Save Money & Time with Nightjet overnight trains

We have always advocated train travel over air within Europe:  it is spacious, more relaxed, you get to see things at ground level….and you may even meet some Europeans!  There is much more to discover down here rather than at 30,000 feet above the earth.

Another recommendation we also have….if it fits your itinerary, consider an overnight train.  No long waits at the airport check-in counter…..and, you can cover a pretty good distance while at the same time saving the cost of a hotel room.  Not to mention you arrive in the city center….no costly taxi from the airport into town.

One of the best of these services is Nightjet……offered by Austrian Rail, and has service in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.  They offer a variety of options from couchettes to sleepers.  And they even offer wheelchair compartments.

Even the couchettes are comfortable, although we recommend compartments if you can afford to spend a little extra.

If you are using a Eurail Pass, you will need to pay an additional reservation fee, much as you do with many high-speed trains.  Still the costs are quite reasonable, and you don’t have a hotel bill to worry about!  And, if you have ever slept on a train, you know there is nothing like it.  Could be one of the best nights’ sleep you ever get!

Compartments come with complimentary breakfast.

Click here for the official website of Nightjet.

Here is an in-depth review of Nightjet from “The Man in Seat 61”, an expert on European train travel.

Photos courtesy Nightjet

Four Best Travel Destinations Based on Public Transport

Public transportation–such as buses, subways, and trains–can provide some of the best ways to get around a city. The average driver spends 42 hours per year sitting in traffic, which contributes to stress, anxiety, and late nights getting home. In cities where public transit is popular, however, there is a trend toward shorter commute times, and that spells relief for many who are choosing to leave their cars behind.

For travelers who want to see the best a city has to offer and aren’t interested in using a rental car, there are many options these days. The best way to start is by sitting down with a map of your destination and choosing the top places you’ll want to visit–tourist sites, restaurants, bars, clubs, and museums–so you’ll have a good idea of the route you need to take. Do some research on how much fare will cost for buses, trains, or bike rental so there will be no surprises later.

Here are a few of the best places for public or alternative transit.

 

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen has made several lists in recent years of the best cities to get around in, and for good reason; they have committed to making bicycling more popular than automobile travel and have built several bike bridges around the city, making it a clean, beautiful place to travel in.

 

Washington, D.C.

Buses and the train–called the Metro system–are the easiest ways to get around in D.C., but it will cost you; the city has some of the highest transportation fares in the country, with a monthly pass reportedly costing around $230.

 

Austin, Texas

Many young couples are flocking to Austin to start a family or pursue a career because they know they can put their money toward a new house and forgo a car payment. Austin is one of the best places for walking and bike riding, as the city has gone to great lengths to build protected bike paths which had the added benefit of relieving traffic congestion.

“Building protected bike paths downtown has been great for Austin. Not only has it made getting around downtown safer and quicker for cyclists, but the protected paths have moved them out of harm’s way and relieved traffic congestion. Having a bikeable downtown has made everything better in Austin,” said Mayor Steve Adler.city-768797_960_720

San Francisco

San Francisco’s Bay Area is one of the most beautiful, historic places to catch a ride on public transit, either by bus or by cable car. The latter is one of the most cost-effective ways to get around, particularly if you’ll be heading to several stops in a day; you can get multiple rides on a day pass for around $17.

The best thing to do before any trip is a bit of research; find out the costs, possible discounts, hours, and peak busy time for any public transportation you think you might use during the visit and consider day passes if you’ll be riding more than a couple of times.

Article by blogger Dolly Santos

Photo via Pixabay by Unsplash

Loving Thy Neighbor in Detroit

Loving Thy Neighbor in Detroit

Guest post by Teresa Bergen

Before visiting Detroit, I’d heard that the industrial Midwestern city was fighting hard to come back from blight, inspiring both local and imported artists and entrepreneurs to dream up new projects. But I wasn’t expecting the heightened sense of collaboration. During four days in Detroit, I met people who were as interested in uplifting the community as expanding their own wallets. Since I was visiting in a secular capacity, I have no idea what their faiths were. But I met excellent role models for anybody aspiring to act as Catholics are supposed to: loving thy neighbor and easing the lot of poor people.

