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Bonjour from France! Last week we left off after trying out American Airlines’ new Manhattan-to-JFK helicopter service (here’s a link to the archives). This week we travel from Los Angeles to Paris on Air France. My trip back to Europe has been a dream! I checked in to some of Europe’s best hotels, and got a crash course on how to film a pilot TV show. That’s right! I am here taping a show that hopefully will air on a popular television channel. If you want to come on this getaway, pack your new duds and your smile because the tape is rolling -- lights, camera, action!
JOHNNY JET ON TV?
I was in Europe a few months ago, touring locations from the Da Vinci Code book and movie. That trip was sponsored by the French Tourist Office, Visit Britain, Visit Scotland and Rail Europe. All of those organizations teamed up to recreate the Da Vinci Code experience, which has taken Europe by storm. The theme of the trip was to follow in the footsteps of the stars across France, England and Scotland. We stayed in some of the same hotels, ate at the same restaurants and took some of the tours the stars did while filming this 10-month project that ended in September 2005. When I returned home I mentioned to a couple of my Hollywood friends how great it would be to do the same tour, but this time with a camera crew. The next thing I know (with the help of the French Tourist Board, Rail Europe and some other instrumental people) I’m boarding a Paris-bound plane with two cameramen/directors.
I was excited not only because I had a chance to host my very own TV show, but because I was flying Air France for the first time. To top it off I was in the very first row of business class. Guess who was sitting in the last row of First? Keanu Reeves (He was cool, but as you can see sick as a dog with the flu or something nasty). Air France recently became the largest airline company in the world when they merged with KLM. AirFrance currently offers 29 flights a day from the U.S. Two are out of LAX. One leaves at 3:30 p.m.; the other departs at 6:25 p.m. Both are serviced by 777-300s, but according to the gate agents the later flight is usually less crowded.
Air France departs from Terminal 2, and business class (called "l'Espace Affaires") passengers can wait for departure in the Northwest Airlines lounge (Northwest is one of their SkyTeam Alliance partners). The lounge is in desperate need of renovation -- it’s old and depressing -- but it’s still better than trying to find an uncomfortable seat at the crowded gate. Boarding for Flight 65 was quick, and the plane had just been refitted with Air France’s new state-of-the-art seats. They have vibrant colors, as well as footrests (even in Economy, which is called "Tempo"). Each seat has an individual video screen. In Tempo class they are 6.4 inches wide, while in business and first (called "l'Espace Premiére") they are 10.4 inches. The premium classes feature videos on demand.
Business Class seats also have optical fiber reading lights, AC adaptors, a remote control for the entertainment system (this can also be used as a telephone, but nobody does because it’s too expensive), an amenity kit, side and front storage, and plenty of leg room. The seats are 21 inches wide. They recline to what is supposedly a 180-degree angle -- but mine did not go completely flat. The slight angle slid me down to the footrest, making me a bit uncomfortable when I tried to sleep. That was the only bummer about the flight. One more on the plus side: The flight attendants were impressive. They were friendly, attentive, and looked great decked out in stylish Parisian uniforms designed by Christian Lacroix.
FOOD ON AIR FRANCE
Whoever says airplane food sucks should take a trip on Air France. It was tasty! An hour after takeoff, out came a 4-course dinner with multiple choices. For hors d’oeuvres I went with the snow crab claws and seafood salad. My main course was grilled tournedos of beef
with Provencale-style simmered vegetables and duchesse potatoes. Then came a fine selection of cheeses and an assortment of desserts— yummmm! The mango sorbet was scrumptious, though the chocolate cake tasted a tad dry. Of course, fine wines and champagne were flowing, but I only drink water when I fly (alcohol dehydrates you). For those like me who couldn’t sleep, a self-service bar with drinks and snacks was set up in the galley. Just before landing
we were offered pastries, croissants, and a hot breakfast (a choice of French toast or scrambled eggs with fresh tomatoes, bacon and roesti potatoes). Air France, tel.: 800-237-2747.
DA VINCI CODE THE BOOK
If you haven’t read the Da Vinci Code, you are one of the few. Over 60 million copies have been printed, and it has been translated into 44 different languages. (Get it delivered by Amazon.com using this link -- we make a small commission). The film was directed by Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Jean Reno, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina. The movie
was filmed in really cool locations, including some towns that are usually bypassed by tourists. To watch the trailer, log on to SonyPicutes.com. For more information, check out IMDb.com.
