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Published: January 29th 2015
Solo? there was nothing much in Solo! that was the remarks given by my childhood friends when I suggested we made a weekend trip to Surakarta or known as Solo, 60 km away from Yogyakarta. The last trip I did to Solo was perhaps more than 20 years ago, and I had always been curious to visit it again. Trusting the itinerary to me, the four of us agreed to meet in Yogyakarta on Friday morning (thankfully our flights from Jakarta and Singapore arrived almost at the same time), and were relieved to see our driver - whom we just called the night before - waiting for us outside the arrival gate. When asked if he were familiar with Solo, our driver said he did but admit he was not a 'real driver'; he happened to be working for the owner of the car and filled in for the 'real driver'.
The drive was not as long as expected as traffic was relatively light, and we reached Solo just right before noon. This time, we picked a bed and breakfast place called Roemahku Heritage Solo which means My Solo Heritage House built in 1938 as we wanted to have a
true Javanese experience and were pleased when we were shown to the room (it had exceeded our expectation). The staff was friendly and made us felt at home immediately serving us welcome drinks. It has 11 deluxe rooms, 2 executive suites and 1 junior suite, all of which were tastefully decorated.
Our next destination was to go for local food called Soto Gading, its a soupy dishes available throughout Indonesia. What is unique about this Soto Gading was that it had many items served on the table to be mixed and soaked into a bowl of soup. Some of the items were spring rolls, chicken and cow-lung satay marinated in Gudeg style sauce, a specialty dish from Central Java. Even though the place was very modest, I would have to admit it taste was superb! (even as I write this, I drool at the thought of having Soto Gading). To our surprise, our driver struggled to find the place, and when we told him we wanted to go to the Kauman Batik Village after lunch, he looked blank. It took him a while to find the direction (this should not be the case if he were a 'real driver').
Kauman Batik Village is the oldest batik village in Solo. Even though we didn't find the batik interesting here, we had enjoyed seeing the process of batik making and had taken a becak (rickshaw) ride to go to the nearest place that sells Serabi, a local pancake like delicacy perfect for an afternoon tea. Returning to Roemahku, we were served with an afternoon tea before we headed towards the next batik village located behind the hotel, Laweyan Batik Village. This batik village turned out better and was more interesting than Kauman Batik Village (don't get shock when you see the prices here; it made you wonder how they could make a profit!). By then, we had gathered enough information and figured out our itinerary for the rest of the weekend but was not sure if our driver knew the way. Our dinner at Goela Kelapa or Coconut Sugar restaurant was not worth to be mentioned as its specialty food, Tuna baked rice, was ordinary.
Back in the hotel, we were told we should not miss post midnight supper at Gudeg Ceker Ibu Kasno or chicken feet Gudeg of Madame Kasno, which unfortunately opened only after midnight (it would
close the shop once the food is gone which sometimes didn't last till dawn). The hotel staff was kind enough to arrange for a wake up call at 2 am and to arrange a transport to the place. To our surprise, the place -- again was very modest by the street -- was packed at 2 am! (I wonder where did all these people come from?). Soon, we understood why people made an effort to come here post midnight; the Gudeg indeed was tasty. Madame Kasno must have been in her 60sh, dressed nicely in Kebaya, a traditional Javanese costume and still had her bun folded nicely behind her head (apparently, she was doing so well from establishing this street food that she could send her children overseas for schooling!). Sleepy and full, we happily headed back to Roemahku, and like a God sent, the cab driver offered us to take us around. Without hesitating, we agreed to use him on the second and third day of our trip.
Excited, we woke up early on Saturday, got our breakfast ready and left for the palace of Kraton of Surakarta, which along with Yogyakarta Sultanate are part of the Mataram
Sultanate in the old days. It was established in 1745 by Pakubuwono II; the current Sultan is Pakubuwono XIII who with his family still live in the palace. Only a small portion of the palace is open to public and some are converted into a museum. It is still being used for religious ceremony. Interestingly, the people who maintain the palace, called Abdi Dalem, had been loyal even though they were meagerly paid (our guide has been serving the palace for more than 30 years). Unlike Yogyakarta Sultanate, which is given own authority to manage the Yogyakarta area, the Sunanate of Solo is not given the same kind of priviledge; hence, it is governed under the Central Java province.
