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120x60 - Hotels JOHNNY JET'S
October 6, 2004
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    This week we present a unique Website of the Week (and a bonus one, so read to the end). After seeing Grand Haven's two beautiful lighthouses, I wondered if there is a website that lists lighthouses you can sleep in. There is! Although the two in Grand Haven cannot be slept in (at least legally), this website highlights lighthouses throughout the country and world where you can. The list includes lighthouse inns, B&Bs and hotels in the Northeast, West, South, Great Lakes region and Iowa. Internationally, overnighting lighthouses can be found in Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Jamaica, Argentina, Australia, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Croatia and Mauritius.

    Our bonus Website of the Week: Autumn Foliage Websites.
    This week we bring you a page from JohnnyJet.com. It offers all the info-packed websites you need for leaf-peeping across the country. There are even hotlines and webcams. What are you waiting for? Get out and see the sights!
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Greetings! Last week we were in Chicago chillin’ at the Four Seasons. This week we stay in the Midwest, but take a road trip to a great weekend getaway that is easily reachable by car, train, ferry, plane, or just about any other mode of transportation you can think of.

I was scheduled to head back to L.A. when my cousin Dennis called to say he was coming into town. Dennis used to live in Chicago (his kids still do), but now he lives too close to me in Los Angeles. Sweet talker that he is, he talked me into going with him and his kids to see their aunt, uncle and little cousins in Michigan (It wasn't that difficult). I called United to postpone my flight by a few days. That hurt -- it cost me a $100 change fee. What a joke. Why can’t United and other legacy airlines charge $25, like most low-fare carriers? Then a change of plans wouldn’t be so bad.

Dennis picked me up at my hotel. We drove 30 minutes north to the suburbs to pick up his kids, Willem and Bea. By the time everyone were packed and ready to hit the road, it was late afternoon. Leaving on the Friday of Labor Day weekend is not the smartest move anywhere – especially a big city like Chicago. Traffic was so bad, it took us almost two hours just to get back downtown. Luckily, once we cleared the city there was not much congestion the rest of the way.

To get to Michigan we had to go through about 20 miles of Indiana. We drove right through Gary without stopping (which, by the looks of it from the freeway, was probably a good thing). We had dinner at a Cracker Barrel somewhere off I-94 (just before Route 31). It was my first time at a Cracker Barrel since I was kid, and it turned out to be a great pit stop. Although the food was not very tasty, they have a wide selection of country food, and the price is right. The best part was their awesome general store, which would make any sugarholic’s mouth drool. (You can include Dennis’ kids and me on that list.)

From Chicago to Grand Haven is only 170 miles. It should take roughly three hours. However, it took us almost five -- and that is not including the time change. I bet you didn’t know (unless you live around there) that Indiana and Michigan are two of the 12 states with multiple time zones.

We arrived late at my cousin Sasha’s big house in Grand Haven. Everyone was asleep, so we tried to quietly find our rooms. That worked -- until we came upon the Ping-Pong table.

After our mini-Ping-Pong tournament, we hit the hay. The next morning I woke up to my 4-year-old cousin Madeline peeking under my eye mask (the room I was in had no curtains – it helps when traveling to be ready for anything!). All I saw was Madeline’s eye as she tried to figure out who was this masked man sleeping in her playroom. I was trying to remember where I was, and whose eye that belonged too. We both were equally startled. After comforting Madeline I went downstairs to say hello to everyone. There I met my new twin cousins, Joseph and Leo, for the very first time. They are so cute!

After breakfast I wanted to check out downtown Grand Haven. I was surprised the kids (Madeline, Willem and Bea) wanted to go with me. I should’ve known I was getting suckered when they told me exactly where to park. All three jumped out and ran into what looked like a liquor store. Thankfully, Fortino’s sold more than alcohol. It felt like one of those candy stores you went to as a kid. It was old, dark and well-stocked. After buying enough candy to last a year, we walked (well, I walked -- they ran) around town. Fortino's: 114 Washington Ave, Grand Haven, MI; tel.: (616) 842-0880.

