Searching for flights to Europe or within Europe

Hand Crafted Travel doesn't handle booking air travel for our customers, but I am often asked which airlines I recommend, or how someone should go about searching for airfares. I usually start my own searches for US-Europe flights at ITA. It started out as an independent aggregator of airline fare information, but is now owned by google (isn't everything?). The site still presents what looks to be an unbiased view of the fares available from all carriers, and there is no sales pitch, since tickets cannot actually be booked on the ITA site.

For flights within Europe I start my search at Skyscanner, which includes results for many of the Europe-only short haul airlines, like EasyJet and Ryanair.

While several small, short-haul airlines have gone belly up in recent weeks, one major carrier has been teetering on the brink for more than a year. Alitalia, the main airline for Italy, filed for bankruptcy protection back in 2017. Several other airlines have flirted with buying a stake in Alitalia, but so far none of the deals have gone through. Recently Ferrovie dello Stato, the state-owned rail company, entered negotiations to buy the airline along with Delta and EasyJet.

When booking your air travel, do your due diligence and be sure the airline is financially solvent. It's also worth securing some insurance, in case your travel plans are disrupted.

New TGV high-speed trains coming to France

California's governor recently pulled the plug on the state's seriously delayed and seriously over budget high-speed train project, bringing to reality what many of us had feared all along – billions of dollars wasted for a train from Bakersfield to Merced, in other words from nowhere to nowhere.

Meanwhile Alstom, a manufacturer of train equipment, is giving a sneak preview of the next generation of high-speed trains in France, capable of reaching 220 mph with more passengers and less energy than previous generations.

Travel Thought for the Week

“To travel is to possess the world. The traveler possesses the world more completely than those who own vast properties. Owners become the slaves of what they own.”

– Burton Holmes, American writer, 1870

More ruins to visit in Rome

One of my favorite off-the-radar sites in Rome, Largo di Torre Argentina, will open to the public in 2021. Right now you can only view the ruins from the street above, but thanks to funding provided by fashion company Bulgari the ground level of the site will soon be accessible.

I love taking my tour groups past this site which, to the casual tourist, just looks like a big hole in the ground with some broken bits of stone. There are tons of these in Rome, but there are two things that make Largo Argentina special: it's home to some of the oldest ruins in Rome, with four temples dating to around 200 BC; and it's adjacent to the ruins of the portico of the Theater of Pompey – the place where Julius Caesar was assassinated. If you stand in the right spot, near the tram stop, you are actually standing on top of the site where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of Roman senators.

OK, there is a third reason I like bringing groups here. This is also where you can get a look at an ancient Roman toilet – the flat stone with the keyhole cut-out at the top of the picture is a section of the seats, which used to sit over the deep trench below. Keep in mind that this whole thing was in an enclosed building. A large volume of water would have been flowing through the deep trench, above which there was a long bench with fifty or so keyhole-shaped cutouts. Sitting cheek to cheek, there was no privacy inside.

The clientele would sit facing towards the left of the picture, with their feet on the wide shelf of the carved stone you can see running next to the trench. Clean water was flowing through the little gutter in front of that. When you entered the building a toilet slave handed each person a stick with a sponge on the end. When you were finished with your business, you dipped the sponge into the clean water and used the sponge to clean yourself. Just hope that you weren’t down stream from a double-dipper.
We’re actually only looking at half of the facilities. There was an identical set on the opposite side, now under the road that we’re standing on. Think about that during intermission the next time you’re at the theater. What would you give for a bathroom that had 100 seats?

Tulip Time! River cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium

Spring in Belgium and the Netherlands means flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. Admire the genius of the Dutch Masters at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Explore Hoorn’s seafaring heritage, Arnhem’s World War II history and Antwerp’s Renaissance splendor. See colorful ribbons of farmland as Dutch tulips come into bloom. Sample Belgian beers and chocolates. Step into the Middle Ages in Bruges. Roam Keukenhof Gardens, the world’s largest floral park. The best time to see the Low Countries is spring, and the best way to see them is on a 10-day river cruise.

Departures from early March through early May 2020 (2019 dates are already sold out).

2020 departures are filling fast. Contact us today to reserve a cabin on one of these river cruises.

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