Johnny Jet's Travel Blog

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

I scored a room at the London Ritz --yeah baby! It's one of the nicest and most famous hotels in the world. Obviously it's not cheap � even the name sounds expensive. To give you an idea, I spent $40 just on 24 hours of high-speed internet service -- ouch! That's more than I pay for a month at home. However, the Ritz clientele doesn't care about those inflated prices. All they want is service, prestige and privacy. And service at the Ritz is amazing. They have 320 staff for just 130 rooms. If you need anything like extra towels � boom! Within a couple of minutes a housekeeper dressed in a French maid's outfit is at your door with freshly folded towels. Forget to charge your cell phone? No problem. The concierge has a gadget that can fully charge batteries in 10 minutes! For those who want to stay out of the public eye, photographs are not allowed to be taken except in The Palm Court during one of their afternoon tea sittings.

Speaking of afternoon tea, it's one of those things everyone should do at least once (cost: 34 pounds = $41 per person). But be sure to make your reservations in advance. The 3:30 p.m. seating requires one month's notice for weekdays, four months on weekends. Earlier tea times that are not as popular, such as 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. are sometimes available the same day. When going for a spot of tea, be sure to dress appropriately. That means gentlemen (as the Ritz calls us) need to wear a jacket and tie. The same rules apply for guests eating lunch or dinner in the hotel (not breakfast). This is one of the few hotels in the world that still has a dress code. Although it's not my cup of tea (pun intended), I'm glad the Ritz is keeping proper English tradition alive. It makes for a pleasant "time machine" travel experience. BTW: The restaurant is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Europe. It's worth dressing up for.

My room was a woman's dream. It felt very feminine, with lots of pink and restored antique Ritz furniture. Like all the rooms mine was huge, with high ceilings and immaculate detail. The bathroom was spacious, and was filled with luxurious toiletries. But for the prices the Ritz, charges they need to get better mattresses. Mine was kind of lumpy. However, the bedding was extraordinary, and I slept like a king. The elevators are small and so slow that I took the Grand Staircase most of the time. But who's in a hurry at the Ritz? Rates begin at $575. The Ritz London, 150 Piccadilly, London; Tel: 20-7493-8181; fax: 20-7493-2687.

The London Ritz was not the first Ritz built. The Paris Ritz opened in 1898. The Ritz London followed eight years later. In honor of its predecessor, the London Ritz's exterior features Parisian architectural traditions.
For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Unlike Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, I did not have the luxury of hopping on Sir Leigh Teabing's private jet from Paris to London. But I'm happy I didn't, because I would have missed out on Eurostar. I have always wanted to take this train service that carries passengers between Paris and London (and other cities as well) since it began in 1994. I must admit though, I have always been a little nervous, because it travels under the English Channel. I used to think the Channel Tunnel was a prime terrorist target, but after doing some research I realize it would be very difficult to do significant damage. The 31 mile-long tunnel (24 miles are actually under water) runs 150 feet below the seabed. That's not easy to blow up -- and even if that happened, it wouldn't fill with water. Both entrances are heavily guarded, and passengers go through airport-style security checks before getting on. That made me feel so much better!

Passengers use Paris' Gare du Nord and London's Waterloo stations (here's helpful info on Waterloo and Gare du Nord). Right now the trip takes 2:35 between those two cities. The top speed is 186 mph, and we spent 23 minutes going through the tunnel (I timed it!). In the second half of 2007 London's station will be moved to St Pancras. This will allow access to faster tracks, and will cut travel time by 20 minutes. Prices are reasonable (especially if you book in advance), starting around $100 USD roundtrip for coach class, $242 for Leisure Select (first class). Tickets are available online from I love to fly, but it's silly to take a plane (unless it's Teabing's jet) between these two places. Eurostar is really the only way to travel. It saves time, money and aggravation as you arrive in the heart of each city. No wonder 65 million travelers have taken Eurostar since it began. Interesting tidbit: The Eurostar staff has found more than 1,000 copies of The Da Vinci Code left behind by passengers.

One of my best tips for traveling by train (especially in Europe) is to pack light. Trust me: It makes your travels so much easier. Just take one rolling bag and a smaller tote/backpack/camera bag as the maximum to carry. Follow the same rule as before going on any trip: Lay out all the clothes you plan to take on your bed, then pack half as much -- and twice as much money! For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sophie and Langdon drove their little smart car out to Sir Leigh Teabing's residence: Ch�teau de Villette. This is a real place, 35 minutes northwest of Paris. Coincidentally, I met Olivia Hsu Decker � the owner of the 18-bedroom, 21-bath, 3-kitchen estate -- in Fiji a couple of years ago. We have mutual friends, so I received an inside tour of the 185-acre property, including Teabing's secret office and the couch where the keystone was hidden. Twenty chapters of the book take place at the Chateau, and the crew filmed there for five days last summer. The Ch�teau was built in 1668 by Jules Hardouin Mansart. Like everyone else, Ms. Decker is capitalizing on the book. She offers DVC packages with tours and lodgings for 3,900 � to 4,300 � ($4,700 - $5,100) per person (excluding airfare). For something not so extravagant, try the Chateau's DVC gourmet tours; they include a meal from a renowned chef. Lunch from 11 a.m. � 3 p.m. (140 � per person = $168); the dinner tour runs from 5 to 9:30 p.m. (180 � = $216). Ch�teau de Villette, For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Monday, March 27, 2006

