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March 22, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                            Da Vinci Code: Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, I did not have a room at the Ritz. But I did stay around the corner, at Le Faubourg Hotel. From the Ritz it is just a short walk down Rue de Rivoli (the long street running parallel to the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre Museum; also where Langdon and Sophie have their wild car chase after escaping from the Louvre). The hotel is directly across the street from the world famous (and according to locals—"so last year") Buddha Bar. The hotel includes two historic buildings, dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. The location is awesome (and you pay for it). The American Embassy is at the end of the block, so don’t get scared when you see all the police. The hotel has 174 rooms, and each one is designed differently. Mine was nice and comfortable, but they did charge 18€ ($22) a day for high-speed, and the door keys (credit card-style) didn’t work very well either in the room itself or while trying to activate the elevator (a security precaution). Prices begin around 265€ ($320). It costs more to go through their website or call their reservation desk, so it’s best to use’s hotel search engines). Le Faubourg-Paris Sofitel Demeure Hotels,15, rue Boissy d'Anglas, 75008, Paris; tel.: 33-1-44-94-14-14.

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

If Sophie ever takes Langdon back to Paris, she might think about taking him on a romantic two and a half-hour dinner cruise along the Seine River. I know, the cruises are only for tourists, or locals accompanying out-of-town guests. I also know the food is not particularly good. However, the ambiance and atmosphere make up for it. Floating down the river with friends or loved ones, seeing the city all lit up, is very special. The first time I did this was back in 1998 with my mom, brother, sister and friends. I will never forget that evening. This time I took the Bateaux Parisiens dinner cruise (more than one company offers this service). The glass-enclosed boats are decorated like an upscale restaurant, and feature a live band and good service. Boarding begins at 7.45 p.m.; departure is at 8.30. Be sure to dress well (no jeans or sneakers). Prices (€ 92 to € 135 = $111 - $164) include the cruise, meal, drinks and entertainment. Here’s the cruise rout! Bateaux Parisiens, Port de la Bordonnais, 75007, Paris; tel.: 33-146-994-313.

Here’s a 2-minute Johnny Jet Video of my trip to France. With high-speed the video takes about 1 minute to load; with dial-up, please allow up to three weeks. For more Paris tips, be sure to check out past Johnny Jet’s past trips to France in the newsletter archive.

England. Stay Tuned.

Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From

The Trip


Amazing Race Premiere




My Sister








About To Land


Place Vendôme


Paris Ritz


A room at the Ritz


Ritz Bathroom


Hemingway Bar


"Opus Dei" Drinks




Connie Our Guide


Inverted Pyramid


Bronze Medallion


Church of Saint-Sulpice


Towering Obelisk


Champs-Elysées Sidewalk




Pumpkin Soup


Louvre Tour


Location of the
Grand Gallery


Inside The Louvre


Glass Gyramid


How Many Panes?


Le Faubourg Hotel


My Room


Smart Car


Château de Villette




The Couch!


Dinner Cruise With
My Mom & Brother



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  • Oh oh oh are you going to Paris to crack the Da Vinci Code??? I'll be so excited if you are!! Christine from DC
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  • Next time you head to Erie, pick a little warmer time of year and do come through Cleveland. You can get an authentic Cincinnati 3-way at Skyline Chili (yes, the Cincinnati one), and try a whole lot of fun ethnic food, not to mention a trip to the Rock Hall, the Indians or Cavs (you pick the season). You can still get to Erie in a little over an hour. Lots to see and do here. A fan and also a Cleveland Booster!
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