Part Two of our day in Ambarawa- The Railway Museum

Ambarawa Railway Museum

Our second stop in Ambarawa was the Railway Museum.  Built in 1873, it’s one of the only places in the world that still has an operational steam engine.   The train now is just for tourists and runs a short, nine kilometer track to the next town and back.  We had hoped to take a little ride, but we visited on Saturday not knowing that Sunday is the only day the train runs.

Amabarawa Train Museum

The museum has a long hall that lists historical facts about the railway in Indonesia with plenty of photos of past presidents and dignitaries on trains.  There is also, of course, an abundance of vintage trains to play on and cabooses for posing.

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Our friend Clark who works with us and also lives in our building joined us for the trip.  He and Joel were nice enough to pose for me on the scales.

Clark & Joel at Ambarawa Railway Museum

This family asked Clark if he would be in their photo and he happily obliged.  One of the little girls started to cry and the man said, “She’s just crying because your nose is too pointy.”  We got a good laugh out of that one.

Clark making friendsRene & Patricia at Ambarawa Railway Museum

We were also traveling with our friends Rene and Patricia who also happen to live in our building.  Patricia’s mother and son Raymond live in Ambarawa and they met us at the Railway Museum.   Patricia was the one who organized our tour at the prison and saved us with her Indonesian when the security guard attempted to turn us away.   We were lucky to be able to travel with someone so much knowledge of the area!

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As I mentioned before we were told that they only offer rides on Sundays, so we were a little surprised that we saw one of the trains out for a spin after we left.  With the age of the steam engines, I assume it takes some time to get them oiled up for service and they probably need a dry run without the pressure of passengers.

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On the way out we saw this petite, smiley woman selling jamu- Indonesian traditional medicine.  I tried jamu once before and apparently my Indonesian palette isn’t mature enough to enjoy the ground herb concoction .  I wasn’t in the market for any jamu, but the woman was nice enough to let me snap a quick portrait regardless.




Day trip to Ambarawa


Our first glimpse of what looked to be an abandoned Dutch fort came on our way back from our Christmas trip to Jogja.   Our van had been winding through the jungle for about five hours when we came upon a vast area of rice paddies and Joel spotted some buildings in the distance.  The structures looked like collapsing ruins so we assumed that they must be abandoned.  Wanting to investigate when we got home, Joel wrote down the name of the town we were in, Ambarawa.  We thought if we came back by ourselves we could explore freely.  How wrong we were.




After some Googling, we learned that the buildings were indeed built by the Dutch in 1838 and called Benteng (Fort) Willem.  It was used as an internment camp by the Japanese to hold 15,000 Europeans during WW2.  Our friend Patricia is from Ambarawa so we asked her about Benteng Willem and to our surprise it is far from abandoned.   The compound is part of a military complex with lots of administrative buildings, homes and even a still functioning prison.  Patricia contacted someone at the prison and arranged for us to tour the areas with the abandoned buildings.  When we arrived we were told by the military personnel that there were no tours and Patricia had to let them know that we had prearranged access.  Thank goodness she’s a local!  Joel and I certainly do not have the Indonesian language skills to have conveyed that message.  It was definitely worth our while, as the grounds and buildings were intriguing and have retained some semblance of their original beauty despite their decrepit state.


Joel and our friend Clark that joined us ventured up these stairs to find that the building was pretty fully inhabited and the tenants were less than pleased to see tourists.  After that run in we all stayed downstairs.


After Benteng Willem we visited Ambarawa’s train museum.  Photos from there and of our whole traveling crew up soon!


A little weekend getaway


Oh Jakarta, a juxtaposition of old and new worlds, so painfully apparent when you see shanty towns with a backdrop of skyscrapers.  An urban jungle with a population of 10 million in the city proper, expanding up to 30 million when you include the suburbs.  It’s not uncommon for Jakarta to be featured on lists of world’s most hated cities, but after six months in sleepy Semarang, I’m ready for a little city excitement, even if that means battling world class traffic.


From the glitzy malls to the gritty street markets, everywhere was decked out with red lanterns for Chinese New Year.  Jakarta is a place where you can truly find anything.  In one outing you can pick up a Chanel bag, vintage Dolly Parton vinyls, a cotton candy as big as your head and also pick the best bunch of live frogs from a selection laid out on banana leaves.


Jakarta has an additional form of transportation that we lack in Semarang, the bajai!  It’s a three wheeled scooter-car-hybrid.  With a small backseat fit for two, it’s my favorite way to zip around downtown Jakarta.  I told Joel we should buy a bajai because I feel like it would be easier and safer than me driving a scooter.  He said I could have one in the same way parents say “sure you can have a pony!”


