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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As 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.
How we all hate those airport layovers! Of, at least most of us do—endless hours of boredom, questionable airport food, endless CNN broadcasts (often in a language you don’t understand) and waiting that just tend to wear you out. But…quite often direct flights are more expensive than those that require a layover so we end up with layovers. Most of us hope to spend as little time as possible between flights; however, trying to avoid long layovers can come with its own set of problems.
In this day of flight delays you sometimes you get a close (too close) connection that can cause you to skip that rest room that you really needed to use (should have gone on the plane!) and run breathlessly through the airport as you hear the dreaded announcement “final call” for your flight. And as it sometimes happens, this is from one end of the airport to the other. Of course the standard airline response to these close connections is: “well, it’s a legal connection”.
Our advice is to opt for the longer connection in many instances. The advantages? Well, you may get to see some sights that will add to the pleasure of your trip without spending much more. One time my husband and I had a flight on British Airways arriving at London Gatwick around 9:00 a.m. and our Croatia Airlines flight to Zagreb did not depart until 7:00 p.m. So we did a bit of research and found out that the Gatwick Express train could zip us into London in less than an hour. The “helpful” guy at customs told it wouldn’t be worth it, but fortunately we ignored him.
The result was a delightful day in London, catching a city tour bus, taking a cruise on the Themes and of course some fish and chips in a local pub. Got back to the airport with plenty of time to spare and had some great memories of our day in London even though that was not part of our original plan. Did not hit any Catholic sites that day but still it was a pleasant time.
Some people often extend their layover to an overnight stay. Often this does not change the airfare so long as it is less than 24 hours. Of course you will have the cost of your lodging but assuming you are some place interesting then it’s a great way to get even more enjoyment out of your travels.
Check out any Catholic sites that may be nearby: perhaps a chance to visit a nearby shrine or even attend Mass. Two examples among many are the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport or the Shrine of Our Lady of All Nations near Amsterdam’s SchipolAirport. And you can easily whisk in to Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport and catch Notre Dame, the Miraculous Medal or one of the many other Catholic sites in Paris.
Or if you are not up to going anywhere but are just dead after that long overseas flight and have a later departure that day, consider grabbing a hotel room for a day rate. You can catch a few hours of sleep, take a shower and be bright eyed and bushy-tailed as you resume your journey later that day. Many airport hotels offer day rates at less than the normal nightly rate and a Google search for “Airport Hotel Layover Rates” will even pull up a couple of websites dedicated to just that. Be sure to leave a wake-up call!
How about you? Do you have a suggestion on any Catholic sites to visit during a layover. Let others know.
Like many independent Catholic travelers, we like to try unusual things. Although staying in a chateau is not terribly unusual, it was the first time for us and therefore we considered it outside the norm. For some reason, we just don’t seem that keen on B&B’s. Can’t explain it—just prefer hotels. Perhaps we feel less privacy when staying in someone else’s house rather than a hotel. So when planning a trip to Normandy (mainly the Catholic pilgrimage site of Pontmain, Mont St. Michel & the D-Day beaches) we decided to try a chateau just to see what it was like. We hopped a train (our favorite way to travel in Europe) from Paris to Lisieux to visit the Shrine of Saint Therese of Lisieux. It’s only a little over an hour by train and so we spent a day there and then caught the high-speed TGV to the city of Rennes near the Normandy coast where we picked up our rental car. From here it was a short drive to the Chateau de Bouceel, our choice for this trip.
As you can see, the setting was like something out of Downton Abbey (minus the staff & the British accent). The chateau itself was beautifully maintained and definitely had atmosphere. The chateau briefly housed the German army officers for a few months in the summer of 1940 but they later moved elsewhere since the chateau did not have electricity at that time. The owner pointed out the front steps where his father, as a member of the French Resistance in World War II, was arrested by the Gestapo and was due to be shipped off to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp where he would no doubt be executed. However, the rail lines had been bombed and since by now the Allies had landed on the Normandy beaches he eventually was freed by the Allies. With all this history, staying here was a unique experience.
We had a car and made day trips to nearby Mont St. Michel, the Normandy Beaches and Pontmain among other sites.
Our host had a book of cartoons (in French), the cover of which is shown below, detailing his father’s experiences during the war which he signed as follows:
To the brave young heroes from the U.S., Canada, England, Australia….who gave their life and without whom my dad wouldn’t have come back, this book wouldn’t exist….I wouldn’t be here to sign it.
Let’s never forget!
People who prefer a chateau or B& B cite advantages such as individually decorated rooms, direct contact with the owners or the chance to mingle with other independent travelers.
Those who prefer hotels cite the more flexible check-in times (often you cannot come and go as easily), more anonymity, usually a restaurant on the premises. So I guess it is just a matter of taste.
Certainly, in our case, the chateau fulfilled all our expectations and then some.
How about you? Do you have any experiences you would like to share with everyone?