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Greetings from Chicago (well, I’m almost out the door to the airport). For all of our Chicago-area subscribers, I’ll do my regular travel segment this evening (Wednesday, February 2) on WTTW’s "Chicago Tonight" (channel 11) at 7 p.m.
Last week we left off in sunny Delray Beach, Florida. From there I jumped on Tri-Rail, and took the double-decker train down to Fort Lauderdale International Airport (airport code FLL). The ride from Delray took only 45 minutes and cost just $5. When we arrived there was a bus waiting to take passengers to the airport (just like at Miami and West Palm Beach Airports). The ride takes 5 minutes, and is free. When I fly between South Florida and Los Angeles I prefer FLL. It’s usually cheaper than Miami International Airport (MIA, which is only 26 miles away) and only three airlines (Jetblue, Song and American) offer nonstop service. Although West Palm Beach Airport (PBI) is only 15 minutes from Delray Beach, it does not offer nonstop service to or from Los Angeles. Tri-Rail. tel.: (800) TRI-RAIL (874-7245).
Unfortunately I was flying Continental (I had a credit I needed to use), which meant I had to stop at one of their hubs. I wasn’t that upset, however, because I got to layover in Houston, and see their brand new terminal. It’s pretty cool design with a countless amount of TV monitors wraped around it. Fortunately, my gate was near one of Continental’s President’s Club lounges. I found a seat near the entrance, and picked up a free wireless signal on my laptop. Yeah baby! Continental Airlines, tel: 800-525-0280
Back in L.A. for the first time in the new year, I decided to try to get in shape and eat right. I love peanut butter, so instead of eating popular brands like Jif and Skippy that contain hydrogenated oils, I tried Laura Scudder’s all-natural brand. BIG mistake! I discovered I like it even more than the others – and I ate a whole jar in two days. To make matters worse, as I did some curls with my 75 (okay, more like 20) pound weights, staring into oblivion, I spotted some chocolate candy bars on top of the fridge. Yep, you guessed it. I am probably the first person in the world ever to do curls, and in between sets mow down chocolate bars dipped in peanut butter. I need help!
Speaking of food, back in California I went to a bunch of great restaurants. Two were with my buddy Mike Freed from Passport Resorts. For breakfast we hit Hotel Bel Air, along with famous photographer Robert Ketchum. Hotel Bel Air is not cheap (as you may have guessed from the name), but the service and food are top notch. I had French toast with fresh berries, and it was tasty! Hotel Bel Air, 701 Stone Canyon Rd., Los Angeles; tel.: (310) 472-1211.
Mike and I also went to a French restaurant, La Cachette. This elegant, hidden masterpiece looks like a cottage from the outside, but on the inside it’s filled with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. We were there for dinner with owner/chef Jean Francois Meteigner. Unfortunately I am a finicky eater, but when he asked what we don’t like, I couldn’t say a word. Mike replied, "Nothing! Make whatever you feel like cooking." I said, "How about the roasted Bartlett pear with melted gorgonzola and baby arugula sprinkled with a reduced balsamic and spiced wine dressing for starters. For my entrée, the roasted black Angus filet of beef topped with a shallot melt, served with baby frisee, puff potatoes and a roasted garlic jus." Here’s my secret: I checked out the menu online, in advance. I’m no food critic, but I know what my palate likes -- and it loved these exquisite dishes. What sets this restaurant apart from other French restaurants is that Jean Francois doesn’t use butter or heavy cream when he cooks. Everything is organic, light, simple and deeeelicious! Don’t leave without indulging on some of their desserts. La Cachette Restaurant, 10506 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; tel.: (310) 470-4992.
Since we have been visiting nothing but the best, why stop there? I had the pleasure of getting a massage ($95 for an hour) at Burke Williams in Santa Monica the other day. Once I found their small sign for the parking garage ($10 for valet), I took the elevator up to their little oasis. I received a locker key and, after a short familiarization tour, was escorted to the men’s spa. I quickly stripped down to my birthday suit, and donned a robe and slippers. I strutted over to the coed holding area. It looked like a giant elegant living room, with a bunch of beautiful women in robes reading magazines. There was only one other guy there (with his girlfriend). I suddenly felt like Hugh Heffner (without the attention).
When my name was called quickly, I was a little upset -- until I felt the smooth, firm hands of my female masseuse. It felt soooo good that when my drool woke me out of my coma, I thought the session was over. Luckily, she said I still had 15 minutes! I muttered, "This is like peeking at the clock in the middle of the night and discovering you still have another few hours to sleep." I’m sure she felt the opposite — like she was back in high school, staring at the old wall clock.
