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November 16, 2005

PICS AND STORIES: Where's Johnny Jet?

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                                 Cherbourg to Paris


HOUSE KEEPING: Remember when you click on the pictures in "Where's Johnny Jet," they will open up in another window. Just click the "x"(close) in each picture to get back to the newsletter. This should alleviate complaints about closing Johnny Jet. Thanks again for your support, and remember: If you book trips on the web, please go through (It will save you money).





Bonjour! Last week we left off on an Irish ferry from Wexford, Ireland to Cherbourg, France. Let’s just say I’m happy to be on land again. From Cherbourg we travel via train to Paris, then to La Rochelle.

From the ship my travel writer colleagues and I hopped on a bus to customs. Clearing was quick and easy, but it was uncomfortable seeing the French military holding AK-47s with their fingers on the triggers. We then took a 5-minute bus ride to the Cherbourg train station, to catch a train to Paris. Fortunately we had a couple of hours before it arrived, allowing time to walk around this small, cute port town I had just driven through.

Cherbourg is a popular ferry port located at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula. Cherbourg has been an important military base since Napoleonic times, and is a well-known gateway to the Normandy region. The old part of Cherbourg is centered around the fishing port, and is charming to walk around. There are many narrow cobblestone streets, with plenty of places to shop or grab something to eat. The main attractions are Cité de la Mer, a fantastic aquarium, and Fort du Roule, which has a great view and houses Musée de la Libération (commemorating D-Day and the liberation of Cherbourg in World War II). I need to visit Cherbourg again, so I can see both those places, as well as Mont St. Michel -- a World Heritage site-- that’s close by.

Using our First Class Eurail passes, we took a 'fast' normal train (not a TGV) to ParisGare St. Lazare. It took 3 hours and was really easy, thanks to advance reservations. RailEurope, Eurail’s United States distributor, will make reservations for you, but they charge a service and shipping fee (that’s because nothing is electronic, and passengers need paper reservations). Walking up to the station ticket counter will save you a few euros, but it’s probably best to spend the money to guarantee a seat. Our train wasn’t crowded so we could’ve saved money, but that’s the chance we took. REMINDER: When using a Eurail pass, don’t forget to get it validated (read the instructions that come with it). Write the date on the ticket before getting on the train; otherwise you risk paying an on-the-spot fine, or having the pass taken away.

The hotel that was arranged for us was way out by Disneyland Paris; the city was sold out due to Fashion Week. Instead of schlepping 35 minutes in and out of Paris, my colleagues called around to find a hotel in the city. That was no small task, but after a couple of hours on the phone we finally found one with a vacancy. To my surprise it was a youth hostel! I’m ashamed to say this was my first time ever sleeping in a youth hostel, but I was excited for the experience.

This hostel is located in the 18th arrondissement (Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, or districts). The city is compact, and most neighborhoods are charming. The 18th is no exception. A guidebook said it has "a diverse range of cultures, from the red light district of Pigalle, to the artists of Montmartre, to the famous flea markets of Clignancourt." That’s very accurate. The hostel was just a couple of blocks away from it all, plus the Metro Lamarck Caulaincourt.

When we walked into the scaffold-covered Hotel Caulaincourt Square, I was greeted by a young, hip atmosphere. The clerks behind the desk were friendly, and loved their Marlboro cigarettes (smoking indoors is allowed and accepted). I don’t speak much French, so I was happy that one of the clerks was an expat from Washington, D.C. That made communication much easier, especially when he told me they had internet for free. Four young travelers were occupying the computers, but that was okay. I had my laptop and my room was directly above the lobby, enabling me to have a strong wireless signal. Unfortunately, though, my room did not have a full bathroom -- just a not-so-clean shower. The walls were dirty, the twin beds lumpy. Nevertheless I liked the hotel, because it was in such a great location -- and everyone was friendly.

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It was an unseasonably warm night, my room lacked air conditioning, and the scaffolding made easy access for burglars. I had to get creative protecting myself, while at the same time allowing fresh air to come in. So I used this chair as a lock while I slept. When I went out, I locked the windows and my laptop using a special lock I got from Detective Kevin Coffey (a friend of mine who is a safety expert, and has appeared on Oprah). Besides the free internet, the best part of the hostel was the room rate. Where can you find a hotel in Paris, during Fashion Week, for €48 a night? And a Parisian breakfast was included. Hotel Caulaincourt Square, 2 Square Caulaincourt, 75018 Paris; tel: 33-(0)1-46-06-46-06.

