From a choo-choo train ride to a kinky looking spiritual temple, a visit to Solo can never lack of things to do. Solo city is packed with cultural excursions, culinary delights and shopping places. Stepping outside the city a little to the north, to Karanganyar regency, historical and adventurous activities await. Here are 10 things to do in Solo and Karanganyar based on what I experienced on my last trip a few weeks ago, on a famtrip held by Solo’s tourism board.
A bike tour operator, Ajib from The A Team, guided us to many iconic places in Solo. We rode from The Royal Heritage Surakarta hotel to the famous market Pasar Gede, the ruins of Vastenberg fort, the Javanese meets Mughal architectured Masjid Agung (Great Mosque), then passing through the Kauman batik village, the field of Mangkunegaran palace, and lastly Triwindu antique market. I found some of these places very attractive, I felt like sketching them. Unfortunately this whole tour took about 3 hours, giving only about 15 minutes stop at each spot. Well, it’s not enough for sketching, but enough to get to know about Solo in a nutshell.
This was not the normal route of Ajib’s bike tour. He was supposed to take us around to the east part of city crossing the Bengawan Solo river, but at that time the river was flooding so we did the plan B. His normal route includes visits to crafty and cultural places, like Gadingan village (the making of rice cracker called karak), Wirun village (the making of gongs and gamelan), and Sentul village (the making of fermented sugarcane beverage called ciu). I have to say this one sounds more interesting! Perhaps a visit to Solo in the dry season would be a better timing for the bike tour.
The Sepur Kluthuk Jaladara (means Jaladara Steam Loco) is a chartered train for tourists to see Solo city on a span of 5.6 km distance, starts from Purwosari station and ends at Sangkrah Station. You’ll have brief visits at a few spots, including the Loji Gandrung (now occupied by the city mayor) and, again, Kauman batik village. The ride includes tour guiding that’s also available in English. The visits were too brief for me to enjoy anything, but the main attraction was actually the steam loco. It was interesting to pass various neighborhoods of Solo city, from the slums to the busy Slamet Riyadi avenue.
The Victorian style loco sits up to 80 people, costing about $300 for the whole loco with 2 passenger carriages, more if you take the complete package with Javanese music entertainment and herbal drinks. The added service made my first choo-choo train ride even more interesting thing for me, I had to sketch It live.
Whether it’s the original Javanese or influenced by western food, Solo has so many kinds of unique food and the way of serving food. Here are 3 of the most memorable foods I had in Solo.
Sate Buntal is made of minced goat meat wrapped in goat fat. A stick of sate buntal contains more meat than the regular satay that consists of several lumps of meat, hence more satiating. Sate Buntal Bu Bejo is one of the most famous ones in Solo, located in Lojiwetan. I really enjoyed the savory meat mixed smeared with sweet soy sauce.
Tengkleng is a soupy dish with goat’s innards, bones and meat, was our lunch on the last day at Tengkleng Yu Tentrem. It’s a 30 year-old business, the owner cooks the tengkleng at the alleyway outside her house, and guests are welcome to dine in the dining room in her house. I’m seeing two things here: they don’t like to waste food and are very open to strangers!
When informed that we were going to Pasar Gede, I was excited. I once had one of my favorite beverages here, Dawet Telasih, and I couldn’t wait to have it again. A sweet beverage consists of black sticky rice, sumsum (rice flour), telasih (chia seeds look alike), coconut milk and coconut sugar. There are a few dawet telasih vendors in the market, and Bu Dermi’s is one of the most famous ones. I tried a few and I liked them all.
Our tour around Baluwarti area, which included the Keraton Solo Hadiningrat (palace), was guided by Fendi, a coordinator of Laku Lampah community. They’ve existed since 2012 and have set up a few routes aside to Baluwarti, such as Karanganyar. As a community that focuses on culture and history of Greater Solo, Laku Lampah also has access to a lot of cultural events that anybody can join for only a small fee.
After the palace, Fendi took us to the grave of the first person that ever owned land in Solo, and the first one who built what then became Solo city. His name was Ki Gede Sala, from which the name Solo derived (with Javanese specific way of pronunciation). And then to a huge house with vast yard owned by a prince, through attractive vintage alleys. Would I recommend the tour? You bet. It’s always interesting to be guided by someone who really cares about where they’re taking you.
It’s a Javanese theater usually performing themes from the epic Ramayana or Mahabharata. The show was about 2 hours long, starting at 9 pm, performing the “Alap-Alapan Sukesi” and all dialogue was in Javanese. I only understood – sort of – the story from the summarized plot on the screen next to the stage. There were some foreigners in the audience. If they hadn’t taken a course on Indonesian language, then I guess they were just enjoying the visuals. There was no booklet, no brochure or anything that could introduce the story to the audience. I struggled to keep my eyes open because I was tired and the play went quite slow, as how everything in Javanese culture is known to be.
