Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 2 November 2009 • Itinerary
Ever feel like time goes so fast and you just can’t relax and enjoy life? If you’re tired of that, my suggestion is go to Solo, Central Java, Indonesia, where distance is merely called distance, and you can’t run out of time. Everything is a walk away, and time is in slow-mo..
The Back Door Opens to A Batik Heaven
Just a step away from the gamelan set in the Hotel Roemahkoe, there’s a back door that goes to houses of the Laweyan area. This area is known for the batik retailers since ages ago. Since Roemahkoe used to be one of the batik vendors house as well, they apparently still hold the legacy to preserve batik, therefore providing batik learning class.
A nice walk in the afternoon through small streets and stopping by some houses with tall wall-fences with the ‘Batik’ signs outside is a recommended way to spend time in Solo, and you can purchase cheap beautiful batik clothes, sarongs, etc, for yourself or gifts for others back home.
The price for a piece of sarong varies from about Rp 40.000,00 to millions of Rupiahs, depends on what kind of material (cotton, silk, etc), design, and what technique it’s made with. Most of these vendors also distribute their products to vendors in Jakarta (who then sell the products in crazy prices!), and some export them overseas such as Malaysia and Suriname, according to the shop owners.
Interesting Facts on Batik
There’s a well-known batik vendor in the Central Java (I think they’re originally from Solo) called Danar Hadi. They’ve got shops all over the country. Here in Solo, not only they’ve got a shop, they’ve also opened a batik museum (displays all kinds of Indonesian batik from the colonial era ’til present time, from Java and other parts of Indonesia, which are all personal collection of the owner of Danar Hadi). It’s located on Slamet Riyadi street.
The guide took us around the museum, walking in a determined path (they’ve got arrows on the floor, and the guide will firmly tell you not to go out of the path, but you may try going on your own path just to see how much patience he’s got for you..hehehe..). Here you can see that batik in Indonesia has actually so many variations and influences. It has been around since forever, but influenced by the arts from China, Holland, and the religions.
How many of you know that there’s batik made specially for the royals and nobles, which usually come in brownish colors, and batik for the common people usually come in more colorful tones with different patterns? I bet not a lot of you do. And from the two batik ‘classes’, my preference falls more for the common people batiks.. hahaha.. Well hey, colors are fun!
I also just found out there in the museum that batik in Indonesia actually comes from other places than Java as well, like Sumatera. Hmm, how come they’re not as popular..?
This Is How They Do It
Too bad in both the shop and museum, visitors aren’t allowed to take pictures. I have no idea why, but I’m fortunate enough that they let us take pictures as many as we want in the workshop where they produce the batik cloths.
There are 2 major kinds of batik: the written batik (batik tulis) and printed batik (batik cetak). The written kind is of course more expensive because it’s much harder to make, more manual.
After the writing or printing design is finished, they color and wash the cloths numerous times in big bad tubs, and then hang them dry indirectly from the sun. Because of the quantity, the countless cloths form a labyrinth of rows where you can play hide-and-seek.
Solo has its own kraton (kraton is the Javanese word for palace). Nowadays the kraton still has its king, princes, etc, but they don’t really rule anymore. It’s now only some sort of cultural thing, and the ruling now is held by the provincial government. Or something like that.
It wasn’t originally a kraton. It was a mansion bought by the kraton family from a professor in the 1700s. By now there are some renovated parts – like the paint, the ceilings – but mostly are still original. They’ve got many furniture and decorations such as statues originally from Europe and China, some are gifts from international guests.
They’ve also got a museum in the kraton. It’s a treat for antique lovers because both native and foreign objects are from the old days. If you go there on Sunday, make sure you get in before 1pm. Then a guide will give you a tour until whatever time you wish.
Pasar Klewer (Klewer Market) for cheapies
I’ve heard of the Klewer traditional market since ages ago. It’s said to sell lots and lots of cheap stuff, mostly made of batik. Night gowns, dresses, tops, pants, bags, bed sheets, you name it. Renny and I didn’t buy anything, but if you wanna have a go, for the ladies, try the night gowns which are called daster. It’s really comfortable for you to relax in, especially when you’re in the tropical air.
To get there, you go to the end of Slamet Riyadi street (geez, everything starts from this road!!), turn right, go around the alun-alun (city central square), and it’s on the right of the square.
