Johnny Jet's Travel Blog

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Monday, July 31, 2006

Unfortunately, I caught the flu a couple days before so I missed my Lufthansa flight. The ticket had so many restrictions -- because it was so inexpensive � that it was cheaper for me to just buy an entirely new ticket to leave a few days later. I scoured the internet for hours before finding a one-way ticket out of Newark to Prague via Copenhagen for $550 on SAS (Scandinavian Airlines).

I was on the East Side of town, so I didn't feel like going to Penn Station (33rd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues) and taking the AirTrain (here's a link to their service). Instead I took the Newark Liberty Airport Express Bus. It departs and drops off every 15 minutes at 120 E. 41st Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues (next to Grand Central Station). One-way tickets cost only $14 ($23 for roundtrip), and can be purchased on the bus or at the Subway sandwich shop next to the stop. The bus stops at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, then heads to New Jersey via the Lincoln Tunnel. The trip takes 45 minutes without traffic. Buses operate between 4:45 a.m. to 1:15 a.m.

Because I am a gold member on United (an SAS partner), I skipped the long economy line and checked in at the Business Class line. I was also able to use their really plush lounge, stocked with good food, plenty of beverages (including swanky Voss bottled water), an array of international newspapers, comfortable seats and some work stations. Wireless internet was available for $7 an hour.

My flight to Copenhagen could not have been easier. I was upgraded to Premium Economy, which usually costs double ($2,275) the price of regular Economy. These seats have 5 more inches (total: 37") of leg room; they're almost an inch wider (total: 18.3") than economy, and they recline (total: 7") almost 2 inches more than coach. The flight took only 7 hours, and I had a quick connection in CPH. The in-flight entertainment system not only had a bunch of movies and games but on-board cameras! One camera faced out; the other pointed down. The flight attendants were attentive, the food was good (dinner, then breakfast) and -- the best part -- they had wireless internet! Called SAS Net Access, it costs $26.95 for the whole flight or $9.95 for an hour. I freaked my family and friends out when I started IM'ing them and calling them from high above the Atlantic. Can you believe I was making phone calls using Skype for 2 cents a minute? You gotta love it! For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A couple days later I needed to be back in New York for my return flight back Europe. My return first class ticket on American came complete with helicopter service to Manhattan. When I checked in, the agent asked me for my final destination. I said, "Wall Street," and she laughed. Then I told her with a big smile that I was taking the new helicopter service (I wrote about it a few weeks ago), and she said, "How cool!" I agreed. She checked my bag all the way through to JRB (the helipad's airport code) so I didn't have to deal with my bag at JFK, and I was off.

What's great about flying American between LAX and JFK is that they're the only airline with wide bodies (767-200's), and they've got the most (10) nonstops between these two destinations. These planes offer 3 classes of service: Economy, Business and First. First Class was really comfortable, with plenty of leg room and good food. However, after seeing American's new Business Class seats, First looked kind of old. These seats don't have their own built-in entertainment systems; instead, flight attendants come around with mini-DVD players, a vast selection of recent films and a pair of Bose noise reduction headsets. But their wires were everywhere; they kept falling out of the player, which turned off the system. After a few minutes I gave up and worked on my laptop. Surprisingly, when I asked if American was going to upgrade these seats they said there are no plans in the near future. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Next stop: Dallas, Texas. Yee haw! I flew out of La Guardia, another airport that can be an awful experience if you time it wrong. My suggestion is to not travel during peak times -- but if you must, arrive extra early. Fortunately I had a 3 p.m. flight, so I missed the crazy evening peak travel (and the power outage that occurred a few days later -- here's that story). My flight to DFW and then to LAX were both on an American Airlines MD80. Both were 3 hours long, and went by quickly. Interestingly, on my trip to L.A. the American Airline agent charged me $25 because my bag weighed 57 lbs. -- 7 over the limit. I was running late, so I had no time to start taking items out. Before I paid the fee I said, "I didn't get charged yesterday for the same bag." The agent replied, "You got lucky." I asked, "What if you're an elite member, or have a first class ticket?" She said, "Here at American we treat everyone the same." I like that attitude -- but I don't know how many elite members or first class passengers do.

I was in Dallas for only 16 hours. That's good, because it was HOT: 100 degrees! I was there to check out American Airlines' new Business Class seats, which will be installed on every 767-300 and 777 by the end of 2007. Currently, only one 767-300 boasts the new seats. I'll write a more in-depth article about them when I actually get a chance to fly in one of those planes. It's difficult to tell what they're really like just by seeing them at their headquarters and the factory. They do look amazing, and I like some of the features such as a dual tray table, so passengers can simultaneously eat and work.

As an airline buff it was a huge treat to visit American's headquarters and see their daily operations. The entrance features a huge map of the world, with marks in the cities that American and its partners serve. Afterwards we drove 30 minutes to Fort Worth, to see those new seats being manufactured. This was my first visit to an aircraft seating manufacturer, so it was another special opportunity. The company American (and 8 other airlines) use, Recaro Aircraft Seating, Inc., is based in Germany. It specializes in seats for luxury cars like Porsche and Ferrari � and, of course, airline seats.

