Good Night and God Bless
Born in Brisbane, Queensland and educated by Ursuline nuns in Toowoomba, Trish Clark - author of Good Night & God Bless - was an enthusiastic bookworm from an early age. Reading stimulated an avid interest in other cultures and led to a love of travel and adventure, which continues to this day.
Trish didn’t put pen to paper until recently. Owner of a successful travel marketing business, she opted to forgo formal work to travel and to further her research into convent and monastery accommodation in Europe, with the idea of writing a book. A background of staying in religious guesthouses amounted to a lengthy database of information and enough material for at least three volumes.
Trish is currently finalizing the second volume of Good Night and God Bless, which covers the convents, abbeys, and monasteries of France, Ireland and England. Soon to be published by Hidden Spring, a division of Paulist Press, the book is scheduled for release on January 31, 2010.
Swedish Convent in Rome
Trish Clark’s unique travel guide, GOOD NIGHT & GOD BLESS, A Guide to Convent & Monastery Accommodation In Europe, Volume 1: Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, dishes up the details on affordable accommodation, local tourist information, and places of pilgrimage. Bathed in the golden light of history and religion, the author’s enticing travel tidbits and anecdotes will appeal to real life and armchair travelers alike. It is also the Winner of the Silver IPPY Award 2009 - Travel Guide Books!
Tim Fischer, AC, Australian Ambassador to the Holy See muses, “Who knows the contacts, codes and ancient secrets that await by sleeping in a cardinal’s bedroom or a bishop’s bedchamber?” With this in mind, I was enthusiastically eager to interview Trish and get the low down!
Here's what Trish had to say...
WE: Please tell us about your book, Good Night & God Bless...
TC: Good Night and God Bless is a guide to accommodation in the working convents and monasteries of Europe – places that are run by various Christian religious denominations for men and women, pilgrims and tourists of all faiths and none.
Hospitality has long been a tradition of religious orders and these days, with religious communities struggling under the weight of the maintenance costs of ancient buildings and a decline in the number of monks, priests and nuns, the only winners are the traveling public. Throughout Europe unused monks and nuns’ cells are being quietly refurbished, some with added en suites, and they’ve been opened up as general accommodation. Many once-dour rectories, where simple repasts were eaten either in silence or to the sombre tones of a monk or nun reading from the scriptures, have become lively places of conversation and some surprisingly good dining.
As well as providing information on accommodation, Good Night and God Bless also covers directions, tourist information, things to do in the surrounding area, places to eat (and drink), travel tid-bits and anecdotes against a fascinating backdrop of history and religion. Packaged as the modern traveler’s bible, this easy to flip through book has rounded corners, a red satin bookmark, biblical style fonts and illustrations and full-colour photos. A true modern traveler’s bible.
Cafe outside Tuscan Monastery
WE: What was the genesis of this book?
TC: Good Night and God Bless must be what is called a ‘slow book’ as I am sure it all started about 30 years ago when I was a very poor, very young backpacker traveling in Europe. I found myself in Rome and when I arrived at the youth hostel where I had booked a room, I found that they had on-sold my bed because I had arrived late. The manager was very helpful however, and told me I was not to worry that he would book me into the convent up the road. Well, I can tell you, I was worried! Having left school not all that long before and having been taught by nuns, the last thing I wanted was to spend my holiday with them. However, not exactly being flush with funds meant that I had no choice and I soon found myself trudging up the hill to this convent on the Via Sistina, near the top of the Spanish Steps. I thought I would stay one night and move out first thing the next morning. However, quite unexpectedly -- and to my enormous surprise -- my first night at the convent turned out to be a reluctantly enjoyable and even comfortable one. The convent was rather grand, having been a palace before it was left to the order. The nuns, even though they couldn’t speak much English, were kind and helpful, even to the extent of providing me with a list of affordable restaurants and cafes in the area. The convent was spotlessly clean, in a great location, and I could eat as many bread rolls as I wanted at breakfast. I even shoved one in my pocket for later when I thought the nuns weren’t looking! I felt very safe there but the best thing at the time was that it was cheap.
Benedictine Abbey in Vienna
WE: What is unique about staying in alternative accommodations such as convents, monasteries, etc.?
TC: Like many travelers, when I am abroad I am always looking for something new and different and staying in a convent or monastery which was once off-limits to the general public never fails to satisfy that curiosity.
Since that first experience in a convent guesthouse and the lingering sense of history, tradition and religious culture, which almost always accompanies them, I have found them fascinating. Many are home to a treasury of art, medieval architecture, ancient books, manuscripts and museums and relics of a long gone era. Of course the more modern day trappings of cafes, restaurants and wine cellars are also welcome to a tired and hungry tourist. Most of the grand country monasteries in Austria cater to tourists in vast entertaining areas where the food and wine is most likely grown by the monks themselves – the magnificent and massive Abbey of Melk, (once taken over by Napoleon Bonaparte and his troops) is a testament to all the above. The 1000 year old Brevnov Monastery in Prague is open to all for accommodation, a tour through centuries of religious history and hearty meals of goulash and dumplings washed down with hefty pots of Benedictine brewed beer in the monk’s buzzy restaurant.
Around the corner from an elegant Swedish convent in the heart of Rome (The King and Queen of Sweden were once guests here according to the convent visitors book proudly shown to me by Sister Gertrude) is one of the most unique restaurants in the whole city, L’Eau Vive in the Via Monterone – run by an order of French nuns. At precisely 2100 every evening the service stops and the nuns invite diners to join them in singing the hymn ‘Ave Maria.’ And there is no excuse for not singing – hymn cards, in English are handed to each guest. By the way, the food is wonderful and the French wine (we shared a bottle of silky red from St. Emillion) was extraordinarily well priced.
