Initially my idea for this post was to make a top ten list of my favorite images of Indonesia, however that soon proved to be impossible. Scrolling through two years of blog posts there were too many memories and snapshots of unforgettable destinations for me to narrow it down to a mere ten. So my top ten became a compilation of pretty much any image that I was fond of starting with our fantastic honeymoon in Kuta and Ubud. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed compiling them.
Two weekends in Solo.
The time I went to the market with Annie and made a slew of new friends.
I’ve never been anywhere quite as special as Karimunjawa.
Trips to Jakarta
Exploring our city, Semarang
That time we went to Borneo
So many trips to Jogja
March. It started with a few travel-less weeks of keeping out heads down. Our March goal was to focus on some new projects and save a little money. For me that’s involved lots of crafting and photography. Instead of traveling we’ve taken small excursions around Semarang, mostly brunch and trips to different markets so I can gather mysterious insect bites and props like quail eggs for styling photos. Last weekend was my birthday, so we splurged on a stay-cation at a local hotel. It was a perfect night of Chinese food, watching cable in a oversized, comfy bed and opening some lovingly selected gifts.
The biggest reason for our month of weekends at home was to save for a longer, fancier holiday. Tomorrow we’re flying to Jakarta to meet Joel’s mom! We’ll stay there two nights, hopefully getting her acquainted to the time zone, then we’re headed to… Jogja of course. Last time his mom visited Indonesia, they had plans to visit Jogja, but a volcano eruption closed the airport ruining their plans. So next week we’ll busily shuttle her around our favorite little city to see all the sights she missed.
Like any good bargain shopper, when I see a sign that says 50% off my attention is piqued. Or rather when my husband sees the sign and says, Want to try a new restaurant where everything is half off? The answer will always be yes. That’s how we found The Heights restaurant in the new Wimarion Hotel. Their grand opening this week features half off all food and beverages. Not wanting to miss the rooftop pool (which sadly isn’t included in dinner) we got a room for the night. We had a lovely stay-cation enjoying sprawling rooftop views, the giant plush bed and an extensive breakfast buffet.
We kicked off our evening with piping hot pizzas and icy mint juleps at The Heights. The restaurant features a cool, dark vibe reminiscent of a posh, underground speakeasy, but with much better views as it is situated on the roof. The only thing that rivaled the band doing an acoustic Guns and Roses cover was the fantastic lightning storm raging outside. We will definitely be returning before the rainy season is over to enjoy dinner and drinks with a side of thunderstorm. Looking back at my photos makes me feel like I’m already due for another dip in the pool.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my Americans friends out there! As I sit here typing between bites of friend rice, please know I’m dreaming of gravy covered stuffing, creamy green bean casserole and apple pies topped with ice cream. I do have a chef friend here in town that says they’re offering a turkey, stuffing and cranberry special this week so maybe I’ll check that out tonight.
With no significant Indonesian holidays this month (which translates to no long weekends), Joel and I have been focused on some local travel. One place that had been on our list for a while is a local-ish temple (called candi in Indonesian) named Gedong Songo. We picked a cool, overcast morning to make the hour drive by scooter. It was our longest scooter trip thus far and we could definitely feel it in our buns. What’s the best way to soothe sore buns? An hour on a horse! (That’s sarcasm in case you didn’t catch it.) The trail around the temples is only four kilometers so it’s easily walkable, but I wanted to make my parents proud and ride the horses. I grew up on a horse farm but had little interest in horses as a child, so I thought my mom and dad would get a kick out of an Amanda-on-a-horse picture.
The horses took us along windy path up the mountain side. At each landing we’d get off to roam around the temples a bit for photos. I was pleasantly surprised by how many visitors there were. There was even a group of college aged kids that had camped there overnight.
We stumbled upon a wedding shoot about half way through our outing. It made me think what pain in the ass to travel up a mountain in a white dress and full make up, but I’m sure the pictures from such a majestic location will be worth the trouble.
Similar to our experience at Prambanan, we came across a couple of piles of rubble where temples once stood proving ancient architecture is no match for an earthquake.