PGS (Solo Retail Market) – modern stuff and rattans!
We then continued our journey to PGS (Pasar Grosir Solo = Solo Retail Market) by becak. There we had a nicer atmosphere to shop, with air conditioner and clean floors. You’ll find a lot of clothes, handicrafts, batik cloths, shoes and slippers here. I myself bought two simple purses for only Rp 50.000,00 each.
Even though you can find most of these items in Jakarta or anywhere else in Indonesia, THERE’S this one particular shop that sells super duper cheap rattan products with good quality! I bet my sister and her hubby would go crazy if they saw this shop directly because they’ve been looking for rattan stuff for their home, which are very difficult to find in Jakarta with reasonable price.
So I bought them a laundry basket and a waste basket (which, in Jakarta would be worth 10 times). It’s a hassle bringing them back to Jakarta because they’re, like, bigger than me. But it’s worth the happy faces of my sis and hubby when they got them!
Not a lot of people know about this place. We got a hint of it from a friend of Renny who saw it on TV. This is such an ‘X-File’ place, because even many locals that we asked, didn’t know about it. Finally a staff at the hotel could tell us where it was, and it was at the Mangkunegaran area, and how to get there (well, by taxi, but he did draw a map for us cos the taxi drivers didn’t know much about it either).
Here at Triwindu market there are lots of small stalls the sell antiques. Mind you, the antiques aren’t actually antiques. They’re quite new and made to look very vintage. Well, some are actually oldies, but you better check with the sellers. Hope you don’t get fooled. Oh and, they’re not so expensive anyway. That proves even more that they’re not real antiques.
Come to think of it, most of the areas in Central Java and East Java are known to be cheap. I mean, the living cost. It comes with the ethic package of being modest. But get to know the people, that’s not the only trait they have.
Although it’s a very small city, Solo is widely known for its various kinds of good food. We didn’t have that many chances to taste every kind of food there, but we were fortunate enough to taste some of the good ones.
Javanese Pancake & Crispy Snacks
Serabi Notosuman is one of the popular snacks there. It’s sort of like pancake in smaller size, more rubbery, and tastes saltier. It’s produced and sold at a simple shop at Notosuman street. Make sure you get there at the latest at 2 pm unless you wanna end up like us – they ran out of the serabi when we got there at 3 pm. But the Fortune Goddess was on our side.. our beloved hotel Roemahkoe serves the Notosuman serabi in the evening between 5-7pm for free! Yay!
Still on the Notosuman street, right across the Serabi place, we bought some snacks in plastic bags to bring our beloved ones in Jakarta. These snacks are like crackers, cookies, and chips, from sweet, sour, to salty. But mind you, they’re all traditional..! Gosh, there were so many kinds of snack to choose from!! The price varies from about Rp 7.000,00 to Rp 28.000,00 a bag.
Chicken with Soft Bones….??
Just across the hotel, there’s a simple lesehan diner (lesehan is where you sit on the floor to eat, with a short table in front of you, much like the Japanese do, but no sliding paper doors) that serves mostly ‘tulang lunak’ food (tulang lunak literally means soft bones), you can eat all the parts of the duck, chicken, or fish, including the bones without getting trouble chewing or swallowing or digesting it. Yes people, including the guts!
Gudeg, Sweet and Tasty
Gudeg Adem Ayem is one of the famous places to eat gudeg, although they have also lots of other Javanese menus there. Gudeg is young jackfruit cooked in coconut milk with spices. The dish itself is brown to reddish color. It’s also a famous food from Jogjakarta, so I’m not sure where it’s originally from. But since Solo and Jogjakarta is only 1 hour apart from each other by train, so it doesn’t really matter, right? (Just kidding! Of course originality matters, especially in this era of copyright fight!)
It is located on the left side of the well-known Slamet Riyadi street, just 2km away from the Danar Hadi batik shop.
Where It’s At
Literally the name of the hotel means “My House”. It’s located on Dr.Rajiman street # 501, Laweyan. Turned out that it’s not really at the center of the city and wasn’t very popular, so it was quite funny when we told our cab or becak drivers to take us to Roemahkoe, they would ask us “where’s your house at?” Bhuahahahaha..