Even if you are not a Da Vinci Code fan, the Louvre is a must. The museum � formerly the residence of French kings -- is now one of the largest museums in the world. It houses over 35,000 works of art, and is more than 8 miles long. The outside of the building is a work of art too. You could literally spend weeks inside, yet still not see everything. But who has time for that? Instead sign up for the Cityrama "Da Vinci Code" tour of the Louvre. It's two and a half hours long, and your guide will know everything about both the Louvre and the book. Tours start at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays only. Cityrama "Da Vinci Code" tour of the Louvre, adult: � 39.00; child: � 19.50.

The Louvre plays an important role in the book and movie. The movie filmed here for three weeks (at night). That's a big deal, because they were the first foreign filmmakers allowed to shoot inside the Louvre. Museum curator Jacques Sauni�re was murdered in the Grande Galerie. The Louvre is also where Sophie takes a black light to the Mona Lisa, and discovers the phrase "So dark the con of man." She realizes this translates to "Madonna of the Rocks" (the painting she threatens to put her knee through). BTW: That painting was done on wood, so it would be difficult to put one's knee through it. Before Sauni�re is murdered, he pulls a Caravaggio painting off the wall. The idea is to set off the alarm, so iron gates would come down. Notice, however, there are no iron gates -- and all of Caravaggio's paintings are difficult for anyone to lift. Especially difficult is "La Mort de la Vierge," the painting our guide believes is the one Dan Brown wrote about. The painting is roughly 9 feet wide and 15 feet high, with a heavy wood frame. Also check out the bathroom where Sophie throws Langdon's GPS tracker from the window -- you'll see there are no windows. Another inaccuracy: Dan Brown wrote there are 666 panes in I.M. Pei's glass pyramid (the main entrance). Brown may have gotten that inaccurate number from the 1999 edition of Let's Go Paris. No one knows exactly how many panes there are. The Louvre's website claims 698, while the museum's information desk says 630. My guide counted 674. Pei's office gives the number as 673. One thing is for sure: There probably are not 666, because that number is the sign of the devil. But no matter; this place is fun to retrace the steps of the characters, and also marvel at Leonard da Vinci's masterpieces. The Louvre: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., except Tuesdays. Cost: 8.50 �. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Sunday, March 26, 2006

After the tour you will probably be hungry (the caf� and croissant you gulped down rushing to make the tour just didn't fill you up). Before exploring other Paris sites before your evening guided tour of the Louvre, why not head up the world's most famous street -- the Champs-Elys�es � and grab lunch. It's not a far walk. I know all you Paris regulars are shaking your head, maybe even shouting French expletives at your computer screen, because everything on the Champs-Elys�es is twice the price. I know that too -- yet it's a must stop for first-timers, as well as regulars willing to pay for the views and atmosphere. As for myself, I would be happy to grab a jambon and fromage sandwich from a French shop for a fifth of the price, then eat in the park or pull up to a small, hidden, cozy French caf� for a bite. But if you want a little action, have lunch at L'Atelier Renault. It looks like just a Renault showroom, but upstairs there's a cool, happening restaurant with a contemporary design. Prices aren't bad. An appetizer and main course cost �23 ($27). I had the coulis de potiron souffle de champignons, which -- thanks to -- translates into pumpkin soup with mushrooms. I also had the poulet (chicken). Open from noon - 1:00 a.m. L'Atelier Renault, 53, Champs-Elys�es, 75008 Paris; tel.: 01-49-53-70-70. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Saturday, March 25, 2006

We arrived on the Left Bank at the gallery district, then walked to the final stop: the Church of Saint-Sulpice (it may be closed on Sundays for Mass). This is where Silas, the Opus Dei monk, goes to find the keystone as he follows the infamous Rose Line to the towering obelisk where he mistakenly believed the Holy Grail rested. Inside, notice the candles on the altar that Silas used as a weapon. He must have had Sampson's strength, because those candles are huge! Notice too that there is no choir lodge where the nun watched Silas as he looked for the keystone. Here's an idea of how popular this book is becoming: Last summer 20,000 additional visitors went to the Church of Saint-Sulpice. I bet they beat that at least tenfold this summer. Da Vinci Code Tour by Classic Walks Paris, everyday at 10 a.m., costs �20 ($24); tel.: 33-0-1-56-58-10-54. Reservations are not required, but may be made in advance by logging on to their website. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Friday, March 24, 2006

