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February 22, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?            Sydney to Toronto (via Fiji, L.A. and Atlanta)
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Greetings from freezing cold Canada (brrr!). Last week we left off in Sydney, Australia where it was summer. What a contrast, huh? Itís amazing what a country can do to you. Doesnít the word "Australia" make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Sydney is where my dad and I finished up our incredible father-son vacation that also took us to Fiji (as well as my home in California). After a few days relaxing in L.A. my dad went back to the cold (and snow) of the East Coast. I followed shortly, to the cold of Canada.

TRAVELING WITH MY DAD
I wrote earlier that I was a little skeptical about traveling with just my dad for so long and so far. Now that weíre back, I am so happy we had that opportunity. It was one of the best trips I have taken, and one I will never forget. My dad is an incredible man. He is one of the funniest and smartest people I know -- he is basically a walking dictionary -- and traveling together really brought those qualities out in him. We (especially he) made friends everywhere we went. He must have handed out a hundred of my business cards to everybody: grocery store cashiers, hotel clerks, and of course any pretty girl he saw. The guy has no problem talking to anybody. Itís almost embarrassing -- I canít get him to stop! On the flight to Fiji there were three good- looking single girls traveling together. He reached in his pocket for my card as they walked down the aisle. I whispered, "Dad, please put my card back in your wallet. You are NOT going to just hand them my card. Theyíll think Iím an idiot, and desperate!" He said, "Oh no son, they wonít think that at all." I realized I couldnít stop him, so I jumped up and went to the bathroom. But the man is a charmer. Sure enough he had them laughing at all of his jokes; then they got teary-eyed when he recited some of his poetry. I think I need to bring my dad on more trips!

SYDNEY-LOS ANGELES (VIA FIJI)
We flew Air Pacific (Fijiís national carrier) home from Sydney, which meant a 3-hour pit stop in Nadi. The layover didnít bother us; in fact, it was nice to break up the flight, because we were in coach. When you think about it, if you lay over in Fiji you know youíre going to or coming from someplace grand, right? The flight back is much quicker than going, because the jet stream carries the plane along. Both legs were an hour quicker than going. Sydney to Fiji took only 3 Ĺ hours, while Nadi to LAX was a mere 9 1/2. We could have eaten dinner in downtown Nadi, because itís only 5 minutes from the airport. But Nadi is not one of our favorite places, and we didnít want to deal with lugging our bags or going through security and customs again. Instead we wandered around the airport, and checked out the inexpensive stores. They are actually good places to pass time in, and pick up last-minute gifts. If I am ever fortunate to pass through that airport again, I hope it will have wireless internet available, and many more electrical outlets so travelers can log on to the net while recharging their batteries.

GROUNDHOG DAY
We left Nadi at 11 Saturday night, and arrived in LA at 1 p.m. that same Saturday -- 10 hours before we left! Donít you love going crossing the International Date Line? This is one chance for travelers to pretend theyíre in the movie "Groundhog Day."

LOS ANGELESí MINI WORLD
Itís funny: I donít think traveling somewhere by plane for a short period (like going to Hawaii for dinner) is a huge deal. But when I get back home I rarely leave my beach community, because everywhere in L.A. seems so far. I realized this past week it is a shame not to go out and explore. As is true of most major U.S. cities, L.A. has so much to see it could practically be its own little world. A number of ethnic neighborhoods are prime time spots for really good cuisine. Within 16 hours I had meals in two places I am ashamed I had never been to before. Now I feel like Iíve traveled to those two countries -- without long plane rides.

L.A.íS THAI TOWN
First I had dinner in Thai Town, in East Hollywood. A friend brought me to dinner at Palms Restaurant. It not only serves authentic, inexpensive Thai food, but has entertainment that in itself is worth the trip. Every Wednesday through Sunday night, "Thai Elvis" performs. Just the thought of a Thai Elvis is funny. But this impersonator -- dressed to the "t" -- sounds great as he sings the Kingís hits. Palms Thai Restaurant, 5900 Hollywood Blvd., Suite B; tel.: 323-462-5073.

