Friday, 10 January 2014

20th-23rd Dec - Adelaide

You can tell a lot about a city by the way it's pedestrians cross the road. In London, disregarding the traffic lights, we impatiently cross when a relatively safe gap in traffic appears. In Hanoi, pedestrians share the road with scooters, taxis and wildfowl, crossing it like headless chickens, but rarely getting so much as a scratch as the river of vehicles flows round them. In LA, pedestrians are clearly bums who can't afford cars, so jaywalking rules are enforced with relish. In Dubai there are no pedestrians because there are no sidewalks. In Adelaide, like in Berlin, pedestrians will wait civilly and obediently for the green man, even when there's not a motor vehicle within sight.
In this manner, in this city, I began to feel like something of a pariah. I was the crazy outlaw who crossed the road before the signal turned red. Goodness me, I even got stared at when I briefly strayed from the cycle lane to the pedestrian side of the pavement despite there being only one other person to witness the infraction.

Adelaide is a very pleasant city. It's residents are proud of the fact that they're descended not from convicts like use in Sydney and Melbourne, but from free émigrés. People like me, wilfully infringing municipal by-laws with reckless abandon stand out like Jimmy Dean on a motorbike. 

Arriving off The Ghan, I bypassed the long queue for taxis, walked over the bridge and caught a public bus into town. The city circuit, as it is known, is the central business district of Adelaide, more or less square, on a grid plan and surrounded by a moat-like perimeter of parkland. This makes it very easy to navigate, but more subtlely does segregate the City Circuit from North Adelaide across the river and from the sprawling suburbs that stretch all the way past the airport to the beach.

Spare accommodation proved to be a little thin on the ground. It was near to Christmas and there was no room at the inn. Fortunately, some bright spark has installed free public wi-fi that reaches large parts of Adelaide, so before too long I was able to find digs at the Metropolitan Hotel. As you may know, that which is called an hotel in Australia is more like a British pub, but like our pubs, it may have some rooms for rent upstairs. Such was the case with The Met, a large and friendly pub opposite the central market, with 26 rooms, some with balconies, and live music in the courtyard most nights of the week. $55 for a single room is pretty good value for Australia, and with not much other choice, spent the next three nights there. Here's the lovely wrap around balcony where I found a good signal for Skype and a quiet corner for a solitary beer.

Opposite the Metropolitan is Adelaide's Central Market, a lively place packed with delis and local food sellers, I picked up half a dozen different cheeses and took them across to NZ with me. It opens early and closes around 3pm.
Next to the Metropolitan is the Majesty's theatre, it's neon sign looks great against the sunset, reminding me of New York's Chelsea Hotel.

In addition to the great food and drink, the spotless streets, trams and public wifi, what cements Adelaide in my mind as a supremely civilised city is the free bicycles. Several outlets across the cbd will lend you a dutch bike, lock and helmet between 8am and 5.30pm and all you have to do is leave your passport with them. So, taking full advantage, I explored the museums and galleries and even cycled the 12km down the River Torrens pathway to Glenelg on the coast.

Horses in the city, on the river near Glenelg.
Looking down the beach towards Glenelg, Adelaide's seaside suburb.
An experimental scheme to determine which of four types of wind turbine was most efficient. This is my kind of city. The two on the far right were spinning fast, the vertical axis and the tailless model were barely moving at all.
Yet another reason to love Adelaide - a 24hr pancake shop. Situated close to seedy Hindley Street where most kinds of appetite could be sated at all hours. The reliability of their late night clientele could be guessed from the pay-before-you-eat service. In case I gave the impression that Adelaide is all squeaky clean, there is an underbelly of strip-joints and adult stores here, but what I found more interesting was the shooting range in the city centre on Franklin Street. Unfortunately I was not permitted to test a Magnum .357 or a 9mm Glock, because one is obliged to go with a friend or a family member, I guess to vouch for your sanity. I tried to recruit an appropriate friend, but they didn't accept strippers at the range.
One more curiosity - if you look up at the buildings around Adelaide, particularly around Hindley Street, you'll see all sorts of signs, in different fonts, bearing the word 'Polites'. What could it possibly mean? A taxi driver gave me the answer - Constantine Polites was a Greek property tycoon who bought up dozens of Adelaide buildings and ensured that his name was displayed on each one. Thank goodness Trump didn't do the same in New York.
And finally, just to crown it off, a British pub, named after my local, The Elephant.

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