Adelaide: Isn't it just about time?
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Wednesday, 30th June 2010
Yeoh Siew Hoon takes the time to explore Adelaide a little more this time round and finds it's all about time in this Australian city.

Adelaide, laidback and easy

Adelaide is the kind of place that if you told other Australians you were going to, they'd ask, "Why?"

The first time I mentioned I was going to Adelaide to a group of Australians over lunch, they broke out into laughter. One whispered to me, gesturing to their boss, "Don't tell him, don't even mention the name – he'll go nuts."

I did, and he did. Turned out in his previous career he had to be in Adelaide almost every other week and grew to loathe the place.

Another told me his company wanted to send him to Adelaide or a few months. He resisted and they desisted and he ended up commuting instead over that period. "I couldn't have lived there, I can't stand the place."

I was rather curious after all that to find out what it was about Adelaide that would evoke such strong feelings in grown men.

It wasn't my first time to the South Australian city but it'd been a while since that first visit. I remember a flat, square, quiet place. And the Barossa vineyards. And I remember Hindley Street, because I stumbled into a strip club and was then mistaken as a Vietnamese by a group of drunken louts.

Churches, wines and strip clubs – yes, those were my memories of Adelaide. Not very flattering but I was determined to go with an open mind this time. After all, many things can change in a year these days, let alone 10 or 20.

I landed in Adelaide on a Friday morning. It was my only free day before business commenced at the Australian Tourism Exchange. I had a choice of two things to do – take the tram to Glenelg, the beach town, or the vineyards of Adelaide Hills. The weather pointed me to the hills, or perhaps it was my thirst.

A tram on the go

A friend and I took a taxi. The driver was an Indian who had just become a citizen. He earned it by doing four years as a paramedic in a gold and uranium mine in Southern Australia. Now he was biding his time till he got a "proper" job in Sydney.

He didn't know his way round the hills so we guided him. We had been told to head to Harndorf, the first German settlement in the area. It was just a few days before the onset of winter – three more days, we were told – and the leaves were all yellows, golds and browns.

It's the kind of landscape urban Asian tropical beings dream about – rolling green hills, tall trees with golden tops, sheep grazing, a pond here or there to break the beautiful monotony of nature.

We saw a sign for the Harndorf Hill Winery. "Turn in here please," we told our driver. He did. We hopped out but had to leave because the place was only doing Choco-Vino specials, no food, and we needed solids before liquids. We were recommended The Lane up the hill and so up and round we went.

The Lane was open and bustling with customers. Perhaps it was because it was one of the few places in the area open for lunch. It took a while for us to get our food – "sorry the kitchen's very busy and everyone has to take their turn" – so we did and while we waited, we tasted the chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot, shiraz and goodness knows what else.

The food, when it came, was delicious. Crab and quail, a delightful combination with a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc.

Right: Adelaide is a city made for walking

We wanted to linger but our driver was impatient and we had to get back for an appointment anyway. I resolved to keep the day free next time should I return to Adelaide Hills.

In town, local celebrity chef Mark Gleeson was waiting to take us on a tour of the Adelaide Central Market. This is the biggest market in town and it's where everything comes to be traded and sold, we were told. Fish, cheese, breads, vegetables, honey, meat – it's a bit different from the wet market in Penang. Slightly cleaner and more organized, I dare say.

Gleeson is full of glee telling us how Adelaide has the best of everything – fish, oysters, honey, cheeses. I like the way Australians are so proud of their own state – and how competitive they get sometimes. I guess we are all the same – I always say Penang food is the best and my friends in Ipoh disagree.

Gleeson used to be a chef and owned a restaurant, then he sold it. "I prefer this," he said, "taking people around, talking about food. Better than cooking."

Food in Adelaide, he told me, has improved in many ways, not only the range of products but the quality of the produce. Asian influences have also seeped into the way of cooking and for a small place, Adelaide has a great number of pretty good restaurants, most of then located on Gouger Street.

One evening, I was taken to a restaurant called The Treasury (because it is part of a building that used to be the treasury). It's next to the Medina Grand Hotel and I am told the bar is a happening place but the night I was there, there were just a few blokes there watching television.

The restaurant is housed in an elegant room, the service was excellent and the food delicious. I had a beautiful piece of lamb with a side order of french beans which were cooked just right. The dessert, a warm chocolate cake, oozed sin.

Adelaide is a city made for walking – it's laid out in a square and it's hard to get lost in – and the cool autumn weather was perfect for walks. I walked most mornings to the convention centre, passing by offices, shops and cafes and watched Adelaideans go about their daily life. I consciously had to slow down – people walk more slowly here like they do most things. And they're right, why hurry? When in Adelaide, as with anywhere, go with the flow.

I saw many young people of different races – it's a melting pot of students and I like the youthful feel of the city. The University of Adelaide is sited right within the city, next to the Botanic Park, and close to the Zoo.

Living in Singapore, I appreciate the proximity of things. You can walk almost anywhere to the main attractions within the city. I went to the Zoo to visit the two pandas, Funi and Wang Wang, who are stealing the show and making lots of friends. They do nothing but eat really – lumbering around the bamboo leaves – but they are adorable. (Watch videos below)

The Zoo: Giraffes and Wang Wang, the panda

You don't go to Adelaide for the shopping and nightlife. If you want that, go to Sydney or Melbourne. Although at the Entertainment Centre, I saw many acts lined up – from Michael Buible to Cat Stevens to Leonard Cohen. The X-Factor was also beginning auditions in Adelaide the week I was there.

But these are things you need time for and enjoying Adelaide is all about time – as one of the state tourism body's marketing slogans goes, "Isn't it just about time?" You need time to unwind, you need time to walk, you need time to talk to the local characters that to me make up any city.

One evening, I was picked up by a taxi driver who looked old enough to be my grandfather if he were still alive. I noticed him too because of all the drivers I had met, he was the only European among them. He had arrived in Sydney in the 60s, and worked his way round Australia as a cabbie, ending in Adelaide 20 years ago.

"I love it here, it's a beautiful city," he said as he promptly gave me a tour of his Adelaide. He reminded me of the old London cabbie who was proud of what he did, who knew streets like the back of his hand and knew how to treat customers as guests.

"These young people, they don't know anything," he said. Then he added, "You know if it would be possible for me to work as a taxi driver in Singapore or Bali?"

I don't know, sir, but Singapore sure needs you.

Photos courtesy of Yeoh Siew Hoon

4Hoteliers Image LibraryYeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com . Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.

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