Downtown Grand Haven was very quaint. I felt like I was in a New England seaport (minus the smell of salt air). One of my highlights was checking out the Saturday farmer’s market. I always love buying -- or at least seeing -- what the locals sell. This was your standard market, mostly filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but the peaches were soooo good.

Back at the house, Sasha and my cousin-in-law Mike were putting together quite a meal. Like so many people in my family (except me), Sasha is a gourmet cook. Every meal she made was tasty. That afternoon they had a barbecue. They invited Mike’s parents, who live nearby and are very nice people, along with Sasha’s out-of-town friend Kerry and her husband Ben. In a couple of months you will recognize Kerry when her reality TV show comes on. Kerry is as smart as she is good-looking (she graduated from an Ivy League school), so when she informed us that she had written a book we were not surprised -- until we saw the title. When Kerry pulled the book out of her bag, it got real silent real quick. The book is called "The Sex Diet." I bet that’s better than the South Beach Diet! To break the awkward silence, Dennis high-fived Kerry’s husband and said, "You’re a lucky man!"

After lunch we all piled in the minivan and headed to the beach, a short distance away. The beach is the reason so many people summer in Grand Haven (the locals call it the Michigan Riviera). I couldn’t believe how nice the sand was – it was actually nicer than California’s, and comparable to Florida’s west coast. The locals claim the sand sings when you walk on it, but to me it squeaked – it was squeaky clean.

Although the sand was amazing, the water was not. It looked clean and I saw the bottom, but it was a murky color. Still, it was nice to cool off in -- especially because the weather was so hot. However, the water was really shallow. You had to walk out 50 yards just to get past your waist – which made it perfect for little kids. We had a great time playing water Frisbee. Then just lounged on the beach, talking about (what else?) Kerry’s book.

Here’s the scoop on Grand Haven. It’s very popular in the summer. In fact, 40,000 people live here during the summer (only 12,000 in winter). That doesn’t include all the others who stay in motels, B&Bs and RVs (there are lots of them). According to my cousins, there are not too many Chicagoans; it’s too far of a drive (I didn’t think it was that bad). Most visitors come from other parts of Michigan, and Milwaukee (which lies across enormous Lake Michigan). Milwaukee travelers can catch a high- speed ferry. It arrives and departs from Muskegon, and takes three hours. Muskegon is a 20-minute drive from Grand Haven. It is also the home of the closest airport, which is operated by Northwest Airlines. If you want to fly other carriers, Grand Rapids’ airport 34 miles away. If you don’t like planes, boats or cars, try a train. Amtrak serves Grand Rapids and (even closer) Holland, MI (22 miles away).

Grand Haven is famous for its two lighthouses. They share the same pier, and everything in town seems to revolve around them. Think of Grand Haven as a large upside-down "L." In the corner are the light houses. The short side is the beach, while the long side is a boardwalk . The boardwalk is on the Grand River, which is why they call the place Grand Haven.

The boardwalk is a great place to people-watch. You’ll also see plenty of boats (this place offers great sport fishing charters). Along the walk are a bunch of ice cream shops. There is also a monument to the Coast Guard, which has a base here.

Another point of interest off the boardwalk in town is the singing water fountains. They play every night. These singing fountains used to be the largest in the world, until the Bellagio hotel in Vega$ built their own (they used the same company). Every night visitors sit or stand along the boardwalk and gaze across the Grand River. There, high on a hill, the singing fountains "dance" to loud music. We went on a Sunday night. Christian music was playing, and a huge cross was lit behind the fountains. I was told that the cross has caused quite a stir, so it’s not lit all the time (I assume only on Sundays). During the week they play all kinds of music, including rock and pop.

