Johnny Jet's Travel Blog

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

When I was in London in March I had dinner at the Goring with the owners and management. Those guys were so funny. They reminded me of the English show "Fawlty Towers" -- except the Goring is one of the nicest hotels in London. It has been awarded the most coveted honor: 5 Red stars from the Automobile Association. Only half a dozen or so London hotels have earned this prestigious accolade. Here's even more praise: Last July, Travel + Leisure Magazine listed the Goring in its Top 100 Hotels in the World -- and rated it number one in London.

The Goring is quintessentially English. It's not an international hotel; it's English, and there are not many of those left. It's been in the Goring family for four generations (it opened in 1910) and is still privately owned. The 73 bedrooms are all individually designed in English Country House style, with silks and fabrics of primarily English design. The beautiful, clean bathrooms are stocked with Molton Brown products, and two glass bottles of water (still and sparkling) are placed bedside every night and morning. Most rooms overlook an English Garden. High-speed internet is available at 15 pounds a day ($27). I know -- that hurts!

The food at the Goring is really good. Last year the Goring was named British Restaurant of the Year at the Tio Pepe ITV London Restaurant Awards. Their full English breakfast frequently wins awards as London's best. The lunch and dinner menus feature modern, light versions of English classics like steak and kidney pie, steak and kidney pudding, salmon fishcake, whitebait, Cromer crab, English asparagus, roast leg of lamb, ribs of English beef, and of course Yorkshire pudding.

The Goring is ideally located in a quiet haven in the center of London . It's adjacent to Buckingham Palace and within walking distance of the Royal parks, London's major shopping areas and the heart of the West End. It's just a 5-minute walk to Victoria Station, whose trains take you anywhere in London � including nonstop to Gatwick airport. Room rack rates are priced between �180 ($330) and �590 ($1,100), but shopping around on the internet will save you some money. The Goring, Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens, London; tel.: 44-0-20-7396-9000; email:  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cheers from London! We are here filming a pilot TV show following the path of Dan Brown's novel, now a major motion picture: The Da Vinci Code. Last week we left off in France (here's the link to the archives). This week we travel on Eurostar, check in to one of London's top hotels, hit some spots in the DVC movie and discover one of the best areas for Indian food. If you want to come on this adventure bring your wallet, because this is one of the world's most expensive cities.

We followed the exact tour I did in March. For more detailed information on the places we're visiting, here's the archive (check out the March and April 2006 stories). The only difference on this tour is the two high-definition cameras that follow my every step. Wow! I have new respect for anyone who works in TV � making a show is a lot of work. I didn't realize that people on camera have to do numerous takes from many different angles. They also have to nail their line � which for me is not that easy to begin with. Now try doing that in a public place without a loud truck driving by, a plane flying overhead or a kid screaming. It's just short of a miracle. I also had no idea there are many laws that prohibit professionally filming (especially in London) without permission and/or expensive permits. Many of the private places where we filmed demanded escorts, such as the Paris Ritz, Eurostar and National Gallery, to name just a few. But the fun part for me -- besides having two very cool cameramen/directors and my brother -- was traveling to amazing places and meeting interesting characters.

We took the 186-m.p.h. Eurostar from Paris to London. Travel time is just 2:35 from and to the downtowns of both cities. Passengers depart and arrive in Paris' Gare du Nord and London's Waterloo stations (here's helpful info on Waterloo and Gare du Nord). 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  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

For some b-roll (alternate footage of the city), we visited La Basilique du Sacr� Coeur de Montmartre, a beautiful Roman-Byzantine-style church built in 1875. If you need the exercise (and we did), walk up the steps. If you don't want to, or have health problems, take a funicular (1.40�). The views from the church entrance are amazing, but the best are from the dome 200 meters (656 feet) above sea level. It's the second highest point in Paris (after the Eiffel Tower), and costs only 5 euros. For a bird's-eye view, climb the 290 steps to the top (at a normal pace it takes only eight minutes). The panoramic views of Paris are so worth it. Don't worry � it's not claustrophobic. Little windows provide light, and traffic goes only one way. La Basilique du Sacr� Coeur de Montmartre.

