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March 18, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Shanghai to San Francisco

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Cheers from San Francisco! If you're following me on Facebook or Twitter, you'll know that I'm not really in San Francisco. This trip to San Francisco has already come and gone but to keep my friends and family updated, I tweet on Twitter and frequently change my status update (or write what's on my mind) on my Facebook page. I've also started personalizing my blog to make it more interesting for readers. In addition to posting a travel website or video of the day, I'm uploading current pictures and stories about my daily travels. So log on and please encourage your friends, family and colleagues to sign up for our free weekly newsletter.

We left off last week from Shanghai, which was the last international destination on my around-the-world trip with Jet Airways. In case you're just joining us now, I made stops in Florida (where I took a Celebrity Solstice cruise), Brussels, Delhi, the Taj Mahal, central India (for a tiger safari), Mumbai (48 hours after the terrorist attacks) and Shanghai (to check out the highest hotel in the world). The last leg on Jet Airways was from Shanghai (PVG) to San Francisco (SFO), but getting to the Shanghai airport was an adventure in itself.

My beautiful mate Natalie and I decided to take the Shanghai Maglev, one of the fastest trains in the world ... at times it travels a third of the speed of sound. The 30-kilometer (18-mile) ride takes just eight minutes and costs only 50 yuan ($7 USD). But it's more of a novelty because it's out of the way; the train station is a good 12 kilometers or 30 minutes by car from most hotels.

I made a huge mistake relying on the hotel bellman to explain to the driver where we were going, rather than getting the destination written in Chinese. It turned out that the driver dropped us off at the wrong train station, which we didn't figure out for a good 15 or 20 minutes. We were at the domestic train station, which was a sea of locals. I ran to the ticket counter and the one line that had a sign reading "English speaking counter" was long – even though no one was speaking English.

I waited in the line and the agent told me in broken English (and with a bit of attitude, I might add) to go to Subway Line 1 to buy the tickets. I tried – but it was a long crowded maze and I was afraid I would lose Natalie, who was a ways back, guarding our luggage. I went back to the agent and she said I needed to take Subway Line 1 to Peoples Square to catch the airport train! What the bleep? I gotta take a subway to get to the train? I was so pissed and nervous that we were going to miss our flight, which only departed Shanghai every three days that I ran back to Natalie, mumbled something and ran with the luggage. She must have thought we were being chased!

The taxi line was super-long but it was moving fast. As Natalie waited in line, I approached a non-English-speaking policeman. I pointed to the Pudong Airport in my Frommers guidebook and pointed to my watch, signaling that I needed to go to the airport ASAP. He understood and was going to help me cut the line but by the time he tried to get it approved, Natalie had reached the front anyway. After a game of charades with the taxi driver, who luckily understood my hand signal of a flying plane and watch, he drove faster than the bullet train itself and we were on our way.

Fortunately, there wasn't much traffic and we made it to the airport in 45 minutes. The meter read just 154 yuan ($22.50USD) but I gave the driver a healthy tip, even though tipping isn't the usual practice. But this driver was cool and he'd saved the day! Lesson learned? Always have directions to where you're going written in both English and the local language. I've could have avoided a lot of unwanted stress if I'd done this. And if I'd remembered I had a universal picture book with me, which I always carry in my computer case, we could have avoided the game of charades. But I forgot I had it since I've never used it.

Our flight to San Francisco was at 9pm and the beautiful, enormous, brand new airport was pretty much deserted. Check-in, passport control and security had no lines and didn't take much time to clear at all. The duty free shops were like a ghost town and we quickly spent our last yuans on some last-minute gifts and headed to the lounge just to check it out. It was a shared airline lounge located on the second floor with an open concept, which made for some good people-and plane-spotting. There was a Qantas flight going to Sydney and an Emirates flight to Dubai. The lounge had a fair number of customers milling about and it was packed with Chinese labeled drinks, food and treats. BTW: The toilet in there was a souped-up Toto just like at the Park Hyatt Shanghai! I don't want to sound like a freak but that's my favorite loo in the world and I can't wait to get one for my own home.

