Back in mid-2014, my friend in England, Geoff Warren, e-mailed me and telling his intention about exploring sugar mills in Central Java, and Madiun in East Java. Since he knew that I ran a travel agent, he asked me to help arranging the itinerary, accommodations, and transportation.
After several research and suggestions, he eventually agree with the itinerary that I offered, and will met at Madiun at 20th August.
However, about a month before the planned departure, I received e-mail from my Australian railfan friend (whom I considered as a mentor) Paul Collin. He said that he would like to come to visit the sugar mills in Java around the same period as Geoff. I offered him to join my trip, with additional cost. Paul initially declined my offer for him to accompany us, I was able to persuade him to come along, though he only intended to stay with us until the 28th of August.
A few days before the planned departure from Surabaya and meeting at Madiun, Geoff and Paul had actually arrived in Indonesia. Geoff arrived through Jakarta, before joining Bernd Seiller’s Farrail train adventure. Whereas Paul, and his friend Hayden, arrived through Bali, before proceeding to Asembagus and Situbondo to watch the narrow gauge trains over there.
Then a day before our planned departure, Paul and Hayden eventually arrived at Surabaya, where they decided to stay overnight in Surabaya. And Geoff sent me a message when he decided to shift the meeting place from Madiun to Solo Balapan station.
Therefore, it allowed me to save money on petrol and traveling distance.
This would be the longest drive I’ve ever done in my life. Not just as a passenger, as I have to do all of the driving by myself.
After stocking up all of the drink provisions, I bade farewell to my parents and my brother before picking up Paul and Hayden at a small hotel near my house. Once they checked out and board my car, we embarked on a very long journey to Solo…
The first part of our journey was uneventful, just a normal drive along the busy main road of Surabaya. That all changed when we passed through Trosobo. That’s where the really crazy intercity road tested my skill and patience. Just as I expected, the drive from Surabaya to Nganjuk past through several crowded spots, although they were not as heavily crowded as during Eidul Fitri holiday season.
The most serious test of my driving skill and nerves was the section between Caruban to Solo. An endless procession of over loaded and under powered trucks, barely managing to climb the step hills, reduced our progress to a crawl. To make matters worse, the road was winding and narrow, making overtaking a feat of bravery for even the stoutest of heart. Whenever I managed to overtake the culprit responsible for the long queue, I would feel very relieved. Miraculously, we came through unscathed.
PICKING UP GEOFF IN SOLO
Thanks with the help from my GPS, I could navigate my way through the busy street of Solo, before eventually arriving at Solo Balapan station. Once I parked my car, the first thing that I did was finding the toilet and prayer hall, while Paul and Hayden went to toilet before finding Geoff.
I did actually spot a CC206 15 hauling a Holcim cement train. But since the gap in the fences are too tight for my camera lens, I decided not to take the picture of it.
It turned out that the prayer hall is very small. The washing place has unreliable tap water, which have a habit of going out in the middle of ablution. But somehow, it didn’t reduce the solemnity of my pray.
After I finishing the pray, I returned back to the station where Hayden had apparently found Geoff and Paul returning back soon afterward.
So after all of the tour participants gathered, we resume our journey to our eventual destination for the day: Salatiga.
The reason why we choose to stay in Salatiga, is due to Geoff’s plan to join Bernd Seiler’s Ambarawa steam locomotive tour. For that matter, all of Farrail tour participants stayed in Bandungan which is located uphill from Ambarawa.
But due to Bandungan’s hotel condition, whose are inadequate, I suggested a good hotel in Salatiga, which was approved by Geoff, as well as by Paul and Hayden.
After several minutes of driving from Solo (and several hours from Surabaya) we eventually arrived at Salatiga.
But finding the hotel was quite tricky. I initially assumed that the hotel is located on a major busy road. Somehow, I was perplexed by the fact that the GPS directed me to enter small streets. Considering that the GPS had fooled me earlier (by directing me to the wrong place when we went to Solo Balapan station), I decided to ignore it and improvise my driving. This tactic proved to be fruitless, so I decided to follow the GPS until I eventually found the hotel, which is hidden inside a small village!
The frontage of the hotel looks unassuming, but once we entered the lobby, we were greeted by the receptionist which offered us some welcome drinks.
It is a nice drink, made from mixed fruits. Truly refreshing drink for me, and good reception after tiring drive from Surabaya.
After we cleared the check in process, the bell boy took us to our room, which is located across the garden from the reception building. The building is quite new, but made from materials that resemble old buildings.
We entered the our bedroom, and it is just excellent looking bedroom!
The bathroom is not disappointing either.
Once we unload or bags and settling in our rooms, we decided to have some relaxation on the hotel’s garden.
The main garden is just impressive.
The hotel restaurant building doesn’t look classic enough, but it’s still a good one.
This is our hotel room’s building. At first glance, it doesn’t look classic enough.
We kept browsing around the garden.
The outdoor swimming pool is located at far end of the hotel’s garden.
There is one unusual structure located next to the swimming pool: a replica of London-style phone booth.
Paul and Hayden decided to have a dip at the hotel’s swimming pool, while I and Geoff just sit down and relaxing.
We chatted in the swimming pool area, discussing about our plan for the Ambarawa trip. Considering that we had to join their trip at 7’o clock, we had to wake up very early. We even considered to just take the breakfast away, skipping the breakfast buffet.
As the darkness fell, we returned back to our room.
Very impressive hotel lobby and pool lounge, indeed. It’s just pity that we didn’t have much time to stay in the hotel. Had we have some, we would love to play some pool over there.
For the dinner, we decided to go out on the outside. Since I have no knowledge of the town of Salatiga, I decided to ask the receptionist about the good restaurants around Salatiga. She mentioned several restaurants, but there is one that stand out: “Warung Joglo Bu Rini”. The restaurant has reasonable price, and located next to a terraced rice field.
We went to the restaurant, where just like our hotel, it is located in a slightly hidden place. We were seated at one corner which supposed to overlook the terraced rice field. But since it was already dark, we couldn’t see the scenery.
The menu was given, and since some of tour participants are vegetarian, we ordered more vegies than meat.
I would say the taste was just average, there were no outstanding distinct flavor of the food. But considering that the prices are not very high, and it is located on a scenic place, it is really worth the money.
Once we finished the meal, and paid the bill, we returned back to our hotel and go to sleep.
TO BE CONTINUE….