The hotel consists only of about 14 rooms. All decorated in Javanese style, combined with the old Dutch art-deco house that was found in 1938. I kinda expected some spooky atmosphere, but thank God it was all nice, homey, laid-back, and cozy instead. The name of the hotel speaks the truth, cos we really did feel at home there..
It’s a boutique hotel owned by the family of Akbar Tanjung (a well-known politician in Indonesia, whose wife is a Solo native and runs the hotel). The room rates range from Rp 375.000 to Rp 645.000, every room is air conditioned.
I have no idea where in the 5-star rating system the hotel stands, but I don’t think it matters because Roemahkoe has a unique style of its own.
“Good morning, what kind of breakfast would you like?”
This is how they serve complimentary breakfast: they’d phone each room to ask what food of the provided choices the guests want as breakfast. The choices are fried rice, fried rice-noodle, pecel (sorta like Javanese salad), omelette, and scrambled eggs with toasted bread. And we can either have it in our own room or at the restaurant.
In general, Indonesians are early birds, so the phonecall would definitely wreck your morning. Just advise them not to call you for breakfast. We’re not sure if you could pre-order the night before, so you can just stroll on to the restaurant and have your breakfast at your convenience. (If convenience is naked to you, please don’t be. You don’t wanna get arrested.)
Get Down with Javanese Traditional Music
Another unique thing about the hotel is that they have a set of Javanese gamelan (Javanese orchestra) ready to be played at the back of the restaurant. Visitors can request for a gamelan lesson, but Renny and Jaka only played for the fun of it without instruction from anyone. But since I’m no expert in the gamelan music whatsoever, I didn’t mind listening to their spontaneous composition 😀
From Jakarta, Solo is easy to reach. You can go by plane, train, or take the bus. Our story was a little bit different. Here goes..
DESTINATION : SOLO
ARRIVAL : SEMARANG
Here’s the story..
My friend Renny and I were ready to check in for our very early morning flight to Solo by Mandala Airlines (cheapies!), when the staff told us there was no flight to Solo that morning, Dec 21.
Me: “How can that be?”
Renny: “Yeah, we’ve bought the tickets!”
Staff: “Yes, but sorry ma’am, the plane is out of service, so we don’t have flight to Solo this morning..”
Me & Renny: “So…, what now?”
Staff: “But we can put you in our flight to Semarang one hour from now..”
Me & Renny: (confused and ‘WTF’ look in our faces)
Staff: “..we will then have a car ready to drive you from Semarang to Solo..”
Me: “How long is the ride gonna be?”
Staff: “About 3 hours..”
Me & Renny: (bursting with laughter and amazement of this ridiculous service)
What a way to start a journey!
So there we were a few hours later, at the Ahmad Yani International Airport, Semarang. And then after having to claim for one hour for our rights for the car service to Solo along with 2 other passengers / victims, they put us in a taxi with the meter on. The airline paid for the fare, about Rp 260.000,00.
Well, we had no other choice, so we just went along with the itinerary.. I swear to God I’ll never ever fly with Mandala ever again.. But look at the bright side (this is important if you still wanna enjoy your vacation), now I know that :
And so we arrived at our hotel in Solo at noon, and met our friends Jaka and Sapto who got there one night ahead of us. Read on, and you’ll see what interesting stuff that Solo has to offer 🙂
BACK TO JAKARTA BY TRAIN
Going back from Solo to Jakarta, Renny and I took the executive train called Argo Dwipangga, Rp 250.000,00 / person, air conditioned and each passenger is lent a blanket ‘cos it gets cold through the night. It departed from the Solo Balapan station at 8 pm, scheduled to arrive at Gambir station, Jakarta, at 3.55am the next day. But it turned out to arrive at Gambir at almost 6am. Overall it was a nice ride, we had a good night sleep on the reclining and quite spacious seats.
CABS WITH DVD PLAYERS!!
Now, the reason why I went to Solo in the first place was because there’s a college friend of mine who got married on Dec 21 evening. On our way to and from the wedding, we were surprised to see that some of the cabs are equipped by a DVD player that plays music videos. It’s meant to attract customers because the ones with DVD player are mostly from the newer taxi company. Who would’ve thought they’ve got that kinda stuff in the city that’s commonly still thought of to be traditional!
BECAK SUITS SOLO BEST
But our favorite was going here and there by becak.
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