In Dallas I stayed at an Embassy Suites close to the airport. This was my first time at an Embassy Suites in a long while, and I was quite impressed. For $109 guests get a huge suite, including a bedroom, a living room separated by a clean bathroom, two TVs, phones and a kitchenette. It's perfect for business travelers on extended stays, and families. Other perks: The staff was very friendly, and guests get free access to a huge American breakfast, workout room, pool and airport shuttle (it's 10 minutes to and from the airport � call for pickup when you land). Wireless internet costs only $9.95 a day, but if you are a Hilton Honors member (it's free to join) the patchy service is free. Embassy Suites Hotel Dallas - DFW Intl Airport South, 4650 W. Airport Freeway, Irving, TX, tel.: 972-790-0093.

On the way to dinner we stopped at Dealey Plaza. There is a tribute to President Kennedy, and an "X" in the road a few feet from the Grassy Knoll marks the spot where he was tragically shot. It's almost surreal walking around there. Of course, though, a bunch of people are trying to capitalize off the assassination. I actually was impressed by this fast-talking, friendly man selling Conspiracy Newspapers for $5. He seemed to know more facts than my history professor.

Just a few blocks down from Dealey Plaza, I had dinner with some friends and employees from American Airlines. They took me to the Iron Cactus, which serves up tasty Tex-Mex. The restaurant is nicely decorated, but I bet during the day it's a lot more crowded. This downtown business area was eerily quiet in the evening. Each table gets fresh chips and two kinds of salsa. We started with fresh guacamole, made at the table ($8.95). I ordered the pollo relleno (tender breast of chicken stuffed with cornbread and cheese), served over rice with jalapeno cream sauce and sauteed herbed vegetables ($14.95). A fat-free meal like that wouldn't be complete without dessert. Iron Cactus, 1520 Main St., Dallas, TX; tel.: 214-749-4766. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Friday, July 28, 2006

Because I was traveling by myself and not in a hurry, I decided to take AirTrain. My goal was to get to Grand Central Terminal as cheaply as possible. A taxi would have cost $55, while the AirTrain/subway combination was only $7 -- a no-brainer. The AirTrain to Jamaica Station was fast (10 minutes), easy and spacious: Just a few other passengers were riding. You pay the $5 fee when you get off. If you don't have a MetroCard, there are easy-to-use machines just before the exit. (Tip: Put $10 or more on your card, and receive a 20 percent bonus.) After you exit, follow signs for the E train. It's a 100-yard walk, and the new station building is state of the art. Take the elevator down to the subway, and pay $2 for the 35-minute ride to 53rd and Lexington Ave. on Manhattan's East Side. Follow the signs for a free transfer to the 6 subway, and take the downtown train one stop to Grand Central. If you time it perfectly, the entire trip should take an hour.

I arrived back in NY just after Italy won the World Cup. I picked up a friend, and we headed straight to Little Italy. I can't imagine a better place in America to celebrate an Italian victory than this place. Little Italy was packed with fans of all ages, chanting "Forza Italia!," wearing Italy t-shirts and beeping horns as they drove by waving the Italian flag. Some fans said some funny things, made even funnier by their New York accents. One guy yelled: "Hey, does anyone know where Little France is?"

My friend and I were starved, so we had dinner outside at a restaurant called Novella (191 Grand Street, tel.: 1-212-966-0555). The wait was only 10 minutes, and the food was good � not great. Though our food came fast, the service wasn't the best. We had to ask our waiter three times for bread. Maybe he deliberately did not bring it because he knew it was old? For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Greetings from 35,000 feet above the Atlantic! Would you believe I am on yet another flight back to Europe? This time, though, I'm on a plane with wireless high speed internet access. You can read more about this flight, including my destination, below. Meanwhile, last week we left off from Amsterdam (here's the link to the archives). This week takes us back home to the United States, with stops in NY, Dallas, L.A., then back to NY before jumping on this flight! I hit all three of New York's major airports within 10 days! If you're into racking up tons of frequent flier miles, then pack your bag and whatever helps you pass time. We've got a bunch flights to catch!

After my trip to Amsterdam in late May, I had a return ticket to depart out of Paris to L.A. But because I was in The Netherlands, I didn't feel like going back to Paris and then straight home. I really wanted to see friends and family on the East Coast, so I decided to see if I could find a deal. Sure enough,'s search engines turned up an incredible one: $459 (including taxes!) for a United flight from Amsterdam to Washington D.C. (Dulles) to JFK, with a return trip a month later on Lufthansa (JFK-Frankfurt-Amsterdam). Of course, I booked it.

