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May 5, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Washington D.C.

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Greetings from Washington, D.C.! If you are following me on Twitter then you know I was fortunate to attend some of the weekend's White House Correspondents' Dinner parties, so of course I have plenty of pictures and stories from my trip. I'm not quite finished writing about Dubai, where I stopped after Abu Dhabi on my recent trip to the Middle East; I promise to have that report for you next week, and Oman the week after that. This week, don't miss Lisa McElroy's story about her memorable luxury rafting trip in Chilean Patagonia.

On Saturday I flew from Los Angeles to Washington's Dulles International Airport (IAD) on American Airlines. The 4-hour-and-15-minute flight was quick and smooth, as was my experience in IAD. What's nice is that a couple months ago they cut back drastically on those futuristic-looking but nuisance people-movers that shuttled passengers to and from the terminals. The reason? There's a sleek new tram to make the transfer to most terminals painless. NOTE: The AeroTrain system won't be completed until 2014-then they will get rid of the people-movers for good.

Dulles airport is located in Chantilly, Virginia, 26 miles from downtown D.C. There was no line for the metered taxis, which are comfortable sedans (, Tel: 703-572-8294). You can pay with a credit card. My driver was from Colombia; the drive took about 40 minutes (traffic) and cost $59 (plus tip). The last time I took a taxi from Dulles to D.C. there was no traffic so it took about 30 minutes and the fare was only $51 (plus tip). TAXI TIP: Some D.C. taxi drivers try to be slick by changing the "rate" on the meter to 3. The number three is reserved for heavy snow days where the fares rise about 30%. Be sure if you are traveling to/from D.C. to the suburbs/airports that the rate is 2. For trips in the D.C. metro area it should read 1 which can't physically go past $19 dollars.

TAXI TIP: Some D.C. taxi drivers try to be slick by changing the rate on the meter to 3, which is supposed to be reserved for heavy snow days when the fares rise about 30 percent. If you are traveling between D.C. and the suburbs/airports, be sure that the rate is 2. For trips in the D.C. metro area it should read 1; at this rate the maximum fare is $19.

The easiest thing to do was to take a cab, but it's also the most expensive option. I could have taken a SuperShuttle ($30 or so), but who wants to make stops and be at the driver's mercy? They never seem to tell the truth about which number stop you'll be. The cheapest option would have been the Metrobus, which departs every half hour, but I would have been dropped off at the Rosslyn Metro station, then had to take a train to Metro Center, which is the closest stop to the White House (two blocks away). Total time: Just under an hour. Cost: $4.75 (using WMATA's online trip planner is easy).

If you really want to save time and money on the ground, try to fly into Reagan National Airport. That's because the Washington, D.C., Metrorail system has an elevated station connected to the concourse level of terminals B and C. Metro cards can be purchased at machines located at all entrances and it's cheap (around $2), as are taxis (max is $15 to D.C.). Here’s a helpful D.C. transportation website.

When my taxi pulled up to the 193-room Donovan House (a Thompson Hotel), situated on historic Thomas Circle (14th & Massachusetts) the hotel's bellman-wearing a secret service–like ear piece, loose solid-colored tie, white button-down shirt, and jeans-opened my door, welcomed me, and offered to help with my bags. I packed light so I kindly turned him down, but I did accept him holding the open the front door to the trendy hotel. The lobby is medium sized and dimly lit, with chic furniture and an old-school film running mute on the upper wall. Modern mood music pumps in the background. The front desk had two clerks working. A man dressed in a neatly fitted suit checked me in and was very nice and helpful by answering all my questions about the surrounding area and offering to arrange for someone to fetch my bags.

The elevators are a tad slow and the indigo-colored hallways are a good way to mask the age of the building. The rooms are on the small side but mine was everything but-I got upgraded to a suite (room 910) with a view that was so nice that one of my local travel-writing friends commented it has to be among the best views in D.C.

My room had a Jetsons-slash–Japanese Zen apartment feel to it. There was lots of white and no paintings, just two-foot-tall mirrors wrapping the room at eye level. The place was outfitted with parquet floors, pre-formed plastic tables (probably from an upscale Ikea), silver orbs, a leather couch, gray shaggy pillows, two swivel chairs (one was the desk chair), two flat–screen TVs, and one and a half bathrooms.

