A full house in Solo

Yesterday afternoon after the wedding reception we headed down to the railway station in Jogjakarta to catch a train to Solo – an old colonial style building in the centre of the city. (Solo's proper name is Surakarta. Solo is the colloquial name of the city).

As soon as we entered the station it became clear that we were going to have a fight on our hands to get a seat on the train – the station was packed.

When the train pulled in we could see there was no point fighting for a seat because they were already all taken by passengers who had boarded at the previous station – so the challenge was more to make sure we could get onto the train before the doors closed.

We managed to squeeze in, and fortunately it was a fast train so only took an hour to get to Solo. I wanted to take a photograph of the inside of the train, but we were all squashed in like sardines in a can, so there was no way I could get my camera out.

When we got to Solo we took a taxi to a hotel that my friends had recommended that I stay at, but were told it was full. We then went to another hotel, and that was full. And then another, and another, and after about an hour of driving from one hotel to another we realised that I was going to have a problem finding anywhere to stay that night. It seems that as it was the weekend of the eve of the Javanese new year, everyone had decided to treat themselves to a weekend in a hotel (by ‘everyone’ I am referring to locals because I saw only two westerners the whole weekend I was in Solo).

I had almost given up when someone suggested that there was a place called the Alang Alang Café behind the palace that might still have a few rooms left. We drove past the palace and down a backstreet:

and stopped outside this place:

“Oh dear,” I thought. “This doesn’t look good.” But then I realised this was not the place to which we were going – it was in front of us behind some massive gates:

“This doesn’t look like a café and it doesn’t look like a hotel,” I thought whilst my friends went inside to see if there were any rooms available. They came back and said I was in luck – they had a room available for 200,000 rupiah (about US$17). We had a look at the room – it was what they described as a ‘traditional’ hotel room (I wondered whether the live parrot chained to a stand outside the room was part of the tradition). It was very very basic, but as there was nothing else available in the city, I said I would take it.

But my friends weren’t happy with it. They felt I should be staying in something better. They questioned the man who had shown us the room as to whether he had anything better, and he said that he did have a larger room for 350,000 rupiah, so we went to have a look at that.

We set off across the large courtyard around which the other rooms were located. Within the courtyard there was a large open structure which looked like a mini-palace:

We walked down the side of that and through an open doorway:

Into another smaller courtyard where it looked like some old buildings had been knocked down:

Then through an archway:

This was looking less and less like a hotel to me! We got to a small block of wooden rooms behind a concrete wall and had a look at the one which was available.

Unfortunately the air-conditioner didn’t work (and the floor felt like it was going to fall-in) so we rejected that. Pressed again, the man admitted that there was one more room available, but it was 500,000 rupiahs. So we set off to look at that.

We walked around the back of the block we had just been in and made our way down a narrow path:

And through yet another archway which was almost obscured by raphis palms:

And then after negotiating our way around a large banyan tree we saw some small bungalows:

One of them was the ‘room’ that was available (actually two rooms, but one was empty except for a wooden table and two chairs) but it looked nice from the outside with its marble floor, verandah and little garden:

Inside I discovered it was not so impressive – it was quite basically furnished with a bed, a sheet, a pillow and a blanket (and a straw brush on the bed to brush the insects off before retiring), but it was a big improvement on the other two rooms I had seen, so I said I would take it:

The place looked like it hadn’t been cleaned properly for months:

And the electrical wiring looked a bit dodgy:

But at least the air-conditioner worked (sort of) and a good spray of the room with an aerosol can of mosquito killer (supplied) got rid of most of the insects.

The tap in the bathroom didn’t work (well, it did in a way, if you count spraying the water all over the bathroom when you turn it on) but the shower did work and (surprisingly) there was actually some hot water.

I took a photograph of the toilet too, but decided against posting that as it was a sight better forgotten.

After brushing the dead insects off the bed, I settled down for a reasonably comfortable night’s sleep. It was very quiet there – deadly quiet in fact. I don’t think a woman on her own would feel comfortable in that room. It felt like I was sleeping in a ghost town.

In the morning my biggest challenge was trying to find my way back to the entrance.

I never did find out why it was called the Alang Alang Café. There is definitely no café there. Maybe there was in years past. There was no reception, no registration (payment was in cash – I wasn’t even asked my name) and only two employees – a very strange ‘hotel’ indeed.

But at least I had found a place to sleep.

The moral of this story is that if you are traveling in Java around the Javanese new year – book in advance!

A Sunday morning tour of Solo

An out-of-place wedding guest