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August 1, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Southern Italy

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Buon giorno from Italy! After my work trip to Club Med Opio in Provence, France, I decided to hop on a flight to Rome for a personal trip to meet up with my best friend, Mike Manna. Mike and I grew up together in Connecticut and his parents have a house in southern Italy. What could be better than hanging out with them in their sleepy little hillside village away from tourists and high prices? Getting there was half the fun and I'll show you how I saved hundreds of dollars traveling within Europe. If you want to join me, then andiamo! If you don't have time to come along for the ride, there's a two-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story. Also, if you want to stay closer to home, be sure to check out David Zuchowski's review of a place I've always wanted to go: Hersheypark, PA. And if you're an armchair traveler, be sure to read Carly Blatt's review of my good travel friend Teresa Rodriguez Williamson's new book for solo women travelers.

You might assume that getting from Nice to Rome should be rather inexpensive since the two cities are only 286 miles away from each other. But surprisingly, flights can be pricey if you don't know where to look. When I first logged on to the big online travel web sites (Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak ... ), the only search results I got were for the major carriers like Alitalia and Air France. Can you believe that these turkeys were charging $729USD for a one-way ticket?! I then put in a return date that I had no intention of using (a week later) and the price dropped to $220USD. Not bad, but it still wasn't good enough. So I logged on to another web site (which you'll find on, yes ... This site offers access to 117 low-fare airlines that serve 125 countries in one, easy-to-use place online. (See my video for step-by-step instructions as I demonstrate how to use the site on my TV travel segment on The Lab with Leo Laporte). As you can see, I was able to save BIG TIME when I found a one-way ticket on Blu-Express (a branch of Blue Panorama Airline) for 49 (about $67USD). Now that's what I'm talking about!

Blue Panorama is based out of Rome and flies 737 and 757 aircrafts. They fly to eight destinations within Europe and many others worldwide, but not to the US. In Nice, they fly in and out of Terminal 1 and offer service to both Rome and Sicily. The Nice airport is ... nice but it's fairly small with just a few shops and a cafe that sells expensive bottled water for 3 (about $4.12USD). Internet access was also expensive at 5 (about $6.87USD) for 30 minutes.

Check-in for Blue Panorama took two minutes and like most low-fare carriers, they enforce baggage weight restrictions. I couldn't find exactly what their baggage requirements are, but pack light. Passengers are shuttled out to the plane by bus and board using both the front and rear exits. There are no assigned seats so it was a free-for-all but fortunately, the plane was only a quarter full. There were plenty of options on this 757-200 series plane. The flight attendants were young, well dressed and spoke English. Flight time was a mere 50 minutes and the seatbelt sign never went off even though the ride was smooth as can be. After takeoff, the flight attendants cruised the aisle selling food, drink and trinkets but I didn't see any takers. The trip was perfect except for the 45 minutes it took to get my checked baggage. I didn't really care though, because I was waiting for my buddy Mike, who was coming in an hour later from NYC.

Waiting for Mike, I felt like I was back in America. All the signs were in English and so were the PA announcements. Not only that, but most of the people walking by me were American including huge groups of high school students. To be honest, it took away much of the mystique of being overseas. While I waited, I watched the few Italians who did come through, kiss and hug their waiting loved ones. It reminded me of the times my parents used to greet me when I stepped off the plane at JFK whenever I came home from college. It was so sweetly nostalgic that I actually felt myself fall into an intense daydream and for a moment, it was like I was waiting for my late mother to come off the plane. Before I knew it, I was practically bawling. Just as the tears started, Mike came through customs and everyone around me must have thought I was crying for him. I'm sure everyone thought we were gay, but actually, it was just really funny. Maybe you had to be there.

Most overseas visitors arrive at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport, though it's still referred to by its original name, Fiumicino. From the airport, the quickest and cheapest way to get to Rome central is by taking the train (Leonardo Express) for 12 (about $16USD). FYI: A taxi ride costs around 45 ($61 USD excluding baggage). The train takes 31 minutes and is easy to find; just follow the signs to Stazione FS/Railway Station. It leaves the airport at 7 and 37 minutes after the hour, from 6:37am until 11:37pm. From station Rome Termini, departures are 22 and 52 minutes after the hour, from 5:52am until 10:52pm. Be sure to buy your ticket in advance and validate it using the yellow machines before getting on the train.

Mike and I each had a Eurail Pass so we didn't need to buy a train ticket. We purchased ours from, which has a variety of passes available including single tickets. If you're going to be traveling by train which I highly recommend since trains in Europe are far superior to those in North America then log on to RailEurope's website and price out your options. Just remember: If you're traveling with a Eurail pass, be sure to have an agent validate it at the station before your first trip. This will be the only time you'll be required to wait in line, IF you make your reservations in advance. Also, be sure to write in the date on your pass before the conductor comes around; otherwise you run the risk of getting a steep fine or having your ticket confiscated. If you know which trains you'll be taking, it's a good idea to book the seats before you leave home. Then you don't have to worry about seats being sold out. To make these arrangements, I recommend and

Once at the Rome Termini, we waited close to an hour for the next train. It was torture just hanging out there knowing that on the other side of the walls was one of the world's greatest cities. But I've been to Rome a few times and besides, I planned to be back in a week or so. After all, I had a rail pass so I could go anywhere I wanted. Mike and I were waiting around for quite a while, like a couple of fools, before we decided to look at the train schedule more closely. It was then that we realized that the intercity Napoli train we were waiting for, required a reservation something neither of us had made. We ran to the ticket counter only to find the line about 45 minutes deep; NOT an option. We stopped a passing off-duty conductor who informed us that we'd have to pay an extra 8 (about $11USD) penalty on top of the 5 reservation fee. That wasn't as bad as we had expected; when the real conductor came around, we were polite and played dumb ... and he let us slide. That made the three hour, fifteen minute train ride to Vallo della Lucania that much sweeter.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Nice Airport




Blue Panorama




Flight To Roma


About To Land


To Train Station


Ticket Counter


Eurail Pass


Leonardo Express


Validate Machines


Train To Vallo


First Class


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