I was sent “Good Night and God Bless” to review while I was in the midst of great chaos. My website, www.girlsgetaway.com was fast approaching its launch and there were a million and one things that needed to be done. During this time of stress Trish Clark’s book was my oasis, my port in the storm, and my escape. What working woman, mother, or wife doesn’t sometimes fantasize about escaping to a simpler way of life? This book tempts you to live the dream, at least for a short while. It’s easy to dive into this book and lose yourself in the places she describes in beautiful detail when the details of everyday life are too overwhelming. If you love ancient architecture and exotic locales as much as I do, I can’t imagine you’d find a better way to plan a trip to Europe than to look through this book. In fact, by the time I finished it, I was ready to pack up and go!
In an easy to use directory style this book informs us about the many convents and monasteries in Europe that have opened their doors to the public and are offering room and (sometimes) board. It starts off with a wonderful intro about Trish’s first stay in a convent run by nuns in Rome. She found the nuns to be very friendly and accommodating, and it was her lovely experience that led to her idea for this book. I must admit I really wouldn’t mind having her job; some of the places she writes about sound incredible. They look pretty incredible too; at the very beginning of the book, just to whet our appetites a bit, we are treated to a couple pages of really spectacular photography.
In the introduction, Clark reassures us that “… staying in a religious establishment does not necessarily mean adopting austerity. Pleasure does not necessarily go out the window the minute you look in.” In fact, being a non-practicing Catholic myself, this was my first concern upon picking up this book: would I feel welcomed at any of these places? But this concern has not been overlooked. The listed monasteries are separated into two categories: those listed as Open Houses welcome tourists (presumably tourists of all faiths or none), and those that are particularly for visitors “… seeking a spiritual experience or wishing to make a pilgrimage or retreat,” are listed (fittingly enough) as Spiritual Retreats.
The extremely well organized and well designed layout of the book make it very easy to make these distinctions; each listing is marked with a color coded banner which indicates whether it is an Open House (red) or a Spiritual Retreat (orange). In fact, the attractive layout of the book is a definite point in its favor. Travel guides are often cramped and ugly, with little consistency between pages and the most important information stuffed in some silly random corner where you’d never find it. But “Good Night and God Bless” is easy to look at and easy to use. The book is sectioned off by country, each then separated by region, and then by individual listings. Each ‘Country’ section finishes up with a list of accommodations that particularly welcome pilgrimages, and then a list of additional accommodations. Each listing always includes a handy little info column on the first page, which lists things like the address, the accommodation price, and whether it is open to all genders. This is usually followed with a description of the accommodations, information about places of interest in regions nearby, and a listing of restaurants and cafes.
For the thriftier travelers among us, the listings vary widely in price range; some of the prices are really shockingly low (and some are pretty high). The lowest price I found was Svaty Hostyn in Moravia, Czech Republic, which was listed as (I had to read it several times to make sure I’d seen it right) €9 per person (about $12 US). The highest price I found was Casa di Santa Brigada in Rome, which was listed as €100 per person (about $140 US). The average price was generally around €40 – €50 ($60 – $70 US).
Volume One covers Austria, the Czech Republic, and Italy, and I’m assuming (and hoping) that future volumes will cover more ground. I am absolutely positive that, before my next visit to Europe, “Good night and God Bless” will be one of the first books I pick up.