What’s more interesting to me was behind the stage. We were welcomed to see the preparation of the play. The actors were putting their own make-up and costumes. And it’s no simple make-up like only powder and lipstick, it’s character make-up. They do this almost everyday because this is their day job, they are civil servants. I haven’t heard of this before. So aside from the lack of English subtitles, I salute Solo’s government for their effort to keep the culture alive.
Solo city has a lot of interesting objects to sketch if you’re into live sketching. Old buildings of Javanese or Dutch style, or mixed, they have it. Art deco, they have it. Or if you’re more into people, Solo has markets full of people with packed activities. Vehicles? There’s cars, motorbikes, vintage bicycles, becak, train, even choo-choo train. Culture? Oh, abundant!
None of my travel mates were into sketching, so I had to steal time whenever I could among our scheduled activities. I mean, I had to! There were too many interesting things to sketch! Live sketching while traveling for me is definitely one of the things to do in Solo.
Karanganyar, a regency within Greater Solo on the north of Solo city, is packed with activities in the nature. One of them is off-road adventure on the slope of Mount Lawu. There are a few communities operating the adventure, such as ASRT and Jangkar.
You can choose the type of route to go, the mild or tough one. We were taken on the mild route, the hardest spectacle was I think the thick fog. I like how dramatic fogs make your pictures look, but it means we couldn’t see the beautiful tea plantation clearly. Best time to go is around midday when it’s the clearest. Mumun went on the hard route a few years ago, and it involved getting in and out of a river with more dramatic turns. Warning: the jeeps may not be equipped with proper safety belts.
Reliefs of penis found everywhere at the trapezoid-shaped Sukuh temple. Built at 910 meters asl, the weather was pretty cool. You’ll be asked to wrap a cloth around your waist that covers at least down to your knees. Not for warming purpose, just to show respect to this religious/spiritual site. Yep, people still come to the temple for rituals at times.
We were supposed to go to Cetho temple as well, unfortunately we ran out of time. It was too late in the day, rain and fog were blocking the view it was too dangerous to continue upward. But we have written about Sukuh temple and Cetho temple before, just head down to this article. It is one of the things to do in Solo, or Karanganyar to be exact, that you should not miss.
Still at the slope of Mount Lawu and within the route of off-road adventure is Tahura Mangkunegoro, which is a forest park founded in 1999 – 2008. It was a pine forest, now planted with various trees, some are original from the mountain area. If you dig birdwatching, let me tell you that the Javan hawk-eagle is seen around here sometimes, as well as a few other endemic birds.
A camping ground is provided, along with the camping gear rentals. A trekking path exists, they just need to put signs so visitors wouldn’t get lost when trekking without a guide. A platform is present that can function as a performance stage.
Deep in the woods of Mount Lawu slope, there is a lake surrounded by eye-soothing green fields and trees. It’s actually not too far from a neighborhood, which local kids like to cannonball into the lake. The way to get there is as beautiful though quite undulating. The Hindu people still do their Melasti rituals there every year; a cleansing self with water ritual prior to Nyepi. To me, this lake and its surrounding is simply a sight for sore eyes. It’s totally one of the things to do in Solo, especially if you’re into the greens.
Also, sceneries to see, food to munch, and history or culture to learn in Solo and the surrounding. But I think you’d need to experience them for yourself and maybe add them to this list. Do tell us when you’re back from Solo!
This Chinese New Year is a bit special for me. Not only did I get to see the festival celebrating Chinese New Year in Solo, I also got to travel with some awesome travel mates during a trip called #ImlekNusantara. Thanks to the Ministry of Tourism, we were privileged to participate on the trip, work and all. Fun, festive, and friendship is what I call it and, fo sho, funtabulous!
Grebeg Sudiro is a festival that has been going on for a while. It’s a celebration held by Chinese descendants that have settled in Indonesia, Solo to be exact, and acculturated with the local Javanese ethnicity. It’s centered at Sudiro Prana Village, where a lot of Chinese people used to gather and live. The whole festival is basically a carnival with performers to see, dragons to feed angpao (envelopes containing money), and cakes on mountain-like structures. The streets were painted red with it being the color of the celebration.
People come from near and far just to see this carnival. Rich or poor, old and young, gay or straight, every type of people were there. I was happy to see the diverse kind of population gathering and just having a blast. The mayor and the minister of tourism even attended the opening of the carnival. Standing in the crowd, I can say, it’s the people’s party.
During the event, I was part of a sub-committee of the trip. The little time I had during the event, I paid up with a hanging out with the carnival folks after the show. They’re a fierce bunch of people, dedicated towards lifting heavy costumes and drenched in make-up for show. These were the carnival regulars. When the city’s party comes up, they’re in their costumes.
Hendi, one of the fierce carnival participants designed and made these fantabulous shoes. Guess what?! I could run in them (yes, I tried them on). They were surprisingly comfortable with no balancing issues, no matter how scary they seem. I found a new perspective and benchmark on high shoes. Truly! Now I understand how Lady Gaga does it! She probably was wearing his shoes. The rest of the gang was as friendly, entertaining my travel mates with their costumes, that we could try on.