Fortunately I scored an exit row aisle seat on the 777. The flight to Washington was a quick 7 hours and 24 minutes. After clearing customs I went to Concourse A, where all United Express flights arrive and depart. I couldn't believe how quiet it was. Then I looked at my watch, and realized it was early. Sure enough, an hour later around the time people start getting out of meetings, the place turned into complete chaos. I don't think I have ever been to a terminal that's so crazy. That place is in dire need of some management. Everyone working there acted as if it was their first day on the job - EVER. Come to think of it, no one looked older than 20 � so maybe it was their first day! Multiple flights were leaving from each gate, the PA system was not loud enough, there were too few seats, and my flight -- scheduled for 5:05 p.m. - was listed on both the sign at the gate and the departure screen as already departed, even though it was just 2:44 p.m. (look at this picture). Passengers were going nuts!  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Amsterdam has over 1,000 restaurants, with nearly every cuisine imaginable. The first night Frank, Petra and I went for Indonesian food at a place called Pelangi (tel.: 31-20-420-0670) in Rembrandt Square. There are many Indonesian restaurants, because the population is more than 2 percent Indonesian. The food at Pelangi was just fair, but the service was good and it was moderately priced. The following night the three of us went to Al Argentino (tel.: 31-20-638-9340). This restaurant also had good service and was reasonably priced, but the food again was only average. My favorite meal of the trip was a banana pancake breakfast at The Pancake Corner (tel.: 31- 20-627-6303). Amsterdam also has fast food specialties like croquettes and french fries with mayonnaise -- or better yet, peanut sauce. Street vendors are famous for selling fresh herring. But even my brother wouldn't eat one of those nasty-smelling things, and he loves seafood. (After smelling herring I now understand the Dutch proverb: "A herring a day keeps the doctor away; two herrings a day keeps everyone away.")

The grand finale! Holland is famous for flowers, and visitors can buy all kinds of flower souvenirs to take home, including wood carved flowers and flower bulbs at the airport (they've got agriculture-approved seals, so it's no problem bringing them into the U.S.) But the best place to see Holland's flowers is Keukenhof Gardens . Billed as "the most beautiful springtime park on earth," it is open only eight weeks each year. (Next year's dates are March 22 to May 20.) Keukenhof, about 45 minutes from the city, is a showcase for Holland's wide range of flower bulbs. Seven million bulbs are planted here each year, and the colors are outrageous. Even in the rain, this place was amazing. During the season you can reach Keukenhof directly from the city's Leiden Centraal railway station; then take bus 54 ("Keukenhof Express"). Admission to the garden: adults e12.50 ($16); seniors e11.50 ($14.50); children 4 to 11 e 5.50 ($7); 3 and under free. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Monday, July 24, 2006

Frank and I had the "I amsterdam Card." It's like the City Pass or Go Cards found in other cities. If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, it's worth your while to purchase one. The card offers free admission to some of the most important museums in Amsterdam, plus a free canal boat tour and use of public transport. It also offers a 25% discount on various tourist attractions and restaurants. The card is available for either 24 hours (E33 = $41), 48 hours (E43 = $54) or 72 hours (E53 = $67). For more information, log on to

Frank and I used the card for a 75-minute canal cruise aboard Rederij Noord-Zuid (the blue boat company). This is probably the most touristy thing to do in Amsterdam, but it's a great way to relax and take in beautiful views of the city. A computerized audio system acts as the guide, using four languages (English is of course one). It's kind of annoying to hear all the other languages, so to escape get one of the few seats outside in the back of the boat -� especially on a nice day. Cruises depart every half hour from April to October; 10 a.m. to 6 or 9 pm (depending on the month). Without the card, the price for adults is E 9.50 ($12); children (5 to 12 yrs) and 65+: E 5.50 ($7). Children under 4 are free.

Amsterdam boasts 40 museums, a few of them world famous. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Dutch master painter Rembrandt van Rijn's (1606-1669) birth. We could have seen Rembrandt's work at the Rembrandt House Museum, but instead we paid our respects in Rembrandt Square. That's the site of a larger-than-life statue of him, and a life-size bronze recreation of his famous painting "The Night Watch."

For our one museum visit Frank and I chose the Van Gogh museum. Our I Amsterdam Card gave us free entry, and a shorter line (we waited only 10 minutes to get in). I love most of Vincent Van Gogh's (1853-1880) work, and this museum houses his largest collection: more than 200 paintings, 437 drawings and 31 prints. It's mind boggling that Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. The Van Gogh Museum is open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Fridays until 10 p.m.); closed January 1. Admission: Adults E10 ($12.50); ages 13 to 17 E 2.50 ($3); 12 and under get in free. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Dutch are also famous for their liberal reputations and live-and-let-live attitude. I had heard stories about the city's legalized marijuana and prostitution, but had no idea what that would be like. I wondered if drugs and prostitutes would be all over town, or in just one area. Would the red light district (De Wallen) be dirty and unsafe? After Frank and I checked into our hotel, we went for a walk. We took the first two lefts out of our hotel, and were walking down a nice street by a tree-lined canal. We had no idea where we were headed as we dodged bicyclist after bicyclist. I said to Frank, �I wonder where the red light district is� -- and the next thing you know, I smelled marijuana. We were on the outskirts of it. Many of the over 300 �coffee shops� that are licensed to sell small amounts of marijuana, hashish and related soft drugs -- are located in or near the Red Light District. Laws are tight. All patrons must be at least 18 years old and they can't buy no more than 5 grams at a time. You can't buy cocaine or any other hard drugs, and selling any drug (including marijuana) in the streets is illegal. Most people don't smoke in public, but I did get stuck behind a young Brit weekend tourist smoking a joint the size of a small cigar, as he and his friends harassed one prostitute after another. I almost got high from walking into the huge cloud that followed him. By the way: These coffee houses don't serve alcohol � just coffee and marijuana.

A great place to have coffee is at Caf� de Jaren (tel.: 31-20-625-5771). This place, with high ceilings and a multi-color tiled mosaic floor, is full of beautiful people.