CHINATOWN
A must lunch stop for Chinese food lovers is Empress Pavilion. Located in the heart of Chinatown (near downtown L.A.), it features Cantonese cuisine and dim sum. The restaurant is on the second floor of Bamboo Plaza, where there are many Chinese shops. On weekdays Empress Pavilion is packed with corporate America. On weekends the place is filled with area residents celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and weddings. To beat the mad rush, get there a little early -- around 11:30 a.m. -- like Tim Winship (editor of FrequentFlier.com) and I did. But even if you donít itís okay. The place is huge Ė it seats around 400 diners -- and the tables turn over quickly. Thatís because you donít have to wait long to order or get your food. Chinese women constantly cruise up and down the large, ordinary-looking banquet hall-like room with metal food carts, carrying an assortment of hot and cold delicacies. My favorite was the BBQ pork dumplings (one of several dishes we shared). The bill came to only $20. Is that awesome or what? Empress Pavilion, 988 N. Hill St. (located in Bamboo plaza); tel.: 213-617-9898.

OH DELTA!
I got invited to go to Canada for two reasons. The first was to return to Toronto to tape more episodes of "Call For Help" on Tech TV; the second was to go on to Montreal, to check out the city. My ticket was arranged for me, and the travel agency they used must have had a deal with Delta. They booked me on that airline, even though there were other carriers available with nonstop, cheaper flights. Donít you hate when corporate travel agencies pull that kind of nonsense?

Donít get me wrong: I love travel agents. I hear (far too often) from my corporate friends how their in-house travel agencies have to use certain airlines on a specific fare code which is usually much more expensive than other fares, and involves undesirable routes. But I didnít complain or get upset. After all, I got a free ticket, and besides I donít mind hanging out in airports (most of the time). In addition, I recently became a Gold Medallion member in Deltaís Sky Miles program (I flew at least 50,000 actual air miles in 2005 on Delta and its partners).

This was my first time reaping the benefits of an elite flyer on Delta (I usually get them from United or American). Being upgraded for free without even asking was a total surprise, and new experience for me (United and American donít normally do that). I love the fact that Delta upgrades elite members if space is available -- and that they donít wait till the last minute either. My upgrade went through 72 hours before departure!

LAX-ATLANTA
That made my 6 a.m. flight to Atlanta much more enjoyable on the two-class 767. The plane looked kind of old, but the wide blue leather first-class seats were comfy. Each seat had a bottle of water, headset, pillow and blanket. I was impressed with the friendliness of the flight attendants as they served a hot breakfast on the quick 1,940-mile, 3-hour,15-minute flight. The Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport was crazy as usual (in 2005 it was the busiest airport in the world, with 980,197 takeoffs and landings). From Atlanta I took a 50-seat regional jet to Toronto. Fortunately, it wasnít packed. Having an open seat next to me made the 2-hour, 741-mile flight pretty nice.

OH CANADA!
From Toronto Pearson Airport I took the airport bus to downtown. It costs $16.45 Canadian ($14.25 USD) one way, $28.35 ($24.50 USD) roundtrip and took 45 minutes. Unfortunately my hotel wasnít downtown, and the airport bus didnít travel to Yorkville (where my hotel was located). So I got off at the Royal York (the most famous hotel in the center of the city), and jumped in one of the many waiting cabs. There was lots of traffic, and the 15-minute ride cost $12 Canadian ($10.37 USD). The next time I stay in Yorkville, Iíll save all the hassle and time by taking a taxi straight from the airport for $20 more. FYI: Everyone accepts USD, but they give cash in Canadian dollars. Airport Express: tel.: 905-564-3232.

MARRIOTT ON BLOOR
The Marriott on Bloor is perfect for business travelers working in the area (not downtown Toronto). The hotel has 258 spacious (265 square feet) guest rooms, and has been awarded 4 stars by Mobil Travel Guide and 4 diamonds by AAA. The best part of the room is the new Revive bed. Itís Marriottís answer to Westinís Heavenly Bed. Itís almost as comfortable, and I slept well. I also got some work done, as the room had high-speed internet connection for $10 a day (or free if you turn on your wireless button and snag a signal from the lobby or a nearby office). Marriott Bloor, 90 Bloor Street East, Toronto; tel.: 416-961-8000; toll-free: 800-859-7180.

