Monday, February 13, 2012

Reporting from Down Under...

All pictures taken by me on my iPhone
Got invited to speak on a 15-day cruise. The ship was the Regent Seven Sea Voyager, a first-class line, and since the route was nowhere near Italy my wife Debby and I cheerfully accepted. So now I can say I’ve seen Australia, New Zealand, and survived a cyclone. Read on for the highlights and near-death experience.

Flying to Australia takes almost as long as watching the movie AUSTRALIA. Fifteen hours. Since we passed the International Dateline we completely missed Thursday. I recommend this to anyone recuperating from an injury. You get to lop one day off of your recovery time.

Our hotel in Sydney was the very first hospital in the city. But completely refurbished of course. All new bed pans. Got into our room, opened the window and looked right into the paint-splattered crotch of a workman on scaffolding. We were facing the center courtyard (where the dead bodies were once lowered… and by once I’m guessing six months ago).

Our hotel was in the historic Rocks district. Originally, Australia was reserved for British convicts. (Good luck escaping and swimming to Hawaii.)  Now they've all been replaced by fashion models. 

It’s easy to spot the tourists in Australia. We’re the ugly ones. Aussies are incredibly attractive. And so friendly -- although you’d be in a jolly mood too if you looked like Hugh Jackman or Nicole Kidman (before the face work).

Gambling and prostitution are both legal in Australia. Ironically, their slots and hookers are both called Pokie Machines.

Took the Captain Cook harbor cruise tour. (Captain Cook is held in very high regard – unlike in Hawaii where the locals killed and ate him.) I recommend the tour. Even in the rain. I have some amazing grey shots with faint silhouettes of landmarks in the background.

You’ve got to love a country that salutes writers with plaques on the sidewalk instead of Mickey Rooney. In the Circular Quay I was honored to trample on Barry Humphries.

For $200 you can climb to the top of the Harbour Bridge (which is the world’s largest coat hanger). It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you will have a feeling of accomplishment like no other in your life. On the other hand, you gotta be nuts. So I just paid them $150 to say I did it.

Took a bus ride tour of Sydney. Our guide was very informative and only slightly opinionated. There are not a lot of “dark, swarthy people” in Australia it seems. She said, “Yes, it’s discrimination but it works!” She showed us the Jewish neighborhood and pointed out that “the Jews made a lot of money in retail.”

Hit Bondi Beach. Other than the ferocious riptide, man-eating sharks, and ten varieties of deadly jellyfish it really is an ideal spot for frolicking in the surf. It’s also a topless beach, and again – J. Crew models are considered runts. I’m guessing most shark victims were just guys who weren’t paying attention.

The Opera House is the signature of Sydney. It’s like someone took all the passenger terminals from JFK and jammed them together. Went there and saw LE SOIREE. Highlights included a contortionist who squeezed his entire body through two tennis rackets and a lady magician who stripped naked and pulled a handkerchief out of her vagina. Finally I get the appeal of opera!

It’s hard to get used to a country where people drive on the wrong side of the road and Burger King is called Hungry Jacks.

Boarded our cruise liner, the magnificent Regent Seven Seas Voyager in Sydney. Last time I went on a cruise the last Titanic survivor died. This time it was on the heels of the Italian cruise line disaster. Usually the highlight of the first night is the sail-away, complete with champagne and celebration. This time it was the emergency drill.

People on a cruise are so nice until you meet them in the laundry room and there’s only one machine available. God forbid there’s only limited space on the lifeboat because these women would kill you for the last Wisk packet.

I always love the on-board entertainment. Broadway night is one of my favorites. Talented energetic kids named Astkeg and Svetloojian singing “Oklahoma”. One of the singers might have been last year’s Croatian Idol. During the show they saluted the musical, THE PRODUCERS and I was very relieved – considering the crowd – that they didn’t do the dance number with all the walkers.

Dress requirement at dinner – casual elegance. No ties, but sports jackets or life vests are recommended for gentlemen.

Some cities heroically rise from horrific devastation. San Francisco from the earthquake in 1906, New Orleans from Katrina, and Melbourne from being the birthplace of Rupert Murdoch. Walking around this vibrant bustling city you marvel once again at the sheer resiliency of the human spirit.

Lunched on Degraves Street – a narrow alleyway with outdoor silver dollar tables that remind you of Paris or the food court in the Paramus mall.

They’re not much for city zoning in Melbourne. There’s a hard-core XXX adult theater next to a cupcake bakery.

Did not get to the Museum of Immigration. I suspect there are many photographs of ashen green people getting off boats after five weeks on the high seas in steerage. Saw enough of that from the folks who flew coach on our flight to Sydney.

I love going to foreign cities and seeing things we don’t have in America. There are bookstores in Melbourne!

Their coffee was much heralded by readers of my blog. I don’t drink coffee but Debby reports that it was amazing but strong. One sip and she began reciting beatnik poetry.

Someone said Sydney was the place to see but Melbourne was the place to do. Judging by the sheer number of bars and pubs going at all hours, I would say that’s true. The club scene makes sense in a city where (a) there are a lot of young people, and (b) one cup of coffee keeps you up till the spring.

