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JANUARY 5, 2005

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET ?                                            SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
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Happy New Year! I spent the holidays in a few different places, but I will tell you about that later. For now let’s finish up where I left off last week: in the Sydney Kingsford Airport, with no reservations and a completely sold-out city. Before I threw in the towel and walked over to the International Terminal to go to sleep for the night with all the other knuckleheads who hadn’t made reservations, I remembered that a friend of a friend worked at the Four Seasons Sydney. I called the assistant manager, told him my predicament and started name dropping like I was at a Hollywood party. When he said he could squeeze me in, I was so excited -- until I heard the price. He quoted $450 ($343 USD) for a standard room. I said, "Hold on cowboy, my name is Johnny Jet, not Johnny Rockereller." (He didn’t think that was funny). It took more sweet talking, but eventually I got the price down to something I could afford (barely).

I was relieved I had a place to sleep (and a plush one at that). I hopped in a taxi and jetted to the Four Seasons. The 15-minute drive cost $28 ($22 USD). Immediately, I experienced what separates the Four Seasons from all the rest: service. Before I could even get out of the taxi, the bellman had my bags and addressed me as "Mr. Jet." I thought the general manager had alerted him, until I heard a bellman also address the arriving guest behind me. I asked, "How do you know everyone’s name?" He whispered, "It’s our little secret -- but you see, Mr. Jet, everyone has his name written on his bag tag." I thought: How smart you are, and how dumb I am.

Guests walking in or out of the entrance guests never have to open a door. There is always at least one doorman waiting – with white gloves -- to do the honors. After plopping my credit card down, I took the speedy elevator to the 17th floor, and opened the door to my standard room. I was a little disappointed. Actually, I was shocked that my room was small and dark. I said to the bellman, "Damn, is this what 450 bills gets you?" Looking back in all fairness, the room was not that bad; it just was not a typical Four Seasons room. I should also mention that they were squeezing me in, because the hotel was sold out. This was probably their worst room out of 531. (FYI: 531 rooms makes this the largest Four Seasons hotel in the world.)

To brighten the room I turned on all the lights and opened the curtains. That did make things a bit cheerier. Before I got ready for bed I took a stroll around the heart of the Sydney to see the magnificent city all lit up. The hotel is in a perfect location. Half a block straight out the door is Circular Quay (where all the ferries, buses and trains depart from), while half a block to the left is the entrance to the Rocks (the historic section of town). The Opera House is just a 5-minute walk; so is the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It was Saturday, and everyone was out enjoying a perfect balmy night. I talked to a few girls after they asked me to snap a photo. They invited me to join them for dessert. Naturally, I couldn’t say no. We each ordered a different treat, from sorbet to tiramisu, and passed them around. The sweets were okay, but the views from the Portobello Caffe were breathtaking. We were just meters away from the Opera House, and across the harbour from the bridge. It was one of the best views in the world -- but then again, in my opinion there is no prettier harbor on the planet. Portobello Caffe, No. 3 East Circular Quay; tel.: 61 2 9247 8548.

I went back to my room, took a hot shower, and logged on to the internet. Yeah! Every room has high- speed -- and it’s not that expensive ($20 AUD -- $15.50 USD) for 24 hours. I checked my emails, and the arrival time of my sister Georgette’s flight. She was coming in from the States the next morning. What was also great about the hotel was that they offered free shoe shines. Mine came back packaged so nice, I didn’t want to unwrap them. And the bed was so comfortable, I fell asleep with my computer on my lap. (The Four Seasons will sell the entire bed -- just ask at the front desk for details. Prices range from $1200 to $1800 USD). Four Seasons Sydney, 199 George Street; Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia; tel.: 61 (2) 9238-0000.

I woke up refreshed, but had mixed feelings about spending the week in Australia with Georgette. To give you a little background: She is my eldest sibling, and we used to talk on the phone only once or twice a month. In the late ‘90s, I traveled to Denmark and Paris with Georgette, my brother and my mom. After that trip I swore I would never travel with her again, because we just didn’t get along.

Georgette used to live in Australia, when she was engaged to an Australian. But that fell through 16 years ago, and she never went back. For years Georgette has desperately wanted to go back to see her friends and the country, but her husband Cam is not a big fan of long flights -- and she hadn't traveled alone in years. Whenever Georgette hears that I went to Australia, she gets upset and asks why I didn’t invite her. That leads to big fights, because I remind her I don’t travel with her anymore.

