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March 1, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                        Toronto to Montreal

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Bonjour from the second-largest French-speaking city in the world! Whether you’ve been to Montreal or not, you’re sure to learn some fascinating facts about this city located only 45 miles from the United States border. We pick up from the Toronto airport, where we left off last week.

The 331-mile flight from Toronto to Montreal takes less than an hour -- 56 minutes, to be exact. It’s five hours by train (link to Via Rail) or car. I flew Air Canada, which offers over 20 flights a day between the two cities. With so many departures you might think they’d use small planes (regional jets) every time, but they don’t. Air Canada flies a variety of aircraft, ranging from a regional Embraer 175 (73 seats) to a wide-body Airbus A340 (274 seats). My PR buddy Kerry Morrissey and I were originally scheduled to be on a wide-body 767 departing at 3 p.m. But I was taping a Tech TV travel segment, and the producer told me the day before that I should change to the 4 p.m. just in case we ran over. Kerry asked the hotel concierge to handle the switch, and was told there would be a $35CAD ($30USD) change fee per ticket. Not too bad, eh? BTW: At $1 USD = 0.87 CAD, Canadian prices are about 13% off for Americans.

When we arrived at the airport we were told that the $35 fee was only if we confirmed the change the day before. It was now a whopping $150 CAD per ticket. Ouch! That was more than some passengers’ roundtrip tickets! (Depending on availability, one-way fares range from $67 to $394 CAD. To make a long, aggravating story short, Kerry called the concierge. She claimed the reservation agent never informed her of that steep fee. The concierge then spoke to all of her contacts at Air Canada -- including the supervisor – but none would budge for us. We ended up missing the 4 p.m. flight, and got stuck with the $150 fee when we took the 4:30. I am only mentioning this because we weren’t the only ones affected. As we patiently waited near the check-in counter I watched numerous surprised, then outraged, passengers get jabbed with the same ridiculous $150 fee. Smells like a racket, eh? Throughout the whole ordeal, as we tried to get the fee waived, we were very kind to all the agents. We never raised our voices or threatened anyone. Doing something stupid only makes matters worse. In fact, we were so nice the reservation agents tried to get us upgraded. Luck was not on our side, however, as first class checked in full. The moral of the story: Make sure to make your changes in advance, and get any fees in writing via email or fax before arriving at the airport. And, of course, always be polite and courteous to all.

I had no idea Montreal was one of 400-plus islands on the St. Lawrence River, 994 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The island of Montreal is 310 square miles. Montreal was founded in 1642, and first-time visitors may be surprised how cosmopolitan – in addition to French -- this city is. 53% of Montrealers speak both French and English. But those aren’t the only languages spoken – there are more than 100 languages and dialects. That’s because 28% of Montreal’s residents were born outside of the country – a figure that is even low compared to Toronto (49%) and Vancouver (38%). In 2005 (the latest data), the city’s population was 1,876,900 (Montreal metropolitan area: 3,606,700). The largest ethnic groups in Montreal are Italian (169,690), Irish (91,560), English (86,995),Scottish (59,470), Haitian (54,485), Chinese (44,735) and Greek (35,385).

-The city is 100 feet above sea level.
-Montreal is at the same latitude as Venice and Geneva.
-The city has four major newspapers (3 French, 1 English)
- No building can be higher than the famous 767-foot Mont Royal, whose illuminated cross has become a Montreal landmark.
-Montreal tourism is 50% Canadian, 25% American and 18% Europe; the rest comes from other parts of the world.
- Montreal was selected by UNESCO as the World Book Capital 2005. (link to UNESCO )
- The city plays host to 40 festivals and international events year round (most famous: Grand Prix of Canada).

Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport is 12.5 miles (20 km) from downtown. To reach downtown Montreal, travelers can take a 20-minute (without traffic) flat rate taxi ($35), shuttle bus ($22.75 for round-trip) or limo ($50). For more info, check out the airport website or the public transportation website at

I was in Montreal because I had been invited by the city and Ocean Properties (which owns and/or operates 130 hotels in North America) to tour the city,and stay at the Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain. When the invitation came I said to Kerry, "Are you crazy? Why would I want to go to Montreal in the middle of the winter? It’s freezing!" Smooth-talking PR agent that he is, Kerry replied, "You can leave your jacket at home!" I said, "And die of hypothermia?" But I listened, and was intrigued to learn of Montreal’s large underground city. 500,000 people travel through it each day; some never go outside. Kerry promised me that if I left my jacket behind (which I did), the only time I would be outside would be 30-foot walk from the airport to the car, 20 feet from the car to the hotel, and back again.

Montreal’s underground is one of the largest in the world. There are 20 miles of pedestrian walkways, accessible from 178 entries. The underground links 10 subway stations, 62 buildings, 8 major hotels, 1,615 apartments, 200 restaurants, 1,700 boutiques, 40 movie theatres and exhibition halls, 2 bus stations, 2 train stations, 2 universities and 1 college. I thought the underground city would be dark and dreary -- something out of a futuristic movie like "Blade Runner." But it was nothing like I pictured. At times I needed sunglasses, because half of the underground city is at ground level. It really could be referred to as the "indoor city," but "underground" has so much more appeal. However, that name is starting to fade away. In 2004 the city started re-branding the underground as RÉSO. RÉSO comes from the French word réseau. It means "network," as in a network of tunnels.

