SOLO: The Spirit of Java!
by: Maulana Bachtiar
In Solo, you can feel and experience the fusion of culture, cuisine and charm in a unique township experience. The people are gracious, its culture is magical and its food is incredibly delicious. Solo is the one place where you can really feel the Spirit of Java.
When I told my friends living in Singapore that my family and I were going to Solo for this year’s Idul Fitri holiday, only a few gave me a sign of knowledge on what and where Solo is. Despite the widespread existence of Bengawan Solo bakery all over Singapore, and the fact that Solo is readily accessible by Silk Air Airbus 320 from Changi, there are only a few people in Singapore who have actually heard of Solo.
Solo is a major cultural hub in Central Java, just to the north-east of Yogyakarta. There is even an ancient Homo erectus soloensis archaeological site outside of the city. For those who would prefer the formal name, they would gladly call the city: Surakarta.
Boarding the Lion Air B737-900ER in Jakarta
My trip to Solo started from Jakarta, where I joined many of the Batavian ‘mudikers’ in the midst of their exodus out of this capital city. Mudikers are people who spend their Idul Fitri holiday with their families back at their respective hometowns but I might be one of the exceptions. The ride to Solo was quite enjoyable, courtesy of Boeing 737-900ER from Lion Air, which wore the special Dreamliner livery presented by Boeing for being its first customer for this particular type of aircraft.
I was first welcomed in Solo by the shaky approach and bumpy landing at Adisumarmo Airport when the Boeing touched down during a heavy crosswind. Indeed, as my grandma put it, Solo was experiencing the “breeze of the kemarau”, a strong summer wind where things could just got blown off easily by hot air. My grandma started giving an introduction to the city. Despite having lived in Jakarta for more than 50 years ago, she is still passionate about this city.
As we had to catch the 7 AM flight, there was simply no time for breakfast. By the time we reached Solo, we were all hungry. Immediately after checking in to our rooms, we quickly took the Solo rickshaw or ‘becak’ to look for food to fill up our growling stomachs. We instructed the becak driver to give us a ride to the nearest place to eat. So we were chauffeured to a Solo Fried Chicken place in a becak. Everybody was relieved that he did not take us to the famous all-American fast food joint, KFC.
Enjoying the Streets of Solo on a Rickshaw
I was so hungry that I did not expect an exceptionally tasty meal, judging from the ordinary-looking dish that was served. It was only after I took a bite and chew the meat, I realised that there was something different with the chicken. The meat was extremely fresh and tender. It was truly a ‘Kampung Chicken’ and the taste was heavenly. The next time you go to Solo, try to find this fried chicken stall at the Gede marketplace.
Ayam goreng kampung (Kampung fried chicken) at Gede marketplace, Solo
After we stuffed our bellies with the sumptuous meal, together with the becak driver who loyally accompanied us for the entire day (in fact for the entire time we were in Solo), we then took another ride to another interesting place, Triwindu market, where it was filled with antique products. This was where charm meets with culture to become ‘charmulture’. Triwindu is unique because everything that are sold there are crafted with local flavours. Its originality is retained. Almost everything are truly Solonese products and I meant it. There, you will not find the typical mass-produced city souvenirs imported from you-know-where.
Javanese wayang couple
I was really enjoying myself at Triwindu. Not for its shopping sensation, but for the opportunities to capture unique images. Javanese statues, wayangs, paintings, and other cultural stuff were all photogenic. What captivated me was the impression that I get from these handicrafts. It felt magical as if they were smiling at me. I deeply felt that even the non-living things could graciously greet visitors in Solo.
Javanese arts at Triwindu Market, Solo
Javanese famous Wayang figurines: Bagong, Petruk, Gareng, and Semar
Time could still flies, even in Solo. I was too engrossed playing with my camera that time was forgotten. Soon enough, it was time to go back to the hotel. Looking across the horizon outside my room window, the sunset and the crimson sky were the spectacular good bye for the day. It hid between two highly mystical volcanoes, Merapi and Merbabu, slowly disappearing and letting the moon take over.
Beautiful Sunset over Mt. Merapi and Mt. Merbabu
The new moon over Solo marking the beginning of the month of Shawwal
My first night in Solo was filled with a highly satisfying sleep, but nothing spiritual or magical, of course. The next morning, we were greeted warmly by a Central Javanese breakfast, Nasi Timbel, a rice dish served with fried chicken liver and chilli. As soon as we stepped out of our hotel, there he was, our becak man was waiting and was ready to bring us anywhere within 5 kilometer radius of his territory. Since Gede marketplace was really close, we decided to make a visit and grabbed another fried chicken for an extra breakfast.
Raw Kampung chicken stall at Gede marketplace, Solo
Meat stall owners looked on as the photographer captured their morning faces at the Gede marketplace, Solo
We threaded along the street of Solo that morning, and I felt refreshed! The sky was blue, the air was fresh and the birds were flying effortlessly from one point to another. It was a good start for a wonderful day for a city tour. Not far from the town hall is a roundabout with the statue of Slamet Riyadi, a Solo-born hero. Thereafter is the old Sultanate compound called “Kraton” and then the Klewer Market, where Batik dominates the sales.
Bank Indonesia building, Solo
Aside from being called the Spirit of Java, Solo also is proudly proclaimed as the ‘Capital of Batik’. I couldn’t agree more! Here, batik does not only serve as clothing. It strongly means business. In every corner of the town, you will find people selling batik. Moreover, some shops make and sell original hand-written batik.
In case you do not know, batik can be made with various methods – hand-written, stamped, printed and possibly many other approaches that the creative minds can produce. Witnessing an old man stamping a plain white shirt with a batik template was inspiring, because you get to see how accuracy matters outside of science or engineering. What even more fascinating was to see a woman drew a very well-calculated pattern beautifully, expressed from her own imagination into a piece of art, entirely by hand.
Watch the making of Batik thru stamping and writing:
A highly skilled woman in the process of hand drawing a batik
Like many other holiday trips, it was difficult to end. Not because it was too soon to leave, nor because work was getting closer ahead. It was probably because Solo had taught me about happiness. That happiness could always go with you in life, as long as you believe that you own it. Perhaps it was this magical souvenir that I got from the Spirit of Java.
It was truly a mind-blowing journey. You’ll have to see and experience it yourself.
Solo International airport
How to get there:
By air, Adisumarmo (Solo City) Airport has a nice new modern terminal. Silk Air flies from Singapore to Solo. From Jakarta, you can take Garuda Indonesia, Batavia Air, Lion Air, or Sriwijaya Air. Alternatively, Air Asia flies from Kuala Lumpur to Solo.
By train, Solo is reachable from many Javanese cities including Jakarta and Jogjakarta through the Solo Balapan Railway Station.
Google map of Solo