TECH TV
For Tech TVís two travel segments, I talked about the best travel newsletters viewers can sign up for, and which frequent flier websites they should log on to. The show airs nationwide in Canada and Australia. I love doing it because everyone -- the producers, crew and hosts -- is so cool. The studio is close to downtown, in the Queens Quay/Bathurst neighborhood. When the studio broke for lunch, co-hosts Amber Mac Arthur and Leo Laporte said they were taking me to the best restaurant nearby. There are not a lot of good food options. But Guirei Restaurant is straight out of Japan, with polite, attentive waiters, fresh seafood and really good sushi (or so I hear). I went with the chicken teriyaki, served in a traditional box plate. It came with miso soup, salad, rice and tempura ($10). Yum! Guirei Japanese Restaurant, 600 Queens Quay W., Toronto; tel.: 416-977-6111.

TOMI KRO
Another restaurant worth noting is Tomi-Kro, on Torontoís East Side. Friends took me to this non-touristy area for dinner. The exterior didnít look like much, but once inside I felt like I was in an upscale New York City eatery. The place was hopping, the vibe was good. We tried an array of tapas and mains (entrees) that were either Mediterranean-style or Japanese fusion. I even tried braised bison which tasted just like beef. The average entree was $22. Tomi-Kro is worth the drive. Closed Sunday. Tomi-Kro, 1214 Queen St. East, at Leslie, Toronto; tel.: 416-463-6677.

NEXT WEEK
Next week we hit Montreal. Yes, I know itís the middle of winter. But I bet you will be pleasantly surprised at how much there is to do, and how to get around while staying warm. In fact, I was told to leave my coat at home!

Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

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

Pictures From

The Trip

 

Sydney

 

Check-In at SYD

 

To Gates

 

View of City

 

Coach on Air Pacific

 

Sleeping In Coach

 

Hermosa Beach Webcam

 

"Thai Elvis"
(Photo credit J. Leder)

 

Empress Pavilion

 

Food Carts

 

Dumplings

 

Atlanta Airport

 

Atlanta From the Air

 

Toronto

 

Marriott Lobby

 

Hotel Room

 

Revive Bed

 

Tech TV Make Up

 

Lunch at Guirei

 