The bedroom, which was also stark white and painting-less, had a brown leather egg-shaped swivel captains chair that matched the color and fabric of the modern canopy covering the bed. I didn't think I was going to like sleeping here so much because the deep purple–colored curtains didn't completely reach the top and block out all the bright street lights, and I like a pitch-black room. But I slept well on the firm, cozy bed with soft cotton sheets. Most importantly, the pillows were to my liking.

My bathroom was sweet, highlighted by a monstrous walk-in glass shower with white tiled walls and floor. The showerhead was mounted in the ceiling. What was kind of annoying is that the towels were resting across the room above the modern oval-shaped tub, which my naked body probably wouldn't fit in or look too good soaking in. They did have Bigelow bath products, which I really like and so does my hair (what's left of it). My ears also appreciated the hotel's real Q-tips. I know my doctor would wince to hear it, but nothing feels as a good as swabbing out excess water and ear wax from your inner ear.

The room came with complimentary sake and spicy wasabi peas that I didn't touch-but I did maul the blondie brownies and fruit basket. I stayed far away from the fully stocked mini bar with Dean & Deluca snacks since they are always overpriced. The most disappointing amenity was the Internet: It's run by an unsecured connection from iBahn for $11 a day, $44 week (chargeable to the room), and was so slow it took five hours to upload a 1 GB movie to YouTube. I finally popped in my Sprint Wireless card, which can be rented from RovAir on a short-term basis, and that same movie took four minutes. The room is outfitted with cordless phones and an iPod docking station/clock radio. I couldn't hear much hallway noise from my location at the end of the hallway. The windows are fairly well soundproofed, but you can still hear the occasional horn blowing or skateboarder cruising by.

The hotel restaurant is called Zentan. It's located off the lobby and is supposedly exceptional. Their Executive Chef is Susur Lee, who just competed on Top Chef Masters and has made it to the championship round. The only time I had to visit it was on Sunday night, when it was so slow that they only offered sushi, so trying his famous Singapore slaw with salted plum dressing and Szechwan-style half duck with djan lotus crepes will have to wait until another time. However, I did have breakfast there but I don’t think it’s supervised by Chef Lee but my $12 eggs, with bacon (or sausage), potatoes and toast was sure tasty and the service was spot on.

I went for a walk to the White House, about 10 long blocks away. It was unusually warm this weekend (90s), and I was inspired by all the sights. I ended up going past the Washington Monument to the Jefferson Memorial but had to skip the nearby Lincoln Memorial (I went the second night) because I'd already walked my tail off. I must've gone four or five miles, and in tight designer jeans it felt like twenty. One thing is for sure: Washington, D.C., is a photographer's playground. TIP: To get bottled water or anything else you need there's a 24-hour CVS directly across from the hotel. It has six self-service automated check-out stations and just one clerk. So if you want to get out much quicker, embrace the technology-it wasn't difficult.

On the way back to my room I saw a bunch of hotties in the elevator talking about the hotel's rooftop bar (14th floor). I became curious, so of course I went up there after showering and donning my studly duds. The scene looked as if I was back in L.A. and I almost did a double take: lots of beautiful people in a wide gamut of attire from sneakers to suits. They were all lounging comfortably around the pool or sitting at the bar enjoying the views of the skyline and/or each other. NOTE: Since it's such a hot spot the space occasionally gets rented out, which can be a total bummer, especially on a hot day like this past Sunday. If you are a pool fanatic be sure to inquire if it's going to be available your whole stay.

Rates begin at $200. Donovan House, 1155 14th Street N.W., Washington, DC; tel. 202-737-1200 or 800-383-6900.

