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March 29, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                            Da Vinci Code: London

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Cheers from England! In case you missed last week’s newsletter (here’s the link to our archives), we are about to begin our second country trek (out of three) through Europe, following the path of Dan Brown’s novel and upcoming major motion picture, The Da Vinci Code. This week we travel from Paris to London via the Eurostar. In London we check into one of the most famous hotels in the world, centrally located to tour all the Da Vinci code hot spots.

Unlike Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, I did not have the luxury of hopping on Sir Leigh Teabing’s private jet from Paris to London. But I’m happy I didn’t, because I would have missed out on Eurostar. I have always wanted to take this train service that carries passengers between Paris and London (and other cities as well) since it began in 1994. I must admit though, I have always been a little nervous, because it travels under the English Channel. I used to think the Channel Tunnel was a prime terrorist target, but after doing some research I realize it would be very difficult to do significant damage. The 31 mile-long tunnel (24 miles are actually under water) runs 150 feet below the seabed. That’s not easy to blow up -- and even if that happened, it wouldn’t fill with water. Both entrances are heavily guarded, and passengers go through airport-style security checks before getting on. That made me feel so much better!

Passengers use Paris’ Gare du Nord and London’s Waterloo stations (here’s helpful info on Waterloo and Gare du Nord). Right now the trip takes 2:35 between those two cities. The top speed is 186 mph, and we spent 23 minutes going through the tunnel (I timed it!). In the second half of 2007 London’s station will be moved to St Pancras. This will allow access to faster tracks, and will cut travel time by 20 minutes. Prices are reasonable (especially if you book in advance), starting around $100 USD roundtrip for coach class, $242 for Leisure Select (first class). Tickets are available online from I love to fly, but it’s silly to take a plane (unless it’s Teabing’s jet) between these two places. Eurostar is really the only way to travel. It saves time, money and aggravation as you arrive in the heart of each city. No wonder 65 million travelers have taken Eurostar since it began. Interesting tidbit: The Eurostar staff has found more than 1,000 copies of The Da Vinci Code left behind by passengers.

One of my best tips for traveling by train (especially in Europe) is to pack light. Trust me: It makes your travels so much easier. Just take one rolling bag and a smaller tote/backpack/camera bag as the maximum to carry. Follow the same rule as before going on any trip: Lay out all the clothes you plan to take on your bed, then pack half as much -- and twice as much money!

I scored a room at the London Ritz --yeah baby! It’s one of the nicest and most famous hotels in the world. Obviously it’s not cheap – even the name sounds expensive. To give you an idea, I spent $40 just on 24 hours of high-speed internet service -- ouch! That’s more than I pay for a month at home. However, the Ritz clientele doesn’t care about those inflated prices. All they want is service, prestige and privacy. And service at the Ritz is amazing. They have 320 staff for just 130 rooms. If you need anything like extra towels – boom! Within a couple of minutes a housekeeper dressed in a French maid’s outfit is at your door with freshly folded towels. Forget to charge your cell phone? No problem. The concierge has a gadget that can fully charge batteries in 10 minutes! For those who want to stay out of the public eye, photographs are not allowed to be taken except in The Palm Court during one of their afternoon tea sittings.

Speaking of afternoon tea, it’s one of those things everyone should do at least once (cost: 34 pounds = $41 per person). But be sure to make your reservations in advance. The 3:30 p.m. seating requires one month’s notice for weekdays, four months on weekends. Earlier tea times that are not as popular, such as 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. are sometimes available the same day. When going for a spot of tea, be sure to dress appropriately. That means gentlemen (as the Ritz calls us) need to wear a jacket and tie. The same rules apply for guests eating lunch or dinner in the hotel (not breakfast). This is one of the few hotels in the world that still has a dress code. Although it’s not my cup of tea (pun intended), I’m glad the Ritz is keeping proper English tradition alive. It makes for a pleasant "time machine" travel experience. BTW: The restaurant is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Europe. It’s worth dressing up for.

