Sultan’s Palace & Water Castle

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The Kraton (Sultan’s Palace) and Taman Sari (Sultan’s Water Castle) are both hot tourist destinations in Jogja. ¬†Typically Joel and I are lone explorers and politely say “Tidak terima kasih” (No thank you) when approached by the ever eager rogue guides. ¬†But we asked directions from someone hanging out near Taman Sari and he was more than happy to give us a private tour for the next hour. ¬†Since we didn’t really know where we were headed, we took the bait and to our surprise it turned out to be a good decision.

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We had arrived early trying to beat the crowds so the Water Castle wasn’t open yet. ¬†Our guide took us through someone’s back yard complete with their family’s drying laundry to this secret spot so we could get a view of two of the pools from overhead. ¬†He told us the far pool was for the Sultan’s children and the other was for his forty wives.¬†Taman-Sari-two-view

Once inside the complex you can go to the opposite side of the tower to see the Sultan’s private pool, the one below.Sultan's-poolWindow-view

You can also climb up into the tower and sit on the Sultan’s bed. ¬†I think the guide told us¬†some folklore¬†about us sitting there together and it¬†magically giving us a longer relationship or strong marriage, but his English wasn’t great so he may have just been telling me to sit down.¬†Sultan's-bed

After Taman Sari we walked around the grounds, through some tunnels and to an underground mosque that is apparently the spot for wedding photography.  We saw two wedding parties and someone doing what looked like prom photos as well. Kraton-wallUnderground

There are lots of homes within the Kraton complex and many of the people that live there are employed by the Sultan.  We found two men sitting on a porch carving wayang kulit- Indonesian shadow puppets made from water buffalo hide. Wayang-artist

After bidding farewell to our guide we made our way to the Kraton. ¬†It’s a large, sprawling complex of buildings that still houses the Sultan’s family, museums with artifacts from past sultans and from 9:00-1:00 each day a couple of hundred tourists.

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We met a group of school girls just dying for a picture with a handsome, white American so of course Joel obliged.  Not to brag, but I had a couple of fans myself.

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And after seeing this portrait, I’m now on a mission to get myself a pair of these gold, elfish ear ornaments.

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Borobudur

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We arrived in Yogyakarta the Saturday before Christmas but purposely waited until Monday to visit Borobudur because we thought it might be less crowded. ¬†With schools being out this week, it’s prime tourist season so I don’t think we got too much of a break from the crowd. ¬†But the trip was still well worth the drive, about an hour from central Yogya where we were staying.¬†Borobudur-far.jpg

Borobudur was built during the 9th century and consists of nine stacked platforms with a central dome at the top and we climbed them all in the hot summer sun! ¬† With 2.5 million guests per year it is the most visited tourist sight in the country and for¬†good reason. ¬†The architecture and design are amazing. ¬†To think that this was constructed in the 9th century is pretty hard to fathom. ¬† The attention to detail in every stone is incredible and the views from the top aren’t too shabby either.

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In total Borobudur contains 504 Buddha statues and 72 stupas (bell shaped shrines)- there are even Buddhas inside the stupas.   There are relief walls throughout depicting what day to day life was like in Java in the 8th and 9th century in Java.  (Oh the things you can learn from Wikipedia!)

Boro-close-up.jpgBorobudur3.jpgBorobudur1Buddha-headSelfie-at-Borobudur.jpgJoel-with-BlancheThere were¬†hundreds of tourists in the temple complex with us and all of them with camera in hand. ¬†We got stopped quite a few times by people who wanted photos with us- I don’t feel like we’re that exciting but apparently school girls of rural Java don’t get to meet a lot of white folks. ¬†Joel was nice enough to go along with all my excessive photo taking for the day and even pose for a couple selfies for our holiday greeting.

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A tale of three hotels

One vacation, three hotels- yeah we get around.   We only intended on staying in two hotels during our stay in Yogyakarta (also called Jogja)- one night at the posh Phoenix Hotel and then three nights at the hip, but cost effective Greenhost Hotel.  But even after our four nights we still wanted more Jogja so we found yet another hotel so we could stay through Christmas.  It was actually the only room we could find on Christmas Eve and Christmas day!