The way this trip happened was remarkable. Because I was scheduled to go to Fiji for two weeks for work, I figured it would be a shame not to go to Australia too. It’s one of my favorite countries, and is only four hours from Fiji. My buddy Andy agreed to meet me in Sydney, but he flaked the day before I left the States. I was bummed, because I didn’t want to go alone. I called everyone I knew -- except Georgette (I know, I’m mean). When they all said they couldn’t swing it, I was ready to cancel the Australia leg of my trip. Then my mom must’ve come through to me, because just before I picked up the phone to cancel my ticket, I thought it would be wrong not to at least ask Georgette. I was sure she would said no, because it was such a last- minute request. But she found an inexpensive flight (through Johnny Jet.com, of course), and booked the ticket. I was shocked.

I still wasn’t convinced she would actually get on the plane, because flying from New York to Sydney (via Los Angeles) alone -- and in coach -- is a huge accomplishment. For someone who has been married for so long and rarely travels without her husband, it’s even tougher. I hear so many stories of people who stop traveling because their spouses don’t like to. That’s a shame. So when Georgette walked through the door, I was very proud of her. In fact, I almost cried. I was so happy for her. She actually glowed and looked like a new person. We got along great the whole time – well, almost.

In the beginning she wasn’t too happy with my method of beating jet lag, but she trusted me. You should understand that Georgette is one of those people who used to be badly affected by jet lag (she used to say she got jet lagged traveling from New York to Florida, which I didn’t know was possible). When she arrived at 9 a.m. local time in Sydney, she said she was tired because she hadn’t slept much on the plane. I said "no naps" (I admit that’s easier said than done). I told her the secret to combating jet lag is to get on local time immediately, and not go to sleep until 10 or 11 that night. Because jet lag’s kryptonite is sunlight, the first thing we did was take a walk outside around the Rocks. We then had an early lunch at Wok On Inn (an inexpensive chain that serves up tasty Asian cuisine).

When we got back to the hotel and she started looking real tired. I made her swim in the third-floor outdoor pool. (The pool is nice, but it definitely needs a makeover.) When Georgette started dozing off under the umbrella (it was 95 degrees outside), I dragged her into the hotel’s awesome spa and workout room. Both places looked brand new, and had all the machines a person needs to get in shape. After that we grabbed our bathing suits and took a $20AUD ($15.50 USD) taxi. We went to one of the world’s most famous beaches, Bondi. Although it was packed, the water was a bit chilly for us. So instead of swimming, we walked along the beach and checked out one of the best places to meet friends on a sunny late afternoon: Icebergs swim club and bar, 1 Notts Ave., Bondi NSW 2026; tel.: (02) 9130 3120. By the way: Did you know the first official day of summer Down Under is December 1? Ain’t that a trip?!

We got back at 8 p.m., and were starving. We had dinner in the hotel, at Kables restaurant. We were excited that Georgette had made it through the entire day, and was rewarded by not getting tired when she shouldn’t be.

The next morning I woke up at 5:30, and tried to sneak out for a walk to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair (Her husband was an early 19th-century governor, and he had the chair carved into the point so she could enjoy the panoramic views) before the sun came up. Georgette heard me tiptoeing through the room. I told her the short walk (maybe a mile) before the sun rises is amazing. Hardly anyone is out, and you feel you’ve got the spectacular views of the city all to yourself. (To get to Mrs. Macquarie's chair, just walk past the Opera House and follow the signs; it’s near the botanical gardens. The gates don’t open officially until 6 a.m., but sometimes they open earlier -- as they did when we were there.) After watching the sun warm the Opera House (Did you know that the Opera House has over a million of these tiles) and Harbour Bridge we walked back through the Royal Botanical Gardens, one of the nicest parks in the world. The highlight is watching the thousands of bats -- I’m talking big ol’ flying fruit fox bats -- that are very visible hanging from the trees during the day. Since this was my first visit to Australia in December, I didn’t realize that this time of year brings so many flies to Sydney. They were everywhere. Now I understand the joke: What’s the Australian salute? (A wave in front of the face, shooing away the annoying flies).