On a different page, I was on the trip partially to help a project called #ImlekNusantara. It’s a campaign on social media and Indohoy was there to fiddle around with the itinerary, participate, and wake Alex up in his private suite. *cough
This is the third project from the Ministry of Tourism taking a chance on the new digital generation. Finally, it’s time we catch up with the world. The trip lasted for 4 days through Semarang and Solo, Central Java. We visited temples, ate local food, rumbled through the landscape and got drenched all the way through. On the trip we had travel social media ‘selebrities’ and instagramers with crazy numbers behind them. For Instagram we had @puanindya, @rianassaaf, @niseng and @konservative. For Twitter we had @TrinityTraveler, @aMrazing, @TravellerKaskus and @Catperku. On board was @FerryRusli, aerial and underwater photography extraordinaire, and @werdhap as videographer. Not to forget boss @Madalkatiri, Boele, and @exploresolo as local organizers. A lot of people, a lot of new found friendship.
What I learned on this trip was that you can never please everyone. The project had a slight bad rep for reasonable reasons, but it built good insight for myself seeing the ‘traveling’ world in Indonesia. I also learned that photographers, even for those on Instagram, have a different sense that probably can be taught, but more from talent. I remember Puan slobbered in her own sweat running back and forth taking pictures of landscapes, or Rian making something out of regular burning incense, or how humours Trinity by posting a weird photo of herself on Instagram. There’s a different instinct for creation from each person that was a joy to watch and learn.
And traveling with a good vibe is key for a great journey. Things happened. Cuts, bruises, sprains, and gassy stomach were a few things along the way but we managed to laugh it all off and enjoyed each other’s company. I enjoy traveling with great people, as they usually are really nice people.
My last note would be that it finally occurred to me that we have a national movement of a certain ethnicity in Indonesia. The Chinese New Year is celebrated all through the nation, wherever you can find Chinese descendants. Every city has their own way of celebrating, which makes this holiday a little more interesting wherever you travel. Awesome!
Finally, In the event of celebrating and acknowledging the Chinese ethnicity around Indonesia, the Ministry of Tourism is opening a photo contest on the Chinese New Year celebration. There’s a free trip up for grabs. You can read it all here, adding #PesonaIndonesia, #WonderfulImlek and #ImlekNusantara.
While some might be in bed just because it’s an Indonesian national holiday, some might be out there celebrating. How are you celebrating this year?
It’s Chinese New Year soon. Officially, it’s on the 19th of February 2015 but celebrations are happening all over Indonesia. We’re celebrating Grebeg Sudiro, a festival for Chinese New Year 2015 in Solo, with its people. It seems that not just people that have gathered for the show. Apparently a baby ‘barongsai’ or dragon was in the crowd watching its older siblings jump and dance around. It was such a cute sight, I couldn’t take my eyes of him during the show. The next generation of dragons are here and ready to continue the festivity of Chinese New Year in Solo. Watch out for those #ImlekNusantara.
And there’s a giveaway by the Ministry of Tourism. Better check #WonderfulImlek for more information.
Travel blogging has gotten us to places and events we never really imagined, and introduced us to people we didn’t think we would be friends with. Let alone attending a birthday party 512 km away! But for Explore Solo, we did. In the midst of work, a bit stressful wedding preparation and blog homework, I went to Solo, Central Java,on behalf of Indohoy, replacing for Mumun who was on a 10-day trip to Sumbawa. I was so excited to see the Explore Solo and Hifatlobrain guys! The vibe that these guys bring is different than most of our friends in Jakarta. Maybe it’s the culture, references, even slang words.
Explore Solo is now a toddler, a Trouble Three year-old. But as a community, they’re exactly the opposite of what you’d call a trouble. They’re reliably knowledgeable when it comes to cultures, especially Solo’s. Their trip organization business is going well, the group grew from 2 to 7 people now, in general they are getting stronger.
The 3rd birthday is celebrated by a talk show on travel documenting at Kafe Tiga Tjeret, followed by a photography trip around Solo – which sadly I couldn’t follow because I had to go back to Jakarta ASAP. Ayos from Hifatlobrain.net and I were there as talk show guests. We basically shared about our experiences and hopes in blogging on travel and everything that relates to it.
The event was opened with a speech from Pak Widi, the head of tourism board of Solo, and the mayor of the city was invited as well, but couldn’t make it. I know, right? It sounds like a really uberly extremely important event. It was and we were the guests. Unfortunately, it rained cats and dogs all through the event, which was probably the reason why some invitees couldn’t come. We, on the panel, had to scream when talking on a microphone so the attendees could hear us. I hope they did.
Agustinus Wibowo, a prominent travel writer, whose inspiring travel and life story has been told in his books, was also present and shared a bit about his views on traveling and travel documentation. So did the guy from Backpacker Community (oh no! I forgot his name!), who came straight from his Mount Rinjani hike and Triuntoro from travelbuck.net who shared about data documentation as well as persistently promoting his blogs and Twitter account. LOL..
