Christmas in Adelaide: Wine, Bratwurst and Basketball

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December 26th 2009
Published: January 27th 2010
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So I finally left Brisbane and flew to Adelaide, the third and fifth largest cities of Australia respectively. The weekend I left it rained a fair bit in Brisbane - a rare occurrence when I was there - in fact Tracy told me that it never really let up for about two weeks. Brisbane was now in the dreaded 'awful season', basically nearly 100 percent humidity; a sweaty back as soon as you left the house. I seriously chose a good time to live in Brisbane as well leave it.

Adelaide on the other hand had blue skies - but an oven like heat.

I arrived at Adelaide airport in the evening where H was waiting for me. That night I slept on a comfy mattress on the wooden floor of her bedroom. The next day we ventured out, Adelaide was dry and hot - it’s the driest state capital in Australia - and I noticed the sun has a different feel here; it’s not just in the sky, it actually gives your skin a tingling sensation. It’s clearly dangerous to be an Englishman and fond of midday strolls here.

Adelaide (and some history)

In the morning 'H'
St Francis Xavier's CathedralSt Francis Xavier's CathedralSt Francis Xavier's Cathedral

Gothic Revival building in the Early English style
and I caught a bus into the city centre - car is king here so public transport seems to be the preserve of the under-class and the student. But I was surprised by how many odd-balls there were on board - people muttering to themselves, bogans wearing their vests and beaten up baseball caps and the pongy unkempt lot using crutches.

The city itself has an interesting feel to it - English and sedate. The city was founded in 1836 as the planned capital for the only freely settled British province in Australia. No convicts were sent here, as South Australians proudly tell you - although convicts who’d carried out their sentence would have. The city was named in honour of Queen Adelaide, the consort of King William IV - pretty much unknown to well, everybody.

However this lass - well we've met before - she used to live up the road from me back in London. After the death of her husband the king, Adelaide lived at Bentley Priory and I used to take walks from my house to the nearby "Summerhouse Lake" so named because Queen Adelaide had a lakeside gazebo there.

We got off the bus along one of the main streets (King Wiliam Street) and strolled through the grounds of the University of Adelaide and along the grass banks of the River Torrens. The public monuments reflect its British imperial background - a grand statue of King Edward VII, old Parliament House with a sculpture from the British Houses of Parliament, Boer War memorials commemorating Australians who volunteered and died for the Empire in South Africa. Oh, and of course the many English-style churches - Adelaide is known in Australia as the “city of churches”.

I was at once delighted by these examples of Britishness and seemingly sincere demonstrations of and loyalty to Empire so far away from the mother country. But modern Australians seem either embarrassed by them or blind to them. I have to admit that the longer I am in Australia the more I share their collective cringe at these monuments - it's all well and good to have a British history - but they have simply moved on from the era of regarding England as the mother country.

Adelaide is a bit strange too because the city was designed in a grid layout, interspaced by wide boulevards
Medina Grand Adelaide TreasuryMedina Grand Adelaide TreasuryMedina Grand Adelaide Treasury

Formerly the State Treasury building
and large public squares, and entirely surrounded by parkland. The person who chose its location and design was Colonel William Light (1786-1839) second son of Captain Francis Light who in 1786 had established the first British settlement at Penang in Malaysia - and a very nice place it is too having visited in June 2009.

In his Brief Journal (1839, 115) he wrote:

The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judged at present. My enemies, however, have done me the good service of fixing the whole of the responsibility on me. I am perfectly willing to bear it; and leave it to posterity, and not to them, to decide whether I am entitled to praise or blame.

Adelaide is thus not at all congested with ts port and central administrative and business centres separate from each other. It is pleasant to walk around so that’s what H' and I did - under an intense sun. We popped into the State Library (I seem to have visited every single state library in Australia) and then visited the Art Gallery of South Australia - which actually had a good collection of European as well as Italian Renaissance art; quite a few 18th Century English painters such as Thomas Gainsborough, Joseph Wright of Derby, Joshua Reynolds, Henry Raeburns, it even had a 16th Century portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger.

We then had rested our feet with a few beers at The Austral pub - tasting the local Coopers ale - a family
Colonel William LightColonel William LightColonel William Light

...the first surveyor-general of South Australia. His plan, now known as Light's Vision, arranged Adelaide in a grid, with five squares in the inner City of Adelaide and a ring of parks known as the Adelaide Parklands surrounding it.
owned brewery since the 1860s and the only one left in Australia. Alas I still haven’t developed a taste for cold fizzy ale here, no matter what the temperature here.

