In a word, Adelaide, South Australia, is schizophrenic. Example. On Synagogue Place, off the hustling and bustling downtown pedestrian street, Rundle Mall, there’s a large old white building built in 1846 with a huge Star of David over the door. Nothing strange about that however just below in huge bold upper case red neon letters is a sign spelling out the word CHURCH. Except it isn’t a place of religious worship in the holy sense but is instead, devoted to another theology, that of hedonism. It’s a nightclub. Then there’s Hindley Street where a few up market hotels and shops are located next to soft porn shops, adult book boutiques and gaudy sexy outfitters with unusual sense of style and fabrication, in what is kindly known in this Down Under city, as the Pink Light district. To me it was deep red.

Now, a stone’s throw from this particular block of questionable establishments is a most elegant wide street, King William, lined with large serious buildings that are light years from the raciness and tackiness of its next door neighbor.

However, when push comes to shove, this is one heck of a great civilized city. It’s also the only municipality in Australia that wasn’t ever a penal colony but started as a well laid out grid-style city planned by a man with vision in 1836. . This proud city can boast of never having had convict skeletons in their cupboards. The founder Colonel William Light, now in the form of a bronze statue, surveys the city with a population of over 1.2 million from the bucolic Montefiore Hill overlooking the spread out metropolis

Few cities can fess up to fresh unpolluted air, extensive sandy beaches, walkable uncrowded streets and the backdrop of Adelaide Hills to the east and the Gulf of St. Vincent to the west plus nearby vineyards that account for 70% of the state of South Australia’s total exports.

My Greek born taxi driver insisted that this is the most livable city in the world as he drove me to the Adelaide Central Market which opened in 1870, near the city’s nucleus, Victoria Square.

I’ve been to covered bazaars in Istanbul, souks in Marrakech, small charming European street markets. But for the range of fresh produce, international foods, dried herbs and condiments of the Orient and still-flapping fish, this market is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Firstly, nobody hassles you, not a tout to be seen, and not only do they have colourful stalls featuring fruits I’ve never heard about or tasted before, every vendor I approached insisted I try their products.

I started with hot out-of-the-oven macadamia nuts at Charlesworth Nuts, (fabulous), emu tongue and kangaroo pepperoni at Barossa Fine Food ( and fabulously interesting), an ad hoc olive oil tasting from the locally grown trees at Promidore, (all six differently herbed oils, were again fabulous), tasted the South Australian cheeses ( yet again the ‘f’ word). I’m also tired of using the word fabulous- but that they were) as I continued to munch on white peaches and Maltese pears at a fruit stand. My caloric count lapsed and I went big time for decadence at Haigh’s famous chocolates ( “Sydney may have the Opera House and the Bridge, but we have Haigh’s,” my guide concluded). And for coffee without a designer label, The Perfect Cup, served one of the best lattes I’ve ever had.

In the midst of all these treats, there are shops of clothing, shoes, a pharmacy and indoor cafes particularly Zuma, where all the tables were filled by 11.30AM. This was the perfect indicator of a city of foodies with a passion for eating. Per capita, Adelaide has more restaurants than any other city in Oz. Just outside the Central Market were sidewalk cafes everywhere, all tables were occupied.

That evening, I was a guest of friends at the newly opened Auge. Simplicity, sleek décor and fine food, I was soon to discover, deflected my preconceived idea that Adelaide was a staid city.

To emphasize this, the hip JamFactory, a venue for arts and crafts by emerging Australian designers, features contemporary ceramics, hot glass designs, metal and furniture items. Pretty white ceramic ballerinas in pastel colored tutus in the window, seem to beckon with their charming poses and innocent glances. Great design seems to be everywhere. One of the newest hotels, The Embassy, which has been described as a “cool elegant and European retro” has the panache and innovation one expects in London and New York, The unashamedly colourful lobby features yellow glass panels juxtaposed to stainless steel and avant garde lighting fixtures. High comfort level has been incorporated into this slick suites-only small boutique hotel .

Lace wrought iron work, a décor feature brought to Adelaide from England during the Victorian period, is the signature on the houses of North Adelaide. But naturally, the real sense of what this country is all about is found in the Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery with comprehensive displays focusing on 3000 items of Aboriginal origin Darrin, the Aboriginal guide, was delighted to show off three extremely important ancient weapons on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. “Isn’t possession nine tenths of the law,” he smiled when I asked when they had to be returned. He didn’t answer. I suspect they will be on exhibit for a very long time.

Few cities in the world can boast of a major vineyard within the city limits. Yet another plus for Adelaide, is the 5-star Magill Estate Restaurant, part of the famous Penfolds Winery, which offers modern Australian cuisines and has one of the most impressive wine cellars in the country. The Shiraz, for which they are renowned, was grand, the lamb surprisingly tough, the view which overlooks the 5 hectare vineyard, spectacular.

A learning curve for me the next day, was the visit to the impressive new high-tech National Wine Centre, again a study of fine contemporary, original architecture with vision and also an education in the art of wine making. This centre is becoming one of the state’s major tourist attractions.

Historic H-type tram carriages, part of South Australia’s transport history, leaves every 15 minutes from Victoria Square to the seaside. The ride is Australian $1.50 and for half an hour you’ll see other sides of the city and you’ll eventually arrive at the cleanest, most unpolluted beaches at Glenelg. This wondrous seaside colony is approximately 12 kms from Adelaide and seemingly, a world away. There’s a cosmopolitan bustling, a plethora of outdoor cafes with the great addition of the white sand and surf. Australians being sportive by nature, were playing everything from volley ball to carrying their surf boards.

Adelaide, a vibrant and happening city, is the pinnacle of perfection and deserves all the accolades it has been receiving as we tourists look for new destinations where there is the ultimate in comfort and safety.

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Dial 61 8 for Adelaide

WHERE TO STAY

The Embassy,
96 North Terrace
8124 9900

WHERE TO EAT

Auge
22 Grote Street
8410 9332

Magill Estate Restaurant
78 Penfold Road
8301 5551

Star of Siam
67 Gouger Street
8231 3527

Ying Chow Restaurant
114 Gouger St.
8211 7998

The Melting Pot
160 King William Road
Hyde Park
8373 2044

AT GLENELG

Lido Café Restaurant (ask to sit outdoors)
Marina Pier Holdfast Shore
8294 0111

Charlotte’s (for great pastry treats and European flavor atmosphere)
Moseley Square
8376 1222

CASUAL EATS

Scuzzi Caffe
Rundle Street

WHERE TO BE SEEN AND SEE

Universal Wine Bar
265 Rundle Street
61 8 8232 5000

HAIR SALON

Limbo (ask for Karen)
1st floor
233a Rundle Street
9223 1942

WHERE TO SHOP

Miss Gladys Sym Choon (for trendy, quirky Australian fashion)

233-235a Rundle Street
8223 1500

Adelaide Central Market Gouger Street

Jam Factory 19 Morphett Street
8410 0727

National Wine Centre of Australia
Corner Hackney and Botanic Roads
8222 9222

Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery
North Terrace

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