I'm not going to go into huge detail about the 10-hour, 30-minute flight since I've written about Jet Airways and their amazing service, food, seats and amenities for the past several weeks. However, when we boarded the plane, I was shocked to see the same crew as our flight from Mumbai to Shanghai. It turns out they had a three-day layover as well since the flight only operates a couple days a week. Unfortunately, like all airlines cutting back these days, Jet Airways recently discontinued the Shanghai to San Francisco flight. But how crazy is it that I had back-to-back flight crews, twice on the same trip? The first was New York to Brussels and then Brussels to Delhi.

This time when the flight attendants came around with the pajamas I chose to put mine on instead of putting them in my bag. I usually save them for the poor or give them to a friend but as soon as the seatbelt sign went off, I got up and changed immediately since the bathroom would be at its cleanest. The flight attendants had hung my street clothes for me so I put all my money my shoe under my seat. Since the socks that were provided didn't fit my size 13 dogs, I wore one shoe every time I needed to use the bathroom. Wearing my blue PJs and hopping down the aisles, I looked like a Dr. Seuss Who from Whoville.

The only bummer about the flight was that the entertainment system didn't work; not that I watch movies on the plane but I love to view the live map. The power outlet was all I needed so after dinner I worked a bit and then the flight attendant made my bed. I have to tell you, pajamas make a huge difference when trying to sleep on a plane (Jet Airways' lie-flat bed didn't hurt either) but I slept so well that when we landed in San Francisco just as the sun was setting, I wasn't even thinking about going back to sleep.

The new international terminal at the SFO airport is plush. It's a great place to hear welcome home and an even better place to welcome visitors, especially since there was no line at immigration. The agent said we'd timed it perfectly but she also said that if all the flights come in at the same time, the line can be over an hour wait – now that's not cool. I asked her if that wait is for U.S. citizens or foreigners (they have separate lines) and she said that it depends on who's on the plane. Duh! What a knucklehead question that was.

More kudos to SFO for providing free carts to international arrivals. It makes a huge difference and most countries do it so it makes us look good. Can you believe some airports charge $4 for a cart? TIP: I never pay for a cart; I just go outside to the arrivals section and grab one that some sucker has just left curbside.

Natalie and I landed at 4:28pm and since there was no line at customs and our bags didn't take too long, we were able to make the 5pm shuttle bus to Marin. The Marin Airporter operates about every 30 minutes and it's a great way to go to Marin County – right across the Golden Gate Bridge. We got off at the Sausalito exit; the ride without traffic is about 30 minutes and costs just $20 apiece. That same ride from LGA or JFK to my hometown on CT Limo is triple the price and they have more attitude than you would believe. Here it's reasonable and the drivers are friendly and helpful.

Ralph the bellman from Cavallo Point greeted us as we'd arranged (we could have arranged for a car service but it would have been double or triple the price). Cavallo Point is one of the region's newest and nicest hotels. This five-star escape took over 10 years to make a reality as they renovated the old Fort Baker just under the Golden Gate Bridge. It's so nice it's almost too good to be true and one high-end travel magazine just listed it as one of the top 10 historic hotels in America and its restaurant has already received a Michelin star.

Since Cavallo Point is so special and I'm out of time, we'll pick up from here next week and explore this historic hotel fully. Happy travels!

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

Note: This trip was sponsored by Jet Airways.

Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Wrong Train Station


English Speaking Counter


Crowded Station


Shanghai Airport


Jet Airways Check-In


No Line At Security


Duty Free Shop


Airline Lounge


Lounge Food


Engrish In The Lounge


Plane Spotting


Time To Board


Welcome Drinks






Main Course








Free Carts At SFO


Marin Airporter


Hotel Pickup


Next Week


  • Truly love the Shanghai newsletter and video! It appears to be a totally awesome region to visit. Very cool to be staying at the Park Hyatt Shanghai. Hopefully, I will plan a trip in the near future. Looking at the various interesting building architectures are awe-inspiring. I also noticed that the vehicle driver's side is also on the left-side. Onward to San Francisco! Richard E - Milpitas, CA