In brief, we all have our own objectives and ways of documenting travels. Some intersect, some go in totally different ways. The guys from Backpacker Community likes to focus on stories of the “forgotten people”, like the porters on mountains. Ayos likes to travel to nearly unheard-of places, learns about the lives there and blogs about it…well, when he likes to. As for us Indohoy, I think we’re the most shallow one.. LOL. I admit we’re not as deep as the others. Starting our website with sharing practical information as our objective, we slowly and happily evolve our writings to a bit more human side sometimes. But all in all, I think it’s the diversity in travel documentation that makes us rich in information, and that we are free to determine our paths no matter what we’ve read and heard.
Solo, this relatively small city in Central Java, is timid with things to do and see, may it be cultural, culinary, historical, or something new. That’s probably why I’ve been to Solo several times in our mission to travel the whole Indonesia, even though there are still many places I’ve never been. This time, my visit to Solo was prompted by a major performance called Matah Ati, followed by activities that only added my fondness and wanting to know more about this city.
In July 2012 we were in Solo city for the Solo Batik Carnival, Only 2 months after that I was back in the city for Matah Ati performance. And these are just to name 2 of the many events held to elevate the appreciation toward arts and culture as well as to boost up the tourism.
Matah Ati was an epic – and I’m not saying this in the manner of 9 Gag – turned into an artistic performance consisted of dance, music, lighting, and everything you would expect from a stage performance, not to mention fire and gigantic shadow puppet! Click these words for my take on the performance.
Enjoying Javanese music much? Have you ever wondered how the musical instruments are made? 10 men in a dusty workshop, working with bronze, fire and welding equipment, and that’s just a the tip of the iceberg. Or must I say, the flare of the fire.
Taufiq and Yusuf from ExploreSolo.com took us to Supoyo’s workshop at Wirun village, where they make gongs and the rest of instruments for gamelan, the Javanese traditional orchestra. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in traveling Indonesia! Here’s the complete story of my visit.
Thanks to Natgeo Adventure’s Market Value program, I was encouraged to get to know Indonesia better through the markets, the traditional markets. Aside from its well maintenance, there’s another reason why Pasar Gede Hardjonagoro is now my favorite Indonesian traditional market: they have the best Javanese sweet beverage I’ve ever tasted, the Dawet Selasih Bu Watik. Slurp! The details are here.
If there’s anything better than sleeping in a hotel for free, it’s sleeping in a satisfying 4-star hotel for free. I was lucky to spend a night at Solo Paragon Hotel as it’s got a strategic location, helpful staff and complete facilities. Check out my review about the hotel.
It’s a heritage hotel and restaurant located exactly across the Mangkunegaran kraton (palace). I didn’t stay at the hotel but I did have lunch there. My verdict? Well, let’s just stay that I will go there again when I have a chance to be back in Solo city again J Here’s how my lunch went at Omah Sinten Restaurant.
One of the eateries I would recommend when you’re traveling in Solo would be Es Masuk restaurant. Food like selat (Solo’s version of salad), nasi pecel (veggie salad with peanut sauce over rice) and various juices from fruits like avocado, durian, and many more, are all listed in the menu. And why is it named ‘Es Masuk’, which literally means ‘Enter Ice’? Find out here.
The two kinds of transportation between Jakarta and Solo of my choice would be the train or the plane (hey it sorta rhymes!). I would normally choose the train because it’s cheaper. But I’ve been on weekend trips with train before and on Monday I would walk like a zombie to the office. Nah, I’m choosing the plane this time.
I flew with Lion Air. This airline is notorious with its delay habit but it has so many flight and routes, and the ticket often cost less than others. Fortunately for me, the flight from Jakarta to Solo this time was on time. It cost me IDR 470,000.
The flight back from Solo to Jakarta was with Batavia Air. It cost me IDR 500,400 and departed about an hour late. In general, Batavia Air was in my ‘alright airline’ list as I rarely experienced mishaps flying with them. Too bad it stopped operating on January 31, 2013.
Solo’s airport is the Adi Soemarmo International Airport. It’s located in Ngemplak, the outskirts of Solo, about 30 minutes car ride from the city center. But if you take the Batik Solo Trans bus like I did, it takes about an hour just to get to Solo Grand Mall on Jalan Slamet Riyadi. From there, I still needed to take a short becak ride to Solo Paragon hotel.
The bus route also goes around the city, not only from the airport. Each ride costs IDR 3,000 / pax, but IDR 10,000 / pax if you’re going from or to the airport.
Kandi was lucky to have more flexible time for traveling. She took the ….bus from Bandung to Solo, costing IDR 95,000 / pax. It leaves Bandung at 7 pm and arrives in Solo about 12 hours later.
Going home to Bandung, Kandi took the executive train, ranging from IDR 200,000 – 300,000 / pax.
The train tickets can also be booked here.