This short trip to Paris was a watershed for me. After many visits and countless times getting lost on the subway, I finally figured out the Metro system. I was like, duh! It’s was definitely because I rode the Metro a lot this trip, most of the time by myself, so I was forced to learn. It’s not difficult, but don’t think I can explain it. My advice is to ride it by yourself a couple of times. If that doesn’t help, here’s a useful guide I found.

I conquered the Metro after I got lost, and ended up 30 minutes late for a dinner meeting with French rail executives. Don’t you hate being late because of your own stupidity? That happens to me a lot. Anyway, my French hosts chose an appropriate location and restaurant for the meal. The restaurant, Le Train Bleu, is located in the eastern Paris business district, at the Gare de Lyon (If you haven’t figured it out by now, "Gare" in French means "train station." Don’t feel bad -- it took me a while too). Gare de Lyon is one of Paris’ six international railway stations. This magnificent 1901 crowded train station serves passengers heading to the South of France, the Alps, Switzerland, Italy and Greece.

Le Train Bleu is one reason Gare de Lyon is so fantastic. The restaurant is located above the main entry. Not only does it have professional waiters who serve excellent food, but the interior is so gorgeous it’s hard to concentrate on conversation. The restaurant’s 41 spectacular frescos illustrate cities served by the Station -- no wonder it’s been listed as a historic monument since 1972. I wish I knew about this restaurant when I was in the station a couple of months ago while traveling to Geneva. Le Train Bleu Restaurant, Place Louis Armand, 75012 Paris; tel.: 01-43-43-09-06.

Although I did like the youth hostel, I can’t be running down the hall in the middle of the night to use the loo. So after a side trip to western France (which we’ll get to next week) I checked into the closest hotel to Gare de Lyon. I figured, what the heck; since I’m writing about Gare de Lyon, I might as well have the best (or most convenient) hotel to the station. Besides, it was the only hotel with a vacancy. Hotel Mercure, attached to Gare de Lyon, is a clean 3-star, 364-room hotel. I loved it because I didn’t have to walk far for the Metro (located in the station) to wander or meet friends for dinner. My room had full size beds and a clean bathroom. Wireless internet was available through an independent company that allows users to purchase 24 hours or just 2 hours of stop-and-go anytime minutes. Breakfast costs €12. Room rates begin at €100. Hotel Mercure, 77 rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris; tel.: 1-53465050.

Unfortunately, I learned the train I was headed on didn’t depart from Gare de Lyon. I needed to jump on the Metro to Gare Montparnasse (in the 15th Arrondissement). Gare Montparnasse is one Paris’ oldest stations (built in 1840), but it was completely rebuilt after World War II. Today it has a very modern interior. Its trains head to Brittany and western France. That’s where I took the TGV Atlantique to visit some friends on an island that reminded me a lot of Nantucket.

Next week we travel to a small island off the west coast of France. We then make our way back to America and another international destination.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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

