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July 12, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                            Da Vinci Code: Scotland

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Cheers from Scotland! We are here finishing filming a pilot TV show as we follow the path of Dan Brown’s novel, and now a major motion picture, The Da Vinci Code (DVC). Last week we left off from the English countryside (here’s the link to the archives); this week we travel north by train to Edinburgh, Scotland. If you want to see some amazing scenery and check in to one of the most romantic hotels, log on. If you’re in a hurry or have ADD, don’t worry; there’s a 2-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week’s story.

We’re following the exact tour I took in March. For more detailed information on the places we’re visiting, here’s the link to the archive — they’re in the March and April stories of 2006. The only difference is that on this tour, two high definition cameras follow my every step. If the show gets picked up, you’ll be among the first to find out. Keep your fingers crossed.

The best way to reach Edinburgh from Lincoln is by train. If you purchase a BritRail pass from, you won’t have to buy expensive point-to-point tickets. There are no direct trains from Lincoln, so you’ll first need to take a commuter train to either Retford or Sheffield, England. Then transfer to a GNER (Great North Eastern Railway), or a Virgin train for Edinburgh. The Edinburgh leg takes just under 3 ½ hours. The ride goes by quickly, but after trying both trains I prefer the seats of the GNER train to Virgin’s (they are more comfortable and spacious). Either way, the best part of the trip is the scenery – it’s amazing. Especially the last hour, as you ride along the rocky seashore, and see sheep grazing in the lush green hills. Talk about picturesque!

On my last trip I learned how to correctly pronounce Edinburgh. This trip I have been trying to teach our crew. They can’t get it right – so much so it’s become a joke. It has to be one of the world’s most mispronounced cities for Americans. The correct pronunciation is: "ED-in-burra." Got it? It’s great to listen to a Scot. Although they speak English, I can hardly understand what they’re saying -- boy, do they have a strong accent. I love it! As for money: Scotland is part of the UK, but it’s a separate nation. So Scotland issues its own bank notes, but English pounds are accepted everywhere. However, you might have a hard time using Scottish pounds outside the country, as some places in England don’t accept them. (£1 = $1.74).

From the Waverly train station we hopped in a Londonesque taxi. These things are huge! They fit all four of us and our bags (but not comfortably). We were headed to the Prestonfield Hotel. None of us had any idea what the hotel would be like, and we were surprised it wasn’t located in downtown Edinburgh.

Driving down the long Prestonfield driveway, I thought the taxi driver misunderstood us and was taking us to a park or even the zoo. We were in the country, a 10-minute drive outside the city. The grass was green, and highland cattle grazed in the fields. The house is set on 20 acres of rolling hills that includes a popular golf course open to visitors. Croquet was set up on the front lawn; 11 peacocks roamed the area. What an incredible setting!

The Prestonfield House has been an estate for centuries. However, it was neglected for many years. Then James Thomson, Edinburgh’s best-known restaurateur and hotelier (owner of the Witchery and the Tower Restaurant as well) acquired the property in 2003. In a short time he transformed the Prestonfield House into a 5-star retreat. In 2005 the place was voted Hotel of the Year by AA (Automobile Association) of Scotland and Ireland.

The staff at the Prestonfield were all very accommodating, and eager to make our stay perfect. They were dressed to the nines, with the men in black formal kilts and the women (all beautiful) in black uniforms. The 33 rooms are all individually designed with a super king-size or twin beds, comfortable chairs or sofa, a writing desk, and decorative antiques. The walls are covered in tactile velvets and silk brocades. Hidden inside a Gothic cabinet is a 30" flat-screen television with DVD player. The bathrooms are finished in marble and Venetian glass mosaic, with warm towels and fine toiletries. When my brother and I walked into our room, we looked at each other and knew we each were wondering, Why the heck am I sharing this room with you? For sure we were the only working people staying there. All the other guests were couples, either on a romantic weekend or attending one of the many weddings that take place there on weekends. This place is so popular, sometimes there are even three in the same day. No wonder it won the Most Romantic Hotel in Scotland award (from the Hotel of the Year) in 2005.

One of the best things I ever tasted in my life was a small helping of a chocolate pudding that was waiting in the room for new arrivals. It was unbelievable – just like the hotel. Fortunately, you don’t have to stay there to experience it. The Prestonfield has an award- winning restaurant, Rhubarb, that features exceptional food, wine and service. Room rates begin at £195 ($354), and include a delicious breakfast. Prestonfield, Priestfield Road, Edinburgh; tel.: 44-0-131-225-7800.

The Prestonfield also has a very popular Scottish show and dinner across the lawn in its "stables." Tour buses park in the driveway, and bagpipes can be heard as guests arrive around 6:30 p.m. The "Taste of Scotland" show, billed as the most famous Scottish show in the world, includes 18 acts. That was a bit long for me, but the international crowd (between the ages of 25 and 85) really seemed to enjoy the singing and dancing. Dinner and wine are served before the show and then haggis is offered at intermission. Cost: £45 ($81) per person. Open Sunday to Friday, April to October, starting at 7 p.m. sharp. Reservations: call 44-0-131-225-7800, or log on to

I didn’t have time to see all of what Edinburgh has to offer (I had to finish up our TV show by looking for the Grail), but I did see Edinburgh Castle. It’s Scotland’s most popular tourist attraction, and at the end of the Royal Mile. It has sat atop the famous Edinburgh rock for over 1,000 years, and there are lots of buildings and exhibits to explore. I saw the main attraction: the Crown Jewels of Scotland (also known as "The Honours of Scotland"). The jewels consist of a crown, sword and scepter, used in 1603 when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne. It would have been much cooler without the painfully slow-moving line that began out the door, then weaved around the inside of the building and up the stairs where the jewels are displayed. Admission: adults £10.30 ($18.70), children £4.50 ($8).