For first-timers, no visit to Paris is complete without seeing the Eiffel Tower. I've been up there so many times that I chose to hang back with my brother and Edison (one of our cameramen), and relax at a sidewalk caf�. However, Jeff (the director) and Ben (another cameraman) went to the top. The Eiffel Tower has three stages; each has a different fee. The first stage is 57 meters high (189 feet), and costs 4.20 �. The second, 115 meters (377 feet) high, costs 7.70�. The top is 324 meters (1,063 feet), but the viewing platform is at 276 meters (905 feet). The first and second stages can be accessed by the same elevator, or by stairs, but the third requires a separate elevator located on the second floor, at a cost of 11 �. If you walk up (which is allowed only to the first and second stages), the wait is much quicker, and the price cheaper (3.80 �). Tour Eiffel, Champ de Mars, 75007 Paris.  Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 26, 2006

If you're on a Da Vinci Code tour of Paris, you can't miss Sir Leigh Teabing's residence: Ch�teau de Villette. This place is not only real�it's unreal!. Located 35 minutes northwest of Paris, it is an 18 -bedroom, 21-bath, 3-kitchen estate. I met the owner, Olivia Hsu Decker, in Fiji a couple of years ago. We have a mutual friend, so she gave us an inside tour of the 185-acre property. If you want to check it out yourself, Olivia offers DVC packages with tours and lodgings for 3,900 to 4,300 � ($4,700 - 5,100) per person (excluding airfare). For something less extravagant, try the Chateau's DVC gourmet tours; they include a meal from a renowned chef. The lunch tour runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (140 � per person = $168); the dinner tour is from 5 to 9:30 p.m. (180 � = $216). Ch�teau de Villette,  Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 23, 2006

To follow the same tour we did, just log on to my March newsletter (here's the link). We followed it almost to a "T," including getting a DVC tour from Connie Kubicek, an American-living-in-Paris tour guide. She works for Classic Walks, which offers a daily Da Vinci Code Walk at 10 a.m in front of the Ritz. The 2-hour tour takes visitors through the pages of Dan Brown's novel. 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 or through

With cameras following our every step we walked to the Louvre, via the Jardin des Tuileries gardens. We spent only 10 minutes in the Louvre, viewing the inverted pyramid believed to house the Holy Grail. Detailed Louvre tours are available from a number of organizations. For a detailed article on the Louvre, read this story titled "Unlocking the Louvre's secrets" by Susan Spano of the Los Angeles Times. The Louvre, open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Tuesdays and the following holidays: August 15 and December 25, 2006. It is open until 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Cost: 8.50 � ($10.70). Tip: Admission to the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of every month! The Louvre.

Our last stop on the Classic Walks tour was the Church of Saint-Sulpice (it may be closed on Sundays for Mass). It's located on the Left Bank in the gallery district. 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. This is also where I met up with my brother Frank, who flew in from Connecticut to help us with production. It was perfect timing, because he was ready for his first scene where he plays the role of a killer monk who follows me around. His part is hilarious.  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Ritz was too pricey for my budget, but I found another great hotel. The 3-star H�tel Beaumarchais is a very small (especially the elevator), reasonably priced hotel in a fun neighborhood (the 11th arrondissement), within walking distance of the bustling Marais and Bastille areas. The rooms are all clean, with funky, colorful designs. The bathroom is small, but also clean, and has a mosaic-tiled shower. There are plenty of cafes and shops nearby. At night it gets kind of loud (especially on weekends), so bring ear plugs in case the AC is not working (mine wasn't). Rooms begin at just 75� ($94) a night and the staff is attentive. At that price you can't ask for anything more. H�tel Beaumarchais, 3 rue Oberkampf 75011 Paris; tel.: 33-1-53-36-86-86; email: For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

When I found out we were being put up at the Ritz, I screamed in excitement. Who wouldn't? How lucky am I to stay in one of the world's nicest hotels? The Paris Ritz, located in the Place Vend�me, has 162 luxurious rooms, and in the movie is the hotel in which Robert Langdon is awakened by the telephone. I didn't stay in room number 512 -- used in the opening scene of the book -- but we filmed in it. My room, 416, was actually nicer than 512. As Dan Brown described in the book, the rooms are decorated with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls and mahogany four-poster beds. Service was even more exquisite than I expected. The staff could not have been any nicer, and a couple of them even agreed to play roles in our show. Interesting note: Ron Howard did not actually film inside the Ritz. Instead he took all the furniture (including the golden swan-shaped faucet taps) from room 512, and put it in a studio for Tom Hanks' room scene. They did film the entrance of the hotel. Surprisingly, the Ritz had to block off that area for only 10 minutes.