Monastery restaurant in Prague
WE: What is the difference between staying at a monastery which is open to tourists and one which accepts guests for religious purposes only, such as retreats, pilgrimages?
TC: Yes, whatever you do – don’t get these two types of convent/monastery guesthouses mixed up or you might find yourself spending your holiday in silence!
Monasteries and convents which are open to tourists are listed in the book under the heading Open Houses. These places are generally relaxed in atmosphere and guests can come and go as they please. There are no strict rules, although sometimes a curfew (usually quite generous, these days) might be in place. However, it is naturally expected that guests will respect the lifestyle of the religious people living there.
Those wishing to include some religious activities in their European sojourn will find suitable accommodation listed under Spiritual Retreats. These places provide temporary accommodation for those wishing to undertake a retreat, or pilgrimage or just spend some ‘quiet’ days. Please be aware that a house of Spiritual Retreat is not in any way suitable for the tourist or the general traveler as a place of overnight accommodation. However, the common denominator is a warm welcome.
Religious Owned Hotel in Prague
WE: Do you have some tips for arranging and staying in convents and monasteries?
• Book early and don’t necessarily expect to hear back immediately. Monks and nuns have other important things to do which take priority.
• Don’t write as you would if booking a room in a luxury chain hotel. Write as though you are requesting to stay in someone’s house.
• Book via email if possible, and with the help of a free Internet language translator (not perfect, but workable) translate the text into the local language and send it off in English as well.
• If curfews are a concern please enquire before making a booking.
• And most importantly – relax, be happy, and enjoy this unique experience.
WE: Where are your favourite ones?
TC: Where do I start – the medieval convent in Salzburg, which has been occupied by Benedictine nuns since its founding in the 7th century, or the historic, hospitable and well-located monastery in the centre of Vienna. I adore the Tuscan monastery where the Sacristan once locked out Prince Charles because he arrived late (not to rest the royal bones but to inspect the monk’s 14th century frescoes.) Then there is the waterfront monastery in Nice with a view to die for and the Paris monastery located near the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées. For convenience (not luxury) the convent near Harrods in London and I think I could seriously consider moving permanently to Kylemore Abbey, on the banks of a salmon lake in the thick of the Irish Connemara in Galway. That is, when the nuns’ upmarket boarding school closes next year, that the sisters might consider opening up the boarders’ rooms to tourists. Note: Actor Angelica Huston is a past student.
WE: Who can stay in a convent or a monastery?
TC: Tourists, travelers and pilgrims—be they men, women, children, individuals, families or larger groups—are welcome to stay in these convent and monastery guesthouses. And the warm hospitality is extended to non-Catholics as well as those of no religious beliefs. Any exceptions eg gender issues, are noted.
WE: Can unmarried couples stay in a monastery?
TC: I guess there would be nothing to stop an unmarried couple turning up at a convent guesthouse requesting accommodation. However, it comes down to a matter of respect. Every house and home has unspoken rules which guests naturally respect and it is no different when staying in the home of a monk or a nun. I would advise an unmarried couple to consider alternative accommodation—and come back to the convent when you are married!
WE: Is the accommodation comfortable?
TC: The accommodation varies in style and comfort and can range from a basic guestroom with a shared bathroom (usually very cheap) through to convents which are well versed in offering hospitality and comfort to guests. En suite bathrooms and elevators have been installed, rooms are comfortably furnished some with television and dining rooms are open for meals. Some convents and monastery guesthouses are run on a hotel style basis (sometimes not by the nuns themselves) and full hotel facilities are available. On a recent visit to the Casa Carmelitana in Rome I was most impressed with the modern, newly renovated rooms and bathrooms and the new king size bed. See for yourself at www.domuscarmelitana.com
Monastery in the Loire, France
WE: Can children stay in a convent?
TC: Families are always welcome in a convent or a monastery guesthouse except in those places where the nuns or monks live under a strict rule of silence. I once stayed at a waterfront monastery in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast. It was during the Italian school holidays and the place was full of families. Breakfast was a busy time with dozens of kids in their swimming gear, impatient for their parents to finish eating so they could head to the beach. Over breakfast one morning I was told by one family member that they come here for a week every year in summer for a cheap holiday in a great location and to be somewhere where the children are safe.
WE: We spotted that Good Night & God Bless: A Guide to Convent & Monastery Accommodation in Europe – Austria, Czech Republic and Italy – is Volume One. Are you presently working on Volume 2? And what countries will this cover? Where can we purchase your book?
TC: Good Night and God Bless Volume I was released in the USA and Canada in June, 2009 and is available from all good bookstores, Christian bookstores, and online bookstores including amazon.com. Publisher is Hidden Spring, an imprint of Paulist Press.
Volume II covers the convents and monasteries of France, United Kingdom and Ireland and will be released in February 2010. For more information please have a look at the website, www.goodnightandgodbless.com
WE: Thanks so very much, Trish! I can't WAIT for our next trip to Europe - we'll be planning - and going - with your book in hand! It is such an excellent resource.
We've got a great book review up on our site! Head to Book Review: Good Night and God Bless to see it.
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Feature photo: Kylemore Abbey.
All photos courtesy and copyright of Trish Clark.