For our first night we went big and splurged on the Phoenix Hotel. ¬†After a lifetime in the US it’s hard to believe that¬†$67 is¬†a splurge but in Indonesia ¬†it gets you¬†some pretty classy digs. ¬†The Phoenix is so grand! ¬†Its opulent, colonial style is a majestic mix of the Indonesian and Dutch cultures. ¬†Also their breakfast buffet was stellar, the best we’ve seen so far at any hotel. ¬†They had¬†French toast, pancakes and Belgian waffles! ¬†I ate so much Joel called it my five course breakfast and he wasn’t far off.

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As you can see, we loved the balcony.  I special requested a balcony with a pool view and we ended up getting an upgraded room- score!

Next up was the Greenhost Hotel which has only been around for a little over a year. ¬†Greenhost is also quite grand but with a decidedly modern look, a¬†stark contrast to the Phoenix. ¬†With the gray, concrete walls Joel called the look ‘prison chic’. ¬†The ground floor is open air and has the lobby, restaurant, gift shop surrounding the pool. ¬†There are three floors of rooms above all overlooking the pool and lined with layer after layer of tubes growing hydroponic herbs that cascade down creating the jungle look. ¬†On the top floor is a restaurant and a garden where they grow produce for the hotel. I love that the garden is open so guests can go up and see the tube system up close. ¬†Greenhost-price.jpgsignGarden-twoferGreenhost1

Our room at Greenhost was definitely smaller than our previous spot, but it made up for it in charm. ¬†The lights on either side of the bed were made from recycled propane tanks. ¬†The combo desk, wet bar and closet was stylish and functional. ¬† And there is a bed to bathroom window- who doesn’t love to share their bathroom time?!

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When we first saw the bed made up with two comforters it looked a little strange like two twin beds pushed together, but after sleeping with it for a couple nights we’re sold. ¬†No more fighting over the blanket, we both got our own! ¬†We’re totally stealing this idea for home.

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We¬†love¬†the neighborhood where Greenhost is located. ¬†With¬†rows of restaurants, boutiques, art and antique shops, it’s definitely more our style than the Phoenix Hotel area. ¬†After three nights at Greenhost we still weren’t ready to go home so we rescheduled our return ride and booked three more nights at yet another hotel. ¬†We had a tough time finding a room as adding more time meant we would be staying over Christmas, but we ended up finding a room one street over at Prambanan Guest House for $25 per night.

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The room was simple but clean with a¬†beautiful woven ikat bedspread. ¬†We had only two requirements on our must have list- pool and AC- and PGH checked both of those boxes and at $25 per night you can’t beat the price.

roompramThough they didn’t have an expansive breakfast buffet, we did have a lovely Christmas breakfast of scrambled eggs and delicious, fresh made banana pancakes. ¬†The tables in the garden area were kind of a mosquito playground, but with a little bug spray they were a great place to have a beer and edit some photos.

It’s been a great Christmas week in Jogja and we’ve both really fallen in love with the rich culture of this eclectic city. ¬†We will definitely be back again and I still have¬†tons and tons¬†of photos to share so more to come soon! ¬† Hope everyone back home is having a radical Christmas as well!

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Morning walk in the neighborhood

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Buddhas

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Joel and I are excited to kick off his Christmas break with a trip¬†Yogyakarta. ¬† We’ll be soaking up some culture all week in the city that’s described as the soul of Java. ¬†If the weather cooperates we’ll be touring¬†the¬†Sultan’s Palace,¬†Borobudur¬†and¬†Prambanan.¬†¬† Please go easy on¬†me rainy season!

Extras from vaca

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Joel reminded me that I left out a very important detail of our vacation.  After finalizing our plans we realized we were taking flight 666 to Borneo which, if you ask an Indonesian, is the number one top spot in the country for black magic.  The flight also took off into a thunder and lightning storm that added to the spook factor, but luckily we got through it very quickly.

We’ve found Indonesia is quite superstitious and¬†take their superstitions very seriously. ¬†Joel forbid me from wearing my green swimsuit to the beach because local¬†folklore states that it angers the Goddess of the South Sea Nyai Roro Kidul. ¬† I’ve read that the myth actually only refers to the south coast of Java but with Borneo being shrouded in superstition we decided to err on the side of caution and I brought a black suit.

