Wednesday, November 16, 2011

INDO DIARIES 2010 - 25th July.

We woke up early and went down quickly to breakfast. There was little keeping us in the room; the television barely worked, not without a hideous amount of background noise for the first ten minutes and the shower was anything but inviting. So, we threw some clothes on and went down to the next level.

We sat at the table and the waitress approached us with a choice of breakfast options - continental or Indo. We had learnt by now that West was best, at least for our tummies, so we ordered the continental. Looking forward to some Balinese coffee, we ordered a cup, sat back and relaxed.

It was quite an overcast morning and it all looked pretty grim, from inside the hotel to outside.

Our coffee arrived - black and bitter. The waitress seemed confused when I asked for milk and had to even ask her counterpart. Not a good start - add to that the sour-faced lady who took our order, we were on a roll When the toast and jam cam, we couldn't help feel slightly put out as others tucked into their big pile of rice with a lovely fried egg sitting on top.

I was so disappointed with my food that I to actually check that this was all we were getting. The waitress gave me a flat answer. What a joke. How can the breakfasts even compare? One piece of bread compared to all that food. But, we decided not to let it get to us and planned a walk along the beach.

We ignored the sudden downpour of rain, grabbed our rain jackets and left.

Actually, the rain didn't last too long at all, although the clouds hung around for a bit longer. It was a really pleasant walk. There were many shops, each of them with the quintessential souvenir and the seller, in each one, hollering after us, desperate for a sale.

We stopped off at the Gazebo villa for a proper breakfast and a juice.

Poolside paradise?
As we sat looking out onto the sea, we couldn't help but notice just how many tourists there were. For us, that was the biggest culture shock. But, what was all the hype about? Why Bali? Where were the peaceful beaches? Where was the tropical paradise?

At this point, we were begrudging this leg of the trip. The only cute thing in sight was an old couple sat together playing card....probably us in a few years time!

I had read that the beach was 5km long. The more we walked, the more the clouds parted and the more people ran out from the shade to catch their small bit of sunshine before the next bout of rain.

The walk was lovely and long. The beaches themselves were dirty; the only appeal being the cool waters. Just a few hotels had the power to maintain a clean beach area for their own guests.

We made it 5km to the Bali Beach Hotel and for the first time, the Lonely Planet was right in its description. It was an ugly landmark and even though we couldn't see the name, we knew we had arrived.

We wandered through the lobby and checked out the process. For all its size and blandness, it was still 170USD per night. The Hyatt has quoted us 200USD but neither even looked that appealing.

Outside, there was a big drive with tais waiting and a concierge. I asked him about the far to Ubud as it was a must see for us. We were tempted to just go there, maybe stay the night and return the next day.

I was very surprised when he told me it was 400,000IDR. But then , he offered me a discount and made it 300,000IDR. I must have looked like an idiot guest of the hotel if if thought he could rip me off to such an extent. Common sense told me that the fare was much less than the discounted price - we had paid less than that for four hours in Malang.

We headed back down Sanur, but this time inland. We passed the many shops that lined the street we had seen the night before. We couldn't decided on anything until we had reached the other end of the strip (totalling a 10km walk by now!) and settled for an Irish pub, where we ate great Indonesian food!

We were quite despondent at this point. We had asked at 5 supposedly luxury hotels and some cheap ones too but most were fully booked. Only one had space on Wednesday or Thursday. Our original plans of heading to other islands seems pointless with little time to organise.

What to do?

Ian thought of checking out the place opposite. I was less convinced, having looked over and into their grounds from our crap location. There was also a mad amount of smoke coming out, perhaps a fumigation operation? No thank you - Bugs? Eeek!

They too were fully booked, but, we were shown a secluded garden apartment at the back which would be available in a few days. Oh, my goodness, it was so cute. Behind the heavy wooden doors, there was a private garden with a gazebo under which were tables and chairs. To the left was an outdoor kitchen, to the right, the bedroom and outdoor bathroom. Elegantly designed, the bed was fresh and white and welcoming, so very different to our current bed. The bathroom was something else. Sheltered, but outdoors, with a landscaped garden, it was appealing, most certainly because the glare of the sun warmed the area.

Villa Puri Ayu was our saviour, but we would have to wait until Wednesday to have our little piece of paradise.