Whenever someone asks me for a recommendation in Solo, Central Java, I always advise them to indulge in the various food. Solo has limitless kinds of food, and so many of them can be found in this restaurant that I found out on our last trip to the city, the Es Masuk restaurant.
The name “Es Masuk” literally means..um, I’m not sure how to translate it cos the phrase doesn’t even make sense. “Es” means ice and “Masuk” means enter or in. How do you enter ice?? Well, it’s said that there was this small warung or diner that sold many kinds of iced dishes, and that the warung was sort of hidden behind a green concrete wall amongst houses, you’d have to enter the gate to actually see the warung. Hence, Es Masuk. Tadaaa!
Anyway, Yusuf and Taufiq took Kandi and me to the new location of Es Masuk on Jalan Reksoniten in Gajahan area (that’s why it’s also called Es Masuk Gajahan). From outside, the place looked more like a motorbike workshop. There were too many motorbikes parked at the entrance and not enough signs to be considered an eatery. Turns out, those are parked motorbikes that belong to the guests and probably staff of the restaurant. You’d know it’s a restaurant from the banner above the gate that read “Es Masuk Gajahan”. Pretty literal. But once you enter the gate, you’ll see this big wooden semi-gazebo restaurant. Long tables and benches are arranged neatly. Fried snacks are served on plates on some of the tables.
Almost all of the listed menus seemed worth a try! We finally chose Nasil Timlo Komplit, Selat, and Nasi Pecel Telur. I vaguely remember the taste of these dishes but I remember they were all delish. The Nasi Pecel Telur (rice with veggies in peanut butter sauce plus fried egg) was quite spicy from the peanut butter, the Selat (Solo version of salad) was sweet and savory, and the Nasi Timlo was.. hm, wait, I didn’t take a scoop on this one. The food prices range from IDR 6,000 – 10,000 / portion.
As for the iced beverages, I had the Es Coklat Rempah (Chocolate and spices with ice) that was sort of sweet and Kandi had Es Kunir Asem (Turmeric and tamarind with ice) that was sweet, sour with a slight bitterness. The prices range from IDR 2,500 – 9,000 with the variety of menu such as iced hot coffee, iced dawet, iced milk, durian juice, avocado juice, and so on. Yes, we juice our avocados. We do freaky stuff to our fruits.
The service was fine, we didn’t wait long for our orders. The pendopo-styled (more or less a big gazebo) building gave a relaxed feeling, not unlike Omah Sinten restaurant, and it makes a good family restaurant as well as for friends’ hangouts. However, because it is open air, you’d have to be prepared for some cigarettes smokes hovering around you..
All in all, if you’re traveling Indonesia and you happen to be in Solo with hungry tummy or simply in the mood for some culinary adventure, I would recommend Es Masuk to you. They have so many good food and unique beverage options, almost all of them are Solo signature, the place is clean and the prices are relatively budget-friendly.
Have you been to Solo? What is your favorite dining place in Solo?
I was the brat who always pulled Mom’s skirt so she’d hurry finish her shopping in the traditional market. I couldn’t stand the odor and the muddy floor of the market. Raw skinned chickens gave me the ick. But in the last few years, having lived by myself with my own kitchen and relatively tight budget in order to save up for my travels, I can’t avoid shopping at the traditional market sometimes. The chicken breasts and spinach are cheaper than in supermarkets, plus there’s a market only 10 minutes walk from my flat. Ishai Goran from Market Value in National Geographic Adventure channel narrated that the market is one of the best way you can get to know the local people. Now that triggered me to see what I can find in the markets of Indonesia. So getting in and out of traditional markets is now listed in my agenda when traveling around Indonesia. I haven’t been to many, but Pasar Gede Hardjonagoro in Solo, Central Java, is one of my fun market experiences for me to date.
Located on Jalan Urip Sumoharjo, Pasar Gede (translates to Big Market) Hardjonagoro, or just Pasar Gede, is a 2-storey building with the mix architecture style of Dutch and Javanese. It was called the Big Market because the roof literally looked big, and now the market still lives up to the name being the biggest market in Solo. So big that Kandi and I didn’t get to go around the whole market in the hour we were there just to look around.
We only went around the first floor of Pasar Gede. There were raw and processed fruits, vegetables, herbs, bamboo kitchenware and even shoes sold in perhaps hundreds stalls. Kandi bought some herbal cosmetics (called “lulur”) made of bangkoang, cocoa and coffee for skin softening, and some herbal drink powder for fat shedding. While I bought some peeled and cut jackfruit…just so the pouty lady could get nice enough and let me take pictures of her and her stall 😛 She sold some ripe and sweet jackfruits though, me likey!
We continued walking and looking around the market and..OH MY GOD! There was a stall that read “Dawet Selasih Bu Watik”! Dawet! My most favorite Indonesian traditional beverage of all (that I’ve tasted)!!! My tummy was full but there’s no way I would skip this dawet, especially when I looked closer I saw that it’s different from the usual dawets. The color isn’t as brown and it contains a different filling combination. I had to try it? But what to do with such stuffed tummy? Kandi and I decided to split a portion. Yay!
