Johnny Jet's Travel Blog

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I was in Sardegna for my August vacation visiting my friend Anabel's villa. It's her family's summer residence, and the place is unreal. The terra cotta-roof structure is located on shores of Costa Smeralda, 30 minutes north of Olbia. When I pulled up to the gated stone driveway I knew the place would be special, but I had no idea how unbelievable it really is. It's located near the swanky Romazzino hotel ($2,000 a night in peak season), where stars are often photographed relaxing on the sandy beach, swimming in the crystal blue water or strolling along the dock. Romazzino means "rosemary" in Sardinna dialect, and plenty of those plants can be found. We were fortunate to go to the Romazzino hotel for cocktails and their fantastic buffet dinner that includes lobster, pasta and hot souffl�s. The patio where guests drink and dine has a view that makes you want to sing "That's Amore." Waiters at the Romazzino (and other fine hotels) are all dressed meticulously; they're not college kids or immigrants working for the summer. These men are 100% Italian, and as professional as it gets. Hotel Romazzino, Porto Cervo, Costa Smeralda, Italy; tel.: 39-0789-977111.

The villa's backyard has a water view that makes you want to stare out all day long. When we weren't mesmerized, we went out on one of the family's boats. In the morning we waterskied; in the early afternoon we cruised around the harbor watching mega-ships (this is where Bill Gates and all those ridiculously rich and powerful people holiday). Some boats are 300 feet long and cost $150 million -- is that sick or what? We were out on "just" a 71 -foot Sea Ray that was unbelievably plush. It came complete with a deckhand and chef. The one day we wanted to take it to Corsica (France's neighboring island), it was too rough to cross the Strait of Bonifacio. Instead we settled for Bodelli Beach, located in a little cove between Corsica and Sardegna that is part of a national park. This place was magnifico. Were it not for the red jellyfish, I'd still be swimming there.

On the day the weather did not cooperate, we went (like everyone else) to Porto Cervo to gawk at all the monster ships and stroll around the expensive shops. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Monday, October 30, 2006

Buon giorno from Italy! Last week we left off in London, after taking an amazing flight over the pond with Eos Airlines (here's the link to the archives). This week we continue to live the high life as we visit one of the world's most exclusive summer playgrounds: Costa Smeralda. If you're interested in learning about this special part of the coast on the island of Sardegna, then andiamo ("let's go" in Italian)! If you're in a hurry or have ADD, check out the 2-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story.

Americans call the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea "Sardinia." Sardinians call it Sardigna or Sardinna. I'll stick with my Italian heritage and call it what other Italians do: Sardegna. Sardegna is located 115 miles west of the Italian mainland (see map), and has a population of 1,680,000. This mountainous island (the highest point is 6,017 feet) is much larger than I ever imagined � roughly 160 miles long and 68 miles wide (9,301 square miles). The capital, Cagliari, is located on the southern part of the island. But I flew into Olbia, the other major airport, a 4-hour, 171-mile drive north of Cagliari.

Reaching Sardegna by air is not as expensive as it used to be, thanks to low-fare carriers. There are no non-stop flights from the U.S., however, so you have to connect. Instead of buying a direct ticket on a major carrier to Sardegna, look into breaking up your trip with a stopover either in London or Cologne, Germany (both are served by budget airlines). By flying into London and purchasing a separate ticket on easyJet (one of Europe's most popular low-fare carriers) I saved over $1,000! Tip: Make sure to leave plenty of time between flights (preferably a day), because most low-fare carriers depart out of alternate airports. Fortunately, one-way tickets to Oblia or Cagliari can be as low as $40. If you prefer surface routes, a few ferry companies (listed in our resource section) offer crossings from some of Italy's major port towns. Ferries take between 4 and 9 hours. The shortest distance is from Civitavecchia, an hour from Rome. Prices vary depending on class and type of boat; the lowest usually start at $30 each way, but specials can drop them even lower. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I got off at Tottenham Hale. From there I jumped on the tube (also called the underground -- their subway), a short walk away. I traveled to Victoria Station, and transferred one stop to the Circle/District line. I went westbound one stop to Sloane Square and walked three blocks to my hotel. It would have been easier to take a taxi, but the 'blackies' aren't cheap and traffic in London is horrendous. For info and tips on using the tube, check out this page.

