Thursday, June 12, 2008

Indonesia Trip '08 – Day 08 : Winding Down Around Town – Solo

After a few days of waking up early to get started on our day trips, we decided to sleep in on our last morning in Jogja. We had already made plans with the homestay to have them provide us with transportation to go to Solo and we were only scheduled to depart at 10am that morning. Having received a text message from Air Asia informing us that we have been bumped to a later flight the following day, we also suddenly found ourselves in a situation that we hadn’t planned for. While we were not looking forward for our Java adventure to end, we did all have our individual commitments waiting for us back home that would be affected by the flight reschedule. That morning was mostly taken up by us checking our schedules back home and trying to move things around in case that we arrived even later than planned.

After a quick breakfast and last minute repacking of our bags, we checked out of Delta Homestay fully satisfied with their service and quality of lodgings. We also got a whole minivan to ourselves for our trip to Solo which was our last stop on our Javanese adventure. We had actually booked our trip before Air Asia had direct flights coming into and out of Jogja so we had to go to Solo to get our flight back to KL. The other option was to fly back to Jakarta but we didn’t feel like backtracking our way back there. Of all the places that we been to on this trip, Solo was the one that I was most worried about. Not only did we have more time that we planned to spend there thanks to the latter flight, I was also not still unable to secure confirmed accommodations for the night that we would spend there. I could not find any homestays in Solo that took reservations online and they also couldn’t take reservations over the phone when I tried to call them while we were in Jogja. To be honest, I left Jogja that morning a bit anxious that I didn’t know what to expect when we arrive in Solo.

Our trip from Jogja to Solo took about 2 hours through green fields and towns in between. Initially we thought of stopping at the Solo Airport first before going into town to confirm the message that I received about the flight reschedule. When the others in our traveling troupe started to receive the same message from Air Asia then I was assuaged that the message that I received was not some kind of hoax. With that out of the way, we decided to go straight into town to look for a place to stay for the night. I already had a place that I’ve researched on the web before coming on the trip that I wanted to check out so that was the first place that we went to. Thanks to the rough map in our travel guidebook and some helpful locals, we soon arrived at our destination. We asked the driver to wait for us while we check out if the were any rooms available and the condition of their rooms. Luckily for us, the Istana Griya Homestay had some vacancies within our price range so we checked ourselves in after getting our bags from the minivan and paid for the trip from Jogja.

After checking into our family room (more on Istana Griya Homestay in a separate entry), we decided that first thing that we wanted to do was to look for a place for lunch. Along the way, we stopped in an optician shop as one of us needed to get a replacement for his pair of spectacles which broke during the trip. Prices for spectacle frames without glasses were ridiculously cheap here that I was sorely tempted to change mine as well but decided against it since I was already running out of Rupiahs to spend. After talking to the people of the shop, we decide to try one of the restaurants that they recommended for serving authentic Solonese cuisine that was near by. We did find the restaurant and ate there but without really knowing what Solonese cuisine was, I can’t really say if what we had was authentic to the area. I’m fairly sure that the owner was Solonese but the food seems similar to what we already had in Jogja. While it was still cheap and filling, we were all in agreement that it was not terribly exciting.

Since we had a few hours to kill before we had to get back to the optician’s shop to collect the spectacles, we decided to explore Solo city on foot and see if we can make our way to a mall that we saw earlier as we drove into town. We found ourselves walking on a fairly well built paved area which seemed to be dedicated for pedestrian, bicycle and becak use only. I’m not sure if the path that we took to the Solo Grand Mall was a dedicated path but it was quite refreshing being able to walk and not be too worried about motorcycles and cars coming down the same way. We were also quite lucky that day to be in Solo when it was having an Arts Jamboree for local school children from the area secondary schools. We walked past rows of stalls displaying art works, sculptures and performance art created by the students. It was quite fun to stumble into a unexpected free open air arts show in our walk that afternoon after thinking that we would not find anything interesting to do in Solo.

(L: Paved pathway to Solo Grand Mall, R: Art Jamboree stalls)

(L: Some of the artwork on display, R: School children after a dance performance)

(Wayang kulit and Gamelan performance on the streets of Solo)

We arrived at Solo Grand Mall just in the nick of time to get welcomed respite from the stifling heat outside. After walking around the mall and doing a bit of last minute shopping since they had items of sale, we decided to take in a movie at the Cineplex that was located at the top floor of the mall. At 15,000 Rph per ticket, it was way cheaper than watching a movie back home and we would have something to occupy our time for the afternoon. We decided to watch “Forbidden Kingdom” that afternoon although I would have preferred to watch an Indonesian movie in an Indonesian cinema but got outvoted since it was a horror movie that some people rather not watch. Nevertheless, “Forbidden Kingdom” was still an enjoyable movie to watch to pass the time. We left the mall at around 7 pm after the movie to go back to the optician to collect the glasses.

We decided to try Nasi Liwet which was a specialty in Solo. We asked the people at the optician shop again for their recommendation and was directed to a nearby “warong lesehan”. A warong lesehan was basically a street side warong with low tables set on top of mats where visitors would sit cross-legged to have their dinner. They would normally have cloth covering outside their warong that would both shade the diners from the elements outside and also act as a menu board displaying what food items that they had to offer. We decided to get both Nasi Gudeg which was similar to what we had in Jogja and Nasi Liwet which was rice boiled in coconut milk until it was cooked. Tasting like a more softer version of our nasi lemak, nasi liwet in Solo must be accompanied by sambal goreng jepan (a type of melon cooked in chilies and coconut milk), aréh sauce (thick coconut milk boiled with salt) on top of the rice, chicken and egg which have been boiled in coconut milk. While not exactly the most healthiest food to eat, it was definitely quite tasty especially when I had my pick of fried tempe and tofu to go with it.

(L: Nasi Gudeq Solo style, R: Nasi Liwet)

After our final dinner in Indonesia, we decide to walk back to the hotel and turn in for the night. On the way there, we discovered another specialty food item from the area called Srabi Solo which was also recommended in our guidebook. The srabi was a type of pancake made out of rice flour mixed with fresh coconut milk until it achieved a somewhat watery consistency. The mixture was then poured into mini woks on top of small charcoal burners and left to cook until the thicker center was fluffy and the edges crisp. Just before the center started to set, the person making the dessert would put on some type of topping that would differentiate Solo Srabi with the type of srabi found elsewhere. The ones that we saw that night had banana, sugar or chocolate rice toppings which we bought. We had the srabi as we walked back and liked it so much that we ended up buying more of it before we reached our homestay.

(Srabi Solo push cart that can be found all over the place at night)

(L: Srabi Solo with different toppings for sale, R: The chocolate rice type that we ended up buying)

At that point, we were still not sure what we were planning to do the next day. The original plan was to check out very early in the morning to catch our morning flight back to KL but since our flight got rescheduled, we would have more than 8 hours to fill before our flight the following day. We decided to leave our options opened for the following day and get a good night’s rest instead. Of course that was after a supper of srabi with hot tea while watching a concert show on TV featuring one of my favorite Indonesian bands and dancing sailors. You had to be there to appreciate the fun we had watching it that night!

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