A Weekend Break in Bogor


Going to Jakarta for yet another round of visa administration is usually just a tiresome trek from Solo to some office then back to Solo. This time we decided to make a weekend of it and head down to Bogor. This cool retreat, sometimes called a suburb of Jakarta and famous for being very rainy, was the country home of Sir Stamford Raffles during the brief British occupation of Indonesia, and features the Presidential Palace (Istana Bogor).

 

My objective was to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather who had visited Bogor many years ago and who first told me about the botanical gardens, one of the most memorable places in Indonesia for him. My grandfather, Peter Allen, worked as a scientist in the rubber industry, and I can only assume (since no living relative can remember) that he was in Bogor on business, for some kind of conference or seminar. He regularly travelled to Southeast Asia, often bringing my grandmother along too, and in Indonesia visited Jakarta, Bogor and Yogyakarta. As keen gardeners, both my grandparents enjoyed visiting gardens.

 

After a hellish taxi ride from Jakarta on Friday afternoon, we arrived well into the evening; this is probably the worst possible time to make this journey, since many Jakartans are escaping for the weekend. On Saturday morning we woke up bright and early to head for the botanical gardens, or kebun raya as it is called in Indonesian, before the rain. Walking from the friends’ house where we were staying, we followed tiny alleyways, too narrow for motorcycles to pass without stopping, that ran between houses in a criss-cross maze. We came to a river and, crossing a flimsy bamboo bridge, walked up the opposite bank and on to a road. Then we hopped in an angkot (little minibus, Rp. 2000 each to go anywhere), which took us to the botanical gardens.

 

We entered the gardens (Rp. 7000 entry) and I was struck by the variety of greenery around me. We saw trees, bushes and plants of all shapes, sizes and shades of green. They say anything grows in Bogor and it shows. We saw a tall kapas tree, which produces cloud-like puffs of kapas, to be made into cotton wool and pillow stuffing. Walking to the orchid garden we passed many interesting and unusual trees, plants and flowers. However, the orchids simply took my breath away. The orchid house is in two wings, and the first had barely any flowering plants. The second wing, however, was full of beautiful flowering orchids in all colours and patterns. We spent a long time admiring these plants, taking many photos.

Continuing our walk, we came to a large pool full of enormous lily pads up to a metre across, before walking up a hill to the Daun’an restaurant for lunch. The menu was varied, with Indonesian and Western options and all the food we tried was delicious. A good range of drinks including many juices were available and I rehydrated with a coconut drink. Then the wind blew and the fluffy white cotton from the kapas tree was blown everywhere creating a snowy effect. As we were about to leave the restaurant, the rain began.

 

When the rain had eased off we left the restaurant, walking to the aquatic plants area. This was the only disappointing part of the gardens; there was little to see and it looked rather unkempt. We quickly moved on towards the cactus area. We saw cacti and succulents in all shapes and sizes; I had never seen such large cacti before, which looked like prickly trees.  As we were admiring these peculiar plants, the rain started again. Two of the group used banana leaves as (ineffective) umbrellas, and we made our way out of the gardens. We saw the main entrance, with its interesting combination of British lion statues in front, and Ganesh reliefs in the walls behind, as well as the neighbouring research building, that my grandfather may have visited for some work-related purpose.

 

The next day we headed to Botani Square, the mall that is considered the town centre of Bogor. After some window shopping we hopped on a Damri bus to Jakarta airport (Rp. 35,000 each). As the countryside whizzed past we noticed how green it all looked, despite being a stone’s throw from Jakarta. With its cooler climate, fresher air and pleasant scenery, Bogor is a refreshing weekend break and a good way to escape the traffic jams of Jakarta. I was pleased to have seen a place my grandfather described to me, and I can see why he liked it.

 

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Jepara


Jepara by night is a quiet city with, as a friend had warned me, “nothing to do”. We went for a stroll to get our bearings. Despite our best efforts we had been unable to find a map of the city online and the hotel had only one copy. Asking for directions along the way, we found our way to the alun-alun, an open grassy area that provides a central focus in many Javanese towns. We were expecting to see foodstalls lining the streets but there were only small groups of people hanging out. Disappointed, we continued walking, taking a circular route back towards the hotel.