One day I took a walk down the pier and watched people jump off. I thought that was great, because that sort of fun is prohibited in most places. I heard the reason Grand Haven allows it is because the city takes no responsibility, by posting signs everywhere. I wanted to jump, but Sasha talked me out of it by telling me how many people drown doing it. Besides, the weather was getting cool. It felt like fall was around the corner.

That night we went to a friend of Mike and Sasha’s for a barbecue. Well, there was no actual barbecue, but they had some of the tastiest food I’ve ever had at a barbecue. I gorged myself. First they had the best cheese dip I ever ate; then an amazing fruit salad sprinkled with coconut and chicken satay skewers that I could sink my teeth in right now. There was a whole bunch of other food too, but let me tell you about dessert. There were homemade pies -- apple, cherry and blueberry -- that were so good I had to try them all. Okay, I better stop now, because it’s making me hungry.

The house was in a section near the beach called the Boardwalk. This was not the same boardwalk near the lighthouses; this was a private section with 100 houses, all connected by a boardwalk that winds through the woods. I felt like I was in "Empire Strikes Back" (or whichever Star Wars movie was filmed in the redwood forest). A third of the houses are summer rental cottages. Some of those boardwalks almost go through people’s living rooms, so if you’re thinking of renting one, make sure you don’t need a lot of privacy.

The following day we took a 10 minute drive to a place called Craig’s Cruisers. The kids really wanted to go because they have go-karts and video games. I wasn’t too much into the go-karts, but I liked that they had fast-pitch batting cages. After my hands got sore from hitting (or trying to hit) 90-mph fastballs, I went inside to check out the video games while everyone else was still outside racing. I got hooked trying to beat the high score of the basketball game. Dennis snuck up behind me and joked, "You shoot like a baboon." Without missing a shot I reached into my left pocket and handed him this picture of monkeys I had taken 10 minutes earlier in a machine that allows you to use different backdrops. When he saw my mug he fell on the ground laughing. What’s amazing is that I had over 50 scenes to choose from, and I chose a monkey. Too funny. Craig’s Cruisers, 1551 Pontaluna Rd., Spring Lake, MI; tel.: 231-798-4936.

After Craig’s Cruisers we drove south to Holland, to have lunch at the Dutch Village. It’s a recreated 19th-century Netherlands village, right off Highway 31. We didn’t have much time, so we did the free section (which was enough for me). The highlight was going into a shop that sold imported goods. We watched a man demonstrate the making of wooden shoes. Then we went to the Hungry Dutchman Café, which should be called the Slow Dutchman Café. The service and food were not very good, but we were able to sit outside and feed the ducks. That brought back memories of my childhood in Connecticut. My mom always took me to feed the duckies on the way to the beach.

The pay section of the Dutch Village has flower-lined brick footpaths that follow a series of graceful canals, connecting the quaint brick shops and houses clustered around a village square where klompen dancers wearing wooden shoes perform to the music of an antique Amsterdam street organ. Antique Dutch furnishings grace the chapel, cheese and pastry shop, florist shop, wooden shoemaker’s shop, a movie theater, farmhouse and museum. Dutch Village, 12350 James St., Holland, MI; tel.: (616) 396-1475.