The Rosslyn Chapel was featured in both the book and movie (a crew filmed 10 hours a day for four days in late September). This is where Langdon and Neveu uncover the truth of the Holy Grail -- and where I would deliver my last line for the show. It felt so good knowing I made it through this experience, and everything went as planned.

The Rosslyn Chapel, founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair, is located seven miles outside of Edinburgh. The chapel (also known as St. Matthew's Collegiate Church) was originally a Catholic church. Today it is a working Episcopal church, wrapped in scaffolding to protect the roof from the elements. This place has garnered so much attention because of its connections with Freemasonry. It is often called one of the most mysterious places in Scotland, because inside a variety of stone carvings relate to biblical, Masonic, pagan and Knights Templar themes. Dan Brown wrote: "For centuries this stone chapel had echoed with whispers of the Holy Grail's presence. The whispers had turned to shouts in recent decades when ground-penetrating radar revealed the presence of an astonishing structure beneath the chapel -- a massive subterranean chamber. Not only did this deep vault dwarf the chapel atop it, but it appeared to have no entrance or exit. Archaeologists petitioned to begin blasting through the bedrock to reach the mysterious chamber, but the Rosslyn Trust expressly forbade any excavation of the sacred site." Our guide told us about a mysterious chamber directly below the main room. He said the trust might excavate it a few years from now. But he also said the Da Vinci Code book had "little truth to the chapel." I’ll let you figure out those inaccuracies for yourself, but I will say there is no Star of David. Note: St. Clair family descendants do not believe they are direct descendants of Christ.

Although the chapel is only seven miles from Edinburgh, in traffic it takes 30 minutes by car. If you drive, take the Edinburgh bypass: Straiton Junction A701 to Penicuik/Peebles. Follow A701 to the sign for Roslin (3 miles). Once in Roslin Village, follow signs to the chapel. Two bus services operate to Roslin: Lothian Buses service 15A (not 15), and First service 62. This place used to be lucky if five or six people visited each day. Now you can hardly move. Entry: £7 ($12.70). Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland; tel.: 131-440-2159 (outside UK 44-131-440-2159).

What’s especially fitting is that the day we finished filming was the day the Da Vinci Code movie opened up worldwide – including in Scotland. On our last night together we bought tickets for the movie. We all really enjoyed it (despite the mediocre reviews). Obviously we are biased, but seeing the cities and places we came to love on the big screen was a treat. With a bit of luck, our show will air in a couple of months, and you will share the same feelings. We’ll keep you posted.

Here’s a 2-minute Johnny Jet Video of my trip to Scotland. With high-speed the video takes about 1 minute to load; with dial-up, please allow up to three weeks.

Next week we travel to a country in Europe that I have never been to, but always wanted to see. Here’s a hint: It’s just a 90-minute plane ride from Edinburgh. Stay tuned.

Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

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

Pictures From

The Trip


Commuter Train


Sheffield Station


Train To Scotland


Food On Train


Prestonfield House


Side View


Highland Cattle


My Room






Breakfast At The Hotel


Taste of Scotland


Edinburgh Castle


Getting Knighted


Rosslyn Chapel




Free Tours


Stone Carving


Inside Chapel


Last Day Of Taping



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  • I loved your Trip to England with Frank when you filmed the Da Vinci Code! The photographs were magnificent! It reminded me of the trips I used to take with Tom back in the good 'ol days! I love England and especially miss Tea Time and the Pubs. I think you should run off with the Duchess! Watch out for those weapons though...Ouch! PS The photographs of you and Frank were really good! Carol – Erie, PA
  • You have a great newsletter! I'm glad I discovered you. Bill Moravec -
  • Thanks for the news letter about Lincolnshire and Lincoln. That’s where my family lives except for the sister in Rockford. I loved the maps and other sites included in the news letter. They actually spur me on to plan our visit back to the home country. By the way it’s Stewart Woods for the Stone Barrington book. Thanks for the great newsletter! Sally - Ilfeld, NM
  • Your newsletters continue to be informative and enjoyable to read, however I notice in your end June letter a reference to Indian food in the Brick Lane area of London which is not entirely correct. As you may know the UK is awash with excellent Indian Sub.Cont.restaurants and whilst Brick Lane has several excellent ones the principal locations are in Birmingham (the Balti Triangle) and Manchester(the curry mile in Rusholme). The quantity and quality in these plaves is unrivalled. Best Wishes and looking forward to the next installments! Bill Partis - Daventry, UK
  • Thank you so much website of the week. Recently you told of a new website MILEPORT. It is fantastic for collating all your Frequent Flyer and membership details and seeing at any one time your accounts and balances. You can even log on to your accounts with one click of the mouse via the navigate more tying in your account numbers or password.......its all saved for you. I can thoroughly recommend it. I even had a few queries and the people at MILEPORT were fantastic. There response was ever so quick and helpful. Good One Johnny! Cheers, Vicki Noble - Australia
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