In the meantime, we went to have a dip in our own hotel's pool to celebrate. The pool was about 2.5m square, cold and had bits of dirt floating in it. Lovely.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

INDO DIARIES 2010 - 24th July - BALI

 Not seeing our flight on the domestic departure screen was unsettling, but, we were, of course, in the wrong place. Once we finally figured it out, we were happily eating our starbucks breakfast to fuel or 36 minute flight to Bali (actually our first flight together!).

One of the monuments en route from Denpassar to Sanur
Our driver met us at the airport and took us back to the hotel. Hotel Semawang - a name to be remembered, or best - avoided.

The hotel lobby was average; there was a landscape courtyard to the right, which was nicely decorated. At 25USD, we knew it would be basic, but we (I) figured it would be all we needed to be able to organise our holiday (maybe go to another island, maybe spend some time inland...). It was the same price as Enny's and we had been treated well there, so we thought we wouldn't go wrong.

We were led through the courtyard and up to the third floor to room 23. Outside the room, as with most of the hotels we had seen, there were chairs, only these were old, very old wooden chairs sitting in front of a dirty mustard window frame. The dirty mustard door rattled as the key turned. Before us was a very basic room. The walls were a dank, dirty, slightly mouldy beige, the bed dressed with a foul floral cover that was faded grey and pink. (Not so lucky with hotels, you would think at this stage.)

At the back was the bathroom. Again, it was very simple. The bath had been decorated with small white tiles, adding a certain thickness to it, reducing its size dramatically. It didn't look very welcoming and we knew within a second that we wouldn't be lazing in it like we could at Surabaya.

We dumped our stuff and decided that the room, at least at this stage, was not the priority. We were sure that the outside world that Bali had to offer would be enough.

Stepping out, we decided we should check out the amazing- looking restaurants we had seen driving in. The main one that had caught our attention was a large open restaurant called Massimo. There was a big gelato counter outside and, according to the menu, the food was from Lecce, South Italy, where Ian used to live.

The whole length of the street thus far had been a long strip lined with stalls, each selling pretty much the same thing. There were generic souvenirs, like the cinnamon plates that actually smelled really good, there were the beaded flip flops for the ladies, batik sarongs, bags, everything.

It was a veritable shopping haven, that is, if you could mute the sellers that it (!). And it's not just them, there are the taxi drivers, the mikrolet drivers, the tour operators. They all want to offer you their serviecs at reduced rates, even though those rates are uber hiked up. It's tiring.
((I vented in another two entries about Hawkers after this year's trip to Bali. Both are worth a quick peak if you are heading there -

Maybe they had seen that we were fresh off the boat, maybe they were like this every day (yes!), but they were annoying.

We decided to backtrack and find shelter back at Massimo's. It was great to have Sangria to help pass the tie until our table was ready (it's a busy place, especially at the weekends.) And, like pigs, we ordered the biggest pizza they had! It was called XXL or something like that, but it was impossible to eat, especially after our starts and our 'welcome bread'.

One slice was as big as my hand! We ended up having to take a doggie bag back to the grimy hotel. Perhaps we could have it for breakfast, but we were too tired to think about that now. We climbed into the horrible bed and passed out.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

INDO DIARIES 2010 - July 23rd - SURABAYA

Who needs to go to Surabaya indeed??????

We learnt the very hard way that, travellers need not really put any effort into stopping at this big dusty, unwelcoming city, not even to pick up an extra bag to carry all those glocks in!

The morning was civilised enough. we ate well at the breakfast bar and spent a few hours by the pool.

I think it was me, in particular and my curiosity that led us into Surabaya city centre. It sounded historic and picturesque. We needed a holdall, so off we went.

The city seemed to have a lot of history; it's known as 'The city of Heroes' as the battle for independence began on a little red bridge, Jembatan Mereh, so we decided to start there and maybe stroll through the centre, provided there were actually pavements and head on to the south.

We left the firm in a blubird taxi, a reputable firm known across Indonesia. The hotel staff seemed rather surprised that we didn't want a chauffeur for the day and a tour of the town (why the preferential treatment? And exclamations that we were room 608...?) They seemed quite bewildered that we were happy and willing to just take a taxi one way.

Luckily, the taxi driver was friendly and spoke a little English as he pointed out some landmarks.

