Furniture & Shark Forts

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With our last week of holiday break we wanted to squeeze in another small trip.  With Jepara being only two hours away and touted as the furniture capital of Java, we were eager to see if it lived up to the reputation.  Our first full day we rented a scooter and went to check out the shops, some of which were more like sprawling warehouses with room after room filled with intricately carved masterpieces.

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We also scooted up to an old Dutch fort called Benteng VOC.  There wasn’t much of a fort left but we did get to meet a gang of graveyard grazing goats.

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Shortly after leaving the fort we crashed our scooter.  No, I didn’t take any photos of the wreck but looking back I should have gotten one of the crowd that gathered quickly to check on us. We were both a little bruised and scraped but fine for the most part.  We did have on helmets (which are very optional here) so I was glad for that.   At the time it was more embarrassing than painful- the pain came the next day in the form of sore muscles and scabbed knees.

But we still had another day in Jepara and really wanted to get to the beach so we washed our waffles down with coffee and pain pills and headed out.  We chartered one of the tourist boats to Palau Pajang.  The name translates to Long Island even though it is small and round.  We walked a trail around the island surveying the vegetation and feeding the mosquitos, then back to the beach for me to inspect the coral.

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We saw these bamboo structures on Google maps when we were researching the area and we weren’t sure quite what to make of them from the satellite view.  Joel told me they were shark forts where sharks plan and map out their attacks, however I’m not 100% sure he’s correct.

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My only regret from Jepara is that I wasn’t able to bring home any furniture or ceramics, but next time I’ll know to book a big bus home so I can fill it with bowls, vases and maybe a carved headboard or two.

 

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Odds and Ends from Jogja

Mornings are the best time to explore with milder temperatures and rain usually not coming until late afternoon.  Joel and I would finish breakfast then meander the windy back roads of the neighborhood near the hotel.  Homes tend to be vibrantly colored with small porches covered in plants and birdcages.  Gates are also hugely popular with most being bright and elaborate.  Every street is an unexpected surprise as you can also find a brand, spanking new mansion next to a tin roofed shack, but it’s a pretty good bet that you’ll always see at least one loose chicken running around.

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We’ve also noticed an abundance of murals- they’re everywhere!  I’ve wondered if business owners arrange to have their buildings painted or if there just aren’t graffiti laws because it seems like any spare surface is covered in art.

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Another morning we checked out Pasar Satwa, which translates to animal market but we had heard it called the bird market.  They do indeed have a variety of different animals, but birds are by far the biggest business.  From what I’ve gathered, owning a bird is a status symbol of sorts and the best way to keep up with the Jones’ is to display your birds front and center on your porch.  I’ve also heard there’s a belief that when someone places a curse on you, if you own a bird the curse will transfer to the bird and you’ll be protected.

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Our transportation to and from Pasar Satwa, as well as pretty much everywhere in Jogja, was bejak.   On a hot day (which is everyday) we prefer the motorbike bejaks over the pedal ones because you get a better breeze.  All the drivers call the motorized ones helicopters.  We’re still scratching our heads on that one.

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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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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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