  • Just wanted to say I loved your Shanghai story, since I am going in a couple of weeks and am staying at the Park Hyatt-- perfect timing! Your write-up made me more excited about the trip....though the toilet "bowing" to you is a little freaky! Sandra R - NYC

  • I was just going to write a blog about the various scams in Shanghai/Beijing. I learned on Day One about the art student. Today I had a great one. Three young friendly Chinese: two guys, one girl, standing in front of wherever: Sir, can you take our photo? I take their camera, snap the shot. Then the “where you from” conversation. They share lots of personal information which is what makes Chinese scams so damn good. (Already got dragged off by the art student going to the Art Institute in Chicago in April who has an exhibit... argh.) So they really got me going and showed me what direction to go for my intended next stop on the other side of People's Square, when they invited me to tea at a traditional place on the other side of "Capital Land" skyscraper which I could see from where we stood. I started to walk with them and then I just thought, no way, could be the Cuban mojito scam, I pay for a bunch of overpriced tea for the whole lot of us. So I bail saying I had to get work done. I really felt bad about it, how the constant badgering for watches, bags, socks and yes, sex was jading me. I had their names, a photo of them, etc. It was a real bummer to feel so cynical. I went to the museum, came outside, and three people -- one girl, two guys -- asked me to take their picture. Well I'll be damned. I cut it short and they said they were going to a tea garden on the other side of Capitaland. No crap. I split. An hour later I passed three more in need of a photographer. This time I just smiled and said No thanks. I don't really like tea. That got a smile and giggle from the girl. I didn't have time to go look and see what the hell was on the other side of Capital land. Damn good English though. Pity they don't work at any of the hotels I've stayed at! Kevin R - Madison, WI

  • These pictures of Shanghai bring back so many memories of my trip 3 years ago. However, in a tour, we were always accompanied by a Chinese "guide". I envy your freedom to have explored more on your own. Loved all your pictures - especially the food - always interesting. The watermelon (served at all meals) was the best I've ever tasted. BTW - how would you like to be an electrician in China? Maybe you didn't notice the wadded mess of wires on most street could anyone detect which one was bad if there was a problem? Excellent job "Johnny Jet". Mary - MN

  • I went to China way back in ’81, when the only way you could “go in” was with an organized tour. I went with Lindblad. I was the youngest by about 20+ years, and, most were from Australia. What a great trip!! What made it so real was that all of CITS (China Tour Folks, at that time) were my age. I remember eating noodles and drinking Five Star beer in the Chongging free market and feeling like a “prize” as the tour guides were escorting a Westerner. I went on a ten day cruise on the Yangtze on a boat called the MS Kun Lun. This boat was built for the use of Mao and Cho. When Lars Lindblad originally made the proposal to do tours on the river, he wanted to bring a boat in. The Chinese said no, but they did have a boat in mothballs that he could use, the Kun Lun. I would like to see what things are like there now. Back then, things were very basic and unadorned. Jim F - Western Colorado

  • Loved the concept of cost2drive, but I ran a couple of tests on familiar road trips and the costs are way out. It told me it would cost $13 to get from my home town in Cranbrook, BC, Canada over to Calgary, AB…which is a $45 trip for me. To LA, which costs me over $200, it said $83. Laurie R- British Columbia

  • I just donated all of my remaining miles to American Airlines. I just wanted to let you know that the information on your website about AA is no longer accurate. You state on your website that AA requires donations in increments of 5,000 miles, however, they now have an option where you can specify any amount you wish. In addition, there was no mention on AA’s website of them matching every 3,000 miles donated with a 1,000 miles, although that may still be accurate. That would be nice if their promise of a match was still true. At any rate, thank you for your site. You helped me figure out what to do with my AA miles, which went to their Kids In Need program. Sincerely, Barry K - REPLY: Thank you very much for pointing that out! We went ahead and updated the page – including links to the websites. Thanks again!

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