Just outside of the Ritz Paris at Place Vend�me (closest M�tro station: Tuileries, line 1) we met Connie Kubicek, our American-living-in-Paris tour guide. She works for Classic Walks, which offers a daily Da Vinci Code Walk at 10 a.m. The 2-hour tour takes visitors through the pages of Dan Brown's novel, and begins with a quiz (refresher course) about the book. We then walked to the Louvre, via the Jardin des Tuileries gardens. It was still too cold out for flowers. We spent only 10 minutes in the Louvre (don't worry � we'll go there shortly on another tour). That was just enough time to get warm, and see the inverted pyramid that was believed to house the Holy Grail. Note: The only thing below the inverted pyramid is a parking lot -- I checked!

We went back out in the cold, rain and hail -- dress warm, and bring an umbrella! Before crossing the Seine River on the Pont des Arts, we stopped to see one of the "Bronze Medallions" (the Rose Line). In the book the Rose Line (Paris meridian) is just a conversation piece between characters. But there are actually 135 of these "Arago" signs in Paris. Before Greenwich was established, they were used to determine geographical coordinates. Arago is named after 19th- century scientist and politician Fran�ois Arago. These baseball-sized medallions are set in the ground, and made from the bronze of a statue that once represented Fran�ois Arago. For more information and medallion locations, check out For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Thursday, March 23, 2006

We began our tour at the Paris Ritz. This 4-star L (L=luxe) hotel, located in the Place Vend�me, has 162 luxurious rooms, and is where the rich and famous stay. Room number 512 was used in the opening scene, in which Professor Robert Langdon is awakened by telephone. Though the Ritz is arguably the nicest hotel in Paris, it is not 5 stars because Paris has no 5-star hotels. That's a long story; the short reason is, it's for tax reasons. As Dan Brown described in the book, the rooms are decorated with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls and mahogany four-poster beds. As expected, service is exquisite. You can pretend you are Robert Langdon for 670� ($800) a night. That's because the Ritz Paris has rolled out their very own Da Vinci Code package deal. Guests spend the night in 512, and take home a heavy Ritz-embroidered bathrobe. If the price is too steep (or the package deal is sold out), go to the Hemingway bar and have Colin Field (one of the most famous bartenders in the world) make you an "Opus Dei" drink (champagne, drop of vodka, grapefruit juice and sugar) for 23� ($27). H�tel Ritz, 15 Place Vend�me, 75001 Paris; tel.: 33-1-43-16-30-30. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Da Vinci Code is an enormously successful book. There are over 44 million copies in circulation worldwide, making it second only to the Bible. Is that crazy?! (If you have it delivered by using this link, we make a small commission). Whether you like the book or not, I promise you two things: 1) This summer, Europe will be invaded by visitors walking around with DVC books, following the paths of Sophie Neveu and Robert Langdon (the two main characters) as they travel from France to Scotland in hopes of discovering the mystery behind the Holy Grail. 2) By the end of the summer you will be all Da Vinci'ed out. It's unbelievable how huge this book and movie are getting. I've never seen anything like it. DVC has created such a buzz, it seems almost every French and British hotel owner, tour operator and tourist board is rolling out Da Vinci Code tours or packages. It's crazy! But it's cool to see how many jobs and opportunities have been created from one book.

Director Ron Howard was not allowed to film his DVC version in every place mentioned in the book. That's good news for visitors and the towns that were selected. Doors will open to some incredible places you most likely would have missed. Those cities' economies will roar with the flood of tourism. The DVC movie opens on May 17 in Europe, May 19 in the U.S. Tom Hanks stars as symbologist Robert Langdon, along with Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), Jean Reno (Bezu Fache), Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing), Paul Bettany (Silas) and Alfred Molina (Bishop Aringarosa). For more cast of characters, check out To watch the trailer log on to

I was invited to go on the Da Vinci Code movie tour by the French Tourist Office, Visit Britain, Visit Scotland and Rail Europe. They've all teamed up to recreate the Da Vinci Code experience in anticipation of the new movie. The theme of the trip was to hit locations from the book and movie, following the footsteps of the stars across Paris, England and Edinburgh. We even stayed in some of the same hotels, ate at the same restaurants and did some of the tours the stars did while filming this 10-month project (it ended last September).

