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April 6, 2005


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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET ?                                                LAX to Italy (via Newark)

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Buongiorno! And, for the many of you who guessed last week’s destination clue correctly: molto bene! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I just said “hello” and “very good” in Italian. (You can learn more Italian with Berlitz or Fodor’s). This newsletter indeed comes to you from Turin, Italy. However, because Italians spell this fascinating city “Torino,” we’ll do so too. I prefer the Italian language anyway -- probably because my paternal grandparents immigrated from here in the early 1920s.

I am in Italy because thanks to an invitation to join an incredible press trip from Pamela Johnston of PJinc. Her PR company represents the Piemonte Region. These days I get invited on so many media trips, I am fortunate to pick where I want to go. When this one crossed my desk (okay, my laptop), I immediately said “si!” How could I not? Soon, you’ll see why for yourselves.

Don’t get me wrong: Not all my trips are sponsored. Actually, only a small percentage are, because I like to travel on my own. But I do realize the value of these trips. They give me the opportunity to not only see parts of the world I normally could not (or afford), but allow me to meet other cool travel writers as well. I also understand that on press trips everything is set up for us, so it’s important to always go out of our little bubble. I either check out other areas on my own, or privately interview hotel guests, other visitors and locals to get their impressions. I have to be certain that what I’m experiencing is the real deal.

Before I took off I read a bit about the Piemonte region (though not too much, because I hate going places with preconceived opinions). I learned that Piemonte is Italy’s second largest region (Sicily is the first). Piemonte is located in the northwest corner of the country, and shares the Alps with neighboring Switzerland and France. The land is roughly equally divided between plains, hills and mountains.

The capital of Piemonte, Torino, is Italy’s fourth largest city (behind, in order, Roma, Milano and Napoli). Torino is also the birthplace of Italian industry. As the seat of the Savoy kings, it was Italy’s first capital (before it moved to Firenze, then Roma). “The House of Savoy was a dynasty of nobles who traditionally had their domain in Savoy, a region between Piedmont, Italy, France and French-speaking Switzerland.” To read more about the Savoy kings, click here. Because of the Savoy kings there are castles everywhere, making the region look like a fairy tale.

I learned too that people here love their food -- and it’s quite different from what most Italian restaurants in America serve. For details about that: Read on!

Flying into Torino from the U.S. requires a change of planes. The Torino airport is small. However, it’s just 16 miles from downtown, and offers flights to and from most major European capitals and all major Italian cities. Seventeen airlines operate over 450 weekly departures to 25 destinations (15 are international). If you’d rather not change planes and live near a major hub, you can do what I did: fly into a nearby major airport and drive to Torino. The closest is Milano’s Malpensa (not Linate – that’s Milan’s domestic airport). Malpensa is 138 Kilometers (85 miles) away, about a 90-minute drive. The other major airports are Geneva (a 2 ½-hour drive) and Zurich (4 hours). More info on getting to Torino.

Unfortunately there are no non-stops from L.A. to Milano, so I flew to Newark Liberty Airport. You probably guessed I was on Continental -- they practically own Newark, with 63 percent of all passengers. My 2,450-mile LAX-EWR flight was a breeze. We not only landed 30 minutes early but I was on a wide body plane (767-200 series), chilling in Business First class (This ticket cost only $2,700 on CheapDutchGuy.com). Yeah baby, I did the moon walk! My cool businessman seatmate and I enjoyed a breakfast of tasty French toast, fruit and pastries (like I needed the gooey cinnamon rolls). I was surprised to see real silverware -- including a metal knife. It felt like the good old days.

After we landed I had 90 minutes before my connection -- just the amount of time I needed to check email. I went to one of Continental’s 3 Presidents Clubs. (Annual memberships cost $375; day passes are available for $45, while international travelers on a paid Business First ticket get in free). I used the Presidents Club across from gate C74, which happened to be the gate for my next flight (how convenient!). This club is huge; high glass windows all around allow users to see the runway on one side, or watch people at the food court below. The clubroom was packed, but I found a comfortable lounge chair, sampled free snacks, and most importantly logged on to the wireless internet… for free. Now that’s what travel should be like!