In Amsterdam, prostitutes rent out tiny one-room apartments (there are several hundred of them). Most have full-size glass windows, and the bikini- or lingerie-clad girls that range from 18 to way too old to sit on stools or standing in windows so they are on full display for anyone walking by. They're almost like zoo animals, out there day and night. A few of the women are drop-dead gorgeous, while some are on the far other side of the spectrum. The rooms have curtains; if they're shut, they are either sleeping or doing you-know-what. Walking around the few streets and alleys that this area covers felt surreal � almost like we were in a movie. It wasn't really dirty or dingy, and the people walking by could be found on the really nice streets of Amsterdam. I even saw a tour group of middle-aged Italian women. I had more fun looking at their reactions than seeing the prostitutes. This place is almost as much of a tourist destination as the Van Gogh museum. And, like the Van Gogh museum, pictures are strictly forbidden. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Amsterdam is like no city I have ever been to. The city is full of history, charm, bridges, canals and legalized marijuana and prostitution. A great way to explore and learn about it for the first time is to hire a private guide, or have a local friend show you around. Luckily, I had both. If you want a professional guide, one of the best (according to the Netherlands Tourist Board) is Yvonne Zumpolle. She grew up in Holland and speaks Dutch, French, German, Italian and English. Yvonne gave us a great in-depth walking tour of the city. We learned how it was founded as a fishing village around 1270 along the banks of the Amstel River. We heard about the Golden Age (17th century) when Amsterdam was one of the richest cities in Europe, and wealthy merchants built beautiful houses that still line the canals today. And we learned how the German troops occupied the city during World War II. They deported more than 100,000 Jews � almost the entire Jewish population. To learn more about the most famous Dutch Jew, visit the Anne Frank Museum.

Yvonne said that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice, and more bridges than Paris. Who knew? I also had no idea the city is made up of 90 small islands. For more Amsterdam info and history, click here. COST: Yvonne charges 125E ($158) for a half day (up to 4 hours), 190E ($240) for a full day (up to 9 hours). Yvonne's telephone number is: 31-50-31-13-177; her e-mail is:

Amsterdam is an amazing place. Besides its physical charms, what really makes this city is the people. Over 170 nationalities are represented, but almost everyone speaks English and seems to get along. The Dutch are not overly friendly, but they are courteous and happy to help a lost tourist. The Dutch are also very tall people. Walking around the streets, I felt short � and I'm 6 feet tall! I read that the average height for adult males (5-11) and females (5-6) makes them the tallest people in the world. The Dutch are also probably some of the toughest. Frank and I met my friend Petra for dinner. Walking back to her bike to say goodnight, it started to pour � and it was cold and windy. When we offered to get her a taxi for the 3-mile trip home she laughed and said, "I'm not made of sugar. We (the Dutch) ride our bikes in all types of weather."

Speaking of which, biking is a way of life in Amsterdam. The ground in The Netherlands is very flat, and the country has are over 11,000 miles of bike paths. The population of Amsterdam is 740,000 � and there 600,000 bicycles! (Similarly, there are 16,299,000 residents in The Netherlands, and over 13 million bicycles.) Practically everyone here rides � even Queen Beatrix and Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. There are even multi-level parking lots just for bicycles. Is that awesome? For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Friday, July 21, 2006

I stayed at the NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky. It was established in 1866 by a Polish tailor, Adolf Wilhelm Krasnapolski. The 468-room hotel is not the nicest or most famous hotel in Amsterdam but it is centrally located in the historic area, and right in the hustle and bustle of Dam Square. The Krasnapolsky is surrounded by department stores, boutiques and shopping alleys, and is just an 8-minute walk from the Central Rail Station. The Krasnapolsky is listed as a 5- star luxurious hotel, but I would rate it 4 stars. The place is in need of renovation, and the service was not of 5-star caliber. However, Frank and I were in a newer section of the hotel and our room was good size, with a clean bathroom and a working desk that had access to wireless internet ($5.88 for 30 minutes). Because we were there over a weekend, and because of its central location the management left a note on each guest's bed apologizing in advance for the loud noise we might experience. The note also included a pair of ear plugs, and two coupons for free drinks in the hotel bar. I had no problem sleeping, and would definitely stay there again. Room rates are from 189 � ($238) to 850 � ($1,074). NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, Dam 9, 1012 JS Amsterdam, Amsterdam; tel.: 31-20-5549111; For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hallo from the Netherlands -- or Holland, a region that many people use to refer to the entire country. One of my New Year's resolutions was to travel to at least 10 new countries this year. The Netherlands makes 3. I know I'm lagging, but I'm about to go on a tear. Last week (here's the link to the archives) we finished off in Scotland, where I visited for the second time in eight weeks. I felt badly going back to Europe two months later, and traveling only to the same countries (I was also in France and England, following the Da Vinci Code Tour). But after filming a pilot TV show my brother Frank and I jumped on a low-fare carrier to Amsterdam. We're here to check out this city that has so much more to offer than its famous red light district. This place is full of canals, bridges, boats, bicycles, museums, history, charm, and of course flowers. If you want to come for this weekend getaway, grab your walking shoes and your sense of smell because we are in Amsterdam! Yeah baby! (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.)