A portion of Dawet Selasih cost IDR 5,000. (A friend of mine later said it’s actually IDR 3,000 and I might get charged more because they knew I was a tourist, but I’m not sure about this). The small bowl consisted of cendol, ketan hitam (black glutinous rice), bubur sumsum (a kind of rice pudding), some other things and of course selasih (basil seeds). Dawet Selasih tastes savory sweet as a whole, as some of the fillings are sweet and some are a bit savory. I loved it! I hereby announce that Dawet Selasih Bu Watik (Bu Watik is the name of the stall owner I suppose) is now my most favorit Indonesian traditional beverage! Teehee.
Aside from the Dawet Selasih, another memorable thing to me about Pasar Gede was how it’s different from the traditional markets I’ve known. The floor was quite clean, meaning it was tiled and hence it wasn’t muddy at all. (I can’t say much about the smell except that it didn’t bother me, but then I didn’t get to the section that sold raw meat, fish and all the parts of animals.) I heard that their previous beloved Major, JokoWidodo – who’s now the Governor of DKI Jakarta – tidied up all the messy markets in Solo city, and Pasar Gede Hardjonagoro is one of the splendid results I’ve seen other than the PGS. If markets were like this since I was little, I probably wouldn’t be that brat with pouty face every time I followed Mom shopping. 😛
The colorful and uniquely shaped fruits and veggies made the market a great place for photo hunting. Shooting at these things with my pocket camera got us some attention we weren’t looking for, like the sellers asking where we’re from. I’m glad that I didn’t forget to ask for permission to take pictures of them out of courtesy. Having that said, I wouldn’t say being photographed is a new thing for them cos Pasar Gede is one of the tourist attractions in Solo city. At the time I was there, I saw some small groups of foreign tourists taking a tour around the market with their DSLRs. No wonder one of the fruit sellers posed a kung fu strike for me. He was striking a pose! Hahaha…
Guess what. I used to be annoyed with these joker kind of strangers, and would always be too careful with their friendliness. But this time I really enjoyed talking to them and observing a little bit more than usual of the market routine. Well, I guess that showed that intention could really make a difference in what and how you do. And going to Pasar Gede has been one of my reccommendations to anyone who’s going to Solo, especially those who don’t go to the traditional markets much. 😀
I didn’t do much research before traveling to Solo a few months ago, so I didn’t find out about Omah Sinten until we went there to get our tickets for the Matah Ati show. The ticket counter was just a simple wooden table located at the entrance of Omah Sinten. The restaurant looked nice with all the wooden and rattan furniture at a pendopo (similar to a gazebo but usually large and is very typically Javanese).
The next day, we decided to have lunch at Omah Sinten restaurant. As we picked a table, we recognized some familiar faces in the restaurant: Cindy and her family were there, Jay Subiyakto the artistic director of Matah Ati was sitting near the ticket counter, and other people with Jakarta accent at other tables. The town was invaded by the metropolitan dwellers, who were there mostly for the Matah Ati show, as I also found out from tweets and RTs. And apparently Omah Sinten is popular amongst them. Why? I’m not sure, but aside from being the location of ticket booth, the restaurant appears traditionally stylish and classy enough, which is what middle and upper class Jakartans are usually attracted to. Wait, I guess I’m talking about me too here. Hahaha…
It took us some time to choose from the menu because we didn’t know half the food that was on the menu as we weren’t quite familiar with Javanese food names. Having explained by the patient waiter, I finally chose the Garang Asem Bumbung and Kandi had the Sup Lidah Tomat. I’ve had garang asem before, but I never had it (cooked and) served in a bamboo. Its main ingredient is chicken, cooked in coconut milk with herbs and spices, and the blimbing wuluh (it’s like smaller jackfruit) gives the signature sourness to the dish. The waitress poured it into my bowl and I was ready to chow it down with the steamed rice, tempeh, tofu and stirred string beans on my plate.
As for the Sup Lidah Tomat (translates to Tomato Tongue Soup – yes, that’s right), I had a sip or two and I…forgot how it really tasted, but I remember I didn’t really like it. It was a bit too tomatoey, if I’m not mistaken.
Later on I heard from a friend that her Jakarta friends didn’t agree on the service speed at Omah Sinten. In my experience, well, it wasn’t super fast, and I did remind the waitress about our order before they finally served it on our table. However, it was still in my limit of patience – and I gotta admit I’m not a super patient person – and our food came in less than 30 minutes. But it’s Solo anyway. It’s where time goes by slowly, especially if you are used to the Jakarta, Singapore, or New York. My advice to you, when you’re visiting Solo, be prepared for their what’s-the-rush-it’s-not-the-end-of-the-world tempo. It’s a small city, everything is close by, you’ll get anywhere fast 😉
Anyway, I like the ambience of Omah Sinten because a pendopo has open spaces, which helps to give me a relaxing feeling. It’s also nice to breathe in some fresh air of the seemingly low polluted Solo city (at least compared to Jakarta’s air). Trees and leafy plants in pots are surrounding the restaurant that is located across the Kraton Mangkunegaran, one of the main tourism spots in Solo. On a non-rainy day it’s nice to walk around the restaurant, with the Kraton Mangkunegaran, Triwindhu antique market and the main avenue nearby.