Now you can pretend you are Robert Langdon for 670� ($800) a night. The Ritz has its very own Da Vinci Code package deal. Guests spend the night in room 512, enjoy an American breakfast, and take home an illustrated luxury version of the Da Vinci Code book (in English), a Ritz diary and a heavy Ritz-embroidered bathrobe. H�tel Ritz, 15 Place Vend�me, 75001 Paris; tel.: 33-1-43-16-30-30.

If room prices are too steep (or the package deal is sold out), go to the Hemingway bar and have Colin Field make you an "Opus Dei" (champagne, a drop of vodka, grapefruit juice and sugar) for 25� ($31). Forbes magazine called Colin one of the most famous bartenders in the world, and he is a real character. An English native who has been in Paris for 17 years, he takes his drink-making seriously. He looks like a mad scientist when he creates them. You should let him decide what he thinks you're in the mood for � don't worry, he'll put together something delicious. He also makes incredible non-alcoholic drinks. Hemingway Bar, Hotel Ritz, 15 Place Vend�me, Paris; tel.: 33-1-43-16-30-30. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (or later, if Colin likes you). For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I was excited not only because I had a chance to host my very own TV show, but because I was flying Air France for the first time. To top it off I was in the very first row of business class. Guess who was sitting in the last row of First? Keanu Reeves (He was cool, but as you can see sick as a dog with the flu or something nasty). Air France recently became the largest airline company in the world when they merged with KLM. AirFrance currently offers 29 flights a day from the U.S. Two are out of LAX. One leaves at 3:30 p.m.; the other departs at 6:25 p.m. Both are serviced by 777-300s, but according to the gate agents the later flight is usually less crowded.

Air France departs from Terminal 2, and business class (called "l'Espace Affaires") passengers can wait for departure in the Northwest Airlines lounge (Northwest is one of their SkyTeam Alliance partners). The lounge is in desperate need of renovation -- it's old and depressing -- but it's still better than trying to find an uncomfortable seat at the crowded gate. Boarding for Flight 65 was quick, and the plane had just been refitted with Air France's new state-of-the-art seats. They have vibrant colors, as well as footrests (even in Economy, which is called "Tempo"). Each seat has an individual video screen. In Tempo class they are 6.4 inches wide, while in business and first (called "l'Espace Premi�re") they are 10.4 inches. The premium classes feature videos on demand.

Business Class seats also have optical fiber reading lights, AC adaptors, a remote control for the entertainment system (this can also be used as a telephone, but nobody does because it's too expensive), an amenity kit, side and front storage, and plenty of leg room. The seats are 21 inches wide. They recline to what is supposedly a 180-degree angle -- but mine did not go completely flat. The slight angle slid me down to the footrest, making me a bit uncomfortable when I tried to sleep. That was the only bummer about the flight. One more on the plus side: The flight attendants were impressive. They were friendly, attentive, and looked great decked out in stylish Parisian uniforms designed by Christian Lacroix.

Whoever says airplane food sucks should take a trip on Air France. It was tasty! An hour after takeoff, out came a 4-course dinner with multiple choices. For hors d'oeuvres I went with the snow crab claws and seafood salad. My main course was grilled tournedos of beef with Provencale-style simmered vegetables and duchesse potatoes. Then came a fine selection of cheeses and an assortment of desserts� yummmm! The mango sorbet was scrumptious, though the chocolate cake tasted a tad dry. Of course, fine wines and champagne were flowing, but I only drink water when I fly (alcohol dehydrates you). For those like me who couldn't sleep, a self-service bar with drinks and snacks was set up in the galley. Just before landing we were offered pastries, croissants, and a hot breakfast (a choice of French toast or scrambled eggs with fresh tomatoes, bacon and roesti potatoes). Air France, tel.: 800-237-2747. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bonjour from France! Last week we left off after trying out American Airlines' new Manhattan-to-JFK helicopter service (here's a link to the archives). This week we travel from Los Angeles to Paris on Air France. My trip back to Europe has been a dream! I checked in to some of Europe's best hotels, and got a crash course on how to film a pilot TV show. That's right! I am here taping a show that hopefully will air on a popular television channel. If you want to come on this getaway, pack your new duds and your smile because the tape is rolling -- lights, camera, action!