The hotel was just south of the zoo, which we reached in 10 minutes. There was a formidable statue (Suraboyo) of a crocodile (Boyo) fighting a shark (Sura). These animals became the symbol of the city after an untraceable story from long ago. Maybe we would venture back later, at least for a photo.

The only monument I could capture on camera
We drove past a remarkable white building, Empire Palace. apparently,the venue for parties. What kind of partied, I am not sure. The building was at least 5 stories high with balconies on each floor, so they must have been for the aristocracy of yesteryear.

We continued through the crowded, dirty streets. Like Malang, there were few pavements and the few that existed were cracked, thanks to old trees uprooting themselves.

Suddenly, the journey ended. "This is the red bridge," The driver informed us.

All I could muster was a disappointed "Oh..."

All the history, the grandeur of the past was this rust old bridge before us?

We saw many taxis outside the shopping centre nearby, so we decided to let the driver go and get out and explore a little. We needed the bag, then maybe just head back home. From what we had seen, Surabaya was not very welcoming and we didn't want to prolong our visit more than necessary.

I managed to take a couple of picture of the so-called bridge, but the smell of piss was too off putting for me to try and gaze at the history. All I could wonder was why such a memorable part of Surabaya, or even Indonesia's history had been left to ruin - no respect at all. What a shame.

And the river was filthy disgusting too, a small garbage dump for the locals. Ugh.
The dusty building site before the plaza

We headed into the shopping centre. It turned out to be huge, spreading back much further. We found a few bag stalls but we thought we would wait and have a look around first.

The more we walked around, the more we got stared at. The stares became really intense, to the point where people were actively pointing at us, then they were not only laughing, but getting their friends to come and join the spectacle.

If was shocking and annoying. If Surabaya was the second city of Java, then why were people so shut off to visitors. Ironically, as we were going in, we had seen a 'white' family leave, so we thought it would be OK.

The next taxi experience was another shock for us both. Once outside, the guys crowded around us very quickly. We tried to negotiate a ride to the zoo. I just kept saying ''Suro-boyo'' to refer to the statue.He kept saying Surabaya Plaza. In the end we agreed. It was to cost 30 000IDR. I hadn't realised that the taxi earlier from the hotel was 50 000IDR, so we were being nicely ripped off.

When we arrived at the shopping plaza, I tried to show on the map where we had actually wanted to go, but all in vain. This was where he wanted to drop us. At least it was a department store. We could have another look around.

There were a lot more stores inside; it seemed somewhat classier. However, there were a lot more stares too.

At first we could ignore them and tuck into our lovely frozen

People going up the escalators were pointing and staring too. It was shocking. Up in the music store, I got so freaked out by the stares that I chucked a hissy fit and demanded we left right away.

To me, the city stares in Java are not the same as the jungle stares in Borneo. Inquisitiveness is one thing, but at least out in the jungle, people are smiling and genuinely want to know more about you. I found the stares in both Jakarta and Surabaya awfully intrusive and quite frightening.

Once again, we had to negotiate a taxi. We eventually bargained him down to 30 000IDR, although he had wanted so much more! Everyone seemed to be out for a quick buck. It was tiring.

Arriving at the hotel was a homecoming. We sat by the pool. We enjoyed the Mongolian BBQ too and had just another morning by the pool to think about before our plane to BALI!!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

INDO DIARIES 2010 - 22nd July - Surabaya bound

We have checked out of Enny's and are waiting for our mini bus to Surabaya. A shared mini bus seemed friendlier, more eco friendly and offered us a saving of more than 200 000IDR, but, given the time we have had to wait, I think private transport would have been better....

Still, we will arrive at our secluded hotel. We decided to stay outside Surabaya city and closer to the airport. Should we wish to go into the city, no problem, should we problem!


The mini van was small; space for luggage was limited but we all squeezed in, somehow, challenges the forces of nature and gravity in the process. we drove without a break for 3 hours. We took the back road around Porong (the area where there was a mud explosion -

The road was far from great, but we did knock off 30 minutes from the total journey time. Minutes that were promptly added in Surabaya...we got lost!!!

It was interesting to see the mud pool from behind the big wall. It was, as expected, a big pool of mud, and lots of little ones too. The villages of Prorong had been drastically affected and even on the main street, there were many disused and abandoned buildings.