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We also flew Lion Air both ways which is an Indonesian airline that’s famous for their flight delays. ¬†Amazingly both of our flights were on time! ¬†This photo is us landing in Semarang which is always scary because the runway starts only a couple of yards away from the water. ¬†You can hear to landing gear deploy long before you see land which is a bit unnerving.

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A couple more shots from Beach House Resto, my bounty from some shell searching and below the best of our beach selfies. ¬†I got a waterproof Iphone case (for $1.50!) so Joel couldn’t escape my photos even in the ocean. ¬†You can tell when he got annoyed hence the one of him¬†attempting to wring my neck.

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Weekend in Borneo

We spent last weekend in a city called Balikpapan on the island of Borneo.  It was my first trip to an Indonesian island other than Java, where we live!

Balikpapan-mapmap photo credit here

We left from¬†Semarang airport which has only one¬†tiny¬†baggage carousel and no sky bridges- you just walk out onto the tarmac to board your flight. ¬†Upon arriving at the Balikpapan airport we were shocked to be greeted by a giant, modern airport that looks a lot like the new Raleigh-Durham terminal. ¬†Balikpapan’s largest industry is oil¬†so I guess oil money builds nice airports.

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We¬†found a restaurant¬†called Ocean’s and ate there twice because it was delicious and right on the water. ¬†There were people sitting on the very end of this drooping pier during both of our meals¬†but it didn’t look quite sturdy enough for me to venture out.

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Joel and I were celebrating our anniversary so our goal for the weekend was some beach relaxation.  Indonesian beaches are typically pretty dirty so our hopes for a trash free beach are a tall order.

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Our hotel, Le Grandeur, has someone comb the beach daily so there was a stretch that is moderately¬†clean. ¬†However, they pick up only directly in front of their building so you can still see giant piles of plastic bottles on one side and washed up debris on the other. ¬†It’s sort of like if someone were to take great care in manicuring their lawn but then throw all their garbage in the neighbor’s yard-¬†it doesn’t really help the overall ambiance of the block.

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This view didn’t really have us running to the water for a dip. ¬† But the rest of the hotel grounds were well maintained and the pool wasn’t too crowded so we took advantage of that.

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At the public beach on the other end of town we found a bigger, relatively clean area called Kemala Beach that was better for swimming.   There were lots of teenagers hanging out- boys skim-boarding and girls mostly taking selfies.

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These little blue vans called angkots run throughout town- similar to a city bus. ¬†They have a set route but you can flag them down and get in and out where ever you like and they only cost about $0.70 for both of us- very different than the city buses I’m used to in Seattle. ¬†They also don’t have a door on the side¬†which makes it easier¬†for me to take photos of the¬†scooters packed full of helmet-free kids!

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Saturday night we went to dinner another hotel called The Gran Senyiur.  Their restaurant is on the roof so you get views of the city, the coast and the oil ships off in the distance.   Here we are cutting up at dinner.

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We had a monster lightning storm blow through just after dinner which was great fun to watch from the roof patio.

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Our Lonely Planet guidebook recommended a place called Beach House Resto but it was a ways out of town so heading to the airport was a perfect opportunity to check it out.

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We saved the best for last with Beach House Resto and we arrived early enough to get one of the coveted cabanas!  The beach was beautiful and clean and just a few meters away- a delightful view with delicious food.  We topped it all off with a banana split before taxiing to the airport.

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All in all it was a lovely, little getaway. ¬†We’d definitely like to get back to Borneo one day and do one of the wildlife tours. ¬†I think we covered the city exploration this trip so next time we’re heading to the jungle!

 

 

Next Stop BORNEO!

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Exciting news here- we’re getting started with our holiday travel early with a weekend trip to Balikpapan, Kalimantan on Borneo Island! ¬†Joel wanted a little time¬†away since he missed out on Singapore so we started looking up cheap direct flights for a Friday to Sunday lazy beach weekend. ¬†Balikpapan checked all the boxes, not to mention Joel has always dreamed of going to Borneo.

Balikpapan is on the eastern coast so miles away from the forest fires¬†that made headlines this fall. ¬†It’s an oil city on the coast that is said to have still have a nice beach area. ¬†Being a short trip we probably won’t make it to the¬†crocodile farm¬†or¬†orangutan sanctuary¬†but we’re still excited to finally make it to the exotic and enchanting¬†island of Borneo!

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