Wine tasting and bratwurst

The next day H drove me out into the Adelaide Hills for some wine tasting at the vineyards as well as a visit to the small town of Hahndorf . Settled in the 1830s by Lutheran migrants largely from in and around a small village then named "Kay" in Prussia, many of which were aboard the Zebra. The town was named after Danish Captain Dirk Meinhertz Hahn, who was captain of the Zebra. We walked along the main street looking at the German cookoo clock shops, food parlours and pubs. We stopped off at the oldest one called the Hahndorf Inn and had a terrific German sausage lunch - however the Munich Hofbrauhaus beer cost me 12 dollars (over 6 GBP) - owch. Afterwards we drove into the beautiful countryside and visited some of the open wine cellars to try some of its wines. This area is the oldest wine region in Australia and we tasted a lot of good stuff, one winery in
Lunch at the Hahndorf InnLunch at the Hahndorf InnLunch at the Hahndorf Inn

Cheese Kransky and a Deluxe Vienna sausage served with sauerkraut, creamy Rhine potato and a selection of German mustards
particular called The Bird in Hand was the best. They exclusively provide The Wimbledon Championships with its Rose wine but there other stuff is very good and I bought a delicious bottle of Tempranillo from them.

Later that night H took to me to see a basketball game between the Adelaide “36ers” and the Perth “Wildcats”. It was pretty entertaining - they had the cheerleaders and entertainment on show and the game was pretty tight. I even got to meet one of the players afterwards, a huge fella who H was friends with - all 7 foot 1 of him.

Christmas sun!

I’ve spent most of my twenties doing my own Christmas thing - usually with friends or housemates. But Christmas this year was going to have an added novelty factor - it would be with H’s entire family and friends (in Australia!) plus it was going to be very sunny! For a person from the northern hemisphere Christmas is strange in Australia - cards with snowy images, big green trees, Santa Claus in winter clothing and then the 30 degree sunshine outside. Cue a great big table out in the sunny garden, eating great food (duck), lots of salad, drinking lots of good wine. Everybody treated me as part of the family and only occasionally did I get teased for being a “Pom” - whereby I took solace in my lovely John Smiths Ale. I chatted with H’s aunts and uncles and a few of H’s friends also came over to visit so I wasn’t the only hobo at the table, there must have been about 25 people in total out in the garden. A Christmas I don’t think I’ll ever have again.

Back inside the house we all played a game where we wrapped something we didn’t want for Christmas and then exchanged it for something we did, again this involved loads of people and a hot competition for some Scotch Whisky that the grandparents eventually obtained.

‘H’ and her immediate family then gave out more personal presents to each other - I received a small digital Dictaphone for my travels and some Cadbury’s Chocolate (the British brand is as present here as it is back home).

Travel plans to Melbourne

After all the Christmas merriment I left H’s place and branched out into the city proper - leaving H’s a youth hostel in the city. My aim now was to head eastwards to Melbourne and find work there. So I trawled the notice boards in and around the city’s hostels for people who wanted to share the ride. Doreen soon contacted me about hiring a car and driving along the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne. Doreen, who was in her middle 30s and from Germany, was travelling around Australia for a few months. So, we met up and spent a few hours in The Grace Emilypub across the road from our hostel. And what a great pub that was, chock full of weird historic paintings and posters of matinee idols as well as a piano, it was by far the most atmospheric pub I’d been to in Australia. The best part of all was the 20 cents pool table, 20 cents! There is hardly anything here you can buy for that amount, let alone pool, which up to this point I’d been suffering 2 dollar and sometimes 3 dollar prices. Anyway, some lo-fi band was playing and we got to play some pool in amongst getting to know each other. The following day we agreed to meet up and hire
Captain Charles SturtCaptain Charles SturtCaptain Charles Sturt

English explorer of Australia. He led several expeditions into the interior of the continent, starting from both Sydney and later from Adelaide. His expeditions traced several of the westward-flowing rivers, establishing that they all merged into the Murray River. He was searching to determine if there was an "inland sea".
some free bicycles for the day and explore scenic North Adelaide. There we cycled around the beautiful 19th Century mansions and houses and wide boulevards, something I never saw in Brisbane. To top it off was the Adelaide Oval, overlooked by St Peter's Cathedral, one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in Australia, if not the world.

Adelaide: In conclusion

It's a nice looking-city is Adelaide - picturesque, green and peaceful - it's not Grozny but then it's not London either - in fact it's more like Birmingham on a hot day. It's inclusion in the top ten 'most liveable cities' survey that The Economist likes to produce in my mind condemns it - because they usually feature nice but ultimately dull cities, like Perth and Vancouver.

It didn't help that the place is so spread out into suburbs that it's centre seems dead. Nor that it was the weird Christmas period - where people are scarce on the ground and the shops are closed - in fact large portions of Australian businesses close until late January - it's their summer you see.

However, Adelaide wasn't my problem any more, I was heading off to Melbourne next - the second biggest city in Australia and a cultural powerhouse - as well as home to the greatest TV soap ever - in my youth - Neighbours....

What I'm reading:
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

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