When we got back to our room the hotel manager called. He said that a better room had just opened up, and he wanted to move us. We were put into a junior suite (thanks to a phone call by a friend). It had a lot more space, a beautiful bathroom and the best views in Sydney. Period. Check this out. This is what is it looked like during the day, evening, and night. Is that sick or what? They even sent us berries and cream as a welcome. Best of all, we now had access to the concierge floor . That meant free food and drinks. For breakfast we had a full-on buffet; in the evening, canapés and drinks. The service up there was one notch higher than the rest of the hotel, if that’s possible (Guests can upgrade for use of the concierge floor). The hotel business center is also located on the top floor, and this hotel is the business traveler’s favorite. In fact, their number one guests are business travelers (though they have plenty of leisure travelers as well). I met a few Australian business travelers in the elevator, and they just proved to me that Australians are the coolest. You can go up to anyone -- even on the street -- and ask for advice or directions. You’ll leave with a whole new itinerary of the best places to go.

One afternoon Georgette and I took a 15-minute walk to Wooloomooloo. This is where the hip W hotel is located, and the world-famous Harry’s Pies. Of course I had to get one, even though I wasn’t even hungry. But they are soooo cheap and tasty. Harry's Cafe de Wheels, Cowper Wharf Road, Wooloomooloo, Sydney 2011; tel.: (02) 9357 3074.

Afterwards we went back to Circular Quay, and hopped on one of the great harbor ferries for a 30- minute ride on the calm waters out to Manly Beach. We walked around the beach and the shops. The greatest thing I spotted there were these beach lockers available for rent. What a clever idea, huh? The worst thing was that the Australian beaches were filled with litter. If I were a policeman (or lifeguard), I would walk up and down the beach and give the litterbugs a fine so big they would never do it again.

Every morning Georgette and I got up early, and took a long walk. We went all different directions, including across the bridge to check out the amusement park and some café’s. If you’re not afraid of heights, the best thing to do in Sydney is the Bridge Climb. Warning: It takes about 3 hours, you have to pass a breathalyzer test (no drunks allowed), and it costs $160 AUD ($125 USD).

Speaking of things to do: I took a spin on the Oz Jet Boat. I figured it was the perfect activity, because it was so hot out (40C, which is 104F – it seriously felt like a sauna). I spotted the catchy sign as I was walking in Circular Quay, so I stopped and asked. They have two boats: a large 23-seater and a small 12-seater. It cost $50 AUD ($38 USD) for a 30-minute ride. The large boat wasn’t available, so I settled for the small one. Before we got on, I was informed that the driest spot was in the front, and the wettest in back. When I took my seat in the front I asked the friendly Aussie bloke how fast that sucker went. In his thick accent he said, "Not very fast mate, only 70 kilometers. But it turns like it’s on rails." That was twice as fast as I thought the thing would go, and I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. Then I thought, It can’t be that bad because all I had to do was sign a roster sheet, not a contract. But the moment the driver put it in gear, I knew I had made a BIG mistake. As I was thinking I could just sneak out, down came a bar in front of each passenger (to hold on to). Then the driver made an incredible 270o spin, and my head jerked as if I were in the space shuttle on takeoff. It was too late -- we were already off. I was just thankful I hadn’t dragged Georgette along. She hates these kind of rides more than I do -- if that’s possible.

While we were observing the "slow wake zone," I asked the driver if the other boat owners liked his operation. He said nonchalantly, "No. In fact, everyone hates us." This boat ride definitely wasn’t for me -- I hate roller coasters and all similar rides. We rode or jumped all the wakes of the boats in the harbor. The people sitting in the back were completely soaked. I had my share of dousing too. But it was so hot and we were going so fast that after getting my head completely soaked, within 10 seconds I was dry. We zigged and zagged all around the harbor, all the way down to Watson’s Bay and back. The scenery was beautiful. However, I swallowed so many heaps of salt water that I looked like a dog after eating peanut butter (I couldn’t stop linking my lips). When we landed I felt like kissing the dock, but I was so motion sick I could hardly walk. However, I asked a few other passengers how they liked it, and they said they loved it -- so don’t judge it by my experience alone. When I got back to the hotel, Thomas the doorman knew I needed a glass of water, so he immediately handed me cold bottle. He asked where I had been. I told him I had just taken the Jet Boat. He said, "How’s the gut, mate?" I said "Not good," and wobbled up to my room. Oz Jet Boating, Sydney Harbour; tel.: 61 2 9808 3700.

After a little nap it was time to meet up with Georgette’s long-lost friends. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. We had dinner at the 18 Footer Club in Double Bay (we took another ferry to get there). Membership is required, so you either need to know a member, or join for $450 AUD ($350 USD). Dinner was good, but what was even better was watching everyone pick up their friendship as if they had just seen each other the day before.

