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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

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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New Calendar of Upcoming Events on Catholic Travel Blog

You may notice on our Navigation Menu that we have added a “CALENDAR OF UPCOMING EVENTS” link.  We are in the process of putting up a calendar of various Catholic events around the world.

There are so many events around the world that we felt this might be a good way to list them all in one place.  

We welcome any contributions….if you know of an event that might be of interest to Catholic travelers please let us know at  [email protected]

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Fill up at the pump in Italy…..but wine, not gasoline.

Those of us who dream of living in Italy for an extended period of time….which is just about everyone reading this blog I suppose….often wonder what it would really be like.  Not the glossy images of the travel brochures or what we see in the movies, but the day-to-day lifestyle. 

Filling up wine jugs in Italy
Locals bring their empty bottles and jugs or just buy new ones and fill up with great local wines, at a fraction of what the bottled wines cost.

Of course when we imagine life in Italy we think, I suppose, of food and wine.  Most small towns or even mid-sized ones have farmer’s co-ops that offer great bargains and fresh produce.    When it comes to wine, you can get a good bottle of red or white for a decent price.  But what many locals do is bring their empty jugs to the local co-op and just fill them up for a lot less. 

getting wine in Italy
Bring your own bottles and just have them filled for you.

These wines have the nickname “landlord wines” meaning the grapes are locally grown, harvested and fermented. In some cases they appear in restaurants as “vino della casa” or the house wine of the establishment.  For those lucky enough to be staying in private residences you just show up with your 5-liter (1.3 US gallon) jugs and fill them up.  The cost?  About 2 Euros per liter.  For the mathematically inclined that means you get a bottle (750ml) of good table wine for about 1.75 euros or $2.25 U.S.  Don’t have any bottles?  No problem, they will gladly sell you some.

We would imagine the health benefits might even be superior to just about any bottled wine…..not that we are knocking Italian wines, just that the closer you eat or drink to the food source the better in our opinion.  The taste may not impress any “wine snobs” who talk about fruity flavors or bold finish and such,  but for a lot of us on a budget these wines are just great!  

And…this pretty much applies throughout Europe.  Pick just about any country and if you are staying at a local home or inn then chances are the grapes are locally grown.  Many families have their own vineyards and produce enough for their needs and perhaps sell some that is left over.

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Non-Stop Houston to Istanbul

Until now if you wanted non-stop travel to Istanbul from the U.S. you had to depart from Chicago, New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles.  You can now add Houston to that list.  Turkish Airways began  non-stop Houston to Istanbul in April 2013.  They were voted best European airline by Skytrax.

 It is about a 12 hour flight going East, a bit longer coming back. As of now they have three flights a week but we expect that to grow.

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Flooding in Lourdes

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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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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.