Here are just a few of the entrepreneurial ventures I encountered who are creating new and wonderful things in Detroit.

  • The Empowerment Plan: Started as a class project, founder Veronika Scott now employs 20 formerly homeless individuals as seamstresses. They sew coats that convert into sleeping bags for homeless people. Their factory is located inside the Ponyride business incubator, which requires tenants to help each other as well as the wider community.
  • Detroit Vegan Soul: Two young African American women, Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery, loved traditional soul food, but recognized the negative health effects it had on their families. So they developed healthier, plant-based versions of favorite recipes and opened a popular restaurant patronized by customers of all races.
  • Detroit River Sports: Alex Howbert grew up sailing on the Detroit River, and wondering why hardly anybody else did. Now his business Detroit Water Sports rents kayaks and gives kayak tours, letting him share his love of the river with visitors and residents.
  • Wheelhouse Detroit: Kelli Kavanaugh gets Motor City residents out of cars and onto bikes. Her guides offer a variety of themed tours, including one focusing on Detroit’s churches.

Beautiful Old Churches

I stayed an extra day to see a bit more. Since that day happened to be a Sunday, it was the perfect day to get inside some churches. Without a car, it’s hard to access many of the city’s more famous churches. I was bummed to miss Saint Anne of Detroit, the city’s oldest church, and Saint Josaphat, which I also heard was fabulous. But it turned out that my walking tour of churches near my hotel was fascinating and provided plenty of religious art and history.

Old Saint Mary’s

Old Saint Mary’s is hard to miss when you’re touring Detroit. As I touristed around town, I kept catching glimpses of its tall, striped towers. Since it was close to where I was staying at Aloft (an excellent hotel), I walked over to Greektown for the 8:30 mass. Saint Mary’s was built in 1884 and provides that lofty, big church experience – high ceilings, grand old wooden confessionals, even three grottoes in the rear.  It was the first German Catholic church in Detroit, built long before the neighborhood took a turn for the Greek. After mass, I spoke with two priests. One was from Utah. He said that nothing in the west compares to Detroit’s cathedrals. Nor does he think the city’s bad rep is warranted. “Detroit is wonderful,” he told me.

The other priest described Old Saint Mary’s congregation as traditional. Not that they want to turn the clock back before Vatican Two, but the church has old-style confessions, Eucharist at the communion rail and a traditional choir rather than folk or electronic music. He said it’s a place where people can come and worship with other people but not have to hug everyone. He kindly directed me to two other close-by churches for my self-guided walking tour.

Holy Family

This small church turned out to be a total gem. Completed in 1910, it’s long served Detroit’s Sicilian and Southern Italian community. I accidentally wandered in during mass. The interior was so gorgeous I wanted to take photos, so I stayed. Holy Family is colorfully painted predominantly in light blue with pink trim. An angel-painted dome surrounds a statue of the holy family. Every alcove seemed to hold a lovelier statue than the last. I especially liked the painted cherubs pouring rose petals down on a statue of Mary. This mass was even more traditional than Old Saint Mary’s. The priest faced the altar and spoke Latin (or was it Italian?) for much of the service. If you happen to be in recovery from alcoholism, the communion wafers are pre-dotted with wine. editors note:  not sure how that would apply to recovering alcoholics, but you could perhaps ask the priest in advance to ask for a host that does not have alcohol in it.

I walked outside after mass and found about 40 people preparing for an annual procession through the neighborhood in honor of Saint Fara di Cinisi. With my red hair, I definitely stood out amongst the folks with Italian accents. They were friendly enough when I struck up a conversation and said I was welcome to join the procession. But I opted instead to continue my walking tour.

Read moreLoving Thy Neighbor in Detroit

Exploring the rich Catholic history of Santa Fe, New Mexico

Guest post by Teresa Bergen  www.teresabergen.com

Even if you don’t usually go to daily mass, the sound of church bells might draw you to Santa Fe’s impressive cathedral at 7 am. Especially if you’re staying by the plaza. It took three minutes to walk from my room at the Inn & Spa at Loretto to the Saint Francis Basilica, and ten minutes to walk to the Guadalupe Shrine. Daily mass two days in a row probably qualifies as my personal best.