I was able to catch up with my friends Kristine and Damien as well. We ate one night at a restaurant that not only anyone can go to, but it’s probably also the cheapest place in Sydney for dinner: Zia Pina Pizzeria. We ate (what else?) pizza. $9AUD small, $15 large. By the way, their pizza is not very good. Zia Pina Pizzeria, 93 George St., The Rocks; tel.: 9247-2255.

Next week I’ll tell you about my trip home, but let me say that when Georgette landed in L.A. and I asked her how the trip was, she said it had been a piece of cake! That made me feel great. So did the fact that my sister and I became closer due to the trip. Also, she now knows she can travel by herself. She says she’ll go to places she used to only dream of -- with or without her husband (you go girl!). She not only flew by herself to and from Australia – she actually stayed longer than I did, and took a last-minute solo trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock). Now that we’re back in the U.S., we’ve been talking nearly every day. Is that awesome or what? Personally, I think she should change her name to GeorgeJet!

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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

Pictures From

The Trip


Welcome To the
Four Seasons Sydney


Four Seasons Sydney


Standard Room



Sydney Harbour Bridge


My Sister Georgette



Hotel Pool



Bondi Beach






Dessert at Kables


View from Mrs. Macquarie's Chair




Upgraded Room


View From Room


Sydney Skyline


Jet Boat Ride


Got Soaked




Double Bay


Georgette's Friends



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  • Had a fantastic time with you! Thanks so much for taking the risk to invite me along. I hope our wonderful time together has laid to rest your myth that we don't get along. It was great getting to know you again, as the level headed, independent, creative and loving man you have become. Not to mention entrepreneurial. I had a great time and am looking forward to traveling again with you in the not-too-distant future. Georgette
  • Aloha! Thanks so much for the wotif.com tip! We're traveling to Australia and New Zealand in February and March and hope you will continue your journey over to New Zealand so that we can all have your dynamite insights into kiwiland! Your newsletters are the greatest! Linda from Kailua, Hawaii.
  • I liked this week's newsletter. Just got back from Australia so I find it interesting. I bet you were in SYD on 12/11. Marilyn Knox - Omaha, NE
  • I liked your story today! JD – Huntington Beach, CA
  • I subscribe to your newsletter and enjoy reading them very much! Thanks so much Johnny! --Marty
  • I've been reading your newsletter for months and I really appreciate the information, your opinions, and all of the photos of places near and far. My husband and I needed to get to Florida for a weekend. I normally drag him all the way to Long Beach to fly on my preferred discount airline Jet Blue. After reading about Delta Song in your newsletter, I convinced him that we should give Song a chance. We love them! We've flown with them twice out of LAX in the past month and are completely happy. Thank you for helping us find them. Heidi Scott, Culver City, CA
  • Your stories are as great as ever, although I must admit I miss having Amber Airplane as part of your travel dialogue. Keep traveling and help keep us informed about the earthquake in Sumatra. I know you’ve been to Singapore this year and must, as I do, feel compassion for all those affected by the tidal waves. Life is short and oh so very sweet. I enjoy "traveling" with you on all your journeys. Geof O’Connor- Richmond
  • Johnny... I hope you took your sister to that great epicurean restaurant in Woolloomooloo, Harry's Cafe de Wheels for a "Pie & Peas!" http://www.harryscafedewheels.com/ As you know, it's as world famous in Sydney as Pink's Hot Dogs is here in L. A.! In fact, I've seen a photo of you chowing down at Harry's. Keep up the great work! Phil - California
  • Great!! Can't wait to see where you slept in Sydney. I just came back from there in Oct. Of course, we had our reservations for a few weeks. Great city and country!!! Love it and can't wait to go back for my 3rd trip. Ann Jost - Copperas Cove, TX
  • Great one Johnny Jet! Boy it looks like you just missed that quake! Hope all is well down under. Matt- Washington
  • Don't usually respond -but your letter this week is fabulous. Enjoy your writings weekly - keep up the good work! S. Murdoch
  • Great web site and very down-to-earth and informative - wish the hell that I could travel as much and check it all out myself. Nick Tetlow - Santa Rosa CA
  • I’ve enjoyed reading your newsletter and visiting your site for some time. Jim Johnson - Chattanooga, TN

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2004: The year in review
This year, financial problems plagued the airlines, high fuel prices made travel more expensive, and travel providers tried new tactics to win customers in a competitive market. From the airlines to the cruise lines, here's a run down of the top news and trends reported by SmarterLiving.com in 2004: Click Here To Read Article

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