Visas to Cuba…problem or not?

Although travel restrictions were lifted earlier this year, it applies to “people-to-people programs”, a very loose term, but mainly referring to group travel. According to figures released by the Cuban government, more than 98,000 Americans traveled to Cuba in 2012, an increase of 33% over the previous year.

Much has been made of the news recently that the Cuban Interests Section in Washington (Havana’s diplomatic mission in the U.S.) is no longer taking visa applications for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. This is due to the fact that the bank they used, M&T Bank, is no longer providing banking services to foreign missions.  Efforts so far have been unsuccessful in finding a replacement bank.  

Tour operators specializing in travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens, however, say this is not a major obstacle.  Most people traveling in December this year and January next year already have their visas.  And for future travelers, we expect the issue to be resolved in the next few months. Meantime several tour operators are working on alternative measures such as having visa cards brought to Miami (where the flights depart) and have travelers fill them out there and just present them upon arrival.  We suspect that the lure of U.S. dollars will motivate the Cuban government to find some way to work this out.  

This problem does not apply to citizens of other countries since they do not have restrictions on travel to Cuba.

There are several sites of interest to Catholics in Cuba, although we are not aware of any companies offering trips specifically for that purpose.  Are you?



What happens to your travel plans when Feast Days Change?



Imagine traveling to Knock, Ireland to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Knock only to find out you got there on the wrong day!

How could this happen?  Well, the “silent apparition” of Knock took place on August 21, 1879.  But, since August 21st  was already assigned to Saint Pius X, there was no special date set aside for Our Lady of Knock on the official calendar.

In June of 2011 the Congregation for the Divine Worship set the date of August 17th as the Feast of Our Lady of Knock with a special Memorial Mass.  This falls within the dates of the national novena in honor of Our Lady of Knock, which is from August 14th-22nd.


Mass at Our Lady of Knock
Here you can see Mass being celebrated in the Apparition Chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. The only part of the original Church is preserved on one wall of the chapel.

in Knock, they celebrate the Feast Day on the actual date of August 21st.  So if you plan to be there on the Feast Day…and we highly recommend it if you can…..then keep that in mind.  For more information check the official website of the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock.  If you time it right you can watch Mass live from the Shrine.

To hear the song “Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland” sung by Irish singer Dana, click here.  It gives a great presentation of the apparitions while you listen to her beautiful voice.  Gives you goosebumps!



Vatican Museums will be closed August 15 for the Feast of the Assumption

Since August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, is a Holy Day, the Vatican Museums will be closed that day. However, the archaeological sites in Rome will be open.  So if you will be in Rome on the 15th  that means you can visit the Colosseum, the forum, etc. since Rome is part of Italy and does not necessarily observe the religious holiday.  

The Vatican, obviously, is its own country and therefore has its own rules. The Vatican Post Office will also be closed, but both will be open again on the 16th.  Major Basilicas (including Saint Peter’s) and Churches will be open and probably crowded due to the feast day.  

And one other note:  Pope Francis will be at the Papal Summer residence at Castel Gandolfo that day.  Whether he will make a public appearance or not is unknown, but our guess is he probably will.


Are Travel Guidebooks passé?

Earlier this year the venerable “Frommer’s” travel guides were purchased by Google and soon thereafter it was announced that they would discontinue publishing the travel guides in book form.  Word on the street is that Google was mainly interested in the social media followers of Frommer’s, not in publishing guidebooks, so they sold the publishing rights back to Arthur Frommer and the good news is that he will continue to publish the books. 

A frommer's guide book from 2000
Even an older guide book can have a lot of great information….and you can probably pick them up cheap at a used book store.

So are guide books still useful?  Well, let me give you my “two cents”.  Guide books are still a great planning tool: you can lay them out on the table, flip from page to page and share with one another much easier than if you were on a computer or tablet.  Also, you can highlight items that are of interest to you.  Even an old guide book that might seem out of date can provide great insights you may not find on a website.

Once you’re on the road, a guide book can be invaluable to you. Although most travel websites are now adapted for mobile use, and there are many apps available as well, there are times when a guide book is more convenient, especially if you have bookmarked or highlighted pertinent pages when planning.

So bottom line…..both guide books and travel websites together can help you plan the trip of a lifetime. Hint….check out our website first!

We offer reliable guidebooks that are carefully selected for Catholic travelers.  Together with secular guide books they are a great resource. If we can quote Rick Steves, he said something like “$30 tools for $3,000 experiences.