Let's get a couple of things straight before we begin this amazing three-country tour (I don't want religious fanatics sending me nasty emails). 1) The book is a work of fiction. Period! Author Dan Brown admitted it, and so did everyone else I have met so far on this journey. They all think its fun � which it is. I didn't read the book until last week myself. Not because I am Catholic and the book has created all kinds of controversy with the church, but because I have been crazy busy. But obviously I had to read the book (or listen to it on tape) before I left. I now understand why the book is so popular. Every page keeps you hanging -- and the characters travel to places everyone wants to go. 2). It's amazing how many close-minded people are still out there. If you are not open-minded, you're missing out on a lot, and you probably shouldn't being traveling. Travel is all about being open-minded, learning new cultures, trying new things. For example, I just ate sweetbreads an hour ago. That's right: I thought I swallowed cow balls -- and that was just my appetizer. Then I did a Google search. Phew! I learned I didn't eat what I was told. It was either the pancreas, neck or thymus gland. Now if you'll excuse me a minute while I go get sick... For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bonjour from France! This week we begin a three-country trek through Europe following the path of Dan Brown's novel (soon to be a major motion picture), The Da Vinci Code (DVC). We begin in Paris; if you want to come along, make sure to keep an open mind, bring your DVC book and your sleuth gear -- because we're off to crack the the Da Vinci Code! (If you're in a hurry or have ADD, don't worry; there's a 2-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story.)

I was home for only a couple of days � just enough time change my clothes and go to the Amazing Race premiere in Hollywood. (Did you know it takes a two-month commitment of seclusion -- no phone or email -- to be on that show?) The next day I was off to Europe via Newark on Continental. I figured might as well make the layover to my advantage, so I visited friends and family for the night in Connecticut (50 miles away). Because I changed my outbound flight by a few hours I lost my plush coach seat 16C -- an exit row aisle with a reclining seat on Continental's 737-900 series plane (see for the best seats on a wide variety of planes). That was a mistake. The plane to Newark was packed. The only decent seat I could get was 17F (a cramped window seat). Continental needs to start removing a few rows. I'm not particularly tall (6-0), but my knees were jammed. I have no idea how the 6-5 guy sitting next to me in the middle managed. I felt like I was in solitary confinement, because the one time I got up to use the loo, the woman on the aisle gave me attitude. Does that piss you off or what? (Pun intended.) Listen, people: If you don't want to get up, then sit by the window!

As expected, Connecticut in March was miserable. I'm glad I don't live there anymore � who wants to deal with such cold, depressing weather? It was nice to see everyone � I just wish they'd all move to California for the winter. Eighteen hours after I landed at Newark, I was back � this time on my way to Paris. Yeah, baby -- everyone get up and dance! I took Continental's 10:10 p.m. departure, and was amazed to find that it was a 757, filled to the brim. Can you believe they fly a single-aisle plane to Europe? Talk about being cramped! (Continental's 6:45 p.m. departure to Paris is a wide body 777.) The good news is, I scored an aisle with cool and tiny seatmates, and flight time was only six and a half hours. Gotta love the jet stream going east. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Monday, March 20, 2006

The drive from Buffalo to Toronto was easy. I'm glad I did it, because I learned so much. For example, the bus station is only 5 minutes from the border. Crossing the border requires everyone to show a valid ID (passports are not necessary until December 31, 2007). After the Canadian agent approves (he asks some personal questions like when and where you were born, where you're going and what you'll do), the next hurdle looms 100 yard away. But it's only a toll booth at the Peace Bridge. The charge is $2.50 per car. There was no traffic the day I went, and the entire process took less than 3 minutes. The 95-mile drive to Toronto took an hour and a half, and took us by cool vineyards and near Niagara Falls (here's a link to my Niagara Falls Trip). Both would make good stopovers for lunch.

My first stop in downtown Toronto was the distillery district. Founded in 1832, the 13-acre site with over 40 buildings includes the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America. The area has been renovated into a pedestrian-only village dedicated to the arts, culture and entertainment. There are internationally acclaimed galleries, great restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. One of the most popular attractions is Lileo. This not-inexpensive store is a cross between Fred Segal of Los Angeles and Barney's New York, though much smaller than either. Customers can shop for the hottest items in the fashion industry. Interestingly, every tag has its very own description of the company. There are also some incredible art pieces in the store. The owners are health nuts, so they opened a little caf� in the corner. Livia Juice Bar and Eatery serves delicious smoothies, and healthy organic snacks and meals. Another bonus: The store (though not the caf�) is dog-friendly. Lileo, 55 Mill Street, Distillery District, Toronto; tel.: 416-413-1410.

I tried a couple of new (for me) restaurants. The first -- The Rushton -- is located on St. Clair West, in the Little Italy district. This cozy, dark, reasonably priced restaurant is more like a French bistro that serves large portions. I had a half order of the warm potato and spinach salad ($8 CAD), a burger ($15) with caramelized shallots and Roquefort cheese ($3 extra), and a side of mac �n' cheese ($4).. It was all good, but left no room for dessert. The Rushton, 740 St Clair Ave. W., Toronto; tel.: 416-658-7874.