When I found out we were being put up at the Ritz, I screamed in excitement. Who wouldn’t? How lucky am I to stay in one of the world’s nicest hotels? The Paris Ritz, located in the Place Vendôme, has 162 luxurious rooms, and in the movie is the hotel
in which Robert Langdon is awakened by the telephone. I didn’t stay in room number 512 -- used in the opening scene of the book -- but we filmed in it. My room, 416, was actually nicer than 512. As Dan Brown described in the book, the rooms are decorated with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls and mahogany four-poster beds. Service was even more exquisite than I expected. The staff could not have been any nicer, and a couple of them even agreed to play roles
in our show. Interesting note: Ron Howard did not actually film inside
the Ritz. Instead he took all the furniture (including the golden swan-shaped faucet taps) from room 512, and put it in a studio for Tom Hanks’ room scene. They did film the entrance of the hotel. Surprisingly, the Ritz had to block off that area for only 10 minutes.
RITZ’S DA VINCI CODE PACKAGE DEAL
Now you can pretend you are Robert Langdon for 670€ ($800) a night. The Ritz has its very own Da Vinci Code package deal. Guests spend the night in room 512, enjoy an American breakfast, and take home an illustrated luxury version of the Da Vinci Code book (in English), a Ritz diary and a heavy Ritz-embroidered bathrobe. Hôtel Ritz, 15 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris; tel.: 33-1-43-16-30-30.
If room prices are too steep (or the package deal is sold out), go to the Hemingway bar and have Colin Field make you an "Opus Dei" (champagne, a drop of vodka, grapefruit juice and sugar) for 25€ ($31). Forbes magazine called Colin one of the most famous bartenders in the world, and he is a real character. An English native who has been in Paris for 17 years, he takes his drink-making seriously. He looks like a mad scientist when he creates them. You should let him decide what he thinks you’re in the mood for – don’t worry, he’ll put together something delicious. He also makes incredible non-alcoholic drinks. Hemingway Bar, Hotel Ritz, 15 Place Vendôme, Paris; tel.: 33-1-43-16-30-30. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (or later, if Colin likes you).
The Ritz was too pricey for my budget, but I found another great hotel. The 3-star Hôtel Beaumarchais
is a very small (especially the elevator), reasonably priced hotel in a fun neighborhood (the 11th arrondissement), within walking distance of the bustling Marais and Bastille areas. The rooms
are all clean, with funky, colorful
designs. The bathroom is small, but also clean, and has a mosaic-tiled shower. There are plenty of cafes
and shops nearby. At night it gets kind of loud (especially on weekends), so bring ear plugs in case the AC is not working (mine wasn’t). Rooms begin at just 75€ ($94) a night and the staff is attentive. At that price you can’t ask for anything more. Hôtel Beaumarchais, 3 rue Oberkampf 75011 Paris; tel.: 33-1-53-36-86-86; email: email@example.com.
HIGH SPEED INTERNET
Paris was one of the first cities in the world to offer citywide WiFi access, so there is no reason to worry you won’t be connected. I logged on through the Meteor Network, which has a few online options: It’s available by the half hour, day, week or month. It’s not cheap – I spent $33 for 24 hours-- but at least they had it.
DA VINCI CODE TOUR
To follow the same tour we did, just log on to my March newsletter (here’s the link). We followed it almost to a "T," including getting a DVC tour from Connie Kubicek, an American-living-in-Paris tour guide. She works for Classic Walks, which offers a daily Da Vinci Code Walk at 10 a.m in front of the Ritz. The 2-hour tour takes visitors through the pages of Dan Brown’s novel. Da Vinci Code Tour by Classic Walks Paris, everyday at 10 a.m., costs €20 ($24); tel.: 33-0-1-56-58-10-54. Reservations are not required, but may be made in advance by logging on to their website or through Viator.com.
With cameras following our every step we walked to the Louvre, via the Jardin des Tuileries
gardens. We spent only 10 minutes in the Louvre, viewing
the inverted pyramid
believed to house the Holy Grail. Detailed
Louvre tours are available from a number of organizations. For a detailed article on the Louvre, read this story titled "Unlocking the Louvre's secrets" by Susan Spano of the Los Angeles Times. The Louvre, open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Tuesdays and the following holidays: August 15 and December 25, 2006. It is open until 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Cost: 8.50 € ($10.70). Tip: Admission to the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of every month! The Louvre.
