Sunday, May 08, 2011

Europe on $5 a day

Wallowing in nostalgia, I'm leafing through Frommer's "Europe on $5.00 a Day", 1969 edition. Considered a splurge, a double room at the Hotel d'Inghilterra in Rome near the Spanish Steps would cost you 6200 lire or $10.00 including two breakfasts, tax and service.  Current published rack rate is 430 Euro without tax or breakfast - comes out to $678.00 for room and tax, $78 for two breakfasts making a total of $756.00. 

Arthur's dining "Big Splurge" in Rome, 1969 would be the Trattoria Romolo where for $1.95 you could start with spaghetti alla boscaiola followed by abbachio all'cacciatore, an ensalata mista and a dessert. Arthur describes this dinner as "unequalled" but even in 1969 I'd be a little suspicious of a restaurant in Rome serving a Charlot for dessert - sponge cake, covered with whipped cream, chopped cherries and grated peanuts. 

I think the best tip he had for Rome was the free tour offered by five, multi-lingual Dutch nuns, "Foyer Unitas" who wore ordinary street clothes and offered tours only to non-Catholic visitors. The non-proselytizing sisters delivered their own kind of tour and would examine a particular site in depth. They might spend an entire morning showing you one building or one particular area of the Vatican. "They'll spend hours discoursing about the history and background of one of the Roman catacombs, another morning taking you through the Vatican Museum". 

A Google search revealed that these nuns were still conducting free tours circa 1989 (see Q and A below) but the Foyer seems to have morphed into something quite different once the nuns grew elderly and eventually died. 

Frommer included a "sub-starvation budget" section in some of these books. Why did we think it was so much fun to travel on the cheap this way? I didn't make it to Europe in the 60's but according to my husband, every American traveling in Europe during those years was clutching their Frommers, studying it on trains, quoting it to friends and underlining the best parts.  My second hand copy is full of underlined sections, has notes written all over it and has sections ripped out.  Maybe the reader ate the pages!!

In Brussels Mr. Frommer suggests the sub-starvationer go to the cafeteria of the Au Bon Marche department store, order a plate of french fries for 8 francs or 16 cents, request the free béarnaise sauce ( a huge portion), preceding it all with soup for 6 francs and a roll for 1.5 francs. A satisfying meal cobbled together for 31 cents which you can further "enliven" with a glass of red wine for 6 francs - 12 cents. 

Let's go pack!


Q. I have heard about a group of nuns who conduct tours of holy places in Rome. Can you tell me how to contact them? - L. R., Bronx, N.Y.

A. The Ladies of Bethany are Dutch Roman Catholic Nuns who offer travel services at Foyer Unitas, 30 Via Santa Maria Dell'Anima; telephone 6865951. They conduct tours of Rome and the Vatican and give lectures at the Foyer Unitas, and the subjects are not only religious. The sisters are also available at Foyer Unitas to give information about Rome to anyone who stops by. Generally they conduct walking tours every Tuesday and Thursday morning and two Saturday mornings a month and give one-hour slide lectures Monday and Friday evenings at 5:30 (visitors are welcome at 5 P.M. for tea). They also arrange for Wednesday morning audiences with the Pope. Tickets for audiences must be booked ahead; a preparatory talk is given Tuesday at 7 P.M. All the services are free. 


  1. oh - this makes me so frustrated that I didn't travel to Europe in the 60s when it was cheap. Of course, everything is relative. We could probably afford more a day now, within reason, that is.

    I remember traveling in Peru in the 70s. I could have written a book called Peru on $1.00 a day! It was that cheap. Of those were the days.

  2. Ahahah! Good times when we were using the Lira! The Euro got everybody poorer here in Italy, except for retailers, hoteliers, restaurateurs, etc., of course! Those people simply adjusted their prices this way: 2,000 Liras=2 Euro (when it should have been 2,000 Liras=1 Euro)!
    And moreover, the the devaluation of the US dollar, compared with the Euro, brought our export sales and overseas tourist trade down.