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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Days 39-41: Adelaide, South Australia

South Australia is the fifth and last state we visited in Australia. I was predisposed to like South Australia, because whenever we mentioned that this was the climax of our trip, we got the same question: “Why?” No one thought much of our plan to visit Adelaide. When we said we have friends there, most people (but not all) stopped their disparaging remarks. They also kept saying that Adelaide is a city of churches, as if this is a bad thing.  As I originate from a part of the States (the South) that is unpopular with many people, and that they don’t want to visit having never been there, I could imagine how a South Australian might feel.

Here are some facts I’d be proud of, if I were from South Australia: The first British settlement (at what is now Glenelg) was free, not convict—unique in Australia. Of course, someone was already there: the Kaurna. Despite a fraught history, South Australia was the first state to “grant” Aboriginal people title to their land. It was one of the first places in the world where women could vote, and they could stand for parliament as early as 1894. South Australia was also the first state in Australia to outlaw racial and gender discrimination, and to decriminalize homosexuality.

I walked along Rundle Street and along pedestrianized Rundle Mall, looking through at the beautiful old arcades running between there and Grenfell Street. In the evening we made our way over to Hindley Street, the red-light district. Right in the middle of Thai massage parlors and people smoking water pipes is Jerusalem Sheshkebab House, a hole in the wall serving hummus, falafel, baklava and Jerusalem coffee. It is the sort of place that has been there forever and doesn’t charge very much. The music was kind of like a Middle Eastern Betty Boop cartoon, as T. pointed out. You cannot go wrong with pictures of Jerusalem on the wall and a dive atmosphere—and shesh kebabs, of course.
At Glenelg, there’s a Bay Discovery Centre where you can learn about the Kaurna people and the early history of British settlement. There was also, more cheerily, beach volleyball. We had breakfast at “Australia’s best café” (they do love to claim things like this). Bushwalking hadn’t seemed like the best idea what with all the smoke and fires we’d been hearing about, so we opted for another day on the beach. After lunch in Chinatown and a walk around the Central Market. Victoria Square was all given over to a bicycle expo because the Tour Down Under was going on—the tram stopped for some of the cyclists to go through.

And so I swam in yet another ocean—the Southern Ocean (actually Gulf St. Vincent, but that’s what it empties into). Nothing between me and the South Pole, but it sure didn’t feel as cold as the Tasman Sea! Had the most delicious pasta arrabiata at Pellegrini’s Pizzeria Café and, of course, met up with said friends, some of whom I actually met through a church, for goodness’s sake. More accurately, through a wine tour that was raising money for a new church organ, but who’s counting?
That wine tour was also in January but in Canada, through the snowy Niagara ice wine region. What a contrast with the Barossa Valley in South Australia, where we spent our last day. Founded by Germans fleeing religious persecution (hence all the churches), towns like Tanunda held a lot of charm. We got to taste a lot of wines (or ports, in T’s case), most notably at an 1850s cellar door in an old stable that made sparkling shiraz. I think that may be a uniquely Australian wine. We had a lovely tasting lunch overlooking one vineyard, then whiled away the afternoon on the deck overlooking another. That was a more structured tasting, where I unfortunately found that the $100 bottle was to my taste. Bearing in mind this is Australia, where $100 doesn’t go very far!

One last walk along the sand, one last dip of feet into the Southern Ocean, one final barbecue. A wonderful way to finish our stay in Adelaide and Australia in general—with friends.

So what have I learned from my trip (three-quarters of the way so far) around the world? First, that we overpacked. The Discreet Traveler used to be pretty good about this—I’ve backpacked, literally, around Ireland and Germany in my time—but that adage about “pack what you think you’ll need, then take half of that” really is true. Seriously. If you think you might read two books, pack one and exchange it for another one later. Wear the same shirt or find more opportunities to do laundry. Believe me, it will work out. It is literally true that you only need half.

Australia is amazing. It has the oldest history on earth—the Australian Aborigines have lived there for fifty thousand years (or always, depending on how you tell history). The waters off Australia have amazing species like the manatee-like dugong and six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle, all endangered. Australia is very far away from pretty much everywhere else, and it is expensive, but it is also a very friendly country. And because Australians travel all over the world, you are never far from a friendly Australian. South Australia was in fact a great way to cap off our visit, because what makes a city, state, or country is not its politics or geography or climate. It’s the presence of friends.

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