I was invited to attend one of the White House Correspondents' Dinner (WHCD) after parties put on by Bing and hosted by Wolf Blitzer and Bobby Flay. It was at the Renaissance Mayflower and I decided to walk there, since the concierge said it was just 10 minutes away. I'm so glad I did-traffic was a nightmare and my taxi meter would've gone sky high-the reason? President Obama's motorcade was about to go by en route to the White House. As soon as I saw all the commotion I whipped out my camera and had the video setting ready to go; I wasn't going to miss filming this. The cops were everywhere-they blocked every access to 14th Street and yelled at pedestrians to stay on the sidewalk, we couldn't even have one foot on the street. First came the motorcycle cops and sedans, and then of course the president's armored limo. I could totally see the silhouettes of the president and the first lady. Their car was followed by a slew more emergency vehicles, including an ambulance and a fire truck-boy they sure don't mess around. Everyone (but the locals who were stuck in their cars) was pumped to see it. Here's the video.

At the party I ran into a bunch of friends that I had no idea were going to be there, including Harriet Cole (creative director of Ebony magazine), Andy Baldwin (the former Bachelor), Elizabeth Caminiti (does Global PR for Renaissance Hotels), and others. I bumped into Andy first, so I palled around with him since he was also traveling solo. He's not a bad wingman, since girl after girl kept coming up to him asking for a photo. At the tail end of our hangout, a starstruck girl with two of her unimpressed friends acquainted herself with him. The highlight was when Andy introduced me to her gorgeous friends and one screamed out, "Johnny Jet! I know you-I just read about you in the New York Daily News." She kept saying to her friends, "This is Johnny Jet!" Talk about a much-needed ego boost-I went from being the invisible man to the MAN.

Bing sure knows how to throw a party-they had one of the most appealing dessert tables I've seen. Edward Marc, a chocolatier since 1914, had basically set up their shop in the party, and the tray tables of goodies just kept getting replenished to feed what had to be over 1,000 people in attendance. The night got even more interesting when I was handed VIP bracelets for access to the second floor, where most of the stars were gathered. There were a bunch there but I only saw a few: Chris Tucker, Kim Kardashian, Gayle King (Oprah's friend), Bobby Flay, and of course my boy Wolf Blitzer. I made my way back to the hotel around 1:30 a.m. The streets were crowded with partygoers and I felt safe. I also realized I love walking the streets of D.C., especially on a warm summer-like night.

The following afternoon (I didn't wake up until 11!), I met my friend Norie Quintos (@NorieCicerone), who writes for National Geographic Traveler and lives in the area. She gave me a tour of the Logan and 14th Street area. We dined at Birch & Barley (14th & Rhode Island), which is normally just open for dinner except on Sundays, when they offer brunch beginning at 11 a.m. The place is popular (and loud) so reservations are highly recommended, but we got lucky and walked right in. The waitstaff are friendly and attentive. I had chicken and waffles ($14), which was a gourmet version (in both price and taste) of Roscoe's in Los Angeles. For the record, Roscoe's are way better, so next time I will try something else. NOTE: Other nearby places Norie suggested for breakfast/lunch were the Commissary and Logan Tavern.

After brunch we walked further up 14th Street, which is now a hip and happening area with brightly painted row houses. Not far away (on P Street) we stopped in at Pitango, a locally owned chain (4 shops in DC, MD, and VA) of artisanal gelato with flavors like local strawberry, quince, hazelnut, and dark chocolate orange. The owner is of Italian/Israeli ancestry and, as Norie put it, has exacting culinary standards. The organic milk is specially contracted from a Mennonite farmer in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Highly recommended on a hot day and the staff are super friendly.

One of the best things I did was get my big butt out of the desk chair and go for a daily walk. The highlight was walking through the remodeled Vietnam Veterans Memorial (website) and Lincoln Memorial (website), which I hadn't seen since I was a kid. Both places, but especially the temple honoring our 16th president, gave me the same surreal goose bumps I got when I saw the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. These are two of the most moving sites I've ever laid eyes upon, and I was so thankful I didn't pass up the opportunity to see them by staying in and working.

Since I visited many of D.C.'s major tourist attractions in 2009 I didn't hit them this time around; here's a link to the story of my last visit. For a much better guide, see this National Geographic Traveler’s D.C. Walking Tours. Another good link to check out is Cultural Tourism DC, with a calendar of daily events.

Next week we head to ??? Stay tuned!

Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Donovan House.

Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Dulles Tram


Taxi Meter


Super Shuttle


Donovan House




Living Room


View From Window




Shaggy Pillow






Washington Monument


Walking to Jefferson Memorial


Jefferson Memorial


Vietnam Veterans Memorial


Lincoln Memorial




View From Lincoln Memorial


Bing's WHCD After Party


The Bachelor's Andy Baldwin


Taste Test


Banana & Chocolate Gelato


Norie Quintos


Near Upper 14th Street


Birch & Barley


Friendly Service


Chicken & Waffles




  • This week’s newsletter was great! The photos were loading easier this week. The video was awesome – had to watch it twice. Being able to hear both Johnny’s voice and the driver almost made you feel like you were in the vehicle with them. Also enjoyed the captions and the humor in the video! Jackie Ross - Bellingham, WA

  • I have just put UAE on my list. Just have to go there, thanks for your snapshot view. Catherine A - Sydney

  • I would love to hear more on UAE - I've heard it's breathtakingly gorgeous Katie N – San Diego

  • I just heard our Touareg sob in the garage. I'm just jealous. Christian M - Germany

  • Holy crap! Be careful my dear! Laura P - NJ

  • Gorgeous photos! Jealous! Elina F – Los Angeles, CA

  • They do the same thing in Africa (Namibia)...but minus the just go down the dunes on pieces of cardboard!! Ana J – Santa Monica, CA

  • I screamed the whole time and may have included a few obscenities; there's a video of it somewhere. So much fun! Meredith K – L.A.

  • I just saw your Qasr Al Sarab coverage = amazing. Now I want to go... Melanie N – Boston, MA

  • I saw the video of you in the UAE on sand dunes. So cool Johnny! G Peters - NYC

  • I want to thank you for travel information. Your information from the past will guide us easily. Peter H - Irvine, CA

  • Loved it...I lived in Abu Dhabi for three years's changed so much and this was so interesting to me. Thanks. Roe M. - Phoenix, Arizona

  • Great post and image gallery! Alice M - NYC

  • Nice column. Now while sitting on your verandah you could have been reading "Arabian Sands'" by Sir Wilfred Tersiger an English explorer who crossed the empty quarter twice in the 1930-40s. It gives a true picture of desert life with the nomads. He would not have approved of the hotel being "too luxe" You did not mention stopping at the Liwa oasis to see the royal palace etc. and no video of Johnny on a camel ride! And how will the resort deal with the shifting sands…it does not want to be buried like Babylon. I am waiting for next week’s adventure. Jonhenri B - Florida

  • I love reading your newsletter, keeps me up to date on lots of sites and services. Today I noticed a huge omission of necessary information on one of the sites you highlighted. Are the women who do the travel RX bags your friends? If so, you might want to let them know they are missing one essential piece of information on their site -- there is no listing of what medications are actually in the bag if you purchase the bag full of medications. The actual thing that they are selling (ease of having it all done for you) is no where to be found on the site. Yes, you get to see info about the bag, but nothing about what's in the bag if you purchase it stocked. Thought they might like to know. Margot B - Los Angeles, CA REPLY: Good point! Hopefully, they will see this and fix it (I don’t know them).

  • Its time to shave your head, Johnny!! Otherwise, love the site! Kevin K. REPLY: WTF!

  • We want to send a big heartfelt thanks for the beautiful write-up and stunning images of Qasr Al Sarab in your newsletter today and on your site! I’ve been meaning to write you since I saw your video in last week’s newsletter (amazing!) and was totally thrilled yet again when I saw this week’s newsletter in my inbox this morning. It looks (and sounds) like you really enjoyed your experience in the desert and at Qasr Al Sarab – so great to hear! Your video is such a great depiction of what dune bashing really entails, we would love to share it! Dena D- NYC

  • Wow! I just looked through your whole slideshow. The resort looks incredible -- a good match to the amazing surroundings. How do they have a police helicopter standing by in case of medical emergencies? Wouldn't they just have a private one? Or is a policeman/pilot assigned to the resort? Liz B - NYC

  • Love the pics of David Archuleta--wish someone would have gotten a full video of his performance. Thanks for posting! Gail D – Phoenix, Arizona

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