If you enjoy Catholic history, exploring old churches and chapels, and shopping for Mexican and Native American-influenced Catholic art, you’ll have a great time in Santa Fe. In four days I managed to visit four churches or chapels (each with a gift store), walk through a Stations of the Cross garden, buy some Virgin of Guadeloupe souvenirs and still have plenty of time to do lots of secular touristy stuff. Here are a few good stops to make when visiting this special city.

*San Miguel Chapel*

My favorite stop was the San Miguel Chapel. This charming little Mission-style chapel was built by Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico in the early 1600s. Locals claim it’s the oldest church structure in the US. My airport shuttle driver told me that Santa Fe debates Saint Augustine about which has an older church structure. Saint Augustine has the oldest church structure with a foundation, he said, but San Miguel is the oldest church built right on the ground. I can’t settle this debate, but I can say it was a fun place to visit. A helpful volunteer docent stood by to answer questions.

Must-see features of the chapel include the altar screen and the bell. The altar screen, or *reredos,* may have been designed by an anonymous artist known as the Laguna Santero. He worked in New Mexico from about 1796 to 1808. A statue of San Miguel (Saint Michael) dating back to 1700 takes pride of place on the reredos. Four oval paintings also adorn the screen: Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Colette of France and Saint Louis IX, King of France.

The old bell dates back to 1356. The story goes that Christians were losing their fight against the Moors, until they vowed to craft a bell dedicated to Saint Joseph. Everybody relinquished their gold and silver-plated jewelry, which was all melted down to make the three-inch thick bell.  Writing in 1908, Reverend W.J. Howlett described the bell as embodying “the richness of gold and the sweetness of sacrifice.” The famous bell made a cameo in Willa Cather’s novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” Best of all, visitors can hit the old bell with a mallet! It does make a sweet sound. You can also look down through panes of glass in the sanctuary floor and see old adobe steps from the 1600s.

Admission is one dollar. The San Miguel Chapel offers Sunday masses in both Latin and English, and periodic evening concerts. Click here for more information on San Miguel Chapel

*Santuario de Guadelupe (Shrine of Guadelupe)*

The Virgin of Guadelupe is extremely popular in New Mexico, so it makes sense she has a shrine in Santa Fe. Visitors can’t miss the shrine due to the large, beautiful statue outside, which is especially pretty when lit up at night.

Initially a mission church at the end of the Camino Real – a massive road running from Mexico City to Santa Fe – it’s had a 200+ year history. Though the shrine fell into disrepair and closed at times, it’s a thriving parish church today. When I visited on a Wednesday at the ridiculously early hour of 6:30 a.m., about 40 people were there.

The shrine’s most outstanding feature is the altar screen painted by famous Mexican painter Jose de Alzibar in 1783. The painting was transported to Santa Fe by burro.

The history room behind the left side of the sanctuary displays a collection of old photos, art and lovely old stained glass windows depicting Mary. The gift shop behind the history room has many saint-themed souvenirs.

The shrine is open from 9 to 4 daily, or you can go for 6:30 daily mass.  Click here for more information about the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

*Saint Francis Basilica*

If you go downtown at all, you’ll see the cathedral towering over the plaza and silver shops, and you’ll hear the church bells ringing every 15 minutes. This is the site where a church was first built in 1610, the year the city was founded. The original cathedral was destroyed by an Indian attack long ago, and has been rebuilt or remodeled several times. Its current incarnation dates back to 1887. In 2005, Pope Benedict elevated the cathedral to basilica status. Stained glass windows depict the twelve apostles. Seven archbishops are buried beneath the sanctuary.

The 7 a.m. daily mass is celebrated in a little back chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph. The altar screen depicts scenes from Joseph’s life painted on wood. Locals and visitors convene for mass at the cathedral. I was especially impressed by a uniformed police officer sitting in the front row. He was so devout, he brought his own milagro-adorned cross for his personal devotion. Not a sight I’ve seen back home in Portland.

The Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross

Behind the basilica is a Stations of the Cross Garden.

The metal sculptures capture the torture of Christ’s passion, which is hard to bear.

Click here for more information on the Cathedral Basilica

*Loretto Chapel *

The Loretto Chapel is probably Santa Fe’s most visited Catholic site, though the chapel has been desacralized. The Church of the Antioch offers services on Sundays. It’s also a popular place for weddings.

The miraculous staircase at the Loretto Chapel
The miraculous staircase at the Loretto Chapel

The chapel’s miraculous staircase has spawned many a story. Some believe that Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, carved the beautiful wooden spiral staircase. I also heard that the chapel burnt twice, somehow leaving the stairway untouched.

While the chapel is lovely and historically interesting, it’s not the place to go for a quiet moment of contemplation. During my visit, a loud recorded history played nonstop. The chapel is open from 9 to 5. Admission is $3.
Click here for more info on the Loretto Chapel

And that’s just the Catholic history. Santa Fe has more than 100 art galleries, fabulous museums, restaurants, Southwest-themed shopping, Native American culture, and many nearby places for hiking and biking. This city is a terrific place to vacation.

 

About the author:  Teresa Bergen lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. She’s the author of Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide and has penned hundreds of articles about travel, nutrition, health, fitness and yoga. Her articles and internet content appear in many periodicals, including MSN Healthy Living, travelandleisure.com, Northwest Travel & Life, the South China Morning Post and Whole Life Times. She’s the vegetarian editor of Real Food Traveler and holds a BA in journalism and an MFA in fiction writing.

 

Looking for a Catholic Guide in Rome?

We are often asked for recommendations, especially for tour guides. One of the problems when you arrange for a tour guide in a city like Rome, is just how Catholic are they? Do they practice the faith, or are they just Catholic in name only?

Here is a response we had from one tour operator.  We pass this along for your discernment.

“Hello from Rome!  Thank you,  thank you very much for your e-mail.

Yes, most of our tour guides who cooperate with us are practising Catholic.  I am running this company since years and the one who takes care of most of the Tours.

My family and I are strict Roman Catholics and we are well known for this too. It does not mean only going to Church every Sunday but a way of living 
which is according to what our Faith recommend.

I wish you all my best and God Bless you. Buona Domenica ( Happy Sunday!)”

Cristiano Pellegrini
Rome Travels Srl
IT Mobile: +39-328-474-1982

 

 

 

 

Traveling on a budget

 

Traveling on a Budget

With so many great Catholic destinations around the world waiting to be visited, you can be sure that you have many trips ahead of you if you want to see as many as possible. However, making so many trips does mean that you’ll have to spend big money on the usual travel expenses.

Fortunately, there are ways to save money while traveling. Some require thinking a little outside of the box, but they generally just involve being creative and seeing how far you can stretch your money on your travels.

Traveling 

The actual act of transit is an unavoidable expense; you are going to have to get there one way or the other, after all. However, unavoidable expense doesn’t have to mean unavoidably expensive.

The first thing you can do when planning your trip is to be flexible. Costs of travel vary significantly depending on what time of the year, what day, and even what time of day you’re traveling, so being open will give you the best possible chance of snagging a deal you’re happy with. If you are flying to one country, open up the search parameters and see if there are any other nearby airports that you can fly to as you can always get a connecting bus or train to your eventual destination once you land in the country.

Alternatively, if you are planning to visit several Catholic destinations during a single trip, then a cruise that stops at multiple ports is the best way to travel without spending money on many flights. This works particularly well around the Mediterranean, as the destinations are close by and there are plenty of cruises that go around there. Cruises vary in destinations and who they cater to ( i.e. retired couples vs. young families) so do your research to determine which is the right trip for you.