The following night I got my Italian fill. My friend Danielle Iversen (the best PR agent in Toronto), her friend David Blackstone and I went to a modern Italian restaurant called Autogrill. It's been around for 10 years � though not in Little Italy -- and my friends said the food has always been consistent and reasonably priced. We started by sharing a 10" thin "Calabrese" whole wheat pizza ($14.45 CAD) and a tomato and bocconcini salad ($7.25). For my main course I chose the Autogrill Spinello stone oven-baked gourmet pizza wrap. I asked them if they could customize one with the ingredients I liked. They kindly obliged, and it was tasty! No wonder this was voted the best sandwich by Canada's The Globe & Mail. For dessert I couldn't pass up the home-made tiramisu ($6.25). I don't really like tiramisu, but after hearing how good it was, I had to find out for myself. It was outrageous! Autogrill, 345 Adelaide Street W., Toronto; tel.: 416-599-0961.  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Erie was not only freezing cold (-1 F); with no snow on the ground, it was also dreary. I thought there was always snow in Erie in middle of winter. Fortunately, it snowed a little the following day, but not enough to take the kids sleigh riding. At least it made the scenery pretty, and added ambiance to the long, relaxing weekend. All we did was hang out by the fire with family and friends, and play games. We went out to dinner only once, to try out the new "Japanese Steak House." The food was good, reasonable (chicken and steak hibachi: $18), but there was something wrong with the heat. It was so cold that customers who were not sitting near the hibachi grill had to keep their jackets and hats on. But the kids' reaction to the entertaining hibachi chef was worth it. Japanese Steak House & Lounge, 970 Millcreek Mall, Erie, PA; tel.: 814-868-7999.

Although Toronto is only 200 miles from Erie there is no easy, inexpensive way to get there. If you fly you have to connect through one of the airlines' hub cities (unless of course you've got a private jet). But my name is Johnny Jet, not Johnny Rockefeller, so I looked for the quickest, most economical way. There is no train, and renting a car one way is not cheap. A bus was the cheapest alternative ($32), but with a lengthy layover and change in Buffalo would add 1 to 3 hours to the trip. Fortunately, a friend in Toronto was willing to pick me up halfway, so I took the Greyhound to Buffalo ($13). The quick 2-hour trip included a stop in Fredonia, NY to pick up some passengers. (A nonstop bus is also available at an earlier time; it saves another 15 minutes.) I would not recommend the bus to everyone, because every time I go Greyhound there's at least one sketchy person on board. TIP: The best and safest place to sit to avoid "crazies" is up front, near the driver. Of course, when I boarded the bus the only open seat was way in the back -- the second to last row. Everyone back there was twice my size, and they were talking about how they had just gotten out of jail. No lie! To avoid making any unintentionally provoking facial expressions I quickly donned earphones, sunglasses and a baseball cap (it makes me look tougher), and kept to myself. But the ex-cons turned out to be cool � and they were Yankee fans! Link to Greyhound website; 800-231-2222.  Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 17, 2006

Erie was not only freezing cold (-1 F); with no snow on the ground, it was also dreary. I thought there was always snow in Erie in middle of winter. Fortunately, it snowed a little the following day, but not enough to take the kids sleigh riding. At least it made the scenery pretty, and added ambiance to the long, relaxing weekend. All we did was hang out by the fire with family and friends, and play games. We went out to dinner only once, to try out the new "Japanese Steak House." The food was good, reasonable (chicken and steak hibachi: $18), but there was something wrong with the heat. It was so cold that customers who were not sitting near the hibachi grill had to keep their jackets and hats on. But the kids' reaction to the entertaining hibachi chef was worth it. Japanese Steak House & Lounge, 970 Millcreek Mall, Erie, PA; tel.: 814-868-7999. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Both flights were through Delta's Cincinnati hub (Airport code: CVG). On the flight there I ran into my friend Ron. We had dinner together at Max and Erma's, a chain restaurant featuring good ol' American food like hamburgers. It's located near Gate 9 in Concourse B. On the way back through CVG I ran into another friend -- what are the chances of that?! This time it was Kevin Wilkerson, the founder of I didn't eat with Kevin because I bumped into him as I was leaving the food court where I tried for the very first time a Cincinnati favorite: a 3-way. (No, it's NOT what you think!) A 3-way includes chili, cheese and spaghetti. That's right, chili over spaghetti! It sounds nasty, but I figured when in Rome� To top it off (pun intended) I even had the �Firehouse 3-way.� For only 20 cents more it adds a little kick (hot sauce). I asked if it came with a free bottle of Tums. The waitress laughed and said, "Don't worry, you'll love it!" I said, "Yeah, will my belly love it when I'm 35,000 feet up in the air?" She shrugged like, How do I know? My belly did just fine. Now I can't wait to pass through CVG to have some more 3-ways. BTW: Did you know the Cincinnati airport isn't really in Ohio? It's in northern Kentucky! For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My sister Carol and her family were heading up to Erie from Florida to spend a long weekend with my dad, who moved to Erie a couple of years ago. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to visit too, because I hadn't seen my niece and nephew in a month. It's always fun to get a family together. The only problem was that plane tickets to Erie cost over $450 (ouch!). Of course, I used the search engines on and found alternate airports like Cleveland (112 miles away) for $262, or Buffalo (105 miles away) or Pittsburgh (134 miles) for nearly the same low price. But who wants to drive �- especially in the snow. And after renting a car, the money saved will be negligible.

