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Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Weekend in Solo

With a long weekend coming up, my spouse, Ted, and I thought we would get away, but not too far.  Having visited Yogyakarta a number of times, we thought we'd try its neighbor, Solo, considered by many to be another (the?) important center of Javanese culture. 

We booked at the Kusuma Sahid Prince Hotel. And while this hotel had seen better days, its character and friendly staff made up for what it lacked in upkeep. We love heritage properties and are willing to sacrifice some comfort for the experience.  

After great coffee from room service, we ventured out for dinner. The two guidebooks we consulted recommended Restoran Sari, which our cab driver hadn’t heard of and couldn’t find. We emerged from the taxi, spotted what appeared to be a relatively modern hotel nearby and figured, correctly, that they had a satisfactory restaurant.  While we enjoyed our meal, we were a bit concerned about the “fried brown partner,” advertized on the menu for dessert.  With our limited Indonesian and the waiter’s limited English, we came to understand that this delicacy was actually a fried chocolate bar.  I’m sure the description in Indonesian on the menu conveyed that meaning better than the English version did.

Following dinner, we sprinted through a heavy rain to the Sriwedari Theater, home to Solo’s Wayang Orang production. The colorful interpretation of the epic Ramayana was performed in Javanese, with Indonesian translations visible on either side of the stage.  An hour into the production, still wet, we slipped out, returned to the hotel and called it a night.

The next morning, fortified by a hearty breakfast in the hotel, we ventured again into town.  Our first stop was the Kraton Hadiningrat, one of the city’s two palaces.  A Detroiter at heart, I’m intrigued by modes of conveyance.  Among the many interesting items, such as krises, masks and colonial photos, there were exquisitely detailed palanquins and elegant, though decaying, carriages on display. 

We had heard much about Solonese batiks and decided to check them out for ourselves.  We visited Batik Keris, but we thought their prices were a bit high, so we moved on. Batik Semar, no less elegant, was much more what we had in mind in terms of value. Earlier, our driver pointed out the batik market, where much better deals were certain to be had, if we had been willing to contend with the crowds. 

Pigeon on the Menu

For lunch, we tried Restoran Ramayana.  Intrigued, but not so much enticed, by the pigeon, available fried, buttered or flattened, we opted for sate ayam, vegetables, noodles and cold beer.

After lunch, we looked for a spa for Ted.  We kept asking around and no one seemed to know of such a place in Solo that catered to men. Despite a banner next to the front desk at our hotel advertising their spa, no spa services were available. The driver took us around, we asked further; nothing. Perhaps an entrepreneur will seize the opportunity to offer professional massages for men in Solo.

We were invited for dinner that evening by friends who happened to be in town as well; we endeavored to bring wine.  Yet, like our efforts to find a spa for men, our quest was unsuccessful.  Instead, we found a grocery store, wandered around, and saw brownies.  It happens that “American” brownies are popular in Solo. As we were trying to select which package to buy, we noticed an attendant open one for a customer who wanted to inspect contents.  A glorious whiff of chocolate bliss wafted to our nearby noses.  Those brownies smelled just like the real thing, maybe better.  We had found our hostess gift.

A Solonese feast was prepared for us at the lovely terra cotta villa where our friends stayed - the home of a designer friend of theirs who employs scores of people who produce batiks and furniture in a factory on the same compound. For dessert, we were treated to Serabi, a delectable coconut sticky-rice dessert wrapped in something like a crepe, followed by a Chinese chilled dessert soup with pastry nuggets containing delightful peanut paste. We didn’t mind that our brownies weren’t served.

Candi Sukuh

We set off the following morning for Candi Sukuh, the ancient Mayan-looking temple complex about an hour up a winding, mountain road with beautiful views of verdant rice fields. We had the windows rolled down for much of the journey, preferring to take in the cool, fresh air.  We reached the peak of the mountain.  The temple was appropriately perched there, offering expansive views of the city and surrounding area. Though sometimes referred to as the erotic temple, the carvings and statues of aroused men were interesting, though relatively minor, features of the site. 

Returning to the hotel, we thought we had a couple of hours to relax before heading to the airport for our flight back to Jakarta. Ted prepared for a nap, and I called room service to order brownies, hoping to finally actually try the Solonese American variety. Sadly, they were all out.  And that was just as well.  After getting off the phone, I casually checked our itinerary and realized our flight was two hours earlier than we thought!  We quickly packed our things, checked out and rushed to the airport, barely making our flight. Our colorful weekend adventure had come to an end. 

(Published in the Newsletter of the Indonesian Heritage Society, Spring-Summer 2011)

1 comment:

  1. While we enjoyed our meal, we were a bit concerned about the “fried brown partner,” advertized on the menu for dessert...

    A Detroiter at heart, I’m intrigued by modes of conveyance...

    I like the understated, not too dry, just so style:)