Location, location, location. That’s what I learned about business from watching Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Having a very strategic location, no wonder they not only built a restaurant, but a boutique hotel as well embedded in the property. I asked for a showing and a long-haired bellboy kindly accompanied me around the hotel, answering all my questions about the hotel. “The hotel and pendopo are built from used teak woods originally from the North Kalioso village, no tree was cut down in order to build these buildings”, he said. “Seriously??” I hope I didn’t frighten him with my bulging eyes and dropping jaws. And no, he wasn’t kidding. “The stairs were the railways blocks and the stairs handrails were the farming plows.” Wow, talk about reusing! That is an amazing idea AND implementation!
Omah Sinten boutique hotel is consisted of 10 bedrooms and a few function rooms, all equipped with traditional Javanese-styled furniture, mostly made of wood. The rooms that I saw were all clean, tidy and well-maintained, with crème colored wallpaper that matches the wooden furniture.
With online rate IDR 650,000/night, Omah Sinten isn’t quite a budget stay when you’re traveling in Solo. But judging from what I saw, the strategic location and the friendly service, I would definitely try at least one night stay at this hotel. I’ve traveled to Yogyakarta and some other places triggered by their interesting accommodations, I could definitely do the same for Omah Sinten in Solo, being located in one of my favorite cities in Indonesia 🙂
As a country whose many of its people still strive to even eat 3 times a day, traveling for leisure (within or out of Indonesia) and art aren’t the things that’s very much appreciated. But with the economic rise lately, at least seen in my daily life, people has shown a little bit more appreciation toward arts. And I’m not just talking about pop music concerts (did you know that Maroon Five and Owl City concerts in Jakarta were sold out fast?). While the young people – including me – can fluently mouth the lyrics of American pop songs than telling our own stories, it’s good news that tickets to local performances, based on modern or traditional stories, have been sold out too.
Matah Ati performance at Solo’s Mangkunegaran field in September 2012 was a show much anticipated by a lot of Indonesians including moi. That was my first traveling in Indonesia (or anywhere) just to see a traditional dance being performed. Why did I want to see it so bad? Well, having had a chance to work as a subordinate to the show’s artistic director, Jay Subiyakto, a few years ago, and knowing how meticulous he was about art directing, I just had to see it. Also because EVERYONE said that the 3 previous shows (1 in Esplanade Theater, Singapore and 2 in Jakarta) were artistically awesome, and that the one in Solo was going to be MAJOR!!
The show was performed on 3 consecutive nights on a huge outdoor stage and had a colonial-styled artillery building as the background. I sat in the last row of the tribune, which pretty much says I’ll be watching the players about 3 cm tall’, and thousands of Solo people sat down in the ‘festival’ area. As Matah Ati is a story written by a Solo blue blood, Atilah Soeryadjaya, about the non-fiction history of a Solo warrior lady, the committee gave out thousands of free tickets for people who are registered as Solo residents. That’s a heartwarming recognition, as there are rarely freebies for so many people for expensive shows like this (I paid IDR 250,000 for my seat, which was the cheapest, and the most expensive was IDR 750,000 / ticket).
The story was basically about Rubiyah, a Surakarta commoner from Matah village, who charmed the rebellious warrior of the Surakarta Kingdom, Raden Mas Said (also known as Pangeran Samber Nyowo) with her skill in war and weaponry as well as her beauty and grace. (Isn’t she too good to be true?) They then got married and Rubiyah was then named Bendara Raden Ayu Matah Ati. The battles that Raden Mas Said led finally resulted in an agreement, in which he’s crowned as a king in his own reign named Mangkunegaran. As a culture that’s very much patriarchal, I found it interesting that they have a heroic story with a woman as the centre character. Matah Ati must had been a very special and strong lady, and the prince to be attracted to such woman, instead of being threatened amidst their culture, also stole my sympathy. I totally admire these two characters for these reasons.
Having a special story to be adapted to a stage play, Matah Ati show deserved a special treatment, and that’s exactly what went on. Fire, smoke, light effects and humongous shadow puppets, they had it all! 250 dancers took part, showing their skills on a slanted stage! “The dancers weren’t happy with me for making the stage slanted cos it was hard to dance on such surface, but after some practice they adapted really well,” Jay told me the day after the show when I bumped into him at the Omah Sinten restaurant, Solo. Jay is a perfectionist and frank. God knows, I was always nervous to present my works to him, I could only imagine how he’d react and comment at dance practice. But aside to that, I bet these dancers practiced very hard, judging from the neat performance.