My brother and I flew here on easyJet. I bought my one-way ticket for $117 a couple of weeks before the trip (usually the further ahead you book in advance, the better price you get). My brother bought his ticket just a couple days before departure, and it was still relatively cheap: $150. You gotta love discount carriers! Unfortunately, my ticket quickly added up to what Frank paid because -- as I predicted -- easyJet nailed me on the extra baggage fee (most low fare carriers have strict baggage rules). I had to pay 15 pounds ($28), because my bag was just over the 20 kilo (44 pounds) limit. I don't usually travel with such a heavy bag, but I had to carry extra clothes for the TV show.

easyJet does not assign seating -- it's like Southwest (though Southwest is now assigning seats on some routes), with open seats and an A, B, C, D boarding process. We wanted to check in early so we could get an A or B boarding card. Being among the first to board pretty much guarantees two seats together, and enough space in the overhead for carry-on bags. We got both. The plane was a new Airbus 319; we took off on time; the flight attendants were cool, and the flight was a smooth 1 hour and 10 minutes. Good thing it was a short flight, because EasyJet's fare are so inexpensive they charge for practically everything � even soda and bottled water.

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is the fourth largest in Europe. It serves 240 cities in 85 countries around the world. The place is huge -- almost like a city, with so many restaurants, stores and diverse people in this monster structure. Unlike in America, if international passengers are transferring through to another flight they don't need to go through passport control. That's good thing, because the line at passport control took 30 minutes � it was long and slow. Interestingly, "Schiphol" means "hull of ships." That's because the airport used to be a lake -- it's 4.5 meters below sea level -- and when they dredged it � they found an old ship.

One of the best things about traveling in Europe is that many airports are linked by direct train service to the city -- a fast and inexpensive way to get there. In Amsterdam, passengers can buy tickets at either a window or a yellow ticket machine for � 3.60 ($4.55). Trains operate between Schiphol and Amsterdam Central Station about every 10 minutes, and the ride takes only 10 minutes too. Here's a link to the schedule.  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Rosslyn Chapel was featured in both the book and movie (a crew filmed 10 hours a day for four days in late September). This is where Langdon and Neveu uncover the truth of the Holy Grail -- and where I would deliver my last line for the show. It felt so good knowing I made it through this experience, and everything went as planned.

The Rosslyn Chapel, founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair, is located seven miles outside of Edinburgh. The chapel (also known as St. Matthew's Collegiate Church) was originally a Catholic church. Today it is a working Episcopal church, wrapped in scaffolding to protect the roof from the elements. This place has garnered so much attention because of its connections with Freemasonry. It is often called one of the most mysterious places in Scotland, because inside a variety of stone carvings relate to biblical, Masonic, pagan and Knights Templar themes. Dan Brown wrote: "For centuries this stone chapel had echoed with whispers of the Holy Grail's presence. The whispers had turned to shouts in recent decades when ground-penetrating radar revealed the presence of an astonishing structure beneath the chapel -- a massive subterranean chamber. Not only did this deep vault dwarf the chapel atop it, but it appeared to have no entrance or exit. Archaeologists petitioned to begin blasting through the bedrock to reach the mysterious chamber, but the Rosslyn Trust expressly forbade any excavation of the sacred site." Our guide told us about a mysterious chamber directly below the main room. He said the trust might excavate it a few years from now. But he also said the Da Vinci Code book had "little truth to the chapel." I'll let you figure out those inaccuracies for yourself, but I will say there is no Star of David. Note: St. Clair family descendants do not believe they are direct descendants of Christ.

Although the chapel is only seven miles from Edinburgh, in traffic it takes 30 minutes by car. If you drive, take the Edinburgh bypass: Straiton Junction A701 to Penicuik/Peebles. Follow A701 to the sign for Roslin (3 miles). Once in Roslin Village, follow signs to the chapel. Two bus services operate to Roslin: Lothian Buses service 15A (not 15), and First service 62. This place used to be lucky if five or six people visited each day. Now you can hardly move. Entry: �7 ($12.70). Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland; tel.: 131-440-2159 (outside UK 44-131-440-2159).

What's especially fitting is that the day we finished filming was the day the Da Vinci Code movie opened up worldwide � including in Scotland. On our last night together we bought tickets for the movie. We all really enjoyed it (despite the mediocre reviews). Obviously we are biased, but seeing the cities and places we came to love on the big screen was a treat. With a bit of luck, our show will air in a couple of months, and you will share the same feelings. We'll keep you posted.  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I didn't have time to see all of what Edinburgh has to offer (I had to finish up our TV show by looking for the Grail), but I did see Edinburgh Castle. It's Scotland's most popular tourist attraction, and at the end of the Royal Mile. It has sat atop the famous Edinburgh rock for over 1,000 years, and there are lots of buildings and exhibits to explore. I saw the main attraction: the Crown Jewels of Scotland (also known as "The Honours of Scotland"). The jewels consist of a crown, sword and scepter, used in 1603 when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne. It would have been much cooler without the painfully slow-moving line that began out the door, then weaved around the inside of the building and up the stairs where the jewels are displayed. Admission: adults �10.30 ($18.70), children �4.50 ($8).  Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Prestonfield also has a very popular Scottish show and dinner across the lawn in its "stables." Tour buses park in the driveway, and bagpipes can be heard as guests arrive around 6:30 p.m. The "Taste of Scotland" show, billed as the most famous Scottish show in the world, includes 18 acts. That was a bit long for me, but the international crowd (between the ages of 25 and 85) really seemed to enjoy the singing and dancing. Dinner and wine are served before the show and then haggis is offered at intermission. Cost: �45 ($81) per person. Open Sunday to Friday, April to October, starting at 7 p.m. sharp. Reservations: call 44-0-131-225-7800, or log on to  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 16, 2006

