Springtime in Adelaide (or a Break from Bali)

You know you’ve been living in Bali too long when a sight such as this leaves you breathless (and envious); tugs at your heartstrings, reminding you of the joys of strolling through parks, picnics on lawns, playing ball, throwing Frisbees, rolling around on the grass with infant niblings, or reclining against a shady tree to read a book. Which is why I fell for Adelaide – not hard enough to warrant a move there, mind you; but still. It swept me up in all its verdant beauty.. much of it situated right INSIDE the city’s borders. Parklands and well-tended patches of lawn are everywhere.  You can’t walk more than a couple of blocks without stepping onto grass. Blessed be the gods of green.

Imagine, then, what it was like for me to spend a few hours in the Botanic Gardens, a mere stone’s throw from the CBD’s (central business district) main thoroughfare, lined with office buildings; and across the street from Tiffany’s – though why this rather laid back, outdoorsy and decidedly non-glittery SA city features a glitzy Fifth Avenue store of this caliber is still beyond me. Featuring hundreds (if not thousands) of flora, bottle and cork trees, wattle and aloe bushes and gum trees / eucalypti, and the unique Victoria Amazonica – with a fabulous network of ribbing hidden underside, the expansive grounds will grow again as soon as the newly-shuttered Royal Adelaide Hospital is razed to the ground. Perhaps a plaque will remain, attesting to its once-presence.. much like another plaque elsewhere in the gardens, that marks the location of the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum, which closed down in 1902.

An all-slate installation, by the British grand poobah of site-specific natural landscapes, Andy Goldsworthy, is partially hidden away (for reasons unknown) in a quiet and shaded corner of the gardens; though his beehive-like installation is more visible on the road leading from the airport to town.

I’d wager that during any of Adelaide’s season, you don’t even have to step into the Botanic gardens or onto any grassy patch for that matter, to feel like you’re immersed in nature. Just listen out for the shrill sounds of the rosella parakeets, watch out for swooping magpies or fruit bats.

Adelaide’s natural habitat comes right up to you, smiles into your face, Imax-style.

Even off-grass, the sheer size and expanse of roads are a wonder to behold. Without a hint of potholes to be seen, the roads, highways and side streets are majestic-looking; wide enough to accommodate the cars, taxis and buses (free bus, anyone? Yup!) that flow easily throughout the city and beyond (traffic is a rarity); bicycle lanes, pedestrian paths, duck crossings, parking areas that allow vehicles to park perpendicularly to the sidewalk. Sidewalks at street corners are inclined towards the road, to accommodate wheelchairs, roller skates, kids on bikes.

So yes, the city is generous in what it provides to its citizens; its air and streets are clean. It’s chock-full of churches of every stripe. And pubs. And gaming sites. Many of them. There’s a midtown pedestrian mall – with musicians busking, florists and farmers selling, vendors making crepes, people talking (to themselves). And, everywhere, coffee outlets. So popular is coffee in this town, and so loyal are locals to their favorite brands that Starbucks didn’t last long.

But never far from the sites and thoughts of Australians is their reckoning with the past. While the Migration Museum displays panels and photographs attesting to the centuries of recorded immigration, from Britain, Greece, Italy, Canada, China, and elsewhere around Asia; it also comes clean on the awful truths of colonization and decimation of aboriginal culture. Together with these understandings are signs of reconciliation and collaborative efforts in looking towards the future. The Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute, the first of its kind in Australia, goes a long way in teaching about historical artifacts and exhibiting contemporary artist output of Aboriginals across the country.

In a city of its size (approx. 1 million residents), Adelaide packs a punch. You can go to the beach in the morning and trek up into the Hills in the afternoon. Sure you can get pizza, burgers and Subway sandwiches; but you’ll also find Max Brenner chocolates; mouthwatering couscous at the Central Market’s Le Souk; some divine vegetarian dishes dreamed up by a Lebanese chef (Balaboosta. Go!), and the best Uyghur cuisine this side of East Turkistan (Silk Road).

Even if I was geographically thousands of miles away from Bali, turns out that it follows me wherever I go: The morning before I left Adelaide, I attended a yoga class. The teacher took one look at my outstretched hands and straightened them out. “You’ve been around those Balinese dancers too long,” she said.

Which perhaps is best summed up like this: You can take the woman out of Bali, but the reverse? Not so easy…

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