Friday, January 20, 2012

Pass the caviar, lovey

   SYDNEY — This is rough.
   After playing tennis for two hours Friday morning (Thursday afternoon in the United States) on grass back at White City in the Sydney suburbs, our tour group spent the afternoon cruising the nooks and crannies of the area's massive harbor on a 120-foot yacht.
   Nice? Let's put it this way. The two Australian owners, a shipping/aircraft-leasing magnate and an accountant, paid $22 million for the sleek Ghost II in 2009, according to captain Glen Gray. The owners began renting out the yacht six weeks ago. The first customer, Gray said, was Al Pacino. The second was Kevin Spacey. They also rented the vessel for one afternoon.
   Chartering the yacht — essentially a luxurious three-story house — runs $2,500 per hour (plus food and drink), $15,000 per 24 hours and $100,000 for one week, Gray said.
   The lower deck features four cozy bedrooms (one with a small office), four full bathrooms, a kitchen, bunk beds for six crew members, a full bathroom for the crew, two washers and two dryers.
   The second deck consists of a living room with a large-screen TV, a dining room, the controls and outdoor seating in the front and back. Above is an observation deck.
   An eight-member crew attended to our every need. We were greeted with champagne, then feasted on appetizers; a lunch of beef, green salad, pasta salad, potato salad and rolls; with brownies, cheese and fresh fruit for dessert.           
  After lunch, many of us watched the Australian Open on TV. Others chatted, played cards or sunbathed. A few ended the cruise by taking a dip in the chilly (at first) ocean water.
  Some tour members commented, "I could get used to this." It definitely beats working in the office.
  After a pizza dinner, we returned to the hotel on our last night in Sydney. Here are some final observations before we leave tomorrow morning for Melbourne and the Australian Open:
    —Sydney is beautiful, prosperous, safe and clean. The harbor setting is spectacular, and I've seen no homeless people, police officers (except for a helicopter flying over the harbor) or litter (although one tour member said he saw — gasp — a broken bottle).
   What's not to like? Only one thing: the prices. Over $200 U.S. for a guided, two-hour climb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Thirty-five dollars for an oversized paperback book on Rafael Nadal. Eight dollars for an ice cream cone. As Jerry Seinfeld says on his hilarious CD, "I'm Telling You for the Last Time," "Do they have any idea what the prices are everywhere ELSE in the world?"
    —I'm writing from the lounge on the 32nd (top) floor of the Intercontinental. Behind me is a stunning view of the harbor, landmark bridge and iconic Sydney Opera House.
   Getting into the lounge, however, is like getting into CIA headquarters. You hardly know it's there. You put your room key/card into a slot, a glass door slides open, and you climb a flight of stairs to the lounge. Then you expect to be greeted by a dapper man saying, "Bond ... James Bond."
    —Australian paper money is small and colorful with strange people on it. You could pay with Monopoly money, and no one would know the difference. The next time I come to Australia, I'll raid the game closet first. An Australian dollar, by the way, equals 96 cents.
   Newspaper pages, meanwhile, are gigantic — seemingly twice the size of The Sacramento Bee or the San Francisco Chronicle. You need arms as long as those of Andrew Bogut, the Milwaukee Bucks' 7-foot center from Melbourne, to read the things.

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