From the Waverly train station we hopped in a Londonesque taxi. These things are huge! They fit all four of us and our bags (but not comfortably). We were headed to the Prestonfield Hotel. None of us had any idea what the hotel would be like, and we were surprised it wasn't located in downtown Edinburgh.

Driving down the long Prestonfield driveway, I thought the taxi driver misunderstood us and was taking us to a park or even the zoo. We were in the country, a 10-minute drive outside the city. The grass was green, and highland cattle grazed in the fields. The house is set on 20 acres of rolling hills that includes a popular golf course open to visitors. Croquet was set up on the front lawn; 11 peacocks roamed the area. What an incredible setting!

The Prestonfield House has been an estate for centuries. However, it was neglected for many years. Then James Thomson, Edinburgh's best-known restaurateur and hotelier (owner of the Witchery and the Tower Restaurant as well) acquired the property in 2003. In a short time he transformed the Prestonfield House into a 5-star retreat. In 2005 the place was voted Hotel of the Year by AA (Automobile Association) of Scotland and Ireland.

The staff at the Prestonfield were all very accommodating, and eager to make our stay perfect. They were dressed to the nines, with the men in black formal kilts and the women (all beautiful) in black uniforms. The 33 rooms are all individually designed with a super king-size or twin beds, comfortable chairs or sofa, a writing desk, and decorative antiques. The walls are covered in tactile velvets and silk brocades. Hidden inside a Gothic cabinet is a 30" flat-screen television with DVD player. The bathrooms are finished in marble and Venetian glass mosaic, with warm towels and fine toiletries. When my brother and I walked into our room, we looked at each other and knew we each were wondering, Why the heck am I sharing this room with you? For sure we were the only working people staying there. All the other guests were couples, either on a romantic weekend or attending one of the many weddings that take place there on weekends. This place is so popular, sometimes there are even three in the same day. No wonder it won the Most Romantic Hotel in Scotland award (from the Hotel of the Year) in 2005.

One of the best things I ever tasted in my life was a small helping of a chocolate pudding that was waiting in the room for new arrivals. It was unbelievable � just like the hotel. Fortunately, you don't have to stay there to experience it. The Prestonfield has an award- winning restaurant, Rhubarb, that features exceptional food, wine and service. Room rates begin at �195 ($354), and include a delicious breakfast. Prestonfield, Priestfield Road, Edinburgh; tel.: 44-0-131-225-7800.  Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 14, 2006

Cheers from Scotland! We are here finishing filming a pilot TV show as we follow the path of Dan Brown's novel, and now a major motion picture, The Da Vinci Code (DVC). Last week we left off from the English countryside (here's the link to the archives); this week we travel north by train to Edinburgh, Scotland. If you want to see some amazing scenery and check in to one of the most romantic hotels, log on. 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.

We're following the exact tour I took in March. For more detailed information on the places we're visiting, here's the link to the archive � they're in the March and April stories of 2006. The only difference is that on this tour, two high definition cameras follow my every step. If the show gets picked up, you'll be among the first to find out. Keep your fingers crossed.

The best way to reach Edinburgh from Lincoln is by train. If you purchase a BritRail pass from, you won't have to buy expensive point-to-point tickets. There are no direct trains from Lincoln, so you'll first need to take a commuter train to either Retford or Sheffield, England. Then transfer to a GNER (Great North Eastern Railway), or a Virgin train for Edinburgh. The Edinburgh leg takes just under 3 � hours. The ride goes by quickly, but after trying both trains I prefer the seats of the GNER train to Virgin's (they are more comfortable and spacious). Either way, the best part of the trip is the scenery � it's amazing. Especially the last hour, as you ride along the rocky seashore, and see sheep grazing in the lush green hills. Talk about picturesque!

On my last trip I learned how to correctly pronounce Edinburgh. This trip I have been trying to teach our crew. They can't get it right � so much so it's become a joke. It has to be one of the world's most mispronounced cities for Americans. The correct pronunciation is: "ED-in-burra." Got it? It's great to listen to a Scot. Although they speak English, I can hardly understand what they're saying -- boy, do they have a strong accent. I love it! As for money: Scotland is part of the UK, but it's a separate nation. So Scotland issues its own bank notes, but English pounds are accepted everywhere. However, you might have a hard time using Scottish pounds outside the country, as some places in England don't accept them. (�1 = $1.74).  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Less than an hour's drive on the other end of Lincolnshire (90 miles north of London) is Stamford's Burghley House. This is another jaw-dropping location -- one of the largest and grandest houses of the first Elizabethan Age. Built between 1555 and 1587, it features 35 major rooms on the ground and first floors. There are 80 more lesser rooms, as well as hallways, corridors, bathrooms and service areas. Talk about a pimp daddy house! I had no idea this is still a home. Lady Victoria Leatham, a direct descendant of the first Lord Burghley, looks after the place on behalf of the Burghley House Preservation Trust. She was kind enough to give us an interview and show us around the property - including the incredible views from the roof. If the place looks familiar, that's because it was used in the recent remake of "Pride and Prejudice" (link to Pride And Prejudice info). The interiors were also featured in the Da Vinci Code movie as Castel Gandolfo (the Pope's summer residence). Filming here took two weeks, and it's worth a tour. Open daily except Fridays from April 1 to October 29. Admission: adults �9 ($16.60), children (5 to15) �4 ($7), families �22 ($40). The Burghley House, Stamford, Lincolnshire; tel.: 1780-752451 (outside UK 44-1780-752451).