I decided my best option was to cash in some Delta SkyMiles. Their website was easy to use, and the dates for award travel were available. I even found out that for the same amount of miles (25,000) I could fly into Erie and out of Toronto. That's where I tape travel segments on Tech TV (links to my recent segments can be found under "web resources"). Because I would be so close (200 miles), I should take care of some business too, eh? For my LAX-ERI and YYZ-LAX flights Delta charged me � in addition to the 25,000 miles -- $64! I was expecting to pay around $10 for taxes and fees, not a $50 Award Ticket Redemption Fee. The booking fee is a total rip, penalizing passengers who book 14 days in advance or less. The airlines should be happy that passengers are booking award tickets not far ahead � it gives them more time to sell the seat. The fee is just another money maker for the airlines, because it certainly doesn't cost them any more money to put an electronic ticket together. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Before my dad and Nancy returned to cold weather we went to Santa Anita Park to watch the ponies run. My dad loves horse racing --that's why going to the Kentucky Derby is such a big deal for us (here's a link to that story). This was my first time to Santa Anita, because it always seemed too far. But that was just a silly excuse. It's only 40 miles from where I live (near LAX). The drive wasn't bad at all � there was no traffic. Luck was on our side. Not only did my dad keep picking winners; we also picked a perfect day to go. My house by the beach was cold and foggy, while Santa Anita (inland) was warm and sunny. Temps hovered in the low 80's. Pulling up to valet parking ($10 -- general was $4), I was shocked at how nice and huge (320 acres) Santa Anita is. No wonder the park has been featured in so many movies. The most popular was "Seabiscuit." Fans of that film should take the free tram tour (available weekends only) to the places used in the movie, as well as the famous horse's original stall. The park opens each year on December 26, for 86 racing days. This year's final day is April 23. Racing takes place Wednesdays through Sundays, and holiday Mondays. General admission: $5. Santa Anita Park, 285 W. Huntington Dr., Arcadia CA; tel.: 626-574-7223. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Monday, March 13, 2006

Further north along the Pacific Coast Highway, Topanga is another beautiful beach. We took a walk there after meeting my good friend Andy for lunch at Duke's in Malibu. Andy is the one who got married last fall in France (remember?). He lives in Santa Barbara, so Duke's was a good meeting point. Besides, they have an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean. This is the same company that runs Duke's in Waikiki, but the food here is not as good as its sister restaurant. Does the fact that it's in Hawaii make it so much better?. Duke's Malibu, 21150 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu; tel.: 310-317-0777.
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Saturday, March 11, 2006

To work off the calories, we rented (rental rates) bikes at Venice Beach. I'm not a big fan of Venice, but my dad and Nancy really wanted to go. It's too bad Venice is so sketchy, because it's in a beautiful location. But the place depresses me. It's dirty, and home to hundreds of derelicts and homeless people. We went on a weekday, when it's quiet because there are fewer street performers (especially in winter). However, we watched a young girl sucker-punch another woman. Blood spewed everywhere. What's wrong with these people? I couldn't wait to get the heck out. Here's my advice to L.A. visitors: Stay away from Venice Beach. If you want water, go to nearby Manhattan or Hermosa Beach. Just a 15-minute, $20 taxi ride from LAX, they're perfect if you've got a long international connection.
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Friday, March 10, 2006

I was excited to go back to Los Angeles because I knew my dad, his partner Nancy and my sister Georgette were all in town. Georgette came in from Connecticut for only a few nights but my dad and Nancy were escaping the cold for a couple of weeks. We hung out, ate, relaxed, and visited with family. But we found time for touristy things too. One afternoon we went to the Grove, a beautiful outdoor shopping center with all kinds of stores restaurants, and a popular movie theatre. There is also a free trolley that operates every five minutes. More info:

The Grove is attached to the Original Los Angeles Farmers Market, where over 70 shops and stalls serve a huge variety of international cuisine. I couldn�t make up my mind what I wanted for lunch, so I ordered from two stalls near each other. First I had the "Sample Plate" (13 bite-size tacos, $13) from Loteria Grill (website, tel# 323-930-2282). Then I ordered "La Napolean" (a banana, strawberry and Nutella-filled crepe, $6.35) from the French Crepe Company (tel.: 323-934-3113). Ummm ummm!
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Thursday, March 09, 2006

With over 5,000 restaurants and 80 different types of national and regional cuisine, there are plenty of places to eat in Montreal. The bakeries rival France. One morning I had a European- style breakfast, sampling fresh baked baguettes, croissants and muffins from the Premi�re Moisson bakery (next to the train station).

