There was a storm right over Melbourne Airport so my flight to Adelaide was delayed by more than three hours. I had planned to grab dinner in a sushi bar and to spend the evening strolling around the city centre but it was well after dark by the time I arrived.
I stepped off the bus into the middle of a street brawl. I swung my rucksack onto my back and walked away as fast as my 20kg of luggage would allow. A few blocks later I saw a drunk man standing outside a building shouting abuse at some people on the balcony. I realised with dismay that the building was my youth hostel and the people on the balcony were some of the guests.
“Don’t worry, it’s not always like this,” the man at the reception said. I asked if there was anywhere nearby where I could get something to eat. He directed me to Hindley Street. “It looks seedy because there are lots of strip bars and night clubs but don’t be scared, it’s quite safe.” He thought for a moment then added. “Except at the weekend.”
Great. Where in God’s name had I come to?!
After making a bad first impression, Adelaide didn’t seem much better the next day. It suffered from following immediately on from Melbourne. I went to Central Market but it just wasn’t as good as the Queen Victoria market. The street art wasn’t as vibrant and the coffee wasn’t as smooth. Everything that I liked about Melbourne was a shade less awesome in Adelaide.
I left for a few weeks to do some grape picking in the Barossa Valley (and yes, I did see some redbacks) and came back to Adelaide for the festival. This is when the city really came into its own.
Most of the events in Writers’ Week were free: completely, utterly, wonderfully free. I saw Kate Grenville, Jo Nesbø and Alice Pung FOR FREE. And you know what a geek I am about author events; I was riding on that high for a week.
The event space in the Women’s Memorial Garden was open, under the shade of trees and canopies, which made the whole thing even more accessible. This would never work in the Edinburgh Book Festival where the frequent rain would make for soggy audiences but in South Australia, the driest state in the driest continent in the world (as we are constantly being reminded by stickers above sinks in public toilets and youth hostel kitchens), it works well.
Sadly the Adelaide Fringe is less accessible than the Edinburgh Fringe because the tickets are so expensive, but I still managed to stretch my budget to two shows: slapstick comedy Kaput and the dirty, flirty East End Cabaret.
I spent most of last weekend hanging out at WOMAD, which has got to be one of the easiest festivals in the world to get into for free. What you do is you run up to the gate shouting “I’ve lost my lanyard but you’ve got to let me in, quick! Quick! My band’s about to go on stage and they can’t play without me.” Or you say “I’m under 12. My mum’s over there to vouch for me,” and point to some random woman in the crowd before running through the gate to get your free wristband slapped on by some well meaning volunteer who overlooks the fact that you’re 6ft tall and have acne/facial hair. Or you could do what I did and get a festival pass in exchange for 14 hours of your life scanning wristbands at the entrance, where you will witness a whole range of people blag their way in for free.
On my last day in Adelaide I hung out with Ruby in Glenelg, a seaside suburb close to where she grew up. She was desperate to show me her favourite places in the area which was really quite sweet and somehow made up for the time I had to spend hearing about all the things you can do with marshmallows and chocolate sauce to make money.
We visited some great boutique shops that sold clothes made out of reworked vintage pieces. The dresses were beautiful and quite affordable at around $30. If it wasn’t for my already ridiculously heavy rucksack I might have treated myself to something. That kind of stuff can cost $100 in Melbourne, so perhaps Adelaide is a shade more awesome in some areas too.