Before leaving Burghley, eat lunch at the Orangery Restaurant, a caf� on the property that serves great, reasonably priced food. Orangery Restaurant; tel.: 01780-752451 (outside UK 44-1780-752451).

Not in Lincolnshire, but a 30-minute drive from the Burghley House in nearby Leicestershire, is the Belvoir Castle. It's pronounced Beaver Castle, but Belvoir dates from Norman times and means "beautiful view". Although only exterior (helicopter) shots of the castle were used for the movie trailer (they were not used for the actual movie), it's worth a visit. My favorite moment -- besides interviewing the Duchess of Rutland (she lives in the north end of the castle, with her Duke husband and three children; it's been an ancestral home for over 1,000 years) -- was the entrance, which is full of weapons. I also enjoyed the chapel and main gallery, including Pieter Coecke van Aelst's "Last Supper" painting. Open April 1 to September; closed Mondays and Fridays. Admission: adults �10 ($18.40), students and senior citizens �9 ($16.60), families (two adults, three children) �26 ($48). Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire, tel.: 1476-871000 (outside UK 44-1476-871000); e-mail:  Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 10, 2006

We needed to do a food segment for the show. I immediately thought of The Old Bakery, just a few blocks from the White Hart. The Old Bakery was a favorite of the film's stars, and I ate at this small, award-winning family run back in March. The chef/co-owner is Italian, but you won't find a lot of pasta on the menu. Just good ol' Mediterranean cuisine, and local dishes like roast "Lincoln Red" sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy. They also offer a variety of addictive homemade breads. Now that the weather is warmer they've opened up the patio, which makes a meal even better. If you're looking for a reasonable place to stay, they also run a bed and breakfast. Rooms start at �50 ($92). The Old Bakery, 26/28 Burton Road, Lincoln; tel.: 1522-576057 (outside UK 44-1522-576057).

Surprisingly, Lincoln (and much of England for that matter) is full of great places to eat. I can't list everywhere we ate, but two new spots are worth visiting. Lesley's Place (tel.: 01522-513703) is great for lunch � try the tasty sandwiches, scones and desserts. For a little spice, have dinner at Thailand NO1 (tel.: 01522-537000). Lincoln is a college town, so there are plenty of places to hit afterward for beer. Everyone is really friendly. You won't run into many (if any) Americans, so you'll really feel like you're away from home.  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The White Hart Hotel has 48 rooms. It's the best place to stay in Lincoln, and the location is probably why. It's right between Lincoln Cathedral and Lincoln Castle (the two main attractions, each only a block away). This 3-star hotel sits on historic ground. King Richard II stayed in an earlier building on this site in 1372. If King Richard is not good enough for you, how about this: The Da Vinci Code movie cast stayed here for five nights last August. Tom Hanks and his family were in room 371. My brother and I were in room 320. We shared a large junior suite with twin beds, a spotless bathroom and a killer view of the Cathedral. The place was very cozy and old, and the creaky floorboards and musty smell reminded me of childhood vacations at the Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Rates begin at �55 ($101) and includes breakfast. White Hart Hotel, Bailgate, Lincoln, Lincolnshire; tel.: 1522-526-222 (outside UK 44-1522-526-222).  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lincoln Cathedral was one of the main buildings used in the film, for the interior scenes of Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey rejected the film's proposal, calling it "inappropriate." I'm sure director Ron Howard and company were bummed at first, but this is a perfect example of everything happening for the best. Had it not been for the rejection, most people (like me) might never have been exposed to this region, let alone visited it. That would be a shame, because this area is full of allure and good times. The Lincoln Cathedral is regarded as one of Europe's finest Gothic cathedrals. Its four massive transepts dominate the Lincoln skyline for miles around. The moment I stepped into the cathedral I had the same reaction as every first-time visitor: " Wow!" This 480-foot-long, brightly lit place is amazing. Be sure to go on a tour and look for the Lincoln Imp. Admission into the Cathedral: adults �4 ($7); children 5-12 �1 ($1.84). There is no additional charge for tower tours. The Lincoln Cathedral, 4 Priorygate, Lincoln; tel.: 1522-544544 (outside UK 44-1522-544544), email:  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cheers from England! 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 (DVC). We began in Paris; last week we left off in London (here's the link to the archives), and this week we travel north by train to locations in the English countryside. If you want to see some cool locales that have been in other movies, and a small Nantucket-like town, then log on. 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.