Did you know Cirque du Soleil was created in Montreal in 1984? Though they have seven amazing shows, there is no guarantee one will always be in town (like they are in Las Vegas). I got lucky. The weekend I was there, they offered a sneak peek of their new show "Delirium." It was held at the 21,000-seat Bell Centre (home of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team). The show was definitely unique, incorporating huge-sceen TVs and a live modern circus act with loud music. To find out where "Delirium" is playing, or get tickets to any other Cirque du Soleil shows, log on to  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

If you like birds-eye views, be sure to take a trip up the Montr�al Tower Observatory. Built in 1986, it's connected to the Olympic stadium. Reaching the observatory requires a 2-minute funicular ride up the highest inclined tower in the world (175-meter elevation, and 45-degree angle). Fortunately for me (I'm afraid of heights), the tower is closed from the beginning of January until the middle of February while maintenance is done. So I didn't have to feel guilty about not going up. The price for adults is $14 CAD. For more info and prices.

The city came up with a fantastic idea to turn the velodrome into an educational biodome. The Biod�me is made up of four of the most beautiful ecosystems of the Americas: a lush and humid tropical forest, the Laurentian Forest, the St. Lawrence marine ecosystem, and Polar Worlds of the Arctic and Antarctic. All four ecosystems are under one glass roof. Combined, there are over 4,800 animals, 229 species (both numbers exclude invertebrates), 1,500 plants and 750 plant species. Walking around each setting really made me feel like I was in another land (I mean, lands). The tropical forest felt just Costa Rica � there were even monkeys swinging from trees. Regular admission is $12.75 CAD for adults, but if you plan to see the Olympic tower too, you should buy the "a la carte" package for $21.50 CAD (for adults). For more click HERE.
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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The closest station to the Marriott Chateau Champlain Hotel, Bonaventure (station link), was a short 2-minute walk (underground of course). My first stop on the Metro was Olympic Park, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. Olympic Park includes a stadium, velodrome, swim center and Olympic Village. Although this year marks the games' 30th anniversary, the stadium still draws many visitors. Guided tours of the park are available year round for $8 CAD (adults). It was cool to see where the athletes competed, and where the Montreal Expos played baseball (1977-2004). The stadium was built with enough concrete to pave a sidewalk all the way from Montreal to Miami! Now that's a lot of concrete. The stadium these days looks a little depressing. The Expos have moved to Washington, D.C. (Washington Nationals), and the facility is only used part time for Canadian Football League games, trade shows and events like Monster Trucks.

A visit to Olympic Park is still worth a trip, because there a lot more than just the stadium. The swim center is also on the tour. It was the largest indoor swimming center in the world, until Sydney built its for the 2000 Games. I know, who wants to see a swim center? I was expecting something dark and depressing, with no sign of life -- like the stadium. What I found could not have been further from the truth. The swim center was colorful, loud, warm, and alive with people swimming, working out, playing badminton, and other fun games. It's open to the public, with both yearly memberships and day passes ($4 CAD for adults) available. Here are the rates to swim. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I was in Montreal checking out the city's underground, and the Marriott Chateau Champlain Hotel. Although it was below freezing outside, I was able to leave my jacket home because a good portion of the city is underground (there are 21 miles of pedestrian walkways). All I did was take an elevator down from my hotel lobby, and -- voila! Each day, 500,000 people travel through the Montreal underground. Now I was one of them!

This French city often made me feel like I was in Paris, but never so more than when I rode the Metro. If someone knocked me on my head and I woke up in this Metro, I would've bet the house I was in Paris. Every sign -- including all the advertisements in the station and on the subway -- are in French. Not one was in English! It was difficult to comprehend that I was only 45 miles from the U.S. border. The Montreal Metro was built for the 1967 World's Fair and is special because almost every station has its own style. Each one is designed and decorated differently. The arts are very important in Montreal, and the underground is a good place to start. In fact, the city has the largest underground art collection in the world. A one-way subway ride costs $2.50 CAD (link to metro fares); a 3-day tourist card (link to tourist card) is available for $17 CAD. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

I stayed at the Marriott Chateau Champlain. The landmark, 4-diamond (AAA/ CAA) hotel located in the heart of downtown does not look like anything special from the outside. In fact, the local reference to it as a "cheese grater" is appropriate. But inside, guests find nothing cheesy -- just a warm, cozy hotel with courteous workers. There are 36 floors, 611 rooms (here's a link to virtual view of a standard room) that feature Marriott's new "Revive" bed (thick mattress, fluffy pillows, 300-thread count sheets, and down comforters wrapped inside a clean duvet cover). Complimentary high-speed internet is accessible throughout the hotel.