Accommodation

After travel, accommodation is the next biggest expense you’re likely to have. With hotels in the most popular tourist spots running at up to hundreds of dollars a night, it’s important that you think smartly about the standard, location, and type of accommodation you book. One of the best ways to avoid spending big money is to travel the modern way and rent a vacation rental from a private individual; there are a number of websites that have such listings available, so see what’s on offer to find a place that is perfect for you. These types of accommodation typically give you much more space for much cheaper than traditional hotels, so you can make big savings if you’re lucky.

If you would prefer to stay in a regular hotel, then one of the best ways to save money is to keep an eye out for any deals the hotel is offering (kids staying for free, free dinner/breakfast) and, again, to stay flexible (hotels will be more expensive on the weekends and during holidays/events). If you’re feeling adventurous, using a website that allows you to book a room in a “hidden hotel” can save you up to 70% of regular booking prices. The only catch is you don’t know which hotel it is you’ll be staying in until you’ve booked it, but that’s also part of the fun.

Seeing the Sights 

Sightseeing is another expense you need to account for. After all, there’s no use travelling all the way to the Vatican, for example, and not seeing all the great sights that are there! One way to save money is to see if your destination has a version of Citypass, or an equivalent, that gives you access to a number of sights for one fixed price. While the initial cost can seem steep, you’ll easily save a lot of money if you plan on visiting all the sights that it lets you in for. Also keep an eye out for any free entrance days at some attractions will not charge admission at specific times/days. The Vatican Museums, for instance, can be visited for free on every last Sunday of the month.

Eating

Another compulsory expense that doesn’t need to be as expensive as you’d think; all you need to do is think about where you’re eating. Meals in heavily tourist areas will cost a lot more money than meals in a restaurant a little bit away from the center of town, in a place where the locals typically eat. If possible, try to buy basic breakfast and lunch supplies in supermarkets and make them yourself.

Blog article  contributed by Susie Main

 

A tiny chapel for a powerful Saint

One of the smallest chapels in Ireland is located here in Gougane Barra, where Saint Finnbarr built his monastery. Holding only about 30 people, groups can celebrate Mass here if they are traveling with a priest.

The tiny chapel at Gougane Barra, Ireland, where Saint Finnbarr had his monastery
GOUGANE BARRA

Saint Finnbarr built a small monastery here (you can see the remains behind the current chapel) in the 7th Centrury.

Saint Finnbarr’s feast day is celebrated September 25th.

 

 

 

Don’t let fear stop you from Independent Travel

As we approach the busy travel season in Europe, one of the things that people worry about is getting scammed in one way or another. 

Unfortunately, although violent crime is rare, pickpockets in cities such as Paris and Rome tend to be very active and it seems that the authorities do little to combat them.  

Fortunately, you can take some basic precautions that will minimize your exposure.  Just a few are:

1.  Do not wear flashy jewelry…leave that back home.

2.  Use cross-body straps on purses, camera cases, etc. so that even if your hands are occupied you won’t present an opportunity for a thief.  

3.  If you see a disturbance on the street, keep walking. These can be staged events designed to distract you while someone helps themselves to your wallet or purse.  

4.  If someone approaches you with a “lost” ring or other valuable, ignore them and keep on walking.  Again, this is designed to distract you and is one of the more popular methods of taking your belongings.  

5.  Do not open your wallet in public, and never allow anyone to help you at an ATM machine.  

6.  Keep your money (and credit cards) in more than one place…if you do become a victim you won’t lose everything at once.  Use a money belt for walking around.

7.  Leave your passport in the hotel safe.

8.  Use old, beat-up luggage.  Using flashy, expensive luggage is asking for trouble.  Same applies to backpacks.  Let’s face it, if you are a thief you are going to go where the money is!

So, have we scared you?  Hopefully not…..we hope we have assuaged any fears you might have.  Taking a few precautions mean that you are much likely to become a victim.

 

Looking for a Sunday Brunch in Rome?

Picture breakfasting in Italy! Those of you who have been to this magnificent country before perhaps found the traditional Italian breakfast of a hard roll and coffee somewhat disappointing.  But, good news, due to popular demand from tourists, some hotels have begun offering a ‘reinforced breakfast” that includes cereals, eggs, etc.  