South of Surabaya, we were greeted by a beautiful, if dirty, river, with lots of greenery around it. Then, suddenly, there was a sign for Singgasana, our hotel.

The drive in made us gasp. The grounds were unbelievable. Apparently on the acres of land where the hotel was set, there was also a big golf course.

As we walked into the lobby, our jaws dropped. Delicately carved wooden panels decorated the long walls. There was even a gamelan orchestra set up, which we both got very excited about.

We had to sit and wait for a while; they seemed to have mislaid our booking. We sipped our fruity aperitif and waited 15 minutes when the manager came over to us. "Can I help you?" He said. He didn't even know why he had come over. We explained to him, showed the booking email and off he went.
Room 109 - Yuck

Room 109 - Yuck
After some faffing, we were shown to room 109, a twin (not what we had booked), apparently, there only room available at such short notice given that they couldn't find our booking..

Room 109 was not pleasant. We were in a luxurious hotel, yet this twin room was cold, cold appearance, cold temperature. The air con had been left on full whack all day. The walls were dirty with mould and faded paint. Dank was the only word that would fit. You'd think that a massive hotel complex could afford a tin of paint, but apparently not.

We were tired, really really tired. I just wanted to find the pool. It was better for us to forget the room and go enjoy whatever facilities they did have.

By the pool we ordered food - sausages, delicious BBQ sauce, and salmon spaghetti.

In our excitement to see wine on the menu, we ordered a bottle. We soon realised how bad the wine would be at £50 a bottle! and settled for cocktails instead! Thankfully , the food was astounding. We were back later for more. And this time I did get a glass of wine. But, not only was it £12 a glass, but it tasted really fortified and just, well, rank.

One plus, though. While we were waiting in the sunset for our food, the manager reappeared. He had located our booking and was full of apologies (had he googled Ian's name?! lolz). Our room was waiting at the other end of the pool (away from the road and the traffic). He agreed that room 109 was not that great (so, why did they give it to us?!) and he got our man to help shift our luggage.

Room 608 was a remarkable level up and along the lines of what we were expecting. Whether they bumped us up because of their error, or this was their standard double, we were very happy indeed. Luxury! who needs to go to Surabaya! (I thought I had pictures, but I think they were lost in transit...but the room was a heck of a lots better, trust me!)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

INDO DIARIES 2010 - 21st July - Malang

Still feeling tired from the excursion to the mountain, we pottered about wondering what we should do today.

We needed to collect the rings - we had asked for them to be engraved.

We remembered 'Millionaires Drive' from this morning. It's a street where the houses are plush and apparently, the people too.Maybe we would visit that later.

Jum recommended some music stores; Ian had a craving, so we headed out.

We got the rings quickly enough. Looking lovely save the typo - Ian was not 'Ian' but 'I an'. The space was significant, but not enough for us to change it. It was a unique reminder of Malang and made for a good little story.

We landed in Pesar Besar, a market street. There were no music stores in sight, but there was an ATM with a  policeman guarding it. His massive machine gun was somewhat disturbing, but the fact that he was smoking a cigarette somehow took the edge off.

Both the policeman and the security guard were more than helpful when we asked about music stores, but we still couldn't find any! Perhaps we were being dumb, or perhaps we all had different ideas of music...?

We did discover a 'Holland Bakery' along the route. And there was even a Hello Kitty cake for the kids!
She was also eyeing up the Hello Kitty cakes!
Then we headed for Alun Alun where we sat in the bustling park munching on our snacks, watching the families and kids around us.

The view from the Becak

The view from the Becak
We pottered around a little, but it was so hectic that we were soon done with it all. We took a becak back to the hotel. Even though he was charging us the same price as the taxi fare would have been (should have been cheaper, no?) we carried on with it.

Next up, millionaires drive.

To begin with, we took a wrong turning and were completely bemused when we saw only a department store and a few food stalls. When we figured it out, we were surprised by the refreshingly huge houses, some boutiques and another lovely bakery (also home to a brand only recycle store). We were lucky enough to have fresh lychee juice and some juicy sate, always a treat.

We were finished with Malang. I think we had done just about everything save a beach trip down south, but with Bali ahead of us, maybe it was time to discover Surabaya...