I checked into the 60-room, 4- star Number Eleven Cadogan Gardens Hotel. It's located in the heart of Chelsea, smack between Buckingham Palace and Harrods (just a 10 minute walk to the latter). Number Eleven is set on a beautiful garden square in a Victorian townhouse built by Lord Chelsea over 100 years ago on his former cricket ground. This brick mansion used to be the home of famous brewer Sir Benjamin Guinness, but after World War II it was turned into a hotel. The hotel is privately owned, family run, and has plenty of both English charm and history. Because it's in a residential neighborhood, it's very peaceful and quiet.

When I first arrived I felt as if I were walking into someone's home. My room wasn't quite ready, so I flipped open my computer and downloaded emails using their free wireless internet. I was offered tea, and escorted to my room. Most of the employees were from Poland. When I stepped into my room I was shocked at how large and elegant it was, with primarily traditional furniture. The bed had crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets, and was so comfortable I fell asleep watching the morning news on the flat screen TV. The bathroom was wall to wall marble, with a powerful shower, separate tub, heated towel racks and Molton Brown toiletries. Breakfast is included in the daily rate, which ranges from L145 ($271) to L500 ($936). There is a gymnasium and sauna, but I didn't have time to use either because the following morning I had to be on a plane to�? Eleven Cadogan Gardens, 11 Cadogan Gardens, Sloane Square, London; tel.: 44(0)20-7730-7000. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Eos flies to London's Stansted Airport. Stansted is 30 miles north of central London and very popular with low-fare carriers, because their landing fees are much cheaper. It's good for passengers too, because they don't have to deal with the craziness of Heathrow (especially clearing customs). I cleared in less than two minutes. If I had checked a bag it would not have taken long to get it, because there are so few bags to unload. How many airlines can boast having not lost a single piece of luggage? I could have taken a shower at the SAS Radisson Hotel, which is a two-minute walk from the airport (I'll write about this hotel in a future article). Instead I rode an elevator down a level, and took the Stansted Express train to central London. Eos provides passengers with a complimentary first-class round trip ticket -- or a premium car service.

As you can tell, I loved my flight on Eos. Who wouldn't? With breakfast came an optional passenger survey. I filled mine out, and rated my flight 10/10. It was a stretch to find something wrong, but I wrote: The flight attendants don't bring the mid-flight snack through the cabin, the plane lacks a live map tracker (I love to stare at them -- I know, I'm a freak), the planes don't have wireless internet, and the lounge in London is not nearly as plush as the one in New York (I later checked it out). But those are minor details, and all can be fixed. Flying Eos motivated me to make more money, so I can afford the one-way walk-up fare of $3,250. But if you book in advance they have specials, including round trip tickets for as low as $2,950. That's still much cheaper than most major airlines' first class fares. For more information on Eos, including their frequent flier program, visit, or call 888-357-3677.

Taking the Stansted Express to central London is easy. The station is directly below the airport terminal; trains depart every 15 minutes, so there is no need to rush. The trip takes 47 minutes if you go all the way to Liverpool Street. One-way Express Class (coach) fares are �15.00 ($28). Roundtrip is cheaper, so if you plan to head back to the airport be sure to buy both ways. A same-day return ticket is just �16.00 ($30). I sat in the first class carriage only because Eos provides its passengers with a free ticket. I would never pay the extra �9 ($16.80) for a short ride with very little difference in service. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Thursday, October 19, 2006

There are four seats across -- two on each side of the aisle. The seats are more like suites, because they come with their own space, a divider, and they're staggered so the person sitting at the window doesn't have to jump over his seatmate. There is a one-foot unobstructed walkway. The seats are in a pod, so when they recline fully to a 78-inch bed they don't intrude on the passenger behind you. Don't even think about trying to touch the seat in front of you. It's impossible even for Shaq � that's how far apart they are. Each passenger has 21 square foot of space. That's 40% more room than traditional business class cabins. Although the seats are not ideal for couples who want to cuddle, the 'suite' (or should I say 'sweet') seats are designed so your loved one or colleague can sit directly across from you to dine, play games or hold a conference. That's all possible thanks to the extended tray table and buddy seat (normally the foot stool). Two seats next to each other can turn into a four person conference, no problem. I know -- just what employees want to hear. Sorry! Let's hope your boss doesn't read this.