I was in Europe a few months ago, touring locations from the Da Vinci Code book and movie. That trip was sponsored by the French Tourist Office, Visit Britain, Visit Scotland and Rail Europe. All of those organizations teamed up to recreate the Da Vinci Code experience, which has taken Europe by storm. The theme of the trip was to follow in the footsteps of the stars across France, England and Scotland. We stayed in some of the same hotels, ate at the same restaurants and took some of the tours the stars did while filming this 10-month project that ended in September 2005. When I returned home I mentioned to a couple of my Hollywood friends how great it would be to do the same tour, but this time with a camera crew. The next thing I know (with the help of the French Tourist Board, Rail Europe and some other instrumental people) I'm boarding a Paris-bound plane with two cameramen/directors. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Friday, June 16, 2006

Everyone who lives in the tri-state area knows that getting to Kennedy Airport is a nightmare. You never know how traffic or security is going to be, so you always leave extra-early. Without traffic (I'm speaking hypothetically), it takes 30 minutes from Manhattan. It costs $55 by taxi, or a lower-end car service like Carmel (212-666-6666) or Tel Aviv (212-777-7777). A much more reliable high-end car service costs much more. A connecting subway/train service called AirTrain costs only $7.50, but it's confusing for first timers and not easy for anyone with a lot of bags. (Speaking of taxis, I'm glad to see the city is finally cracking down on cabbies who take visitors for a "ride." Read this article.)

The solution: American Airlines has partnered with US Helicopter to introduce a new service to JFK. I checked in for my 7 p.m. flight to Los Angeles (LAX) at 5:40 -- at the downtown Manhattan helipad. The US Helicopter agents gave me boarding passes for both my helicopter and American Airlines flights. I checked my luggage and went through TSA security just like at the airport. The only difference was � there was no line! At 5:50 the helicopter arrived. One of the two pilots came out, and gave a five-minute safety briefing to all seven passengers. We were then escorted out to the helicopter, a state-of-the-art Sikorsky S76 aircraft that holds eight passengers. After we took non-assigned seats, the pilot quickly showed us where the life preservers and emergency handles were. Then we were off.

Guess how long it took to get to JFK? Eight minutes! And we had an awesome view of the city. I felt like I was dreaming when I looked out and saw all the traffic that we were cruising at 175 m.p.h. over. Even better was landing in a secure area so we didn't have to go through security again. We were escorted into the building, smack into the middle of the American Airlines terminal. The Admiral Club entrance was right there (day passes are available for $50). Surprisingly, this service is not even that expensive (especially if you're on an expense account). The cost is $159 one way. Note: US Helicopter flies Monday through Friday, every hour on the hour from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It does not operate on weekends or holidays. US Helicopter: 877-262-7676.

After landing, I went into the Admirals Club to get a better picture of the helicopter and check out the lounge (it looked good, with plenty of comfortable chairs and work space, but a mediocre array of snacks). As soon as I turned around I bumped into one of my old Connecticut friends, who is now a bigwig on Wall Street. He said he was flying out to L.A. for one meeting, then returning the next day with his team. He asked where I was sitting. I saw his nice Business Class ticket and said with a slight frown, "Just a few rows from you." As we were walking out of the club one of his young colleagues said, "Look, there's Debra Messing" (from "Will and Grace"). My friend predicted she would be on our flight. I joked, "Yeah, she'll probably sit next to me." I knew my friend's colleagues thought, Sure -- keep dreaming! Like she's flying coach? I didn't tell these guys I had a first class ticket. You should've seen their reaction when they got on the plane and saw you-know-who sitting next to Debra Messing. It was priceless!  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Greetings from the United States! Last week we left off from Down Under (here's the link to the archives). This week we travel to Connecticut for my favorite weekend of the year. After all the festivities there, we take a short train ride into New York City to visit friends. We also hop on a new helicopter service that takes American Airlines passengers inside the JFK gates -- making the trip to the airport ever so easy. If you want to come for the ride pack your shorts and your red-white-and-blue clothes, because we're off on an East Coast holiday weekend.

I grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut. After relocating to Southern California for college, I never moved back. However, I visited often � especially when my mom was sick for 3 years in the late 90's. Back then, I visited every 10 days. A couple of years after my mom passed away, my father sold our house and moved to western Pennsylvania. My visits to Connecticut diminished. I returned every few months to see other family members and friends. Now that I've been traveling overseas a lot, I've learned the best cure for "homesickness" is to return to your roots. I hadn't been back in over two months, and I hadn't seen my father since February -- way too long an absence. We all agreed to meet over Memorial Day weekend. That's my favorite weekend of the year -- and not just because my birthday (May 31) often occurs during it. People who grew up on the East Coast or in the Midwest probably have the same feelings I do. That's because Memorial Day weekend is the (unofficial) first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It's the time of year when the weather is finally warm, the landscape is full of color, the beaches are open, boats are put in the water and everyone is in a great mood, walking around in summer clothes.