Sunday morning is Car Free Day on Sudirman Street, a main street downtown that runs by two big malls.  It was close enough that we could walk from our hotel which I loved because I got to look into all the big fancy Jakarta mansions on the way.  As usual, all the homes have ornate, iron gates and fences around the property which are typically overgrown with lush plants.

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Tuesday morning we took the hour flight back to Semarang, back to daily grind.


Strolling around Old Town

This week Indonesia celebrated Teacher’s Day by giving us a Tuesday off work.  Joel and I took the opportunity to take a leisurely walk through the Old Town neighborhood of Semarang and get some photos on the way to lunch.  We found a license plate cart bearing my name, a vintage Volkswagen bus, a rooster market and plenty of shops adorned with red lanterns ready to celebrate Chinese New Year.   We’re headed to Jakarta this weekend to ring in the year of the monkey in style, Jakarta style.


Lawang Sewu


Lawang Sewu is a beautiful Dutch Colonial building in Semarang that was constructed in the early 1900’s.  It originally housed the first railway company in the Dutch East Indies. One of the two main buildings became a prison when the Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942 and the basement was used for interrogations and executions.  We’ve actually toured here twice hoping that the basement area would be open to the public, but no such luck.  Now the complex is said to be haunted and the Indonesian government has tried to rebrand to lose that reputation.  They could easily turn it into a legit haunted house, but I think the culture here is too superstitious to enjoy that.

The name Lawang Sewu means Thousand Doors in Javanese.  There are definitely an endless amount of doors and arches up and down the many corridors, but we haven’t gone so far as to count the doors.  We’ll save that activity for our third visit.

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Joel’s Birthday Treat


We pass Wonderia a couple of times a week and Joel always comments on how spooky and abandoned it looks, which puts it at the top of the list of Joel’s must visit places.  Last week being his birthday week, it was finally time to venture behind the colorful Wonderia gates to see Semarang’s only amusement park in all its glory.   And glorious it was, if you’re into places that look like an old Scooby-Doo episode come to life.  We read online that the park was built in 2007, how it managed to fall into this severe a state of disrepair in only nine years is unbelievable and amazing.  The reviews around town are that Wonderia is old, janky and unsafe.  Every parent that we surveyed came to the same consensus that they would never bring their children here and yet somehow that fact heightened the thrill factor for us.


First up we wanted to hit the Ghost House.  We were the only people in the park so one of the employees stood by the ticket booth, asked us what we wanted to ride then walked over with us and proceeded to start getting the ride up and running.   We rode the car about two meters before we heard a pop and the car stopped… for good.  We each paid 10,000 rupiah to get in and 7,000 for the tickets (about $1.23 total per person) so dammit we were going to ride something!  We waited while the employee shut down Ghost House and then walked us over to the one spot he was sure he could get working: the bumper-cars.


The food mural wall was odd but somehow not out of place.  Shown here was one of the two headless chicken bodies with a happy garlic. The merry-go-round, like the Ghost House, was not in working order, but no one seemed to mind that I unlocked the gate and went in for some photos.


The Wonderia Monorail was functioning and it was also a horrible idea.  The calm looking selfie I took was before this crazy train started moving.  It looked about as old as Father Time and swayed back and forth with the steadiness of a drunk tight-rope walker.


All in all, Wonderia was pretty much exactly what we expected- a collapsing, technicolor dystopia.  I’m glad we had the park to ourselves for our first visit because it added to the eerie mystique.  Next time, we’re coming back on one of the weekend nights when the parking lot is packed with hundreds of scooters and you can hear the music bumping from outside the gates.  I’d be into seeing an Indonesian rock band here, however I’ll definitely be skipping the monorail.


Pigeon & Mutton

Joel lived and worked in Jakarta for two years prior to us moving to Semarang.  This week his friend David visited from Jakarta and took us out to try some fried pigeon.  I was surprised when the pigeon showed up head-on, but they were tasty nonetheless.


David’s son was visiting from Australia and wanted to hit all of his favorite hometown snack spots.  After dinner we went searching for the kaki lima (food stand) with Semarang’s best mutton soup.  The kaki lima vendor has a couple of shelves with fresh veggies and some non-refrigerated meats on sticks.  He prepares each bowl individually in his only pan over a small wood fire stove.  I had mutton with potato, tomato and garlic and it was awesome.  His broth was some of the best I’ve ever had.  I would say I’ll be back but being that this is a 3′ by 5′ cart that sits on a dark side street, I’m not sure I’d ever be able to find it again.