Because there are only 48 seats, there was no scramble for overhead storage space. After I sat down I was offered a choice of champagne (with a fresh strawberry) or a glass of water. With the drink came candied walnuts, packaged in a gift-like clear wrap with bow (I saved those to give away). Then came the dinner menu, and an amenity kit with the standard earplugs, eye mask and socks, but also L'Occitane lip balm, and hand and face lotion. There was also a very nice Eos pen. The TV monitors that drop down from the ceiling were used only for the safety video. Instead of watching monitors, each passenger has an in-flight entertainment system loaded with current hit movies, television shows, games, music videos, and a selection of albums that would make a DJ happy. I went through all the albums (featuring every type of music, from Top 40 to classical). I chose the songs I wanted, and made my very own playlist. It sounded really good on the Bose QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Canceling headsets that Eos provided. Those headsets are a frequent traveler's luxury (buy them at I put mine on after the pilot announced that flight time would be a mere 6 hours and 14 minutes. It's probably the first time in my life that I cringed, wishing a flight would be longer. There was so much to do, and nowhere near enough time. (I haven't even mentioned that my seat had an electrical plug that did not require an adaptor, so I could work on my computer as long as I wanted.)

Although Eos' load factors have been around 70 to 80 percent (that's really good), my flight wasn't even half full. (It was a Tuesday � typically a slow travel day). Normally there is one flight attendant for every Eos eight passengers, but this flight was more like one to every three passengers. That's unreal. The five-course meals are served on china, and the tray tables are covered with linens. The flight attendants don white gloves for the meal service. They don't use carts, so there is no problem getting to and from the bathroom at any time. The food was excellent. The teaser was marinated prawn skewer. There was a choice of appetizers; I chose seared beef on summer salad with green beans, tomatoes and quail egg. My main course was fillet of beef served on wasabi-potato terrine, with sesame chutney and grilled asparagus. Then came an assortment of cheese, and for the grand finale: Do & Co's raspberry mint panna cotta. For a complete look at the menu, see my scanned copy.

I forgot to mention that we were handed pajamas with the amenity kits. The package that came with them looked so nice I was afraid to open them up. Besides, I was too busy doing other things. After dinner the flight attendant asked if I wanted "turndown service" to make the seats into beds. I said 'Sure,' with a big creepy smile. To get out of her way and brush my teeth I went to the bathroom, which was even cheerful -- they had flowers and swanky L'Occitane hand soap in the dispenser. When I returned I found not only a flat bed, complete with high thread count cotton sheets, a cashmere blanket and two types of pillows (including Tempur-pedic), but also small gourmet chocolates. I was speechless.

I managed to sleep for about two hours before I was awakened by either the starting of our descent or the smell of breakfast. I was so comfortable I forgot that before shutting my eyes I had filled out my breakfast card. Sure enough, the requested scrambled eggs with cottage cheese and tomatoes was waiting for me. Flight attendants also came by with fresh fruit in a carved-out papaya, Danish pastries and a choice of smoothies and juices. Normally at this time, flight attendants on other airlines would start to clean up the plane for landing. But with so few passengers Eos flight attendants were relaxed, and just beginning their food service. The delay gives passengers even more time to sleep. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cheers from London! Last week (here�s the link to the archives) we left off from New York City. This week we cross the Atlantic in style -- and I�m talking style. So much so that this new airline is now my favorite. I�m not alone � successful businessmen, wealthy families, celebrities, even royalty love it too. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, said, "Eos was so comfortable, I wanted to go around again." If you want to hop the pond in a plush plane and then check into a posh hotel, get your weekend bag and passport because we are off to England! If you are 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.

