Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Surakarta: Going Solo

Indonesia - Solo Kraton Blue Door with Cross and Barong
Just one of 'em bold, bright doors in Solo
Day five found us headed for Solo minus one person, Abie, who's headed back home.  Funny how locals we met discouraged us to take the business class train with what they insinuate as atrociously-priced fares upwards of Rp130,000 (Php650/US$14) .  Since we were coming and going on off-peak hours, we didn't really mind standing up for the ride.  And oh, we certainly didn't mind saving over a hundred rupiah in the process as the Prameks fare cost only Rp9,000 (Php45/US$1).

Indonesia - Solobalapan Prameks Train Waiting
Prameks train waiting for passengers at Solobalapan bound for Jogja
Surakarta (or affectionately called Solo) is over 60 kilometers away from Jogja and by train, is just under an hour's trip.  The train took us through a wide expanse of flatland and verdant rice fields. The scene reminded me of the often-lush stretch of Bulacan to Nueva Ecija so much so that if it weren't for the signages in Bahasa and the Javanese-style houses, we might as well consider ourselves home.

It has been raining in the afternoon the past few days and this day was no exception.  The rains couldn't wait until we reached the Solobalapan station so we had to negotiate for a cab under the squall.  Looking for somewhere to stay was tricky; we had to drop by to look at two -- Paradise and Westerner homestays -- before fate took us to Cakra.  It was a providential twist as this homestay lived up to its reputation as one of Solo's best-kept secrets (more on this in my next post).
Indonesia - Solo Batik Making
Batik artistry in display in one of the shops along Batik alley
Of rains, batik, becak and bold doors.  The wet afternoon dampened our chances of going around on our first day so we settled for eating and sharing stories.  The next day, we explored the row of exquisite batik stores next to the alley where we were staying.  I personally find the batik merchandise here to be more refined, more elegant than the ones we saw in Jogja.  After a hearty lunch and enjoyable becak ride, we went off to the Kraton in Puro Mangkunegoro.  The Loket Museum looked fascinating so we went in for a quite lengthy look-see.  By the time the afternoon rains let up, the palace was already closed to visitors so we instead explored the nooks and crannies of the Kraton.  We found particular interest in the multi-hued doors and windows -- as if every homeowner tried to outdo each other in coming up with bold and bolder color schemes.
Indonesia - Solo Kraton Becak Against Blue Door
Becak and blue door
If we had more days to spare, Surakarta would be fascinating to explore.  The best way to sum it up is by quoting the message on a shirt we found in one store that proudly stated "Solo, the soul of Java".  The artistry we saw -- from the batik designs to the architecture -- and heard -- in the inimitable music of the gamelan -- give credence to this rather bold claim.  It's a place worth a second, long, hard look in the future.

Heart and soul.  On our second night in Solo, we just walked around in search of dinner.  We chanced upon a signage advertising nice-sounding Indonesian fare and found the food shop inside a house along an alley near the batik row.  The man of the house was profuse with apologies as the kitchen ran out of ingredients.  He offered us whatever he can whip up using ingredients scrounged around from the neighbors while one of his daughters made tasty pastries.  We were even introduced to his brood and given advice on the train rides back to Jogja.  The ingredients for our meals may be in short supply but the kindness of the people living in the house was overflowing.  I think Solo may be the soul of Java but I admire its people for being its heart.

Info:  Catch the Prameks train headed for Solo at the Maguwo station right beside the Jogja Airport.  Fare: Rp9,000/Php45/US$1; Travel time: less than one hour with stops at Klaton and Purwosari.  • Standard taxi rate from Solobalapan station to downtown is Rp12,000/Php60/US$1.50; cabs waiting inside the station compound charge upwards of Rp30,000/Php150/US$3

Indonesia - Solo Cakra Gamelan Singer IILoket Museum:  fees: Rp10,000/Php50/US$1 plus Rp3,500/Php17.50/US$.38; open Mon-Fri from 9am-2pm; Sat-Sun from 9am-3pm • Puro Mangkunegoro, open Mon-Sat, 8:30am-2pm, Sun, 8:30am-1pm • Cakra Homestay, JI Cakra II. No. 15 Kauman Solo; email:

Next on Lagalog's series on Indonesia:
The Hypnotic Enchantment of the Gamelan


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