The ride down the hillside produced sweeping views of the valley below and the vegetation growing down the sloped terraces. The ancient temples and expansive views made for a wonderful morning, but the cool weather really sealed the deal to make it a magical experience.
You’ve got to get up early to get the good pork! So said my friend Annie while we were having drinks on Friday evening. Pork has become something that’s pretty hard to come by in my life. With a vegetarian fiancé, I rarely cook meat in our home and living in a Muslim country, pork isn’t something that’s on every menu in town. Our friend Annie is Chinese and owns a catering company; with pork ribs on her menu for the week, she said she’d have to get to the market early Sunday morning to fight the crowds for the best cuts of meat. This was definitely something I wanted to see.
I scooted over to her house at 5:45 in the morning, which was actually my first time taking our new scooter out solo. Even arriving at the market at 7:00, we had to go to three different stalls to get Annie’s preferred cuts of meat in the amount she needed. The alley was jam packed, stalls lining both sides and shoppers bustling through trying to navigate the uneven pavement that’s moist with dirty, fishy water. Baskets full of fish, tables of chicken cutlets, chops of pork and beef and even a tray of skinned frog bodies, it’s a meat lovers dream and all being butchered on site. I can’t help but think of all the chefs I know who would lose their minds after seeing the sanitary conditions, but alas, that’s how things are done here. Turn your fish bucket upside down and you’ve got a table for scaling! Set a cutting board on the ground next to a pile of trash you have an acceptable place to separate those pork ribs. Nothing is refrigerated and no one seems to mind. I imagine these markets have been operating the same way for hundreds of years, so why change what works?
Not just a meat market, there are vendors with fruits, vegetables and plenty of spices. With produce displayed on large round baskets set on top of buckets and crates, it’s the kind of rustic scene that Whole Foods stores in the US try to replicate to look authentic, but comes off as kitchy. They say necessity is the mother of invention, so yesterday’s laundry basket is today’s colorful display of bean sprouts and limes.
Periodically you’ll get tapped on the shoulder by a woman with a basket strapped to her back who wants to carry your groceries for a small fee. This woman stuck with me for a while talking my ear off in Bahasa Indonesia and ignoring my claim that I didn’t understand her. (“I don’t understand” was one of the first phrases I mastered in Indonesia.) I did manage to gather that she is 75 years old and she’s a pretty good little dancer.
After making lots of friends and getting our fill of produce, we stopped in to a Chinese market to check out their dry goods and sauces. Sauces threw me for a loop when I moved here because ketchup means soy sauce, soy sauce looks like maple syrup and on more than one occasion Joel has dumped a ramekin of what he thought was soy sauce onto his rice only to find it was straight fish sauce. It took some time, but now I can remember that it’s ‘sauce tomato’ that I want with my french fries.
With my spoils from the market, I made an amazing pork ramen and delicious shrimp and veggie spring rolls. I got Joel to try a spring roll, despite the shrimp, but he wouldn’t try a single spoonful of ramen which was fine with me. Sometimes eating separate meals works out well. I get a chance to spice up my mostly vegetarian diet with a little meat and Joel gets to order take out from Pizza Hut without me complaining. It’s the little things that make it work, eh?
You have casual Friday, but Indonesia has batik Friday because batik is a big deal. The batik industry was huge in the 18th and 19th century but saw a decline after the Japanese occupation. There was a batik revival in the 21st century after batik came back into favor with designers. Unfortunately Semarang batik did not have much of a revival, but industries in Yogyakarta, Solo and Pekalongan came back stronger than ever.
We visited Batik Winotosastro in Yogyakarta over christmas. It’s a traditional facility with a beautiful showroom and workshop that produces traditional textiles using both hand work and batik cap (pronounced chap). Above are some caps which were on display including a Yoda cap. We also found them making two different Star Wars themed batiks on the day we toured, one (may the force be with you) painstakingly being done by hand and the other a storm trooper cap.
After seeing all the batik in Jogja, we did some research about Semarang batik and eventually we found a small collective of batik shops aptly located on Jalan Batik (Batik Street). It certainly wasn’t the expansive tourist destination like the shops in Jogja, but we did find a batik that was stamped with a Lawang Sewu cap. And of course I had to buy it! See the resemblance?
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 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.