On the flight over Kerry said, "Since you are not high maintenance I had to put you up in one of the maid quarters for a night. The hotel is sold out, and I knew you wouldn't care." Kerry is always joking, but for some reason he convinced me and I had no problem. Kerry was indeed setting me up. When I opened the door to my room, I took a peek inside and got worried I had opened the wrong room. Kerry, that rat! The room (the Presidential Suite!) was so nice that President George H. Bush, Fidel Castro and George Clooney have all stayed there. Of course, not together -- but it was so huge, they could have. The plush two-bedroom palace came with three bathrooms(!), a dining room, living room, fireplace, video room (with flat screen TV) and a Jacuzzi. It was one of the first times I was actually bummed I had such a nice room, because I had no one to share it with. A room like that is meant to be shared. Where was my dad? Forget my dad -- where was Paris? Room rates range from $164 USD to $2,000 USD.

A nice perk about my room being on the 36th floor � other than the amazing view of the city � was that it was on a club level floor. That meant free food, and a fully stocked fridge in the club room. The hotel offers a fine continental breakfast, and light snacks and desserts all day and night. An upgrade to the club room begin at $43 USD. Other highlights include an indoor pool, 24-hour fitness center, and 29,000 square feet of banquet rooms. My favorites were the 18th-century "Etude Champlain" and the fun "Caf' Conc Room".

I highly advise guests not to miss out on a massage from Charlotte in the spa. The spa itself was nothing special -- just one unimpressive room with walls so thin that whenever guests walked by on their way to or from the workout room, it felt like they were right there with me. That would've been bad, because I was lying face down, stark naked on the massage table. Charlotte -- a young, beautiful, sensual, strong-handed woman -- was one of the best masseuses I have ever had. No, there was no "happy ending," so get that out of your mind. It was just pure bliss, as for the first time I had my butt massaged. Who knew how good that could feel?! I am not a massage rookie � they're one of my favorite things in the world. But all the masseuses I have had have stayed away from my naked behind (they've come close, I admit). But Charlotte didn't care. She wasn't violating me; she was just a pro who jumped right in and pretended she was kneading pizza dough (shiver). Charlotte climbed on the table for better leverage (of course, I could've been hallucinating; I was in another world as I felt the towel covering my behind slide further and further, as Charlotte's warm, strong hands inched lower and lower). It felt so good as I could barely open my mouth. But if I could have talked, I would have turned my head, and in an Austin Powers voice would've said, "Charlotte, you are a naughty girl!". Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain, 1050 de la Gauchetiere West, Montreal, Quebec H3B 4C9 Canada; tel.: 514-878-9000; toll-free: 800-200-5909.  Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 03, 2006

Montreal's underground is one of the largest in the world. There are 20 miles of pedestrian walkways, accessible from 178 entries. The underground links 10 subway stations, 62 buildings, 8 major hotels, 1,615 apartments, 200 restaurants, 1,700 boutiques, 40 movie theatres and exhibition halls, 2 bus stations, 2 train stations, 2 universities and 1 college. I thought the underground city would be dark and dreary -- something out of a futuristic movie like "Blade Runner." But it was nothing like I pictured. At times I needed sunglasses, because half of the underground city is at ground level. It really could be referred to as the "indoor city," but "underground" has so much more appeal. However, that name is starting to fade away. In 2004 the city started re-branding the underground as R�SO. R�SO comes from the French word r�seau. It means "network," as in a network of tunnels.

The tunnels come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some are modern, some pleasing to the eye, some cold. In many tunnels there are musicians. Over 400 perform. They operate on a gentleman's agreement: They book their time slot for each day on a piece of paper that sits behind the signs that mark where performers can work. As a first timer, I found making my way around the underground a bit confusing. I felt like I was in a maze with no direction. Fortunately, the city is planning better signage. But the underground really makes this city worth visiting in the winter. It has transformed Montreal -- and even Canada. The underground began back in the 1950s, when it was planned by renowned architect I.M. Pei. The first building actually constructed, in 1962, was Place Ville Marie (PVM); it remains the heart and soul of the underground. This famous building paved the way for urban development in Canada.

Kerry was right. I did not need a coat, even though it was �2 degrees F outside. However, I do recommend wearing a sweater, because while passing through some tunnels it gets a bit chilly. During my three days in the city, I went outside only twice. Once was to take a picture of this Metro sign that was given to Montreal by the city of Paris in 1966. The other time was to light a candle for my mom at Marie-Reine-du-Monde. This amazing cathedral, designed as a 1/3-size replica of St. Peter's in Rome, was only two blocks from my hotel. Montreal is filled with many other beautiful churches and cathedrals (link to the most impressive Churches). For more click HEREPosted by Picasa