Yes, Adelaide is so called, yet if that appellation bespeaks a city sedate and unadventurous, we can only refute it. On Friday, March 14, the day we arrived, the city was celebrating the end of two festivals and the unofficial beginning of St Patrick’s Day. Along with crowds of pedestrians swarming the pavements and buskers aplenty, the cafes and bars were doing big business.
Our hotel, the Franklin, was situated over one of these. It had been a backpackers’ lodging when the current, deep-pockets owner purchased it and hired a designer to turn it into the high style, boutique hotel that it now is. Our room, advertised as a luxury double, was a shock. No room this tiny could ever be luxurious. And the solid black walls made it seem even smaller. There was no place to set our luggage. I went to return our rented car, and by the time I returned, Kay had already received a promise that after our first two nights we would be moved to the largest and most splendid of the hotel’s seven rooms. So it went.
When I think back on our three-and-half days in Adelaide what comes most to mind is food. More than a city of churches, this is a city of restaurants, all trying to outdo each other in savory goodness while not always succeeding.
As an example, we offer our first lunch in the Franklin’s own restaurant. It proudly advertised a selection of Frank’s Hot Dogs. Now, I come from the home of the incomparable Chicago Red Hot, and Kay and I have eaten other hot dogs and sausages all over the U.S. and Europe. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample Frank’s. Mine, called The Original, featured a topping of lettuce and cooked onions. Kay chose a chili dog whose name was José. Although the sausages themselves were excellent, the topping of The Original made it difficult to eat without spilling debris on the table and on my clothes. I say that if one accepts the premise that hot dogs are meant to be eaten by hand, then one shouldn’t garnish them in ways that make their eating awkward. That said, on our last evening in town, Kay ate one of her favorite meals of the trip so far in this restaurant: a salad of delicious smoked chicken, baby spinach, green beans, beets, freekeh (a roasted grain) and pistachio dukkah.
Adelaide’s center is compact, ideal for walking. As we strolled about, we were delighted with what we saw and heard on this boisterous weekend.
On the Rundle Pedestrian Mall the buskers, especially the musicians, were drawing crowds. Two women making Latin music were fun to watch. One played an accordion while the other struck bongos with her hands and separate percussive instruments with each foot.
Another musician, a classical violinist dressed in tails, played against a recorded orchestral background. Then, there was a fire-eater. Unfortunately, we only caught the very end of his act.
Years ago, Adelaide chose to emulate Edinburgh by creating an annual arts festival and another on its fringe as a venue for avant-garde and would-be performance artists. This Fringe Festival has grown considerably in size and importance with scores of performances scheduled around the city. An attractive young woman handed us a card on the street promoting one of these. On a whim, without knowing anything about it, we spent $40.00 for tickets at a central kiosk and went to see HolePunch performed by four young women from Brisbane. It’s hard to describe this extended skit except as a mélange of zany nonsense. Two of the women played male roles, and one, a petite, off-stage musician, appeared near the end. The piece included a section with the performers speaking in mock French accents. There were puns, acrobatics, partial nudity, and musical numbers. It was a very funny, silly hour filled with antics of a kind we seldom have the opportunity to see. After the show, we chatted with the performers and bought a t-shirt reading, “The jellyfish of dramatic pauses.” Don’t ask!
Another highlight of our visit came when we happened to observe a St Patrick’s Day parade that even comprised a marching band of bagpipers in kilts.
Three vintage Cadillac convertibles, tops down, had women perched above their rear seats.
Many of the marchers were dressed in green; some wore t-shirts reading, “Kiss the Irish.”
Among its many churches, Adelaide has St Peter’s Cathedral, an elegant Gothic Revival edifice whose interior was especially restful.
It features a tall, carved oak reredos behind the altar, and behind that is the small Lady’s Chapel with an unusual modern painting of Christ, the young carpenter, walking with a plank on his shoulder. The shadow of the plank that falls on the ground next to him has the shape of a cross. The painting is by an artist named Penny Dowie.
The city has many fine restaurants. At the Belgian Beer Café Oustende we dined marvelously well on the fish of the day, a large piece of baked salmon served over steamed green beans. It was accompanied by the tastiest potato salad we’d ever eaten, made with dill, mustard seed, and lemon zest. We mention this meal in particular because the young woman who served us epitomized the kindness we’ve often experienced in Australia. She volunteered a lot of information about dining in the neighborhood, telling us not only where to eat but also the best times to get special prices. (At her suggestion, we returned a couple of days later for a wonderful lunch of moules frites at half price). Unbidden, she shared the kind of knowledge only locals have. She also gave us an $18.00 reduction on our bill, as if we had presented a special meal voucher. When Kay tried to tip her, she refused the money.
Adelaide’s North Terrace is a prominent avenue lined with stately buildings like the marble-clad Parliament and the city museums.
We walked into the State Library and discovered a large room with original decor and book-lined galleries reaching to the ceiling far above us. The alcoves around the main floor contained a history of Adelaide in artifacts. Some of these, like the early children’s’ games, brought smiles of recognition. Both Kay and I played “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” when we were kids.
In Adelaide’s pretty Botanic Garden there is a curious Museum of Economic Botany begun more than a century ago by a German scientist. It has been wonderfully restored and preserved, delightful with its many displays. I was particularly struck by cases filled with dozens of apples and pears, most identified with their original, hand-written labels. They were so lifelike that I hastened to ask the docent about them. She explained that that they were made of papier maché and delicately painted to look exactly like the real things. It’s amazing how many individual varieties of these fruits once existed compared to the meager half dozen or so that we have today
Outside, we really enjoyed strolling around the garden.
At one point behind a hedge, we admired varieties of dahlias in many sizes and colors. They were all in bloom and looked splendid.
It was in Adelaide, too, that we made plans to return home to Istanbul. We will fly from Auckland, New Zealand and land at Atatürk Airport on May 4th after a stopover in Singapore. Our days in Oz are numbered, but we have a couple more regions to visit before we’re through. Our next stop will be the Red Centre of Australia’s fearsome outback. Get ready for more.