Was in Melbourne for Australia Day. They celebrate that great day when England attacked them. Could not get in to see any of the Australian Open. But watched the more hotly contested wood chopping competition at Alexandra Gardens. Let’s see Rafael Nadal return a killer backhand with an axe.

Stunning view of Melbourne from the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower. Yeah, right, Tom Cruise did his own stunt.

Next stop was Hobart, Tasmania; an absolute gem. It’s a fairy tale city except instead of a castle there is a jail (British convicts, come on down!).

30-50% of the world’s legal opium is produced in Tasmania, which explains why Crosby, Stills, & Nash play there so often.

Errol Flynn grew up in Hobart. Even the town drunks are great looking.

Went to the zoo and fed kangaroos, saw wallabies, koala bears, wombats, and the famous Tasmanian devil. You are instructed not to feed the devils or say, “What’s Up Doc?” I love that there are animals here you won’t find anywhere else in the world. And that’s not even counting the over-100 varieties of snakes, spiders, jellyfish, sharks, and insects that can kill you.

No trip to Hobart is complete without stopping in at the new MONA museum, affectionately known as the “museum of death and sex” (my two favorite subjects). Founded by eccentric gambler, David Walsh, it features audacious and sometimes repulsive artwork. Gomez Adams starts his own museum. Among the must-see exhibits: the suicide pinball machine, the jukebox that plays all funeral songs, and Japanese erotic hand scrolls. Bring the kiddies.

At this point Debby had to go back to Los Angeles due to work obligations. A half-hour before she left the captain announced we would be hitting choppy seas – for 48 hours! He was wrong. It was 60 hours followed by an actual cyclone (more on that later). I wore so many patches I looked like Les Nessman. Debby had a lovely smooth flight home – laughing all the way.

Once on the high seas I began my series of lectures. The first week they had NPR’s David Folkenflik who provided insight and expert analysis of the current political scene and the role of the media. Then I come on with Kirstie Alley stories.

Tomorrow I interrupt my travelogue for some suggestions and thoughts on Valentine's Day, but on Wednesday learn how I weathered my first cyclone... and that wasn't the worst part of the night.   Meanwhile, my book of travelogues is still only $2.99 for the ebook version. The perfect Valentine's Day gift!!!  Just go here to order yours TODAY!!!


Charles H. Bryan said...

I hope their tourism bureau is sending you a check -- I want to go to that rugby championship.

media_lush said...

Good grief man. A writer that doesn't drink coffee? I just can't get my head around that one.

Chris said...

In case you thought I ran out of stupid credit questions: why did Showtime credit the same 2 writers with "Teleplay by" and "Story by" credits instead of just "Written by" on House of Lies? Have you ever seen that happen before?

cshel said...

"It’s also a topless beach... I’m guessing most shark victims were just guys who weren’t paying attention."

That made me lol.

My theory about why Australians are all so good looking and cheerful is that since their land and sea is teeming with the world's deadliest creatures, it was survival of the fittest for their ancestors where only the best genetic specimens survived, and they're just happy because they've made it through another day alive.

I am also in shock that you don't drink coffee, Ken.

Muzza said...

Loved this read. Bill Bryson better be watching over his shoulder!

RCP said...

A pleasure to read - and I particularly like the photo of Milford Sounds. Looking forward to hearing all about the cyclone and more.

That photo of the Tasmanian devil calls to mind probably the first of my childhood disillusionments - that the real Tasmanian devil looks nothing like the cartoon. What else were adults lying about?

Pseudonym said...

A lot is made of the Australian wildlife that can kill you, but what they don't tell you is how few deaths there really are.

Take snakes, for example. Half of the top ten most venomous snakes in the world, including the top two most venomous land snakes, come from Australia. But just taking the top one as an example, there have been no fatalities definitively caused by it. And the only known snakebite cases were herpetologists trying to handle them. If you want to protect yourself from dying of snakebite, all you need to do is change careers.

The spiders are interesting, because they completely defy expectations. The big ones are completely benign (that's my hand, just to prove that I'm not kidding). It's the little ones which can finish you off.

Cap'n Bob said...

I don't drink coffee, either, and I'm a published writer. It happens.
Another great travelogue, Ken.


I'm glad you enjoyed your stay in my wonderfull country, and city of Melbourne. One poster was on the money when she pointed out how few deaths there are due to our abundance of venomous animals, I belive (But I'll have to check) there has been no deaths from Spiderbites since 1956. Come back soon and come back often. And as for the coffee, I was one of the few Melburnians who were sorry to lose their local Starbucks. Now I have to go downtown for my souvenir coffee mug. RATS !!

cadavra said...

Your mention of the Sydney Harbour Bridge reminds me of a cruise I took several years ago with friends, including my pal Leonard Maltin and his family. We were playing in one of the ship's trivia contests, and the question was, "Who designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge?" Without missing a beat, Leonard said, "Sydney Harbour!"

Did you visit Manly Beach? The jokes wrote themselves.

Mike said...

Ken, I was on a 7-Day cruise for my honeymoon, and it took me a couple of days to get my "land legs" back. After 15 days, 60 hours of rough seas and a cyclone, how did you fair?

Breadbaker said...

I thought the whole thing was remarkably accurate, except for one thing. Bookstores? What are those again?