THE CHURCH OF SAINT-SULPICE
Our last stop on the Classic Walks tour was the Church of Saint-Sulpice
(it may be closed on Sundays for Mass). It’s located on the Left Bank in the gallery district. This is where Silas, the Opus Dei monk, goes to find the keystone as he follows the infamous Rose Line to the towering obelisk where he mistakenly believed the Holy Grail rested. This is also where I met up with my brother Frank, who flew in from Connecticut to help us with production. It was perfect timing, because he was ready for his first scene where he plays the role of a killer monk who follows me around. His part is hilarious.
CHATEAU De VILLETTE
If you’re on a Da Vinci Code tour of Paris, you can’t miss Sir Leigh Teabing’s residence: Château de Villette. This place is not only real—it’s unreal!. Located 35 minutes northwest of Paris, it is an 18
-bedroom, 21-bath, 3-kitchen estate. I met the owner, Olivia Hsu Decker, in Fiji a couple of years ago. We have a mutual friend, so she gave us an inside tour of the 185-acre property. If you want to check it out yourself, Olivia offers DVC packages with tours and lodgings for 3,900 to 4,300 € ($4,700 - 5,100) per person (excluding airfare). For something less extravagant, try the Chateau’s DVC gourmet tours; they include a meal from a renowned chef. The lunch tour runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (140 € per person = $168); the dinner tour is from 5 to 9:30 p.m. (180 € = $216). Château de Villette, Villette@TheDaVinciCodeChateau.com.
For some b-roll (alternate footage of the city), we visited La Basilique du Sacré Coeur
de Montmartre, a beautiful Roman-Byzantine-style church built in 1875. If you need the exercise (and we did), walk up the steps. If you don’t want to, or have health problems, take a funicular (1.40€). The views from the church entrance are amazing, but the best are from the dome 200 meters (656 feet) above sea level. It’s the second highest point in Paris (after the Eiffel Tower), and costs only 5 euros. For a bird’s-eye view, climb the 290 steps to the top (at a normal pace it takes only eight minutes). The panoramic views
of Paris are so worth it. Don’t worry – it’s not claustrophobic. Little windows provide light, and traffic goes only one way. La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre.
For first-timers, no visit to Paris
without seeing the Eiffel Tower. I’ve been up there so many times that I chose to hang back with my brother and Edison (one of our cameramen), and relax
at a sidewalk café. However, Jeff (the director) and Ben (another cameraman) went to the top. The Eiffel Tower has three stages; each has a different fee. The first stage is 57 meters high (189 feet), and costs 4.20 €. The second, 115 meters (377 feet) high, costs 7.70€. The top is 324 meters (1,063 feet), but the viewing platform is at 276 meters (905 feet). The first and second stages can be accessed by the same elevator, or by stairs, but the third requires a separate elevator located on the second floor, at a cost of 11 €. If you walk up (which is allowed only to the first and second stages), the wait is much quicker, and the price cheaper (3.80 €). Tour Eiffel, Champ de Mars, 75007 Paris.
JOHNNY JET VIDEO
Here’s a 2-minute Johnny Jet Video of my trip to France. With high-speed the video takes about 1 minute to load; with dial-up, please allow up to 3 weeks. For more Paris tips, check out Johnny Jet’s past trips to France in the newsletter archive.
FRANCE RAIL PASS DEAL
For those visiting only two or three destinations in France, Rail Europe has just introduced a new 3-day France Railpass, priced at $238 US (1st class) or $202 US (2nd), which can save money even over discounted "book early" point-to-point train tickets. Previously, the shortest duration of a France Railpass was four days (priced at $ 274 US 1st class or $233 US 2nd). France Railpasses must be purchased in North America before leaving for Europe. Click here for Rail Europe.
We hit England. Stay tuned!
*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!