Pictures From

Cherbourg & Paris


Arriving in France





Train To Paris



View From Metro

My room



Metro Map

Gare de Lyon

Le Train Bleu

Oyster Man



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  • Dear John: Marvelous. Particularly, Ireland. I never had much of a desire to go there but now I do. You printed a fan criticizing your style as standard stuff. I think it's great that you printed that letter but I totally disagree with that person. Your style is fresh and usually not boring in the least. Of course, I am a little prejudice since I am your father.
  • Love your newsletter. I felt I was tagging along on your journeys. I would love to travel more but am mostly limited to armchair travel so keep the lovely mental pictures coming. Kelly B - Montgomery, Alabama
  • FROM A FROMMERS READER: I had never been motivated to read this section because (sorry) the title made me assume it would be breathless, hip, and not useful - like the recent article on three days in Singapore in Travel and Leisure in which the author reported on spa treatments and getting drunk in myriad bars. Today's JJ Ireland to France itinerary is of great interest to me so I clicked on anyway. I found some really good travel writing that included both the feel of being there and the practical information I think is essential to this kind of piece -I felt the author had a good sense of what travelers want to know. So I'll be back - thanks for taking me out of my morning work routine for a moment! Joy M - Wheaton, Maryland
  • you went to the Ile de Re in France...supposed to be so branche. Sorry no accent mark keys. Really like the reports. Mary Anne Helms -
  • Love the music to your videos--the ferry ride must be intense for someone who gets sea-sick like I do! Keep those videos coming! Ann F -- Brunswick, GA
  • I don't know when you find the time to write such comprehensive reports of each of your destinations, but their very educational and most interesting. Thanks very much and keep up the good work. Regards, Robert Marks - Chicago, IL.
  • I really enjoyed this week’s newsletter, especially the video of the Irish pub. Hearing the Irish song reminded me of my dad who also loved to sing and had a great voice. Thanks for taking me along with you again! G.O. -- San Francisco
  • Suggestion: Purchase a motion relief band! Carry it everywhere you go. I bought mine through Sharper Image but have seen the same item advertised elsewhere. I use it in the car and arrive at my destination without the headache and headache produced nausea I always experienced. It worked very well on a 12 day cruise on Celebrity as well. It’s a bit annoying, but very much worth the bother and the expense. I never leave home without it! Good luck! Shirley N - Springfield, MO
  • Your Travel stories in Ireland and the boat trip to France were great. Keep up the good work. J. Romick -
  • Hi Johnny, I'm John Wall.. a radio journalist at 4BC in Brisbane, Australia and a trained travel consultant. In my journalist job I went air-side at Brisbane (BNE) Airport today, Tuesday, for a tour inside the Airbus A-380 and to interview John Travolta. As a subscriber to Johnny Jet, I thought I'd submit the following story and pictures. *** Travolta to train for A-380. Actor and pilot John Travolta is planning to undergo training in the next year to pilot the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A-380. Travolta, in Brisbane, Australia on Tuesday (15th November) for the Qantas 85th birthday dinner, inspected the A-380 and took a flight up the south Queensland coast with the airline’s chairman, Margaret Jackson. Speaking to the media on the tarmac, Travolta said ‘I don’t care where they take me. I’m just excited to be on it’. Travolta said ‘I feel honoured because I bring the 7-0-7, which is the past.. and here we have the future.’ While the actor intends to train for the A-380, just as he did for the 7-4-7, he said he couldn’t personally afford one of the A-380’s. ***
    I have also included 3 pictures – you will be able to work out from the accompanying captions which is which.
  • ‘John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston board A-380 at Brisbane Airport for joyflight’
  • ‘John Travolta beside one of the engines of the A-380’
  • ‘The Airbus A-380 carries its own spares.. from tyres and fuels pumps to French Champagne’

  • *** Buy Your Johnny Jet T-Shirts/Hats

    *Please note that we reserve the right to post excerpts, perhaps edited, from your message on the Johnny Jet website and newsletter. We will not use your full name without your express permission. If you'd rather not have your message posted on the website or newsletter, just say so and it won't be.

    This week’s webcams are both in France. One is in Paris; this other is at a popular surfing spot on the coast.
  • Notre Dame
  • Biarritz

  • I love to watch planes (especially 747s) take off and land -- it gives me a huge rush. If you think I’m crazy, check out this quick video I took at my favorite place to plane spot (In-N-Out Burger near LAX). I’m usually not the only freak out there. In fact, some of the others have radio transmitters they bought at Radio Shack, so they can listen to air traffic control. Now, thanks to this site (and many others ) you don’t need a special device to listen in. All it takes is a computer and internet connection to log on to Canadian air traffic controllers. Visitors can not only listen to live air traffic controller feeds from Canada but all over the globe.


    Last week the Boeing's new 777-200LR aircraft broke the record for distanced traveled by a commercial airplane record when it traveled 11,664 miles from Hong Kong to London. I was on the innaugarul longest commercial flight when I flew Singapore to Newark on June 28, 2004.


  • Cool Illusion
    Check out this amazing illusion. It’s a good way to see how our brain works.
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