Just before I boarded the plane, I reverted back for a quick moment to the days when I was afraid to fly. As I thought about making another long international flight, I saw a plane coming in to land. I love to plane-watch, and when it got closer I realized it was SQ22 --Singapore Airlines’ flight 22 coming in from (of course) Singapore. At 18 ½ hours, it’s the longest flight in the world. I was on that bad boy back in June, for its inaugural flight. Seeing that monster bird made me realize if I could do that flight, I can do any. Instantly my upcoming 4,003-mile, 7-hour, 18-minute flight I became easier than a Sunday drive.

I lucked out again in Business First -- and was especially happy to be one of only two people (out of 25) to have an adjoining empty seat. You gotta love the extra space! That made the flight truly comfortable. On top of that, the people in front of me didn’t even recline their seats. I had so much room it was crazy. I could have had a party in my row. In fact, I really should have, because the girls in coach were HOT! But because of the security rules only flight attendants are allowed to move between cabins. So I just waved at the hotties through the see- through curtain.

My biggest problem with Continental is the pre-announcement video from the CEO. It has to go. Something about his smirk bugs me (and everyone else I spoke to, including flight attendants). However, Continental does show some great info on the overhead monitors, including neat info on takeoff and landing that other airlines do not. Continental shows the distance to nearby cities, so I knew we flew right over my hometown of Norwalk, Connecticut. I almost called my friends to run outside and wave, but I was afraid of both the phone bill and the fact that they would think I was a freak. The in-flight map stays on the entire flight, because every seat in Business First has its own video system, including four movie options, video games, and other entertainment programming.

Another huge bonus for flying up front is that Continental’s electric outlets enable passengers with special laptop airplane power adapters (which can be purchased online, or even sometimes on the plane from Duty-Free) to work as long as they want. That’s what I did, even while I was being fed course after course. The meal service began with drinks and warm mixed nuts. Flight attendants then came around with cloth placemats and plastic ware (I wondered why international passengers get plastic, while domestic get metal).

Then came a bunch of appetizers: smoked Alaskan salmon, prosciutto with melon, and three types of pasta: ravioli with feta cheese and olives, vegetable lasagna with goat cheese, and trofie pasta with pesto sauce, grilled portobello mushrooms and pine nuts. There were four dinner choices: lamb, herbed chicken, halibut or chilled grilled chicken. I had the herbed breast of chicken, served over Italian couscous. Of course I told myself that when the dessert tray made its way down the aisle I would sadly decline, but after seeing the passenger across the aisle get a vanilla ice cream sundae covered in extra hot caramel sauce and strawberries, I had no choice but to take one myself -- and a fresh fruit plate, for my guilty conscience.

After throwing that bad boy down the chute, I fell into a food coma sleep for a couple of hours. Even though I had ear plugs in and an eye mask on, I woke up as the sun rose. I don’t have a crazy internal clock; I just can’t sleep more than a couple of hours on a plane. I glanced at the map on the monitor, and saw we were just making our way over Ireland. I sat up and waved at the lights below, because it was St. Patrick’s Day. I knew those Irishmen would have fun that day.

A couple of hours later -- after a small breakfast of fruit and more pastries -- we were flying over the Alps, getting ready to land in Milano. When the flight attendant made an announcement that we didn’t need any forms, I thought I would wake up back in bed in California, and the whole flight would be a dream. But it wasn’t – phew! Now if Italy doesn’t have the best entry policy for visitors, please tell me who does? How great is it to land in a foreign country and not have to fill out any of those dumb customs forms? All travelers need is a valid passport. Bravo Italia!

I had not checked any bags, so soon near the exit I saw a well-dressed man holding a sign with my name (and those of two other travel writers). I was the first to arrive from our group. The driver, Franco, did not speak a word of English. I know only a few words of Italian (mostly swears), so it was not a good scene. I kept thinking I was saying something friendly, but from Franco’s expression I realized I’d better keep my mouth shut or I would end up in his trunk. I resorted to sign language -- and not the sophisticated kind hearing-impaired people use. I’m talking gorilla sign language, which everybody understands whether they realize it or not. For instance, Franco knew I needed to use the restroom when I pointed down the hall, then to my crotch. When I returned I rubbed my thumb on my index finger, and Franco pointed me to an ATM. I got mugged there -- not by a bunch of goons with knives, but by the exchange rate. One euro equaled $1.29 USD. Ouch!