And we were truly ecstatic when we recently discovered that Cafe Pompi, a popular local Roman restaurant, offers a fantastic Sunday Brunch.  Their specialties are poached and scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, toast, butter and jam, baked beans, tasty sausages, pancakes, fluffy muffins, donuts, yogurt with cereal, fruit salad, all invariably accompanied by orange juice and a steaming cup of coffee.  The cost is pretty reasonable for an Italian brunch of this quality: about 10 Euros.

But if you don’t happen to be here on a Sunday morning, then consider stopping here some time for their famous Tiramisu, which is their main claim to fame. Many consider it the best they have ever tasted.  You can get all kinds of flavors, but their original is still a big draw.

I can’t decide whether I want the brunch or the Tiramisu, but I am not in Rome that often, so I’ll have both!

They have a couple of new locations, but we recommend the original one at Via Albalonga 7 in the San Giovanni neighborhood. Open Tuesday thru Sunday 6:30 AM to 1:30 AM.  Metro to Re di Roma stop and two minutes walk to restaurant.  The restaurant is south of the Termini Train station. 

Been there?  Please let us know how you

By the way, we are not compensated in any way for this review.  Just wanted to pass this on to everyone.

Breakfast in London, Lunch in Paris, Dinner in Barcelona?

Yes, this is possible and welcomed news! Those traveling from Paris to Barcelona have always had the option of taking a high-speed train, but it had one serious drawback. Due to the fact that France and Spain use different rolling stock, you had the inconvenience of having to change trains near the border between the two countries. With the construction of anew high-speed rail line that links the two cities directly, that problem has been eliminated…no change of trains is necessary.

The upper level in the first class coach.  Second class is basically the same, but with more seats.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
The upper level in the first class coach. Second class is basically the same, but with two seats on each side of the aisle. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The trains clip along at a speed of about 200 mph (320 kph ), enough to get you there in a hurry but slow enough to see quaint French villages with the majestic Alps in the background and then, on the final leg, the beautiful Mediterranean coastline of Spain. For a better view, try a seat on the upper deck (these are bi-level carriages).

The Paris-Barcelona trains run from Gare de Lyon station, one of five stations in Paris.

Le Train Bleu Restaurant inside Gare de Lyon Station (photo courtesy wikipedia)
Le Train Bleu Restaurant inside Gare de Lyon Station. A step back in time to the golden age of travel. (photo courtesy wikipedia)
By happy coincidence one of our favorite lunch spots in Paris just happens to be in a train stationTrain Bleu Restaurant  inside Gare du Lyon.  Sit down, have lunch from the set menu (which includes a half-bottle of red) and then at train time you just walk a few yards (meters) directly on to the train.

There are currently two trains each day, with a travel time of approximately 6 and a half hours from Paris to Barcelona making several stops in France and a couple in Spain. In March 2014 that will be increased to four trains per day.

For British travelers this new service will also allow you to take the Eurostar to Paris, change stations and then catch the train to Barcelona.  So it is possible to have breakfast in Londonlunch in Paris and dinner in Barcelona.  What a convenience and a great entry for your travel journal!

Those of you coming from the UK might also want to check out Loco 2.  This booking website gets great reviews.

We are big believers in train travel in Europe.  First, the romance of train travel is hard to resist, especially since air travel has long since lost any semblance of romance and the wait to check in can often be longer than the flight itself.  Also, since most train stations are located downtown, you avoid a long (and often expensive) trip from the airport to the city.

Certainly more relaxing than flying....and the food is better!
Why anyone would choose fly rather than take the train eludes me. Certainly more relaxing than flying….and the food is better!

Most importantly, you can actually see the countryside and its people rather than looking down from 30,000 feet.

You can get up, walk to the snack or restaurant car, and socialize with others.  This is the beauty of train travel, it’s definitely more rewarding than just the utilitarian need to get from one place to the other.

So, sit back, relax, meet new friends….whatever. That’s probably the whole reason you’re traveling in the first place.

For a more in-depth look at train travel in Europe we recommend the website called the Man in Seat 61.