Suddenly we saw a row of pointed white tent tops. Ah-ha at last, some night life! We approached and realised that it was a permanent shelter for many small foodstalls. Many foods were available, including bakso (meatball soup), sop kaki kambing (goat’s foot soup), seafood, fried rice and satay. We ate siomay, a mixed platter of potato, tofu, cabbage, a sort of fish dumpling and egg with a slightly spicy sauce, and krupuk kulit (cow’s skin cooked until it is light and crunchy). We drank es gempol and es rumput laut, both consisting of a milky liquid with ice and then either rice balls (gempol) or seaweed (rumput laut).

Then we continued our walk, past stalls selling clothes and shoes. Turning left, passing the market building with many outdoor stalls open into the night, I enjoyed the sensation of the blend of music blaring from VCD stalls on both sides of the street, the mix gradually changing as I moved further along the road.

The next day we had our hotel breakfast and headed out by becak (cycle rickshaw) to the Kartini Museum (entry Rp.3000), on the northern edge of the alun-alun. Raden Ajeng Kartini (1879-1905) is remembered as a major figure in the Indonesian women’s emancipation movement. She was the daughter of the Bupati (Regent) of Jepara and therefore lived here. She married in 1904 and tragically died during childbirth a year later. Her son, however, survived and she has living descendants until the present day. The museum features interesting collections of furniture from her house, letters written by her, and many photographs and pictures of Kartini and her family along with information in Indonesian. Also displayed are artefacts from the Jepara area, including items from Hindu temples and the enormous skeleton of an Ikan Joko Tuwa (old joko fish) caught in 1989 in Karimunjawa and said to be a kind of whale.

Kartini Museum

Bust of R A Kartini at the museum

Leaving the museum, we turned left, then left again, walking up a hill to the old Benteng VOC or Fort. This was used by the Dutch East India Company during the colonial period. Nowadays only a stone wall and a couple of turrets remain, but the area has been done up as a small park. From this vantage point we could see out to sea and across the city. Having climbed the hill in the midday sun the sea breeze was a welcome relief and we relaxed for a while. There was also a young-looking fruit garden and a Taman Makam Pahlawan or hero’s graveyard on the hilltop. Off to the side of this central area was a graveyard where it is said there are some Dutch graves. We didn’t feel like searching for them, so we wandered back down the hill and went to find some lunch.

View from Benteng VOC

View from the Fort

Later in the afternoon we walked to Pantai Kartini (Kartini Beach). It was further from the hotel than we expected but eventually we arrived and saw the enormous turtle which we’d seen in photos. The area has been done up as a place for visitors, though many people we saw were obviously locals. There were many small foodstalls and over-priced ice cream vendors. The giant turtle was closed when we arrived, so we couldn’t go inside.

Giant Turtle

The giant turtle at Pantai Kartini

There is no actual beach with sand; the shoreline has been built up with steps or rocks that lead down to the sea. Unfortunately there was lots of rubbish in the water and it looked dirty. However, this didn’t put off all the local kids from swimming and splashing around. The water was very calm, with barely a visible wave, and we could see fishermen standing up quite far out to sea so it must have been shallow. We walked out on a kind of walkway with small pavilions and sat down to watch the sun set over the sea, beautiful and red.

Sunset over the Java Sea

Sunset over the Java Sea

Solo Part Eight: Food and Drink


Food is important to Solonese people who often discuss their favourite warung  or eatery. As well as local specialities, food from across the Indonesian archipelago can be tasted in Solo. Packed with all kinds of eateries, from cheap street food to top knotch restaurants, visitors to Solo have a wide choice of where to eat. Check out my Googlemap to see the locations of some of my favourite places to eat.

Javanese cuisine in Solo

Nasi liwet, a Solonese speciality is rice (nasi) with cooked bamboo shoots and a light coconut sauce. It can be served with egg or chicken and is a nice light meal.

Nasi gudheg, originally from Yogya but widely available in Solo, is stewed jackfruit, beans, leaves and cow skin (yes really) in a sauce, served on rice. It can be eaten with chicken, egg, tofu, tempeh and others.