The best part about Burke Williams is not just the massage; it’s the whole experience. Everyone is encouraged to spend the day relaxing. They have comfortable chairs inside and out. There is plenty of reading material (mostly geared toward women), and pitchers of ice-cold water with slices of oranges, lemons and cucumber everywhere. I know cucumber and lemon sounds weird, but it was an amazing combination. There are also big bowls of fresh fruit all over the place. The décor in the men’s spa felt like a Roman bathhouse. I enjoyed the enormous whirlpool, steam room, sauna and cold rinse all to myself, because the men’s spa was empty. I also loved the fact that cell phones aren’t allowed – that’s something for this town. Burke Williams Santa Monica, 1358 4th St., Santa Monica, CA; tel.: 310-966-4098. (It’s 15 minutes – without traffic - from LAX)
This past weekend I attended the Los Angeles Times Travel Show. I think it’s the best travel show in the country, because of their expert panelists. Four years ago I went as a fan, just to listen to the travel professionals who fly in from all over the world. I remember a session with travel guru Rudy Maxa (from the "Savvy Traveler" radio show, and "Smart Travels: Europe" TV show) I thought how great this was, and imagined how cool it would be for me to get on a panel like that. Well, believe it or not, this marked my third year in a row as an LA Times panelist. Look at all the people who came to hear me speak! Just kidding -- that picture was taken at the Queen Mary (which I will get to in a minute). My session, like most, was packed. I’m sure it was because of my colleagues: Michael Shapiro, who recently published "A Sense of Place"), Paris-based LA Times writer Susan Spano, and Rudy Maxa himself. Too cool, huh?
It gets even better, though. I not only met and hung out with my fellow panelists, but other crème de la crème travel aces as well. There are too many to list, but I spent the most time with Amanda Jones (she writes/takes pictures for all the major newspapers and travel magazines), Doug Lansky (he lives in Stockholm and has been to over 120 countries), Peter Greenberg (NBC "Today Show" and the Travel Channel), Don George (Lonely Planet Guides), and Rick Steves (guidebooks and "Europe Through the Back Door"). To my surprise, he came up to me after my panel and said, "Johnny Jet, we finally meet." He said the nicest things about me -- if my mom and dad had been there, I’m sure they would have shed a few tears. After hearing Rick Steves talk, I bought his guidebook. Later, all the speakers went to dinner at the host Hyatt hotel. Some of us stayed until after 1 a.m. I busted out my Rick Steves book and he happily signed it. Then he told me I was in the book -- sure enough, JohnnyJet.com is listed twice. How awesome is that?
The next morning I walked over to the Queen Mary with Amanda, Doug and Michael for Sunday brunch. We were going to go to the main buffet in the Salon Room, but realized we weren’t especially hungry and didn’t want to wait for a table (reservations are a good idea). So instead of spending $32 and stuffing ourselves silly, we walked up four flights of stairs to the Observation Bar for a much smaller (scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon, fruit, muffins and cereal) and cheaper ($10) breakfast buffet. The food wasn’t too good, but it was a gorgeous day. Seeing the snow-capped mountains behind the Long Beach skyline was quite something. We had fun hanging out. Long Beach has really cleaned itself up, and made an incredible improvement. However, the city needs to finish the job by removing garbage (mostly plastic bags) from the water. Not only is it dangerous for wildlife, but it’s disturbing to humans. Check out this plastic doll we spotted walking back. The Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach, CA; tel.: (562) 435-3511.
Another Long Beach restaurant I tried was Tequila Jack’s. They serve good Mexican cuisine. My favorite is the salsa bar (for their chips), but what made the night special was hanging out one-on-one with my brother’s friend Pete Deleo. He was in town on a national book tour for "Survive," published by Simon & Schuster. It’s about how Pete and two friends set out on a sightseeing trip in the Sierra Nevadas in a single-engine plane. They crashed into a snowy ravine, yet Pete survived for nearly two weeks in zero- degree weather and five feet of snow, without food or supplies but with 16 broken bones. It took him 12 days to hike 45 miles. It’s a truly remarkable story. No wonder he is getting huge press. I listened to tale after tale out on the deck at Tequila Jack’s. Pete wanted to sit outside. I didn’t, because it was freezing to me (55 degrees, with a light breeze). There was only one other table taken out there, and both those dudes wore winter jackets and ski hats. With only a light jacket, I sat under the heat lamp all bundled up, listening to Pete in astonishment. I tried not to let him see me shivering, because he wore a short-sleeve shirt and had his jacket draped on the back of his chair. I had to stop drinking my soda, because I spilled it from my uncontrollable shakes. While Pete told me his survival story he was right up in my face, and said "You know what I mean, right?" after almost every sentence. I constantly shook my head yes, but I didn’t have the faintest idea. I am such a wuss. Tequila Jack's, 407 Shoreline Village Dr., Long Beach, CA; tel.: (562) 628-0454.
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Think outside the beach: Exciting alternative spring break destinations |
Bored with the beach? Tired of the same old party scene? That precious week of freedom from the academic grind can also be used to explore the rest of the world. Here are three destinations that offer interesting sights, outstanding cultural institutions, great restaurants, and nightlife to rival Daytona or South Padre. It's time to think outside the beach. Click Here To Read Article
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