Many of my friends and family live in a section of Norwalk called Rowayton. Anyone with ties to Rowayton knows there is no better time of year to come back than Memorial Day. Besides all the reasons listed above, this is the weekend everyone who grew up here adopted as homecoming. Natives travel from all over to make it back for this one special weekend, which kicks off with a Martini Party on East Beach. The weekend is filled with countless barbecues and soirees.

The granddaddy of all the parties -- the Memorial Day Parade -- begins at high noon on Sunday. The parade is small � it lasts maybe 20 minutes -- but it's special. The best part is that practically everyone knows everyone who marches. Marchers range from the Rowayton Fire Department to the nationally renowned Brien McMahon High School band (they've performed at huge venues like the Rose Bowl and Yankee Stadium). After the parade, an emotional ceremony takes place at the cannon. Everyone takes their hats off, puts their hands on their chests and pays tribute to our fallen soldiers, as well as those guarding our freedom right now. If the playing of "Taps" doesn't give you goose bumps, I don't know what will. After a timely flyby by the Air Force, everyone walks over to the firehouse for free hot dogs and soda.

After filling our bellies, my friends and I head to the field where we play our annual stickball game. Growing up, we played every day in the summer. Now, this is the only time we play all year. The field felt so much more special when it was perfectly lined with huge full oak trees. But the trees are slowly disappearing (kind of like my hair), and the field has been turned into a dog park. Nonetheless this is still the highlight, as the old-timers take on the young guns. Of course, we're not that young and the old-timers aren't that old. Just a few years separate the teams. We young guns won by one run. That's enough for bragging rights for the rest of the year (usually done by email). After the parade it's off to another fun party, where everyone plays softball and eats more food.

By the time Monday rolls around, the town is all partied out. It's time to relax on Bayley Beach and say goodbye to all the locals. (On weekends non-residents pay $20 to park � most beaches in Connecticut are private). My dad and his wife Nancy accompanied me into New York City. We walked around Central Park, grabbed a slice of pizza (there's nothing like New York pizza, is there?) and took a taxi to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport (near Wall Street).  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Before my long flight I took an early run/walk along the river and through the Botanical Gardens --along with hundreds of other early risers. Brisbane gave me the same laid-back feeling as San Diego. It took a while to check in for my flight to Los Angeles, and go through customs and security. Once through those lines the terminal was bright and airy, with plenty of places to spend my left-over Australian dollars. I opted for some overpriced candy bars and a couple of nice bottles of wine as gifts. A Qantas pilot helped me pick them out. He said that Australia is one of the few places in the world where you can still buy great wine at a good price.

I flew on a two-class 747-400 (the Sydney flight has 3 classes). I was upgraded to Business Class, and I couldn't believe how empty it was. The only person in my entire row was a really nice visually-impaired kid. He sat across the way, with his well-behaved seeing eye dog.

The plane was fitted with Qantas' brand-new cocoon-style seats that turn into Skybeds. Qantas boasts they are the longest business class sleeper seats in the industry. Each comes with a built-in back massager. Every passenger gets a L'Occitane amenity kit filled with lotion, lip balm, ear plugs and eye mask. Each seat has a 10.4" TV screen with 12 new-release movies, 6 TV shows and 10 video games. All can be started and stopped at any time. There is also an AC power outlet for anyone who wants to work (like me). The flight attendants were very cool, the food (dinner, late -night snack and breakfast) were quite tasty, and my seat was comfortable. However, it didn't go completely flat, so it was a bit difficult to sleep. But the 12-hour flight was still a dream -- sort of like my trip Down Under.