The other two journalists arrived, and turned out to be really cool. Fran Golden was from the Boston Herald, while Ken Kiesnoski writes for Travel Weekly. Later that day Manos and Barbara Angelakis from LuxuryWeb.com joined us, completing our small group. The drive to Torino was nothing like I expected. I thought we would take curving roads over huge, snow-capped mountains. Instead the route was easy and flat, and it did take only 90 minutes. I was relieved to find the city is only 941 feet above sea level. I thought would be at high elevation. I have asthma, so that would have made breathing difficult.

When we reached the outskirts of Torino, the city did not look particularly attractive. I started to worry that it would be just like the American cities it was once compared to: Pittsburgh and Detroit. All three were once home to many factories and automobile companies. However, manufacturing has hit tough times, and many factories have moved from Torino to places where labor is cheaper. However, popular cars are still made here. The biggest is Fiat (which stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, not Fix It Again Tony). Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Lancia also have a presence here. If you love cars, you should check out the Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia National Car Museum. Great exhibits highlight the better days of Torino's automotive industry.

The closer we got to downtown, however, the nicer Torino became. I loved the Baroque architecture, and charm of the town. We arrived at the 4-star Grand Hotel Sitea. From the outside it didn’t look especially grand. Even the entrance and lobby were nothing special. But upstairs is where the hotel got its name. Even before I walked in to Room 222, I could tell it would be nice. The hallway was beautiful, and the huge, heavy mahogany room doors had ornate brass finishings. My junior suite really was sweet. The king-size bed, high thread count sheets, oak desk, stocked mini-bar and wall - to-wall marble bathroom with fine toiletries were all top-notch. My view was of a cute courtyard. I was so stoked, I felt like jumping up and down on the couch in excitement. Hey: I was in Italy! Grand Hotel Sitea, Via Carlo Alberto, 35, 10123 Turin Italy; tel.: +39-011-51-70-171; fax +39-011-54-80-90; e-mail: sitea@thi.it. (Rates begin at $245 USD a night).

Join us next week, for a tour of the city of Torino and the Piedmont region. Ciao!

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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

Pictures From LAX to Italy


Continental Plane





Landing in Newark


President's Club

EWR Food Court

Plane to Italy


Flight Path


Flew Over Norwalk

JJ on Plane



Over Ireland

The Alps

Milano Airport


Fran and Ken


My Bed

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  • You're going to Torino, Italy. Have fun! Joe S - Düsseldorf, Germany
  • I am soooo jealous that you went to Italy!!! I'm going, but not until the end of next month. Oh, how I hate you...NOT. Just a little jealous ;) Elle - Northern California.
  • I LOVED the idea of looking at a departure screen, and deciding where I want to go. Way to go! So--were you in Turin? I think that's where the winter Olympics will be? How did you get into CO Business First? Theo - South Africa
  • I immediately checked out AA, return LAX to SJO, prices are looking good, thanks for the scoop. Maureen Z - La Jolla, CA
  • JJ. We were just in MA over the New Year for a vacation with adult children and friends and stayed at La Posada Jungle Bungalows, a block off the MA beach and right up against the park. I highly recommend it. A deer comes out of the park to help you with breakfast by the pool each morning. It was just opened last year by an expat from Madison, Indiana, Janie : who knows everybody. She hooked us up with Canopy Safari at the last minute. She definitely had some contacts. Stop and see her next time. Best regards, Rob Barlow - Dillsboro, IN
  • If the airlines continue to constantly waive all the fees, people will never ever follow any rules. It sounds like when AA didn't waive the $100 change fee you went ahead and insulted their meals and the F/C cabin, but I'm almost so sure that if they waived the fee and upgraded you, AA would have been wonderful. I think by trying to point out the misspelled words you annoyed them more.I think the newsletter was good for the most part its good that you pointed out some the real local facts about the community because people that plan to travel to some of these destinations need to know, not everyone in this world is rich, knows everyone in high places, and hangs out with Tori Spelling. Lately , I feel like your newsletters belong in People magazine. Monika - New York. REPLY: Thanks for the comments. I wasn't looking for an upgrade because I prefer coach on a 757 when economy is empty. I usually like airplane food but this time it happened to be nasty. Also who said I was rich?
  • Cool blog. Nick - Boston

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