My room was a woman’s dream. It felt very feminine, with lots of pink and restored antique Ritz furniture. Like all the rooms mine was huge, with high ceilings and immaculate detail. The bathroom was spacious, and was filled with luxurious toiletries. But for the prices the Ritz, charges they need to get better mattresses. Mine was kind of lumpy. However, the bedding was extraordinary, and I slept like a king. The elevators are small and so slow that I took the Grand Staircase most of the time. But who’s in a hurry at the Ritz? Rates begin at $575. The Ritz London, 150 Piccadilly, London; Tel: 20-7493-8181; fax: 20-7493-2687.

The London Ritz was not the first Ritz built. The Paris Ritz opened in 1898. The Ritz London followed eight years later. In honor of its predecessor, the London Ritz’s exterior features Parisian architectural traditions.

Da Vinci Code fans should jump on the tube to Temple Street. There they can join a guided Da Vinci Code tour from Golden Tours (available Wednesdays and Fridays at 11:30 a.m. Cost $50, tel.: 7721-683841). Our guide, Maria, began our tour in the rain on Fleet Street. First, we went to the Middle Temple Gardens, Courts, and then the Gothic-Romanesque Temple Church which is where Langdon and Neveu began their search for the Holy Grail in London. The church was built by the Templar Knights in the 12th century, and is famous for a rare circular nave called "the Round." The Red Knights as they were called for the red crosses they carried, held secret initiation rites in the crypt (look for effigies around the nave). The Red Knights protected pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. They grew rich until the 14th century, when they were charged with heresy, blasphemy and sodomy. The Temple Church, Temple, London; Tel: +44 (0)20 7353 8559.

We passed King’s College, which is also on Fleet Street. According to Dan Brown, this college has one of the most advanced religious research libraries in the world. This is where Langdon and Neveu searched for the meaning of the clue: "in London lies a knight a pope interred.’"

On our way to the National Gallery we cut through Saint James' Park. Three amazing palaces border St James: the Tudor St. James' Palace; Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament (it used to be called the Palace of Westminster). The National Gallery was not referred to in the book. However, Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting "Virgin of the Rocks" was, and the National Gallery houses one of the two originals (the other is at the Louvre). Besides seeing the Virgin of the Rocks, visitors can admire the more than 2,300 other pictures, spanning the period from 1250 to 1900. There is no fee to enter the National Gallery. For more information, log on to The National Gallery.

Westminster Abbey is a key part of the book. The real interior is not in the movie, because director Ron Howard and his gang were not allowed to film there. They used another cathedral, which we will describe next week when we travel to the English countryside. Whether you are a fan of the book or not, be sure to tour the Abbey. It’s an amazing place, starting with a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that sits above the Great West Door. There are nine other statues of people from around the world that the church recognizes as 20th-century martyrs.

Our tour guide, Anthony Astell (; tel.: 20-8518-6262), was fascinating (he charges 50 pounds = $86 for a half-day tour, but is flexible on his price). Before going in he told us not to mention the Da Vinci Code book – the church is not happy about it, and might have refused us entry. The Abbey was built around 1045-1050 by King Edward the Confessor. He is also the first of over 9,000 people to be buried inside (the most recent, in 1989, was Sir Laurence Olivier). But I was there -- as Langdon and Neveu were -- to look for the final clue around the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton. A key scene takes place in the Chapter House, an octagonal room with a lone column in the center, where the King's Council met. It should not be missed -- especially the 14th-century frescoes painted on the walls. Interestingly, every hour on the hour there is a two-minute prayer service, reminding visitors it’s a church, not a museum. Admission to the abbey is £10 ($17) for adults; £6 ($10) for seniors and children, £22 ($38) for families (two adults, two children). The nearest tube stop is Westminster. Westminster Abbey; Tel: +44 (0)20 7654 4900.

My time in London was too short, even though it is so expensive -- 1 pound equals $1.73! Don't go around thinking £1 = $1 or you’ll get screwed. Despite the high prices, I would love to have seen a play. Hopefully, next time! To see past Johnny Jet London articles, visit our Newsletter Archives.

Next week we head into the English countryside. We explore Lincolnshire, and will have a video of both Lincolnshire and London.

Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

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

Pictures From

The Trip




Boarding Train


Breakfast On Train


Waterloo Station


Arriving At The Ritz


Welcome Mr. Jet!