Dinner at Tomi-Kro

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MEDIA ALERT
SOME READER AIR-eMAIL
  • Johnny, I'm an Aussie travel agent living in Jersey City! You captured the essence of my 'home' country so perfectly & I felt proud that Australia just 'might' fulfill your dad's dreams - I especially loved the video of you & your dad on the harbour. There's a photo of the two of you on the ferry & your dad has a massive grin with his hair blowing back - you should get that picture enlarged - it's awesome! Gina Ho - Jersey City NJ
  • Awesome video of your Australia trip. Your dad seems like a lot of fun to travel with. You show one picture of your father standing below a very unusual looking natural wall, it looks like sandstone or something. Where is that exactly? Love the newsletter! -Michael in Seattle. REPLY:. Thanks for the kudos! My Dad is fun to travel with and the picture you are talking about was taken along the Coastal Walk at Bondi Beach.
  • Dear Johnny- I cried when I read your 2/9 entry re: Fiji and Australia. Fiji sounds LOVELY! Someday, maybe... I went to Australia 21 years ago and loved it but have never been back. I've either had the time OR the money but never both at the same time. Being a nurse is the pits in SO many ways! Maybe, someday I'll get back to Australia and see Fiji too! Keep up the good work! Mostly I smile when I read your work, NOT cry. Hello to your Dad too-hope he had a great time! With Admiration, Sue H - Syracuse, New York
  • Great. We just returned from Sydney. We did the harbor tour, the Rocks, Bondi beach, Nicks, etc. Stayed at the Hilton. We want to go back and your comments are very useful. Thanks. J Clamp - Anderson, SC
  • MARVELLLLLOUS!!! I wish I had a son like you! Thanks for the trip. Jean R - Camp Springs, MD
  • Great to see you in Oz - so many think it's too far to go. Hope you and your Dad had a great time - every Dad should have a son like you! Marilyn Reid, Hazelwood North, Victoria, Australia.
  • Thanks for the brief video. We were down under in 8/05 and found it too be a fantastic vacation in spite of it being winter. Thanks for bringing back the memories. Diane D -
  • I somehow got kicked off the mailing list after the first week of January. Thank you so much for restoring me last year. I'm retired and live for your newsletter. It is fantastic. I missed the 8 January, 15 January, 22 January, and 29 January. Is there any way they could be sent to me or is it too late? If they can't be sent, I understand. Thanks again for restoring me. Russell H - REPLY: Thank you Russell for the kind words! That is really sweet. Here is the link to the archives which can be accessed anytime.
  • Me and my wife met you and your father at the airport in Nadi. Just wanted to compliment you on your site and to let you know we will be using it plan our next trip. Happy traveling!! Chris & Kara - Kernersville, NC
  • Loved your whole newsletter, especially as we returned from Sydney a few weeks ago, and went to the same places as you. You enabled me to re-live the very happy time that we spent there. Warmest good wishes. Catherine W - Nottingham, United Kingdom
  • Loved the newsletter---- more, more! Mary D - Long Island, New York
  • Glad to see that you got back to SYD and were able to take your dad. I'm headed back "home" in April to celebrate my birthday with my mates over there. I already know that I'll be homesick to leave again. Cafe Steyne is one of the best places for food in Manly! The new surf shop used to be, if I'm not mistaken, the old Hotel Steyne and was one of the dodgiest places to get on the drink in all of the suburbs. Happy to see its demise if it is the same location! Next time you go (and if you're there at the end of April, let me know and I'll hook up with you there and shout you dinner), you really should try the Lord Nelson (www.lordnelson.com.au) for a traditional Aussie Meat Pie floater. The best in the city and that includes Harry's Cafe de Wheels in Wooloomooloo! Also, if you go again, there is a place in Coogee that you can eat an early morning brekkie (Bazurra Cafe - overlooking the Coogee Rock Pools at the SLSC) and then do the "cliff walks" (as the locals call it) up to Bondi. It takes a couple of hours and you should be in good shape to do it. John W Ė Atlanta. REPLY: Thanks for the invite and tips. I have actually been to Lord Nelson and did the Cliff Walk from Coogee to Bondi. It was amazing! Great recommendations.
  • I've been to Australia 6 times so seeing your piece this week made me ache to go back. I always enjoy your travel-logs and I also realize that while you love spreading the info, you're also hoping that we book through your site and you make some money. No problem there, it's great! (and I do make some bookings through your links) However, I guess I'm just a little bit irked (ok, that's even a strong word) by the way you make a "wrong" okay. I've flown Virgin Blue and I find the penny pinching just awful! Charging for water!!! When I go to Australia, I make all my domestic flights with Qantas. I prefer for them to charge me a few more dollars (actually sometimes they're cheaper!) and give me a complimentary snack. I can't imagine getting on a flight without the correct currency, not the correct charge card and then having to clean my in-pocket seat in hopes of getting a free candy bar. I find that very demeaning. The US is leading the way for airlines to not service their customers properly. I'm sorry to see the Aussies following suit and having travel professionals like you applaud that nickel & diming, instead of ranting against it, by talking about how wonderful the airline is because they paint faces on the kids and make a game of having passengers clean their airplane for the price of a candy bar. Talk about cheap labor! That said, one of the most heartwarming things that comes through so loud and clear in your posts is the love you have for your family. It's a joy seeing you take your Dad around the world and I still fondly remember the post about your Mom. Candice S. Ė NYC. REPLY: Wow! Tell me how you really feel. I totally see your point about them nickel and diming but you get what you pay for. All I care about is being comfortable and arriving safely.
  • Great adventures you've been having in the South Pacific. I enjoyed reading about them. Linda C - Atlanta
  • Great trip to Australia! Your dad looks like a little kid having the time of his life! Itís great to see the adventures of Johnny and Dad. Geof OíConnor - San Diego
  • I think your website is awesome...I'll definately be checking it out more frequently. I also wanted to find out; how in the name of travel do you get to go to all of these places? You have got to teach a class or something, seriously. Stephanie M Ė Houston, TX
  • Going to Jaco, Costa Rica in March...What hotels can you suggest? Does anyone know anything about either of these two places. Thanks. REPLY: I was in Jaco last March for my brotherís bachelor party. Hereís the link to the newsletters that have some hotels and local info.


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