Now that I'm back and I just finished seeing this Tourism Australia commercial (click here) on the Travel Channel that features a beautiful bikini-clad girl on the beach asking "Where the bloody hell are you?" I'll tell you where I am. Sweetheart, I'm home -- wishing I was still in OZ.  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Who would've thought that after all the incredible places we stayed on this trip, the Brisbane Marriott Hotel would have the most comfortable bed? You have to love Marriott's new "Revive" bed. It's got 300-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, a white downy duvet and seven feathery pillows. It's so comfortable you don't want to get up. That's not good, because this 5-star hotel caters mostly to business travelers. Pleasure travelers like me appeared to be there just for a quick pit stop en route to somewhere else. The 28-floor hotel is located near the corporate and financial heart of the city, overlooking the Brisbane River. The 267 rooms (4 are suites) feature plush marble bathrooms, with a bath separate from the shower. The hotel has a fine restaurant, and supposedly one of the best day spas (I had no time to experience it -- I was there for only 16 hours). High-speed internet access cost $10 AUD ($7.50 USD) an hour, or $25 AUD ($18.70) for 24 hours. Rack rates start at $215 AUD ($161), but you can find lower rates on the internet. Ahem� try Brisbane Marriott, 515 Queen St., Brisbane, Queensland 4000 Australia; tel.: 61-7-3303-8000. For more click HERE.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Departing: My gang and I boarded the seaplane and flew 20 minutes to Townsville. The flight was smooth and very scenic. From there we jumped on a Qantas 737 to Brisbane. The flight took only an hour and a half, and included a snack. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The evening�s entertainment on Orpheus is so simple that it�s perfect. It consists of cool breezes, board games and 7-course dinners (1,2,3,4,5,6,7). I felt like most of my three days on the island were spent around the dinner table. That was fine with me, because the food at Orpheus (all three meals a day are included) is some of the best in Australia. The chef prepares a new menu daily, with emphasis on seafood and exotic delicacies (including plenty for landlubbers like me). Main dishes range from "plump sea scallops tossed with an angel hair of spring onion, chili and water chestnuts" to "carved cardamom crusted loin of pork." The resort is also famous for its extravagant picnic basket lunches, which can be taken to a deserted beach or on a reef trip.

There are many varieties of wildlife, including birds, bandicoots, green tree frogs, spiders and snakes (green tree and boas). But I wasn't frightened of the snakes, like I was in the Daintree Rainforest. The difference may have been that this place wasn't surrounded by jungle. And this was the first place I even saw a snake -- a sea snake at low tide on my walk just before departure. I thought it was an eel, and I almost helped it out when it quickly swam away from me but got stuck in a small tide pool. It�s good I didn�t help it, because I found out later it was deadly. Gulp!

The rooms were bug-free, but there were some mosquitoes. I learned a great tip from Jenny the gardener on how to keep them away. She uses baby oil, and takes vitamin B every day.

I really enjoyed my stay on Orpheus. Of course, I wish I had one more day (don�t we always?). The island has a warm, tropical climate year �round, with an average temperature of 85� F (29� C). The resort needs a bit of an upgrade, including adding a spa or even just a masseuse to justify its high prices: $720 AUD ($541 USD) per person per night, $850 AUD ($639) for a suite. At those prices you�d think drinks would be included � at least non-alcoholic ones -- but they�re not. Surprisingly, the guests I spoke to didn�t seem to care about any of those things. All they wanted was to get away from the rest of the world, and have peace and quiet, delicious food, and fun adventures. They sure came to the right place. Orpheus Island: tel.: 61-7-4777-7377; e-mail: For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Orpheus Island lies 15 miles off the coast of northeastern Australia. It's quiet, rustic, 7 mile long, and comprises 3,380 acres. Surprisingly, it's not named directly after the Greek mythological figure, but rather the Royal Navy Ship "Orpheus" that wrecked off the coast of New Zealand in 1863. The majority of the island has been designated a National Park, while the surrounding waters are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The only resort on the island (also called Orpheus Island) is for adults-only (15 and over). There are just 17 small -- but comfortable and stylish � rooms, as well as 4 large suites. All 21 rooms have been refurbished, and boast spotless bathrooms and Molton Brown toiletries. You won't find any telephones, televisions or other outside distractions in your room. People come here to relax and get away from the real world (many guests are on honeymoons, or celebrating significant birthdays or anniversaries). The closest communication systems are the free computer and the single telephone found in the internet kiosk. But you seldom see anyone using them.
There are 16 eager (and mostly young) staff members for just 42 guests. You won't hear them using power tools, and the maids won't disturb you -- they clean your room only when you are at breakfast or on an excursion, then a second time during dinner. There are plenty of things to do, which guests are briefed about by general manager Ann Anderson. She greets everyone upon arrival, then escorts them into the open-air living room for the usual hotel paperwork -- and an unusual welcome of cool, refreshing towels and colorful tropical fruit drinks.
There are two swimming pools, a tennis court, billiards table, workout room and two bars. At the latter I met a Johnny Jet reader (how cool is that?) from Colorado. He loved the island, and has been a return guest for many years. I learned that he and most other guests can be found either in the dining room, on the beach or taking part in one of the complimentary activities. These include feeding the mullets (carp-like fish) in the morning, hiking with Jenny (the head gardener), and taking out a catamaran, canoe, kayak or even Orpheus 1 to a deserted island, and snorkeling to a variety of nearby reefs (one is full of giant clams). You should've heard my reaction when a friend pointed out a lion fish just below me on our reef trip. Snorkeling was a little uneasy for me because as you see in the video below, while walking along the beach I spotted all kinds of baby sharks and manta rays. Out in the open water, I realized that if there was a baby shark nearby, a big mama had to lurk around the corner. Then the theme music from "Jaws" popped in my head. Soon I had no choice but to swim as fast as I could back to the boat. What a wuss! Do you think it's too late to sue Steven Spielberg for his 1975 movie?
For more click HERE.
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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

