and 3,660 people have died.

The media loves stories like this, of course:  “if it smells, it sells”.  But let’s step back and take a closer look.  Much has been made over the outbreak in Italy, but there is more to the storyItaly was one of the first countries to react to the crisis and started screening people early on, so naturally the number of reported cases is higher than some other European countries.

Most fatalities from the corona virus are from the elderly population, especially those with underlying health conditions.

Something not reported, is the fact that countries such as Italy are (sadly) old, dying countries.  Visit Italy and you will find beautiful churches and shrines, great restaurants…..but what you won’t find is many children.  In fact, if you travel to Italy with small children,  the locals are often thrilled to see them…because they see so few.  They simply do not have enough births to even stay at current population levels and will eventually face a “demographic winter”.  There is a much larger proportion of elderly people in Italy than in countries such as the U.S., and therefore, more deaths per thousand cases.

You can find an interesting article on the coming demographic winter in Italy here (written several years ago…but it has not gotten any better).

Meantime, Israel has taken even more drastic steps that will effectively shut down tourism for the next few weeks.  In what must be considered as the most stringent requirements by any country to date, those already there will have to leave, and those coming in must show that they have a place to self-quarntine upon arrival…an almost impossible task.

In the U.S., the story is a bit different.  Again, using Italy as a comparison, the U.S. has a much younger population, those in the U.S. can expect much better results in treating patients.  Travel, of course, does not simply mean out of the country:  you could travel to another part of the country you live and find different restrictions in place…or none at all!

Some Dioceses in the U.S. have suspended all Masses through the end of March….an almost surreal situation that many of us would never have thought possible….almost like living in one of those horrible 1950’s sci-fi movies!

Using the U.S. as a comparison again, although there are some good health care facilities in cities such as Rome, many other cities  (there is a North/South healthcare gap in Italy, with the southern half of the country being far behind what you will find in the north).  Overall health care in Italy is not always up to U.S. standards.  We are not picking on Italy, but those are just facts.

Italy has taken some unusual precautions, such as closing off the catacombs in Rome temporarily (air circulation is limited, so that is a good idea).  They have practically shut down Milan, where the outbreak is most severe, which will do much to slow the spread of the disease:  these are prudent steps and should be seen as good news.  But you won’t hear that on the news…they will just report the number of cases and the fact that people are stockpiling food.  Great fodder for the news media to drum up circulation.

All Rome churches were officially closed on March 12.  Pope Francis publicly decried the action of closing the churches, saying that over-reaction was not the way to handle the situation.  Now as of March 13, all churches in Rome have been re-opened, but there are few masses being celebrated.  

There is at least one place in Rome not opened, but perhaps should be, and that is Castel Sant’ Angelowhere an angel appeared to a Pope and stopped a plague. 

On March 15th Pope Francis prayed in  The Church of San Marcello al Corso, in front of a miraculous crucifix which was credited with stopping a plague in the 16th century

At this point in time, we do not recommend traveling to Italy.  Cities such as Rome are basically locked down despite the fact that some churches have re-opened, so even if you travel there and are not exposed to the coronavirus, there is a strong possibility that you will not get to visit some of your “must see” places in cities such as Rome, Florence or Venice.

Here is a video recorded on Sunday March 15 from Rome.

 

 

So do I cancel my plans or go ahead?

Photo courtesy MarketWatch

We have had to change our advice over the past several weeks.  Originally we stated that if you had not changed your travel plans due to concerns over the flu, we saw no reason to cancel your trip over concerns about the coronavirus….but we have now changed our thinking.

We expect…and of course we are not experts….that the coronavirus will be slowed down as summer gets here.  The increased sunshine (UV rays kill viruses…in fact, they are often used in hospitals for just that) means that more people are outdoors and there is less close contact.  Viruses on surfaces exposed to sunlight do not survive.  In fact, we would not be surprised to see it peak in late July and by fall people will be booking those trips that they put off.  And stringent protection measures in many countries will help to slow down….and, eventually, stop the spread of the disease.

With so many cities basically closed, if you travel this spring it will probably not be the experience you were hoping for.  It is not just concern about catching the corona virus, but also the fact that so many of the sites you wish to visit are likely not to be open.

Our thinking is that you should consider not traveling in the spring and early summer, but if possible make plans to travel in late summer or the fall.  By then, we expect the situation in most countries to be much better.  And you pick up some bargain prices as well.

Are we all going to die?

Is the corona virus dangerous?  You bet.

Are you going to catch it?  Not very likely.

If you catch it are you likely to die?  No, most people so far recover completely.  In fact, it is likely that many people have had it and just thought it was a bad cold or flu…we will never know.

At this point everything is still in flux:

The U.S. suspended all travel from 26 European countries to the US for 30 days, beginning March 13 at midnight.  The ban restricts foreign nationals from entering the United States if they had been in, or traveled through, the Schengen Area — Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland — within the past 14 days.  On March 13, Great Britain was added to the list.
U.S. citizens are not affected by this rule.

With widespread cancellations, tour operators and cruise lines are scrambling to keep up to date.

The State Department and CDC have recommended that U.S. citizens, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions, not travel by cruise ship. No wonder stocks in cruise ships lines dropped!

This is unfolding on a daily basis:  For example, Royal Caribbean Cruises is now allowing guests on Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, and Silversea to cancel up to 48-hours before a sailing with a full future cruise credit refund.

 

As we pointed out, this might be a chance to pick up some bargain prices as tour companies and cruise lines react to the slowing demand.  If the tour company cancels the trip you will get your money  back, and if all is well by then, you will have a great trip at a great price.

We expect…and of course we are not experts….that the coronavirus will be slowed down as summer gets here.  The increased sunshine (UV rays kill viruses…in fact, they are often used in hospitals for just that) means that more people are outdoors and there is less close contact.  Viruses on surfaces exposed to sunlight do not survive.  In fact, we would not be surprised to see it peak in late July and by fall people will be booking those trips that they put off.

Your best bet is to stay up to date if you have already booked….and who knows, the coronavirus may peak in the next few months and this will all be in the past….at least that is what we think will happen.

 

What about travel insurance?

If the tour company or cruise line cancels, then you should be able to get a full refund.  But if you really want to cancel without a valid reason, it is probably going to cost you.  If you have already signed up for a trip, and are within the cancellation period, you are not likely to receive a full refund if you wish to cancel. Tour companies have to prepay hotels, buses, buy plane tickets, etc. and they cannot recoup the cost if you cancel your trip.

In some instances, people add “cancel for any reason” to their travel insurance policy.  This means you can decide not to go without a medical or other covered reason….but the premiums are quite a bit higher.

And even then, there are conditions.  In the case of the Corona virus, it is a “known event” and therefore subject to certain restrictions, so you will not get a refund unless you took out the policy before it became a known event (January 22, 2020).  These same restrictions cover hurricanes, once they are named, they become a “known event” and cancel for any reason does not apply

You can learn more about the Corona Virus and check various insurance plans here to find the one best for you.

We would love to hear your comments on the coronavirus and whether it has had any bearing on your travel plans for this year.