Next week I will tell you about the best place to stop for food on the way back to Chicago, as well as my three-week stay in L.A. that was highlighted by a surprise visitor.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet
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  • I just finished reading about your travels to Chicago and I always enjoy reading your newsletter. P.S. I dream about Foodlife, I Love that place. I wish they would open one up in the SF Bay Area. Jamie - San Francisco
  • I live in in Chicago for many years and have stayed downtown a number of times but never have had such in depth exposure. I enjoy your newsletter and look forward to always reading of your new ventures. Thank you for insight. Angelo M - Orland Park
  • I have really enjoyed reading your newsletters but lately -- since you and Amber Airplane broke up you have been dissing UAL/TED a lot!! What's up with that? Your harsh comments are sounding personal. Monika - New York. REPLY: Not even close. I really like United/Ted and continue to fly them all the time-- I just point out some of their weaknesses.
  • I loved your article on Chicago. It is my favorite city. Well done, Johnny!! James - Indiana
  • As a Chicagoan I was very pleased to read your letter. I, too, would only take the blue line if I were coming downtown to stay. In fact, although I am a southsider, I took the blueline once I arrived downtown from the southside via Metra and went to O'Hare to go to Italy. Anytime you are in town I will be happy to show you the rest of the city. While North Michigan Avenue is lovely, downtown has plenty to offer, not the least of which is the Cultural Center, the original Marshall Field's and Millennium Park. The Cultural Center boast some of the largest Tiffany domes in the world. They do a fabulous job explaining its origins and all it's beauty and history. And Field's magnificent ceilings are worth the visit alone, let alone all the great shopping. Then there's the world class theaters to address. I'm assuming you've mentioned our museums, the Museum of Science and Industry with all the hands on exhibits, the Oriental Institute and the museum campus close to downtown with 3 museums in one spot, as well as our crown jewel, the Art Institute, housing one of the largest collections of Impressionist art to be found in America. I am guessing that with Amber Airplane in town you got to see a lot of Chicago. However, most travel guide folks seem to miss out on the fact that there is plenty to do south of the river too. Just wanted to give you a heads up. Sheila P - Chicago
  • Where's Amber? Jack S. - Hamilton, Canada REPLY: We broke up several months ago. More stories can be found in the archive
  • TED would be OK if they didn't have such crazy fares for ORD-LAS-ORD compared to AA or ATA (out of MDW). They weren't even competitive and the planes weren't even close to full for the days I wanted to travel. We wanted to go to LAS on Monday 11/15 and return on Saturday 11/20. Without a Saturday night stay TED wanted well over $320 for a plain ordinary peon-fare to take the 11AM or so flight there and the 6AM one back. AA wanted about $215. ATA was $174. "South Worst" was a few bucks ($10) cheaper but no pre- assigned seats, etc. No wonder the airline are in such a mess (besides the fuel costs). I would have paid a reasonable amount more than what AA wanted to fly on TED. But 1.5 times, forget it. Richard M - Champaign, Illinois
  • I know that you are in Chicago often. I really hope that you are able to visit areas outside of downtown. I tend to believe downtown does not really represent the Chicago that I love. I could recommend many great places (shopping, restaurants, bars) on the Northside. Lori K - Chicago.
  • Hi Johnny Jet, Shame on me for living in Chicago and never catching your segment on Chicago Tonight. When is your next appearance? I'll be sure to mark it on my calendar and tune in. Keep up the good work! Debbie Debbie - Chicago. REPLY: Thanks for the support. Not sure on the date but we will post it on our Media Page

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My condo on Sanibel Island, FL was totalled inside by both Charley and Frances.The buildings withstood the wind, but Charley blew the roof off down to the sub roof and blew all the big air conditioning units off the roof. All the rain poured down through the duct work and totalled everything on the fourth (top) floor and came down into the third (my) floor. Then along came Frances and it ripped off the temporary roof! No one was allowed back onto the island for 5 days after Charley because of all the downed vegetation and there was no water, electricity or sewage. All buildings had to be inspected for safety hazards before residents were allowed back.The National Guard had everything closed down (Causeway and by boat) so there would be no looting.Once everyone was allowed back, the water, mold and mildew had destroyed everything inside.Everything including walls, sheet rock, kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, etc. has to be gutted and ripped out. I am lucky that we have on site management and a restoration company working on our condos. It is so hard being up here and not being able to see everything firsthand. Now the nightmare of insurance claims has me nearly crazy! They don't expect we'll back open until March or April. Building supplies, crews, and GASOLINE are in very short supply, and price gouging in a lot of areas creates all kinds of problems, not to mention the present and future loss of rent and tourism on which we depend to pay for the mortgage! All things considered, I guess I was luckier than a lot of people who lost everything and had no insurance.

Karen - NY

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