Eos Airlines is named after the winged goddess of the dawn in ancient Greek mythology. That�s a fitting name for this airline, because passengers talk about their flight as if they rode on a goddess, and the New York to London flight arrives at dawn. Eos began flying last October. They offered just one flight a day until last week, when they added a second daily flight (except Saturday) on their only route. New York to London is the most popular long distance overseas route in the world, with around 23 flights a day to and from the metropolitan areas. Eos is going after their competitors� business class passengers, with walk-up fares that are considerably lower and a superior product. As you are about to see, nobody does the transatlantic flight better then Eos. FYI: Flights from New York depart at 7:15 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. EST. They arrive in London the following morning at 7:40 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.

When I made my reservation I was told to show up at the airport just an hour before departure with my passport in hand. I thought I misunderstood the agent. Who ever heard of arriving an hour before an international departure? Actually, according to the Eos website, passengers can arrive just 45 minutes in advance. Is that crazy or what? All my concerns about how I would check in and clear security in time to make my flight were quickly answered. When I arrived at JFK�s Terminal 4 I was greeted with no line for check in, and an agent saying, 'You must be Mr. DiScala' (my real name). I was startled, and asked how he knew my name. He smiled and said, 'You�re the only one who hasn�t checked in yet.' I was impressed -- and I hadn�t even taken their limousine service. Passengers get preferred rates; the driver calls ahead to alert airport staff about arrival, and at curbside passengers are greeted by an Eos representative.

After I was handed my boarding card (which took a mere 30 seconds), one of Eos� gang of turquoise-jacketed escorts standing nearby took me to security. It�s not that I couldn�t find security on my own; all Eos passengers get a free pass to the front of the security line. They must have a special deal through which they pay top dollar for this service, but boy is it worth it! Passengers still get searched like everyone else, but what a simple joy not to have to wait in a long line. After I cleared security, another Eos staff member waited on the other side. I said, 'How did you know you I was flying Eos?' He just smiled, but later I saw a walkie-talkie sticking out of his pocket. These guys are good.

I was dropped off in front of Emirates Airlines� lounge, where two Eos flight attendants welcomed passengers (Eos has a deal with Emirates). I have been to many airline lounges, but this one is definitely the nicest. Now I know why the other passengers arrived early. I dropped off my bag in the closet and went to use the bathroom. The attendant asked if I would like a hot shower before the flight. I sure did. I changed into my comfortable flying clothes, and walked around for a better look at the lounge. It had a fully stocked self-serve bar, plenty of computers with free high-speed, a large screen TV, and best of all a dining area. With all the food options, it was like a high-class Sizzler buffet. I took some pictures, but I didn�t want to look like a spy or a freak so I tried to keep it on the down low. The options ranged from pasta and seafood to pot roast and chicken curry -- you name it. The curry was delicious -- and don�t even get me started on the desserts. I ate watching planes take off and land. I also downloaded emails on my laptop using the free wireless connection -- another huge plus.

When boarding was called, I almost had mixed feelings. Part of me didn�t want to leave the lounge, but the smarter half couldn�t wait to get on the plane. Although I had never flown Eos before, and I didn�t really know what to expect, I was full of excitement. Before I stepped on the Boeing 757-200, a flight attendant offered me an array of newspapers and magazines. I grabbed a USA Today. Then I stepped on the plane and saw the seats and their configurations. Get this: A 757-200 can hold 231 economy class seats but Eos� have just 48. Can you believe that? I kept cool -- but my soul wanted to scream for joy.  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Just by chance, while I was in Erie I received an invite to the new PNC Park in Pittsburgh to see the Pirates take on the Atlanta Braves. I jumped on the chance, because one of my goals in life is to see a baseball game at every ballpark in America. Pittsburgh's new stadium was on my list, waiting to be checked off. The trip there was even more special, because I kidnapped my dad for the two-hour drive south. We had a room at the Radisson Hotel Pittsburgh Green Tree (rates start at $89), located on the other side of the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Next time I'll stay in the city, because the Fort Pitt Tunnel seems to always have traffic. The drive from the hotel to the stadium should normally take just 10 minutes, but in rush hour or before a game it can be three times as long. The hotel worked out fine; nothing special, though the staff was very friendly. Other positives: The rooms were clean, and they had free wireless internet. The hotel could use a makeover � in particular the pool and breakfast buffet (the latter needed some help, or a lower price tag than $12.95. Radisson Hotel Pittsburgh Green Tree, 101 Radisson Drive, Pittsburgh, PA ; tel.: 412-922-8400.