Soto is rice soup, often with beansprouts, and chicken or beef. Add some spicy sambal (chilli paste) and kecap manis (sweet thick soy sauce) and eat with fried tempeh and tofu. This is often eaten as a breakfast meal but can be eaten throughout the day and some places sell soto at night.

Bakso is meatballs, usually beef, served in a stock or soup with noodles and some leafy vegetables. Add sambal and kecap manis (as above). This meal makes a nice break from rice.

Gado-gado is a mixture of vegetables, egg and tempeh in a peanut sauce, served cold with krupuk (rice crackers) crushed on top. Another good way to avoid rice!

Lotek is similar to gado-gado but involves more leafy vegetables and tends to be spicier.

Nasi goreng is fried rice, usually cooked with egg and can be spicy. Variations include chicken, seafood, and so on.

Mi or mie is the word for noodles, which can be fried (mie goreng) or boiled (mie rebus, mie godok). Usually with vegetables and egg, can be spicy.

Ayam goreng (fried chicken), bebek goreng (fried duck) ikan goreng (fried fish) and other similar dishes follow a basic theme of fried main food item, served with rice, sambal (chilli paste), cucumber and cabbage leaves. These dishes are usually eaten without a spoon, using one’s fingers.

Ayam bakar (grilled chicken) and other grilled meat or fish is served and eaten in the same way as the fried versions above. The meat is grilled in a sweet sauce or kecap.

Ayam tulang lunak is served and eaten as above. This time the chicken is cooked until the bones are soft and you can actually eat them.

Bubur is rice porridge, available in both sweet (bubur sum-sum) and savoury (bubur ayam) versions. It can also be called jenang.

Nasi pecel is a slightly spicy peanut sauce over beansprouts and leafy spinach-like vegetables served on rice. This can be eaten with egg, tempeh, tofu and so on.

Sop buntut is oxtail soup, served with rice.

Selat is not salad. It is a selection of cooked but cold vegetables such as potato, carrot, served with a sweet sauce.

Gorengan are deep-fried snacks, such as tempeh, tofu, banana etc. Healthy stuff!

Krupuk are rice crackers, available in various shapes and sizes and eaten as an accompaniment to almost any food.

Srabi, a sweet snack and a Solonese speciality, are small pancakes topped with a sweet rice mixture and your choice of banana, papaya, chocolate or coconut.

Drinks

Teh is Javanese tea, a mixture of black and jasmine tea, served hot or with ice, sweet and without milk.

Kopi is coffee, served sweet, hot or iced, with or without milk.

Jeruk means citrus fruit and refers to a drink made of juicing a small orange, mixing with hot water and sugar, and serving hot or iced. Jeruk nipis refers to a lime rather than an orange, which is also used to make this drink.

Jahe means ginger and refers to a drink using ginger, hot water and sugar. Teh jahe is the combination of tea with the ginger drink.

Wedang is the Javanese word for drink.

Wedang ronde is a hot gingery drink served in a small bowl with a spoon. In the liquid there are several balls of glutinous rice with peanut butter inside, among other things such as peanuts.

Sekoteng is similar to wedang ronde but without the peanut butter balls, and sometimes with raisins or other dried fruit pieces.

Solo Part Six: Performing Arts


Solo is a hub for traditional performing arts, with many regular performances taking place. In this article I provide a guide to some of the routine events, but you should ask around when you get here, since schedules can change and performances are sometimes cancelled. In particular, many performances are cancelled during Ramadan.

In order to follow the schedule for many of the routine performances you need to be familiar with the Javanese calendar. This is a five day calendar, with days named Pon, Wage, Kliwon, Legi and Pahing. This calendar runs in parallel to the usual seven day calendar, thereby coinciding once every 35 days. Javanese mark auspicious and significant days according to this 35 day cycle, with dual names such as Jumat Kliwon (where Jumat is Friday), which is the coincidence of Friday with Kliwon.

Since many of the regular performances follow this 35 day schedule it is wise to check a Javanese calendar to find out when these days fall. Calendars are everywhere in Solo, so just ask at the place you are staying at, or look for one online. Public performances in Solo are usually funded by a private sponsor or institution, and are therefore free to watch. Most wayang kulit shows run all night from around 9pm to 4am, while other performance genres tend to be shorter in length. The audience is free to chat, eat, drink, smoke and come and go as they please.