G'day from Australia! This week we end our trip Down Under in style (to access past stories, here's a link to the archives). We first travel to exclusive Orpheus Island, then fly to Brisbane for the night before heading back to the U.S. If you want to come for the ride, jump on board. The seaplane is ready for takeoff, the tropical drinks have just been poured, and the fish are waiting to be fed.

From the edge of the Daintree Rainforest, my seven journalist friends and I drove an hour south to Cairns. We dropped off our rental cars, then boarded an 8-passenger Orpheus Island Cessna Caravan seaplane (operated by Nautilus Aviation). The weather did not look great, and we were all a bit nervous, but the pilot did an excellent job of avoiding the storm clouds so our 55-minute flight was smooth. Seaplanes are the only way to Orpheus Island -- from either the Cairns airport (118 miles north) or Townsville airport (50 miles south). Flights are ridiculously expensive: $780 AUD ($591 USD) roundtrip per person from Cairns, $450 ($341 USD) from Townsville. But because there are so few secluded tropical islands left in the world, the steep prices are almost expected.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Breakfast and dinner are included in the rates, and the food is very good. The best part, though, is the atmosphere. The dining room -- appropriately named the Treehouse Restaurant -- is located in a giant treehouse above the Mossman River, where guests kayak and swim. (There are no crocs: The water is too cold.) Sitting there listening to the gushing river makes (or at least seems to make) all your worries disappear. This is truly a relaxing place. Many guests play board games or read books. I opted to try a Koto massage from their acclaimed Healing Waters Spa. When it was done I felt like a jelly fish -- it was that good. Other activities include guided nature walks, mountain biking and nature slide shows. There's a tennis court, fitness center, TV room, outdoor pool, free laundry facilities, and one computer with free internet. Silky Oaks Lodge: $350 AUD ($263 USD) per person, per room. Voyages Silky Oaks Lodge & Healing Waters Spa, Finlayvale Road, Mossman, Queensland: tel: 61-7-4098-1666; fax: 61-7-4098-1983.

The rainy season runs from December to March. The high season, from June to the end of October, is when temperatures are coolest, and rainfall is minimal. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Saturday, June 03, 2006

An hour south of Cape Tribulation and a 20-minute (17-mile) drive from Port Douglas, on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest and the Mossman Gorge, is the exclusive Silky Oaks Lodge. It's a 4-star hotel with 50 treehouses, all named after Australian creatures. I was in the Crocodile Treehouse. Like the others, it nestled up in the gardens and rainforest, and offer plenty of privacy. All rooms have timber floors, a king-size bed, comfortable furnishings, a spacious bath with Jacuzzis, and a deck with a double hammock. I didn't have to worry about snakes or spiders there, because the staff did a great job keeping the rooms very clean. (Of course, my prankster colleagues had the manager leave a fake spider on my pillow. When I returned from dinner I almost had a heart attack). For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Friday, June 02, 2006

The next morning, blurry-eyed and shaking from lack of sleep, I joined the others in my group. They'd had a much more pleasant experience than mine, and they laughed at my story as we boarded a 50-foot boat operated by Voyages Odyssey H20. I have been to the Great Barrier Reef a few times, but no trip has been as easy or short as from Cape Trib. The ride out to the Mackay and Undine Reefs took only 45 minutes. It was super calm -- like a lake. The shore did not look too far away. The crew was young, fun and professional. They briefed everyone who was going diving and snorkeling. Safety was the main concern. Although the water was clear and warm, we were encouraged to wear stinger suits for protection from the sun and irukandji (a deadly jellyfish). After every dive, they did a roll call. We were out on the reef for five hours, basking in the hot sun and enjoying good food. The boat holds only 30 passengers, so make reservations in advance. Everyone went diving or snorkeling twice.