Ritz Lobby


Dining Room


Breakfast At The Ritz


My Room


Ritz Bathroom


The Tube


Temple Church


Inside Church


The National Gallery


Virgin of the Rocks


Westminster Abbey


Dr. M.L. King Jr.


Going Into The Chapter House



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  • FANTASTIC newsletter!...Great video also. DaVinci Code is a great read. Loved how you addressed the “narrow-minded” inhabitants of our planet. Wake up, folks! Fiction is still fiction. Jane Smith- Lincolnton, NC
  • Love Love Love the article! I can't wait for next week’s continuation! Thank you! D. Anderson - Saint Louis, MO
  • You are a pleasure to read - very entertaining writing! Sweetbreads, which my Finnish mom fed me as a child, are pancreas -- one of the reasons I am today a vegetarian!! Chris L – New York
  • Thanks...what fun to see the hot spots on your site. It helps bring the book to "life". –Janet B - Georgetown, CO
  • Quite enjoyable and great description and photos for those who have never been. As a regular visitor to Paris and a DVC reader I agree with your comments regarding both. Larry N. -
  • It’s awesome!!! Thanks for sending. Can’t wait to see the movie. (P.S. love your humor). Joann C - Royersford, PA
  • Loved the first installment of the Da Vinci code trip! What a great book. Would love to repeat your trip to the sites, but will settle for your armchair guidance for now. Jim L. - DeKalb, IL
  • Enjoyed the quick view of Paris & the DaVinci Code themed locales. Great tips, too! J. Martindale – Sarasota, FL
  • Great story about the Da Vinci Code – just finished reading the book last weekend on our trip to Charlotte. Great coverage of each step in the book up to Chateau Villette. Isn’t it odd that you knew the owner? Great picture of you and your mom – what a wonderful memory. Geof O’Connor - San Diego
  • Very entertaining; good tidbits; great details, without being boring. Made me nostalgic about Paris! Viviane L.
  • Just found your site – Kool! And I am sure I will spend many more hours exploring it and your book… OK – I know this is weird… but, humor me here… You travel solo a lot and you are left-handed – right? Cheers! Jacki - Boise, ID
  • Your video was awesome. We viewed it 3 times. Dee says to keep them coming and wants to know if she can carry your bags on the next trip. HA HA !!! Your fans from the VA Long Beach.
  • You must've had a marvelous time. P.S. Video is great, but it took a while to load (5mins.) on a wireless connection. Joe – Anchorage, AK.
  • Seems like an awesome trip to France. It’s unique and personalized and that’s why folks enjoy it so much. Great newsletter! Bob S – Grand Junction, CO.
  • Video looks great! I should take more movies and pics with my camera. You’ve inspired me.
  • Kenneth W - New York, NY
  • RE: Chatteau Villete Picture: Very nice ...might make it a screen saver. Michelle A – Baltimore, MD
  • I enjoyed your story very much. Again, you made me chuckle and I like the way you insert your personal reactions into things. I have a feeling that’s why you have fans (that and the fabulous information you provide). Jane - Austin, TX
  • REGARDING A PAST PARIS NEWSLETTER: 1. Of course one can hail a taxi from the street in Paris. I do it all the time. The sign on top of the car should be fully lit, it any of the small lamps below are on the cab is occupied. There is also a cab company if you wish to pay by credit card. It is more expensive as you pay for the distance the cab makes before arriving at your address. Call Taxi 7 000: 01 42 7000 42, a voice in French answers and when it stops press one and you get to a live assistant. I always use this service when going to the airport. 2. Hotels. I recommend you discover the area around the park Buttes Chaumont in the 19 th arrondissement. The area is lovely and easily reached by bus and metro (no 5 get off at Laumière direction Bobigny) or metro 7 B (get off at Botzaris)and hotels wonderfully modern and free from tourist avalanches. I warmly recommend hotel Le Laumière ( double rooms for 60 euros wonderful hairdresser beside hotel plus a small street of typical Parisian food and flower shops plus a fine bakery plus some very local brasseries and even more if you walk the rue Laumière upwards and get to the park. It is a perfectly undiscovered Paris. A bientôt Johnny from Chaumont
  • You are a Piss! Keep it up! Lolo - ??? (I'm guessing somewhere in England)

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