Being outdoors, the show was on fire. Really! They had fire and the works. Ha! Call me shallow but I love a good show with some action and spectacular special effects on stage. I’m that MTV generation who are more attracted to fast cuts and a real big fire on stage to illustrate a war. Visually alone, Matah Ati was a feast for the eyes. The attractive and colorful light effects, gorgeous wardrobe (though I couldn’t see the details cos I sat so far from the stage), magnificent design projected on the background, and smoke effect that added a bit of mystical ambiance to the whole show.
There were, however, moments when I almost snoozed off. Maybe it was the blowing wind, parts with slow dance movements as expected from Javanese dancing, or the fact that I was a little drained having visited the gong workshop earlier, but I struggled to stay awake. But the sleepy moments were balanced with some comical characters that spiced up the show and successfully made everyone – who understood Indonesian, a bit of Javanese language and a bit of Indonesian social and politic situation – laugh.
The narration was in Javanese and I couldn’t understand it fully. I was sitting next to my Bandung-born-and-raised Javanese friends Danti and Kandi, and neither of them understood it fully. Moreover, the language used was of the higher Javanese language, which isn’t as common as it used to be. After the show was over, pamphlets on the performance were handed out on our way out. A bit too late, don’t you think? We would’ve understood the show better if we read the pamphlets before the show began.
All in all, I found Matah Ati as one of the best live performances I’ve seen, not only in Indonesia, but also in several countries. I may not have seen Cirque Du Soleil or other internationally reputable artistic live shows, but considering the little appreciation Indonesian live performers and show creators in this country have gotten all these years, I was proud to see such creation and enthusiasm the people give to all the Matah Ati shows. I am looking forward to see more of this kind of performance as I myself need to learn more about our own art and culture 🙂
Traveling in Indonesia never stops showing me new things and that applies even to areas that I’ve visited before. Although I’ve traveled to Solo a few times now, I still managed to see something new. On our first visit to Solo earlier this year, Taufiq of Explore Solo showed us around town and took us to a gong workshop in Wirun village. A what? Yes, a gong workshop, where they make those round music instruments.
Taufiq took us to Mr. Supoyo’s house slash workshop and he was very welcome. He took the time to sit with us on the porch and told us so many things about gong making and selling. Apparently, “We have buyers from foreign countries like Malaysia, Japan and many others as well as Indonesia,” he said. “Do they use the gongs to make music too?” I remember asking. Mr. Supoyo said that some do, but some keep the gongs as decorative elements. Wow. Granted you can’t buy gongs in department stores but coming all the way around the globe to Indonesia for gongs, they must be highly appreciative toward the Javanese music and these gongs must be in super quality.
The workshop was closed because it was Sunday. But that didn’t stop Mr Supoyo from taking us back to his workshop and showing the bits and pieces of gong making, from cutting the brass or bronze, bending it, trimming the thickness, shaping the dents and tuning the notes. Being tone-deaf that I am, I couldn’t imagine how one can tune notes. Mr. Supoyo did it by having the gong surface thinned by sandpaper layer by layer. He said that only trained ears could do it. It was a skill he learned from his father and now he’s passing it down to his son.
Gong making is by far a man’s business. Not meaning to be sexist, but there has never been a female worker in the workshop. On our next visit to Mr. Supoyo’s workshop, we saw how it was done. It involved fire, hot brass and bronze, heavy lifting and ashes that could cover your clothes and skin. About 10 men were present in the workshop. One was turning a big piece of brass back and forth on a big fire with the help of a pair of metal levers, another man stood by to hand over the hot brass to 2 other men who were ready to pound the brass into the shape of a gong that we know. But these steps are done over and over again, back to the fire, and then to the pounders, and then to this small pool of water to cool it off. And the finishing process is done outside, where they smooth the gong’s surface with sandpaper and some other tools, that it peels to the golden layer. Everything was made by hands and simple tools, no machine was practically used except when they need to weld a crack.
In one day, these men manage to make 1 huge gong on average, and a few small ones in the midst of the heat and dusty workshop. I came out of the workshop sweaty and with dust all over me, and I was only there for about an hour. These men work there 6 days a week from morning till afternoon, but I didn’t see them complaining. They were working with high spirit, or so it seemed, and we were entertained by their jokes, laughter and friendly mockery.
The workshop also produces other instruments of gamelan, which is the Javanese orchestra. Gamelan consists of many kinds of instruments, like the metallophones, plucked strings and yours truly, gongs. Mr. Supoyo told us that he was also the one that tuned the note on the instruments, and that clients from various countries don’t only order for gongs but also sets of gamelan. He’s very proud of his gamelan sets. He guarantees that his sets will last long compared to competitors that use less material than he does.
I am so grateful that I had the chance to see the making of gong in one of my travels in Indonesia. I had never thought of how gongs – and many other things in this world – are made, and that it was that interesting. A lot of sweat is involved, as well as, sadly, the possibility of a threat to the respiratory system. All the hard work, non-textbook skills and knowledge and expertise are worth the hundreds of millions price tag of a gamelan set, if not more. However, the value of tradition itself is priceless.