PNC Park opened in 2001 -- the same year as Heinz Field, which is next door (they share a parking lot) and home to the 2005 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. There was a buzz in the air, even though the Pirates are one of the worst teams in the league. But it was a warm summer night, and the 38,000-seat classic-style ballpark was alive. I'm sure a lot has to do with the stadium's design, restaurants, and prime location (along the shore of the Allegheny River, and adjacent to Federal Street). The best views of the downtown skyline and riverfront are from home plate, but it really doesn't matter where you sit because the stadium is so intimate. The highest seat is just 88 feet from the field. Every seat has a fantastic view of the city � and, more importantly, of the natural grass playing field. There are 69 plush suites, complete with living room design, TV to see and hear the game, all kinds of food, air conditioning/heat, and a private bathroom. We scored tickets not only into a suite, but to Suite 1. Yeah Baby! Suite 1 is regarded as the best, because its location in the corner along the river side with a wall of glass windows shows off the spectacular view. These days the most exciting part of the night for most Pirate fans who have the privilege of being in a suite is the dessert cart. Holy cow! When this bad boy comes around people run for the door in excitement (it's too big to fit through the door). Are these dessert carts the best thing to hit sporting events or what? Next time you find yourself in Pittsburgh, be sure to take in a ballgame, or at least a tour of PNC Park. Tours are available through October 13th, Monday-Friday, on both game days and non-game days. For more information click here, email, or call 412-325-4700 or 1-800-BUY-BUCS ext. 4700. For more click HERE.
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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We flew out of New York's JFK (JetBlue also has a small percentage of flights out of LaGuardia and Newark). If you're unfamiliar with JetBlue (where have you been hiding?), they don't offer food -- only chips, cookies and drinks. But they do have fine food options to bring on the plane in their JFK terminal. Also in JFK's Terminal 6, JetBlue offers free wireless internet. That's key for a computer junkie like me. Why can't other airlines do the same? I normally feel lucky if I get a hot spot that costs $6 an hour, but JetBlue does a lot of the little things right. I haven't even mentioned that they have one of the friendliest staffs around. And best of all: They offer 36 channels of live TV on individual monitors in the seatbacks. That makes any flight go by real quick � especially when traveling with kids, or on a short 55-minute flight like ours. JetBlue; tel.: 800-538-2583.

I have written about Erie so many times that I'm not going to bore you. But if you are new (welcome!), you can click here to read Johnny Jet archives for past trips to Erie (or wherever). Let me just note that my trip there was as great as always. I know most people have a notion of Erie as being a dreary, miserable city, but it's not (well, maybe some parts are). Much of the area is really beautiful, especially in the summer or when covered in fresh snow. Erie is a relaxing holiday for me. I love taking a stroll on Presque Isle's 14 miles of scenic trail along Lake Erie, or going to the prestigious Kahkwa Club to play a round of golf. Kids love Erie too, because of the popular Waldameer Amusement Park. And on rainy or cold days there's the year-round Splash Lagoon indoor water park. One of my favorite ways of passing time is shopping at Wegmans -- one of the best grocery stores in America. They have everything you want or need. And who can forget about Lake Erie sunsets? This is one of the best places in the world to watch the sun go down. For more click HEREPosted by Picasa