The Javanese way to refer to evening events is to call them by the eve of the next day.For example, Malam Jumat is the eve of Friday, that is, Thursday night. This can be somewhat confusing at first.

Here is a list of some routine performances in and around Solo. I’m sure there are others I have missed.

Wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre with gamelan music)

  • Every Malam Jumat Kliwon (the eve of Friday Kliwon) at TBS, 9pm – 4am.
  • Every 14th of the month at the home of Ki Purbo Asmoro, Gebang, Mojosongo, 9pm – 12am.
  • Every Minggu Pahing Malam (Sunday Pahing evening), at the home of Ki Purbo Asmoro, Gebang, Mojosongo, 9pm – 2am.
  • Every Malam Rebo Legen (the eve of Wednesday Legi) at the home of Ki Anom Suroto.
  • Every Malam Selasa Legen (the eve of Tuesday Legi) at the home of Ki Manteb Sudarsono.
  • Every Malam Minggu Legi (the eve of Sunday Legi) at Balai Agung, next to the Alun-alun Utara, a small intimate venue.
  • Every Malam Minggu Pahing (the eve of Sunday Pahing) at SMKI, gamelan high school, in Kepatihan.
  • Every third Friday of the month at RRI (Radio Republic Indonesia) Surakarta, in an unusual theatre-like setting, 9pm – 3am.

Klenengan (gamelan music concert)

  • Every Malam Selasa Legen (the eve of Tuesday Legi) at Balai Soedjatmiko, Gramedia, a different group performs each month, 8pm – 11.30pm.
  • Pujangga Laras, approximately once a month but different dates and locations, 8pm – 2am.
  • Every Malam Setu Pon (the eve of Saturday Pon) there is a radio broadcast at the Mangkunegaran Palace, 9pm – 11pm.

Dance (Tari)

  • Every 26th of the month at SMKI, 8pm – 10pm.

Wayang orang (wayang wong), with people acting instead of puppets

  • Every evening except Sunday at Gedung Wayang Orang, Sri Wedari, 8pm – 10pm.

There are also frequent performances of wayang, dance and gamelan music at ISI Surakarta, the city’s arts institute, in Kentingan.

Solo Part Five: Excursions


This is a brief guide to possible excursions from Solo that can be visited in one day or less. Many of these places can be combined as a single daytrip to two or more destinations. I haven’t included lengthy histories of these attractions – you can easily find that information on Wikipedia or other websites. These are simply my suggestions of where to visit while staying in Solo.

Borobudur

This is one of the most famous landmarks in Indonesia, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument, with bas-reliefs around its walls. You walk round the temple, starting from the bottom level working your way up to the top where you can reach inside the stupas to touch the buddha statues in order to receive good luck. From the top, the amazing vistas across the Javanese countryside alone make it a worthwhile trip. There are lots of souvenir sellers near the entrance and you will be hassled. If you don’t want to buy anything just keep walking purposefully. It is a good place to pick up touristy items, however, but do bargain hard; most sellers will start at a price more than 200% of a reasonable price, an increase I have only seen at Borobudur. Borobudur makes a good daytrip from Solo – you can go there at sunrise (check opening times), during the day when it can be very hot, or at sunset. It takes about two hours to get there from Solo by car, and can be combined with visiting other places.

Prambanan

Prambanan is a 9th century Hindu temple compound, on the road from Solo to Yogya, near Yogya. Prambanan is a complex of temples, so with many temples in the area, you need a good few hours to be able to see them all. Again Prambanan is impressive, though if you have to choose which to see, I’d definitely recommend Borobudur. It takes about one to one and a half hours to get to Prambanan by car from Solo on the road to Yogya, and again it can be combined with other places as a daytrip.

Yogyakarta

Yogya was, like Solo, an old kingdom of Central Java. Nowadays it is a bustling city about two hours drive or an hour by train from Solo. Yogya has its own kraton and palace like Solo, with museums attached, and there are other interesting sights such as the “water palace” which was previously a series of swimming pools for the sultan. The colourful main street Malioboro is known for its shopping opportunities, and is worth a wander, if only to see the mixture of old (horse-drawn carriages) and new (glossy shops, motorbikes). Yogya is busier than Solo, and has more modern conveniences, such as bigger cinemas, English language bookshops etc. If Solo is good for traditional arts, Yogya is good for the contemporary. As a daytrip Yogya can be combined with Borobudur or Prambanan if travelling by car. However Yogya is a large city so in half or a whole day you will only get a snapshot of what it has to offer.