We're following the exact tour I took in March. For more detailed information on the places we're visiting, here's the link to the archive� they're in the March and April stories of 2006. The only difference is that on this tour, two high definition cameras are following my every step. If the show gets picked up you'll be among the first to find out. Keep your fingers crossed.

Lincoln, England is our next stop. It's 135 miles north of London, and the best way to get there from the capital is by train. Departure is from King's Cross Station, and a change in Newark is required. Total travel time is two hours. You can buy tickets from (TIP: On purchase a BritRail Pass. You can go all the way up to Edinburgh, or another place or two in the UK � a better deal than buying a point-to-point ticket).

Lincoln (here's a map) is located in Britain's fourth largest county, Lincolnshire (here's another map). Lincolnshire, which has been visited by kings and poets, boasts ancient churches, country houses, lush farmlands and tradition. It's also where Ron Howard filmed a good portion of the Da Vinci Code movie. When it was a bustling port and thriving commercial center, Lincoln was one of England's largest cities. Long before that it was a Roman town (here's a list of Roman sites), and a retirement community for Roman soldiers. Today Lincoln is a town of 86,000 people � about the size of Norwalk, Connecticut where I grew up. I mention this because Lincoln reminded me a lot of South Norwalk, probably for its energy as an up-and-coming town. When I arrived just after dark in March my first impression was of Nantucket (link to Nantucket story). I had no idea this place had cobblestone streets and so much charm. What a pleasant surprise!  Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 03, 2006

My friend Olivia Decker from the Chatteau de Villete in France gave me the idea to call on the London Chapter of Opus Dei. Opus Dei is the Catholic organization that was portrayed as the villain in the Da Vinci Code book and movie. We contacted Jack Valero, head of media relations, and despite the short notice he granted us an interview. I was a little nervous going into the London office, because the only thing I knew about Opus Dei (other than its origins in 1928 by Josemar�a Escriv�, a Spainard who later became a saint) was from the Da Vinci Code book. But Jack was a charming, very cool man. He offered all kinds of interesting information -- including the fact that � despite the book's assertion -- there couldn't be a killer monk in Opus Dei because the institution does not include monks. Members are all lay people. He had a great attitude, and pointed out that his organization had ended up making lemonade out of lemons. That's because the book, and now the movie, have made their Opus Dei a household name. Thanks to the publicity, membership has jumped enormously. To give you an idea how great an attitude Jack and Opus Dei had: They even let us a film a funny scene involving my brother (you'll have to wait to see it). For more information on Opus Dei, log on to their website  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I have driven and walked over Tower Bridge a few times, but never taken the time to go up. This time I did. Tower Bridge, built in 1894, is one of the most recognizable bridges in the world. Reaching the top requires passing through airport-like security, then hopping on an oversize elevator that holds probably 15 people. The two towers are 213 feet high (about 21 stories). A movie shows the bridge�s history, but it�s not mandatory to watch, like some tourist traps). Visitors can walk over both sides of the bridge in a glass- enclosed hallway with little slots into which you can stick your camera, for better pictures of the Thames River. The Tower Bridge still opens 500 to 900 times a year to allow cruise ships, naval vessels, tall ships and other large craft to pass through. Tower Bridge. Entrance fees: adults �5.50 ($10); children (ages 5 to 15) �3 ($5.50). For general information call: +44-0-20-7403-3761.  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 01, 2006

We filmed in and around the major sites in the book, including the Gothic-Romanesque Temple Church (more info: The Temple Church, Temple, London; tel: 44-0-20-7353- 8559). Not surprisingly, Westminster Abbey would not let us film there. They wouldn't let Ron Howard film either, which is why he used Lincoln Cathedral in Lincolnshire for the interior of Westminster (more on that next week). For more info on Westminster Abbey, log on to, or call: 44-0-20-7654 4900.

Cameras are not allowed in the National Gallery without special permission. Fortunately, we had it, and we filmed just before it opened. The National Gallery wasn't featured in either the book or movie, but it does house one of the two originals of Leonardo Da Vinci's painting "Virgin of the Rocks," which was. Besides seeing that work, visitors can admire more than 2,300 other pictures, spanning the years 1250 to 1900. There is no fee to enter the National Gallery. Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed January 1 and December 24-26. For more information, log on to The National Gallery.

I love Indian food, and outside of India London has the best. That's because Indians make up London's largest minority ethnic group (just under 875,000, of a total population of 7.5 million ). Indians began arriving in the early 17th century. There is no better place for authentic Indian cuisine than Brick Lane in East London. Locals call it Banglatown. Brick Lane, a one-way street that stretches for a mile, is filled with over 50 Indian restaurants serving delicious curry, naan bread, rice and more. This is a popular area especially with locals, because it's not as expensive as other restaurants in the tourist areas. Almost every restaurant has aggressive "touters" standing out front, trying to persuade passersby to eat there. I walked a couple of steps in front of our crew, and when the touters approached me I said, "Your place looks good, but my friends behind me are making the decision." It was so funny: They would follow the crew for a half a block, trying to get them to eat -- after we had already had dinner at Clifton Restaurant (1 Whitechapel Road, London; tel.: 020-7377-5533). For more detailed info on Brick Lane, read this Chicago Tribune article.  Posted by Picasa