Our next destination was Tawangmangu waterfall, located near Mount Lawu slope. The drive was quite scenic as we passed not only lush green rice field but also tea plantation. There are two ways of reaching the waterfall, either by going through the stairs or hiring horses which we took the later and was relieved when we learned the numerous steps that we had to take. Interestingly, we hadn't heard about this place before we visited Yogya and was surprised to
see the 100 meter waterfall! It was magnificent even though we had wished we came earlier before the crowds starting to swarm it. Later on we learned, there were more smaller waterfall in the area.
By the time we finished, it was post noon, so we headed towards a tea house called Ndoro Donker, located at the Kemuning tea plantation. Unfortunately, the name of the restaurant and its white Colonial building did not meet the quality of food! we had expected a higher standard given the history and location of the place! Disappointed, we headed towards our next destination, Ceto Temple, a Hindu temple built during the Majapahit era in the fifteen century. Up to now, this temple is still being used for meditation as well as religious ceremony. The view at this temple is quite scenic as it is located up in the hill with Merapi volcanic mountain in the backdrop.
Tired, we headed back to Roemahkoe in Solo and decided to stay another night and scrapped our earlier plans to stay overnight at Yogyakarta. I was too tired to go for dinner in the evening but was lucky to be brought back some local delicacy called
Nasi Liwet (or Liwet Rice) and Strawberry flavour fresh milk. The hotel staff was friendly enough to arrange for a masseuse who understood the acupuncture point in our body; she literally 'cured' my tired legs as a result of which I felt rejuvenated the next day.
We missed capturing the sunrise on the following day at the UNESCO heritage site, Prambanan Temple, as our cab driver came an hour after the agreed time; unfortunately it was a cloudy day, so we would not have got a great view anyway (by now, we could sense our cab driver started to act strangely as before dinner the night before, he was reluctant to take my friend Candy to get some tea at Soto Gading, and when she went after dinner, it was closed). We were lucky to arrive before the crowds, hired a guide and started to explore the compound. It was explained the temple was built to honour the Shiva God. Built in the 9th century, it is located only 17 km from Yogyakarta (the drive can be longer than half an hour depending on traffic). There were originally 240 temples in this compound but some were destroyed and had
not been rebuilt. Similar to Siem Reap, besides the main compound, there are other temples nearby which we didn't have a chance to visit such as Ratu Boko temple in the South, Kalasan temple in the West and Plaosan temple in the North. A Ramayana dance is performed and open for public during full moon at Prambanan temple. This was one of the highlight of our visit as we took the opportunity to take our "far from perfect yogi wanna be pose" at each of the temple, followed by lots of laughs as each of us tried to have our best pose with our stiff bodies.
By 9 am, half heartedly, we had to leave the compound, decided a miss to visit Candi Boko or Boko temple nearby, and headed towards the Borobudur temple area, not to see the temple but to visit Plataran Hotel. This was one of my favourite hotels in the area which has a clear view of the Borobudur temple. The hotel has a serene ambience as it retains the greenery around it and its restaurant serves delicious food, a perfect place to chill while waiting for our flight. By 4 am, reluctantly, we had
to leave for the airport, and even though my friend Candy told the cab driver that she wanted to pass on a baby gift to a friend's house near the airport in Yogyakarta, he seemed to deliberately miss the place. The last unpleasant experience was when we asked them to stop by at the famous Gudeg Jum along the way to the airport, which he claimed there was none. Frustrated, my soft spoken friend, Kiko, told him straight in the face that she knew it was there, and in less than two minutes, we spot the place!
It was unfortunate we had to experience this with our cab driver as he had been helpful in taking us around; we would not have gone with him had he not convinced us! Later on we found out, he got his university degree and used to work for an oil company but when the oil company instructed him to move outside Jakarta, his parents didn't allow him so, and he had to return to Solo and be a cab driver. We all regret of our opinion of him after we learned after we checked in, my friend Jeanne, realised she had left
her mobile phones back in the cab, and through the hotel staff who was helpful, she was able to track the cab down and got her mobile phone back. In hindsight, we should always remember every one faces his or her own battle in life and we just don't know what he or she is going through and most importantly, get a real driver who understand the way around! Even though our trip was short, we had a great time and wished we could have visited more temples and the beach located in the South of Solo. It gives us a great reason to come back!
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