Tawangmangu / Grojogan Sewu

Tawangmangu is a small town in situated at the foot of Mount Lawu. It is known for the nearby waterfall Grojogan Sewu, which is done up as a place for the Javanese to come on a day out, and it makes a lovely refreshing break with the cool mountain air. The impressive waterfall is surrounded by forest and hundreds of small monkeys live there. You walk down lots of steps to the base of the waterfall, and then you can sit and watch the monkeys. You can also go in the waterfall if you want, and eat rabbit satay and other foods. The food sellers will spread out a rug for you on the ground. Grojogan Sewu is one to two hours drive from Solo.

Candi Sukuh and Candi Cetho

Also located at the foot of Mount Lawu, these two ancient Hindu temples are worth a visit. Hundreds of times smaller than Prambanan or Borobudur, Candi Sukuh, which is sometimes called the “erotic temple” after its bas-reliefs and figures with phallic symbols, and Candi Cetho offer a quiet peaceful atmosphere and cool mountain air. You may well find yourselves the only guests there. On a clear day you can see great views looking down from the side of the mountain, but if the clouds come down you can’t see anything at all.

Sangiran

This is one of the key archaeological sites where fossilized remains of the famous “Java man” or Homo erectus were found. Less than an hour’s drive from Solo along the Purwodadi road, this makes a pleasant trip which can easily be done in a few hours or half a day. There is an interesting museum displaying some of the fossils, with information, some in English, as well as a map showing all of the sites and some life-size models of Homo erectus men and women. The museum had recently been renovated when I went there and it looked like more buildings were going to be opened up in the near future. More information about Sangiran here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/593

Solo Part Four: Markets and Shopping


Solo offers a range of markets and other shopping opportunities.

Pasar Klewer is Solo’s batik market. Located in a building near the Kraton, it’s full of tunnel-like paths leading along the rows and rows of batik stalls. It’s busy, dark and overwhelming, but worth a visit. Haggling is difficult at Pasar Klewer, where foreigners are often overcharged, so you might be better off buying batik elsewhere. However, Pasar Klewer is such an experience, that you should have a look. You may never see so much batik squeezed into one small space again.

For buying batik there are many options. PGS and Beteng, at the eastern end of the main road just beyond the statue, are worth a visit. Set out like shopping centres these buildings offer a far more pleasant shopping experience and reasonable prices. Haggling is sometimes possible, but many stalls sell at a fixed price.

In the Kauman area, south of the main road near Cakra Homestay, there are many small batik shops, where you can often pick up something original at a good price. You could spend all day wandering down the alleyways visiting these shops, and it’s a pleasant shopping experience.

Large batik stores such as Batik Keris, on Jl Yos Sudarso, and Danar Hadi, on Jl Slamet Riyadi, offer yet more batik options, including small souvenirs such as fans, purses and bags made of batik.

Pasar Triwindu on the road leading from the main street to the Mangkunegaran Palace is Solo’s recently refurbished antiques market. As well as antiques you can find all kinds of knick-knacks and souvenirs here. Haggling is definitely required.

On the same street on Saturday evenings (and some other days) there is Pasar Malam, or night market. This small street market is a good place to pick up little souvenirs and other items, such as food souvenirs, t-shirts, models, keyrings, etc.

There are many other markets in Solo, selling food, flowers and other items. However, those I have described above are the most useful for souvenir shopping.

Should you wish to get away from traditional markets, Solo has two malls – Grandmall and Solo Square – both west of the town centre on the main road. These malls feature supermarkets, fast food outlets, clothing stores and all the usual facilities.

If you need to buy clothes you could check out Matahari department store in Singosaren, near the main road, or one of its branches at either mall.

For buying daily provisions there are many small stores and mini-markets throughout Solo. Larger supermarkets include Atria, at the southwest corner of the Mangkunegaran Palace, and Hypermart at Grandmall and Solo Square.