Adelaide

Trip Start Mar 14, 2009
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Steve's house

Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Melbournians I spoke to before embarking on this journey were very critical of Adelaide and made me feel like I was fool to drive all this way to visit the Slough of the southern hemisphere.  I am glad that I pig-headedly ploughed on regardless and came here anyway because it's bloody lovely.  Viewed from the peaks of the hills that surround it, Adelaide is a green, low-rise sort of city, stretching over the plain to the sparkling sea.  Laid out on the grid system, so beloved of Australian town planners and it is easy to navigate and feels like a very liveable city, on a manageable scale.  Sure, it's easy to see why someone from sprawling Melbourne could dismiss her sister state capital as paltry and pocket-sized, but I didn't feel like I was visiting a poor relation.  Sometimes a place makes you feel welcome, as much as it's people do, and that was certainly true of Adelaide for me; from the moment I stepped off the bus and into Haigh's chocolate shop on Rundle Mall, I knew I would like this city.

Rundle Mall is a pedestrianised strip with all the shops you would expect from any Aussie high street but with the added pleasure of hidden gems, such as the historic Adelaide Arcade.  With the sun shining on Adelaide's International Fringe  Festival, the street performers and their crowds were out in force as we strolled.  Eventually, the shops of the Mall morph into the cafes, bars and restaurants of Rundle Street.  Each has tables and chairs and umbrellas overflowing onto the pavement, lining the path of the pedestrian with happy, wine-sipping patrons on both sides.

By the Botanic Gardens is the Botanic Café, where we stopped for a delicious lunch of red snapper, before embarking on the obligatory Lonely Planet walking tour of the city.  We took in the grandiose architecture of North Terrace, where campuses of Adelaide and South Australia Universities stand side by side with such distinguished neighbours as the Art Gallery, Museum and State Library of South Australia, all of which we visited over the next couple of days.  While all had extensive exhibitions comprehending everything from Egyptian burial artefacts to Renaissance portraiture, the collections of most interest to me were those which detailed the history - both modern and ancient - of Australia.  What is the point, after all, of a Brit coming all the way to Oz to check one of Holbein's Henry VIIIs?

The Art Gallery of SA had a great collection of landscapes and portraits that were produced by the first settlers in some of Australia's biggest cities.  While some may have been technically unexceptional, all reflected a real insight into some part of the colonisers' experiences and gave some sense of their first impressions of this 'new' land.

The Museum of SA housed a truly excellent exhibition on aboriginal culture, which I found fascinating since this is something of which I have seen very little thus far.  Many cities may have streets and festivals with names in aboriginal languages; aboriginal art and motifs are widely used to decorate public spaces.  In cities such as Adelaide, the aboriginal flag flies alongside the Australian flag and Kevin Rudd's public apology to the Stolen Generation is for, the most part, much lauded.  Yet, a tourist like me in the southern part of Australia rarely sees either aboriginal people or any noticeable vestige of their traditional way of life, with the notable exception of the iconic boomerang which has been enthusiastically embraced by the mainstream.  The exhibition prompted a long consideration of and debate on the modern quest for 'progress'.  Although by definition it implies improvement, 'progress' and 'development' have produced such a complex web of questionable priorities in this unwieldy beast we call society. Ho hum.  

The State Library also had a fascinating temporary exhibition, in which aboriginal people have painted stories from the Dreamtime of their ancestors.  Although the depictions were beautiful, I couldn't help but be reminded - perhaps unfairly - of the cynicism of Bruce Chatwin's 'Songlines', in which he describes white middlemen encouraging aboriginal people to churn out 'art' for the delectation of foreign tourists.  The artists, working in a medium totally alien to their culture were paid a pittance, while the shady dealers cashed in.

We wandered down to the riverside, which was quiet compared to the busy shops and cafes along the Yarra in Melbourne, but was no less pleasant a walk for this.  Black swans swarmed over in anticipation of the tasty snacks we had neglected to bring for them.  We crossed the bridge and headed for North Adelaide, with which we were slightly disappointed in terms of sights to see, although perhaps inevitably.  We'd headed there solely as the suburb had been afforded it's own separate street map in the Lonely Planet, usually an indication that it is important enough to visit.

The following day we headed to Glenelg, a beachside suburb with pristine (though chilly) waters and undertones of Blackpool - which for me is no bad thing; people in Blackpool tend to be happy and having fun, and of course, you're never more than three feet from an ice cream stand.  I loved the art deco apartment blocks that lined the prom and the shells that we collected along the shore.  Another highlight was the Sunday market at the village of Stirling, where we sampled red wine and kalamata olives while perusing local crafts in dappled light along a tree-lined avenue of stalls.    

Largely because Steven is a wonderful human being, we decided to stay in Adelaide for a good few days longer than we'd intended and loved each one of them.  The joy of couch surfing - or rather, the joy of couch surfing with someone like Steve and his gorgeous daughter, Scarlett - is that not only do you visit the obvious tourist hotspots of a town, but you get to visit the treasures of a place that the locals are keeping to themselves.  One highlight of the tourist trail was the free hot cross truffles we scoffed at the Haigh's Chocolate Factory visitor's centre - and we were delighted to hear that the company is now in possession of the fourth generation of the Haigh family.  Yet, this wasn't nearly as much fun as the beer sampling we did with Steve at a microbrewery in Port Adelaide, where the creamy milk stout and the tangy ginger ale were exceptional.  There again, even beer tasting couldn't compete with the repeated cocktail nights we've enjoyed sitting around Steve's dining room table.  Yesterday evening, after a couple of ouzo-based Jelly Beans, one thing led to another and The Wet Nappies rocked Guitar Hero on the Xbox with yours truly on bass.  All in all, I'm reluctant to leave, but wine-tasting in the Barossa is calling my name.
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