The Great Barrier -- the largest reef in the world -- is one of the few natural wonders that can be seen from space. It's 1,250 miles long, about the same distance as New York to Miami. It includes almost 3,000 separate reefs, comprised of over 400 different kinds of coral. There are more than 1,500 species of fish and 200 species of birdlife in and around the Great Barrier Reef. When I heard someone yell "There's a shark!" as if that was very cool, everyone -- including me -- swam toward it. What was I thinking? I must've been sleep deprived. The shark was actually quite peaceful, but I'm glad it was a 20 feet away. I actually saw two different kinds of sharks: a white tip-reef and a shovelnose. Voyages Odyssey H20: $134 AUD ($100 USD) per person; children 5-11 $89 ($67); underwater camera $27 ($20); tel.: 1300-134-044 or 61-1-8296- 8010.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

It was amazing: The moment we crossed the Daintree River and arrived on the other side, the entire landscape changed drastically. We were now in a dense tropical lowland rainforest. It felt as if the road was swallowing us alive, as we drove down its fauna-covered throat. The Daintree Rainforest is over 135 million years old, making it the oldest rainforest in the world � older than the Amazon. Although the Daintree Rainforrest covers 750 square miles, it comprises only 0.2% of the landmass of Australia. (Australia is about the same size as the continental U.S.). The Daintree is home to the largest range of plants and animals on earth. It includes 85 of the world's 120 rarest species of plants, along with 430 species of birds, nearly a quarter of Australia's frog species, and over 60% of Australia's bat and butterfly species.

Cape Tribulation, north of Daintree, is a popular vacation spot with lodging choices ranging from camping to deluxe accommodations. Voyages Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge, the nicest, is listed as 4 stars. However, after staying there I'd rate it about 3.5 stars. It sits just a few feet away from the only place on the planet where two Natural World Heritage sites meet: the Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef � and it is smack in the middle of both. Its 66 rooms are modeled after Indonesian long houses. Most are just a couple of hundred feet from the beach, but because they are surrounded by the dense rainforest you would never know it. When we arrived at dusk it was raining and warm (the average year round temperature is 81 F = 27 C). The rooms are large, with polished timber floors and wood furniture. It was nice, but the ants crawling on my pillow and other bugs cruising around the floor reminded me immediately that I was in the jungle.

But it wasn't until after dinner -- in the spacious, modern, open-air Cape Restaurant that serves pretty good food, including unusual dishes like kangaroo and crocodile soup (the latter tastes like chicken) -- that my adventurous night began. I took a long, dark and lonely walk back to my room, dodging cobwebs and tree snakes. (I didn't see any snakes, but I heard they were all around. I'm petrified of them -- I know, what a wuss). But after reading on that "Australia has deadly spiders, and of the top ten most deadliest snakes of the world, Australia has six on the list," I was on edge.

Before calling it a night I took a hot shower to remove all my sunscreen. As I rinsed off the soap I spotted the scariest spider I've ever seen. It was dark, hairy, about the size of my hand, and a definite sleep spoiler. I'm not particularly afraid of spiders, but this thing would scare Superman. I darted out of the shower like it was about to explode. I didn't know what to do. I could have run out in the bush, but chose not to. After all, I was naked -- and there could have been more spiders out there. Fortunately, when I arrived I had read the welcome packet the hotel provides. One line said something like: "If you find any unwanted bugs in your room, call the front desk to have them removed."

The guy arrived faster than cops in America -- and it was close to midnight. He shouted, "Bleep! That's a bugger!" He said it was a banded huntsman spider, and it was not poisonous. He then informed me that they are actually relatively harmless. However, I made it clear there was no way that thing would spend the night in my room. We removed the monster without killing it, but it still put a damper on my night. For the first time in a long while I slept with a light on. Every hour I woke up and waved the in-room flashlight around the corners, under the bed and along my sheets, like I was searching for a criminal. I came up empty every time. Phew! Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge: rack rates $35O AUD ($263 USD) per room per night; tel.: 61-2-8296-8010; fax: 61-2-9299 -2103, Email: For more click HEREPosted by Picasa