DVC Posters Are Everywhere
Filming In Room 512
Filming In Lobby
My Room For 1 Night
Outside The Louvre
Lourve At Night
Church of Saint-Sulpice
Château de Villette
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SOME OF LAST WEEK'S READER AIR-eMAIL
Debra Messing!! Wow...is she hot in person? Did she talk to you? You live quite the life Johnny Jet... Christine – Chicago, IL
I just loved the video and especially the music! What a great job you have! I'm in the travel industry also and find it is a sweet addiction and will never lose the wanderlust! Keep up the good work on the web site. It's one of the reasons I love this business! Anne Keller - Atlanta, GA
While searching the Frommer's website for travel information, I clicked on Where's Johnny Jet CT/NYC. As I started to read your article, I almost dropped my teeth (figuratively speaking) when I read you are from Norwalk, CT. I truly enjoyed reading about your weekend in Rowayton and NYC. I have fond memories of attending the Memorial Day parade in Norwalk most recently in '05--seeing Calvin Murphy, Brien McMahon High School (my alma mater) and my relatives marching with Cranbury Elementary School. What a great way to start the summer season! Following the parade, we would go to Shady Beach or Calf's Pasture (yes, Johnny there were cows in a nearby pasture before entering the beach) for an afternoon of food and fun. Memories! Memories! Anyway, thanks for the travel options for getting to JFK airport--typically a nightmare and for sharing your MD weekend adventure. Look forward to reading more about your travels. Happy and Safe Travel. Pat O. – Norwalk, CT
I love the site and the videos of your trips! Awesome! Tim L. - St. Cloud, Minnesota
Terrific story! I like how you provide a lot of detail. Makes the reader feel like they are right there with you... Alan P – Orange County, CA
I'm glad you were able to get to JFK in only eight minutes. Those helicopters you are talking about now fly right over my house at an altitude of about 500 or 1000 feet. They are so loud that they drown out conversation. I would like to see the service ended or at least re-routed. I resent having these loud intrusions in my life 6 or 8 times per day. Perhaps you can tell me who to complain to. Thanks, Shawn Rosvold - Brooklyn NY
DUDE--YOU ROCK! Love the webcams. Alaskacam is my favorite. Scott M – Anchorage, AK
I just wanted to tell ya that the story on your home town was great. I had my wife sit down and read it because I told her if I ever had to live on the East Coast ( key word HAD) I would live in the town of Rowayton. Its so nice. Story's like that are nice to read. Not all towns in the US have a gang problem and there are towns that actually get together and have fun without people getting in trouble. Well Done. K. Edwards – Los Angeles, CA
I just hope one of these days you sit next to the RIGHT ONE... keep flying and getting those great seats!!! Hope you come back to the U.S. soon... we really miss you on our land coming and going... S.S. -
Great video! love the song and love the logo at the end!! C.D. - Westport, CT
Great website, you know how to live life! Katie J – Boston, MA
I enjoyed your nostalgic Memorial Day article. I grew up in Norwalk too and moved away in 1991. Summer's the best up there! Looking forward to visiting in August. Thanks for taking me back to a different time. Joanne Gallo Girard - Washington, DC
I loved reading this weeks story about Ct. and especially your mom. I live in upstate NY (in the Adirondack Mts.) so I can appreciate Memorial Day as the official beginning of Summer and plus the fact that I also have a May 31 birthday. The pictures were great. Brought back memories of days gone by. Jackie Smith - upstate NY.
I LOVE the new format! Keep it coming!! M.A. - Belle Harbor, Queens
Very well done. That (video) was sweet! Sometimes I gotta say I envy you, you definitely have one of the coolest lives of any of my friends. John – Connecticut
I love the newsletter. It has made me more determined than ever to go. Many thanks, Gail Sweeney - UK
Loved reading this portion of your OZ trip. My 2 adult daughters, husband and myself had the good fortune of spending 5 weeks in Australia in July/ Aug. 2003. We too visited Cape Tribulation, Raintree Forest, the Mossman Gorge, etc. We stayed in Port Douglas in similar accommodations and remember that drive along the coast. We sat in a vehicle waiting in line to cross the river at that same river crossing. Your pictures brought back some great memories. We truly enjoy your website! Did you ever visit Coober Pedy in South AU.? Keep traveling and sharing! Thanks! Cathy M - Torrance, CA
How did you manage to wangle the upgrade on your flight from Australia to LA? Did you have to pay extra $$$$ for it or did you charm your way into it? Mo Forster – BC, Canada.
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