The tunnels come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some are modern, some pleasing to the eye, some cold. In many tunnels there are musicians. Over 400 perform. They operate on a gentleman’s agreement: They book their time slot for each day on a piece of paper that sits behind the signs that mark where performers can work. As a first timer, I found making my way around the underground a bit confusing. I felt like I was in a maze with no direction. Fortunately, the city is planning better signage. But the underground really makes this city worth visiting in the winter. It has transformed Montreal -- and even Canada. The underground began back in the 1950s, when it was planned by renowned architect I.M. Pei. The first building actually constructed, in 1962, was Place Ville Marie (PVM); it remains the heart and soul of the underground. This famous building paved the way for urban development in Canada.

Kerry was right. I did not need a coat, even though it was –2 degrees F outside. However, I do recommend wearing a sweater, because while passing through some tunnels it gets a bit chilly. During my three days in the city, I went outside only twice. Once was to take a picture of this Metro sign that was given to Montreal by the city of Paris in 1966. The other time was to light a candle for my mom at Marie-Reine-du-Monde. This amazing cathedral, designed as a 1/3-size replica of St. Peter's in Rome, was only two blocks from my hotel. Montreal is filled with many other beautiful churches and cathedrals (link to the most impressive Churches).

I stayed at the Marriott Chateau Champlain. The landmark, 4-diamond (AAA/ CAA) hotel located in the heart of downtown does not look like anything special from the outside. In fact, the local reference to it as a "cheese grater" is appropriate. But inside, guests find nothing cheesy -- just a warm, cozy hotel with courteous workers. There are 36 floors, 611 rooms (here’s a link to virtual view of a standard room) that feature Marriott’s new "Revive" bed (thick mattress, fluffy pillows, 300-thread count sheets, and down comforters wrapped inside a clean duvet cover). Complimentary high-speed internet is accessible throughout the hotel.

On the flight over Kerry said, "Since you are not high maintenance I had to put you up in one of the maid quarters for a night. The hotel is sold out, and I knew you wouldn’t care." Kerry is always joking, but for some reason he convinced me and I had no problem. Kerry was indeed setting me up. When I opened the door to my room, I took a peek inside and got worried I had opened the wrong room. Kerry, that rat! The room (the Presidential Suite!) was so nice that President George H. Bush, Fidel Castro and George Clooney have all stayed there. Of course, not together -- but it was so huge, they could have. The plush two-bedroom palace came with three bathrooms(!), a dining room, living room, fireplace, video room (with flat screen TV) and a Jacuzzi. It was one of the first times I was actually bummed I had such a nice room, because I had no one to share it with. A room like that is meant to be shared. Where was my dad? Forget my dad -- where was Paris? Room rates range from $164 USD to $2,000 USD.

A nice perk about my room being on the 36th floor – other than the amazing view of the city – was that it was on a club level floor. That meant free food, and a fully stocked fridge in the club room. The hotel offers a fine continental breakfast, and light snacks and desserts all day and night. An upgrade to the club room begin at $43 USD. Other highlights include an indoor pool, 24-hour fitness center, and 29,000 square feet of banquet rooms. My favorites were the 18th-century "Etude Champlain" and the fun "Caf' Conc Room".

I highly advise guests not to miss out on a massage from Charlotte in the spa. The spa itself was nothing special -- just one unimpressive room with walls so thin that whenever guests walked by on their way to or from the workout room, it felt like they were right there with me. That would’ve been bad, because I was lying face down, stark naked on the massage table. Charlotte -- a young, beautiful, sensual, strong-handed woman -- was one of the best masseuses I have ever had. No, there was no "happy ending," so get that out of your mind. It was just pure bliss, as for the first time I had my butt massaged. Who knew how good that could feel?! I am not a massage rookie – they’re one of my favorite things in the world. But all the masseuses I have had have stayed away from my naked behind (they’ve come close, I admit). But Charlotte didn’t care. She wasn’t violating me; she was just a pro who jumped right in and pretended she was kneading pizza dough (shiver). Charlotte climbed on the table for better leverage (of course, I could’ve been hallucinating; I was in another world as I felt the towel covering my behind slide further and further, as Charlotte’s warm, strong hands inched lower and lower). It felt so good as I could barely open my mouth. But if I could have talked, I would have turned my head, and in an Austin Powers voice would’ve said, "Charlotte, you are a naughty girl!". Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain, 1050 de la Gauchetiere West, Montreal, Quebec H3B 4C9 Canada; tel.: 514-878-9000; toll-free: 800-200-5909.

Next week we finish up with Montreal, including a sneak peak at Cirque Du Soliel’s new production. Then we fly back to sunny California, where some surprise guests wait for me.

Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

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

Pictures From

The Trip


Tech TV


Toronto Airport


Kerry On Phone


Air Canada


Arriving In Montreal


Train Station


Underground Tunnels


Another Tunnel


More Tunnels


Indoors Near St James Hotel


Convention Center


Inside Convention Center


Place Ville Marie


Gift From Paris


Marriott Chateau Champlain


Friendly Staff




Presidential Suite!


My Bed


Dining Room


View From Room


Etude Champlain


Caf' Conc Room



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